Monday, June 2, 2008

Berkeley Big Bang: Day 2

The reason you go to an event like BBB is to listen to highly educated people expound in a highly intelligent manner. You hope, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, that you will understand what they say and, fidgeting with talisman, that they share ideas that are thrilling. With those thoughts in mind let’s double-click on Berkeley Big Bang: Day 2.

Rick Rinehart kicked off by reminding us that this a symposium on new media and the body. This is an event sponsored by DMAX which is chartered to provide exhibits, educational opportunities, support the art community (with a blog) and build a collection in an open museum. Throughout the day Rick was the somebody who reminded us of the embodiments of the talks.

Ken Goldberg limped to the podium - his foot in a cast as a reminder of the frailty of human embodiment. And he reminded us about about the Berkeley Center for New Media and the ways that media can be made real - even ideas can be media or as McLuhan pointing out that a light bulb is a medium. But Ken’s principle objective was to introduce our keynote and plenary speakers which he did with great warmth and pleasure.

Did you ever have a moment when you thought “Ah, this is why I went to University”? Hubert Dreyfus is an embodiment of such a notion. Fifty minutes of fast talking on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger et al but all in a followable and clear manner supported by understandable examples. The thrust was to examine the possibility of whether an authentic or valid existence could be pursued with a virtual world such as Second Life (SL). In other words could there be a valid human embodiment there. Dreyfus posited that we need to have meaningful events - from family meals to weddings and funerals - where there are are intercorporeality, moods to be shared, a sharing of the sharing and a sense that one’s own contribution has affected the mood. Perhaps he did not feel that the current Second Life enabled the required communication of moods, but it was apparent his snooping in SL had provided him with so much food for thought (if not on the actual table) that he was excited to listen to the next speaker.

With that, BAM/PFA Board member Jane Metcalfe, introduced Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Labs and creator of Second Life. Philip never once talked about Intelligent Design. He didn’t need to. He was so happy to be talking with Dreyfus, so enthusiastic about SL, so charming with the audience that you want to to call it Happy Design or something. Anyway he raptured us by pointing out that the new web-cams will have certain depth-perceptions aspects worked out. In tern this will allow separation of foreground and background which in tern will vastly speed up processing of gestures. The avatar of the future will be an embodiment of algorithms and human gestures. Given the ten year lag between what we see in computer generated movies and what us available in games, the emotions and moods you saw in Lord of the Rings wil be available in SL in eight or so years. Well with Dreyfus’ challenge and Rosedale’s resolution, if you listened carefully, you could hear Martin Heidegger up in heaven popping a Champagne cork.

Two more speakers before lunch:

Chris Fallon compared the embodiment of crowds in say, Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will to the computer generated multitudes in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings - and asked us to ponder if these bodies have a political element.

Brooke Belisle prepared us for viewing Jim Campbell’s Home Movies. She told us that we would feel before we see. That we would understand before we recognize.

After lunch:

Eric Paulos told us about his efforts to design mobile sensing devices that could measure gas concentrations accurately in a small form factor. The goal being to get them inexpensive enough so that they would be readily available for ordinary human beings to measure air quality in their own neighborhoods.

Nancy Van House provided fascinating insights regarding imagery on the web. For example: some people prefer looking at other people’s Flickr images because there’s less whining then on the blogs. She proposes that there is an autobiographical impulse, a need to say “I was there!”

Kimiko Ryokai showed her Spyn System: a project that captured the images voices of eight knitters as well as data points obtained by impregnating the wool with inks visible under special lighting conditions. She could tell when the knitter had said a story by looking for signs in the scarf or sweater. Then she showed the I/O Brush which pulled images off an object and pushed them onto the screen. Delightful steampunk-like alternative futures.

Yehuda Kalay walked us down 7th Street. The 7th Street of the 1950s. A street that was ‘Downtown’ for black people from all over the Bay area and then taken away from them by the construction of BART and the Post Office. All this was developed using a game engine. So many issues were in the process ranging from the feelings of the people who had worked or lived in the neighborhood to establishing the best date to be represented.

Shannon Jackson gave a talk that was as much of a performance as a talk. Rapidfire, charged with bullet points. The new media performance is 1. performing body. 2. one who experiences. 3. The one who produces. Each has its peculiarities. Each has, as Walter Benjamin points out, things it usually does not want to show. For example we think of new media as being computer-generated but in reality it’s multitudes of engineers, technicians and programmers running the computers that make new media.

Kris Paulsen brought the body back into new media. Looking at Medium Cool filmed in Chicago in 1968 with actors intermingled in actual protests or Chris Burden getting himself shot in 1971 as a work of performance art or Vafaa Bilal in Domestic Tension 2007 getting web site visitors to sheet him with paint balls. All these are examples of putting themselves in harm’s way in the name of art and adding touch as well as vision in dealing with handling distance.

And at last we had three artists talks. These remarks are a bit shorter because it is 1:30 am and I must get ready for Day 3.

Bruce Charlesworth talked about making even himself uncomfortable - but was very happy later meeting up with curator Marcia Tanner at the reception.

Lian Sifuentes delighted in being a professor talking about a film maker filming a performance where the creator of the piece was herself.

Scott Snibbe was perhaps the most disembodied of all. He asked us mysterious questions such as “where is the end of the hand?” and pointed out that in certain circumstances the shadow is more real than the person.

And with those thoughts in mind Rick Rinehart closed the session and asked us all to go out and enjoy viewing Scott’s new work Falling as well as enjoying our bodies’ call for food and wine as well as music from DJ Kid Kameleon.

And so was it a thrilling day? Well not really. But there were plenty of thrilling moments when I heard somebody say something that really rang true. And I think I am beginning to see that a museum that is connected to a university may be quite a different thing than a standalone museum. But enough for now. Let’s start thinking about BBB Day 3…

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