From People

Very hot, very cold

I arrived in Bangkok a couple days ago. Here, you cannot escape the physical effects of the place. It is humid and muggy outside and then you go inside, you get blasted by the air conditioning. Your sweat soon dries and you become very cold.

This is the dialogue I quickly experienced: manmade vs nature. Traffic is omnipresent and there are AC-cooled shopping malls everywhere. However, nature looms large with adverse weather, flooding and the Chao Phraya river itself.

On my first day, as I wandered, I also wondered. How many people actually have a relationship with the river that runs through Bangkok? How often do they think about the lifeblood of the river, which provides drinking water, transportation and, in the past, food?

  

The next morning, we visited visited the Huay Kwang community. This group of people have lived on the banks of the Chao Phraya for many decades and are low-income, often forgotten by the business and shopping districts. When it rains, the sewer infrastructure backs up and floods the river. Like many cities, the pavement and cement prevents water from flowing naturally into the ground.

This community is one of the most affected and they are currently developing a master plan to relocate their homes to higher shores. It isn’t easy. After all, no one wants to lose their home. The master plan also details widening the canal, dredging it and establishing a transportation lane for tourism and commerce.

I listened to the community leaders and their hopes for the workshop. I made several points, but one of the most important ones was to set expectations for what I can really do here. I’m only here for a month. So let’s think about sustainable projects and how we can make public art with water data.

And I also met my assistant, Ekarat, who is super-helpful and will be assisting me throughout the project. Without him, I can’t imagine how to make this project a success.

Yesterday, we spent an entire day procuring items. The best find were these small containers, which are often used for hot sauces, which we will use for water samples on the Chao Phraya. And they were a bargain at 10 Baht each!

Santa Fe River Walk

When you get to a new place, take a long walk. This is essential to ground yourself in that space. Rebecca Solnit writes about it; Guy Debord speaks of diverting the stream of capitalism with it; Richard Long incorporates it into his art practice.

Just after unpacking at a new art residency Water Rights at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I went on a walk up the Santa Fe River with two of my fellow residents, Christina Catanese and Megan Heeres.

Santa Fe is a new place with new people. Before jumping into studio practice, which can be a crutch for compulsive art-making, I wanted to engage with the physical environment. At the residency, the purpose will be to open the mind and the art practice.

We started at Frenchy’s Field and walked up the riverbed itself towards downtown.We walked, talked and observed.

At the head of the trail was a poem kiosk with laminated sheets of poetry and a little shelf full of rocks. The riverbed here was dry and sandy.

We began walking in the bed itself. Christina is a trained hydrologist and Megan knows much about plants.I know a little bit about geology after my Strewn Fields project.

At the start of the walk, we encountered a collection of heart-shaped rocks, obviously put here by humans. I love this organically-generated “land art”.

We wondered why these large rocks were stacked this way. Was it for humans? Or for the river? Christina later determined that it was to control the river flow, as future steps required tricky traversals.

Here I am with a backpack full of branches that I collected. Im specifically intrigued by the Salt Cedar, which is an invasive species that was brought to the area many years ago as a wind break for agriculture. Ooops, as is often the case, the introduction of a new species created more problems than it solved. The salt cedar is a water-sucker and consumes the areas most precious resource.

Here is the “rock penitentiary” maybe these rocks were bad and had to be put behind fencing.

And here is a rock that escaped. Fly away, be free!

Under a bridge, we found a rope swing. Wheeee!

As we traversed further, the salt cedar thinned out and we saw various grasses along the banks of the (dry) river.

And I found my own heart-shaped rock. A beautiful specimen, which looks like two geological samples that were grafted together.

We took a side path and disturbed two birds of prey who had been feasting on this treat.

Around the mid-point of the walk, we started seeing icy formations.

I love these alluring crystalline structures surrounding various stones.

And the ground was damp. We noticed various animal prints. What was this? I still do not know. The front foot matches the hind foot, which seems like an odd walking pattern.

Finally, we began to see actual water with this miniature waterfall.

As we approached downtown, there was more and more human-generated waste.

And one shoe? Who loses a single shoe?

At the end of the walk was a patch of rainbow in the sky.

IEEE Milestone for my dad, Gary Kildall

This plaque in Pacific Grove, California, is the IEEE Milestone honoring my dad’s computer work in the 1970s. He was a true inventor and laid the foundation for the personal computer architecture that we now take for granted.

Gary Kildall’s is the 139th IEEE Milestone. These awards honor the key historical achievements in electrical and electronic engineering that have changed the world, and include the invention of the battery by Volta, Marconi’s work with the telegraph, and the invention of the transistor.

More pictures plus a short write-up of the ceremony can be found here: http://bit.ly/1io2wFH

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The dedication event was emotional and powerful, with several of my father’s close colleagues from decades ago gathered to recount his contributions. I knew most of the stories and his work, but there were several aspects of his methodology that I had never heard before.

For example, I learned that my dad was not only a software programmer, but a systems architect, and would spend days diagramming data structures and logic trees on sheets of paper, using a door blank on sawhorses as his work table.

After fastidious corrections, and days poring over the designs, he would embark on programming binges to code what he had designed. And the final program would often work flawlessly on the first run.

With a PhD from the University of Washington, lots of hard work, incredible focus on long-term solutions, plus extraordinary talent, Gary created a vision of how to bring the personal computer to the desks of millions of users, and shared his enthusiasm with just about everyone he met.

My dad turned his passion into two key products: CP/M (the operating system), and BIOS (the firmware interface that lets different hardware devices talk to the same operating system). From this combination, people could, for the first time, load the same operating system onto any home computer.

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The IEEE and David Laws from the Computer History Museum did a tremendous job of pulling in an amazing contingent of computer industry pioneers from the early days of personal computing to commemorate this occasion.

At the dedication, my sister Kristin and I had a chance to reconnect with many former Digital Research employees, and I think everyone felt a sense of happiness, relief, catharsis, and dare I say, closure for my dad’s work, which has often been overlooked by the popular press since his premature death in 1994, right in the middle of his career.

My mother, Dorothy McEwen, ran Digital Research as its business manager, to complement my dad the inventor. Together they changed computer history. It was here in Pacific Grove, 1974 that Gary Kildall loaded CP/M from a tape drive onto a floppy disk and booted it up for the first time: the birth of the personal computer.

If you find yourself in Pacific Grove, take a visit to 801 Lighthouse Avenue, Digital Research headquarters in the 1970s, and you can see this milestone for yourself.

01SJ Day 5: Public Viruses

Today we shifted to the virus-making portion of Gift Horse, where anyone can assemble a virus sculpture to be placed inside the belly of the Trojan Horse. The gesture is to gather people in real space, give them a way to hand-construct their “artwork” and to hide hundeds of the mini-sculptures inside the horse.

The first virus to go inside, the Rat of the Chinese zodiac, was The Andromeda Strain, an imaginary virus from the film. This father-daughter team cut, folded and glued the paper sculpture together and she did the honors of secreting it inside the armature.

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It takes a long time to cut each virus from the printed sheet. This is where the lasercutter from the Tech Shop came in handy. In the afternoon, we traced the outlines of the Snow Crash virus and tried cutting it out. After about an hour of fiddling around with settings and alignment, I was able to get a batch done.
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Hurray for mechanized production!

This halved the assembly time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, bypassing the tedious cutting step. Perhaps this is a compromise in the process of hand-construction techniques, but I’ll gladly make the trade-off for practicality.

The next person to sit with us was Jeff who worked on one of the freshly-cut Snow Crash viruses.

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Once finished, it joined The Andromeda Strain. Come on down to South Hall (435, S. Market, San Jose) and check us out — we will be holding workshops on building viruses all weekend.

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Performa Book launch with Wrath of Kong

If you are in New York this weekend, come on out to P.S. 1 this Saturday for the Performa 07 book launch. We’ll be there in spirit or maybe even in Second Life.

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For Performa07, Second Front performed Wrath of Kong, which mixed the Kong Kong legend with the pop-culture iconography of Donkey Kong.

Featured in the catalogue essay on virtual worlds is an analysis of the early performance art works in Second Life, including work by the Mattes, my own Paradise Ahead series, Patrick Lichty, Gazira Babeli and of course Second Front.

Wafaa Bilal lecture at SFAI

My good friend and colleague, Wafaa Bilal, will be speaking this Wednesday at the San Francisco Art Institute. I’d highly recommend the talk.

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You might remember him from the “Shoot an Iraqi” project where he lived in a gallery for a month and had a paint ball gun setup to point at him. You could shoot him with the gun for $1 (I couldn’t resist spending a couple bucks).

He also created “Virtual Jihadi” were he re-engineered a US training video game so that you could be a suicide bomber instead (the piece got shut down by Rensselaer). Its unbelievable that a shut-down like this could happen well-after the censorship debates of the 60s and 70s.

He has an amazing history as a refugee from Desert Storm and US transplant. His brother and father (both civilians) were both killed in Iraq by American drone attacks in 2004.