From ZERO1

Self-guided Khlong Tour

When you get to a new place, get lost. Wander in space, wander in time. I adhere to the words of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and often find myself in the moment in a new city.

I finally had some free time at the American Arts Incubator program and set out the other day to the Thonburi district to see one of the temples. Here, I would have been amongst tourists snapping digital photos. Instead, I got distracted myself on a self-guided Khlong Tour.

The khlongs are the canals in Bangkok, a city which used to be called the Venice of the East. Centuries ago, they were used for transportation, irrigation and flood relief. But, this was before concrete and pavement redefined the city.

Floods are now a huge problem as the rainwater has little place to go except into storm drains which quickly overflow. The stormwater drains often ends up into the khlongs.

The khlongs do have mechanisms to contain the water, which appear to be mini-dams that can be raised to open into the Chao Phraya. This stormwater, which is not clean water at all then flows out to the sea.

The khlongs are mostly stagnant and filled with garbage. Of course, they could be beautiful waterways and a source of community pride. Garbage cleanup would help, but ultimately a better drainage system would be needed.

Water needs to flow to be healthy. I’m not at all trained in civil engineering projects, but this seems pretty basic. We control the water and confine it and its health suffers.

Strangely, there is still a lot of fish in these mucky waters, which I believe is mostly catfish. And where there is edible fish, people will try to catch them, despite the health risks.

I saw many little things. Here are “soi dogs” (not those kinds!), but since Soi is the Thai word for street, these are street dogs or strays. They are skinny, though not malnourished. Mostly, they seem to want love. Don’t we all?

  The narrow khlongs had small bridges to various houses. They were just…there, a neglected feature of this urban space. No tourists were in sight.

  

What was most certainly a lost cat sign.

And a hole in a corrugated steel fence with an offering in it.

Street art, like in every city.

Why would a tourist come here when the temple was prettier? Still, I made the right choice. I noticed more in my walk than I would have in a temple. At tourist sites, you are supposed to look at certain things but when you wander through the landscape, your gaze is free.

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!

GPS Tracks

I am building water quality sensors which will capture geolocated data. This was my first test with this technology. This is part of my ongoing research at the Santa Fe Water Rights residency (March-April) and for the American Arts Incubator program in Thailand (May-June).

This GPS data-logging shield from Adafruit arrived yesterday and after a couple of hours of code-wrestling, I was able to capture the latitude and longitude to a CSV data file.

This is me walking from my studio at SFAI to the bedroom. The GPS signal at this range (100m) fluctuates greatly, but I like the odd compositional results. I did the plotting in OpenFrameworks, my tool-of-choice for displaying data that will be later transformed into sculptural results.

The second one is me driving in the car for a distance of about 2km. The tracks are much smoother. If you look closely, you can see where I stopped at the various traffic lights.

Now, GPS tracking alone isn’t super-compelling, and there are many mapping apps that will do this for you. But as soon as I can attach water sensor data to latitude/longitude, then it can transform into something much more interesting as the data will become multi-dimensional.

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.

Day 17: Into the Streets, Into the Museum

This was the big presentation day for Gift Horse.

We assembled our volunteer crew in the morning and they donned togas for the Green Prix parade.
four_person_crew

We already knew that the horse would clear the doorway, but others were concerned. Reality replicated itself and we got outside South Hall just fine.

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We look like we are exerting ourselves a lot here, but it was easy to push with all of our crew.

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And thanks to Danny Lulu for his excellent photography!
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Some of the students from a local high school came out to help.

independence_high

After 2 hours or so, we made it the San Jose Museum of Art. Clap! Clap!
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In the next 3 hours, we quickly disassembled and reassembled the horse in the gallery space for the Retro-Tech exhibition.

At 4pm, we did a quick ceremony, where we presented the horse to Russ, one of the trustees of the museum.

museum_open_

He accepted the gift, but whoa! Look at all the viruses spilling out!

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Now they’re on the floor as part of the “artwork” that makes up the horse.
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And a final shot of the horse, in its fully glory.
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01SJ Day 12: Gift Horse Done!

We are so tired and we are done. The Gift Horse was difficult, as expected — so many details. And now the 01SJ Biennial truly will begin. We’re excited and hope you can make it for the Green Prix parade and presentation at the San Jose Museum of Art on Saturday.

Because of the late-night fatigue, I’ll keep it to a series of pictures with minimal commentary.

Victoria and I were moving at double-speed past midnight.

blurry_ladders

A lot of detail work such as filling in the lines between the panels.

scott_fixing

All 12 viruses:

viruses_onhorse

virus_assortment

Kris and Noah and Clementine Lang from Electric Works stopped by in the evening.

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And here is the corral where the horse will live at South Hall for the next two days.

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Viruses all finished, loaded up and ready to go.

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SJ01 Day 11: Almost Done

Today is the second-to-last day we are in the garage. We’re getting pretty tired with the late nights and full workdays, but everyone has responded enthusiastically to the Gift Horse.

We still have more viruses to go, but a late night beer-and-virus session resulted in near completion. Here, Beth (from growBot Garden) and Jenny (from OpenSolarCircuits) are making a few.

jenny_beth

They were later joined by more of the garage artists wishing for a late-night break.

late_night_workshop

We have finally fit all the panels and you can see the legs all on and the belly exposed, with viruses inside. Yay!

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And a bellyful of the viruses!

full_belly

Day 12 is the last garage day and we’ll be wrapping it up tomorrow. Lots of cleanup and detail work left to do.

01SJ Day 10: Horse Nearly Panelled

More viruses for the Gift Horse. Thanks to the docents of the San Jose Museum of Art and also the ZERO1 volunteers, we finished off 100 viruses today.

docents_making

Meanwhile, we began final fittings of exterior panels for the horse, after picking up the last reprints from the ever-patient folks at Electric Works, art gallery and press in San Franciscio. Due to inevitable minute differences between the virtual and the real, we had to cut some to fit, especially all of the leg panels. Sharpie marks on the back are the standard way to indicate what goes where.
legs_marking

11:30pm and Victoria is at it again with the jigsaw. You can see the nearly-finished Trojan Horse in the background.
v_sawing

Crap! I mismeasured one of the leg panels and cut off more then I should. My heart sank.

scott_badcut

…but I was saved by an off-cut leg panel, which fitted magically where this one was to be placed. It was clearly time to have a beer and go to sleep.

scott_saved

01SJ Day 9: Virus-making Sunday

I can’t believe we’ve been here 9 days now. The Garage has become our second home and the largest studio I’ve ever worked in.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted had a table full of eager virus-makers.

many_assembling

More kids were here than yesterday and these two youngsters really enjoyed T-Virus from Resident Evil — this one turns you into a zombie. Fortunately, its just made from paper.

tvirus_kids

Later in the day, a group of girls all made Andromeda Strain, from the movie well before their time.
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Many of the volunteers stuck around and made several viruses, helping fill the belly and for this, we were most appreciative.
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We also got the head panels attached!
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01SJ Day 8: Workshopping the Viruses

Today was a busy day with Gift Horse where we spent much of the day talking and working with the public and at the end of it, I was both happy and exhausted.

Out first helpers were Maria and Cecilia, two art students from San Jose State. They stayed and each built four viruses and even conquered the most difficult one to construct: Koobface.

two__girl_students

Here Joanna and Jennifer are demonstrating the proper technique for placing their viruses in the belly of the horse.

two_women_placing

My non-scientific observation was that Cooties was the most popular choice of virus.
cooties_closeup

And Rabies, which this gentleman  is gluing together, was oft-selected.
guy_building

Throughout the day, we got a steady stream of visitors to the virus-construction table.
group_shot

After 5 hours of leading workshops (meanwhile, Victoria was cutting, fitting and adjusting the panels), we ran out of viruses. I rushed to my date with the laser-cutter and sliced and scored out 75 more in anticipation of tomorrow’s day. The lasercutter is the best thing ever.
lasercutting_rabies
Here is a sheet of Andromeda Strain, which is the easiest one and is essentially like a 4-sided Dungeons and Dragons die (three, glued together)

lasercutting_andromeda

Meanwhile, all day we could hear the pounding of hammer against nails as our neighbors, MTAA, constructed their Art Barn.
artbarn_mtaa

No complaints though, this is the Garage experience that we has planned for and we found ourselves taking short breaks and joking around with the other artists throughout the day.

By 7pm, the horse had about 100 viruses in it. Its getting there, but still lots more virus-building to do!
viruses_in_belly