Steel Ice & Stone is a multi-media interactive installation.
Nine suspended LED panels and sensor-triggered sound create an environment for memory recall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Random Flight

Only now do I post this, and I'm sorry I let it lapse.

On a day off (what that?) a few months back, I found myself strolling toward The Invisible Dog, an experimental art space in downtown Brooklyn. The art space is housed in a 30,000 sq-ft (2800 sq m) converted belt factory that has all the trappings of what's very much in style right now--hewn ceilings, reclaimed lumber floors, a rough but delicately designed combination of daylight, plants, books on shelves and comfy chairs.

The Gowanus Ballroom it's not--since it operates in tandem with Diptique, a purveyor of French fragrances, setting up a delightful environment for art intake. Rather than moving steel-working equipment to make way for artworks and performances, The Invisible Dog can dedicate itself to commissioning and exhibiting site-specific collaborations.

The one I stumbled on, sadly on its last day, was a huge, multi-media collaboration of a fascinating group of artists and non-artist creators, who carefully crafted, stick by stick, a fallen thorny jungle in Mesoamerica.

In ANIMA, artists Prune Nourry and Takao Shiraishi collaborate with magician Etienne Saglio, Valentine Losseau (dramatist and anthropologist), Raphel Navarro (artistic director) and Benjamin Gabri (scenographer) to create a mythical environment based on the legend of an indigenous Maya who lived decades ago.

The full story can be accessed at, but what I'd like to discuss here is the beautiful random flight of a firefly over the lake created in the installation environment.

First, the lead-up: Upon entering, the viewer walks into a long tunnel that descends quickly into total darkness. Ambient sound of birds and insects are sufficient to quell any fears of disorientation. The stay in the abyss is brief, since the path turns and opens to a rendition of an archeological ruin--the head of a Mayan figure, partially submerged, and whose reflection forms the image of the complete face, peacefully at rest.

In the middle of the lake flitters what appears to be a handkerchief with a small light within it--a firefly, and it turns randomly on itself in all elevations and directions. The image included does it no justice. [noted in red]

The firefly gives life to a remote, still chamber of the abandoned past; very much like a nuanced memory. Bouncing to and fro without pattern or path, it acts like the jump or one thought to another. 

Although I tried, I wasn't able to get in contact with the artist, so I have no details on this part of the piece--either conceptually or technically. If it ever is shown again, anywhere in the world, I will post it--since this work is the true embodiment of a fleeting awakening of the past.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Been A Year

New project on the horizon, called Finding the Sky, the story of a centenarian's memories.

I'm thinking about this project as random memory; its delivery is imagined as downloaded motion media; and the jump to video and random download will be the true experiment. Already in the throes of acquiring funding and searching for an exhibition venue, the piece is snowballing with concepts.

Starting from the beginning:

I met someone who was turning 100 years old. When someone lives to have seen a century pass by, tapping into memories becomes a different type of journey. As the day of his 100th birthday grows closer, the memories seem to coalesce.

What questions would I pose? Everything I could think of was painfully insipid:

"What do you remember as the most important event of your life?"
"What you remember most often?"
"Is there anything that happened in your life that occurred again in a different circumstance, different place?"
"Is there anyone you've known for your entire life--that you can remember?"
"Where do you remember a significant event occurring in your life?"

Note the two-layered roof to allow cool air to
enter from the top and the watery streets in front.
The front porch served as a sidewalk.

I did find out the person was born and grew up in a remote village in northern Colombia. A member of a large family, most of his siblings had lived to be over 90. Another older brother still lives with his wife in the town which has grown into a major city not far from the Panamanian border.

According to the blog from which this
image was borrowed, this house belonged
to a one of the French families of

The stories started slowly, but began weaving a web as the memories extended farther and farther into the past.

Some quick research revealed a French population in the area dating from when the Panama Canal was built--before Teddy Roosevelt and his bunch instigated the revolution that turned Panama into an independent country and the Canal Zone into US territory. Some photos show the slow plantation lives that developed from those of military or engineering tradition.

In slowly recounted tales, the man mused that
the childhood memories he cherished most were those that he no longer had access to: those of Model T's wading through the muddy streets, layered with the croak of frogs and crickets, the rustling of thick gardenia leaves in the trade winds.

All were gone with modernization, perhaps; extinct as anything too mundane to be remembered.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Shifting Priorities

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans". So wrote John Lennon in "Beautiful Boy", though the phrase may be borrowed from an older adage. 

Adapted to the current wave of events, I'd adjust it to "Life is what happens while you are busy making art". Not to be overly dramatic here, but the all-consuming task of getting the piece resolved carries sufficient responsibility. Add to that the craft, the operation, the promotion, through to its presentation, you've put everything on hold. Everything. And, I haven't even talked about money. 

Oh, yeah, money. Remember that? As an installation artist I'm acutely aware of the nagging need to pay bills...strongly aware that you can't sell what you do, the art you make. At best, you can give a prototype to a charitable cause and save a little on the taxes from your day job (bubbling bile). 
A little hard to see but leaning over with his sig-
nature hat and vest, Beuys, the exemplary teacher,
with students in the front yard of the Academy.

Friends who were at the Academy in Düsseldorf when Joseph Beuys taught there clung to anything that carried his fingerprint  as an investment--with the possibility to sell in the future...? I wonder if Bueys found this entertaining. I miss Germany. I really do.

Anyway, I'm in the process of finding new avenues for the work while thinking about a new installation. And, of course, putting food on the table in the ever-unstable real estate market in New York. The once-artsy-fartsy neighborhood where I live is now referred to as the Gold Coast, despite the presence of five art schools in a 10-block radius. With that, it ought to be noted, that the real art--the experimental work of all kinds--is being made in Brooklyn and spreading to the Bronx. Artists require space and public transportation to do their work. Queens still requires a car to get around most of it, so other than Ridgewood and parts of South Jamaica (both places I've lived), artists are gonna look at other options.

A colleague suggested a university gallery in the Midwest that's open to experimental works but the curator gets back in a few months. Another colleague gave me a few leads, and I'll follow them up--hoping for a chance to get the work up again. But I'm also in keen understanding that it's hard lend 1000 square feet of space to show a suspended work that comes along with sound and needs power. 

What was I thinking?

So, I'm shifting gears to pursue a public space willing to show a mere part of the installation--three or six of the nine panels (more bile). 

Dammit! The hardest part has already been done. Is this work gonna reside under my bed, too?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Define the word "Finished"

Barely a year since I won my Kickstarter to fund the installation, and almost the anniversary of the Trenton show, nagging whispers of where to go from here--namely in the technology development category--drum in my head.

The viewer response has been positive--enthusiastic, in fact. My intention of creating a surreal environment was realized. Floating sheets of light and melding sound created a unified, varying experience. No one understood what I was doing until they saw it.

The work is done. The installation is resolved. However there are new products to deliver the content more directly, more effectively, namely with the sound and light output.

My biggest complaint of the LED panels is the light seeping in from one side of the panel and the lack of pressure to the front surface. And, my biggest complaint of the sound output was that the deep tones were forgone because the small-sized speaker capacity couldn't vibrate to the low frequencies.

Above, the Color Bluetooth measures 5.3 x 5 in
and weighs 1.25 lbs. (12 x 12.8 cm; .57 kg.)
The one on the left is similar in size and weight.
Enter the new technology, namely a full unit LED by Light Beam Industries and Bose's tinyish speakers, both Bluetooth, providing clean delivery and the ability to position it elsewhere for directional sound.

I'm psyched, though I approach this with trepidation. Time and money, my usual gripes, my usual pain.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Adding a Little Color

Here are three images of the 30 we eventually used. Some made their way to life-size posters, others to screen savers, postcards and brochures. I might upload the entire campaign, but for now, the large size prints are important. I'm considering posting the text screens, too since the package is so right.

A colleague on whose work I reported earlier on this blog--since she launched, suffered through but achieved a Kickstarter--designed the print campaign. I sent to-size (72-inch; 173 cm) 4-color bxw tifs with suggestions for color curves. The designer ran with it as fast as I did, we did some tests, sent some coated digital paper to the wide-format printer at the College and the rest is history.

A quick history at that, since we got the whole thing done--3 shoots, design, printing and installation--in 17 days.

Something to be said about working on great projects with someone who identifies with it as much as you do: The designer and I became friends.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Life-size, the Size of Life.

My posts have dwindled over the last weeks because a project erupted and I flew off to work on it with abandon (read: abandoning everything else).

A colleague came up with an idea to spread some happy but important news to the students in the department where I teach. The news was to announce the new name of our department. We, through a fair amount of deliberation, had renamed our educational department, and everything that entails, from Advertising Design and Graphic Arts (ADGA) to Communication Design (COMD). A major transformation on many levels, way too much to go into now, though I will detail it at a later date.

The professor sketched out thumbnails of students with speech bubbles delivering short, poignant messages, like a comic strip. I'm not a graphic novel aficionado. But, with ComicCon in town and my students bringing me daily reports, I warmed up to it, revved up the engines and flew with it.

I thought of a young, diverse student body in front of the camera with excitement; but that's self-serving.
The purpose of the campaign was to inform students of an important change in their educational program. It had to convey trust, understanding. How to do that--without being--cringe--didactic?

By making the students the messengers, the heroes--not just models. And, if they were gonna be heroes, they had to be big, as big as life, life-size. So that's how I shot them.

The announcements to get people to show up pretty much failed. Three came. I had to take dictatorial action. I held one of my evening classes in the photo studio of my school, gave an independent computer assignment and took volunteers.

Total hit. All but one of my students walked on the seamless and did their thing. I gave minimal instruction; they were all naturals--comfortable in their skin and happy to be alive. And while all had the fairly good looks and the flower of youth, in front of the lights, they ignited. Wasn't a bad shot in the bunch.

Everybody loved every minute of it. Two more shoots followed, then came the production, on which I will report shortly.

For now, here are some of the shots.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Analog and Digital

A lambda printer, in very small scale. Widths can
reach 120 inches (305 cm). Also not obvious is that
part of the machine is in total darkness.
SIS was photographed on 4x5 color film for a reason: even before the piece was fully resolved, the color rendition was critical. I had not imagined the final pieces at 48 x 60 inches (122 x 162 cm), but I knew any grain would be unacceptable.

Even in its primordial stage, SIS was to be a sensorial experience. I hadn't even thought of the images forming an environment to walk through, but I knew you had to feel cold and isolated. Any tip-off of the pieces' creation, production or manufacture would render it pedestrian.

I tried making an internegative and a large print from an enlarger at a
commercial lab. Total failure. The print that came from that experience sucked. (That's the nicest way to put it). That size print requires a copy camera room (just about obsolete) and, more critically, a series of test strips to asses exposure, contrast and color. Additionally, the paper's reciprocity factor has to be added in. Compensating all the factors, exposure could take about 50 minutes, challenging the the lab's limitations. The print was about $ 230.00. The lab apologized but said no refunds, they'd take care of me with the reprint. I would have had more fun putting the cash through a shredder.

Enter the Lambda, by Durst. It exposes photo paper via programmed laser rather than spraying ink (toner) on a surface (such as paper, canvas plastic or metal). The images had to be scanned; no easy feat since the drum needs hours to produce the files to make digital c-prints that size, even if the resolution is a mere 400 dpi. Many shops turned me down since they didn't want their scanner operating for such long periods (4-5 hours). I found this totally annoying since it's not like I wasn't paying for the scanning time--they just didn't want their machine working for such a long clip.

Scans in, then came the computer work. My color smarts kicked in as did my production savvy and I was able to get some good prototypes (see an earlier post in which I sliced up the digital image, composited one file and sent it to the lab in Michigan. They printed the file on the duratrans film, mounted it on acrylic and I could asses how the color was going to be once it was installed in the LED panel ). A Cheetah rip allowed the prints to be made quickly, easily, dependably.

Sad that the panels don't photograph well; transmitted light never does. But the critical test was passed: The viewers were transfixed. They had never seen anything like it, and that's all that matters.