31 October 2010

watch your templates

Our small but lively public library here in Alfred got one of the grants to establish a Public Computer Center. It's the smallest library in New York State to get one of the grants and it will be inserted into the space through rearrangement and using netbooks to maximize space needed as well as allowing for the lending of the computers for those that don't have them at home. At the "groundbreaking" ceremony, the representative of our state assembly member read a letter which praised us for our "woman-owned business." Now I knew that librarianship was a female-dominated profession but really. It was rather more humorous than sad but showed how easily one can use the wrong template for a formulaic letter. Nonetheless, the assemblywoman Cathy Young seems to be pretty good for our region. I haven't decided yet if I'll vote for her (she seems a knee-jerk fiscal cutter).

And speaking of integration of special text into a formula, Jesse Kahn posted a link on Facebook to MoveOn.org's video about President Palin. It uses photos and names from your Facebook archive to personalize the message. I think it works pretty well though it's a bit scary how quickly they can insert themselves into your life.

30 October 2010

friendship is in the water

Last Tuesday night, I went over to Wellsville to hear philosopher Timothy Madigan give his talk "Aristotle's Email: Friendship in the Cyber Age" at the David A. Howe Public Library. He started out with describing Aristotle's three types of friendship: utility, pleasure, good, and how they can help us achieve eudaimonia (literally "good spirit" and usually translated as happiness in the sense of fulfillment). This is described in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. After laying out the foundation, Madigan brought us up to date with how friendship plays out in an era of Facebook Friends, other social networks like Classmates.com, googling your long-lost friends (and finding them sometimes), and TV shows like "Seinfeld" and "Friends." He cited Robin Dunbar's writing in Wired which hypothesized that one's brain is capable of handling 150 friends. So what's that you say? You have 500 friends on Facebook. He and others have followed up and found that 150 is about the number of active friends one might have on Facebook (whatever active means). He said that nobody writes letters anymore but we know that isn't entirely true. On the other hand, one doesn't get much personal mail in the mailbox.

On Wednesday, Lenka Clayton gave a lecture as the visiting artist in the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. Wouldn't you know that one of her recent and ongoing projects is called "Mysterious Letters"? She and Michael Crowe both discovered that they had wanted to do a project to write a letter to everyone in the world. They realized that this was a daunting task but that if both of them had come up with the idea, there must be some reason to pursue it. They started with a residency in Cushendall, Northern Ireland, working out of a tower in the center of the village of 467 households. Lenka and Michael walked around town, taking pictures and then writing individual letters inspired by the houses and whatever. They mailed all of the letters on the same day and their story ended up on BBC News. Next up was Polish Hill in Pittsburgh where Lenka is now living. A couple more are in the planning but don't ask where because they won't tell you. Kind of kills the mystery. In Cushendall and Polish Hill, the letters evoked and provoked considerable comment and some concern among the residents. Folks in Polish Hill met neighbors that they'd seen around (perhaps acquaintances or Aristotelian friends of utility). This project, and much of Lenka's art work, reflects her origins in documentary filmmaking as well as her interest in history and place. Her other projects led to taking apart Bush's weapons of mass destruction speech and putting the words back together in alphabetical order; following the instructions for a trip in NYC found in a notebook bought in a thrift shop; putting people in order by age, finances, length of relationship, and stage of pregnancy; and writing consecutive numbers on 7000 stones in honor of the Steinheim Museum at Alfred University (part of residency in 2008).

Then, wouldn't you know? I get to church this morning and Pastor Pat Bancroft is going to talk about friendship in the cyber age. She didn't call it that. Pat hasn't leapt into the Facebook swamp yet but had read about someone who was bragging about their 4700+ Friends and she was just stunned. Not surprisingly, her take on the topic was more about spiritual friendship but, still, there was much to think about in light of Madigan and Clayton. Pat's husband, Tim, indirectly gave me another assignment in talking about how Aristotle plays out in Boethius and on to Aquinas and then on to later philosophers and thinkers. Yikes, and I just wanted to continue with my reading of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

17 October 2010

Hieronymus Bosch and Francis Alÿs

One of the lovely things about a slow evening on the reference desk is catching up on the current periodicals. This evening, I read a couple wonderful paragraphs, one about Hieronymus Bosch and the other about Francis Alÿs. Matthew Collings is making a movie about the Garden of Earthly Delights and got to spend eight hours filming in the Prado. I wasn't there for eight hours but I did spend a lot of time with the Garden last December. The Garden of Earthly Delights is in a gallery with several other Bosch paintings. And it was the object of research for Peter Glum whose microfilms were my recently completed cataloging gig for the Morgan Library. Francis Alÿs has long been a favorite artist, as Bosch has been. He's a Belgian who lives in Mexico City and does great pieces that are often related strongly to place. It makes sense, then, that someone might want to play on his work and do a show entitled "I'm not here -- an exhibition without Francis Alÿs." The show also played off Todd Haynes' 2007 film "I'm not there." The show was at De Appel Boys' School in Amsterdam. At any rate, here are a couple paragraphs that I found interesting:

"One of the films I've been working on is about Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. ... I say perhaps because no one knows what Bosch's intention was with this or any of his surviving pictures. Piety, lust, and ghastly eternal pain are typical symbols in a Renaissance altarpiece, which is always a moral history of humanity. But Bosch plays such weird games with everything defining religious art up to then (the painting was likely done about 1505) that the rhetorical emotion doesn't seem like anything at all, replaced by an entirely new emotion. Or maybe what is truly new and truly refreshing is the apparent absence of emotion: a kind of sudden loaded bewilderment. I think that may be my favorite feeling in art. I certainly felt happy and privileged to be filming this painting for more than eight hours in the Prado one day earlier this year. Then, as the weeks went by and all the filming was done and the editing began and the footage had to be made into a convincing, seamless narrative, the torture began." (Collings, Modern painters, Oct. 2010, p. 27)

"But sometimes serendipity just falls into place: in the performance Just popped out, back in two hours (2010), artist David Sherry was meant to sit zombie-like in a chair for the duration of the evening, with a Post-it note stuck to his forehead reading 'Just popped out, back in two hours.' But due to the lingering traces of Eyjafjallajökull's eruption, Sherry couldn't get to Amsterdam in time, and was thus replaced by a stand-in, making him even more 'not here' than he otherwise would have been." (Douglas Heingartner, review of the show, Frieze, June/July/August 2010, p. 186)

The image of the Garden is, by the way, from the Wikipedia article on the painting.

14 October 2010

AAT in the museum

I forgot to mention in my blog entry yesterday about my visit to the Albright-Knox that I really enjoyed the wall labels in the small Sol LeWitt exhibition that included several items related to the wall drawing, books from the library, and other items. On the labels for the books and other items, the format was listed as: paper (fiber product). Just like in AAT but "oil on canvas" didn't become "oil (substance) ..." I do remember Toni Petersen or other early editors saying that you wouldn't need the qualifier in a modified descriptor if the context made the qualifier redundant or unnecessary.

Albright-Knox Art Gallery: inside and out

I really enjoyed my trip to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery yesterday. The main reason for making the trip yesterday was a lecture in the evening by Jennifer Walkowski on John Bennett's plan for the city and John Wade's City Hall. John Hosford is taking a couple classes at the UB library school on Wednesdays so we were able to carpool, as it were. And boy am I glad I went.

The main show at the Albright-Knox is the "Beyond/In Western New York 2010: Alternating Currents." I especially enjoyed Joshua Reiman's four-projector installation on the sublime and Sarah Paul and Suzannah Paul's installation of film against a scrim of old windows. The grid of the windows resonated with the Sol LeWitt wall drawing which is being installed in the stairwell between the old and new buildings, one of his mighty fine "enigmatic vortexes of graphite scribbles." Throughout the galleries were arrows pointing your way or to an emergency callbox or similar things, courtesy of Micah Lexier.

The upper picture is not from the Albright-Knox; it is his "This is an arrow in a vitrine with other things" (2009; photo from an entry on the "View on Canadian art" blog). This arrow does nonetheless have about the shape of the AKAG arrows. When I was done inside the museum, I went out on the grounds and found this arrow pointing to the storm sewer drain near the bottom of the grand stairs from the museum down to the Delaware Park lake.

There was an Andy Goldsworthy video in the court gallery: "Rain Shadow." Goldsworthy is lying on the sidewalk near the grand stairs outside the museum as it starts to rain. He gets up and walks away after it has been raining for a while. The dry spot where his body was of course gets wet, and the rain shadow disappears. The video was done on one of Goldsworthy's trips to Buffalo to work on his "Herd of Stones" which is to be finished in the fall of 2011. At the moment, there's a stack of smaller stones and a few bigger ones, surrounded by protective tape, on the park side of the museum. Nearby, some nice sticks on the ground, also transitory.

There are a few more pictures of my day in Buffalo in my Flickr photostream which is available from the bottom of this blog page. Those of you who will be going to the ARLIS/NA conference in Toronto in 2012 should start getting ready; we'll probably be doing a day trip to Buffalo to see the Albright-Knox and maybe the Darwin Martin House by Frank Lloyd Wright and perhaps some of the greenbelt or the city hall or who knows. Maybe even Niagara Falls.

international style?

If a Greek Revival house gets French doors and displays an American flag, is it fair to call it International Style? This house is on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, a few houses South of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

08 October 2010


Lori Hepner is the visiting artist this week in the Freshman Foundation class at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. I went to her talk and interview on Wednesday morning. After a childhood of drawing, she started college as an Egyptology major but soon shifted to photography. It was the hieroglyphics that inspired her and encoding has become fundamental to her work. One of her early works ("Binary nature" pictured above, photo courtesy of the artist) combines glass shards as zeroes and bits of plant material as ones. She spoke of enjoying the natural and the product made from natural ingredients. I like the mix too.

One of her more recent projects -- "Code words" -- is taking pictures of silk ribbons breaking apart in little dishes of bleach. The ribbons were inscribed with a word in binary code. Her titles are wonderful too: using a colon between the words, suggesting a possible relationship, e.g., aplomb:cessation; itinerant:abeyance. While this seems rather mathematical, the results are totally aesthetic. You can see more of the recent work on her website at lorihepner.com.

It did get more technical the next day at the Bergren Forum when Scott Moerschbacher talked about "QCD and the strong interaction." What?!? You don't know what QCD is? It's quantum chromodynamics. While I have no pretense of understanding particle physics, it does have to do with fundamental stuff. The words were beautiful as they passed over us: asymptotic freedom; hadron polarizability; quarks are called up, down, charm, strange, top, bottom. But my favorite discovery was Lattice QCD, the model of QCD which allows the computer to deal with the mush of subatomic particles and turns it into, for our visual delight, a Tinkertoy construction. Maybe you had to be there. I could imagine the talk being redone as a dadaist performance piece but when I mentioned that to Elizabeth Gulacsy after Moerschbacher was done, she thought I was a bit touched in the head. He said he was going to post the presentation but I don't see it yet. I also couldn't help but turn "QCD" into "queer compulsive disorder."