Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dylan Fest Postmark Is A Fun Discovery

Well I ride on a mail train, babe,
can't buy a thrill...
--Bob Dylan
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry


This year the Duluth Dylan Fest adopted five additional activities in addition to the usual traditions of recent years. One of these was a postage stamp cancellation event. It's something Hibbing's Dylan Days had been doing for many years, marking each year with a special postmark locally designed and approved by the U.S. Postal Service. So on Saturday morning May 28 the USPS setup shop in the Historic Duluth Armory with an official representative there to cancel stamps and post cards that people purchased. John Bushey, host of the KUMD Dylan radio hour, did all the backstage info-gathering and negotiating to get all the paperwork established. I did the concepting and drew the artwork that was used for the "official" stamp. The original concept included a small profile of our native Son, but this had to be negated as a violation of one of the rules. No biggie.

This week I stumbled across a website called CollectPostmarks.com that collects a wide variety of geeky postmarks, including our Duluth Dylan Fest mark.  Postmark collecting is apparently alive and well. Galleries featuring art postmarks, First Day postmarks, event and commemorative postmarks, literary postmarks, military postmarks and more are all part of the site.

When concepting the art it seemed that a train theme is perfectly at home here. We have extensive train yards in this major port town. The annual Blood on the Tracks Express has become a Dylan Fest ritual that few want to miss. In addition, Dylan's album Slow Train Coming signified one of the many turnpoints in his career.

It was fun to make this contribution to the week's happenings. Strangely enough, we've already begun planning for 2017. We'll certainly welcome you warmly if you join us.

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Meantime, life goes on... I'll catch up with you at Hobo Junction. 

#dqcp - alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Yesterday I spent another hour and a half at the Duluth Quantum Computing Project @ 3 West, an informal setting designed to stir discussion and stimulate a deeper dive into the complex and mysterious realms of cyberspace and digital technology. The theme for this week's discussions and interactions is: alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Here's an excerpt from the project's discussion springboard:

How do we navigate this wild space? How do we map stories onto this web? We have the tools to move about in a geolocative context ... Our stories can be mapped to place ::: accessible through location ::: existing on a map. (one can't help but see maps then through a fictional lens ::: constructed boundaries ::: colored shapes and borderlands). What does time look like in this context? Is a story's temporal arc completely dependent on the "reader's" movement through a physical space?

Navigation ::: revealing all of the corners of a story becomes an explicit challenge for a writer in this context. Linearity dissolves into trees ::: into graphs ::: into the infinite canvas. The writer defines temporal, spatial, social relationships ::: the set of axes that describes the story space ::: the navigation ::: the compass. A reader has a new power ::: a new agency ::: they become another character. The reader becomes a game-player ::: a part of the action. What is their role? narrator ::: writer ::: geographer ::: cartographer ::: investigator ::: the boatman? The reader becomes an actor (first person? second person? third person ?) do they become a story layer for future readers to encounter? do they leave their trace?

mctavish.io/dqcp/hypermedia1.html

* * * *

B&W by Adam McCauley, who will soon show at DAI
As I arrived Friday noon four employees from the ARI, a local tech firm, stopped in to catch a feel for what was happening in the space. Kathy McTavish, creator of the project, welcomed them and answered questions.

This was followed by the arrival of several people who were present for the previous evening's discussion about hypermedia. "It's beautiful but difficult to navigate that space," McTavish said.

Stacie Whaley: "We talked about how hyperlinks link, the beauty of that being how easy it is to connect one thought or idea to others. Everything can be connected very easily."

Kathryn Lenz, a retired 26-year UMD math professor who now paints, explained: "Something that wasn't on my radar was the ability of the web designer to put indicators in the code that will make make their site more surgical."

Some of the discussion circled around the labyrinthian character of cyberspace.

SW: "We also talked about cross between art and commercial realms..."

KL:  "For me it's like getting into a mindset... The career you choose based on your passion vs. your career being determined by what you are able to tolerate."

This last statement brought to mind for me the exercises in Richard Bolles' classic What Color Is Your Parachute? Step one in choosing a career has to begin with a measure of self-understanding, or as Ms. Lenz put it, knowing "what you are able to tolerate."

KL: "I was a math professor for about 26 years. Now I'm an artist. My husband managed our money well enough that I could retire from my paid career to privileged category."

What makes the duluth quantum computing project so rich is the extensive collection of reading lists and information McTavish has assembled.  You can find the fodder for this week's discussions here at this page on. You'll find a list of gallery organizations, challenges of working in the digital space and examples from the work of other artists in the space.

The #dqcp as a space is designed to create an opportunity for discussion as well as personal exploration. Each week is thematic, yet to some degree undefined. In a culture where everything has been pre-chewed and processed and presented in a manner that is effortless to receive, there may be challenges in knowing how to engage the work. However, paths have been laid out and the reading material provided is extensive. Your rewards from involvement will be directly proportional to the effort you put into engaging it.

The reading list for today's topic included a link for archivists and curators of net.art and net.writing. Part of the impetus for the development of this project was the quest to help artists preserve their work in an ever-changing digital age.

People have asked, "Why aren't there any great works of digital art?" One of the problems art galleries have is that they don't have strong IT staff. Or there is art that was created that doesn't last because software changes. But McTavish shared how some galleries and artists are addressing this. For example, the art "work" includes the instructions for making the installation.

This can be best understood by the example of theater. Shakespeare lives forever because his plays are actually sets of instructions. In its essence, Shakespeare did not write a story. He wrote descriptions of scenes, instructions for the characters to enter and exit the set, and things the various characters were supposed to say. As a result when anyone replicates these instructions we, as an audience, can experience his plays which live and speak to us today.

In the same manner there are artists who produce work that includes instructions for installation. Sol Lewitt wrote directions for people. The act of installing becomes act of creation.

Not all work is designed to be permanent. Eva Hesse, for example, works in materials that degrade over time as opposed to creating permanent sculptures of marble or bronze.

As we explored this week's theme, I was directed to the article on Narrative Graph Models and the Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games.  This latter awakened in me some of my first enthusiasms with regard to the possibilities of hypermedia and the internet.

Before the existence of the WorldWideWeb a lot of computer geeks did file-sharing in which people created programs and circulated them to friends to experience and experiment with. One program I obtained was called HyperCard, for Mac platforms. It emulated a whole new way of organizing information, so that each page could be linked in a non-linear way to any or all of the other pages in a "document." The result was an experience like what we now have on the Internet. This blog post is a page, but it contains links to a variety of other pages which then can divert you to new territories you would never have found on your own.

When the WWW came along (The visual Internet is only its latest iteration; Internet preceded the visual format we experience since html, Mosaic and Netscape emerged in 1994) I was immediately attracted to the opportunities for storytelling that were opening up. My story An Unremembered History of the World incorporated hyperlinks to "asides" in a primitive way. I also conceived of a primitive Labyrinth which began at the bottom of this page on my first website. 

When all was said and done, the #dqcp stirred in me a desire to revisit these creative new forms of storytelling. This article especially prodded me thus: Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games.

* * * *
Meantime life, and art, goes on all around you. 00110100 1010001 010 10

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EdNote: Birthday shout out to Ann Klefstad who today touched the big Six-Oh. Widely read, a much valued asset in the Duluth arts community... There is much one can learn if one took the time to rummage inside her head. Thank you for your contributions to the arts.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How Important Is Marcel Proust, Really?

This morning my inbox had an email with more book recommendations from Amazon. Like a lot of modern marketers they do a pretty good job of hitting the sweet spot as regards potential interests. That is, based on what we have been looking at they've fine tuned our personal profiles to a degree that many folk find scary. The first recommendation was Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life.

I'm trying to figure out what prompted this. Yesterday I was looking at someone's bookshelf and noticed he had a fat copy of Swann's Way, but unless there was an Amazon drone in the room they would never know I was looking at that book. It caught my eye because I have a two-volume Remembrance of Things Past on my own shelf, abutting Tolstoy's War & Peace. I've read about thirty pages of each.

De Botton's book looks interesting though. One reviewer, who calls him-or-herself brassawe, wrote:

I have tackled only "Swann's Way" from the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," formerly translated as "Remembrance of Things Past." You need not have read Proust to thoroughly enjoy this concise 197-page book in nine chapters. When you finish it, however, you will be seriously contemplating having a go at Proust's masterpiece in its entirety.
Consider the chapter titles. The fourth is "How to Suffer Successfully." The seventh is "How to Open Your Eyes." The eighth is "How to be Happy in Love." The last, and my favorite, is "How to Put Books Down." The author draws on the ideas and characters found in Proust's masterpiece and renders Proust's response to these issues. All of this is very wittily done. The whole thing is leavened with fascinating biographical tidbits concerning this strange, brilliant man, Marcel Proust.

Other reviewers share similar sentiments. Steve Balk offers this concise commentary:

Who can deny the craftsmanship of one who can dissect the complexities of Proust and serve up a multi course feast of insights. Beautifully woven as both an introduction to Proust and as a utility knife for shaping one's wisdom.

It's no surprise to find people intimidated by Proust. His opus, In Search of Lost Time, weighs in at no less than 4215 pages. I doubt it will be your "Book of the Month" recommendation for your book club, though perhaps one of it's sections could theoretically be suggested.

As for important fat books with lots of pages, I've read some (Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Ulysses) and stumbled at others (War & Peace, Remembrance of Things Past.) If you have the inclination, here's a website with 25 Big Novels That Are Worth Your Time.

Not all the reviews of De Botton's book are dripping with adulation. One reviewer calls it "a rather tedious book" and another states simply, "Disappointed in De Botton." And who knows, maybe Amazon pegged me as someone who would be interested because the title sounds pretentious.

The Applied Sentience website shares the point of view of De Botton's critics in an essay titled, "Proust Can't Change Your Life: A Review of Allain De Botton's 'Proust Can Change Your Life." Harold Mesa's scathing review is itself a good read. Early on he states, "Be prepared to be under-whelmed and uninspired." A little further on he sums up the book this way:

The book is built around the idea of simultaneously being a literary biography and a self-help manual. In terms of the latter, it is an abject failure. It is neither uplifting nor particularly helpful and simply shows inexplicably how Proust was able to survive past the age of twenty. In fact, the life story of Proust and his upbringing just reiterate the nature of how certain class privileges beget success per se and how irrelevant his work may be.

* * * *
In closing, a few Proust quotes, something to mull on for the day.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
*
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
*
“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
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“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
*
“Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade. ”
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“There is no one, no matter how wise he is, who has not in his youth said things or done things that are so unpleasant to recall in later life that he would expunge them entirely from his memory if that were possible.”
“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ― Marcel Proust

Meantime, life goes on all around you. And yes, hold on to that patch of sky.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twin Ports Tonight: Zenith City On Tap and Gaelynn Lea @ the DAI

Life would be a whole lot simpler if we didn't have so many choices to make. I'm thinking it has to be a drag sometimes to live in a big city where there is so much happening you don't know how to choose, between this show and that performance and this talk and that art opening. Take a peek at the first few pages of The New Yorker each week and it makes your head spin.

I say all that because as small as the Twin Ports scene seems in comparison, there's still so much happening here once you're aware of it... and it's a challenge to choose between this event and that.

Tonight is one more evening where having a clone of oneself would be helpful. First, there's a Gaelynn Lea performance at the Duluth Art Institute from 6-8 p.m.. It's something akin to a closing reception for Tim White's "In and Out of Context," the summer show in the Steffl Gallery featuring photography by Tim White and excerpts from local poets. The event will not be at the Depot, but rather in the DAI's Lincoln Building at 2229 West 2nd Street. Here's a clue as to what a treat this free concert will be. I dropped by Beaners on the way home one evening and it was packed wall to wall, hardly any breathing room. All the tables had been removed and the ticket price to get in was twenty bucks. I said, "Wow, that's pretty steep for a typical Friday." "No, Gaelynn is performing tonight."

It's been a very special year for Gaelynn Lea, who gained national recognition for her music. Paul Whyte of the Reader assembled this story about her new album The Songs We Sing Along the Way.

Tonight's free performance is featured this a.m. in the DNT's Best Bests section. Tell your friends you're attending by noting this event on Facebook.


ZENITH CITY ON TAP: THE 1915 DULUTH ARMORY, PAST & FUTURE

Last year was a big year for the Duluth Armory. The historic building turned 100 this past year. Tonight from 6:45 till 9:00 p.m. Glensheen Mansion is hosting a TED Talk-style presentation with two speakers who will shine a light on the Duluth Armory, Tony Dierckens and Mark Poirer.

Dierckens is a local author, publisher, entrepreneur and historian who has been our keeper of the flame as regards local Duluth history. His talk regarding the Armory's history will undoubtedly be eye-opening and leave you wanting to hear more. Mark Poirer, executive director for the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) board, will share what has been happening at the Armory these past ten years as well as its plans for future use. Slated for demolition, the building was saved by the AAMC in 2004—but its renovation has been a struggle.

If you decide to go, be sure to enter through the mansion’s front door. There will also be beer and wine available for purchase.

I've written a number of times about the Historic Duluth Armory. Here are a couple posts from recent years:
Items of note regarding the Armory
Making a case for preserving the Armory

Gaelynn Lea has performed during the annual Duluth Dylan Fest fund-raiser concert for the AAMC. Tonights's events are tied together in a sense.

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REMINDER #DQCP

This is week three of Kathy McTavish's Duluth Quantum Computing Project, which can be found at The 3 West Building on Superior Street. This week's theme is intriguingly titled alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Drop in anytime Thursdays 3-9, Fridays 12-6, Saturdays 3-9 during the next 6 weeks.

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For a more complete list of things to see and do, check The Reader, the Transistor and the DNT.... and the bulletin boards around town where all our local arts happenings get promoted, like Beaners, Pizza Luce, the Electric Fetus... and Facebook.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Just keep breathing and open your eyes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Things They Carried @ the Prøve Collective


"But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget."
--The Things They Carried

Show runs 8/19 - 9/9
Open Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 4-7 p.m.
or by appointment: info@provegallery

A contemporary expressionist conversation between Brian Ring & Flo Matamoros

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Thinking Machines and Sex Bots (A Mashup of This Week's A.I. Views and News)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how automation will be replacing increasing numbers of white collar jobs. In point of fact here is an example of this very thing. As I was doing a bit of recent investment research I noticed this comment at the end of a news story;

This story was generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on CZZ at http://www.zacks.com/ap/CZZ

This task used to be executed by a human being. It was called writing. But since investors were more interested in the presentation of data than in eloquent prose, the machines were more than adequate to the task.

* * * *
Earlier this month there was a showdown between seven artificial intelligence systems to see which had what it takes to be World Champion. In this case, the competition was striving to identify the world champion Hacker. Two million dollars was on the line, winner-take-all.

The seven different AI agents were projects of teams that hailed from around the world, coming together to compete for a $2 million purse. Partnering with Def Con, DARPA pit the rival development teams against each other in a CTF, where the programs had to beat each other at reverse engineering unknown programs, probing the security of opponent software, applying patches and shoring up defenses.

The article, titled Hacking and AI: Moral panic vs. real problems, anticipates moral and ethical issues raised by intelligent machines. After the section on hacking the author examines sexbots and their related moral implications.

Sci-fi writers have been worrying about technology for ages, it seems, but most of it seemed so far off in the future it just wasn't real. Terminator was simply heart-rush entertainment. The same with Minority Report and getting arrested for pre-crime.

But so many news stories are being flung at us regarding new technologies that one has a hard time sorting it all out, or what it mean. Should we be afraid as the Watson's of this world get smarter? The film Ex Machina purports to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and how to determine what is true intelligence vs. what has been programmed. Because of the nature of the storyline it struck me more as an advertisement for future possibilities in the sex-toy industry, which this article in Tech Republic addresses.

The article is titled "The Campaign Against Sex Robots raises red flag for violence and victimization, calls for standards in sexbots" and subtitled, "Advances in speech recognition, emotion-detection, and artificial skin are making humanoid robots more 'human-like' than ever. But are we fully considering the consequences?"

This particular article addresses not only the question of sexbots, but also bots designed to "keep us company" as companions when we get old. The author, Hope Reese, is concerned about how this will alter us a persons.

Forbes this week also published an article on the topic of sex with machines titled, "The Future of Sex Could Be AI Robot Sex Dolls."  Author Curtis Silver pulls back the curtain on some of the creepy activity that is already taking place.

Somehow the effect of all this "news" is to leave me feeling sad. Are we really this lonely and unhappy? Will intelligent robotic sex toys make us happy? I think it will only make us more alienated. The soul yearns for an intimacy that is real, not virtual.

In the Biblical account of creation the first man was himself lonely. God, being a compassionate creator, made for Adam a companion. A person, not a machine or a toy.

As regards the future, we'll see what happens next. It somehow feels like just another Desolation Row. And a long ways from Paradise.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Local Art Seen: Art in Bayfront Park 2016

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven..." 
--Eccles. 3:1

Here No Evil by Julie Roth
This weekend it was again a time of Tall Ships here in the Port of Duluth. And simultaneously, that time when artists from various parts of the country descend upon Bayfront Park to display their work, meet potential buyers, gain recognition and hopefully make a little money to support their (art-making) habit.

In years past the art show in Bayfront Park has been a stand-alone event, the price of admission advertised as free. It wasn't really free because there was a five dollar fee for parking, but the public generally accepted that. This year there was a bit of sticker shock associated with the art fair. All the parking had been bumped to $10, a pinch that we put up with again. But then the art fair was no longer free either. For some reason the Art in Bayfront Park was a $12 deal because it had been combined with the Tall Ships. This was not a marriage made in heaven. I did get a little exercise in since the nearest parking lot was down beyond the new Pier B/Silos complex that now enhances the waterfront.

Butterfly Effect
The feedback I received from artists was mixed. Some locals altruistically supported the decision saying, "It's good for Duluth." There were others, however, who felt the crowds kept more art patrons away and the Tall Ships sightseers were not there for the art. Said one, "We do a lot of shows with an entrance fee but it's never over six dollars, and the parking is usually free!"

All this to say that (a) I hope next year the parking is a fivespot again and there is no entrance fee, and (b) the Tall Ships choose an alternate weekend to descend on the Twin Ports.

The weather was gorgeous Sunday, couldn't have been better. A bright sun, friendly skies, a gentle breeze off the bay.... and a lot of smiling faces. It's a beautiful time of year to visit the Northland. The artists displaying wares are from all levels of experience. There were what I call emerging artists and there were veterans of this kind of work. And work it is. Setting up tents, hauling everything in, always having to be "on" for the potential customers, dismantling everything after four days of not sleeping in one's own bed. As beautiful as this waterfront has become, it's no vacation for those who are working the show.

All the usual mediums are visible at this show. Paintings in acrylic, oil and watercolor; sculpture in wood, copper and bronze; photography printed on various kinds of surfaces with a range of subject matter; crafts and miscellaneous creative objects for homes and gardens.... It was all there. A lot of talent on display.

Here are some of the images my camera captured. As time permits I'll try to share more of their work in the weeks ahead.

Bronze sculpture by James Shoop
Bowie by Kristi Abbott of St. Paul
Toronto artist Anna Polistuk

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.