Category: People

Interview with Tasneem Khan and Andy Quitmeyer

Last month, at the conclusion of my time at Dinacon, I interviewed the two organizers: Tasneem Khan and Andy Quitmeyer. This was a special time and I was grateful for the opportunity to get their thoughts before I left.

Andy Quitmeyer and Tasneem Khan, towards the end of Dinacon

Scott Kildall: Hi! Would each of you please give a short self-introduction?

Andy: I’m Andy Quitmeyer and am a researcher, who is studying how we can use interactive technology to help us explore nature and other living creatures.

Tasneem: I’m Tasneem Khan and am a researcher and am exploring the idea of using place-based learning with different learner groups to understand how immersive experiences in ecosystems might affect responses.

Scott: And how did you two meet each other?

Andy: Tasneem sent me a random email that said something like “hi, I’m a friend of a friend who said I should check out your work and I’m going to be in Singapore soon”, which is where I was living. And a few weeks later we had lunch. My reaction was “holy crap you’re awesome and driven, let’s run a giant conference together”. And Tasneem was game for it.

Tasneem: We literally discussed that just a half an hour into our lunch. I loved the idea of running it and mixing both our styles. I’ve worked with running programs for large groups of people in weird remote places and Andy has done a lot of exploring and teaching with the concept of “digital naturalism.”

Scott: So you jumped into doing this conference but both had a pretty complimentary background in running conferences and organizing people. So it wasn’t that you came without inexperience just not of working with one another.

Tasneem: Not really. I have had experience with learning groups, curating residencies and collaborative expeditions, but not conferences of this scale.

Andy: Yeah, this is new for both of us. I’ve organized expeditions and workshops but never anything on this scale. This is easily eight to ten times bigger than anything I’ve ever done before.

Drones-eye view of Koh Lon

Scott: Maybe it’s time to explain what Dinacon is. Why do you call it a conference because it being here sure doesn’t feel like one. It feels more like a residency or a hacker camp.

Andy: Dinacon is a six week conference that Tasneem and I are running with the help of lots of other amazing wonderful people. It’s primarily targeted originally towards interaction designers, artists, and field biologist but we’re open to anyone who’s interested in any of these commingling ideas.

Tasneem: I’d say that Dinacon is the coming together of people, which is a conference in the most literal sense. We decided to do it because of a common ideology towards how people should work regardless of their areas of expertise. We believe people can work in a better environment to collaborate in a specific space and apply their expertise to both the field and to real life.

Andy: Yes, it also emerged from a common disappointment in how conferences are often run with a rigid structure where many people care more about what they can put on their C.V. than the actual conference itself. So, we wanted to undo the things that are not so great about conferences and open up the structure and give people time. It’s important to have both freedom and time to relax and soak in both the natural context and the impact of all these amazing people around you.

Scott: Great. And where are we right now? What is the conference venue for Dinacon?

Tasneem: We’ve chosen a tropical island — Koh Lon — which is a small Island off the Southeastern side of Phuket in Thailand. The reason we specifically chose this site, as opposed to any other of the hundred islands you have around here is the proximity to Phuket. This was our first conference of this scale and we had a hundred and thirty people expected from all over the world, most of whom we hadn’t met before. So from a logistics and safety point of view this made a lot of sense, it’s a ten minute boat ride away from a big city, hospitals, airports, anything, one might need provisions and so forth.

Andy: But we’re still quite on our own.

Tasneem: Yes. The great part about it is that the island a has population of only a couple of hundred people. You have access to pristine forest on one hand and the ocean on the other. In terms of selecting a location beyond practicality, one of the things we really wanted was to give people access to a cross-section of environments and Koh Lon gives us that — everything from the ocean to the forest and a range of connecting systems in between.

Workshop in the Dinacon “headquarters”

Andy: The main facilities of our conference are a big main tropical jungle house, that’s the central area, let us call it the headquarters. In front of that is a large campground, a grassy field that’s also surrounded by jungle and a beachfront, as well as little cabins that people can rent out at a pretty subsidized rate.

We also have the Diva Andaman, which is a glorious ship that we were able to use with the generosity of Yannick Mazy, the owner of Diva Marine. So, people can work on the beach, they can work out at sea, they can go voyage off into the forest and just soak in everything and really rapidly test whatever kinds of devices or art projects or things that they want to do that involve nature and just test it right away with the natural resources there.

The one and only Diva Andaman

Scott: Wow. And then with all these sites of activities, what’s the role of chance encounters? What’s the intention here about how people might be interacting?

Andy: I see my role as a conference organizer to heighten serendipity, and so I just try to mix together loads of interesting factors: nature, the people, the places, the devices they might be able to use and just try to increase the chances that these things might lead someone, for example, to make a cool hermit crab project.

Tasneem: With my practice in general and this attempt to push interdisciplinary work across subjects and across spaces. I view it like Andy said but also as way to think through the experience and ask questions – like, what are the kinds of people we want to bring in? What are the kinds of people we hope to attract? What is the work that we have no idea about that can surprise and illuminate each other.

Do this, while curating how can the aspects of place influence people’s work and interactions 

What we make available to participants can change the way they work, the way they think, who they interact with and what they produce in that space.

We have intentionally not put in too much work into programming activities every day because we want that to be organic and flow from the participants and from the place but what we have put a lot of effort into thinking about what to make accessible and the experiences to create for people in order to trigger and drive that enthusiasm and inspiration to work with each other and with the place.

Scott: So then, how did you select these people? Was there an application process? How did you pull through that process and how did you promote these diverse networks?

Andy: We had lots of forms for people to fill out. [laughter]

Scott: It was not bad at all.

Tasneem: We were trying to steer away from the overly bureaucratic approach to conferences and all the ways people need to prove themselves – like you’d only be allowed to enter the conference if you had a certain paper to present. Also, we wanted to be cognizant that that many people don’t have money through institutional backing to spend on a conference.

We still had a couple of basic forms. Andrew’s great social media network and ability to reach out to people made a big difference.

Andy: In order for people to get here, we first had just a super simple initial application form, which we sent around. Anyone could apply. It asked people what they might want to do here and to share an idea of what they would spend there time doing.

We also wanted to convey the understanding that a project might change in the next six months between when you think of your idea and then when it gets closer coming here and then of course once you’re on the island, everyone’s ideas blow up or somehow transform.

We had some different criteria because one thing about having an extended kind of conference like this is that it makes certain time slots a bit trickier. So like if everybody wants to come the first of July or something like that, it was a bit harder for us to choose some people. Then we asked people to open their dates be flexible and move around because we tried to fit in as many people as possible.   

Tasneem: We tried to ensure that we had no more than forty people on a single day. So one of the big criteria was just practicality and logistics. If people were willing to move around, they could be most often be slotted in.

Andy: Given our extremely minimal application process, if the applicants showed that they were genuinely interested in Dinacon, that was something I think we evaluated more positively than whatever their project was. We looked at how interested did this person seem about the place, about the people and about the kind of tools they work with.

Tasneem: Many people wanted to come and just learn, but we felt that they needed to be making and doing something that other people can learn from as well. Therefore, one of the main things we were looking at in applications, was their own project ideas and intent.

Hermit Crab Behavior by Margaret Minsky

Scott: So that brings up the three rules of Dinacon…Dinacon pronounced like a dinosaur right?

Andy: I think it depends where you come from I think technically since its the digital naturalism conference, that you’d be dinna-con

Scott: that sounds like a British person saying dinner.

Andy: Yeah exactly.

Tasneem: Which is another thing by the way, so we have been have a subculture of  ‘dinna-con’ that has emerged for people who like to cook, forage, eat and experiment with food.

[laughter]

Andy: But at least from an American perspective of a kid who likes dinosaurs, it’s totally Dinacon.

Scott: OK. So what are the three rules of Dinacon?

Tasneem: First, you have to make something, so it puts emphasis on the creation and your own thought process in the context of our location. Then, you have to document it because we’re all for making things available or accessible and not storing them away on your shelf or in a journal. So you have to share what you do in whichever format you like and finally take the time to engage with, review and provide feedback on somebody else’s work. So those are the 3 rules. To make, document and review.

Andy: They’re still based off this idea of how our academic conferences work but in a kind of inverted model. Instead of writing a paper and then get it pre-reviewed by a bunch of busy people who tend to not have time to give anything but a quick glimpse and be like “oh, well they didn’t cite blah blah-blah.”

So instead inverting that and proposing “Hey, you’re still going to be productive here.” I think people tend to be more productive here than a lot of other conferences, and you’re still going to get valued feedback from people in the rest of your community. Another thing we’re talking about is a real key factor of Dinacon is taking people from very different fields and showing them that their work can be valued by and meaningful to people across these invisible borders we set up.

Tasneem: Here, your work can be reviewed by anybody who is from a completely different field of practice, place and perspective.

Andy: An artist can review a field biologist paper, who can review someone’s robot design.

I think that will truly test how effective your work is in terms of – have people being able to understand and relate to your work. Have people been able to apply it or at least generate ideas that deal with you and your work? That forces an interdisciplinary approach to push people to step outside their comfort zone and express themselves in new formats rather just a written paper. There’s nothing wrong with the paper, but we are asking how can we communicate that in different ways.

The forest/jungle of Koh Lon

Scott: Excellent. So then, can you talk briefly about the term Digital Naturalism? Is it one that you made up? I didn’t find that defined on Wikipedia.

Andy: Digital Naturalism was the subject of my PhD. Research. So in essence, I just made it up. What I was looking to do was taking all of this digital technology that we have available which is really fascinating for looking at nature because it’s the first new medium that we have that can really enact behaviors. If you think about animals, they can take input from the environment, they can sense things and they can also react to the environment, they can move, they can create light, they can make sounds, they can do all these kinds of actions that contribute back to the environment.

You can get these behavior cycles and networks of things interacting with each other and then you have computer technology which is kind of the first technology we have that can also do this: it can take in inputs from its sensors, it can buzz, it can beep, it can turn on LEDs, so it can communicate back. What I’m really fascinated by is how we can use this interactive digital technology to join into these networks of natural interactions and create these dynamic systems between creatures and computers and see what happens. This is a bit in contrast to the way a lot of technology gets used with looking at nature and a lot of sciences.

And that’s where it has much more of just a pure utilitarian use. There’s a bunch of things happening in nature. We want to extract all of this data and then do something with it.

Such as find out where the oil is, see how we can get the honeybees to pollinate our field better, something like that but instead —  well, that’s why it’s digital naturalism, it’s not digital science, it’s not digital field biology because it’s going back to the naturalistic roots of field biology that’s more concerned with learning about creatures and systems for the sake of learning about them and experiencing them in visceral interesting ways and doing this more out of a love and appreciation for nature. That can also be quite useful, can be quite enlightening to people but its basis is more in love then utility.

Tasneem: I just wanted to add to that often scientists or biologists are out there working in the field and you have all this amazing equipment and technology that exists that works really well in laboratories. However, if you look at the sphere of field equipment that can actually survive and do the work that the people serving, probing and studying nature or the environment need with them, it’s so limiting and that’s because the people who develop the technology are very rarely actually embedded in the space where the technology has to be used.

So I guess what Andy’s PhD was about in many ways, the idea that it stemmed from was this need to go out there and build in context and without it having to cost a fortune.

Scott: Directly related to this is the idea you two mentioned to me last week called “place-based learning”. So maybe you can talk about that in the context of this question, how have you seen that working in the jungle or on the boat has affected people’s work from their proposals to the actuality?

Andy: Oh it’s a lovely mutation that we have been witnessing. Two main things that I see a lot at Dinacon that makes me happy is intergenerational knowledge transfer within Dinacon, you have people coming and going from Koh Lon. The older guard will demonstrate, for example, how to open a coconut. The new people learn from the elders at Dinacon and so knowledge is transferred but then also there is a parallel mutation of practices that we see where someone wants to make this thing and then someone else might contribute something sideways, like “oh here’s this kind of stuff that I do with these weird leaves or these type of corkscrew devices” and then the first person says “huh, I’m going to incorporate that into my design” and then suddenly you have these writhing, wriggling bamboo creatures that are different than either of the original people were even thinking about the beginning.

Island Caterpillar by Hannah Wolfe

Scott: Tasneem, I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit more? I hadn’t really heard of place-based learning which means in my wide readership, hundreds of thousands of people will not have heard of place based learning, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what that really is.

Tasneem: Place-based learning is a big subject, but I will talk about it in the context of Dinacon. Let’s return to one of the initial questions of why eight weeks and how did we designed this? A lot of the way that I think learning happens comes from that act of allowing time in a space in a particular place. If you go back to the origins of art, science or philosophy it all stems from extended observation of systems that then led to inquiry, thought and expression. The subsequent subject divisions are just based on the ways of thinking and the methods we then choose.

Much about ‘learning from place and in context’ is about giving yourself the opportunity to do that if you give yourself the time to explore. One of our main goals has been that, to provide people time embedded in a particular place before going so far as to learning about it, to push them to ask the questions, to spend extended duration of time observing and then asking questions and then moving forward to the next step of whether it’s experimenting, creating or learning from.

Place-based learning is basically that: how do we learn the things that we otherwise compartmentalize in the subject of biology, engineering, sociology or whatever the subject you might choose to look at physics or robotics or chemistry.  How you will remove those barriers and illuminate the context of the place you’re living in. What can one extract from a space and you’ll notice that it’s actually a huge mesh of interconnection of all these different subjects. I can’t start answering questions about the water or the ocean without addressing the chemistry of the water, the composition of the water, the physics of what happens when you go to 1 meter below the surface of the water, the biology of what actually lives in one single drop of water and so on.

So I would say in a sentence — well I don’t want to be defining place-based learning because it’s already defined by many experts — but to me, place-based learning is to be able to learn in context without subject barriers, so more of the emphasis is on the method of learning rather than a linear process. So even though this is not a class it’s a group of people who are yet to explore their own subjects and interests all feeding off and learning from the common systems they are situated at.

All the people and projects at Dinacon have gone through a process of metamorphosis — they came in with an idea (which is why we didn’t put too many constraints on how they have to make their proposal) then the place and people in it affected that idea.

The place has helped refine the question and define the methodology that they then use. We’ve seen that with so many people. Jennifer, for instance, came to do work on this project with food, eating, foraging and documenting herself eating things that she’s collected but she ended up discovering so much – like finer aspects of how to make salt and she then spent her time collecting seawater and making different kinds of salt, which for her was a revelation.

For instance, she explored how one can extract formic acid from a weaver ant  and then use it in the right way to add flavor to a salad. So, her work was not something that I had given much thought to before she came here but it was so rewarding to see how people’s learning process and then the practice and the output can transform.

It wasn’t anything we did, it was just what she observed from the ants and from the ocean, what she learning from other scientists and practitioners, how she then chose to apply it — that’s what place-based learning is.

Scott: Wow. Excellent. Shifting gears here…can you tell me about the different areas for making. What do you have available?

Andy: In terms of the facilities we have a whole suite of interactive electronics, prototyping stuff, zillions of different types of sensors, actuators, motors, breadboards, soldering irons, different things that you would see in an interactive electronics labs, a whole crap ton of Arduinos, the various different flavors and shapes and sizes and powers and things like that.

We also have mold-making equipment for doing casting and natural forms, we have biological workbenches with microscopes, vials, tubes, insect aspirators. We have a whole textile zone, so we have sewing machines, buckles, zippers, fabrics. We have yarn crafting stuff like yarn, plastic yarn, needle, a loom.

Tasneem: Lots of art and craft stuff. So I mean anything you might need from bits of copper strips to glue of every kind and tapes.

Andy: Sharp cutting knifes and hand tools and power tools like drills. little mini projectors, robotic arms that have different heads on them, which can function as 3D printers or laser engravers.

Tasneem: We have a vinyl cutter, a sticker cutter. Since we’re on an island and electricity is diesel generated and that’s not always reliable and it’s not very sustainable, so we’ve set up solar panels as part of our collaboration with Yannick. And we have electricity pretty much all the time, even in the storms.

Island take away sound glasses by Mónica Rikić

Scott: What were some of your expectations with this event and in which ways were the expectations met and what were some of the surprises both positively and negatively?

Andy: It feels a little weird to say but it kind of came out how I expected. We got a bunch of weirdos together and we put them in a really amazing place and things started taking off and they really enjoy working with each other, chatting, cooking, living, sharing tons of cool ideas and that’s kind of what I expected. I was a little bit primed for that from experiences of other places that had kind of similar models that we built off of like PIFCamp in Slovenia or the Signal Fire Arts Residency.

So we’ve kind of seen this model in action a bit before but what I was not as much prepared for is how well it would work and the caliber of the people and how many just brought it when they got there.

Tasneem: People come in for one or two weeks, they arrive with such great energy and they’re willing to give all seven or fourteen days – everything they have which is a great vibe— because we all feed off each other’s energy.

Andy: I think maybe one thing I didn’t expect as much, not a good or bad way but I kind of the life cycle of a person here at Dinacon where the first like a day or two, they’re kind of in a daze and they just show up and are confused or just stoking things in their brain, or maybe swollen with all kinds of crazy stuff.

Tasneem: A sensory overload!

Andy: Totally. So then they start jumping on it and then something switches and then they’re starting interesting projects and they’re helping out with the next round of dazed new people who are coming in. Then they realize “oh, I have to leave.” It’s always too early.

Andy, always hamming it up

Scott: How long do people stay here at Dinacon?

Tasneem: One of the things that was intentional was to not have a structure that would define how this must run. So we left it open to participants to choose how long they would stay. I do however feel strongly about extended time — whenever I’ve run programs for students I notice that nothing less than seven days is something I want to engage with. Because when you work with this model of immersing someone in a new environment and the whole idea of trans-locality and what people learn from a new place, you have to acknowledge that fact that the body and all your senses together need time to absorb, assimilate and then respond in a new environment.

For example, for someone who has never been to Asia before, they suddenly find themselves staying in the jungle and riding on a boat… with new sounds, new smells, a new time zone and new flavors. You’re surrounded by all sorts of people and so much information being thrown at every part of your body that you need to give yourself time to take in, to reflect. So in terms of an expectation, I wish that everyone had stayed for a minimum of seven days.

Andy: Yeah I think I think that’s about the average stay of a person here is six days, the longest stay I think has been about twenty days. You’re around that.

Scott: It’s been incredible.

Tasneem: You and Vanessa and I think a few others…you can see the work, the outcomes, the collaboration and the interaction in general around people who stay for long is different from the ones who just got a brief taste of it.

Andy: So our original rules we set up was just something like minimum three days, maximum three weeks and the three day minimum was in response to academic conferences, which often only last three days.

Scott: Can you describe like what might happen in a single day in Dinacon.

Andy: For a slice of a single day maybe people wake up, people kind of slowly getting up at different times. The kitchen might be busy with people cooking different leftovers, things like that, people kind of waking up, getting into the day, someone’s busting out the soldering iron already and like you know carving into some bamboo, making a fun robot caterpillar and then maybe someone decides to take a kayak trip around the island and so they lead people off.

Meanwhile, other people are collecting people saliva to look at the crystallizations of different hormones in them throughout the day and then you’ll have…

Tasneem: A lot of building happening, people making things like robots and working on project boards to actually outdoor building and bamboo crafts.

Andy: Yeah and then usually people are kind of snacking throughout the day, getting some kind of lunch, again it’s still pretty informal. Towards the afternoon there usually tends to be a spike in activity. We have an online forum chat room where we’re keeping each other updated, so maybe the kayak people say, “Hey, we found this weird creature, we’re going to you know bring it back to the microscope” and then someone’s coordinating bringing the microscope back from the ship and people are kind of talking about different things that they’ve shared throughout the day and then maybe food will come in, people might organize a beautiful sunset yoga, suddenly the giant flying foxes — huge bats — come out and people gather around to see that, maybe we go see someone do a presentation or an art performance outdoors or indoors and then suddenly someone posts a message that the water is glowing and they found a bunch of bioluminescence and then everyone runs out to the ocean to start exploring and investigating what’s going on. Why is it glowing and how do you make it glow? So there’s a lot of these serendipitous moments that appear throughout.

Tasneem: And the whole programming of it is also intentionally informal, we have a couple of boards which everyone collectively builds schedules on and general information about the day is put up. And then there’s a online chat room which functions as a board for announcements and coordination as Andy was saying, so if someone feels like sharing their work or going out for a walk or setting up sensors on plants, they usually put it out there and open it up for anyone else who is interested to come and join them, help them, learn from them or contribute to the work maybe with other devices and expertise. So it sort of creates potential for multiple parallel activities and you can plug into anything that you’re interested or create your own. The evenings because of the group dinner, tends to become an interesting reflection, sharing of information, sharing of exciting things that happened that day and every so often semiformal presentations.

Random Forests exercise, one of the many ad-hoc workshops

Scott: Can you talk about what are some of the logistical challenges? It sounds crazy to me and how do you maintain your own energy and positivity?

Tasneem: Like you said this is our project. Curating this experience and seeing it actually come to life is so exciting and the fact that it’s all going so well, puts us in a high-energy state.

Andy: We just kind of roll with it all. Even if I’m like crushing through hours on the spreadsheet that’s just a monstrosity and figuring out what the hell’s going on, it’s still a pleasant experience because of how much joy and activity is going on around you and you know if things get too intense I just go walk around in the forest, go take a swim, the nature kind of revives you.

Tasneem: It helps you put things in perspective. It’s not so tragic if somebody misses a boat for instance, it’s all okay in the larger scheme of events.

Scott: Andy was the one who saw me when I came off the boat when I was like spaghetti noodles were flowing out of my head. [laughter]

Tasneem: And that comes back to what you said of people arriving and how do they that sort of metamorphosize and they learn to sit back and loosen up a bit.

Andy: Yes, many people on their arrival here, they’re upset that the boat was an hour late and they are upset but then they realize it’s okay in the larger scheme of things – it’s a part of working in the field – there is so much to learn in the adventure itself.

Tasneem: We have a lot more confidence we can fix pretty much everything and like Andy was saying it’s got a zillion moving parts but if you were to complete a breakdown the logistics actually, there are a couple of main principles that hold it together — it’s the people primarily.

So we need to keep track of people coming and going to the best of our ability with 56 days of arrival and 56 days of departure. Maybe some sort of grouping would be wiser but then again it wouldn’t have allowed people the flexibility they had this time. In terms of like the moving parts, there are many and those change every day. So that just needs us to be attentive and responsive and be willing to play back and forth with it.

But in terms of the key logistics that hold it together, it’s the people and detailed information on them, any sort of serious medical conditions that we need to be aware of and things like that. Food and water availability for everyone. We were able to make available to participants, the environment and tools that they would need, so we’ve really had to make that most accessible.

And in terms of those four verticals (arrival/departure; health and safety; food/water; Place/access/toold) if we’re able to keeps those together, I think everything else is fluid and manageable.

Scott: I also want to ask about the code of conduct and how do you get people to cooperate and treat each other respectfully? It has been drama-free as far as I can tell.

Andy: Our code of conduct, it’s kind of based off of two things, one from the Signal Fire Arts Residency, they do these backpacking hikes that are also art residencies, so they have all of these different people who’ve never met each other living in close quarters, doing stressful intense kind of things together and bonding in different ways and so we adapted a lot of things with their permission because I always thought it was a good code of conduct. That basically sums up to – don’t be an asshole, like if someone asks you to stop being an asshole, you know listen to them and don’t continue that process.

Tasneem: If we really had trouble we could ask someone to leave, that was specified in the code of conduct — but nothing has even remotely lead to something like of that nature. I guess it’s really that simple, if you’re respectful and you respect peoples boundaries and equipment, belongings and practice. And everyone’s been as expected, very nice to each other. When new people come in, even people who have been here a while take the time to show them around. And share their work and that’s it and it’s been as simple as that actually and fortunately we’ve never had to go into the details of the code of conduct that we made.

Andy: The other half of the code of conduct comes from, this other big strange wonderful art project called the SV Seeker, where this guy is making his own opens source research vessel for scientists and he’s doing it his backyard in Tulsa, Oklahoma and he basically has built an apartment for any kinds of artists or engineers to like go live there and help him well, then grind stuff on the ship and build parts of the ship and before you go there you have to sign this code conduct that basically is like radical self-responsibility, that like hey you’re coming you need to bring everything that will keep you alive and healthy, you are entirely responsible for all aspects of yourself and so I think between really stressing that with the participant, you know take care of yourself like you’re responsible for all of your own actions and then don’t be a dick to other people. It’s turned into a good mix and I think everyone got that.

Tasneem: No one’s pushed those boundaries.

Scott: In the future, where might this take place and how would you improve this event?

Andy: Yeah definitely, we’re going to have Dinacon 2.

Tasneem: Yes that’s always been the plan.I mean that’s the whole point, we’re not doing this conference because we had a few thousand dollars left over that we had to use in the conference budget. We put this together because it was a part of a larger dream and ideology.

Andy: It came from ourselves and this is what we want to do with our lives.

Tasneem: And given that the response and the participation in the outcomes are so exciting, we are learning from every step along the way, there’s no question of not doing it again and the only question would be where are we doing it again.

Andy: we didn’t know where we were doing this until like October of last year and so we still got a couple months.

Tasneem: I guess once we wrap up here, we’d be actively thinking about that and we’ve thought about several very good ideas in other places, like South America, who knows? Lets see. In terms of doing things differently, I think in essence we are happy with how it’s gone, we might make adjustment to certain logistical aspects but that would be site specific, depending on where it is.

Scott: Anything else you would change?

Andy: No maybe different contract styles with the place for rental but that’s just logistics.

Tasneem: Yeah pushing the participants a little bit more to tell us what date they’re arriving without being too pushy.

Scott: Great and where can people learn more about Dinacon? Is there is a website?

Andy: there is a website, you can go to Dinacon.org and that’s where you have contact information for me and Tasneem and you’ll be able to see all the projects by all the wonderful participants and node leaders and yeah you can find it all there.

Scott: Any last things you want to add? This has been amazing. Is there anything you want to add that you think wasn’t covered?

Andy: I’m just going to plug, if you’re building something or doing art or art, doing whatever you’re doing and go try to do it outside.

Tasneem: I would say the same thing, have a lot of fun using the space you’re in and don’t coop yourself up in a white box.

Scott: Thank you.

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.