16 March 2014

A Video Experience

"The New Twitch" is a video experience portraying our minds in a digital process, as our environment becomes a new graphic interface.

What would our environment look like if our minds adopted some of the context of an interface?  It would become quick, dizzy, unearthly and without context, like San Brakhage's "Dog Star Man," but with much more of a modern, computer-like twitch.

Image from http://deeperintomovies.net/journal

The introduction to "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" makes reference to film art like Brakhage's, and in a way updates it by employing the style in a new context such as this popular movie.

Image from http://cdn3.artofthetitle.com/

In my own art career, I find myself itching to update old trends, whether that means responding to Meret Oppenheim's "Object" a century later or updating Marie Menken's "A Glimpse from the Garden" using new media.

Image from moma.org

My "Fuzzy Cups" teaset, a response to Meret Oppenheim's "Object"

"The New Twitch" is my update to Marie Menken's film "A Glimpse of the Garden" in which the filmmaker attempts to imitate an insect's experience of flying through a garden using a camera suspended from a fishing pole.

Image from http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/
Menken's film gives the impression of a human thinking and trying to move like an insect, rather than an authentic insect's experience, and I get an impression that she sacrificed some authentic movement for watchability.  When Menken produced "A Glimpse of the Garden," the use of film to impersonate movement was cutting-edge.  However, in this Digital Age, a computer-user's thought is so much closer to an insect's that Menken's film seems sadly out-of-date.

In effect, with "The New Twitch," I aim to make no sacrifices for watchability, and in fact do not expect the video's viewers to be able to "stay tuned" for the whole length of the experience.  My goal is to make a statement about new media, using new media, in response to Marshall McLuhan's sentiment that "All media work us over completely."

"The New Twitch" is a metaphorical walk through the garden with our new insect minds.

The soundtrack for "The New Twitch" is the original work "Wobble Games" by Evan Conway.

07 March 2014

A Natural Philosopher

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton, one of the more memorable names of the Scientific Revolution, was born Christmas Day in the year 1642 and lies buried today in Westminster Abbey (Manuel, 4-5).  He may be remembered now as a great scientist whose contributions to the field of physics are numerous and notable, yet the idea of a scientist had not yet come about in his time.

Newton was a natural philosopher, a scientist of the 1600s.  The word scientist was not put into use until the 1800s, long after Newton's death, so our understanding of men like Newton as true scientists comes from a perspective of modern thought (Dolnick, 7).

Newton had a fascinating relationship with God, and it is this relationship, I believe, which McLuhan and Fiore attempt to respond to in the text of The Medium Is the Massage.  I also believe that there were some misunderstandings on the part of the authors which can be easily cleared up with a bit of research.

Page 146 of Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore's The Medium Is the Massage, in which Sir Isaac Newton is mentioned

I will admit that there are a number of perspectives with which scholars choose to approach Newton's spirituality.  They seem to disagree whether "Newton's philosophy and religion were two separate things," whether "Newton's science was intrinsic to practically all of his considerations on theology," whether there exists more of "a complex network of mutual influence," or if he even "went a step beyond the others in forcing Christianity into conformity with science" (Austin, 521-522).

What we do know is that "Newton's main theological concerns were the promotion of ecclesiastical peace and correct biblical interpretation," and that "he conceived of religion as a set of duties, all of which could be known from biblical revelation and some by the light of natural reason" (Austin, 523).  His God was a mathematician who had created a universe wound like clockwork, and natural philosophers such as Newton took it upon themselves to find the key to decoding God's work (Dolnick, xvii).

Essentially, to understand science was to understand God and his creations, and our universe is just not commonly seen or understood that way anymore.  For McLuhan and Fiore to make such conclusions as they did about the death of "The Newtonian God" suggests that they misunderstand Newton's relationship with God (and, by extension, the mission of the natural philosophers of the 1600s).  To understand Newton's relationship with God, one must understand the atmosphere of the Scientific Revolution.

Scheme XXIV, twenty-fifth plate, opposite page 175 in the book Micrographia: or Some physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon (London: printed by Jo. Martyn and Ja. Allestry, printers to the Royal Society, 1665), courtesy of ArtStor

Men where just beginning to look through microscopes and question the order of things.  The Scientific Revolution was just as much a time of religious upheaval as it was a time of revolutionized thought, and this seems to be an aspect of the 1600s which is too often forgotten (Manuel, 29).  The 1600s were a time when focus was turned to patterns, from the eyes of a fly to the movement of planets.  With such a powerful religious atmosphere, though, there was difficult compromise to be found.

Julius Caesar wird zu einem Cometen (Venus Takes the Soul of Julius Caesar and Makes It a Comet), courtesy of ArtStor  

Dolnick describes the "Age of Genius:"  "Disease was a punishment ordained by God.  Astronomy had not yet broken free from astrology, and the sky was filled with omens" (xv).  "The seventeenth century believed in a universe that ran like clockwork[…]and also in a God who reached down into the world to perform miracles and punish sinners" (18).  Is it fair for McLuhan and Fiore to state that this time is past, to misuse a quote by Nietzsche to add shock to their analysis of modern thought?

In addition to overstating the role of God in work like Newton's--rather than recognizing a gentle balance achieved during the 1600s between natural philosophy and religion--the authors also suggest some sort of "dissolve."

Perhaps the authors of The Medium Is the Massage suggest this dissolve occurred because of new-found ideas that simply don't fit into old schemas such as Newtonian mechanics (quantum mechanics, as a bold example).  Yet, once again, the authors' phrasing is simply too vague for me to tell their true meaning.  If the "groundrule" they refer to is God, however, I might agree that His role is certainly diminished in the academic world due to a significant recent separation between science and religion.

Infinite and Finite Square Wells; image source: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/quantum/imgqua/pfbx1.gif

To bend Nietzsche's words to apply to a non-philosophical argument, and to overstate the ability of faith in God to affect scientific thought is, in my opinion, abuse of Newton's name.  With new media, what, exactly, has dissolved?  Faith in God?  The view of a clocklike universe?  I cannot disagree with all that McLuhan and Fiore have said, in a great way because they said it so vaguely, but I will choose to see Newton's God as alive and present, if not in the minds of the scientific majority.

See below for full outline and further reading.

What is a natural philosopher?

1. Literally
a. Dolnick, 7—The word scientist didn’t come about until the 1800s.  These were natural philosophers in the 1600s.
b. Austin, 522—“for Newton ‘Philosophy’ includes what we would call natural science.”  Natural philosophy is what they used to call what we now call science.
2. Who was Newton?
a. Born/died
                      i.   Manuel, 4—Born Christmas Day, 1642
                    ii.   Manuel, 5—Buried in Westminster Abbey
b. Relationship with God
                      i.   Manuel, 6—“He occasionally skipped chapel as an undergraduate in Cambridge”
                    ii.   Austin, 522—“None of Newton’s primary theological writings were published in his lifetime.”
                  iii.   Austin, 523—“Newton’s main theological concerns were the promotion of ecclesiastical peace and correct biblical interpretation, and[...]he conceived of religion as a set of duties, all of which could be known from biblical revelation and some by the light of natural reason.”
                    iv.   Manuel, 40—“‘And though every true Step made in the Philosophy brings us not immediately to the knowledge of the first Cause, yet it brings us nearer to it, and on that account is to be highly valued’”
c. Relationship between God and science
                      i.   Austin, 521-522—“Does he regard his scientific and theological studies as bearing on each other—and, if so, how?  Or does he consider them mutually irrelevant—and, if so, why?  His interpreters disagree.  According to his most authoritative biographer, ‘Newton’s philosophy and religion were two separate things, and he does not seem to have concerned himself with the problem of recounciling them.’  But R. H. Hurlbutt finds it ‘clear...that Newton’s science was intrinsic to practically all of his considerations on theology.’  R. S. Westfall finds ‘a complex network of mutual influence’ between Newton’s religious belief and his scientific work; like all the ‘Christian virtuosi’ of the seventeenth century, he strove for a harmony between the two, though ‘he went a step beyond the others in forcing Christianity into conformity with science.’”
                    ii.   Dolnick, 18— “The Bible was not a literary work to be interpreted according to one’s taste, but a cipher with a single meaning that could be decoded by a meticulous and brilliant analyst.”  To Newton, this concept also applies to science.
Newton in McLuhan’s context:  McLuhan, 146—“The Newtonian God—the God who made a clock-like universe, wound it, and withdrew—died a long time ago.  This is what Nietzsche meant and this is the God who is being observed.  Anyone who is looking around for a simulated icon of the deity in Newtonian guise might well be disappointed.  The phrase ‘God is dead’ applies aptly, correctly, validly to the Newtonian universe which is dead.  The groundrule of that universe, upon which so much of our Western world is built, has dissolved.”
1. The clock-like universe of the Scientific Revolution
a. Dolnick, xvii—“at some point in the 1600s, a new idea came into the world.  The notion was that the natural world not only follows rough-and-ready patterns but also exact, formal, mathematical laws.  Though it looked haphazard and sometimes chaotic, the universe was in fact an intricate and perfectly regulated clockwork.”
b. Manuel, 29—“The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century is for us so decisive that it tends to overshadow the simultaneous upheaval in Christian and Jewish scriptural studies.”
                      i.   Dolnick, xv—A taste for the times...Dolnick describes the “Age of Genius,” the late 1600s:  Disease was a punishment ordained by God.  Astronomy had not yet broken free from astrology, and the sky was filled with omens.”
                    ii.   Dolnick, 14—“‘Books on the Second Coming were written by the score during this period,’ one eminent historian observes, ‘and members of the Royal Society were preoccupied with dating the event.’”
                  iii.   Dolnick, 18—“The seventeenth century believed in a universe that ran like clockwork, entirely in accord with natural law, and also in a God who reached down into the world to perform miracles and punish sinners.”
2. Interpreting “God is dead” in terms of Newton’s time
a. Dolnick, xviii—“God was a mathematician, seventeenth-century scientists firmly believed.  He had written His laws in a mathematical code.  Their task was to find the key.”
b. To understand science was to understand God and his creations, and it’s not commonly understood that way anymore.
With new media, what has dissolved?
1. McLuhan—Perhaps the authors of The Medium Is the Massage suggest this dissolve occurred because of quantum mechanics (I would assume) but, once again, their phrasing is too vague for me to tell.
2. McLuhan—But, what if the “groundrule” referred to is God?  In that case, His role is certainly diminished due to a significant recent separation between science and religion.

Andrade, Edward Neville da Costa. Sir Isaac Newton. London and Glasgow, UK: Collins, 1954. Print.

Austin, William H. "Isaac Newton on Science and Religion." Journal of the History of Ideas 31.4 (1970): 521-42. Print.

Burtt, E. A. "Method and Metaphysics in Sir Isaac Newton." Philosophy of Science 10.2 (1943): 57-66. Print.

Dalitz, Richard, and Michael Nauenberg. The Foundations of Newtonian Scholarship. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2000. Print.

Dolnick, Edward. The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
Gleick, James. Isaac Newton. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2003. Print.
Grant, Edward. "God and Natural Philosophy: The Late Middle Ages and Sir Isaac Newton." Early Science and Medicine 5.3 (2000): 279-98. Print.
Livingstone, David N. "Science, Religion and the Geography of Reading: Sir William Whitla and the Editorial Staging of Isaac Newton's Writings on Biblical Prophecy." The British Journal for the History of Science 36.1 (2003): 27-42. Print.
Mandelbrote, Scott. "'A Duty of the Greatest Moment': Isaac Newton and the Writing of Biblical Criticism." The British Journal for the History of Science 26.3 (1993): 281-302. Print.
Manuel, Frank. The Religion of Isaac Newton. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1974. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1967. Print.
Osler, Margaret. Rethinking the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, Print.
Rickey, V. Frederick. "Isaac Newton: Man, Myth, and Mathematics." The College Mathematics Journal 18.5 (1987): 362-89. Print.

23 February 2014

A Gallery Opening

I can only imagine that, in a "real world" setting, getting a gallery space set up with the work of so many artists would not go as smoothly as it did for our Digital Processes class.  From what I've heard, organizing even one artist's work to his liking can take days, so I am very impressed that we got a gallery space up and running in a number of hours.

I did my part by typing up labels and delicately slicing them up with a crooked paper cutter.  The slicing went as expected, but typing up labels in the first place was surprisingly difficult (not that anyone had particularly messy handwriting, but switching from reading one style to the next was sort of taxing on my brain).  If anything, I think my small struggle demonstrates that people are always the hardest part of organizing something (for me, at the least).

I happily prepared deviled eggs for the gallery opening (thanks for the wonderful complements, everyone!).  FYI, nutmeg is hard to sprinkle onto eggs during a power outage.  :]

Long story short, I love the intimate little white cube in which we displayed our work and the way it encouraged people to interact freely with the books and the art.  Inkjet prints look pretty spiffy in black frames, and I'm glad we could coordinate fonts throughout the show.

I think that's all I have to say about that.  Feel free to ask me questions if I missed anything.

This is one of the photos from my series "Chosen Fibers," which is currently in the gallery space.

17 February 2014

A Soundscape

This short soundscape documents my experience in understanding and involving myself with the orchestra, from childhood to the near future.

The oboe has been my key to understanding and experiencing the orchestra.  I pulled it forward in my mind from among the din, and I spent time with it to the point where the instrument was able to reintroduce me to the orchestra.  I listen now with an understanding of each instrument as an individual like the oboe, part of a coherent whole.  I constantly look forward to being able to participate in orchestral humor among friends, and although I am still naive, I am no longer uninterested.  I openly make a mess of what I don't yet understand, always to see if I can make my musical friends smile.

PS:  The oboe is amazing and I love multiphonics, in case you were wondering.  :]

05 February 2014

A Photo Book

Chosen Fibers is a 26-page photo book of my own creation.

It displays a series of 26 square photo groups, each one split into four quadrants of fiber texture:  a single person’s hair and three things that the person is wearing.

Chosen Fiber’s text is heavily influenced by Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore’s book The Medium Is the Massage.  Though they address new and unfamiliar media in their writing, they do so with somewhat of a neutral tone, leaving the reader to approach with either pessimism or optimism, or some other point of view.

Chosen Fibers showcases my optimism toward the Internet, and accepts the Internet-using community’s actions in customizing their online personalities as entirely nothing new.

The following is the complete text of Chosen Fibers.

We’ve always been doing this.  We reach into our collection of fibers and patterns and choose what we look like every day.  So don’t be afraid of the Internet.  There’s no turning back.  We are who we are.  So don’t be afraid to let it show.  Wear new media like you wear your socks.  The pixel is your new friend.  Optimism is all you need.

The text is playfully juxtaposed with nearly full-page images for the majority of the book.  After the punch line “of the Internet,” there is a four-page pause of full spreads intended to focus the reader on what has just been said:  an interlude.  For a few more familiar pages, the original formatting resumes, but pauses again to allow an image to move from a central, isolated point of view on the left to a full-page spread on the right.  This foreshadows the next statement, that “the pixel is your new friend.”  Four images, then, spread left to right, act like a group of pixels organized onscreen.  The final message hits with large images once again:  “Optimism is all you need.”