My time in New Zealand is coming to its end! Already we are so close to the end of the semester and this blog, albeit forced, has been a learning experience in patience, creativity and keeping my mind open enough to learn.
This semester’s work is coalescing in what I feel will be a powerful project in visual public discourse. The assignment I am introducing to you now requires that we make a public piece about an issue of social importance to myself and my partner. I’m very excited about this!
I am happy to announce I will be working with my partner, Jing, to make a perpetual motion machine similar to the Sisyphus Machine in the video below. But this box is not simply a toy. It will be a powerful statement. Using what we have learned from Mirzeoff, experts in visual communication, and our extracurricular passions thus far, Jing and I will use this machine to make a valuable point about human intervention in nature.
This blog will be regularly updated to reflect the project as well as educate people further on the subject so that we can help inform the public as to the roles of science and medicine in the world today. Look forward to the following:
We will outline how we got the idea in this blog below.
Where did we get such an idea?!
Prior to joining design school Jing was a pre-med student with an avid love of human physiology, science, and biology. My freshman anthropology teacher was also a medicinal anthropologist and I developed from her an interest in human evolution and anthropology of medicine. As an activist and a trans person my own healthcare is also in danger in the united states because I am on Medicaid.
So when Jing brought up the issue of anti-biotics breeding super bugs, evolution marching forward because people don’t know how it works, and scientific research always needing to be cutting edge, I immediately jumped to the rejection of these ideas in the public space; most predominantly in the anti-vaxxer and anti-biotic movements.
Jing and I wanted to illustrate the idea that science and nature tend to perpetually leap frog. If we are to stay ahead we must always be jumping; every day pushing science higher like Sisyphus!
We talked for hours about how we would illustrate these ideas on the sides of the box similar to the Sysiphus machine. We want to simultaneously show humans success over dangerous diseases and what losing ground in those successes means on and around the box. So for each side we will illustrate a concept:
One side we show the discovery of penicillin.
On its opposite the atrocity of plague, yellow fever, and Hepatitis.
We will show on the length side of our box the evolution of humans riddled with death a people fail to realize evolution is a story of bottle-necks.
On the back side we will tell a story of success over the past several generations due to vaccinations antibiotics.
On top of the box will be the machine and the world from the perspective of a virus or bacteria.
We hope you look forward to the development of this project and hang tight while we create it over the next few weeks! (that’s such a short amount of time!)
I don’t remember how I felt when Princess Diana died (BBC). I remember the news riddled with grief I could not feel. I remember days of shock I could not fathom. I remember a car crash as important to me as a local crash on the state line, and I remember a very beautiful woman all over that coverage whose name I could only place by way of scrolling credits. I don’t remember how I felt, or where I was, or why it was so sad.
9/11 though! I remember 9/11 (CNN). I remember where I was when I was pulled off the playground early by obviously distracted teachers. I remember the news broadcast replacing English. And Math. And History. I remember a fast-moving clock and those burning towers. I remember a discussion of what half-staff flags meant and I remember the frequently disappearing children of armed forces officers getting picked up before I myself left the school around noon. I cried heavy tears. A few of my classmates lost a parent.
The impact of 9/11 has defined much of my political and economic opinions. It defined a presidency, a war in the middle east, and an economic crisis. One of my three most impacted art pieces (right) I posted on this blog earlier was a direct critique on the war in Iraq (“Art Appreciation”). Looking at that piece brings that feeling back. That connection I felt to Andrew, the short buzz-cut kid whose mother came to pick him up and who did not return to class for two weeks. A painting brings back those feelings, and the community I was a solid part of in that moment.
My experiences of 9/11 and that of Princess Diana, were very, very different situations. Both were devastating and defined a decade. But my response to each represents a profound difference in what it means to be a part of a community in its context. Most profoundly, it exemplifies Arts’ place in community discourse.
The Cindy Sherman Clown Series I discussed last week in “how to get art” were inspired by the 9/11 attacks (Logan & Baker). They were about taking the raw emotions felt by America and placing them on the faces of a few clowns in a career permitted to show those emotions. Those clowns have cut across time.
That said, I would like to reflectively underscore the purpose of my previous few blogs: Community is required to understand art, but art, provides a most valuable service, to communities and their networks by gluing them together. In art and in writing feelings are royal, but context is queen. It is in the presence of context that the art of Cindy Sherman, becomes vital and important to any community looking desperately to find that visceral connection between and with others.
Work Cited (Read More):
P.S: My heart goes out to the victims of the London attack earlier today. Attacks like these, and the media on the news that it represents brings about these same feelings – they always have, and it is always a tearing feeling to know that emotion is raw and new for the families involved. To learn more an up to date report is provided here (Dewan & Moorhouse).
This blog is part 4 of a four part series about our Sisyphus machine. all links are presented below. It is produced in concert with Jing Ke and myself (Samantha). We are happy to unveil this to you and to the class!
This is it! Here we go! The big reveal! This blog will discuss the project from a finished standpoint but more importantly It will critique from Jing’s and my perspective, how the project went, what we could improve, and what could be done with some reworking. this will be divided into the project, then Jing’s opinion, and mine last.
The Project: “Nevertheless She persisted”
After careful thought about the duality of man and nature, the concept of scientific progress being masculine and the feminine identity of nature brought to light a duality that closely resembles the eco-feminist theories of the seventies and the more recent feminist conversations surrounding the united states congress.“Nevertheless she persisted” is the story of women standing up and speaking against the control that male congress leaders in the U.S. came to think was the norm. they rose up and in the same way nature rises to meet mankind.
It also hearkens back to those times when the greatest of power, the moon, the earth, the winds, love, and time were in the hands of powerful goddesses in the Etruscan, Egyptian, Greek, and roman pantheons – not in the control of man. Recognizing that same power, and recognizing the evolution of super-bugs to combat scientific protection from them seems almost perfect. So we have chosen to name our Sisyphus machine, “Nevertheless She [as in mother earth] persisted.”
Composing and constructing the Sisyphus machine has taken both Samantha and I a lot of time, but we got there in the end.
I would evaluate the workflow of building the machine to be slower than planned, and we did have to make a few adjustments to our Sisyphus blueprint to save time as the oncoming due date approached such as minimizing the carving needed in the walls of the Styrofoam box, due to limitations surrounding the hotwire machine. We also encountered complications with the construction of the internal motor. Specifically making sure that the cogs could maintain friction and turn with sufficient torque. The other was underestimating how heavy the models we made that were supposed to rotate, were. The arms of the machine were unable to support the weight of models. However, to solve both problems that were outlined, Samantha used a rubber band to increase friction and bind both cogs together so there was enough support and rotory motion for the clogs to turn. For the arms we basically added more lego pieces to the design then desired. The model of the man also fell onto the floor and shattered into a few pieces. Thankfully we did have some super glue on hand. We ended up each designing two sides of the machine (ultimately all sides were decorated) in a black-and-white scheme to demonstrate the balance of color symbolizing the balance of nature and to make it easier if we wanted to carve in the future.
The overall box’s intent seems spot on. Trying to tip the scales of life in one’s favor will undoubtedly make nature, “leap frog”. The box exemplifies the importance of equilibrium and thoroughly represents the ever-going war between Man and super microorganisms. There is no winner.
However, evaluating the problems we had this time around I believe there is definitely more to improve on such as being able to manage our time better, handling our materials better and being more on the ball when crisis hits.
To find out how it was made click here to read this blog!
The sisyphus machine has taken a lot of hits from concept to final product but overall it does its job. I’m very proud of Jing for her work on the external designs and the figurines and am very happy to have worked with her on this. There are several areas of improvement, particularly with the admitidly janky mechanism I wish I could improve such as the lego parts which are very bad at sustaining eight of the figures and can’t do much about the friction.
I think that we did very well in composing the designs and the images given the dimension of the box. It was a little wonky working with the odd dimensions but jing pulled through phenomenally. The internal mechanism works albiet haphazardly and it was really a lot of fun to build.
Improvements made to the box as a whole would be its overall length. I think that the lenght was too long to really support the designs on the sides of the box as needed and more thought should have gone in to how we would cut the roman columns out. Despite prior experience with a hotwire device before I am a little miffed at myself for not getting to cut out the columns properly. thinking on it cardboard would have been better suited to build up the box instead of cutting it from styrene.
The concept of the box was to make a comment on the cycle of science and nature and I think that in that way we did very well. The notion that human scientific advancement is inevitably followed up with great natural leaps and that our affects on the world occur three fold makes its point very clearly in a siyphus machine. the designs on each side represent a duality as Jing said. I feel anyone coming upon such a machine in public, given some time, would completely get it.
This has been a fantastic collaborative project and I feel so lucky to have had Jing as a partner. Thank you to the first year class of creative arts and to the home-stay families who had to endure our project on their kitchen tables for so long!
This blog, unlike our other articles detailing the project is a bit more low key. In this blog we will cover how we built the machine, and what problems we ran in to. We will begin with the concept and measurements for the box, then break it down to the boxes internals, and its designs.
As stated in our first article, the purpose of this machine is to illustrate the march of science and nature in a perpetual cycle. Interrupting it could have devastating consequences and because of that Anti-vaxxer and anti-antibiotics movements have a detrimental effect on how we handle the natural evolution of harmful viruses and bacteria.
We thought that the greatest way to depict this concept was in a perpetual motion machine – a kinetic and moving sculpture that always moves in specific ways. A Sisyphus machine is a specific type of kinetic sculpture that gives the illusion of moving in space – much like Sisyphus in the Greek tale would move a rock up a hill, and then wake up back at the bottom again.
The scribbled notes on the front and back provide initial ideation mechanics and despite their mess, they largely translate to the following plan:
2 options – a wheel or piston bar can produce the motion we need. Motion we are looking for is about 8-10cm rotation where the rods coming out of the top of the box move up and down in a circular motion.
The box (Jing):
Jing had a polystyrene box measuring 87x30x27 cm. Cutting roman columns out of the polystyrene box would require a hot wire cutter. only access to this tool we had was in the creative office and we didn’t have time. Tried anyway. On all sides a plaque would be provided that includes the title for the piece. a border of DNA will also frame the full box.
front (Samantha): The march of human evolution with a grim reaper at its back and a slew of dead bodies under them.
Side R (Samantha): The invention of penicillin
Side L (Jing): Bacteria and Viruses
Back (Jing): Someone getting a shot injected in to them.
Top (Samantha): the cycle mentioned in our second blog article about the march of science and man will be detailed going around the box with the full title of the project: Nevertheless, She Persisted. this refers to the politics surrounding the anti-vaxxer movement as well as a call to the persistence of mother earth – nature.
Figures (Jing): one would be a man and the other will be bacteria.
We will go in to detail regarding this list now.
The Inner workings:
The internal workings were the most difficult part of the build. There were two conceived options here – we could make a wheel that would move two pistons, or a piston rod that would move two pistons. We initially went with the wheel as resources allowed it to work more easily, but had to scrap it after it didn’t work and went with the rod design which as of writing this is also not looking super positive (but we’ll get there!). The chassis and the actual rods were fashioned together using an old Lego set. The engine we used was a basic 12W converter that pushed about 8 volts of electricity to turn the bottom rod.
In the end the device worked well “enough” for a proof of concept to work so our internals seem pretty solid. If only we were able to machine our parts instead of relying on lego parts this would work a lot better.
While the internals were quite possibly the most difficult part of the build, it was the designs on the outside, and the figures that created the most difficulty for us. We chose to build our box using Polystyrene and in hind sight this wasn’t the greatest idea. With no access to a hotwire from the university we were forced to use a very sharp exacto knife to get in to the device. While it worked, there was no impression that we could make. We had to make do with just providing a poor illusion in the design.
The designs were probably the ones that we had the most fun with during the course of the project. Each side was meant to compliment each other. There were 5 drawings and 2 figures in total – most of which Jing was responsible for.
Left & Right:
Our next blog, “nevertheless she persisted” will unveil the final product and discuss the full project, including how we think we did, but a brief discussion of the final product is in order at least.
This project has been a stressful one full of failures in the case of the engine and the polystyrene box, but what engine hasn’t created problems? Without the proper machinations to produce what we needed it was difficult, but we would not trade this experience. It has taught us a lot about building and about art. We hope that the finished machine will create thought provoking ideas surrounding the place of science in the greater natural evolution of our world, how this applies to global warming, and especially how artists around the world can impact the world around us. Stay tuned for the final reveal of the finished product in our next blog!
This article was Co-Written between Jing Ke and Samantha Logan for a class project.
Science is a march of progress that is tidally locked with nature. Gradually, with every step, medical advancements and scientific knowledge teach us more about the world we live in. Each advancement builds on prior knowledge and progress that creates other, potentially greater questions about nature. For every scientific discovery and resulting advancement, the course of nature adapts, things change, and society must discuss whether that advancement is truly in our, or the world’s best interest. No greater example of this cycle is more suitable to illustrate it then the Anti-Vaccination and Anti-Antibiotics movements.
This blog and the project attached will illustrate one very simple fact: The medicinal miracle of vaccines and anti-biotics has been met with greater viral and bacterial threats in nature. For humans to remain healthy and for devastating diseases to stay cured, every person must understand our dependency on vaccines and anti-biotics. We must also understand the recursive role nature takes in this cycle. To elaborate on this we will start with a primer on vaccines and anti-biotics. Then we will discuss the cycle of science and nature, and finally the recent trends against science that want to disrupt that cycle.
How Viruses and Vaccines work
In science, part of the cure against diseases and viral outbreaks are the bacteria and viruses themselves. One way of discovering a cure for or developing resistance to these foreign entities is to disassemble the virus or bacterium being targeted and create a harmless version that is still identifiable by your immune system and introduce it to our bodies via a vaccine.
These changed versions of the viruses or bacteria train your body so when the real deal enters you do not fall ill, because your immune system will already identify the unknown intruder in your body and eliminate it.
Scientists have also developed ways to target the pathogen itself and prevent the bacteria/virus DNA from being replicated, thus stopping the spread of the bacteria/virus itself. Other cures have been made where they directly target the cell wall of the bacterium and rip it apart, causing the bacterium to die out. Both of these solutions are however more expensive and harder to implement than a vaccine. Each of these solutions over time create resistant strains to the method used, and the only way to prevent this is to get them all before they have the chance to mutate and evolve into a resistant “super-bug”.
When bacteria constantly encounters lethal antibodies in your body, there is a more likely chance that one bacterium will develop resistance and it won’t be long before the entire strain becomes immune to the antibodies. Bacterium can pass on their immunity by interlocking their proteins and then transferring plasmids (bits of dna carrying proteins) between not only their own species of bacteria, but other strains as well. If a developed anti-biotic that targets the bacteria is not present until the very last one dies, the chances a bacteria pass on it’s resistance skyrockets. This is why doctors tell you to take all of your anti-biotics until they are gone – not just until you feel better.
The Anti-Vaxxer and Anti-Anti-biotic Movements
The vaccine and anti-biotics processes have been known to science for a very long time. The first smallpox vaccine was created in 1684 (via historyofvaccines.org – seriously check their site out!) and the first anti-biotic, Penicillin, was created by Alexander Fleming in the 1940s. Since then huge diseases have been largely cured or rendered ineffective to the population such as Denge fever, Yellow Fever, Measles, and more, but that does not mean those diseases are gone. We co-habitate with them and they continue to grow and evolve with us. The most primary example is that of the Zika Virus which evolved to create an outbreak fifty years after it had been known to humans according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The required vaccines doctors ask children to take are vital to the continued life of people all over the world over a very long time, but recently, due to a fake news article connecting the vaccines to autism (historyofvaccines.org), parents all over the world have been swearing off vaccines. Anti-biotics have also been proven to mess with the pro-biotic bacteria that keep us healthy in our bodies and failure to use them properly has created a great fear of “super-bugs”. These movements are advocating a life in an environment where we are not immune to the regular viruses and bacteria so we do not spawn greater threats. The flaw in this argument has to do with the cycle of evolution, and our interference with it.
The Evolutionary March of Science and Nature
As stated in this blog before, these viruses and superbugs are not affecting our bodies due to our immunities in vaccines and thorough use of anti-biotics, but that does not mean they are gone. It means they exist around us and simply do not harm us. Any Darwinian Evolutionary scholar worth their salt will tell you that viruses and bacteria evolve very quickly and their hosts are not just humans. The plague was carried on rodents and Zika is carried on Mosquitos. These viruses and bacterium will continue to evolve whether we are there or not, and they remain dangerous to us. The catch however, is when we STOP vaccinating, or we don’t take our anti-biotics seriously we accelerate their evolution instead of stunting it.
We will conclude this blog with a second critical fact. Our first fact was that this cycle exists and at this point stopping the cycle is a terrible idea. Our second fact, is that stopping this cycle will do nothing to help humanity. These medical advancements have saved countless lives over half of a century, and if we stop the cycle, these bacterium and viruses will continue as they did prior to vaccines. People will die.
We implore you. Continue the cycle of science and nature, keep us one step ahead, and do your responsibility as an adult. Wipe down your house’s surfaces, vaccinate your children, ensure they take all of their anti-biotics, and take them to get regular checkups.
This blog is a part of a series! Check out the others here!
The notion that World of Warcraft players are anti-social is not a new one (Snodgrass et al, 2011). The notion that online social media has reduced millennials’ communication skills is not a new one (Sinek, 2016; Conover, 2016). The idea that people have lost the ability to connect with others due to progressive reliance of online interaction is not a new one (Valkenburg & Jochen, 2007). Each instance has been arguably falsified in academics (Conover, 2016; Mirzeoff 2015; Castells, 2010), but for many years still these arguments have illustrated a growing concern for how digital media negatively impacts the way we communicate (Mirzeoff, 2015). Many myths surrounding the online world’s inability to facilitate good conversations have propagated. Today I would like to counter this notion of online communication being poor. I invite you to look at online communication and the structures of online mediated spaces in a new way. Sites of communication online are complex structured mediums where the site’s capabilities set the tone and level of conversation in the same way a political conversation in 7/11 is different from one at an academic institution.
In this blog will be two positive examples of online communication sites whose wealth of tools offered to users produce excellent communication environments. My argument is in combination with better understanding of what our sites’ structures do to discourse, and a vested awareness in how communication online works, we can make great communities that transcend the limited social media capacities of common platforms today, and improve the level of discourse on and offline.
Communication in the early days of the internet – BBS Boards
To make my point strong we go back to the beginnings of the internet with rudimentary HTML (Hyperlink Text Markup Language) topic boards put up before social media was a pipe dream in the mind of programmers (Castells, 2010). For those not familiar with internet history, the military created a rudimentary web called ARPA NET in the 1980s which was used for scientists in military and universities to collaborate online through BBSs or “Bulletin Board Systems” (Castells P. 36-82). BBSs allowed researchers to connect with and discuss complex topics with each other; BBSs supported rich conversation. It has stuck around in modern forms as well. It is popularly seen to have “rudimentary” functions as it’s not all that pretty, but most systems involve link, video, images, gifs, and HTML modification support when arranging assets. Put short, BBSs are highly expressive. Take BudgetLightForum.com. Below is an image of a close friend of mine enacting an entire Identity through avatars, signatures, and descriptive text (Fig. 1). She directly quoted someone else and she and others on the BBS have created identity, community, and expressions all over the world, bleeding in to offline economic interactions with flash light sales and expos. With proper understanding of HTML, and other BBS supported languages, the system is a veritable canvas of expressive tones, literary tools, and visuals supporting discourse.
While BBSs are highly expressive, there is something to be said for their exclusivity. BBSs require back-end upkeep from board administrators, a consistent community, knowledge of the code languages the board supports, and a good deal of time. This may suggest why the BBS format has been phased out in favor of a more simple, curated, and limited social experience in the modern social media we deem as the problem.
A Modern Approach: Ello
When people think of millennials glued to their devices they are normally thinking of modern social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter (Mirzeoff, P. 150). Putting aside the arguments that millennials don’t exist (Conover, 2016), these platforms have integrated reality into them, and screen time is increasing across generations all over the world (Mirzeoff, p.154), I invite you to compare the structure of twitter who only provides 140 characters per post and one image, to an up-and-coming social site – Ello.co (Fig. 2).
Unlike Twitter’s highly accessible if tremendously limited discourse environment, Ello is a highly visual artistic and pseudo-exclusive social platform without ads. It is a visual blogging platform that is commonly used to find artists and social media specialists (Traphagen, 2014). Ello came about as a response to the structural restrictions of Facebook who controls what goes in to each user’s feed, restricts user content to balance it with ads, and overall poorly structures conversation. Ello allows users to use a language like HTML on BBSs, but has a UI similar to a modern social media site (Traphagen). Posting on Ello can be remarkably simple, or complex with a drag-and-drop interface and support for videos, images, GIFs, and links. Ello’s focus on visual structure of communication is highly refined allowing for a great amount of expressiveness, but it is far more accessible (Fig. 2).
Ello’s “stream” or interactions with others is also separated between two streams where you have full control over what you see, and a stream of ads from businesses or people you follow. These features of Ello combine with a very aesthetic focus and create a small-community online feel that fosters complex and rich communication when compared to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Facebook and Twitter among the other more popular sites have seemingly eclipsed BBS boards and Ello is having trouble maintaining a foothold in popular domains, but they are hardly the only formats that have a range of highly expressive and powerful communication structures online. Joining them are sites such as DeviantArt, Weebly, gaming platforms such as Curse or Discord, video streaming sites such as YouTube, Twitch, and Skype. Online games and virtual reality enterprises are spending more time thinking about how to integrate the virtual world in to real life. These platforms and their communities put this growing misconception that communication online is poor, to bed. So, when interacting with someone online, consider whether the platform’s design, the medium you speak through, and the capabilities you are missing, are arbitrarily limiting your ability to communicate your ideas to your fullest. If the answer to that question is yes, consider switching to a more expressive platform.
This blog is from me, not related to class or communication or communities or work. I want to take a moment to discuss my absences in posting after deciding to do this blog every week (yeah, that went well) and providing a plan for what I will post.
Here’s the thing. This all feels forced. So so so very forced. Writing about what i want to write about in a community I want to build just does not fit in with any class. And i’ve been on spring vacation and in school in wellington doing writing assignments for classes and in all honesty…..they have no place here on a public blog that I want to build. Yet I am required to do a blog for them. I feel like the space I wanted to create has been stolen and written FOR me and that’s just simply no way to do a blog about inquisitive, high value, rich-media content. I want to make this a reality but there is a simple truth about myself i have had to swallow over the past few months…
I am not a content creator. I have been in the past with my youtube channel and with Trans Youth Channel and with RESCQU NET. I made my own things then. And it worked. It can work in the future. But this past term of this class has shown me how much I dislike making someone else’s content for their purposes (although not for their standards) and for that reason, being a content creator under contract or for a class simply has never stuck with me.
I want to be authentic to viewers. In all actuality I don’t have many. But the best way to be authentic is to be straightforward. I am not a content creator in a blogging community at this point. I want to talk and discuss. Create discourse, develop ideas, and have great interactions around the content others make while producing the content I own. I want to promote good ideas, and suss out bad ideas for the quality they can provide. I’ve learned something about myself and that is that I cannot make fettered content.
So from now until my class ends, most of my articles are going to feel forced – because they are. This is not a medium I am comfortable using to appease my teachers. So I want to formally apologize for that. I’m a square peg fitting in to a round hole here.
With that in mind, i endeavor to make that content as best as I can. Please look forward to what I have to say regardless.
It is no secret that this blog was recently started due to a spurred requirement of a class I am taking during my Study Abroad trip to New Zealand. The class is essentially a class on the appreciation and impact of visual communication in our world. I personally am not looking to specialize in visual communication and already have an associate in art, but given I am looking to specialize in online community management which is almost entirely a visual area of expertise, I plan on modifying the intent of this class a bit.
A few weeks ago my school required that I read “How to See the World” by Nicholas Mirzoeff which is all about visual communication and the impact of art on various levels of the socio-ecological scale. For design students, the book is wonderful and by and large I have enjoyed reading it, (I’m on chapter 6), but something has been bothering me about it and the class. The book reads like a basic history report of much higher-brow sociological textbooks. It is simultaneously very accessible to lay-readers and annoyingly paced to me. Chapter 4, “The World on Screen” is a discussion of how visual technologies have reduced the perceived size of the world and created a “global village”. Its intent is to illustrate how technologies have changed the way we as a public see the world, but I feel the subject was glossed over in the 30-page chapter. Mirzoeff talks about the importance of trains in movies for about 50% of the chapter, TVs and reporting for 22%, and then technology – not even recent technology – comprises another 20% (Mirzoeff,2015). Proofs of these concepts and what I consider filler make up the rest.
Now I have nothing against trains, but all he is saying about them is that they became an important “place-marker” for visual media for several decades. He uses seven examples throughout the chapter, and several of them focus on the filming techniques used. Trains are an allegory for travel and connection in many ways and can be used to symbolize a smaller world because of technology. People have used this symbolism a lot – but is it really supporting a “world on screen” argument? I feel that it is more of a red-herring then direct evidence. From a visual design perspective though it teaches an important lesson about artistic choice (we’ll get to this in a bit).
Comparing this argument (if it is one) to the powerful impact of“The Rise of the Networked Society”by Manuel Castells, in which he has entire chapters in his 3 volume thesis on the rise of the internet, discusses visual communication architecture for an entire section of his second volume, and focuses on an intense connection across multiple academic spheres throughout to make his point clear, I would be far more satisfied reading Castells’ then with Mirzoeff’s chapter (Castells, 2011).
While the book feels ill-paced to me and does not focus on the subjects as much as I would prefer it is still a highly valuable book. Mirzoeff’s argument throughout the fifth chapter is geared for a visual audience and intended to make one think of the technology as a powerful force in artistic mediums. As I said previously it is a very accessible book to the public and I feel this is the intent of the class I am reading the book for as well.
Moving on to the class, Massey University’s Wellington campus is a business/design school and the course is a freshman level course. Many of the students have not heard of a socio-ecological scale, semiotics theory, rich media context theory, or most theories at all. They’ve likely been taught their elements and principles of design, the golden rule, and how to write a proper journal. The class seems to appropriately gloss over the deep theory when considering the impact of digital media on communities, but they do focus on the benefits and power of symbolism in art work. The class itself provided 17 sources from the public sphere to answer the question on technologies impact to the visual world. It’s obvious that the class is geared toward the level of discussion Mirzoeff Provides. Mirzoeff’s book is more likely than Castells to stoke their fires and help them learn.
For me though, it is not enough, so I would like to use this blog to analyze these questions a tad more in depth. I’d like to go above-and-beyond so to speak. Over the next few weeks I will be considering how the integration of visual technology will or has impacted the internet and physical spaces. I will use important theories in communication, evidence from qualitative and quantitative analysis, and I will pull from important prior research in several disciplines.
Throughout the next month I plan to look at the topic of “communication technology” using the following thesis:
How our notions of 2-Dimensional hardware devices have swayed our perspectives of our online communities.
How motivations, Rich Media Context Theory, online environment, and Semiotics interact with the quality of online conversation.
The impact of online forum architecture – comparing BBS (bulletin board style) forums and Social Media formats of different sorts.
Why the term “Online Community Manager” is problematic considering these topics.
Of course, as these are not yet written they are subject to change, but I certainly hope that this will give you a good overall view of where I plan to go with the blog over the next month. Weekly installments will publish every Friday and some extras may be present!
EDIT: I set 2 of these articles to publish over my Easter holiday break but apparently they are set in June >///> This is entirely my fault and I have scheduled them to publish 2 at a time every Wednesday instead to keep up with the school assignment.
Castells, M. (2013). Rise of the Networked Society (3rd ed., Vol. 1). Wiley-Blackwell.
Mirzoeff, N. (2016). How to see the world: an introduction to images, from self-portraits to selfies, maps to movies, and more. New York: Basic Books.
Ferdinand De Saussure, an old philosopher once stated, there are two requisite parts to understanding how we communicate our ideas to people.
First, there is a signifier such as a picture of, or the word TREE, and then the signified which is the concept that word represents. Both are required. If one looks at a different language, and they cannot parse the signified meaning of a symbol then that symbol fails to signify the meaning it intends to.
This is called Semiotics in modern communication theory which is the study of signs and codes.
What is interesting though is that there are many impressions (that I have found at least) especially in the art world, that pictures work around this duality of symbolic speech because art or visual representations are a globally present phenomenon – a cultural universal.
However, for the sake of understanding “modern art” and more specifically critiques of art and culture, I am going to argue (as plenty before me have) that the signifier and the signified are still a necessary part of a whole in visual rhetoric. to understand art it takes the context and the perception of signified meaning to make a connection to it.
To do this, Let’s use one of the most famous photographers in the world, Cindy Sherman, whose gallery I had a wonderful opportunity to attend in Wellington this past Thursday. And let’s reference the frustrated comments of those who claim not to understand art in general and who tend to take it (ironically) at face value. Then we’ll apply this for a quick lesson on how to properly understand “artistic statements” in art.
We have a big agenda and you likely don’t have much attention span so let’s get started:
The Cindy Sherman Art Gallery:
First, take this photograph in. What is it saying to you? How do the colors in the background inform your opinion of the clown? And of the obvious prosthetic? What do you notice about the eyes? The mouth? What do you think the artist is saying? Do you think it’s just Bullshit? Is the emotion of the clown contrived or natural? Why is/isn’t this art? (I’m super curious so you should tell me these answers in the comments!)
This is what a friend of mine said in reference to the piece:
Did you make the connection to “It?” Did you think it was as simple as a creepy clown? More to the point, is there an argument of merit here about anything in the untitled but (numbered in the 100’s) piece alone? If you had to guess what would it be? (seriously though, put it in the comments)
Well, I saw this piece in person, and I had a journal on hand so now we can share my experience:
“No one piece in the clown series had as much of an impact on me as the untitled clown piece 424 (pictured above). The energetic lines in the background compliment the emotions I see clashing in the character. There is a holding back of a raw emotion on a “real” face under the paint while the paint has forced them to look calm and happy posing for the image. The combination of red overwhelmed by yellow and the clashing expressions of the face and paint show an obvious rejection of that real emotion. The silent fury on the face of someone wanting to take the high ground.”
Context is Queen. Visual Rhetoric requires the Signified:
Did you get what I got? Likely not. And the reason is because you have, a photograph. You do not have the written description of the clown series or the biography of Cindy Sherman on the gallery walls. You are not walking those halls. And you likely don’t have an art degree. Even if you did however, clowns are clowns until you have the context and you’re really just speaking an unknown foreign language. So, here it is – context on the artist.
The clown series of which Unknown 424 (above) is from was done between 2001 and 2004, presented in the years 2003-4. Cindy, tends to embody her characters as a photographer and tends to be VERY ironic about it (because what else is a modern/post-modern artist to do). She said in her description of the pieces that the waking tragedy of the 9/11 attacks inspired these clowns because clowns are the outsiders that can show emotion in such a raw and intense manner as to illustrate everyone’s reactions to 9/11 without repercussions (Caldwell, 2017).
So bearing that in mind, take this next piece of hers in:
This piece represents a childlike emotion, one of being smaller than your own skin. Being unable to impact the world. A simple background and a nude suit too large for a child and bright but tainted colors . The face is clearly adult and unsure, but the painted face puts on a smile either way.
So How Do I Read Art in Context?:
In an ironic twist of fate, Modern Art as Cindy Sherman is considered seeks to push the boundaries of what is and is not Art. It’s a critique on the times. Unfortunately however, without a solid understanding of the institution of modern art – the discourse, written rhetoric, and composite understanding of how to “read” a visual piece – the public is left out of the conversation. So the question, “how do I understand Art” is less about looking at art and far more about getting your head around discourse. This comes in a few tips I will conclude this article with:
Understand the Principles and Elements of Design When I spoke about “untitled 424” above I made a reference to the diagonal background creating energy and I referred to the red and the yellow representing emotional states. These important critiques seem very simple, but out of the blue without a solid understanding of HOW visual stimuli affect our brains. Without a solid understanding of the Principles (how composition, color, emphasis, etc.) and Elements (shape, line, value, etc.) of design work, you are trying to understand art without knowing your alphabet and you cannot construct an idea of “how” it is written. Without an understanding of Color Theory (how color affects your body), or the tendency to prefer things in odd groupings rather than even, you can’t actually read the piece well enough to comprehend.
Know What Kind of Art are you Looking at: Every gallery you walk into will tell you a specific art show is, Baroque, or Traditional, or Cubist, or Modern, or Post-Modern. It’s a very good idea to make use of that $700 pocket guide to all of history to know what you’re walking in to. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia page for Impressionist art work will tell you that the artists had a specific mindset during this era, and a specific mindset was being changed as a result. This can help you get into the general head space of any artist to plug in to that conversation.
Visual Rhetoric Takes Time, and a Little Help: For every painting you look at for 3 minutes, an artist spent a minimum of 80 hours researching it, conceptualizing it, planning it, referencing similar pieces like it, taking photographs for it, painting it, revising it, sometimes remaking it, and finalizing it down to the very last detail.Even pieces that really did take a matter of minutes such as logos and designs involved market research, thinking about the values it would represent to a group of people, how best to represent a company behind it, and more.
So repeat after me, “There is no way to know everything the artist wants you to!”
And that is what artist statements, gallery introductions, pamphlets and brochures, and art curators are for. And you should not ever feel pressured not to look at art if you don’t get it. Art teacher Isaac Kaplin suggests staring at one piece for 20 minutes at least once to get a sense of what it means to understand art from an artist’s point of view.
I may also suggest here attending an opening. The opening at an art gallery tends to be equipped with plenty of people with their own opinions and the artist themselves. So plug into those resources. There is far more there to get the idea across than the picture itself.
Your Experience is What Matters: At the end of it all, just as I was struck by Untitled #424, it is important to know that for an artist’s work to be truly worthwhile, you have to make peace, with your own interpretation of the significance after doing your honest best, to plug into the context.
I hope that this was a helpful primer on what art means, and I hope you enjoy art for what it says to you.
Please note: I dislike writing blogs that are public online for a class assignment that seems largely unrelated to content here, but I must so please know this article is written for class. In future publications, I will place the same warning as if it is paid content.
Although I have read only the introduction of How to See the World by Nicholas Mirzoeff I can tell that this book and I will be great friends already. By relying on psychological, anthropological, and sociological perspectives (including citations from Manuel Castells on page 13 who I already have high esteem for) Mirzoeff gripped me almost immediately (Mirzoeff, 13).
Through a cursory overview of the challenges the modern world faces he imparted three key facets of understanding visual culture in the modern world that I have seen little about outside of communication white papers. First was the change in time as perceived visually, second was understanding visual culture beyond communication, and last came setting up a frame work for understanding images in the deep future.
To elaborate on the first point, his analysis of the blue marble versus the astronaut’s ultimate selfie throughout the introduction focused on the instantaneous aspect of artistic decisions in time expanding past it’s context (Mirzoeff). These images transcend chrono-synchronous visual communication beyond context in a way that is self-referential; the images context was provided in it’s imagery. This is contrasted with the canonical artistic belief that the viewer completes the image as a one-to-one communication model. Understanding visual culture has now become a one-to-all asynchronous model across time and space.
Rhetorically speaking the canonical belief is still true, but the rise of self-predicated imagery on social media makes the receiver’s end of a communication model a little less necessary. The focus of our images in the modern world are now asynchronous. People take images for themselves and share them to the internet in general. They refer to these images when they are relevant and the images disappear into the ether when they are not. They can be brought back with reverse image searches and tags, or never referenced again. Regardless they are a permanent part of the internet landscape. As Mirzoeff says, “what we are experiencing with the internet is the first truly collective medium […] It makes no sense to think of the web as a purely individual resource” (Ibid, p.21).
Second, Mirzoeff discussed visual rhetoric as not only a communication method, but a new type of sense for our scale and understanding of the world. By referring to what I call cultural lenses or the ways in which we see the world as determined by the things we see and feel, Mirzoeff makes the claim that our visual senses are not simply seeing per-say (Mirzoeff p. 11). They are actively filtering the way in which we see those things. In what Castells and Mirzoeff call a Networked Society that is increasingly dominated by globalized visual communication, opening this perspective is vital to understanding the visual stimuli we receive (Mirzoeff & Castells). We are being bombarded by signs and symbols which tell us what we should take from it, but we automatically adjust that thinking based on our cultural lens. To adapt to the future we must explicitly learn how to analyze the messages coming through in a trans-cultural manner. But even then, how can a book teach us what this will mean when the future changes? Mirzoeff’s answer to this question leads us to our third point.
Mirzoeff answered this question by speaking less on how to look at images and more laying down a framework for thinking about visual culture in the deep future. I term deep future here as the future we cannot determine due to technological innovations and cultural challenges we have yet to solve in the modern hyper-connected world (Crash Course).
In the last paragraph of his introduction Mirzoeff lays down his response to this difficult question; “How to See the World will suggest how we can organize and make sense of these changes to our visual world. We will see what is on the rise, what is falling back and what is being strongly contested” (Mirzoeff, p. 27). The table of contents offers a plan for adapting to a future we currently know nothing about via a bottom-up approach to explaining how we as humans think and see, how mediums and channels affect the way we see, how our immediate communities affect it, and finally, how our world communicates to us through these channels.
Mirzoeff offers for me, in this brief introduction, a beautifully crafted plan for teaching me how to understand a world that is getting increasingly visual. I cannot wait to review future chapters.