May 14, 2008

Is Driving Better than Bicycling?

Living in Portland makes it easy to commute by bicycle - which is what I've been doing for the past 6 years. I recently came across this post from the Sierra Club blog about whether or not the fuel a bicyclist uses to power their bike to and from work uses as much fuel as car...
What do you think?


May 11, 2008

Belltown P-Patch and In the Field

This weekend I visited a community garden in downtown Seattle called the Belltown P Patch. I had heard about this via a publication called Belltown Paradise compiled by Brett Bloom. Brett works with a woman named Ava Bromberg on a project called "In the Field" whose work, in their own words, begins by looking at, listening to, and learning from how people transform the spaces they inherit and build new spaces based on their needs and desires. In addition to hosting information on projects like Belltown P Patch, Portland's City Repair Project and the Chicago Compost structure, this website also hosts links to field guides to art, politics and urban planning in other cities. Seems like a great resource for our upcoming lot project!

The garden was in full bloom, and a couple of people were out thinning some of the profuse spring growth in their plots. The air was filled with the scent of flowers, and having read the story of this place made my experience even more enjoyable.


OLCV Annual Dinner for the Environment

On April 25, I volunteered at the Oregon League of Conservation Voters Annual Dinner for the Environment. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters is a non-partisan organization with a simple mission: Educate voters about how their legislators vote on the environment and to hold these legislators accountable. This year, over 850 people attended the dinner, and somewhere around 40-45 elected officials who voted pro-environment were recognized for voting green when given the choice. I've volunteered at this event for 3 years now, and each time am impressed by the number of people in attendance as well as how organized everything is.
The best part is that the woman who runs this dinner, Molly Kramer, is coming to talk to the Social Practice students next week about raising money. It should be great information!


May 7, 2008

Collaboration Research

Shelby and I had a great conversation about defining collaboration during the post-lecture dinner we had on Monday. He has been thinking a lot about collaboration because he has been working with friends and family to co-create his MFA thesis and made the astute suggestion that I post some of the reading I'm doing on my blog. Great idea, Shelby!

In Melbourne, I met a guy named Mark Elliott who had just completed a PhD developing a general theory of stygmergic collaboration. If you want to know what stygmergy is, you might just have to read about it. I have to say I'm only about 30 pages into this 220pg. document, but I'm loving his thoroughness both in trying to define the difference between cooperation, coordination and collaboration, as well as in discussing the ways in which various disciplines such as IT, business and sociology define collaboration based on what their foci are. I'm also really loving all of Mark's flow charts describing the difference between all of those "C" words. I'd recommend checking out his dissertation as well as some of the projects he did leading up to his writing.
Mark has lots of weblinks to his writing and various projects that can be reached from this page:
In the spirit of looking at students' blogs, here's a link to the blog he kept while working on his PhD:

I am also currently reading a book put out by Temporary Services called Group Work published by Printed Matter.

And finally, Eric Steen pointed me to a website called


May 4, 2008

Archive Fever

By far, my favorite exhibit in NYC was to the International Center of Photography to see Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art. This show was recommended to Varinthorn by Julio Morales during his visit to Portland. I'm paraphrasing, but Julio suggested to V that in his opinion, Okwui Enwezor, the curator of this show, is the best curator in the world right now. I don't know if I know enough to say that he is or isn't, but this show was awesome!

One of my favorite pieces in this show was The Specialist: Adolf Eichmann. I found the following description of this film on the International Historic Films website:
On May 11, 1960, Adolph Eichmann, a chief of SS transportation, was captured by the Israeli secret service in Argentina. One year later he was put on trial in Jerusalem and tried for crimes against humanity. Chronicled on international television and on the front page of every newspaper, this was the first opportunity for worldwide focus on the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry. Since that trial, the idea of a separate, describable set of events, now called the Holocaust, became part of human consciousness. American documentarian Leo Hurwitz compiled over 500 hours of footage, which Eyal Sivan and Rony Brauman then edited down to its eloquent essentials. The Specialist refrains for the most part from showing atrocity footage. The impact of Eichmann's evil is established clearly and horrifyingly by watching the 55-year-old bureaucrat squirm and twitch, smirking and half smiling at much of the evidence presented against him and by watching the faces of the witnesses talking just sixteen years after the events as they reveal their unimaginable ordeals.

Ever since visiting Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar in 2004, I have been profoundly stirred by the idea that the German people were able to allow the Nazis to run concentration camps. It seems so strange that average middle class people in the cities were unaware of what was going on, and that there was an entire bureaucratic structure in place for making this happen. In addition to visiting the concentration camp, we also toured the Weimar city archives, and were given information about contextualizing Germany's relationship to history, which is so profoundly different from the way that I have experienced history before. I guess what struck me most was that the German people can't romanticize this history, and also can't erase it. And so they are in a position to tell a story that needs to be told, but can't have a happy ending. Buildings are moved 12" to the side of their foundation to indicate that they were once dismantled, shipped to Moscow, and returned to the same spot for historical preservation. Other buildings are raised only to have their foundations filled with the rubble of the building that existed there previously. History becomes something less of a grand statement or bronze statue and more of a subtle gesture towards remembering.

Thus, one of the most fascinating parts of this film for me was the dialogue where an interregator asked Eichmann to explain the details of his working process down to the number of files he kept and how those files were used. Basically, Eichman kept 3 files that he used to decide whether or not to send Jewish people to concentration camps. One file was for situations where a precedent already existed, one file was for situations where there was no precedent, and the middle file was for situations where he wasn't sure whether a precedent applied. The interrogator was trying to get Eichman to explain what he did with the middle file. How much of a say did he have in the decision making, and did he ever make proposals? If he made a proposal, the implication was that he was guilty.

I was struck by how bureaucratic this situation was. I was thinking about my job, and my files, and how surreal it would be to have to talk about the decisions I make based on my organizational structures. I was thinking about how the seemingly mundane aspects of the office world can become incriminating. And I know that this sort of a half-baked rant, but I was thinking about how hard it is to draw the line sometimes between being held responsible for killing people indirectly vs. being the person wtih the gun.


EPA - Environmental Performance Actions

One place we visited in New York was Exit Art. I wasn't as interested in the exhibition on the first level of the venue having to do with the brain and art, as the small (in area yet broad in scope) exhibit in the basement regarding artists addressing issues of the environment called Environmental Performance Actions.

This show included artists we had come to the lecture series this year, such as Futurefarmers and Fritz Haeg, as well as other people I have been looking at, such as Ted Purves and Susanne Cockrell. I think that one of our incoming students, Connie Hockaday was involved in the Miss Rockaway Armada, also displayed in this show.
Both Cyrus and Eric asked the curators a lot of questions regarding this show, and one of them said something to the effect of, "Oh, I see why you all might be interested in this environmental stuff, being from the west coast. I lived in Seattle once, and environmental issues are part of your daily life there. You might not have noticed, but people here don't really care about the environment like that."

The show itself consisted primarily of documentation (images/video) and text about the piece. I will attempt to re-create the show in some way by linking to the websites of these artists from this blog. (For anyone interested in researching these artists further, I recommend the website)

Brandon Ballengée From the website: More than many environmental artists, the work of Brandon Ballengée bridges the gap between research biology and art. He combines a fascination with fish and amphibians with the techniques of commercial art photography. In 1996 Ballengée began collaborating with scientists to create hybrid environmental art/ ecological research projects. Since then he has had numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally in which he presents photographs and biological samples of the creatures he collects. He is involved directly with field research and uses the visual impact of science to engage the public in a discussion of broader environmental issues.

Vaughn Bell/Sarah Kavage/Nicole Kistler
From their website, Watermark: "Watermark is an ongoing series of events and performance actions in which we visualize, experience and mark the potential Seattle waterfront—a shoreline created when applying a 20-foot sea level rise due to global warming to the current topography."

Mark Brest van Kempen
From Mark Brest van Kempen has created a variety of artworks using the landscape itself as sculptural material. From the Free Speech Monument on the UC Berkeley campus to Land Exchange at the National Academy of Art in China, his work explores the range of emotions and issues that are embodied in our complex relationship to the environment.

Carissa Carman and Joanna Lake
Carissa and Joanna completed a ten week tour of the United States traveling by waste vegetable oil (WVO) to explore American methods, responses and perceptions of creating sustainable and healthy agriculture. The tour includes stops along the way at a variety of farms and agricultural producers to learn from the diversity of farming methods and alternatives used in the United States.

Rapid Response
'Rapid Response'' is a four-person team of conceptual art activists (Christina Cobb, Peter Fend, Julia Fischer and William Meyer) that has conceived and, is promoting a new, eco-friendly fuel supplier: the Post-Petroleum Gas Station.

Susanne Cockrell and Ted Purves
From their website: Susanne Cockrell and Ted Purves work collaboratively on social art projects that investigate the overlay of urban and rural systems upon the lives of specific communities. Their projects ask questions about the nature of people and place as seen through social economy, history and local ecology.

Xavier Cortada
From Xavier's website: The Miami artist has worked with groups across the world to produce numerous large-scale collaborative art projects-- including peace murals in Cyprus and Northern Ireland, child welfare murals in Bolivia and Panama, AIDS murals in Geneva and South Africa, and eco-art installations on Miami Beach and Antarctica. In 2008, as a New York Foundation for the Arts sponsored artist, he'll bring his art installations to the North Pole.

Carrie Dashow & Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg
Carrie and Jesse work together as the Society for a Subliminal State. One recent project mixed instruction on how to sing shape note music with the first ever presentation of the Rosendale edition of the Subliminal History of New York State, a narrative about living land and history being developed by Carrie.

Erica Fielder
From Erica's website: Erica Fielder merges artmaking with lifestyle and the natural sciences in order to encourage a heartfelt shift to ecologically ethical practices and integrated relationships between humans and the wild blue-green Earth.

Center for Tactical Magic
From the CTM website: The Center for Tactical Magic engages in extensive research, development, and deployment of the pragmatic system known as Tactical Magic. A fusion force summoned from the ways of the artist, the magician, the ninja, and the private investigator, Tactical Magic is an amalgam of disparate arts invoked for the purpose of actively addressing Power on individual, communal, and transnational fronts. At the CTM we are committed to achieving the Great Work of Tactical Magic through community-based projects, daily interdiction, and the activation of latent energies toward positive social transformation.

From the FF website: Futurefarmers is a group of practitioners aligned through an open practice of making work that is relevant to the time and space surrounding us.

Fritz Haeg
From Fritz's website: Fritz Haeg Studios: practicing a fusion of the design arts responsive to humans & environments

Amy Howden-Chapman
From the website Amy Howden-Chapman is a Wellington-based artist and writer, and a member of the performance duo Raised by Wolves with Biddy Livesey. Her practice spans performance, often including collaborations with individuals or as in the case of Save the Whale/The Great Pacific Ocean Rubbish Patch Recreation (2006) with over eighty people when she attempted to re-create the mysterious phenomenon known as the North Pacific Gyre — a massive swirling whirlpool of ocean waste in the North Pacific ocean. Her installations, text-based and photographic works also address pressing environmental concerns and complexities of the urban realm, retaining a gleeful curiosity and an absurdist character.

Basia Irland
Basia Irland is a sculptor and installation artist, a poet and book artist, and an activist in water issues. In 1999, Irland produced the documentary, A Gathering of Waters: The Rio Grande, Source to Sea, based on a five-year, grassroots project which she planned and directed. Utilizing collaborative, community-based activities along the length of the river, the project emphasized the rich diversity of the upper and lower river basins and enhanced public understanding of the river's relationship to the cultural and environmental issues of its adjacent communities. The documentary was seen on PBS and is distributed by The Video Project: Film for a Safe and Sustainable World.

Scot Kaplan
Over the span of one month, Kaplan produced one painting per day for thirty days by doggedly painting along with a pre-recorded episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

Carolyn Lambert
In the Ohio River LifeBoat Project, Carolyn floated a pontoon boat between Pittsburgh and Mississippi documenting and interviewing people who use the river for drinking water, fishing, farming and swimming.

Robin Lasser
In the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2002 Lasser brought two groups of students to the San Francisco Sanitary Fill. Many enjoyed the opportunity and the experience filtered into their art making process but only a few extended themselves in terms of a more extensive exploration of the site. Two students, however, did a more extensive exploration and worked on a video piece with Lasser titled: Dining in the Dump.

Kathryn Miller
(collaboration by Kathryn Miller and Australian writer/historian Michael Cathcart)

Kathryn transformed a site under a freeway in downtown Melbourne from a neglected pocket of land to a more sustainable and aesthetic place. After cleaning it up, it was planted with 6,000 plugs of native grasses. The grasses provided both a seed bank for future city plantings and as a visual break from the usual concrete and asphalt urban i

Matthew Moore- Urban Plough
Matthew Moore grows fields of various crops and ploughs them in such a way that they appear to be suburban subdivisions and house plans from above. He lives on a farm in Arizona that is slowly being surrounded by subdivisions. His actions comment on the encroachment of the urban on the rural.

Eve Mosher
HighWaterLine was a public artwork on the New York city waterfront that created an immediate visual and local understanding of the affects of climate change. I marked the 10-feet above sea level line by drawing a blue chalk line and installing illuminated beacons in parks. The line marks the extent of increased flooding brought on by stronger and more frequent storms as a result of climate change. During the summer of 2007, Eve walked, chalked and marked almost 70 miles of coastline. As she was out in the public creating the work, she had a chance to engage in conversations about climate change and its potential impacts.

EcoArtTech - Christine Nadir & Cary Peppermint

A mobile, solar-power environmental digital video and FM radio installation made of recycled shipping pallets. Three portable multimedia players inhabit a primitive, lean-to structure displaying videos of diverse contemporary environments while a transistor radio picks up a pirate radio transmission reciting quotations from classical works of U.S. literature that comment on the frontier myth informing American constructions of land, nature, and wilderness. Originally designed to be located along a remote section of the Appalachian Trail.

N. (2005) by Andrea Polli and Joe Gilmore, with weather data modeled by Dr. Patrick Market

According to NASA climate scientists, a dramatic warming trend has been experienced by the Arctic over the last decade that may accelerate global climate change. N. is an artistic visualization and sonification (direct translation of data to sound) by Andrea Polli and Joe Gilmore presenting weather data modeled by Dr. Patrick Market of the University of Missouri and Arctic images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic research program.

James Reed and the Social Sculpture Research Unit/Earth Agenda Projects
James Reed is recent graduate of the Social Sculpture Research Unit (SSRU), a transdisciplinary research unit based in the Arts Department of the School of Arts and Humanities at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England. The SSRU encourages and explores transdisciplinary creativity and vision towards the shaping of a humane and ecologically viable society. It engages with Beuys thinking and work, as well as those before and after him - making available some of the insights, inquiries and explorations in this multidimensional field.

Austin Shull

Brook Singer and Brian Rigney Hubbard

Brook and Brian work together on a project titled Superfund 365, documenting, indexing and ultimately depicting images of superfund (read: heavily contaminated toxic waste) sites around the US. Brook and Brian are interested in bringing attention to the fact that the US tax-payers shoulder the burden of paying to clean up these sites, rather than the businesses who created the messes.

Anne-Katrin Spiess
For “Journey to Green Horizons” Anne-Katrin cycled from New York City to Maine over the course of 9 days in order to draw attention to the amount of pollution resulting from CO2 emissions.

Chris Sollars

Chris whosed video of 11 people as piles of trash, that get up, walk, and sit down again in San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district.


Data Processing

I've been postponing reflection on our trip to NYC for about a month and a half. I had some pretty negative reactions to being in Manhattan, and feeling like I was going around consuming art in the same way that I consume imagery on the television or internet. I'm still working out my thoughts surrounding that, actually. In the meantime, I wanted to go through the notes I took regarding art we saw that was actually interesting or inspiring to me, just as a way of digesting some of that massive amount of input from visiting 3-5 art spaces/day for 5 days.

I think one of my clearest realizations about my experience in New York was that I felt like I could have taken in quite a bit of that information online, and that I didn't have to go to the place itself to take in the information. On top of that, I really have never enjoyed myself in New York, the place. I would rather go to other places that were more concerned with things like the environment, livability, affordability etc. Or maybe I'm just not wealthy enough to enjoy NY, to consume what it offers. It felt so commercial, and so concrete. I can't figure out where the romance of it is. Not sure. I'm still working that out.