Blog Archive for the ‘Long Term Art’ Category

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Laura Welcher Speaks at Contemporary Jewish Museum This Sunday

Posted on Thursday, February 13th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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How do public archives, as collections of cultural artifacts, shape our collective memory? And how is this changing as new digital tools make it ever easier for scholars and artists to access these repositories?

This Sunday, Long Now’s Laura Welcher joins a group of archivists and artists to discuss these questions and more at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Entitled Finders and Keepers: Archives in the Digital Age, the panel discussion accompanies an exhibit by Chicago-based photographer Jason Lazarus, who creates collaborative installations with pictures and texts submitted by others.

The panel discussion starts this Sunday, February 16th, at 3 PM; the event is free with museum admission.

 

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos Seminar Primer

Posted on Monday, February 10th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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Credit: Jerome Delay for Associated Press

Credit: Jerome Delay for Associated Press

When we think of the awful consequences of war, the deaths of the soldiers and civilians always remind us that futures have been destroyed – the young man who will never raise a family, or the one-year-old daughter who will never know her father. But war in the third millennium AD has brought us an entirely new and different horror – the destruction of an entire past. What [took] place in southern Iraq [after the American invasion] is nothing less than the eradication of the material record of the world’s first urban, literate civilization. (Gil Stein, Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past)

Scholars had had a premonition that the war in Iraq would bring looters to the National Museum in Baghdad, home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts; several Iraqi museums had been plundered during the Gulf War of the early 01990s. Nevertheless, they were powerless to stop it from happening again. In April 02003, mere days after American troops first entered Baghdad and most of the museum staff had sought safety at home, bands of looters forced entry into the galleries and took nearly 15,000 artifacts. US Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos had just arrived in Iraq when he heard the news. A career prosecutor with a deep personal interest in ancient civilizations, he headed straight for the capital to launch an investigation and large-scale recovery effort.

Credit: Ozier Muhammad/New York TimesGrowing up in lower Manhattan as the child of Greek immigrants, Bogdanos first became interested in the Classical world when his mother handed him a copy of Homer’s Iliad at the age of twelve. The military encouraged him to pursue this interest further: he obtained a Master’s in Classics, as well as a law degree, while training to become a Marine Corps officer. Indeed, Bogdanos feels that a military career and intellectual pursuits are natural extensions of one another. As he explained in a 02009 opinion piece for the Washington Post,

… British general Sir William Butler warned a century ago [that] “A nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.” It was not always so. We praise classical Greece for philosophy, art and democracy. Yet Athenians knew Socrates, the father of philosophy, for his bravery on the battlefield and Xenophon, author of the epic “Anabasis,” for his generalship. Aeschylus, antiquity’s greatest tragedian, wrote his own epitaph: “This gravestone covers Aeschylus … The field of Marathon will speak of his bravery.” In our time, a steady aggrandizement of self at the expense of society has forced the warrior culture and its ideals to the margins as antique refinements, like knowing classical languages. Yet the most cherished ideal – arête, the classical Greek concept of honor – is anything but passe. Just as “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful) is not merely the Marine Corps motto but a way of life, so is honor a form of mental conditioning – a force-multiplier: Decide in advance to act honorably, and you know without hesitation what to do in a crisis.

Upon resigning from active duty in 01988, Bogdanos joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, where his sense of duty and tenacious investigative skills earned him the nickname “pit bull.” Pop culture will remember him best as the prosecutor who failed to convict Sean “P. Diddy” Combs for a 01999 club shooting.

After the Al Qaeda attack of September 11, 02001, Bogdanos was called back to active duty with the Marine Corps. After a brief tour in Afghanistan he was deployed to Iraq, where he was asked to investigate terrorist funding and banned weapons. He had just arrived in Basra when a question from an angry journalist alerted him to the looting at the National Museum in Baghdad. Realizing that its facilities housed a priceless and unique record of the world’s oldest civilization, Bogdanos felt duty-bound to take action. He recalls:

Here I was in Basra, I had the only law enforcement, counterterrorism team that the U.S. Government had in-country. This was a criminal investigation. And we also had enough firepower to at least secure the museum. So I simply decided this was our mission. I know sometimes I get painted as this maverick Marine colonel, but one of the things the Marine Corps instills in you is a seize-the-initiative mentality. It is a Marine Corps philosophy that it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. So, what I was not going to do was file a request in triplicate in order to go to the museum.

Credit: Joanne Farchakh-Bajjaly

The plundering and destruction of artifacts had begun only days after troops first entered Baghdad. A few remaining members of the museum’s staff had done what they could to safeguard its holdings, but were unable to protect the premises on their own. The looters included professional thieves, but also others – local residents, even government officials and some museum staff, who knew where to find the most valuable objects. Forty artifacts were stolen from the public gallery; more than 13,000 were lifted from the building’s storage rooms and basement.

Scholars had anticipated the war’s destructive impact on the vast collections of ancient ruins and artifacts in Iraq – once the heart of Mesopotamian civilization. Many had spent the months leading up to the invasion in painstaking efforts to document whatever objects and remains they could, hoping to preserve at least a record of what had been there. This would prove helpful in Bogdanos’ mission to recover the looted artifacts. The public availability of records on these items made it difficult for looters to unload them through the antiquities trade – an illegal market that would not only help objects disappear, but also provide a significant source of funding for the insurgency in Iraq. Bogdanos collaborated with scholars at the Oriental Institute in Chicago to create an online catalog of all artifacts that had been taken from the National Museum. In the years since 02003, this database has facilitated the recovery of many artifacts. Many more, however, remain to be found.

… we’re talking about our history, our heritage, our cultural beginnings. … those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat its mistakes. The past is what we have. It’s what we bring with us into the future. I can’t imagine a more important undertaking. (PBS News Hour)

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos received a national humanities medal for his work and wrote a book about the effort. He will discuss the investigation and the continuing, global search for lost artifacts, at the SF JAZZ Center on February 24. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on our Seminar page.

Because this Seminar revolves around and discusses specifics of an ongoing investigation, there will be no recording of any kind. If you are unable to attend in person but would like to know more about Bogdanos’ work, you can read more in his book, Thieves of Baghdad: One Marine’s Passion to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures. Thank you for your understanding.

Lost century-old Antarctic images found and conserved

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 02014 by Catherine Borgeson
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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

A small box of 22 exposed but unprocessed photographic negatives left nearly a century  ago in an Antarctic exploration hut has been discovered and conserved by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust.

“It’s the first example that I’m aware of, of undeveloped negatives from a century ago from the Antarctic heroic era,” Antarctic Heritage Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson said in a press release. “There’s a paucity of images from that expedition.”

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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

The team of conservationists discovered the clumped together negatives preserved in a solid block of ice in Robert Falcon Scott’s hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island. The hut served as one of the many supply depots of Captain Scott’s doomed Terre Nova Expedition to the South Pole (01910-01913). While the expedition made it to the Pole, they died during the return trip from starvation and extreme conditions. Today, preserved jars of Heinz Tomato Ketchup, John Burgess & Sons French olives and blocks of New Zealand butter can still be found in the hut, as well as a darkroom intact with chemicals and plates.

Two years after Scott’s expedition, the hut was inhabited by the Ross Sea Party of Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (01914-01917). Ten marooned men lived there after being stranded on the ice for nearly two years when their ship, the SY Aurora, broke free from her moorings during a blizzard and drifted out to sea.  By the time of their rescue, three men had died, including the team’s photographer Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith. While the photographer of the negatives cannot be proven, someone in the Ross Sea Party did leave behind the undeveloped images.

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Chief Scientist Alexander Stevens looking south on the deck of Aurora. Hut Point Peninsula in the background. Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

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Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

These never-before-seen images give testament to the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. And only in places like Antarctica could such a situation exist. The photographer used cellulose nitrate film, which according to Kodak, is a relatively unstable base. The film breaks down in humidity and higher temperatures, giving off powerful oxidizing agents. However, if the conditions are right, the film may last for decades, or as the Antarctic Heritage Trust discovered, a century.

The photographs found in Captain Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans, Antarctica required specialist conservation treatment. The Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ) engaged Photographic Conservator Mark Strange to undertake the painstaking task of separating, cleaning (including removing mould) and consolidating the cellulose nitrate image layers. Twenty-two separate sheets were revealed and sent to New Zealand Micrographic Services for scanning using a Lanovia pre-press scanner. The digital scans were converted to digital positives.

via i09

The Evolution of Little Red Riding Hood

Posted on Wednesday, November 20th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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We in the Western world are not the only ones who grow up with the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

Stories about young children who face off with a trickster wild animal are told around the world. In East Asia, for example, there is the tale of a tiger who masquerades as an old woman to lure her grandchildren into bed with him. And in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the evil beast is an ogre who ensnares a young girl by imitating the voice of her brother.

Oral folk tales like these change easily as they are told and retold through generations. They’re fluid, ever-morphing cultural artifacts – and as such, their history and cross-cultural relatedness can be difficult to trace. Nevertheless, an anthropologist at Durham University in the UK has recently shown that it can be done. Borrowing methods that are commonly used in biology to establish evolutionary relationships between species, an analysis conducted by Jamshid Tehrani reveals that these varying narratives are related to one another much like humans are to the Great Apes: they all, ultimately, descend from the same ancestor.

That ancestor, in this case, is a story called “The Wolf and the Kids:” an ancient folktale with European roots, in which a wolf pretends to be a mother goat in order to eat her babies. The Daily Mail quotes Tehrani:

My research cracks a long-standing mystery. The African tales turn out to be descended from The Wolf and the Kids but over time, they have evolved to become more like Little Red Riding Hood, which is also likely to be descended from The Wolf and the Kids. This exemplifies a process biologists call convergent evolution, in which species independently evolve similar adaptations. The fact that Little Red Riding Hood evolved twice from the same starting point suggests it holds a powerful appeal that attracts our imaginations.

Tehrani’s work also contradicts the long-held theory that both Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf And the Kids originated in East Asia – in fact, he shows, it was the other way around. “Specifically,” the anthropologist says, “the Chinese blended together Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Kids, and local folk tales to create a new, hybrid story.”

Fairy tales and other stories serve a purpose. They help us make sense of the world and of ourselves, and give us a way to transmit our knowledge and beliefs from generation to generation. As such, Tehrani’s study does more than show that societies around the world and across time have shared their stories with one another: it suggests a certain unity of human psychosocial experience. There must be, out in the world, some real or prospective experience that we are all faced with at some point or other – an experience in which we all seem to find ourselves supported by the narrative theme of young children confronted by a wily wolf.

A visit to Star Axis

Posted on Monday, November 11th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Having climbed the staircase for some time, I stopped on a step that sent me back to the sky of twenty-five hundred years ago, the sky that loomed overhead when the Book of Job was written. I braced myself against the cool stone of the corridor that bracketed the staircase, and looked up through the tunnel. In the 5th century BC, the orbit of Polaris was much further out from the pole than it is now. We know this from our understanding of precession, but also from observations that were recorded at the time, observations that suggest a new way of looking at the sky had begun to emerge by then. Very slowly, it seems, the conceptual filters that humans used to interpret celestial phenomena had started changing, becoming less theological and more empirical. Instead of scanning the sky for the moods and faces of a humanlike god, people began looking for patterns in it. They went searching for order itself in the void.

Aeon Magazine Senior Editor Ross Anderson recently had the privilege of visiting Star Axis, a large-scale architectural installation in the New Mexico desert by artist Charles Ross. Anderson tells the story of his journey to the incomplete and mystery-shrouded artwork, with plenty of backstory on its creator and the astronomical mechanics it highlights.

The Oldest Petroglyphs in the American West

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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The story of the oldest Americans is largely unknown to us; the first people to arrive on the North American continent didn’t leave behind any material clues for later generations to find. But a recent discovery in Nevada may now offer us a little glimpse into their world. In a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, a team of researchers reveals that a series of petroglyphs, carved into boulders near Pyramid Lake, are even older than previously suspected – and might be attributed to the first people to set foot in the American West.

Unlike those ancient Americans, weather patterns do leave their mark on the world around them – and this allowed paleoclimatologist Larry Benson to determine that the images are about 10,000, or about 14,000, years old. The petroglyphs are carved into what Benson knew to be a lakebed, and must therefore have been created during a dry period. Chemical testing of samples from the site revealed that such a dry period occurred between 14,800 and 13,200 years ago, and again between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago. Whichever dating turns out to be the right one, these are easily the oldest petroglyphs that have been found on the North American continent, and will inform what we know about the first people to cross the Bering Strait.

The images are composed of abstract swirling and geometrical patterns. The researchers have suggested that the carvings may depict natural phenomena, such as leaves, clouds, or even the Milky Way. But without other evidence of culture from this period, it will be difficult to determine what exactly the etchings represent – or who created them.

“We have no idea what they mean,” Benson said of the Winnemucca Lake petroglyphs. “But I think they are absolutely beautiful symbols. Some look like multiple connected sets of diamonds, and some look like trees, or veins in a leaf. There are few petroglyphs in the American Southwest that are as deeply carved as these, and few that have the same sense of size.”

Three Major Installations (and an impending opening?) by James Turrell

Posted on Tuesday, September 3rd, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Artist James Turrell, though generally somewhat elusive and inclined towards private commissions, has had a big summer, as reported by the New York Times in June. Major installations by Turrell have been featured in New York, Houston and Los Angeles. The first two end this month, while the latter runs through April of 02014.

His work focuses on light and perception and the full experience often requires a viewer to spend more than a passing glance. That’s because it can take the human eye up to 45 minutes to fully adjust to a dark room and many of Turrell’s installations make use of such subtle light effects that patience is required to even see what he’s done. The large scale and precise requirements of his work make this summer’s nationwide availability of it an unprecedented opportunity.

Turrell’s immersive installations create spaces not unlike the scenes in The Matrix where characters discuss their world’s central illusion – except in place of Neo’s and Morpheus’s colorless void, Turrell offers a world of color.

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In other pieces, he creates Skyspaces – open roofed rooms with carefully calibrated ceilings and lights that seem to bring the sky down, to give it texture and to make it appear material.

He’s also known for the mythic Roden Crater, an extinct volcano he bought in 01977. Since then, work at the site has been aimed at creating a naked-eye observatory using principles of light and perception similar to his more accessible installations, but cosmic in scale. An ever more prevalent element of the mythos of the project is the question of when it will be done. Few have seen it as it’s come together over the decades, but the author of Turrell’s recent New York Times profile was able to explore and discuss Roden Crater in depth:

One by one, we walked up the tunnel. It was 854 feet long and 12 feet in diameter, with blue-black interior walls and ribs protruding every four feet. At the top, a great white circle of light beamed toward us. Or so it seemed. As we drew closer, the color changed from white to blue, and the shape began to shift, elongating from a circle to an oval and rising overhead, until it was clear that what had seemed to be a round opening at the far end of the tunnel was in fact an elliptical Skyspace in a large viewing room. A long, narrow staircase made of bronze ascended through it.

We climbed onto the top of the crater and stepped into the sun. Once again we were surrounded by a Martian landscape of crushed red stone. A cold wind blew across the caldera, and we lay down to view the sky, the clouds streaking overhead as the heavens vaulted.

Dusk was coming. We got up and followed a narrow ramp into another Skyspace. It was round, with a narrow bench around the perimeter. Turrell calls it “Crater’s Eye.” We took seats on the bench and stared through the opening in silence. The color of the sky was deepening. It was rich with blue and darkness. It seemed to hover on the ceiling close enough to touch. No one spoke for 30 minutes. I glanced over at Turrell. His hands were folded in his lap, his eyes smiling at the sky. Whatever else the crater had become for him — a job, a dream, an office, a persistent reminder of his own mortality — it was clear that the Skyspace still had the power to lift him up from earth.

Turrell may, it seems, reward patience like few artists can.

Harmonic Spheres and the Music of the Cosmos

Posted on Wednesday, August 21st, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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In the 6th century BC, Pythagoras developed the science of harmonics. Legend has it that he was inspired by the sounds emanating from a blacksmith’s shop; producing experimental music with hammers and anvils, Pythagoras realized that the relationship between different musical notes can be expressed in the form of simple mathematical ratios.

Pythagoras saw in this a fundamental theory of the universe, and redefined the world – from the motion of celestial bodies to the emotional fluctuations in a human body – as iterations of a kind of cosmic music. More than a millennium later, Johannes Kepler interpreted this musica universalis as proof of Divine splendor, and devoted his career to a description of the geometric and harmonic order of our solar system.

Efforts to chart this celestial harmony can produce strikingly aesthetic images. Kepler’s sketches proved as much in his publications – as does this work by software developer Howard Arrington. Arrington used his own Ensign software to visualize the relationship between pairs of planets, producing a series of intriguing geometric mosaics. Better yet, he shares the program with which he created his images, so that you, too, can capture the music of the cosmos.

Art & The Art of Archiving at New York’s New Museum

Posted on Monday, August 12th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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From July 17 to September 8 of this year, the New Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is hosting XFR STN (read ‘transfer station’), an “open-door artist-centered media archiving project.”

A collaborative effort by artists for artists, XFR STN is essentially a preservation and migration service for artwork created with or on audiovisual and digital formats that have since become obsolete. The migrated works will be available publicly through the Internet Archive, and on view at the New Museum’s fifth floor gallery space.

Part public exhibit and part archival laboratory, XFR STN is turning the preservation of art itself into a creative process. It’s an effort at saving art from digital darkness – not only by ensuring its continued accessibility, but by keeping it alive in the public eye.

“Consistent with the dictum “distribution is preservation,” the project argues for circulation as a mode of conservation. “XFR STN” will serve as a collection and dissemination point for artist-produced content, as well as a hub for information about these past projects (including production materials and personal recollections). The project is both a pragmatic public service and an activity as metaphor: an opportunity to present aspects of a mediatic production process in continuous dynamic transformation.”

 

The End of (xkcd’s) Time

Posted on Monday, August 5th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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The stories told in comics can range from decades-long epics to a single wordless image. Though Randall Munroe’s web comic xkcd has tended toward the shorter end of this vast spectrum, he recently concluded a narrative arc that unfolded over several months in the form of Time.

Starting off as a couple stick figures sitting on the beach and the instruction to “Wait for it…”, the image automatically updated in a kind of super-slow animation that followed the characters on a journey of discovery. Readers (viewers?) had little explanation to go on and began looking for clues and forming theories about the story’s setting and direction. A frame showing the night’s sky allowed astronomy buffs a chance to show that the story seemed to be taking place thousands of years into the future (just as we hope the 10,000-Year Clock’s face will prove useful). Munroe confirmed exactly that in a post on his blog once the story had concluded:

And as Time unfolded, readers gradually figured out that it was a story, set far in the future, about one of the strangest phenomena in our world: The Mediterranean Sea sometimes evaporates, leaving dry land miles below the old sea level … and then fills back up in a single massive flood.

Wired explores even further the research Munroe put into his story, including geographically appropriate flora and fauna, as well as creating  a constructed language:

With the help of a linguist, Munroe invented a language and orthography (dubbed “Beanish” by readers) for one of the foreign cultures his characters encounter, which he wanted to be “as different from [English] as our language is from Linear A or Linear B,” the still-undeciphered writing systems of ancient Crete. His abstruse approach worked; despite the efforts of “Time” superfans, no one has been able to decode the language, which Munroe finds fitting since “we haven’t cracked Linear A, either!”

Time chronicles a cataclysmically accelerated event in an uncharacteristically patient, ponderous style. Here’s the whole thing, turned into a video: