Songs of summer.

Hansel & Gretel

In the darkened hall, a city-block wide, tourists and ballerinas sit on the floor, do push-ups, throw their arms back, as their images are recorded on the floor and tethered drones whirr overhead.

This is what Ai Weiwei and Herzog and de Meuron named “Hansel and Gretel” and ostensibly freighted with the message that Surveillance Is Bad.

What this installation inadvertently pre-supposes is: maybe surveillance can be fun too?

The cameras, constantly tracking viewers, photographing them at intervals, and projecting their images constantly on the floor, turned everyone in the space into performers. The effect is less chilling than it is joyful.

In Part 2 of the piece, the standard agitprop about military drone strikes, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden is transmitted via iPad. Also on this iPad are access to live video feeds from cameras at the exhibit, in grainy black and white, handled via YouTube.

As I left the building, I observed behind a desk a video monitor, showing color feeds from other cameras still. And here is where the failure of the piece was most clearly rendered, in its unwillingness to truly expose the backstage of surveillance: to show the chain of custody for the video recordings of the Armory gift shop. To identify and feature the private security agency charged with responding to incidents they observe through video surveillance. To show how data from website visits is matched up to live visitor data in order to create what we in the business call “omnichannel journeys.” To outline in plain terms how my credit card information, used to pay the $17 admission, might be used in other ways, the agencies of anonymous white-collar workers who will receive that information, bundle it, return it to the artist for re-publication.

Surveillance without threat is just photography, and the massive funhouse mirror is really just fun.

Surveillance, conflated with voyeurism, requires multiple parties. Rather than implicating any party directly in the spotlight, it fails to do more than gesture in the direction of a seemingly unknowable monster with unlimited reach.

Perhaps the more concerning and perhaps unspoken thing about surveillance is that it has proven to be genuinely helpful. Photographic surveillance is one species of the photography family, with its applications in art and its use as a freezer of memory. In final images of Princess Diana and Dylan Klebold we see examples of how artifacts of surveillance and emotionally fraught snapshots can be conflated.

In the age of emails, metadata is a useful tool for verifying the veracity of an otherwise anonymous party in a two-way communication. In the prosecution of a crime, it can bear witness.

What threatens Hansel and Gretel is not the abstract presence of The State, but the direct threat of the wolf. Though the two can overlap, they do not overlap enough in this experience to deliver the message that Surveillance Is Bad. They do not introduce any new information to augment our fears of the state.

It is live photography, a funhouse mirror at its most joyful. But that wasn’t supposed to be the point.

The thing about art about surveillance as voyeurism: the audience knows they are being watched in that moment, but without any concrete, immediate truth to the questions of “by whom” and “why,” does being watched really matter?

Here is New York

1. Move to New York City. Preferably Manhattan.

2. Go to a bar during a daylight hour, by yourself. A wasteful, decadent one. Order a drink.

3. Read E.B. White’s “Here Is New York.”

Resist the temptation to smile from heartbreak. At what this city was, and what it still is.

Rising tension, three parts

What the Justin Bieber remix of “Despacito” and Dunkirk have in common: summer pop featuring three parts, interwoven in constant, rising tension, until the ticking of the watch stops, this is how we do it down in Puerto Rico, only to build again till the credits roll.

Songs of Summer

I haven’t made a mix CD in a long time, but the two songs that sit at the ends of a bipolar magnet in my head, both opening and closing a mix that seems too obvious for a technology practitioner in his mid-30s, c. 2017: LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” and Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.”

The Half-Life of Wonder

How to calculate the half-life of wonder, at The Met:

At the Rei Kawakubo exhibit – Art of the In-Between – line up next to a fairly mundane piece, a proportion play in Prince of Wales check, for ten minutes or so. Watch a pair of middle-aged American tourists arrive, snicker “weird,” and leave. Wait till the next pair arrives, a father and young daughter.

“What do you think?”

“So cool!”

My back-of-the-napkin estimate is 7-9 years.

Wider angle.

Any Wire fan who looked at extrapolated art should consider themselves fortunate that David Simon became invested in the process of transferring the series to high-definition video. By considering the possibility of a strictly algorithm-based expansion of the frame and contrasting that to Simon’s shot-by-shot observations, it becomes clear that in art, the space beyond the edges of the frame can never really be determined by the contents of the frame.

Fittingly, both links come from the literally inimitable Kottke: Slate’s Robottke experiment and the insight that “In computer science parlance, Kottke doesn’t scale” is particularly relevant.

Also related: “Be Right Back,” the first episode of the second series of Black Mirror.

Marjane Satrapi got jokes.

Last night, we attended a talk with Marjane Satrapi at NYPL Live. She said that when she was in San Francisco, she told a dirty joke that shifted into focus the American sense of humor. It went something like this:

A man looks in the mirror and sees he has a button on his forehead. Every day, the button gets longer and longer until finally he sees a doctor. He says to the doctor:
“What’s growing on my forehead?”
“It’s a penis.”
“Is there anything I can do about it?”
“Don’t worry about it. Soon enough, the balls will cover your eyes.”

I learned: she’s got a new film coming out about a serial killer and his cat, has made some beautiful paintings, and seen Seven Samurai at least 400 times.

She also made me feel I should read some Dostoyevsky.

Turtles all the way down.

Last Saturday, Christina and I watched a reading of “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Public as part of their New Work Now! 2013 series. It’s a delightfully arch production, structured as a series of scenes between two time periods (17th-century Manahatta and late-2000s Wall Street, with dramatic overlaps) like Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” worth watching if you’re a New Yorker, care about Native American issues, or the peculiar interplay of indigenous people and ambitious conquerors and its long-term consequences. Its structure lends itself to juxtapositions, and even if they sometimes overreach in this play, they’re intriguing enough to merit proper staging. A scene depicting the infamous $24 real-estate deal successfully elicited a knowing, sympathetic cringe. History repeats throbs just under the surface like a subwoofer through drywall.

From all the clever chronological cross-referencing, among the more incisive and memorable fulcra was Nagle’s use of the word speak. In “Manahatta,” it means more than merely uttering words: it means a presence in the consequential moments of one’s own history. To lose the ability to speak, to have it beaten out of you, or to arrive at a consequential moment with neither the necessary language nor immediate skill to translate is pretty much terminal for one’s culture and way of life.

In both time periods, characters tell the Lenape story of the origins of life on earth: a turtle rose from the water, a tree grew from its back and sprouted a man, the tree bent over to touch the ground again and sprouted a woman. I like this story because it’s the foundation of one of my favorite cosmological epigrams.

And “Manahatta” is a rich story well-told, but a staging with sets and costumes will undoubtedly change the effect of the words (to say nothing of the stresses of syllables from show-to-show). Unlike so much of what I consume, this is explicitly a work in progress, something put forth as something that will potentially be quite different in the future (and I feel invested enough to return).

Related: I watched “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” in its premiere run at Woolly Mamoth last year and would recommend it to interested friends in New York who’ve ever compulsively quoted the Simpsons. I am interested to find out how too this has changed since it made its way up the 95.

Since last time: I wrapped a project in Pennsylvania with a design presentation and delivery of a pair of PDFs for functional specifications. Took a day off to take delivery of a new dresser, a vintage stainless-steel number not unrelated to tanker desks and barrister bookcases I have loved.

This weekend in theater, literature, and music: “Matilda” tonight, back to the Public on Saturday for “All The Faces of the Moon”, and the Brooklyn Book Festival and Chvrches in concert on Sunday.

Next week: a new project in Michigan opens with two days of interviews bookended by late-night flights with layovers. And before that, drinking about wireframes at the Brooklyn UX happy hour in Gowanus.

Finally: these are some awesome pictures of goats.

Artisanal GIFs.

Moomin says hi

With broadband connections and high-definition YouTube and Hulu clips as prevalent as they are, why do people want to watch these relatively grainy, endlessly looping little videos? Part of the answer is that animated GIFs—soundless, coarsely textured, and powerless to describe complex color—appeal to an imperfection fetish like the one columnist Rob Walker recently discerned in the vogue for photographic technologies that simulate the degraded look of Super 8 film and Holga cameras. But the present-day GIF love goes beyond aesthetics and nostalgia. Animated GIFs aren’t just throwbacks—they’re uniquely suited to some very contemporary modes of cultural consumption, and they perform distinct functions that other formats can’t.
Jonah Weiner

Three Frames deploys art memes. If We Don’t, Remember Me makes them poignant. From Me To You makes them sexy. I’ve been pinning my favorites, anticipating art.

Not much else.

…certain brands, and bands, can so glammer the market that a mere 10 percent share is nothing short of ubiquitous. Apple is that good, Radiohead is, and not much else.
The Apple Of Rock

While I don’t buy the build-up completely, the payoff is astute. While there may be “not much else,” surely there is something seemingly ubiquitous, operating beyond its milieu, at a grander level of aesthetic criticism.

There is, right?

Storm king.

Go to Storm King Art Center before you die. Go this weekend before it closes for the winter. Go when we go in the spring, in the morning, with a picnic lunch.

It’s in upstate New York. Plan to spend at least five hours there. Bring a sandwich – I don’t know if they’d knock you for bringing a cooler of beer, but I nod in your direction if you’re getting that idea.

Or don’t. Go hungry – go with a grumble in your stomach, with a fire in your eyes. Go with an empty camera and comfortable shoes and take jumping pictures. Go with a pencil and pad. Go with your hands in your pockets and let memory be memory. Go.