Category Archives: Art

The American Elf has been freed

I have a not-so-secret love for strange web comics, which I indulge in from time to time. Today I found out that one of my favourites, James Kochalka’s wonderfully warm and personal sketchbook diary has been opened for non-subscribers. It was kind of hard to recommend it to anybody, since you don’t really get a very good feel for the depth of the strip just from reading a single strip, but with the archive open, anyone can wander in and read almost 8 years’ worth of strips.

It is simple and poetic insights in the everyday life of a man (drawn as an elf) and his family in Burlington, Vermont. I know this doesn’t sound like a thrill, but it grows on you. As you, in small inexplicable ways, come to recognize the rhythms and patterns, thus finding a picture of life itself. Not in the individual strips, but in the sense of whole that occurs when you feel intimately connected to those going-ons which you’ve never been part of.

And yes, I do have a favourite strip.

Good Copy Bad Copy

As the awareness of the issues surrounding copyright and copyleft increases, filmmakers have begun to take notice and make films which focus on these matters.

Recently, Danish state television aired two such films which are now available for streaming off their website. Simply paste the following link

rtsp://streamer-01.dr.nordija.dk:554/DR2Tema1700.mp4

into a movie player such as VLC (go to “Open Network Stream” and paste the link in the rtsp line) to see the films. The first film starts around 5:10 in the stream, so you can safely skip past the first few minutes.

That first film is a Danish documentary called “Good Copy, Bad Copy” which explores how copyright is interpreted differently in different parts of the world with regards to music and movies. A fascinating example is how Gnarl’s Barkley’s smash hit “Crazy” is reinterpreted by Brazilian remixers as a Tecno Brega song to be played at the Sound System parties of Northern Brazil. It’s well worth the watch. Be warned, though: Subtitles are only available in Danish.

The second film, Alternative Freedom, has much more of a manifesto-like quality which is sure to turn some people (including me) off. Yet it is interesting if you haven’t seen or heard much of the Free Software movement yet (I, for my part, may be a bit overexposed to that rhetoric…)

Oh! Update: I just found a shorter, all-English version of Good Copy, Bad Copy here. I suspect you might be able to download the full version from the Pirate Bay – legally, even.

Searches as art installation

When I went to the Google HQ for the Ubuntu Developer’s Summit in Mountain View, I – and many others – were suitably impressed with the cute art installation that they had installed in the lobby. It is simply as screen showing Google search queries scrolling by:

One list of Google search queries

more such queries

It is quite hypnotic to look at such search queries, trying to guess what people are trying to find out. It is curious to see how people use Google both to find things they know where are (such as Hotmail or vitrinemotos.com.br) and things they do not (vacation planning, 4 wheel drive test). But perhaps especially the ones who take the query part a bit too seriously – such as writing “que es un servidor web?”

I enjoyed the thought that all of these queries were performed in real time and that it was a complete list of queries as it happened. But soon my illusions were shattered when I was told that the list scrolling on the screen was a cached copy of searches filtered for profanity looping on an old server unconnected to the Internet standing behind the lobby counter.

But still, the idea has huge potential. Every single little query we feed to Google is part of a story in itself, and collecting them would be a very telling way to describe how we use both computers and the Internet through Google. As a little experiment, try going to the Google page on a computer and a browser you use often, and try looking through the list of old queries that you have fed it. See if you can remember why you searched for some of those things in the first place – you’ll be surprised at the stories which might appear…

The cultural gendarmerie is here

Jeppe, a good friend of mine, has initiated his official career as a cultural critic with one his theatre buddies on their own website called the Postulatorium.

The project was originally intended to be a tv-show containing a youthful combination of comedy, satire and cultural education. Unfortunately, the idea was pitched at the same time as Danish TV started showing their own bile-infested program for cultural criticism.

Radio didn’t work either, since they insisted that it should be on a station with youth appeal, but they couldn’t get any of the relevant stations interested in a show that wasn’t solely about music.

It was until they decided to try their hand at the media with the lowest barrier of entry: The world wide web that the project got off the ground. So far the content is kind of sparse, but the idea is sound, and well worth supporting. I’ll try and see if I can get them to do a podcast. I’m sure their kind of humour would work well like that.

Comics! (for those who care for such things)

You know what? I like comics. A single wellwritten and conceived comic strip can express some deep truths that would be impossible to convey properly in any other medium. By connecting simple images and dialogue while leaving plenty to the imagination to combine, comic strips can be like zen koans, absurd theatre, ponderous comedy and pop cultural references rolled into one single nugget of uncertain wisdom.

Web comics do this very well, since most of them do not seek to please. They are simply an outlet for the writer. A way of letting go of their thoughts. Of course, some people eventually make a business out of it, but with genuine web comics (ie. comics only published on the web, and as a pastime at first), the original nerve is that freedom to write what feels right. Without seeking to please anybody.

My first webcomic love was Achewood, which I still read. It is a bottomless font of new English slang and curious incidents. The first strip sums up the style quite well.

It combines wide-eyed wonder with world-weary slang. It’s basically like treasure.

I also had a brief fling with one called Men in Hats, which upon rereading it is a bit of a letdown. Still, some of them do have that sarcastic distance which seems almost zen.

My latest infatuation is with the aptly named xkcd, which brings wonderful honesty and a deep fascination with mathematics together. Now I may not know mathematics, but somehow this still manages to be funny:

George Clinton, BA

Especially those ponderings of love struck some rare chord with me. As well as those pseudo-scientific theories that erupt from time to time.

I think most people find themselves in situations where whatever they’re thinking just isn’t relevant to anybody around them. I hope to be able to think in strange ways, even if it isn’t the Bellman-Ford algorithm.

London

I’m writing this in an Internet Cafe just across from Paddington Station, feeling rather exhausted from another day of wandering around London. I’m staying with Martha, a friend from my Hall of Residence in Copenhagen who’re spending this semester here, and it’s been great fun.

..and rather hectic – with lots of people and getting in touch with the last stragglers of the international students fleeing Manchester. And then there’s been all the sights to be seen. I went to the National Gallery for the first time, and was amazed by some of the pictures there.

I particularly liked this one:

called Girl on a Divan (‘Jeune femme au divan’) by Berthe Morisot.

and this one:

by J.M.W. Turner, called ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway’

It’s culture, baby. Tomorrow I plan to go to the Tate Modern and see even more art. Now, I think I’ll go home and relax.

The End of the Moon

This Tuesday, I went to Manchester’s fanciest theatre venue, the Lowry, built on the remains of Manchester’s old industrial harbour at the Salford Quays, some two miles outside the city centre.

I went to see a show, part music, part poetry, part storytelling, with one of the world’s most interesting and famously obscure (but then again, aren’t they all?) performance artists, Laurie Anderson. The show is called The End of the Moon, and is centered on her two years as “Artist in Residence” with NASA. No, really.

She was as surprised as everybody else when they offered her the position as artist in residence, and none of the NASA dudes seemed to have given much thought to what she would actually do as an artist in the hi-tech temple of the final frontier.

So she milled about, saw the jet propulsion lab, mission control, take off centre and so on, asked questions and studied files, until they finally asked her to make a report on her findings. Since she was fired halfway through her first draft, as some senator stumbled upon the words “Artist in residence” in the NASA budget, and didn’t think that that looked too good, she decided to change directions with that report, and this show is meant to be it.

It’s just Laurie on a dark stage, covered with candles, playing her violin and telling anecdotes about NASA, life in general and odd bits of pseudo-philosophy. Her voice is the focal point of it all, so soothing and dreamy, that alone would be enough.

But of course, it helps that she is occasionally witty, occasionally poetic and mysteriously intense all the time. I quite enjoyed it.

Telling dreams

Following the previous post, I was reminded of something else. When people talk about things they’ve dreamt, the narratives tend to be too personal to make much sense to anybody else. All the feeling and points of reference that the narrator remembers from the dream is usually quite difficult to capture in thought and story, and without these, the listeners are left at a loss.

The best telling of dreams I’ve come across is Jesse Reklaw’s Slow Wave. Every week readers send him their dreams from which he picks one to tell. This dream he turns into a four-panel comic strip. His comic strips capture the incoherence and visual magic of dreams quite well. Some of them make sense in a strangely compelling way.

Also, consider how much more willing you are to accept these strange ideas once you’re securely labeled them as ‘dreams’…