By Scott Kildall

Music Box Village

Last week, I visited the Music Box Village in New Orleans. This is a true DIY space where artists, fabricators and more have built “houses” that make sounds/music/noise in various ways. Together, skilled musicians (which does not include me) can make an orchestra of cacophonous music.

John Cage would have loved this space. Any sort of noise even silence is music, as people witnessed with his 4’33” composition. I’ve always loved this idea, the very fact that the tension between performance and non-performance can be music. At this site, the structures become the instruments. Anyone can play them. They are rusty, brittle, gentle and beautiful at the same time.

I’ve gone to many, many DIY spaces. I’ve even helped build some of them, such as The Shipyard, which was a mass of shipping containers that I helped weld, wire and cut in 2001. But all of these felt self-serving, creating a community of those that we included and those, who were somehow excluded because they didn’t speak the proper cultural language of metal-working and whiskey-drinking.

The Music Box Village felt different. I watched some of the founders present the project at the INST-INT Conference the day before and they spoke about community engagement and pairing collaborators from different socioeconomic backgrounds, skills and ages to build the houses. Their approach was organic and they finally secured a more permanent home which has metalworking facilities.

I can’t help but be inundated with the banality of architecture. Houses pretty much look alike, entirely functional and rectilinear. Our commerce spaces are branded box stores adorning cities and suburbs. As humans, we are molded by our physical environment. Our eyes conform to corners. Our minds become less imaginative as a result.

One of my favorite artists who works with architectures is Krzysztof Wodiczko who worked for many decades projecting iconography onto buildings in order to subvert the function of the building, the war memorial and the political body.

He writes: “Dominant culture in all its forms and aesthetic practices remains in gross contradiction to the lived experience, communicative needs and rights of most of society, whose labour is its sole base”

We have so much more to offer in terms of human imagination and creativity than the buildings that surround us and are institutions of capital. I left my tour of the Music Box Village feeling rejuvenated. Then I promptly went to airport to catch I flight back home, engaging with the odd transitional space where air travel happens.

 

 

 

 

 

Orientation Week at American Arts Incubator

The first week in 2017 was orientation week for the American Arts Incubator program. I met the four other artists and soon associated their names with the respective exchange countries: Elaine Cheung (Russia), Michael Kuetemeyer (Cambodia), Nathan Ober (Colombia), and Balam Soto (Guatemala)

My exchange country will be Thailand, where I’ll be staying in the multilayered metropolis of Bangkok for 28 days in May/June timeframe

Thailand sounds exciting and of course it is. However, I’m approaching this not as a tourist, but rather as an arts ambassador. The issue that I’ll be addressing in my exchange is environmental health and specifically water pollution in the Chao Phraya River. This is especially relevant to Thailand, which has underground rapid industrialization in the last couple of decades with environmental regulations lagging behind.

In Bangkok, I will engage in a dialogue of community data-collection and mapping though DIY science with a focus on water pollution, resulting in data-visualization installations and sculptures.

My time will be split about 80/20 on leading public workshops and creating my own artwork.

This ties into my current area of focus: creating physical data-visualizations such as the sculptures of the water infrastructure of San Francisco as well as relates to my longstanding history of working in art and education at institutions such as the Exploratorium.

I learned many things this week, including, but not limited to: better patience for long meetings, organizational models for workshop engagement, the Drupal blogging platform, art-budgeting in a foreign country and organizational techniques.

But most of all, I learned that I have an amazing organization, ZERO1, that will be supporting my work there as well as a cohort of four other artists I can learn from. Trust.

For more information and updates, please join the American Arts Incubator Facebook page.

Three (fiction) books about autism

I’m fascinated by fiction books about high-functioning autism, despite the fact that I have no significant relationships to people with the condition.

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Each of the three books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Rosie Effect and The Speed of Dark tell narratives from the 1st-person point-of-view of someone who is high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s syndrome in at least 2 of the books) and fits in and out of society. They are all beautiful, wonderful stories, which portray characters who are loving, kind and at times confused.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReading is a solitary act, reflecting in this case, the life of the characters, who inhabit their own world. Each novel lulls me into an interior space of imagination, and because there is a spectrum of behavior. I wonder where in the gray area do each of us stand?

And it’s while reading these books, I want to change my perception of the world to be more of that of an autistic mind with an amazing ability to focus and pattern-match, taking the world as a series of literals and interpreting things as-they-are-said rather then as-they-are-implied.

These three books are all great. I’d recommend reading each them.

 

Machine Data Dreams @ Black & White Projects

This week, I opened a solo show called Machine Data Dreams, at Black & White Projects. This was the culmination of several months of work where I created three new series of works reflecting themes of data-mapping, machines and mortality.

The opening reception is Saturday, November 5th from 7-9pm. Full info on the event is here.

Two of the artworks are from my artist-in-residency with SETI and the third is a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant.

All of the artwork uses custom algorithms to translate datasets into physical form, which is an ongoing exploration that I’ve been focusing on in the last few years.

Each set of artwork deserves more detail but I’ll stick with a short summary of each.

Fresh from the waterjet, Strewn Fields visualizes meteorite impact data at four different locations on Earth.

water-jet-1Strewn Fields: Almahata Sitta

As an artist-in-residence with SETI, I worked with planetary scientist, Peter Jenniskens to produce these four sculptural etchings into stone.

When an asteroid enters the earths atmosphere, it does so at high velocity — approximately 30,000 km/hour. Before impact, it breaks into thousands of small fragments — meteorites which spread over areas as large as 30km. Usually the spatial debris fall into the ocean or hits at remote locations where scientists can’t collect the fragments.

And, only recently have scientists been able to use GPS technology to geolocate hundreds of meteorites, which they also weigh as they gather them. The spread patterns of data are called “Strewn Fields”.

Dr. Jenniskens is not only one of the world’s experts on meteorites but led the famous  2008 TC3 fragment recovery in Sudan of the Almahata Sitta impact.

With four datasets that he both provided and helped me decipher, I used the high-pressure waterjet machine at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Creative Workshops, where I work as an affiliate artist and also on their shop staff, to create four different sculptures.

water-jet-2Strewn Fields: Sutter’s Mill

The violence of the waterjet machine gouges the surface of each stone, mirroring the raw kinetic energy of a planetoid colliding with the surface of the Earth. My static etchings capture the act of impact, and survive as an antithetical gesture to the event itself. The actual remnants and debris — the meteorites themselves — have been collected, sold and scattered and what remains is just a dataset, which I have translated into a physical form.

A related work, Machine Data Dreams are data-etchings memorials to the camcorder, a consumer device which birthed video art by making video production accessible to artists.

pixel_visionMACHINE DATA DREAMS: PIXELVISION

This project was supported by an San Francisco Individual Arts Commission grant. I did the data-collection itself during an intense week-long residency at Signal Culture, which has many iconic and working camcorders from 1969 to the present.

sonyvideorecorderSONY VIDEORECORDER (1969)
pixelvisionPIXELVISION CAMERA (1987)

During the residency, I built a custom Arduino data-logger which captured the raw electronic video signals, bypassing any computer or digital-signal processing software.data_loggerWith custom software that I wrote, I transformed these into signals that I could then etch onto 2D surfaces.Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.56.15 PM I paired each etching with its source video in the show itself.

sony_video_recorderMACHINE DATA DREAMS: PIXELVISION

Celebrity Asteroid Journeys is the last of the three artworks and is also a project of from the SETI Artist in Residency program, though is definitively more light-hearted than the Strewn Fields.

Celebrity Asteroid Journeys charts imaginary travels from one asteroid to another. There are about 700,000 known asteroids, with charted orbits. A small number of these have been named after celebrities.

Working with asteroid orbital data from JPL and estimated spaceship velocities, I charted 5 journeys between different sets of asteroids.

My software code ran calculations over 2 centuries (2100 – 2300) to figure out the the best path between four celebrities. I then transposed the 3D data into 2D space to make silkscreens with the dates of each stop.

20161025_165421_webCELEBRITY ASTEROID JOURNEY: MAKE BELIEVE LAND MASHUP

This was my first silkscreened artwork, which was a messy antidote to the precise cutting of the machine tools at Autodesk.

All of these artworks depict the ephemeral nature of the physical body in one form or another. Machine Data Dreams is a clear memorial itself, a physical artifact of the cameras that once were cutting-edge technology.

With Celebrity Asteroid Journeys, the timescale is unreachable. None of us will ever visit these asteroids. And the named asteroids are memorials themselves to celebrities (stars) that are now dead or soon, in the relative sense of the word, will be no longer with us.

Finally, Strewn Fields captures a the potential for an apocalyptic event from above. Although these asteroids are merely minor impacts, it is nevertheless the reality that an extinction-level event could wipe out human species with a large rock from space. This ominous threat of death reminds us that our own species is just a blip in Earth’s history of life.

 

Asteroids and Celebrities

Asteroids! Planetary scientists have found and mapped about 700,000 of them and some estimate upwards of 150 million asteroids in our solar system. Most of them are in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.

David Bowie has one named after him. Prince does not, though both have songs about being in space. Recently Freddie Mercury was awarded one on his 70th posthumous birthday, which seems a fitting tribute to a star, whose life was cut short by AIDS.

FILE - In this 1985 file photo, singer Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen, performs at a concert in Sydney, Australia. Queen guitarist Brian May says an asteroid in Jupiter's orbit has been named after the band's late frontman Freddie Mercury on what would have been his 70th birthday, it was reported on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. May says the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre has designated an asteroid discovered in 1991, the year of Mercury's death, as "Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury." (AP Photo/Gill Allen, File)

Most asteroids have provisional designations. The full list of human-named asteroids are here. A few pets and fictional characters have even made it onto the list.

I saw this as an opportunity, as part of my SETI Artist-in-Residency to work with asteroid orbital data from JPL, estimated spaceship velocities* and create a new work called Celebrity Asteroid Journeys, which charts imaginary travels from one asteroid to another as silkscreen prints on wood panels.

20161025_165421_webCelebrity Asteroid Journey: Make Believe Land Mashup

I will be presenting the Celebrity Asteroid Journeys as part of my Machine Data Dreams solo show at Black and White Projects. The reception is on Saturday, November 5th, 7-9pm.

Representation is important and the list of asteroids-named-after people is no exception. Even though the majority of the asteroids are named after Western men, I worked to balance as much as possible.

 20161025_165440_webCELEBRITY ASTEROID JOURNEY: SINGERS

And how are asteroids named? According to my research, they are first given a provisional name. Then, when the orbit is determined, it is assigned a sequential number. The discoverer of the asteroid can then request from the International Astronomical Union to give the asteroid a formal name.

*the spaceship speeds do not use true acceleration and deceleration (the math was beyond my skills), but I did work with the best numbers I could find, about 140,000km/hour using a nuclear-electric engine.

Display at Your Own Risk by Owen Mundy

I get a lot of press for my artwork. These articles often gloss over the nuances, distilling the essence of a story.

Well-written academic articles about my artwork is what thrills me the most.

Such is the case, with Owen Mundy’s article, Display at Your Own Risk, which looks at 3D printing, copyright and photogrammetry in art.

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The work, he is referring to, in our case is Chess with Mustaches, which is detailed here.

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What Mundy hones in on is that our original Duchamp Chess set is not like ‘ripping’ music from physical media to a computer, but rather a “hand” tracing from a set of photographs to create a 3D model. It is essentially a translation rather than a crude copy.

These are the sorts of comparisons and nuances that garner my appreciation.

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Waterjet Etching Tests

For the last several weeks, I have been conducting experiments with etching on the waterjet — a digital fabrication machine that emits a 55,000 psi stream of water, usually used for precision cutting. The site for this activity is Autodesk Pier 9 Creative Workshops. I continue to have access to their amazing fabrication machines, where I work part-time as one of their Shop Staff.

My recent artwork focuses on writing software code that transforms datasets into sculptures and installations, essentially physical data-visualizations. One of my new projects is called Strewn Fields, which is part of my work as an artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute. I am collaborating with the SETI research scientist, Peter Jenniskens, who is a leading expert on meteor showers and meteorite impacts. My artwork will be a series of data-visualizations of meteorite impacts at four different sites around the globe.

While the waterjet is normally used for cutting stiff materials like thick steel, it can etch using lower water pressure rather than pierce the material. OMAX — the company that makes the waterjet that we use at Pier 9 —  does provide a simple etching software package called Intelli-ETCH. The problem is that it will etch the entire surface of the material. This is appropriate for some artwork, such as my Bad Data series, where I wanted to simulate raster lines.

Meth Labs in Albuquerque(Data source: http://www.metromapper.org)

The technique and skills that I apply to my artistic practice is to write custom software that generates specific files for digital fabrication machines: laser-cutters, 3D printers, the waterjet and CNC machines. The look-and-feel is unique, unlike using conventional tools that artists often work with.

For meteorite impacts, I first map data like the pattern below (this is from a 2008 asteroid impact). For these impacts, it doesn’t make sense to etch the entire surface of my material, but rather, just pockets, simulating how a meteorite might hit the earth.

strewn_field_15scaled_no_notation

I could go the route of working with a CAM package and generating paths that work with the OMAX Waterjet. Fusion 360 even offers a pathway to this. However, I am dealing with four different datasets, each with 400-600 data points. It just doesn’t make sense to go from a 2D mapping, into a 3D package, generate 3D tool paths and then back to (essentially) a 2D profiling machine.

So, I worked on generating my own tool paths using Open Frameworks, which outputs simple vector shapes based on the size of data. For the tool paths, I settled on using spirals rather than left-to-right traverses, which spends too much time on the outside of the material, and blows it out. The spirals produce very pleasing results.

My first tests were on some stainless steel scrap and you can see the results here, with the jagged areas where the water eats away at the material, which is the desired effect. I also found that you have to start the etching from the outside of the spiral and then wind towards the inside. If you start from the inside and go out, you get a nipple, like on the middle right of this test, where the water-jet has to essentially “warm-up”. I’m still getting the center divots, but am working to solve this problem.

This was a promising test, as the non-pocketed surface doesn’t get etched at all and the etching is relatively quick.

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I showed this test to other people and received many raised eyebrows of curiosity. I became more diligent in my test samples and produces this etch sample with 8 spirals, with an interior path ranging from 2mm to 9mm to test on a variety of materials.

sprial_paths.png

I was excited about this material, an acrylic composite that I had leftover from a landscape project. It is 1/2″ thick with green on one side and a semi-translucent white on the other. However, as you can see, the water-jet is too powerful and ends up shattering the edges, which is less than desirable.

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And then I began to survey various stone samples. I began with scavenging some material from Building Resources, which had an assortment of unnamed, cheap tiles and other samples.

Forgive me…I wish I hadn’t sat in the back row of “Rocks for Jocks” in college. Who knew that a couple decades later, I would actually need some knowledge of geology to make artwork?

I began with some harder stone — standard countertop stuff like marble and granite. I liked seeing how the spiral breaks down along the way. But, there is clearly not enough contrast. It just doesn’t look that good.

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I’m not sure what stone this is, but like the marble, it’s a harder stone and doesn’t have much of an aesthetic appeal. The honed look makes it still feel like a countertop.

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I quickly learned that thinner tile samples would be hard to dial in. Working with 1/4″ material like this, often results in blowing out the center.

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But, I was getting somewhere. These patterns started resembling an impact of sorts and certainly express the immense kinetic energy of the waterjet machine, akin to the kinetic energy of a meteorite impact.

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This engineered brick was one of my favorite results from this initial test. You can see the detail on the aggregate inside.

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And I got some weird results. This material, whatever it is, is simple too delicate, kind of like a pumice.

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This is a cement compound of some flavor and for a day, I even thought about pouring my own forms, but that’s too much work, even for me.

 

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I think these two are travertine tile samples and I wish I had more information on them, but alas, that’s what you get when you are looking through the lot. These are in the not-too-hard and not-too-soft zone, just where I want them to be.

 

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I followed up these tests by hitting up several stoneyards and tiling places along the Peninsula (south of San Francisco). This basalt-like material is one of my favorite results, but is probably too porous for accuracy. Still, the fissures that it opens up in the pockets is amazing. Perhaps if I could tame the waterjet further, this would work.

IMG_0275basalt-detail

basalt-more-detailThis rockface/sandstone didn’t fare so well. The various layers shattered, producing unusable results.

IMG_0299discolored_slate

Likewise, this flagstone was a total fail.

IMG_0302flagstone-shatter

The non-honed quartzite gets very close to what I want, starting to look more like a data-etching. I just need to find one that isn’t so thick. This one will be too heavy to work with.

IMG_0284  quartzite_close_IMG_0340

Although this color doesn’t do much for me, I do like the results of this limestone.

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Here is a paver, that I got but can’t remember which kind it is. Better notes next time! Anyhow, it clearly is too weak for the water-jet.

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This is a slate. Nice results!

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And a few more, with mixed results.

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And if you are a geologist and have some corrections or additions, feel free to contact me.

Strewn Field Map @ SETI

I’ve been an artist-in-residence at SETIthe Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — for several weeks now. Many think of SETI as people who listen for signals from advanced alien life in the deep desert.

Of course, this isn’t even close to the full story. SETI is also doing amazing work in the field of planetary science: the stuff in our solar system

Why would SETI scientists be playing in our astronomical backyard in the quest for extraterrestrial life? …a couple of reasons:

(1) there is a decent chance of microbial life in our solar system, which certainly counts as “extraterrestrial” life, though not as exciting as an advanced alien species.

(2) if we understand how life began on Earth, then we can apply that knowledge to determine how life might originate on other planets.

Planetary data is ripe with amazing possibilities. My current artistic focus is to write custom software code which translates datasets into physical sculptures and installations. My first foray is meteorite impact data from SETI.

The scientist I am currently working with is Dr. Peter Jenniskens, who is one of the world’s experts on meteors and meteorites. And, as I have discovered, he is also interested in the artistic possibilities.

seti_peter_in_front_of_signThe 2008 TC3 asteroid was discovered on October 6th, 2008, heading right for Earth. Calculations were made to determine its approximate impact, which ended up being in Sudan just 19 hours later. The event was significant — it’s the first time we’ve been able to calculate the location of a “small body” impact with Earth. For all it’s importance, 2008 TC3 deserves a much better name. After all, even Lance Armstrong has an asteroid named after him.

2008TC3-groundpath-rev
Dr. Jenniskens was not only near the impact zone the next day, on October 7th but also led an expedition to map and collect the meteorite fragments. He worked with nearly 100 students at the University of Khartoum to find, geolocate and weigh everything they could find.

It is very unusual to be able to get an accurate strewn field map like this. Usually fresh meteorites hit the ocean or areas that are difficult to collect meteorites for various reasons.

323213main_Petersmeteorites_946-710

I work at the Creative Workshops at Autodesk, and have access to their 3D printers. I printed out a model of the 2008 TC3 asteroid, at least one possible physical mapping of the asteroid that approximates its shape. Dr. Jenniskens got a gift of plastic that day.seti_peter_with_meteorHe later showed me the fragments of one of the meteorites. The crust has an amazing texture, which looks like baked clay. Inside, it looks like a regular rock, well at least to my untrained eyes.seti_scott_n_meteroitesOnto the datasets! Peter Jenniskens provided me which had the geolocation + mass of 639 meteorites that his team found. It is now my job to do something with this amazing information.

With my Bad Data series, I wrote custom software that translates the datasets into a map of vector shapes which I then cut, etch, mill or work with somehow on a CNC machine — laser-cutter, water-jet, Shopbot, etc.

I applied similar code to this dataset, creating this map. The larger circles correspond to more mass. It even looks like an impact, with the smaller fragments being shed off before the bulk of the extraterrestrial rocks hit our planet.

strewn_field_15scaled_no_notationIt will be a slog of testing with various materials before I get a final result that I’m happy with. I love this part — the back n’ forth playing with data and materials to get a final aesthetic result that is pleasing.

But, I did manage to squeeze out some tests on wood and have this result. It’s promising.

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PARISOMA art panel reportback

Sometimes I’m an art ambassador to the tech community in San Francisco.

Last week, I was on a panel of artists and non-profit educators called “How Technology is Revolutionizing the World of Art” as part of PARISOMA — a co-working space in San Francisco. This included colleagues: Matt Ganucheau, Danille Siembieda and Barry Threw.

I talk at these sorts of events fairly often, addressing a tech crowd who is art-curious. This forces me out of my comfort zone. I know the art world well, but the tech world of start-up lingo and social entrepreneurship is slightly unfamiliar. I do think art-technology discourse is essential, especially in SF in these times, so I do my part.

PARISOMA is faithfully trying to stir up conversation. This is so appreciated, especially since it would be easy to exclude artists from the “tech conversation”.

Oh, the naming problem: How Technology is Revolutionizing the World of Art. This presumes that technology is now changing the world of art. Let’s not forget our history. (New) technology has been turning the art world on its head for decades,  and for centuries, it has been influencing art-making in overt and subtle ways.

Projects such as E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) were talking about this very issue 35-40 years ago. I won’t get into the manyfold examples here, but the research is out there and easy to find.

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…and the over-use of the word “revolution” is well-documented. It’s a disservice to actual revolution: the overturning of a political state. Language is important. Point being that art and technology have been intertwined for a very long time. It is not happening just now, nor is it a sudden turn of events that is redefining art.

Patrol_of_the_October_revolution

However, the positive things from the dialogue were immense. A few key observations:

(1) The attendance for this panel in a tech venue was much higher than in an art venue (~100 people on a Wed night). Why is this? Why does the tech community garner more bodies? Is it because there is some flavor of “networking” involved? This happens at art events as well, so I don’t get it.

(2) Art jargon alienates the wider community. Tech folks get intimidated by art galleries and the language describing the works. At one point I brought this up and saw a sea of faces that were nodding. This is a thing that everyone seems to feel. I suppose the art dialogue is in my comfort zone, so I don’t think about the barriers it creates.

(3) Techies have a bad reputation for driving up prices, displacing old-time residents of San Francisco and hopping on corporate buses to work in the Peninsula. But, here was an audience of 80-100 people who wanted to integrate art somehow into their culture. Techies aren’t all bad!

The take-home message is that we should build bridges between the art folks and the technology folks…somehow. I don’t have the answers, but do feel like there are slow inroads being made by just having the conversations.

This video is a bit long (1 hour +), but for those of you who are curious, here it is. Thanks everyone.