the one and only truly amazing katster (katster) wrote,
the one and only truly amazing katster

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Conference, day 1

Tonight was mainly just the hello and plenary. It looks so far like it might be a decent conference, although there are some definite glitches. The biggest one is that there is a very nice wireless network at UCSD...but one must be affiliated with the university to use it, and there is no obvious way to get a password through the conference. For a conference who wanted people to be able to converse with one another not only face to face but online as well, not having access is silly.

But enough about not being able to get on the net. The big thing tonight is the keynote speaker, who is Howard Becker. I will tell you more about him later when I can read his bio. This journal is my thoughts as he speaks, so...I'll see if I can get jrenken to post his thoughts as well.

The title to the presentation that Becker showed us is "Howie Feeds Me", and it was done by his wife. It's a collection of 160 images arranged in fourteen "sonnets". It's a "digital book", almost. As in the work is meant to be "read" by one person, not displayed at a conference like Becker is doing, but to be savoured and enjoyed. Some are laid out like a photo album and others are laid out in "loops" -- that is, there is programming so you can pull the pictures around, and display parts of two pictures at once, which is kinda cool.

He then proceeded to tell us how the presentation came to be. His wife had the idea ten years ago, and the CD was only made recently. His wife originally was a photojournalist, but after years of doing the job, she got pretty bored. For example, she wrote a paper about sports photojournalism, and found that there was two major poses, "we won" and "we lost". So she went to UW and did a documentary on religion in Seattle. She then wrote a book "How I learned not to be a photojournalist."

She was still bored, and didn't know what to do, and then she found out about both hypertext and Photoshop near about the same time. She discovered an application called SuperCard (which Cal and I think is a predecessor of HyperCard), and she discovered that you could make a card that was 32 ft by 32ft. So she decided to make a photo collage, but was slightly daunted by the fact that it would take thousands of 6 by 9 inch photos to do, so she decided to do a five foot one instead.

As she built this collage, and discovered a side effect is that you can never see the whole collage at once, which solves a problem that photographers hate; that is, that of people flipping through a book of photographs and thinking they've seen the work. This way, they have to take the time to scroll.

But presenting it is another problem. Not everybody has, wants, or needs Photoshop. Acrobat only shows a space 45 inches square. So she asked the creater of this hypertext program, and he asked her if she wanted to loop the edges. This was a no brainer, she said yes, and it's a neat way about how artists discover technology. It opens doors and lets them do things they may have never dreamed of. Unfortuanately, most computer programs are *not* developed by the use of artists.

Michael Joyce, the guy who wrote the hypertext program, wanted to write a story that would not be the same for everybody. Obviously, this is hard in realspace, Choose Your Own Adventure aside. So he figured out a way to exploit the web to do it. Becker also made the point that artists tend to use applications never intended to be used by artists in the first place. For example, Photoshop was *not* exactly meant to be a tool for artists, it was a tool made to adjust colour balances and things so things would look the same in print as they did on screen.

So the project began. She had recently been married to Becker, and her life obviously changed. Becker tended to move locations often, and she was the sort who liked to put down roots and take long term projects that she could cover thouroughly. So she had to find new things to interest her, and this project about her life seemed perfect. It became about their homes in Chicago and Seattle and San Francisco, and their friends. The title, called "Howie Feeds Me" was because *she* can't cook and Becker could. So that became a powerful symbol of her relationship and the theme of the project.

So what happens when an established art world does not exist for a particular type of art? An art world is about the "infrastructure" needed to support artists -- people like the camera maker, and the museum curator and the chemical makers and all that. Another example is a Broadway musical. it takes a lot of people to get a broadway musical off the ground, and a lot of people have different talents, and nobody has to teach the singers to sing, for example. Thus it becomes easy for help to be asked for, because if you had a problem, you could find somebody in your specialty. When you're on your own, there's no support, and no structure.

Complete freedom makes it very hard for an artist to focus. This is an interesting thought. We accept constraints when we say "We're writing a novel, or an opera or a three act play or whatever." If you don't know what you want to do, and have the power to do anything, it gets very difficult to do.

When she got the idea to make a loop, she had all sorts of choices. How do you merge the images? Do you want to make it difficult to tell where one photo ends and the next began? What about deep space next to a close space? She wanted to make people think and look and think some more and be surprised occasionally.

She found another problem. Photoshop has no Photoshop reader. It was designed for professional photographs trying to clean images up for printing. So, nobody really needed a *reader* for Photoshop, so Adobe had no idea anbody would want one, and one artist is not a critical mass. (nearly wrote "critical mess" there)

Plus, what do you call it? Calling it "hypertext" stops the photographers from seeing it. It's not traditional photojournalism. So what do you do?

Unfortuanely, Storyspace (that hypertext program) never became a useful tool. Becker, as the producer (defined as "the person who does all the things an artist doesn't want to do") and they tried together to find something else. And then Macromedia Director came along and possibly made the work easier to do. People assured her it should probably do what she wanted to do. However, Director has a steep learning curve, and didn't have the "join edges" command. It would take her two years to get proficient in Director, and she didn't want to get that deep into programming (which I understand perfectly!)

Quicktime VR didn't work either. It did loops, but it degraded the image. So what to do? They decided to pay somebody...but who could do it? It wasn't standard; it wasn't easy to find somebody to do it. After lots of searching, they were told of somebody who might be able to do it. He thought it would be easy and it wasn't as easy as he thought, but in the end it worked out and turned out beautifully.

Programmers work in a "This needs to be done by Tuesday" space. That is, on Friday, they get told something needs to be done by Tuesday, so they stay up day and night to make the deadline. A leisurely schedule like the Beckers wanted was quite the culture shock to the poor programmer.

The problem of "a world that wants to do x, while the artist wants to do y." Not having a deadline can help a lot, though. In film, there's an old saying, "No film is completed, it's just abandoned." Standards change too. The loops that she did would be beyond the capability of any of the computers ten years ago. Programs change too. For example, Photoshop had *layers* added to it.

Distribution is a problem too. When she finished, she hadn't anticipated the work to turn out how it did. For example, they though the hypertext community would like it, but when they finished, they realized this wouldn't work. So they went to other friends, and decided that the CD would be best as a "digital book". The original author of the hypertext program liked it, though.

Another problem popped up. Most people operate their computer in the simplist way possible. For example, many of their friends had no idea how to click and drag. This is something techies grumble about all the time. They even had a professor who didn't know where to put the CD. When Becker explained it, he didn't think he had one, and Becker said, well, where do you get new software, and the prof said "Well, a man from the university does it."

And there was some difficulty with slightly harder tasks like setting a display size, and dealing with windows.

A famous person (unfortunately, I didn't catch the name, and Google for once is being less than helpful) said "art is just like a train, which runs perfectly where the tracks are laid for it." Thus, art has an infrastructure, as does everything else. The ideal viewer of their work is both a computer geek and a understanding of photography, but how many people have both? So you run into these constraints and opportunities.

The respondant had his little USB disk with 300MB of stuff. He called the thing his "prothetic memory device" The title of his presentation is called "On Information highways and byways, The Median is the Message." In other words, we have changing boundaries between self, objects and foundations. He showed a comic which was pretty hilarious. "It's a little pang of lonely sorrow. Do you think it's a personality disorder? Could it be painlessly removed?" "It could be LHS, live human syndrome..." "It's affecting my eyes, they've devolped a sad, dissolutioned, exiled, abandoned, look." "And tell me, do you believe in the war against terror?" "No, I don't. And I don't believe in Kylie or the great global promise or the boom economy or supermarkets or major events or talkback radio or opinion polls or..." "that's it, you've got LHS."

How do we fit with our infrastructre? We have relationships with our tools, the infrastructure is how we think, and when we go outside of ourselves, we're depending on others, which means that we can have our tools disrupted by those others outside. "Email has changed the nature of consciousness." With email, we have a record of what has happened to us. Because he can remember peeves with his email archives, he's become a different person. This seems to remind me of something my HS English teacher said. Ideas affect words which affect narrative which affects the world we live in.

The respondent then showed us a picture of two IBM posters. "Infrastructure: Sooner or later, it matters." and "Infrastructure: If it goes, it could take you with it." The first had a picture of the Leaning tower of pisa, the second showed a dam. And there are infrastructures in everything we do. "We are going to have to reconfigure ourselves." Infrastructure is not, and probably should not, always be invisible.

On the whole, there were a lot of interesting ideas raised, and I'm interested in seeing what jrenken had to think of it.

The first questioner asked about possible strategies to cope with these sorts of things. Becker didn't know exactly what to make of this question, and to be honest, as Becker said, the stratigies change from day to day. Humanity is adaptable and flexible because nature and our tools like to throw us in a bad situation that we have to think outside the box to fix. Becker also admitted that part of it is that it takes MONEY. Experimental work is tricky because it's hard to find the money to do it.

Becker doesn't think that any work of art has a *single* creator. Artists have support systems. This seems to be a very important point of his, and he's right, I think.

How do you approach an institution that is intent on categorization? It's hard to navigate through, as one questioner put it, "The dead part of infrastructure." How do we tell better stories?

Interesting story about Dumas. He'd write an idea, give it to somebody else to write, and then add the "Dumas florish". There's a long tradition in books about ghost writers. Who does the fame go to?

Some of the questioners are a bit boring, going off on obscure topics...Sometimes I think academics talk because they like hearing their own voice.

the big question. what is the primary work, what is infrastructure? for example, in film, is it the writer, or the editor, or the director that does the primary work? What about the musician who writes the score? Figure that one out, but the people in art worlds can often decide, much like an umpire in baseball can decide between balls and strikes. They're still not always right. Some works, it's easy. The author is the primary artist in a book. But what about a film, or an opera or anything...

hmmm...this sounds like my digital storytelling class in my senior year of college.

Altogether an interesting talk.

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