Gallant lab

29 Oct

From the Gallant Lab, here at Berkeley:

The left clip is a segment of a Hollywood movie trailer that the subject viewed while in the magnet. The right clip shows the reconstruction of this segment from brain activity measured using fMRI. The procedure is as follows:

[1] Record brain activity while the subject watches several hours of movie trailers.
[2] Build dictionaries that translate between the shapes, edges and motion in the movies and measured brain activity.
[3] Record brain activity to a new set of movie trailers that will be used to test the quality of the dictionaries and reconstructions.
[4] Build a random library of ~18,000,000 seconds (5000 hours) of video downloaded at random from YouTube. (Note these videos have no overlap with the movies that subjects saw in the magnet). Put each of these clips through the dictionaries to generate predictions of brain activity. Select the 100 clips whose predicted activity is most similar to the observed brain activity. Average these clips together. This is the reconstruction.

The catch to all this is that the defense industry has an interest in this sort of technology. If you can reconstruct the visuals playing around in someone’s head, you are one (albeit small) step closer to reconstructing their memories and thoughts.

Is that scary enough for ya?

(Thanks, Lark!)


27 Oct

It will be the largest sculpture in the world, made from 410,000 multi-colored barrels to form a mosaic of bright sparkling colors, echoing Islamic architecture. The Mastaba is an ancient and familiar shape to the people of the region.

The colors and the positioning of the 55-gallon steel barrels were selected by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979, the year in which the artists visited the Emirate for the first time.

The proposed area is inland, in Al Gharbia (Western Region) approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of the city of Abu Dhabi, near the oasis of Liwa.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have proposed The Mastaba, a huge pyramid of oil cans to be installed in the desert of the UAE. It would be their only permanent large-scale work.

In a run-up to Halloween, this week’s posts all scare me a little. Scary wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind when I think about these oil cans, but I can’t consider this proposal, or their other work in progress – Over The River, which would install “5.9 miles of silvery translucent fabric panels suspended clear of and high above the water in eight separate areas along a 42 mile stretch of the Arkansas River” – without thinking about:

Feds hunt clueless graffiti ‘artist’ in Yosemite, other parks

And: The Heist: How Visitors Stole a National Monument.

There is a certain ecological cluelessness in these actions, in a lot of Christo’s art. I haven’t seen it in the same light ever since – I may have mentioned this before – a class co-taught by art and biology professors. The art instructors showed Christo and Heizer’s works as examples of large scale land art, and in the course of the following discussion, the biology professors chimed in that they were terribly offended by how negligent works like Surrounded Islands or Double Negative were.

To assume that one can place a layer of plastic over the surface of the ocean along a coastline and have no effect because it is temporary and will be cleaned up is to be ignorant of how marine life interacts with the surface of the sea. To assume that you can do radical things in the desert because there is “nothing there” is to ignore the fact that a desert for all its inhospitality to people, is a living ecosystem. On the other hand, these projects certainly do not have the same effect a paved over development or a city would have.

I suppose it’s a matter of your own personal priorities. I have been planning and testing my first performance action and have been trying to figure out whether I can unfurl a thread across the entire bay. In the end I decided that I couldn’t live with the littering. So much trash ends up in our waters that I don’t have the heart to add to it, even in the name of art. But I can see how someone else may choose differently. I can see how most people might not think of it as a big deal. Yet for me it is the equivalent of a God-hand descending from the sky to litter in your house or cover it in a sheet of plastic without your permission.

It seems that, for us at this point in time, there is more cultural value the spectacular large scale action than in the preservation of the integrity of certain ecosystems. I find that disappointing, but – full disclosure: I have always had a bit of an environmentalist streak.

And yet I drive a car and love roadtrips. I have no idea how to reconcile such things.


25 Oct

Collect, the Berkeley Art Center’s annual fundraising auction, is happening today. It’s an auction, so what I can I say, but I did donate a photograph to it and feel like I should mention it, not the least because Aimee Le Duc has become the new Executive Director at BAC, and I hope she does great things with the place.

It’s auction season! You can check out the SF Camerawork auction also. Lot 1 is a Robert Adams and there is a Vivian Maier in the mix. Hoooweee!

same city, another time

23 Oct

Fred Lyon

(Thanks, Jenni!)

On archives

21 Oct

Photographers: Nakata, Wilshire, Haugerud, Fisher

The photos are from USGS‘ collection of Loma Prieta photos. That second to last one is Tom Brokaw writing his on-air speech.

I’ve never heard of any of those photographers, and for the most part, that is true for most of the photographers whose work consistute public archives. The benefits of archives are obvious, but I wonder how these photos came to be acquired. Do citizens donate of their own accord 30 years after the event? Does the organization seek them out in some way? Are archives often approached by people who are terrible photographers? Are they not approached enough?

Given the sheer amount of photographs of any given newsworthy event, it would seem that most archives are underpopulated. I’m sure there are thousands of competent amateurs out there whose photos are simply discarded at the end of life instead of donated. That’s a shame, and the internet is no solution given how companies eventually tend to delete accounts inactive for a certain amount of time.

Success in the art world hardly seems to be a dependable way to preserve work, given how projects become popular and are forgotten so quickly. Books are expensive if they’re well regarded and the prices on the secondhand market exorbitant after only a few years in print, if not a few weeks. The relative anonymity of the archive seems far more appealing than the mercurial ups and downs of the market. There are the few giants who remain through time, but few people can name your average photo project on any given subject from, say, 15 years ago. That’s a terribly short lifespan for work which you’ve spent years making.

It comforts me a bit that even if nobody pays attention to my work (especially now that I’m documenting some pieces of the housing crisis) during my lifetime, there might be a place for it in an archive. It is a humble end, but I find the prospect of being stored for future sifting by researchers or scholars immensely appealing.

Loma Prieta

17 Oct

I know exactly where I was at five o’clock on October 17: at the entrance to Golden Gate Park at the Arguello Gate. I was on Arguello Boulevard facing the park, so I was facing Santa Cruz and the origin of the quake. I was stopped at the stoplight and then I felt this bump and I thought some friend of mine had come up behind me and had tapped my rear bumper. I looked into my rearview mirror and there was no car, and then it dawned on me it could quite possibly be an earthquake.

And then I heard in the sky above me the swishing, the cutting of the overhead wires for the electric buses. I could hear them swishing through the air like a blade cutting the air at high speed. And then I looked and all of Golden Gate Park was in motion. It was incredible. All the trees looked like they were fishing poles — if you shake a fishing pole they quiver from the bottom to the top and it looked like there was a high wind or some kind of incredible wind blowing, only there was no wind.

There are two big columns, concrete columns, at the gateway to the park, and they were visibly moving from side to side. I could also hear the buildings in that neighborhood, which are all two- to four-story buildings, but close to each other — some two or three inches apart. I could hear the buildings racking against each other with this incredible noise which seemed to come from everywhere. The noise was like giants taking huge timbers and slamming them together but the noise also seemed to come from the sky and from the ground. It just came from everywhere.

And as I looked I could see in the ground a wave coming through Golden Gate Park, about a foot, foot-and-a-half high, and it ws coming directly at me. As it came through the park and the four lanes of Fulton Street, it lifted the roadbed. The ground seemed to give off a static charge. It looked like — if you pet a cat in the dark in the winter, as you run your hand over the fur you see charges of static electricity running up and down the cat — but the static electricity was so thick on the ground it looked like it was a layer of ice, almost. It looked to be half an inch to an inch radiating off the ground as the ground was cracking.

As the wave passed under my car hitting my front tires first, it felt like being on a wave in the sea. So running east to west is the wide street called Fulton, and at 5:04 p.m. when the thing hit, the sun was low in the sky, and as I looked west to my right I saw that all the roadbed between me and the sun was in motion. It was like when you throw a stone into a lake and if the sun or moon is low you catch the sunlight or moonlight on top of the ripples and have a sparkling effect.

I saw the sparkle of the sun on the ground as the earth moved for, like, five seconds. It couldn’t have lasted long. The whole event was fifteen seconds. And I looked at the traffic lights, and they were on for a second and then they went off. And I looked out the window next to me, and there was a 1967 or 1968 Cadillac convertible with two black guys from the neighborhood in it, and they looked at me, and I looked at them and said, “That was a fucking big earthquake!”

And they looked at me and said in the same instant in the same voice, “We fucking love it.”

– Kimo Bailey

I read this in the Solnit essay, “The Ruins of Memory,” at the beginning of Mark Klett’s After the Ruins, a rephotography project focused on the 1906 quake. It seemed appropriate after the recent Napa quake and aftershocks.

buy anything

16 Oct


I’ve decided to became a McSweeney’s subscriber again. The issues leading up to Issue 50 sound like doozies. I’ve wondered how they make such unique objects so affordably, but maybe that is why they are frequently on the brink of insolvency.

Perhaps due to this, they’ve recently decided to become a non-profit (also see SFGate)! It’s a credit to what they do that what with the Voice of Witness series and 826 Valencia, I somehow negligently assumed they were a non-profit all along.

They’re holding some pop-up shops in the coming months in SF if you want to engage in some holiday consumerism that makes you feel like a great person instead of a spendy little no-gooder. In fact, you’d better get going, cuz their weeklong fall blow-out sale in which all books are $10-15 is about to end today. Maybe it ain’t so that anyone can buy anything, but you can sure buy some kick-ass books that will class up your shelves like a fantastic book-nado.

Who needs artspeak to make you sound smart when you can just let your bookshelf do the talkin’?

Stephanie Syjuco

14 Oct

And now, why not the faculty!

Stephanie Syjuco just joined the UCB faculty this year and was one of the reasons Berkeley looked attractive. She works in many media under the broader heading of social practice. Empire/Other really stood out to me, perhaps because I’d heard some friends talking about Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost over the summer. She writes:

By collaborating with museums that have significant holdings of colonial-era ceramics, I am digitally scanning portions of their collection in order to forcibly composite new hybrid forms that speak of historical conflict. The first tests have been done on Belgian Art Nouveau objects and Congolese ceramics dating from the early 20th Century and were produced during the colonial era.

So far we have scanned approximately sixteen objects and are in the process of pairing them to digitally force them to try to “become” like the other. Because of the nature of the mathematical algorithm of the 3D software, it is a physical impossibility and the shapes shift and fracture, creating shattered iceberg-like hybrids that never meet in the middle – perhaps a fitting metaphor for the clash of cultures and histories. These will then be 3D printed and rendered as ceramic objects.

Excess Capital is bit of a playful economic experiment:

I regularly search Ebay for copies of [Marx's "Capital"] that are up for auction. I place just one bid. If I am outbid, I don’t win. If I win I am forced to buy it. This works to create an automatic “demand” for the books and gives me a chance to accumulate used “Capital.” I do not use the “Buy It Now” feature because that is responding to the seller’s value system and not the market’s evaluation of the item.

Jose Figueroa

8 Oct

Jose Joaquin Figueroa

Jose sums up his practice:

I started as a painter but now I work mostly with photography, video and performance. The found object is a key figure in my practice. I have a preference for objects that are manufactured, generic, bright and/or “distasteful”. I use ceramics, sewing, painting and printmaking as tools to construct my sets, costumes and props. Initially, my concerns were deeply linked to the effects of foreign consumer culture and its landscape on my identity: as a Venezuelan man then as an alien in the U.S. Now, my inquiries explore the common grounds between nature, myth, gender politics, pop culture and the collective unconscious. I use humor and irony as vehicles to announce and denounce, to praise and criticize, the reality of manufactured consumption and identity.

I found Soda especially riveting:

Hilary Goldberg

7 Oct

Hilary is a filmmaker and animator. She’s collaborated with local writer Michelle Tea as well as Penny Arcade and Ani DiFranco.

Shortly after I got the Fateful Letter from Cal, I googled some of the other acceptees and realized that she was the maker of The Deer Inbetween, which my partner and I had watched a couple of years back. I know almost nothing about claymation besides Wallace & Gromit, but I remembered those deer since the series was so full of humor and character. Have to say I was pretty stoked to find myself in the same program as her.

Check out this interview for some insight and background.