The Emptiness of Data as a New Religion

network-effect

The Internet has overtaken many of our lives in ways that were impossible to imagine a mere two decades ago. Many of us have some kind of online “presence,” be it through a social media file, or as data recorded through our Google searches. There is so much data out there that we now have so-called Big Data, data scientists and a new array of tools to mine, quantify, analyze, tweak and “monetize” this neverending flood of information coming from this virtual dimension. It seems so real, like another nascent consciousness. But is it? Artist and data scientist Jonathan Harris’ recent project, The Network Effect, presents an intense, psychological window into the life of the Internet, through keywords and a stream of real information, sound and images sourced from the Net that assaults the senses. The idea was to show the “emptiness of data” and its limitations, as the artist explains in this interview with PSFK:

Jonathan Harris: Data is good at describing the superficial qualities of the ways things are currently. However, it is really limited. Many of the important and illuminating dimensions of human experience cannot be quantified or measured.

The trap of data is that when we start to see our whole reality through the lens of data, almost as a new kind of religion, then we suddenly see our reality as devoid. Things like mystery, magic, wonder, the ineffable, intuition, embodied experience and feeling something in your stomach, all those human mortalities are beyond the reach of data. The danger of believing in data completely is that you’re starting to marginalize those wonderful human capacities. And I think those capacities have gotten less attention lately because of the our current obsession with it.

Human consciousness is truly the last frontier. Like our natural environment, our mental environment is something worthy of preservation, of care, of reverence. More than that, eco-psychology views that the two are inextricably linked: our inner, psychic landscape and outer landscapes are permeable continuities closely linked to ‘exterior’ nature. As Harris points out, our mental attention is a precious commodity — actually, it is our life — and it is something not to give away so freely.

PSFK: Network Effect creates this intense experience for people to reflect upon the Internet’s psychological effect on us. What do you think leads to the current social media reality we are facing?

Jonathan Harris: We have the current social media reality largely because of the realization by a small number of companies, the realization of the preciousness of human attention, the idea that human attention is finite natural resource, the realization of a lot of money can be make by monopolizing a finite natural resource, which is the same logic that leads to the creation of the early fortunes of Robber Barons in the early 1900s, the same as the oil monopoly. Because they realize the value first, they’re able to hold it and monopolize the market before other people realize the value of that market. And huge fortunes are made that way. [..]

My hope with projects like is to be a small component of the awakening — how precious their attention really is and in fact that’s all they have and in fact it is the same as their life. Attention is life. And to give away your life mindlessly so that money can be made out of it is a great tragedy. It’s unnecessarily a tragedy. It requires nothing else but individual wakening. It doesn’t need anything more than that. Everybody has that capacity.

There’s no doubt we all have to wake up from this collective, virtual stupefaction. Here’s an exercise: take a mindful moment to close the eyes, focus on the ebb and flow of your breath, the deep mystery of just being — nothing to do, nowhere to go, just the fullness of the present moment. Keep that mindful experience in memory, and contrast that with a visit to The Network Effect. What is real, and what is not?

It’s hard to say. Then again, maybe it isn’t. Data is certainly powerful, as we’ve seen and experienced with the enormous changes this age of information that brought into our lives. But data is not everything, and it is not power — we are power. And we would do well not to forget that truth.

Art & architecture stores memories of the past

milan-cathedral

Art and architecture are repositories of memory, the stories we tell ourselves as a culture. I came across a mention of French art historian Henri Focillon, and the impact of his thinking on art history. Most people may think of art history as a flowing continuity, where one style “progresses” into another. But Focillon envisioned history as layers, embedded within works of art and architecture, exuding meaning and memories of the past. It’s an interesting thought. Via Shigeki Abe, of Chuo University:

As an art historian, Henri Focillon always viewed works of art on the horizon of time. Placing something on the horizon of time means to always treat it as something in the process of transformation, pregnant with the past and leading toward the future. Works of art are, of course, nothing more than a spec in the chronological scheme of things. As living things, however, they are always connected to the past below the surface, and their forms retain traces of the time that has elapsed.

From time to time, Focillon asserted this connection to the past in a bold manner. For example, in his article “Prehistory and the Middle Ages” (“Senshi Jidai to Chusei”) written in 1941, he links and discusses these two periods of history, separated by thousands of years, with great ease. According to Focillon, history is structured like a geological formation. It is made up of many overlapping layers, from the older layers at the bottom to the surface layers at the top. The fact that the older layers are usually not exposed, however, does not mean they have disappeared. Likewise, ancient periods of history live on as the older layers, so to speak, in our collective consciousness or the subconscious of individuals, and they sometimes exert an effect on the history of surface layers from deep inside.

I wonder what ancient things does our collective subconscious still remember: matriarchal societies? Our nomadic pasts under a great landscape of stars, slavery and ancient wars that still continue today…?

Art is not made in a vacuum, and it makes sense that art is made as a reflex of these latent impulses of remembrance. I suppose that is why it can resonate so profoundly with us, while we subconsciously know that new images, a new layer of continuity, is urgently needed today. Ultimately, we all play a part in (re)making this layer history. Read more over here.

Hypnotic drawings with clay & potter’s wheel

clay-art


Created with wet clay spinning round and round on a potter’s wheel, this video is completely mesmerizing. Via This Is Colossal:

As a person who’s spent more than a few hours at the seat of a potter’s wheel I can attest to the strangely soothing act of doodling around with wet clay sludge (called slip) before or after throwing a pot. As fun as it is, it’s still somewhat surprising to see the act elevated to this level of artistry by Michael Gardner Mikhail Sadovnikov who blurs the line between performance and visual art as he creates pattern after pattern on an empty wheel.

 

Rhythm & Hues: The Live EP

zodiac-waveform-final

Combining jazz and the Chinese zodiac — a novel idea. The Live EP from Montréal-based group Rhythm & Hues — masterminded by musician and composer Parker Mah — does just that. Six tracks are available to listen (and download for free for a limited time) over at Bandcamp.

Based on his brief, I worked with Parker to create the cover album, which features a rhythmic emanation of “soundforms” — folded, constellated space — originating from a glowing image of the Chinese luo pan, which is used in ancient geomantic practices, and synthesizes knowledge of the heaven and stars with that of the earth. The all-important lunar cycle is depicted by the ring of phasing moons below. Like Parker’s album concept, the idea is that sound vibrations underlie all reality/matter, and seen through a composer’s eye, can even describe the essence of character as well.

From the webpage:

This EP represents one half of a series of original portraits based on the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, inspired by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams’ seminal 1945 album The Zodiac Suite.

12 people, each acquaintances and each born under a different Chinese astrological sign, were captured in individual portraits – 6 musical portraits and 6 video portraits – and presented at Studio 01 at OBORO in May 2012.
The entire work, entitled 12 CHARACTERS, was commissioned by the Festival Accès Asie in Montreal for “Moments,” an annual performance series based loosely around the themes of Networks and Interactions (be they across cultures, borders or disciplines), and highlighting emerging Asian-Canadian artists.

Woven together as a continuum of aural and visual vignettes, these oblique yet concise portraits were inspired by people and their qualities as seen through the composer’s eye. By layering present experiences over past histories, 12 Characters became a potent living statement on mixed self-identities and the diverse qualities that unite us, presented through video projections and a live musical performance.

The musical portion of this project, recorded live at the performance, are now being released for the first time as a stand-alone 6-track EP. Enjoy!

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Cet EP est composé de la moitié d’une série de portraits originaux basés sur les douze signes de l’horoscope chinois. Cette série s’inspire de l’album incontournable de la pianiste de jazz Mary Lou Williams, intitulé The Zodiac Suite (1945).

12 personnes, chacune née sous un des 12 signes de l’horoscope chinois, ont inspiré des portrait individuels – soit 6 pièces musicales et 6 vidéos.

L’oeuvre tout entière, intitulée 12 CARACTÈRES, a été présentée au Festival Accès Asie à OBORO en mai 2012 dans le cadre de “Moments,” une série de performances basée autour des thématiques de Réseau et Interaction qui met en valeur des artistes émergeants de la diaspora asiatique. Tissés dans un continuum de vignettes sonores et visuelles, ces portraits obliques mais concis s’inspirent des gens et de leurs qualités filtrés par l’oeil du compositeur. En superposant expériences actuelles et récits anciens, 12 Caractères devient une affirmation forte et vivante des identités métissées et des diverses qualités qui nous unissent, prenant la forme de projections vidéos et de performances musicales.

La portion musicale de ce projet, enregistrée en direct pendant la performance, vous est offerte pour la première fois en format téléchargeable.

Post-Expo

yes-art-expo-2013-2

After an exhausting but satisfying weekend preparing and showing for the annual YES Art Expo, I am recovered enough to post a few thoughts on my experience. There’s always a bit of je ne sais quoi with exhibit-and-sales events like the YES Art Expo — a bit of bustling and hustling, but it was also a wonderful chance to connect with visitors and fellow exhibitors. Here’s a rundown.

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Sprout Out Loud! ‘Zine Launch @ Drawn & Quarterly

EM_COVER

Montréal artist-activist Emily Rose Michaud is launching the second edition of her ‘zine Pouvoir Aux Pousses! / Sprout Out Loud! tomorrow at local comics powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly. Emily established the Roerich Garden* in 2007, as part of the Sprout Out Loud! gardener’s collective.

The Roerich Garden is located on a plot of land formerly owned by a railway company, and is one of the last undeveloped green spaces in Montréal’s Mile End neighbourhood. This local community space is surprisingly biodiverse, and has been used by locals for various activities, and like other unofficial urban greenspaces on “vague terrains” worldwide, raises questions about citizen engagement, urban occupation and land use. Residents are now working with city officials to keep it as a open, green and communal space.

In the spirit of this collective guerrilla garden, I was honoured to contribute a drawing for Emily’s ‘zine; the event information is below.

*Roerich refers to Nicholas Roerich, early 20th century Russian painter, writer, philosopher and theosophist who worked to establish “pax cultura” (a culture of peace).

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Pouvoir Aux Pousses! / Sprout Out Loud! zine launch + presentation + planting

DRAWN & QUARTERLY in Montreal.

Wednesday, May 22, 5 to 7 PM.

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We Are The Dreamed

we are the dreamedWe are our stories, our collective dreamings — nor are we alone, as our modernist, isolationist culture of self-destructive madness would like us to believe. Our imaginings, the thought forms we send out as a species, do matter — on a level that may not be physically perceivable, but it nonetheless exists. Thought is power, we are power, we are what we dream. We dream-create social structures, ways of living, interacting, expressing.

Structure, not content, determines how energy will flow, where it will be directed, what new forms and structures it will create. Hierarchical structures, no matter what principles they espouse, will breed new hierarchical structures that embody ‘power-over’ not ‘power-from-within’. [..]

Culture is a set of stories we tell each other again and again. These stories have shapes.  The shapes of the stories — not the characters, the setting, the details — shape our expectations and our actions.

— Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark

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Destiny

destiny dna-colour-final-lores

One of the first things that struck me about Montréal when I first moved here were the spiral staircases. Winding, weaving, twisting upon themselves, these iron or wood stairways are treacherous in winter and yet add an element of elegance and fantasy to the city’s streets, while allowing for a greater density of residential occupation. In her bilingual book, Québec, I love you/Je t’aime, illustrator Miyuki Tanobe recounts her delight at seeing a wedding party with a young bride and groom joyfully ascending the graceful curve of a staircase.

This local architectural creature is superimposed on another spiral formation — that of DNA, often called the “blueprint for life;” in reality, it is the only fundamental ‘species’ that exists. More over, DNA’s incredible ability to store information has recently been noted by science (700 terabytes in a single gram at last count).

In this piece, the city’s celebrated spiral staircases are re-imagined as strands of transforming, intertwined DNA, marching into some evolutionary event horizon, accentuated by the intelligent gaze of the eyes lining the railing, floating like a jellyfish manifold churning in the vast ocean of time.

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INTERdimensional at Burritoville

Burritoville exhibition

The end of April has been a crazy time for us — we moved and love our new place, but it was an herculean effort, and we’re still living out of boxes and tripping over things. But I’m happy to report that I’m showing some of my artwork under the banner of “INTERdimensional” at the gallery space of Burritoville, a downtown Montreal resto with an awesome vision:

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Re-imagining the City (Video)

Reimagining the city

I’ve been itching to learn how to create video content, and not knowing where to start. So I was delighted to find a “Digital Storytelling” workshop offered by Studio XX, Montreal’s “bilingual feminist artist-run centre for technological exploration, creation and critique.”

Interestingly, digital storytelling is the modern evolution of traditional oral storytelling, the kind that our ancestors have been engaging in as a means of transmission of knowledge, skills, ideas and values since time immemorial — except that it’s with digital tools, and via a screen, instead of by the fire.

Check out my video:

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Exhibtion At Fleurbain

Fleurbain Small Works Exhibition

Last month I put up a small exhibit of my artwork at La Co-op Maison Verte, Canada’s first environmental solidarity co-op and an icon in my neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Thank you all for the positive response!

Next up: I will have some pieces included in the “Small Works Exhibition” at Fleurbain, a gallery in downtown Montréal that also doubles as a herbal dispensary, offering workshops on DIY beauty, painting, etc. — a wonderful concept for the city. There will be a vernissage/opening on Saturday, December 10. If you’re in the area, please drop by!

Check out the Facebook event here — hope to see you there.

Anemone

Anemone

Named after my mother-in-law’s initial reaction (“Oh! It’s an anemone!”), this illustration depicts a girl whose dress is indistinct from the body of a jellyfish, while her hair transforms into a school of fish. No, it’s not a mutant — this drawing is inspired by my fascination with patterns and the ever-changing flows that exist in nature, of which humans are neither above nor outside of. We are wholly a part of nature’s miraculous continuum.

Print available on Etsy.

Transmissions

Transmissions

Inspired by a quote from one of my books on Ayurveda, the ancient system of Indian medicine, nutrition and well-being:

Evolution is the manifestation of latent potentials… another way of saying this is that consciousness exists in all forms of life. It is the very basis of creation, the power of evolution. Life, creation and evolution are the stages in the unfoldment of consciousness. There is nothing in existence that is unfeeling, nothing that is profane or unspiritual, nothing without a unique value in the cosmos. Life is relational, interdependent, interconnective, a system of mutual nourishment and care, not only physically, but also psychologically and spiritually. [..]

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Hummingbird of Light

Hummingbird

The hummingbird is seen as a symbol of resurrection, beauty and magic. Set against a mandala or wheel design of bursting colours, a bird-creature dressed in white has her feet immersed in a pool of water (a symbol for the subconscious), while geometric lines of energy seem to emanate from its depths.

A drawing with pencil crayon, inspired by the Shipibo of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. The patterns in the background — nurturing by the waters of the unconscious — are adapted by Shipibo designs, which are inextricably linked to sound.

What if we could paint music?

From Ayahuasca: Communion with the Infinite:

One of the challenges for the Western mind is to acknowledge the relationship between the Shipibo designs and music. For the Shipibo can “listen” to a song or chant by looking at the designs, and inversely paint a pattern by listening to a song or music.

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Beholder

Beholder

Visual musings on the mathematical and existential matter of infinity: like love, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Table of diagrams on right from Don Hatch’s amazing website on tessellations and other sundries.

Schlafli and Wythoff symbols, enough equations to boondoggle the mind. Wikipedia entry on uniform tilings on the hyperbolic plane:

There are an infinite number of uniform tilings on the hyperbolic plane based on the (p q r) where 1/p + 1/q + 1/r < 1, where p,q,r are each orders of reflection symmetry at three points of the fundamental domain triangle – the symmetry group is a hyperbolic triangle group.

In Hatch’s diagrams on the right, you can see the various tessellations (as depicted on a Poincaré disk surface) transform as different values are inputted — up to infinity in the bottom right corner.

Print available on Etsy.

Carpet Moebius

Carpet Moebius

Another ink illustration in the “Know Hope” series and inspired by my urban explorations  of Montréal. At the intersection of Villeneuve and Avenue du Parc stand two carpet stores facing each other (one has since gone out of business — though Parc Avenue has no less than half a dozen of carpet stores within these few blocks). Sumptuous carpets hang tall in their grand windows, and in the imaginings of my mind’s eye I saw the carpets burst free, transforming into Escher-like tessellations.

Print available on Etsy.

Weedrobes: Artist Creates Stunning Garments From Fruit, Weeds, Flowers

Environmental art doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to a pile of rocks stacked together by Andy Goldsworthy — it can also take the form of wearable, fashionable and socially engaged garments too. Made with fruits, weeds, flowers and leaves, ‘Weedrobes’ is the delightful series of meticulously detailed, perishable gowns, coats and suits by Canadian environmental artist Nicole Dextras. Striking a careful balance between style and commentary, the message behind Weedrobes’ is aimed squarely at the not-always-so-sustainable practices of the fashion industry, while also redefining the perceived immortality of haute couture.

Read the rest on TreeHugger.

Gnome Yo’self

Gnome Yo'self

Another fanciful ink illustration for Spacing Montréal, and part of the “Know Hope” series. Inspired by a bike ride down one of the myriad laneways found in Montréal’s Mile End neighbourhood, where quaint structures can be found (see image below left), I encountered a shortened door — seemingly made for people of gnomish proportions — and fronted none too coincedentally by a spray-painted sign (below right).

Print available on Etsy.

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Tesseract

Tesseract

 

Pen & ink illustration for urban living blog Spacing Montréal:

The ubiquitous mansard roofs* of Montréal have always fascinated me. From the monumental to the ordinary vernacular, these distinctive roofs inspired by the once-popular Second Empire** style give the built surface a tactile depth to the multi-layered character of the city. Some stand rotting on dilapidated corners, now only silent witnesses to better times. On other streets they are painted in proud colours, basking in the rosy light of another setting sun, somehow opening onto other dimensions of imaginations about the city.

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