An Education

Interesting documentary about three American siblings who attend an experimental school in Moscow where instruction is only in Russian and classes are videotaped to improve teaching.



Caught an interesting live conversation at the Berkeley Art Museum between artist Desirée Holman and, the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self and expert on sociable robotics, Sherry Turkle.

Desirée Holman’s current work explores different types of new media—from television and music videos to online gaming—as a means to imagine and interrogate the human tendency to engage in fictional narratives. "The layers of action and meaning portrayed in her work speak to the contemporary condition of technology as it informs and mediates our sense of self and our social relations," say the BAM curators.

Sherry Turkle is a professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. She has authored books dealing with human interaction with media such as  Simulation and Its Discontents (2009) and Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011), among other titles. She is a featured media commentator and has appeared on Nightline, Frontline, 20/20, and The Colbert Report as a pioneer thinker on the social and psychological effects of technology.

What started as a conversation revolving around the search for meanings, and exploration of the potential in virtual existence, morphed into a fascinating psycho analysis of  the end users who are often at the mercy of the "dungeon master" (designer, programmer, artist, provider of narrative/fantasy, whatever applies). Although that could be interpreted as mostly applying to gaming, the truth is that all these evocative objects or tools we use (i-phones, social networks, video games, etc) are altering our social behavior, and at such rapid pace, that we are not being conscious of whether these are positive or negative changes. 

As part of her research, Ms. Turckle conducts behavioral experiments with hundreds of people. Sharing her observations she explained that in the past she would put a group of teenagers who didn't know each other in a room and, although you could sense their discomfort at the beginning, they would eventually overcome the discomfort and start engaging with one another. Where as in recent studies, most teenagers come with gadgets that permit disengagement, and go straight to using them to go on Facebook, text, play games etc, instead of having to overcome the initial fear of having to interact face-to-face with one another. She also mentioned what she refers to as "the multiple identities of the post modern self" and the tendency of people to create online fantasies. For example, she talked about the people that want to appear picture perfect happy on their Facebook even if, in fact, they are very depress. 

There were a lot of questions from the audience that also brought about good points of conversation in important topics, such as a mom inquiring about parenting techniques to deal with a new generation growing up in this gaming culture (or fantasy play as a way of life). Ms. Turkle highly recommended for parents to introduce their kids to technology/games first and engage in their use, to demystify these evocative objects. And to explain that gaming and web technology is at its infancy, still too immatureand should be used as a tool to meet our human necessities, not as an escape from the real world, a planet at risk that needs us, or our faulty politics. Basically and discerningly, that what we learn in the virtual should improve our reality, or else it's just a distraction.  

There were also macro topics that popped up which I found interesting, such as when Holman revealed her inspiration for her installation Reborn that was exhibiting at the Hammer museum in LA. She said that on a late-night web surf she learned about a subculture of women in the bible belt who construct life-like dolls that they treat just as if they were real babies. The haunting video of the installation depicts emotionless digitally illustrated 3d women rocking robotic babies in rocking chairs while lactating milk spills from their mouths. 

Research and experiential learning has already revealed a retrograde in human social evolution in many ways.  Could these new gadgets and fictional fantasies, no different from tv, be distracting us from the real and meaningful? How could they be affecting, say, human reproduction behavior? Could we slowly subconsciously be sabotaging our own species with the reckless design and use of new technology? Should we be paying more attention and consuming more intentionally responsible technology?
To be honest, Desirée's work on its own didn't evoke the depth of the curator's notes, the deeper conversation with the sociable robotics expert and audience, and the background story. But I really appreciate the conversation her work surfaced. These are things everyone should really be thinking about when deciding to consume a gadget, fictional story of any medium, or game. Is this new technology necessary or merely a fashion statement? What is the environmental/ecological impact of this new technology? How is this new technology going to improve my life, help me attain my goals, or help me lead a life with purpose? Is this new technology merely offering instant gratification while distracting me from real emotional fulfillment and what's meaningful? How is this new technology going to positively or negatively affect my life?

You can catch Desirée Holman's new project Heterotopias at the Berkeley Art Museum until September 18, 2011.   


A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir's Journey

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." – John Muir
Went to the John Muir exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California this morning. Because I already knew a lot about Muir and have visited Yosemite, Muir Woods and the Sierras, I was in and out in an hour or so. But if you don't know much about the conservationist or haven't visited the landmarks he explored and helped save, you could wonder around the exhibit for a long time, as there is plenty to read and watch, as well as installations that will engage all your senses.

There are a few installations mimicking nature, like a sequoia tree,  a waterfall, glaciers; and a replica of John Muir's cabin in Yosemite. There are also dioramas; dessicated animals; Muir's collection of dried plants identified by botanists and other visual botanical studies; cases with Muir's journals filled with his notes and sketches, and the gadgets he used to examin the subjects he picked to study; and letters documenting Muir's communication exchange with government (Theodor Roosevelt era) in efforts to conserve these beautiful natural landmarks.

OMC also brought out their egg collection from the natural history permanent collection, which is a rarity since naturalists are not allowed to steal eggs from mothers for study purposes anymore (unless it's due to known mother's death or inability to incubate).

It's a great exhibit to encourage kids to get into naturalism, conservation, environmentalism, and other sciences. And it encourages everyone to see thoroughly when exploring the wilderness.

Overall, a nature buff day in the national park, just indoors. I'm glad Muir's work is being payed tribute and exposed, and hope it inspires a new generations of conversationalists.

Notes and things I overheard or learned: A biologist working on the field could still find about 75 new species per decade. Especially in caves.

Watch documentary on John Muir:

Watch John Muir in the New World on PBS. See more from American Masters.


San Francisco Zine Fest

Today was interesting. Read lots of fun independent zines, looked at a lot of illustration, met writers/craftsmen, and got so many little curiosities. I'm a full-bucket of inspiration ready to make make make. I can't go to these DYS fests without going totally coo coo. I mean, these are one-of-a-kind straight from the nugget hand-packaged goodies that I'll probably never see again, so I want to take them ALL home. Kidding, ALL of the ones I like. There were a few zines from Berkeley, SF, Nevada, Portland, Seattle and Chicago that I particularly favored. Plus great workshops on making gadget cases, bookbinding, screenprinting, artistic time management etc.

*Georgie + Tnobias from Chicago. Aside crafting some clever zines, sometimes packaged inside recycled baby food bottles and submerged around objects she found on the street, she also updated me on the Chi-town scene and knew all the spots I use to hang-out at when I lived there. Extra cudos for insight and friendliness.

*Brooke Appler, from Berkeley, CA. She makes cool nature illustration for  Oakland Museum events.
You'll find all kinds of urban subcultural stereotypical specimens at these events, it can be interesting.

*Jennifer Parks from Portland, OR

*Shayna Yates

*Patron Saint of Screw-ups. That name cracks me up, and so does the band-aids on her covers. It reads as if she has lots to write about.
And the special guest speaker spotlight was the Hamburger Eyes 10 year, which was rad. I've admired their americana photography since I moved to the bay six years ago. It was fun to hear them speak about their photographic style, life, and the messes they've gotten themselves into for their art.

Here's a little documentary on them:

Now off to read new stories, find a home for all the stuff I got, and make make make. Bonne nuit mon amores.

Notes and things I overheard or learned: At the Hamburger Eyes talk someone commented that there are actual laws in Germany that limit the ability of photographing in public spaces, making social/cultural visual documentation a challenge and limiting artists.


Nature Walk, German Avant-Garde, and Borderland Poetry

It was 75˚f of total perfection today, and I'd been contemplating the idea of starting to discipline myself to do some one-on-one botanical illustration at the UC Botanical Garden. So I just wrapped-up work after lunch and headed to the hills. I didn't end-up sketching because it felt so good to just walk around in the nice weather. But took pictures and made notes of where the good spots for sketching were.

Later headed to catch the Kurt Schwitters at the Berkeley Art Museum, which I highly recommend as it is very comprehensive, exhibiting some beautiful compositions, including a recreation of "Merzbau," a room-size installation. Like most modern artists living in Germany, Schwitters fell victim to the rise of the Nazi party and the systematic campaign against avant-garde art in the 1930s. His work was confiscated from German museums, and Schwitters spent his life in exiled in Norway, and then England, escaping the Nazi invasion.



It made me happy to see new work I wasn't expecting that I really liked too. Like pieces by Berma Otoya, Jeremy Burleson, Desirée Holman and others. It was really worth my while to stop by the neighborhood museum.


I've also been witnessing some really powerful poetry readings and/or spoken word lately. Although I've been to poetry readings where I've admired the artfulness and complexity of the crafted word, this is so much more than that. The two times I've experienced good borderland poets I've actually shed uncontrollable tears at points. I just recently stumbled upon these at the UCB multi-cultural department and P4P, but through poets I've been learning about more gatherings, so I'll try to post them beforehand in case anyone else is interested.

Next I'm going to The Greenhouse Effect, v.2 at the San Francisco conservatory of flowers. Update Monday Sept 5: Pretty locale for readings. The potluck and bands performed outside juxtaposed the impressive conservatory facade, and the reading was held indoors in the green house alongside the current exhibit at the conservatory "Wicked Plants." Pros: it was a beautiful set for performance and there was an overtly friendly crowd. Cons: I was mostly unimpressed by the writing, it seemed a tad dated, even when some people tried to go eccentric or avant garde. For the exception of Iranian writer Siamak Vossoughi's work which I liked, at points I felt as if in a Shakespearean A Midsummer Night's Dreamiesque — cat-lady and all — scene, which was a little frightening. I guess from going I realized I tend to like more contemporary culture poetry that speaks to me, but it doesn't necessarily have to be of urban nature. And I can appreciate canon inspired poetry/lit but just as a preserved art form, from a distance, as ancestry.  

Next I was invited to the Luggage Store on Sept. 11 from 7-10PM, but readings go on there every second Sunday of the month. LS is located at 1007 Market Street (nr. 6th St.) in San Francisco
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