[nothing week 9] reading response: Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening

This week, we read “Notes in Justification of Putting the Audience Through a Difficult Evening” by Wallace Shawn. I read up a little about the context of this essay — it was in response to the way people reacted to Shawn’s play,  Aunt Dan and Lemon, about a young, sick girl, influenced by a charismatic family friend to support Nazism. The New York Times reviewer from that time writes, “I can’t remember the last time I saw a play make an audience so uncomfortable, and I mean that as high praise.”

The essay discusses how we enjoy watching film and other media about historical figures we know to be evil, like slave-holders or Hitler, because we enjoy a sense of superiority in knowing that we would never have supported them if we lived in that time period. Shawn challenges this idea, saying that the clarity of time-passed gives us “over-confidence” that we are somehow morally better and smarter than the people who lived back then. There were lots of things that were convincing and refreshing about Hitler, and of course those people who supported him at the time could not see into the future at the atrocities he would commit.

Reading this, the parallels to our current election are pretty obvious, as a lot of people have been comparing Trump to Hitler for the same reasons. If the worst case scenario happens, will our great-grandchildren (assuming they exist after the climate apocalypse) look back at us with the same feeling people currently have for those that stood by and let Hitler win?

The piece is a good reminder that we’re naturally easily influenced by the narratives created by people close to us, or by the media we consume. “Intellectual clarity seems to be a very important weapon in the fight against evil, although ‘clarity’ is of course a very difficult concept to define,” Shawn writes. “I think staying awake rather than falling asleep when people are talking to you is an important component of the definition of clarity.” This line reminds me of the thing people say these days: “Stay woke.”


[nothing week 8] einstein’s dreams and projection mapping


Without knowing anything about the book going in, I enjoyed reading the first few sections of Einstein’s Dreams. It reminded me a lot of Invisible Cities, in using small vignettes to explore a specific idea, or a version of an idea. Although it’s ostensibly about time — and the different possible ways time could work or exist in our universe — it seems to be more of a reflection on humanity and about people. More about philosophy than about physics, which is a little different from what might be expected from a book with “Einstein” in the title.

One of my favorites was “26 April 1905,” which is the one depicted in the illustration above. It describes a world where “time flows more slowly the farther from the center of earth.” As a result, in fear of old age and death, everyone lives at the top of mountains, and rich people build tall stilts for their houses. Only a few adventurous people visit the valleys and swim in the rivers down below. In contrast, those at the top “have become thin like the air, bony, old before their time,” defeating the whole purpose.

This vignette is very proverb-like, maybe even a little too on the nose. But even so, I thought it was an effective story.

My other favorite was “3 May 1905,” describing “a world in which cause and effect are erratic.” I found the examples and questions it raised to be quite interesting:

A man stands there just now, absently emptying his pockets and weeping. Without reason, his friends have abandoned him. No one calls any more, no one meets him for supper or beer at the tavern, no one invites him to their home. For twenty years he has been the ideal friend to his friends, generous, interested, soft-spoken, affectionate. What could have happened? A week from this moment on the terrace, the same man begins acting the goat, insulting everyone, wearing smelly clothes, stingy with money, allowing no one to come to his apartment on Laupenstrasse. Which was cause and which effect, which future and which past?

In this world, artists thrive and scientists have no power. The reason this example is interesting, I think, is because there is some truth to it that already exists in our world.

I worked with Jamie on our two projection mapping projects this week. The first one we made was having snow fall between two squares:

The second was a spinning pizza in a box. This one was particularly hard to capture in a video with my phone camera, so it’s kind of dark, but you get the idea.

[nothing week 4] midterm ideas


We (Jamie, Paula, Adi and I) brainstormed some ideas for an illusion to make for our midterm. Hopefully we’ll narrow it down after this week:

Phone hologram: https://www.facebook.com/hefty.co/videos/1748577158703988/

Using cut-up plastic and a video we create, we can use a phone screen to make a hologram.

Hybrid Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_image

We can design a large poster with a hybrid image of two faces (or something else!) that looks different when you’re close to it vs. when you’re far away.

Phantogram: http://www.gravitram.com/phantograms.htm

We can use Photoshop to design a phantogram, and print it out. With red-cyan glasses on, viewers will see it as a 3d object.

Phantom Words: http://deutsch.ucsd.edu/psychology/pages.php?i=211

Not sure if this project is exclusively for visual illusions, but we could use two speakers to make a Phantom Words auditory illusion.

Infinite Space: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNQiW00mxH4

Using one way mirrors, lights and movement to create a structure that manipulates space.

Ideas for locations within 721 Broadway include the basement, with its long hallways and brick walls, the room we actually have our class in, or possibly a closet. What kind of illusion we end up making will determine the best location for it. More soon!

[nothing week 2] Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees


I was not familiar with Robert Irwin’s work before reading these excerpts of Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (which is a great title, by the way), but I felt very much that I want to after doing so. It’s always challenging to properly translate something in a visual medium to text and properly convey what the piece is actually like, and photographs (especially photocopies of photographs) do an even worse job.

But I think the reason why Irwin’s work came across as so compelling in the description is due to the mysterious nature of what he’s trying to create, which is more than just beautiful objects to look at. I was really intrigued by the “energy” he describes in the experience of his work. The way the pinprick sized dots of opposite colors he applied in “The Dots” would cancel each other out visually and create a strange feeling in the viewer is really fascinating.

The way we often think about the purpose of art is that it makes us feel something, but it’s usually in terms of a specific emotion. In painting, the normal interaction is that we look at the paint on the canvas, which move us to think about something and then possibly have an emotional reaction. What is interesting about Irwin’s work is that he uses different techniques to make us feel. Instead of allowing our minds respond to the work, he seems to approach it almost body-first. Due to the optical and sensory illusions he creates, our bodies have involuntary responses that lead to an emotional response.

I also enjoyed reading about the way his work transitioned over time, and how it wasn’t about trying to explore some specific theme, but just about taking things one step at a time until what he had already made didn’t serve him anymore.

I hope I’ll be able to catch a show sometime soon.

[nothing week 1] F for Fake


The first thing I wanted to do after watching F for Fake was to go and look at its Wikipedia page to search for the real “truth” of the film, whatever that means. There were some details I dug up on the internet that added some color to what I just watched; for example, the relationship between that young Minnesotan bodyguard and Elmyr, and the fact that Oja Kodar was Welles’ partner.  I find my experience of a film is more full if I know more of these “truths” in the media I just consumed, which is why movies “based on a true story” often have more of a hold on me. Of course I am not the only one who feels this way, that knowing something is real makes it feel more valuable and interesting than if it were not. This might be at odds with one of the key points about the film, which is that none of this stuff about what is actually real matters that much.

Welles asks the same question a number of times throughout the film: “It’s pretty, but is it art?” I get the impression that his answer would pretty much be, “who cares?” He explores this idea with the documentation of Elmyr’s life, in questioning what it meant for falsified work to be accepted as real. Of course he also reveals the idea with medium of the film itself, showing the production and film cutting, as well as the “fake” scene at the end with Oja.

Some of the questions raised I thought were poignant. Does a false Modigliani become a real one if it’s hung in a gallery and everyone can’t tell the difference? What does it mean for an artist’s work to be acclaimed if he can never sign his own name? How much does a forgery actually hurt an artist’s legacy?

Other parts of the film I found excruciatingly pretentious, but hey, perhaps that’s expected for a film made 40 years ago about Men Getting Away With Doing Bad Things. I’m sure there was an artistic purpose to all the parts about Oja walking around and being naked, but I’m not entirely convinced.