Saturday, January 22, 2011

Make Art Anywhere and Any Way

It's been a week since the conclusion of @Platea's Tree-Blog project.  The final map of the project turned out quite nice.  I also made an animated GIF of the project map which demonstrated how the tree grew across the week.

It's a week later and I have been consumed with work of other varieties - the administrivia of the start of a semester!  Still, I find myself wanting to bask in the shade of that art tree, to put to work some of the skills I learned from the process.  Here, then, is an idea born out of the Dada chance game, "The Exquisite Corpse," and the fun of animated GIFs.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Stillness and Motion

Scurry from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

[Elements of this video come from here and here.]

A tree has movement.  It grows.  But it does so slowly, in ways that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.  Meanwhile, around the tree, things scurry and run, fly and fall.  The tree, itself, marks this continuum of motion with a grounded trunk and branches that must not be too rigid, that must wave in the wind: stillness at one end and movement at the other.  But even that rigid trunk has a little flex to it.  And in some cases, trees have been known to walk.  I am not talking about J.R.R. Tolkein's Ents (although they are very cool); I am talking about the walking palm trees of Costa Rica.  What a wonderful and strange world we live in!

So, if we view stillness from some frames of reference as a kind of motion, can we also see motion as a kind of stillness?  Perhaps when the motion is contained within a stable frame?  Is that stable frame the space around the motion?  Or is it the way we interpret the motion -- as cyclical or goalless or imperceptible if you observe it from far enough away?  Perhaps we most transform our sense of motion and stillness through interaction, through the work of working together even when we are alone.

This week I have been working with collaborative art on-line and the metaphor of a tree.  I've been thinking a lot about things that change states and our resistance (sometimes) to that movement, even when it is unavoidable.  I've been interested in the desire and dread to fix things (art, people, work, etc.) in place, to own them, to not let them go.  And I have been thinking about the remix, the ways in which things are constantly made into other things and how that is both a violent and a creative act.

The two pieces I borrowed in my video above resonate for me with this tension.  Craig's sound piece is generated from a program that translated the data of a still photograph (the "Anarchy Tree" of the original @Platea trunk post) into a MIDI sound file, which he then processed and mixed with other sounds (including the woodpecker soundfile from the trunk post).  In other words, the stillness of image literally becomes the temporal movement of music.  Similarly, Deborah's  "Green Man" video series plays with the idea of the fixed camera focused on the fixed tree in dynamic relation to the movement that goes on around the tree and a medium meant to capture images in motion.  I wanted to put these two pieces into dialogue, adding a bit of my own video work in keeping with the Tree-Blog aesthetic. 

Even documenting the Tree-Blog event has had its own dialogue of stillness and motion. The map is, in some ways, an attempt to fix the ephemeral, or at least provide a guide to its murky trajectories through a variety of internet terrains.  As I have made the map of the Tree-Blog project each day, I have constantly had to adjust it -- shifting branches to accommodate other branches, re-clustering nodes as they begin to interact, adding in posts I missed from the days before.  In other words, the growth of this tree (even as map) has not been a simple linear path, but a constant shifting and reworking.  Growth, like evolution, is not precisely linear.  Seemingly fixed positions have to shift.  "Permanence" is a fiction, a concept created by fantasizing humans that doesn't really have a corollary in nature.

@Platea is a collective of artists who explore what it means to make art on/with/through social networks of digital information exchange.  We tend to favor Twitter as the location of most interest (as revealed by the "@" and our catchy subtitle, "tales from the stweets").  But if Twitter is the medium of choice, then we truly do embrace the digital scurry -- the frenetic motion of short messages, streaming information, and posts with rapid expiration dates. 

Even so, we also concern ourselves with documentation of our projects.  We take care to make clear attributions for borrowed works and illustrations.  Some of us make clear statements that our contributions are copyright protected and are not available for others' use.  Others are interested in using social media to "crowdsource" work that will appear in gallery installations and/or be sold.  That is, there are elements to this work that don't want to be ephemeral or lost in some undifferentiated network of exchange.  

All of which is simply to say, we constantly negotiate this tension of permanence and flow, the lasting and the ephemeral, the individually owned and the collectively enmeshed.  I hope this Tree-Blog experiment will not disappear too quickly into the ether of the net; we have certainly tried to document it.  But all trees -- even the old giants -- one day fall.  And I have a suspicion that our Tree-Blog may prove to be more a mimosa than a sequoia.  But hey, out on the "Alkaloid of the Month" branch, Jason tells me dried mimosa root is a moderate hallucinogen -- so at least there's something in there to help keep the visions coming.

Thanks to all who have checked in at my blog this week and taken a chance to participate in @Platea's Tree-Blog project.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Argument

I must not argue with her,
I tell myself.
Just listen,
Be present,
Tell the truth.

She is losing so much:
Not just the car
And the independence it represents,
But the ability to read,
To connect,
To recognize.

The gaps of memory,
Fill in with stories
And fears
Leading to "spells"
Of paranoia.

Impossible things
Seem possible to her,
Or at least seem preferred alternatives
To the missing

I do not argue with her,
Evidence being too fluid
When experience cannot be shared.
She forgets reasons 
But not the slights
Nestled deep
In the family tree.
They are her only weapons
Fighting a family
Fulfilling her fears.

I want to tap that fire,
Turn it away from dread
and focus it on creation.
Lose inhibition, Ma,
Lose the internalized editor,
The constant critic,
The doubt and the depression.
Lose anxiety;
Let go of concern.
Lose the illusions of identity
and embrace the you that remains.

But she cannot choose
the gaps.
And I cannot fathom
her suffering
despite my listening and
commitment to empathy.
This is a truth
I cannot argue with her.

[This post is part of the @Platea "Treeblogging" event.  It draws on work found here and here.  It also connects with my life and the lives of those close to me.  Sometimes the tree is a family tree.]

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tree-Mixing and Tree-Blogging

What I Saw from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

Our little tree is off to a slow but steady start today.  I am most consumed by the opportunity to use this project to learn some new skills.  The "mix" I have made as soundtrack for this little video is first baby-steps, to be sure.  But those steps took some considerable time today.  Time lost, in that I might have been doing something else that needed doing.  Time gained, in that in addition to the "object" I created, I learned some new skills.

This is Shiva's dance around the trunk of our tree, the acknowledgement that every act of creation is an act of destruction.  To note this is not to dismiss destruction, not to embrace or excuse the buzz of the saw and the drone of the bulldozer.  But it is to see those things as having, in their right measure, a place.  Was John Muir concerned about the loss of any great sequoias, or the rate of their loss and for such trivial gains?  From time management to resource extraction, the question is rarely either/or but how much of each at the expense of the other. 

We make art together, in this project (and always, really), but we also still make art alone.  What does it take to make something and know that someone else might unmake it?  Is art, as we are perhaps most familiar with it, too invested in its own preservation as the lasting product of the lone, inspired creator?  To (re)mix is to engage in a violent act, the making of something while breaking something else.  I look out the window at the gnarled branches of a tangled wood; I look at the warm and knotted patterns in my floor boards.  A tree -- as branch, as plank, as wooden spoon -- knows this fundamental truth about transformation and creation.  It sometimes burns with the knowledge.

This video and post drew inspiration from here and here

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting Ready to "Treeblog"

 Okay, so I've been away from the blog.  I don't think I am alone in taking a holiday hiatus from blogging, but this time the cause was even more pernicious.  Let's just say my holiday visit home was fraught with more drama than usual.  Parents age and sometimes they need extra care...that they resist.  This was a holiday of intervention, which means it was no holiday at all.  I don't mean to be coy, but I honestly don't think I am ready to blog about it.  If ever.

So, instead, let me give you a heads-up for the upcoming week that will likely see a lot of activity on this blog and several of the others on which I participate.  As I've written about before, I am a member of an on-line performance/art collective, @Platea.  Next week, @Platea will be conducting another on-line event for which I am the primary architect.  The project is the eighth @Platea happening to date and is titled, "Treeblogging."  This hyperlink will take you to my write up of the protocol as well as to a little meditation on why folks interested in art and the internet might find the image of a tree interesting and resonant. 

The general idea of the project is a pun on "reblogging" (Tumblr) and "retweeting" (Twitter) while adding an element of "remixing."  On Monday (1/10), I will post to the @Platea blog some open source material (text, jpeg, sound file, etc.) that others may use to create their own art and post it on their blogs, Flickr accounts, YouTube accounts, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc.  As the tree of interconnected and mutually inspired artworks grows, folks may sample not only from the original material posted at @Platea but also from the works others make from that material. 

If you play along (and I hope you will!), be sure to follow the protocol for linking forward/linking back to your work.  I'll be tracking folks' contributions this way and building an interactive map of the happening, posted daily at the @Platea blog.  You can use that graphic to follow the works others are making and the links between them. 

The mapping may get beyond me...the territory always exceeds the map, after all.  But it is the effort that counts, right?  And I am looking forward to burying myself in this art project as the perfect tonic for a difficult holiday break.  At least this promises to be a more fun engagement with connections and reinterpreting what others have said...