visual thinking

13 Oct

The arts are neglected because they are based on perception, and perception is disdained because it is not assumed to involve thought. In fact, educators and administrators cannot justify giving the arts an important position in the curriculum unless they under­stand that the arts are the most powerful means of strengthening the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in any field of endeavor.

What is most needed is not more aesthetics or more esoteric manuals of art education but a convincing case made for visual thinking quite in general. Once we understand in theory, we might try to heal in practice the unwholesome split which cripples the training of reasoning power.

Rudolf Arnheim


11 Oct

The Rising Tide

9 Oct

Jason deCaires Taylor

The site-specific work features life-sized figures perched on the backs of horses, their eyes closed as they gaze out towards the Thames river bed. Their presence highlights the waterway’s role in London, first as a place for commerce, trade, industry, and more recently, as a tourist attraction.

Taylor’s 11-foot-tall sculptures symbolize the adverse effects that modern industry has had on our environment. “The Rising Tide questions our future relationship with fossil fuels,” he states. To depict this, the majestic manes and snouts have been replaced with oil pumps. “The corpulent businessmen astride two horses represent the position of power over these resources,” Taylor goes on to explain. “Their counterparts are two small children depicting future generations that will live with the consequences of overconsumption.”

Four Horsemen Sculptures Fully Submerge in the River Thames During High Tide

Waterfall swing

7 Oct

Waterfall swing:

Towering steel swing set holding arrays of mechanical solenoids that create a water plane falling in the path of its riders. Formed from a tangent of ideas raised from the study of interactions of water as space, the swing is the first in a series that play with interaction in rides and installations. Riders pass through openings in a waterfall created by precisely monitoring their path via axel-housed encoders, creating the thrill of narrowly escaping obstacles.

The swing is an interactive art piece and a collaborative project between Mike O’Toole, Andrew Ratcliff,
Ian Charnas and Andrew Witte and built by Dash 7 Design.

John Roloff

5 Oct

John Roloff

[Warning: intense art-speak ahead…]

Sited under the I-5 freeway in Seattle, WA as part of the new I-5 Colonnade Park, this project engages properties of this unique site, a space with its own ecology, rain/light, shadow and topographic properties…

The Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered) creates a meta-system that brings together the interaction of global representatives in the form of selected tree species and a symbolic dissolution of a section of the I-5 freeway through a simulation/mimicry of the external Seattle, pre-freeway climate of 1960… A complex electronic program activates an elevated mist/rain emission system and solar and moonlight simulation lighting. The ground plane within the zone of altered climate is of recycled concrete, a reflection of the overhead freeway and missing neighborhood’s construction/deconstruction. Four trees, optimally with a ‘white/ghost’ element (flower, trunk, or foliage) each representing a different climate, biome/terrain, tightly planted in the center of the site forming a single arboreal structure. The lighting system is aimed at the top 1/2 of the tree group, the rain system is in two linear, overhead elements on either side and above the tree group.

A cumulative effect of the year-long light and moisture simulation of the 1960 external Seattle environment in this zone is to “remove” or “make transparent” the section of freeway and it metaphorical darkness, directly overhead, as in 1960, a year before the freeway was built.

Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered)

In other words, he tried to recreate the environment of that exact spot under the freeway from 1960, before the freeway had been built. He bases the environmental conditions (water, light) of each passing day on real data from the past. (Was that so hard to say?)

We talked about John Roloff’s work in class as an example of highly conceptual work that sometimes exists only in proposal form. It’s an attractive way to work, since you can work at a scale that is not available to you in reality and leave blueprints which may in fact be carried out posthumously after you become a hot shining star (a la Smithson’s Floating Island).

So here’s an assignment straight from grad school: come up with three projects (photo or art or ?) that you’d like to see carried out which do not necessarily obey the rules of physics, conform to your financial reality, or in fact fall under any real world constraints at all. Explain in a paragraph and augment with three visuals for each project which may be sketched, photoshopped from existing sources, etc. (Cheese factor may be high, but don’t let that stop you.)

(For the record this is Stephanie’s assignment. From past experience, Terry Berlier also did something similar in a sculpture class I took in undergrad…)

Valley Fire

2 Oct


30 Sep

Finally, Mt Hood, which carries a couple of stories worth noting. Again, it seems that tall peaks attrack lenticular clouds and unexplained disappearances.

The first story is brief, since we have no details. In 1883, the same year Krakatoa blew, “Bernard the soldier”

disappeared after expressing a ‘great curiosity’ about climbing the mountain. No one knows if Bernard was a deserter or the first recorded victim of the mountain.

I’d like to think that he was a clever deserter, though in truth, given what we know about tall mountains, the latter is far more likely. But I’d like to think that he was a 19th Esteban (see The Moor’s Account), with similar bifurcated endings – either freedom or death, perhaps a quantum (or symbolic) state encompassing both.

The second story, summed up by Nigel Jaquiss in Willamette Week, Without A Trace is much more flavorful, full of details that seem to come straight out of an episode of the X-Files, perhaps the one in which Clyde Bruckman and the Stupendous Yappi both give clues about the whereabouts of a body. (After all, the show was filmed in the northwest for years.)

Steven Reed (I’m thinking of other Reeds – James, Virginia, Patty, Margret), age 24, wearer of trenchcoats and berets, eater of Pixie Sticks, keeper of goth gargoyles, goes for a hike on Mt Hood and misses his flight home. A car is discovered. The search is on. Nigel turns out to be a master of description, outlining a cast of characters that rivals any assembled by an author of fiction:

The deputy

If anyone could find Reed, it would be Nolte. A veteran of 12 years of finding lost hikers, the 39-year-old deputy is well-known in rescue circles. At 5 feet 10 inches and a couple of belt holes north of 200 pounds, he’s more bloodhound than greyhound, but friends say there’s no map of Clackamas County more precise than the one in Nolte’s mind.

The parent

A secretary for the U.S. Army, Reed is also an astrologer. She decided to call on searchers of a different sort. She contacted psychics who claimed expertise in locating missing persons.

The dog

The team included a German shepherd named Klause, the only certified “cadaver dog” in Oregon. Neiman spent 14 months training Klause, first sensitizing the dog to a chemical substance called “pseudo-corpse.”

The psychic

The Reeds returned to Oregon, this time with a Michigan psychic named Judy Feathers, who believed Reed had been rescued by a “mountain man” after falling off a cliff.

The artist

Reed sent an email to Whapham, his best friend. At the end of the message was a quote from the liner notes of the Portland performance artist Miranda July’s 1997 album “Ten Million Hours a Mile”:

“The slow people always remember and the fast people try not to remember, only the missing people get to forget. They get to live clean lives under new names with no guilt and no memories. Everyone is jealous.”

Yes, the police interviewed Miranda July regarding Steven Reed.

Reed apparently stumbled across July’s work on the Internet but never saw her perform. He wrote July three letters. Each was several pages long. Reed reportedly spent months on one of the letters. He asked July to meet him when he came to Portland and included the names and phone numbers of references who would confirm that he wasn’t a stalker or a weirdo. He also sent July flowers, a prepaid telephone card and a copy of his student ID card so she could see what he looked like.

She wrote him a letter and later a postcard but says she broke off communication because she didn’t want to meet him. July said that Reed seemed not entirely pleased with the direction of his life and that he may have wanted to disappear to start a new one. She says she was surprised that the detective didn’t seem to share her perception of Reed’s disappearance.

“Maybe I watch too many movies,” July says, “but I thought it was more mysterious than she seemed to think.”

I’d like to think that Miranda July would also choose the quantum freedom-death ending interpretation.

Think twice before walking up to the mountain.

This concludes volcano month. I leave you with a track from “Ten Million Hours a Mile” (in which July mentions tornadoes but unfortunately not volcanoes):

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28 Sep

Izumi Noguchi

Tourists managed to capture a photo of Mt Unzen, a decade volcano, erupting in ’91 before the pyroclastic flow (ash) overtook them. It makes me wonder if this passage by DFW applies to people who take photographs (or write poems or make art) in their last moments:

The love is not the love one feels for a job or a lover or any of the loci of intensity that most of us choose to say we love. It’s the sort of love you see in the eyes of really old people who’ve been happily married for an incredibly long time, or in religious people who are so religious they’ve devoted their lives to reigious stuff: it’s the sort of love whose measure is what it has cost, what one’s given up for it. Whether there’s “choice” involved is, at a certain point, of no interest… since it’s the very surrender of choice and self that informs the love in the first place.

There is a rather incredible video of a man running away from the flow. The wind seems to be in his favor and the ash blows back toward the mountain before it envelops the stationary camera setup:

It took 11 years for the flow caught up to Harry Glicken, who, if you recall, was the man who narrowly escaped the St Helens eruption after David Johnston subbed in for him. (Maurice and Katja are the other volcanologists with him at the time.)

I hope all of this posting is sparking your interest (as the unfortunate ad in the newspaper clipping puts it).


25 Sep

Tambora, 1815

On April 10, 1815, Tambora erupted. It remains the largest eruption in recorded history – 10x more powerful than Pinatubo or Krakatoa, and 100x more powerful than St Helens. The only volcanoes that could produce a more powerful eruption are the supervolcanoes – Yellowstone and Long Valley.

If you want to know more, the NYTimes has a review of Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, which links the effects of the eruption on atmospheric conditions to the colorful skies in Turner’s paintings and Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Scientific American has a detailed excerpt from The Year Without Summer:

As the ash clouds thickened, hot lava racing down the mountain slope heated the air above it to thousands of degrees. The air quickly rose, leaving behind a vacuum into which cooler air rushed from all directions. The resulting whirlwind tore up trees by the roots and swept up men, cattle, and horses. Virtually every house in Sanggar was flattened. The village of Tambora, closer to the volcano, vanished under a flood of pumice.

Cascading lava slammed into the ocean, destroying all aquatic life in its path, and creating tsunamis nearly fifteen feet high which swept away everything within their reach. Violent explosions from the reaction of lava with cold seawater threw even greater quantities of ash into the atmosphere, and created vast fields of pumice stones along the shoreline. These fields, some of which were three miles wide, were light enough to float; they drifted out to sea where they were driven west by the prevailing winds and ocean currents. Like giant icebergs, the pumice fields remained a hazard to ships for years after the eruption. The British ship Fairlie encountered one in the South Indian Ocean in October 1815, more than 2,000 miles west-southwest of Tambora.

…At Gresik on eastern Java, natives decided that the blasts were the “supernatural artillery” of the venerated South Java Sea spirit queen Nyai Loroh Kidul, fired to celebrate the marriage of one of her children; the ash was “the dregs of her ammunition.” If so, her ammunition made most of April 12 utterly dark in the village. When the British resident in Gresik awoke that morning, he had the impression that he had slept through a very long night. Reading his watch by lamplight, he discovered that it was 8:30 A.M., and pitch-black outside from the cloud of ashes descending. He breakfasted by candlelight at 11:00 and thought he could see a faint glimmering of light, but at 5 P.M. he still could “neither read nor write without candle.”

Interestingly, from the description of the vaccuum, it seems trees and villages would’ve been blown toward the volcano after the outward blast of the initial explosion. The largest eruptions are sometimes compared to nuclear detonations, which have the same effect of particulate matter into the atmosphere and heating the air. This certainly explains why in nuclear test films, the blast “winds” seem to suddenly reverse direction.

And at second glance, nuclear explosions are also conducive to the formation of lenticular clouds in the same way that tall peaks are. These flattened, pancake-like clouds form in a perpendicular orientation to the direction of the air currents when there is strong vertical movement of air (like when it is forced up by the steep side of a tall mountain) with high moisture levels. Compare this still a from nuclear test videos to photos of the eruption of Sangeang Api in 2014 and this more serene photo of Mt Fuji:

Vertically moving air + moisture = storm, so lenticular clouds are usually a good indicator of impending precipitation. Its heavy-duty second cousin is the supercell, which spawns tornadoes. So let it be a lesson to mountain hikers – if you see a lenticular cloud, it’s time to find sturdy shelter or retreat below the tree line.


23 Sep

Sinabung, 2015

Sinabung has been erupting regularly in the last 5 years, including this summer.

This video is from 2014, I believe. Tornadoes are also generated. Yikes.