My writing (below) was originally printed as part of the Disobedient Electronicsproject by Garnet Hertz. It is a limited edition publishing project that highlights confrontational work from industrial designers, electronic artists, hackers and makers that disobey conventions.
Gun Control (revisited)
In 2004, I created Gun Control— a set of four electromechanical sculptures, which used stepper motors, servos and cheap cameras that were controlled by AVR code. The distinguishing feature of each unit is a police-issue semi-automatic replica handgun. You can purchase these authentic-looking firearms for less than $100.
The make-believe weapons arrived in the mail a week after I ordered them. That night, I closed the blinds, drank too much whisky and danced around my apartment in my underwear waving my new guns around. The next morning, I packed them in a duffel bag and took the “L” in Chicago to my studio. During the 45-minute commute I felt like a criminal.
Each gun is connected a stepper motor via a direct-drive shaft and flexible couplings. I used a lathe and a milling machine to make custom fittings. I hid unsightly electronics in a custom-sewn leather pouch, resembling some sort of body bag.
As people enter the Gun Control installation space, the cameras track their movement, and the guns follow their motion. Well, at least this is what I had hoped it would do. However, I had committed to using the first gen CMUCam and its blob-tracking software was spotty at best. I was under a deadline. It was too late to spec out new cameras. Plus, these were the right size for the artwork, which was using decentralized embedded hardware. I shifted my focus to building a chaotic system.
I re-coded the installation so the guns would point at different targets. They wouldoccasionally twirl about playfully and re-home themselves. I programmed the stepper motors to make the armatures shake and rattle when they got confusing target information. The software design embraced unpredictability, which made the whole artwork feel uncertain, embodying the primal emotion of fear.
Gun Control was my heavy-handed response to the post-911 landscape and the onset of the Iraq War. I exhibited it twice, then packed it up. It lacked subtlety and tension. At the time, there was not enough room for the viewer.
Just last month, I pulled the artwork out of deep storage. I brought the pieces to my studio and plugged in one of the units. It functioned perfectly. Upon revisiting this piece after 12 years, my combination of guns and surveillance seems eerily prescient.
Mass shootings have drastically increased in the last several years. Surveillance is everywhere, both with physical cameras and the invisible data-tracking from internet servers. Documentation of police shootings of unarmed African Americans is sadly, commonplace. I no longer recoil from the explicit violence of this old artwork.
I coded this using AVR microcontrollers, just before the Arduino was launched. It was tedious work just to get the various components working. I can no longer understand the lines of C code that I wrote many years ago. The younger me was technically smarter than the current me. My older self can put this historical piece into perspective. I plan to re-exhibit it in the coming years.
I recently debuted a new art installation called Cybernetic Spirits at the L.A.S.T. Festival. This is an interactive electronic artwork, where participants generate sonic arrangements based on various sacred fluids. These include both historical liquids-of-workshop such as holy water, blood and breast milk and more contemporary ones such as gasoline and coconut water.
My proposal got accepted. Next, I had to actually collect these fluids.
My original list included: blood, holy water, coffee, gasoline, adrenaline, breast milk, corn syrup, wine, coca-cola, coconut water, vaccine (measles), sweat and kombucha
Some of these were easily procured at the local convenience store and a trip to the local gas pump. No problem.
But what about the others? I found holy water on Amazon, which didn’t surprise me, but then again this wasn’t anything I had ever thought about before.
I knew the medical ones would be the hardest: adrenaline and a measles vaccine. After hours scouring the internet and emailing with a doctor friend of mine, I realized I had to abandon these two. They were either prohibitively expensive or would require deceptive techniques that I wasn’t willing to try.
Art is a bag of failures and I expected not to be entirely successful. Corn syrup surprised me however. After my online shipment arrived, I discovered was sticky and too thick. It is syrup after all. Right. My electrical probes got gunky and more to the point, it didn’t conduct any electrical current. No current = no sound.
Meanwhile, I put out feelers for the human bodily fluids: blood, sweat and breast milk. Although it was easy to find animal blood, what I really wanted was human blood (mine). I connected with a friend of a friend, who is a licensed nurse and supporter of the arts. After many emails, we arranged an in-home blood draw. I thought I’d be squeamish about watching my blood go into several vials (I needed 50ml for the installation), but instead was fascinated by the process. We used anti-coagulant to make it less clotty, but it still separated into a viscous section at the bottom.
Since I am unable to produce breast milk, I cautiously inquired with some good friends who are recent moms and found someone willing to help. So grateful! She supplied me with one baby-serving size of breast milk just a couple of days before the exhibition, so that it would preserve better. At this point, along with the human blood in the fridge, I was thankful that I live alone and didn’t have to explain what was going on to skeptical housemates.
I saved the sweat for the last-minute, thinking that there was some easy way I could get sweaty in an exercise class and extract some. Once again a friend helped me, or at least tried, by going to a indoor cycling class and sweating into a cotton t-shirt. However, wringing it out produced maybe a drop or two of sweat, nowhere close to the required 50ml for the vials.
I was sweating over the sweat and really wanted it. I made more inquiries. One colleague suggested tears. Of course, blood, sweat and tears, though admittedly I felt like I was treading into Kik Smith territory at this point.
So, I did a calculation on the amount of tears you would need to collect 50ml and this would mean a crying a river everyday for about 8 months. Not enough time and not enough sadness.
Finally, just before shooting the documentation for the installation, the sweat came through. I friend’s father works for a company that produces artificial sweat and gave me 5 gallons of this mixture. It was a heavy thing to carry on BART, but I made it home without any spillage.
Artificial sweat? Seems gross and weird. The truth is a lot more sensible. A lot of companies need to test human sweat effects on products from wearable devices to steering wheels and it’s more efficient to make synthetic sweat than work with actual humans. Economics carves odd channels.
My artwork often takes me on odd paths of inquiry and this was no exception. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with all the sweat I have stored in my fridge.
I just returned from our first Reality Remix workshop in Dundee, Scotland. The prompt that we gave ourselves afterwards was to write up things that came up for us, returning thoughts and think about what is next. I write now on the train journey back to London.
Reality Remix will explore how we move in and around the new spaces that emergent technologies afford. Through the development and examination of a group of prototypes, initiated from notions of Memory, Place and Performance and with a team of artists, computer programmers, fashion and game designers, we aim to uncover the mysteries of these new encounters, focussing on human behaviour, modes of moving, and kinaesthetic response. Reality Remix brings a unique dance perspective in the form of somatic enquiry that questions concepts of embodiment, sensory awareness, performance strategy, choreographic patterning and the value of touch in virtual worlds.
Within this framework, each of us will be developing our own VR/AR projects and possible collaborations might arise in the process.
Some of the reasons that I was invited to be part of this project stem from core inquiries about what we call “Gibsonian” cyberspace versus a simulated cyberspace. I find it odd that when we often depict virtual reality — and for the purposes of simplicity, I will treat VR a subset of cyberspace — as a simulation, a weak reproduction of some sort of physical reality. VR has immense possibilities that most people don’t tap into. With the dominance of first-person shooter games, reproductions of museums, and non-spaces such as TiltBrush, I have often wondered about how we can conceptualize VR landscapes in new ways. And so, this was my starting point for our first session.
However, technical skills are not a precursor to producing compelling work and, in fact, this is part of my artistic practice. I quickly adapt. For example in 2014, I quickly dove into 3D printing without knowledge of any real 3D modeling package and in the space of a few months, produced some conceptually-driven 3D print work that drew strong responses. I will easily pick up Unity, Unreal, 3ds Max or whatever else is needed.
It is with this lack of technical knowledge, that I can approach concepts with a beginner’s mind, a core concept of Buddhist thinking where you approach a situation without preconceptions and harvest a disposition of openness. Without deep investment in the structures of discourse, it is here that you can ask questions about the effectiveness of the technology such the nature of immersive spaces, the bodiless hands of VR and hyperreality.
For this initial meeting, we each have our own project ideas that we will be researching and producing in various forms. Some of my own inquiries stem from these Gibsonian landscapes. On the train I re-read Neuromancer and was still inspired by this seminal quote from Neuromancer:
Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…
I arrived with this general framework and began to ponder about how to incorporate threads of previous work such as physical data-visualizations and network performance. What about the apparatus of the headset itself? How can we play with the fact that we are partially in real space and partially out. And as one of our partners (Alex) pointed out rather than being immersed in VR, we are absorbed by it. Like a fish in water, we are live in full reality immersion. And when we talked about this, I chuckled to myself, remembering this David Foster Wallace joke:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?
The first day was a full-out setup day, installing our Windows work machines, getting the Oculus Rifts working, Google Pixel 2 phones, Unreal, Unity and anything else. We all centralized on some specific platforms so we can easily share work with each other and invite possible collaborations. Fighting with a slow wi-fi connection was the biggest challenge here but within a few hours I got my Alienware work machine making crude VR on the Oculus.
I yearned to visit Dundee despite the cold weather but all of our time was spent in this workspace, supported by the NEoN Digital Arts Festival (where I showed my Strewn Fields pieces last November) and in the evenings, we saw some art lectures by our own Joe DeLappe and my friend and former colleague Sarah Brin. We are food and drank in the local speakeasy bar, chitchatting about ideas.
Within the first couple of days, what was previously a mystery to me now became more clear. While some of the collaborators had well-developed projects (Dustin and Bruno/Ruth), others such as myself, Alexa and Joe were approaching it from a more conceptual angle with less technical aptitude.
I kept in mind that our goals for this project are to create compelling proof-of-concepts rather than finalized work, which makes it more of a research-oriented project with a forward-face rather than something that will compete in the already littered landscape of the good, bad and ugly of the Oculus Store.
We started each day with movement exercises led by Ruth, reminding us that we all live in “meatspace”. Our minds and bodies are not separate as we hunch over the machines and then stand with a headset on and wave our arms around. We began experimenting with the technology. I vacillated between diving into Unreal or Unity, each with their own advantages. While Unity has more generalized support and is easier to learn, Unreal undoubtedly has a better graphics engine and is the weapon-of-choice by Bruno. So, solving the early technical challenges began to help coalesce my ideas.
We soon entered into a vortex of artistic energy — some of us from performance, wearables, immersive theater with various conceptual practices and the parters from other organizations who had a less artistic approach but loads of experience in the gaming worlds, university community and impact studies. I knew this on paper, but in reality, the various talents of our Reality Remix dream team soon became apparent.
Twice a day, each of the collaborators led workshops related to their practices. Alexa treated us to her performance-based clothing which registered AR markers and asked us to do an exercise where we tried to perceive something through someone else. Bruno and I made a drawing where he wore the VR headset and I sketched on his back which he replicated on paper. The process was fun and predictability the drawing was unimpressive. The process was fun and predictability the drawing was unimpressive.
Dustin led us on a prototype for a sort of semi-immersive experience where actors jump into various avatars. With his deep background of improv, theater and role-playing, I began to shift, thinking about how to involve people not in a headset, which make up the majority of people in a VR experience as essential players.
I am not wondering about intimacy and vulnerability in VR. There is a certain amount of trust in this space. You are blind and often suffused in another audio dimension. Then, could you guide people through a VR experience like a child in a baby carriage? What can be done with multiple actors? So many questions. So many possibilities.
One thing that I was reminded of was the effectiveness of simple paper-prototyping and physical movement. Make things free from technology; keep it accessible. Stick to the concepts.
My own orientation began shifting more into virtual landscapes and thinking about data as the generator. I asked people to brainstorm various datasets and come up with some abstract representations based on that earlier quote from Neuromancer. I do want to get away from the sci-fi notion of cyberspace since it is limiting and enmeshed in VR 1.0, but will still claim this as the starting point to an antidote to the often mundane reality-simulation space.
This was useful for my own brainstorming. Alexa brought in an interesting point of view because she was thinking about time rather than landscape and brought in conversations around anticipation, reality and memory, which reminded me of the work by Bergson. Her movements were around personal data and captured her attention.
Meanwhile, Ruth made marks on the wall, translating gesture to 2D. Bruno worked with abstract visual forms. Despite being a poor draftsman, the question arose: how can we incorporate movement into a system? My own perception is highly visual and orientation towards abstract patterns. The success of my exercise was based in the fact that some useful (to me) renderings were produced while I also quickly learned that the a line-based VR landscape doesn’t resonate with everyone. How can we incorporate movement into a system.
As a manifesto bullet item: the scriptedness of VR is something we would all like to break. With all the possibilities of VR, why are the dominant forms assuming a feeling of immersion. Why don’t we consider what can be done before rushing to produce so much content.
Where is the element of surprise? VR is a solitary experience. I’m reminded of Joe’s work with the military and what one can do with a gaming space. Could we intervene or somehow interfere with VR space?
Darshana, the theorist amongst the group, did a beautiful summary of the session. My head was spinning with ideas at this point, so I can’t even recall everything he spoke about but certainly ideas around how to both be engaging and critical in this space surface. He envisioned a nexus around abstract spatialization, performance, role play and the body that tied our various projects together.
There is much more to write and think about. I made progress on the technical side of things, such as getting an OSC pathway to Unreal working, so that can begin playing with electronic interfaces into a VR world.
More importantly, I feel like I’ve found my people with this Reality Remix team: one where we understand the history of new media, subversion of forms, aren’t dazzled by simplicity. We got along so very well with mutual respect and laughter. I’m excited about what comes next.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Autodesk, first as an artist-in-residence (2014) and for the last few years, running their Electronics Lab and more recently their Simulation Lab (VR/AR). For the workshop, we hosted a combination of journalists and members of the Autodesk community.
The idea for the workshop sprung out of my Sonaqua artwork. The project sonifies (makes sounds from) water quality by testing for electrical conductivity (EC), which is an correlates to pollution — the more heavy metals and minerals, the higher the EC. It’s one of a number of measurements that scientists make in the field, along with indicators such as pH and Dissolved Oxygen.
That’s a brief summary of the artwork and what I wanted to do was make basic module circuit available for anyone to use. We breadboarded the basic circuit and within a couple of hours, everyone was up and running, making sounds from water samples that they brought in.
Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was valuable — afterwards, we got into a long discussion about data journalism. I was impressed with their breadth of projects and related works which include:
Cicada Tracker – a project by WNYC & Radiolab using Arduinos to predict the cycle of 17-year cicadas
After a few hours, the breadboarded circuits were complete! I mailed circuit boards, designed in Autodesk EagleCAD to the workshop participants a few days later. There are always production delays, but they did get the boards in time for the holidays.
Last month…yes, blogging can be slow, I traveled to Santa Fe with the support of Andrea Polli and taught a workshop on my Sonaqua project.
The basic idea of Sonaqua is to sonfiy — create sounds — based on water quality. As a module, these are Arudino-based and designed for a single-user to make a sound. I’m actively teaching workshops on these and have open-sourced the software and made the hardware plans available.
My Sonaqua installation creates orchestral arrangements of water samples based on electrical conductivity. Here’s a link to the video that explains the installation, which I did in Bangkok this June.
Back to New Mexico..In the early part of the week, I taught a workshop on the Sonaqua circuit at one of Andrea’s classes at UNM, creating single-player modules for each student. We collected water samples and played each one separately. The students were fun and set up this small example of water samples with progressive frequencies, almost like a scale.
The lower the pitch, the more polluted* the water sample and so higher-pitched samples might correspond to filtered drinking water.
Later in the week, I traveled to Biocultura in Santa Fe, which is a space that Andrea co-runs. Here, I installed the orchestral arrangement of the work, based on 12 water samples in New Mexico. She had a whole set of beakers and scientific-looking vessels, so I used what we had on hand and installed it on a shelf behind the presentation.
A physical map (hard to find!) of the sites where I took water samples.
And a close-up shot of one of the water samples + speakers. If you look closely, you can see an LED inside the water sample.
My face is obscured by the backlit screen. I presented my research with Sonaqua, as well as several other projects around water that evening to the Biocultura audience.
And afterwards, the attendees checked out the installation while I answered questions.
Last week, I gave a talk, detailing my interpretation of the term Art Thinking at the LongNow Interval Space. More on that later. I also discussed a 4-part model of time and several art projects that I’ve made over the last several years.
It was one of my best talks and I felt so honored to be part of this series.
I just finished attending the EVA London conference this week and did a demonstration of my Data Crystals project. This is the formal abstract for the demonstration and writing it helped clear up some of my ideas about the Data Crystals project and digital fabrication of physical sculptures and installations.
Embodied Data and Digital Fabrication: Demonstration with Code and Materials
by Scott Kildall
Data has tangible consequences in the real world. Accordingly, physical data-visualizations have the potential to engage with the actual effects of the data itself. A data-generated sculpture or art installation is something that people can move around, though or inside of. They experience the dimensionality of data with their own natural perceptual mechanisms. However, creating physical data visualizations presents unique material challenges since these objects exist in stasis, rather than in a virtual space with a guided UX design. In this demonstration, I will present my recent research into producing sculptures from data using my custom software code that creates files for digital fabrication machines.
2. WHAT DOES DATA LOOK LIKE?
The overarching question that guides my work is: what does data look like? Referencing architecture, my artwork such as Data Crystals (figure 2) executes codes that maps, stacks and assembles data “bricks” to form unique digital artifacts. The form of these objects are impossible to predict from the original data-mapping, and the clustering code will produce different variations each time it runs.
Other sculptures remove material through intense kinetic energy. Bad Data (figure 3) and Strewn Fields (figure 1) both use the waterjet machine to gouge data into physical material using a high- pressure stream of water. The material in this case — aluminum honeycomb panels and stone slabs — reacts in adverse ways as it splinters and deforms due to the violence of the machine.
2.1 Material Expression
Physical data-visualizations act on materials instead of pixels and so there is a dialogue between the data and its material expression. Data Crystals depict municipal data of San Francisco and have a otherworldly ghostly quality of stacked and intersecting cubes. The data gets served from a web portal and is situated in the urban architecture and so the 3D-printed bricks are an appropriate form of expression.
Bad Data captures data that is “bad” in the shallow sense of the word, rendering datasets such as Internet Data Breaches, Worldwide UFO Sightings or Mass Shootings in the United States. The water from the machine gouges and ruptures aluminum honeycomb material in unpredictable ways, similar to the way data tears apart our social fabric. This material is emblematic of the modern era, as aluminum began to be mass-refined at the end of the 19th century. These datasets exemplify conflicts of our times such as science/heresy and digital security/infiltration.
2.2 Frozen in Time
Once created, these sculptures cannot be endlessly altered like screen-based data visualizations. This challenges the artwork to work with fixed data or to consider the effect of capturing a specific moment.
For example, Strewn Fields is a data-visualization of meteorite impact data. When a large asteroid enters the earths atmosphere, it does so at high velocity of approximately 30,000km/hour. Before impact, it breaks up into thousands of small fragments, which are meteorites. Usually they hit our planet in the ocean or at remote locations. The intense energy 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. The static etching captures the act of impact, and survives as an antithetical gesture to the event itself. The actual remnants and debris (the meteorites) have been collected, sold and scattered and what remains is just a dataset, which I have translated into a physical form.
2.3 Formal Challenges to Sculpture
This sort of “data art” challenges the formal aspects of sculpture. Firstly, machine-generated artwork removes the artist’s hand from the work, building upon the legacy of algorithmic artwork by Sol Lewitt and others. Execution of this work is conducted by the stepper motor rather than by gestures of the artist.
Secondly, the input source of data are unknowable forms until they are actually rendered. The patterns are neither mathematic nor random, giving a certain quality of perceptual coherence to the work. Data Crystals: Crime Incidents has 30,000 data points. Using code-based clustering algorithms, it creates forms only recently possible with the combination of digital fabrication and large amounts of data.
My sculpture-generation tools are custom- developed in C++ using Open Frameworks, an open source toolkit. My code repositories are on GitHub: https://github.com/scottkildall. My own software bypasses any conventional modeling package. It can handle very complex geometry, and more importantly doesn’t have the “look” that a program such as Rhino/Grasshopper generates.
My process of data-translation is optimized for specific machines. Data Crystals generate STL files which most 3D printers can read. My code generates PostScript (.ps) files for the waterjet machine. The conversation with the machine itself is direct. During the production and iteration process, once I define the workflow, the refinements proceed quickly. It is optimized, like the machine that creates the artwork.
3.2 London Layering
In my demonstration, I will use various open data from London. I focus not on data that I want to to acquire, but rather, data that I can acquire. I will demonstrate a custom build of Data Crystals which shows multiple layers of municipal data, and I will run clustering algorithms to create several Data Crystals for the City of London.
Figure 1: Strewn Fields (2016)
by Scott Kildall
Data Crystals: Crime Incidents (2014)
by Scott Kildall
3D-print mounted on wood
Bad Data: U.S. Mass Shootings (2015)
by Scott Kildall
Waterjet-etched aluminum honeycomb panel
When someone sends you an email scam, think of it as an opportunity for fun. They stopped replying to my emails after several responses.
Here is the exchange:
How is everything with you? I picked interest in your artwork and decided to write you. I will like to know if your artwork can be purchased and shipped internationally?. I can email the artwork of interest and payment will be completed in full once you confirm my purchase order with a quotation.
Kindly let me know when you are in office and ready to take my artwork order also let me know if you accept either Visa Card or Master Card for payment furthermore you can email me your recently updated website or art price list in your response.
Thank you for contacting me.
I’m curious which artwork you are interested in, I have available:
(1) Shoe-gazing — a 96-hour performance art video of me looking at my shoes. Audio track is optional.
(2) MDMA Buttplug — I think the title says it all. Leave it to your imagination.
(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.
Good to hear from you please can you email me the cost of three available pieces
Which one do you like best from my list?
That is the most important question. Price is secondary.
(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.
Thank you for choosing The Salmonella Experience.
I had thought that MDMA Buttplug would be more to your liking, for some reason. I do want to give you one last chance to reconsider. For, once we go down a financial path, then we cannot turn back and choose another artwork.
So, are you sure about The Salmonella Experience?
Question: What attracted you to this project over the other ones that were available?
<no response after this one…>
A friend of mine pointed me to this TED talk by James Veitch. So, obviously I’m not the first:
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.
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!