Sunday, November 29, 2009

Art and Astronomy

An article I read about private funding for telescopes reminded me why I use space photography in my paintings. Both these disciplines have appealed to me for most of my life. They have similar positions of purity, or of transcendence, of a near-complete irrelevance to the mundane, the practical, and the necessary. In a way, they are the least humane human pursuits, which all the contradiction that entails. They therefore use similar justifications for their expenses, relying primarily on an appeal to aethetics, curiosity, and values about the search for truth.

There are, of course, both exceptions and loopholes. The best art engages directly with political, social, and economic interests, and part of the liberal and radical tendency of art is based on a goal of greater leisure and freedom to make useless objects. Astronomical research can be the source of better understanding of consistent and inconsistent physical laws, which has led to technological innovation. Most of the research that serves purely to disabuse society of superstition has been done. Monitoring for potentially disastrous comets or meteors is a not-insignificant part of astronomy, as is study of other planets to better understand where we're living.

But it's not those parts that interest me. It's the selling of what is superfluous even to a society based on the escalating transformation of wants into needs. Super-saturated, highly-manipulated photographs of interstellar gases are in one way a byproduct of billions invested in telescopes for better pure research, but in another way, they sell the research. By using them in paintings and digital sketches, I insert the efforts and investment of an entire industrial network, of what some might consider the loftiest achievements of "civilization". There's a sense of wonder there, and a sense of absurd amusement at the forgetting of wonder.

The sensation of a density of information, essentially indecipherable, behind an expensive image, is also why I consider all my work to be about knowledge, communication, and cybernetics. The final step, the work I do in nearly the least technologically entrenched medium that allows full color, involves the re-creation of signal from the noise remaining from an entirely different signal. Interstellar and intergalactic images are extremely lossy - as with any scientific measurement, entropy rules, and we only see a small part of the vast system we want to describe. Light from so far away is also light from far in the past - cosmology makes us recognize time's dimensionality. It's like archaeology in that much of the causality is lost. We're also looking at essentially a snapshot, since very little changes at that scale at biological speed. We haven't been observing long, nor may we be able to much longer, since it's possible astrophysical research itself was a cold war symptom. We can only observe from one angle, enforcing the primacy of two-dimensionality that I embrace with the abolition of ground. I replace space with space. Time becomes the uncertain palimpsest of historical process, the abstract unidentifiability of the original image. It's a discussion of re-interpretation, the use of one useless thing by another useless thing, and a celebration of affording any of it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Letter for the Younger Generation

This is by Steve Cannon and Chavisa Woods (Chavisa's email)

You must remember, it was the exciting sixties when all the contradictions of American society showed their ugly face. There was a fight against racism and of course, the was a fight against the war in Vietnam. And of course there were other fights as well on a local Level. Then also, feminism was just emerging, the same with gay rights. As writers, we were concerned (and the same was true with most other types of artists at that time) not only with our own voices being heard, but that whatever we said or did would have impact on the society at large. We argued incessantly with one another. We critiqued the civil rights movement and the anti war movement in terms of do’s and don’ts. As artists we did not believe that we should “join” a movement, but, as Picasso is quoted in Marshal McLuhan’s “Understanding Media”, that artists are by nature, anarchists. Our job was to stand outside the movements and look in. Aside from arguing, of course we listened to lots and lots of music. It wasn’t only that crowd that invaded the states from England, like the Beatles, but also that crowd from Detroit; meaning Motown, etc. Of course there were people like James Brown, later Bon Marley, and Aretha Franklin yelling and screaming, “RESPECT.”

Everything was cut and dry, or, to use a cliche, black and white. Every weekend we would go to demonstrations, and after, party all night. ACID was in, so was Marijuana. The hard drugs, we stayed away from. But bear in mind, as far as we were concerned, everything in the country, especially communities in the lower east side, Venice beach, et.- wherever Bohemians lived, was involved actively in changing the country.

We read everything we could get our hands on, criticized it, and came up with our own ideas of what should be done to make changes in our local communities. We started our own presses, others started making their own independent movies, and others founded art galleries, collectives, etc. in contrast to the “establishment.” Fact is, we made our own newspaper called the East Village Other, which was involved with the LNS, newspapers like the LA Free Press, etc.

The difference between then and now, is everything was clear-cut, we knew the lines of offence and defense. Things are much more complicated for young people now, and on this note, I will let a twenty-something speak for her own generation.

The American radicals of the sixties had a distinctively oppressive culture, which they rebelled against and re-structured. When critiquing the current generation, you must not forget, they raised us. The lost hippies the un-caged panthers, the beat beats, the rockin’ rolling punks, are our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and bosses. Although those movements played a vital role in re-structuring the social mores and influencing today’s social codes, as far as getting to the core of it, abolishing the very thing that actually divides us (as sexism racism, homophobia, etc.. are obvious symptoms of that which even the most radical movements of the past failed to abolish) the hierarchical corporate (free market) class structure and the corporate military industrial complex. These are the institutions many of the radicals of the past eventually joined and helped to continue to create; when they reached a certain age, as Valerie Solanas warned, many of them did, “whisk their partners off to suburbs” to raise, us. We are the children of the eighties, the time of excess, riches, sexual freedom, celebration of individualism, tabu, etc.. Even those of us who were raised in lower class families were also raised with these icons and symbols of sensationalized individual success and fame as a future promise, only to find ourselves in massive debt, often time without any sense or experience real and vital of community upon reaching adulthood.

Still, you must recognize there are and have been real radical movements and communities created by the twenty something’s of today . Those of you who know will know, when I say, Stone Soup, CAMP, Slingshot, anywhere IMC, Idapalooza, Influx, and on and on it goes. From California to Chicago, to New York, to Tennessee and back up, the radical dykes of the sixties had womyn’s land, and we had/have a network of crusty collectives and we will surely look back on our days of protest and alternative lifestyles with the same nostalgia the sixties radicals do theirs , although, it seems, many of the older generation know nothing of this.

And this is the greater problem. Our generation’s radical re-structuring has consisted mainly of personal lifestyle politics, influenced no doubt by the mainstream indicators of our youth; taking on the form of urban farming, thifting, DIY, collective living, queerness, etc.. with some vital political and environmental action interspersed throughout. In order not to fall into the trap of the focus of our lives becoming personal survival upon reaching a more real adulthood, we, the younger radicals must make a conscious continuous effort to diversify. We must continue to create new movements hand in hand with the older generation, not be afraid to critique one another and accept critique, and above all we must find some way to believe, as the radicals of the past did, that we can have some real effect and impact on the MTV Militarized super dome projecting those binary images of pornographied success we seem to have been born into.