Blog Archive for the ‘Long Term Art’ Category

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Watermark: New Film by Edward Burtynsky

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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Every living thing requires water. We humans interact with it in a myriad of ways, numerous times a day. But how often do we consider the complexity of that interaction?

Renowned photographer and former SALT speaker Edward Burtynsky explores these questions in a new film. Co-directed by Burtynsky and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal,

Watermark is a feature documentary film that brings together diverse stories from around the globe about our relationship with water: how we are drawn to it, what we learn from it, how we use it and the consequences of that use. … Shot in stunning 5K ultra high-definition video and full of soaring aerial perspectives, this film shows water as a terraforming element and the scale of its reach, as well as the magnitude of our need and use. This is balanced by forays into the particular: a haunting memory of a stolen river, a mysterious figure roaming ancient rice terraces, the crucial data hidden in a million year old piece of ice, a pilgrim’s private ritual among thousands of others at the water’s edge.

The film is part of Burtynsky’s larger Water project, which also includes a book and an exhibition of dramatic large-format photographs. Watermark will be playing at theaters throughout the United States this month and the next; you can find a list of screenings here.

In San Francisco, Watermark will be screened at the Opera Plaza Theater  for one week, starting this Friday, April 18. Come see the film on opening day for a chance to hear Burtynsky speak about the film: he will attend the 4.30 PM and 7.00 PM shows in person for a post-screening Q&A with the audience.

More information about the Water Project book can be found here, and the accompanying photographs will be on exhibit at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco through the end of the month.


Jem Finer Performs at the Exploratorium

Posted on Tuesday, April 1st, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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Jem Finer, composer of the 1,000 year long composition Longplayer and a founding member of the band The Pogues, will be performing at the Exploratorium on Thursday, April 10, 02014. The event will be the fourth installment of Resonance, a new music series that explores “distant realms of musical possibility.” The Exploratorium describes the upcoming performance as follows:

The evening will feature a conversation with Finer and host Sarah Cahill and performances of “Original Soundtrack #5” and “Starfield.”  Finer’s “Original Soundtrack #5” is an inversion of the usual supporting role of the soundtrack. Finer gathered sound using a video camera, then draws upon this raw material to compose improvisational films whose visual component is a byproduct of these sound juxtapositions. The Exploratorium performance of “Original Soundtrack #5” will also include new material recorded in San Francisco. In addition, Finer will perform “Starfield.” Each star shines with a unique spectrum of light frequencies. By translating these into sound, Finer generated the raw material for this celestial composition.

The event will be held at the Exploratorium’s Kanbar Forum, which features a Meyer sound system – similar to the one Long Now will have at The Interval. This performance is part of the After Dark series; tickets to Resonance can be purchased here and include admission to the main After Dark event after the performance is over. Seating in the Kanbar Forum is limited and on a first come first serve basis, so it is recommended to arrive before the show time of 7:00pm.

Previous performances can be viewed on the Resonance website; you can expect to see Jem Finer’s added here in a few weeks.

Long Now hosted a performance of Longplayer and a Long Conversation event in 02010 in San Francisco. Audio of Jem Finer’s conversation with Stewart Brand from that event is in our Seminar section (video available for members).

Edward Burtynsky: The 10,000-year Gallery – A Seminar Flashback

Posted on Wednesday, March 19th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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In October 02008 Edward Burtynsky spoke for Long Now on The 10,000-year Gallery. Burtynsky, an internationally-recognized photographer, presented his ideas for a gallery of images to accompany the Clock of the Long Now.

Twice a month we highlight a Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) from our archives. Long Now members can watch this Seminar video here, and this talk is even better with the visuals.

SALT audio is free for everyone on our Seminar pages and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

Burtynsky’s The 10,000-year Gallery talk includes a formal proposal for a permanent art gallery in the chamber that encloses the 10,000-year Clock as well as the results of his research into methods of capturing images that might have the best chance to survive in the long-term.

Photographer Edward Burtynsky

From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):

On the stage Burtynsky showed a large carbon transfer print of one of his ultra-high resolution photographs. The color and detail were perfect. Accelerated studies show that the print could hang in someone’s living room for 500 years and show no loss of quality. Kept in the Clock’s mountain in archival conditions it would remain unchanged for 10,000 years. He said that making one print takes five days of work, costs $2,000, and only ten artisans in the world have the skill, at locations in Toronto, Seattle, and Cornwall.

Edward Burtynsky‘s photographs are collected in museums all over the world. He is known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes which include mining locations around the globe and the building of Three Gorges Dam in China. His work has been noted for beautiful images which are often at odds with their subject’s negative environmental impacts. In recent years his work has focused on water including oil spills around the world.

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. The series is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Long Now members can watch the full video of this Seminar here—you must be logged in to the site. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits. Join Long Now today.

Long Now on xkcd

Posted on Monday, March 10th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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If our current civilization lasts another 8,000 years, it's probably fair to assume the Long Now Foundation got things right, and at some point we started listening to them and switched to five-digit years.

Today’s xkcd comic features a reference to the Long Now’s dating system in the “secret” mouseover text (hover over the image to read). Those that wish to be early adopters and start using 10k compliant dates now, please refer to our recent post on how to configure your computer’s date interface.

For those that follow the comic, you may remember the reference to the far future in the xkcd comic “Time”.

For those that don’t follow the comic: you’re welcome.

This comic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license, please refer to xkcd’s licensing guidelines if you wish to use this content.

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.”

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.

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

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.”