I’ve been traveling through Navajo Nation with my collaborators Esther Belin and Venaya Yazzie to find two locations for our public art and media project: Yádíłhił ‘béé’as’łló (Bound Sky). This artwork will take audiences on an audio journey through the area to two lookout points along the roadside. These points, in addition to serving as resting places for people experiencing the work, will also provide comfort to the many hitchhikers and independent merchants who use these spaces.
I’ve been traveling through the Navajo Nation for the past two days doing research for a public art project, and during this time connected with my friend and fellow artist Teri Rueb and she introduced me to her collaborator, Navajo archaeologist and artist Carmelita Topaha. Yesterday Carmeilita generously took the time to show us some sacred places here including Fort Defiance, Window Rock and an incredible drive over the mountains through Crystal.
Carmelita and Teri at Fort Defiance, the place from which over 9000 Navajos were forced to leave on a long journey to Fort Sumner and permanently relocated. At Defiance, Carmelita shared some of the stories of her ancestors on the long walk that she was told as a child.
Carmelita is the granddaughter of Hosteen Klah, a famous Navajo medicine man. Frances Newcomb worked extensively with Klah in the 60′s and 70′s and published some of his stories in many books including Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter. Because of Newcomb’s relationship with Klah, there is a place in Navajo Nation called Newcomb, and this is where Carmelita is from originally, although she spent many years in California and across the Southwest.
Carmelita and others told me about the political and bureaucratic difficulties and complexities of the reservation structure from a Navajo perspective. For example, she said that the Tribal Councils that were put in place by the US government to allow more effective communication between the two sovereign nations creates conflicts because the council forces a Western linear thinking, while the Navajo way of thinking is non-linear. Some also say the councils were put in place to make it easier for the US government to exploit native mineral and other resources.
While we were headed back to Farmington from Window Rock, we noticed the glowing lights of the APS and 4 Corners power plants in the distance and observed the ever-present plumes from the smoke stacks as they drifted to the South. So, we decided to try to get close and found ourselves almost inside the APS power plant. The plant seemed deserted yet was alive with churning and pumping sound and smoke. These plants will become a subject of the public work I will create in collaboration with Navajo artists Venaya Yazzie and Esther Belin.
Inevitably, once I’ll write something on this blog, I’ll find that it doesn’t sit well with me and have to look at it from another angle. Such is the case with the previous post’s ‘most important commons may be consciousness’ statement. Although the idea might be evocative from a singularity point of view, it’s important to have a reality check. There are real, physical commons on this Earth that are in peril (for example, wilderness), and we should be careful of losing sight of this while glorifying human consciousness. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, environmental activist and co-founder of Earth First! Dave Foreman discusses ‘the arrogance of enlightenment’:
I have heard it said that a wise man can find wilderness in a courtyard garden, can see a Grizzly Bear in a hothouse flower. Perhaps…this kind of ability is undoubtedly healthy for modern people. It allows one to rise above the tawdry mess of civilization, to find unity with Nature…it prevents ulcers and high blood pressure.
But what does it do for wilderness? What does it do for the Grizzly?
Where is the real world? What is reality? Is it within ourselves – in our minds, our consciousness? Is reality only what we perceive? Are our minds paramount, with no reality apart from our heads?
No! The real world is out there – independent, autonomous, sovereign, not ruled by human awareness. The real Grizzly is not in our heads, she is in the Big Outside – rooting, snuffling, roaming, living, perceiving on her own. Wilderness is not merely an attitude of mind; it is greater, far greater, than ourselves and our perceptions of it.
In our work with social media and technology, we get caught up in idea of the ‘Internet as commons’, which is important for the free exchange of ideas (and ‘consciousness’), but we should remember that this is only a metaphor and that the original commons was and continues to be the land and its preservation through wilderness, as Henry David Thoreau said:
In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
Without which there would be no Internet, no consciousness and no humans. What to do? How to approach this crisis of disappearing wilderness? Perhaps first read Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and then to go further google Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.
I spent a weekend at the Sevilleta (Sev) Long Term Ecological Research site with colleagues from UNM’s Biology and Art & Ecology programs and sound recordist/folklorist Jack Loeffler. Jack has been continuously recording since 1964 and his project Lore of the Land has many of his amazing recordings you can listen to here. These recordings are only part of his long history of environmental activism in the Southwest, having traveled throughout the country with his good friend Ed Abbey while Ed was researching and writing the classic Monkey Wrench Gang, been a friend and collaborator with Stewart Brand and conducted extensive interviews with E.O. Wilson. He is working with the UNM Museum of Southwest Biology on a project to audio document the prestigious history of the museum (which includes Wilson).
I’m still processing much of what I learned from Jack that weekend, we discussed issues represented by the title of this blog post and how this ideology relates to technology and the natural world, the secularization of habitat versus sacred habitat, P.J. Proudhon’s ideas about ‘property as theft’ and the idea of the commons, and how the biggest (and most important) commons may be consciousness. We also enjoyed the sounds and sights of an amazing gathering of snow geese and cranes, this image shows only a tiny tip of the crowd:
I’m looking forward to reading Jack’s upcoming collection of essays Thinking Like a Watershed on UNM press and hope to conduct an audio interview with him soon. Some of his other books are available here.
I’ve been taking the opportunity over the break to look through the over-1500 proposals for ISEA2012 online. Although it is exciting to see all the great ideas, I’ve been feeling that perhaps I’ve been spending a dangerous amount of time on the Internet. You say: ‘Internet dangerous? Nah!’, but actually there have been several reports of death from the Internet.
Most reports are coming from China and other places in Asia and involve men in their 20′s and 30′s playing MMO games continuously to exhaustion. Most recent is this BBC report from February, but also this one of two reports from 2007 and this from 2004. Since many of these games can provide financial payoffs, murder and kidnapping in relation to Internet gaming has also been reported, see this article for stories from China and Brazil.
Gamasutra has a great article from 2006 about the science behind Internet addiction including a link to this quiz to determine your level of addiction (but what if you are addicted to online quizzes…?)
In all seriousness, how have governments responded to this scourge of Internet-caused deaths? Not well, unfortunately. In China in 2007 troubled teens whose “souls are gone to the online world” were apparently being given shock treatment and a variety of actions to limit Internet use and rid the Internet of “unhealthy” content has been a platform for Communist Party doctrine in China for several years. A somewhat interesting technological approach has been designing games so that after a certain number of time points simply decrease, see this article for more information.
On a healthier note, some more recent initiatives have involved camps and retreats to treat Internet addiction like this one in South Korea that gets kids out into the world hiking and biking. Sounds like a good idea, I think I’m going to head out for a bike ride right now!
My artist friend Tim Dye just sent me information about his latest project ChaserTracer. Tim is the Senior Vice President/Division Manager of Meteorological Programs and Public Outreach for Sonoma Technology and provided lots of support for Particle Falls and other projects.
Like me, Tim is a fan of storm chasing (but unlike me, I think he has actually done it himself…I’d love to hear a tornado at close range or hurricane from a plane but haven’t had the opportunity yet). Tim gives some detailed technical information on his webpage about the project, he says:
I created ChaserTracer to show a different side of storm chasing. Not the over-hyped chaser TV show version with the heavily edited micro-view of storm chasing; instead, I wanted to create an eye-in-the-sky view of how chasers chase. You can see some interesting behavior as chasers swarm, disperse, and migrate.
Featured in the Tracing Mobility exhibition in Berlin (along with my artist friend Yolande Harris and the previously mentioned Heath Bunting) is a project called Open_Sailing by the UK-based Protei. Open_Sailing is a project to create open source, unmanned sailing technologies to explore the oceans. In their most recent project, the drones are designed to help clean major oil spills. Why? Protei explains:
Current oil spill skimming technology could only collect 3% of the DeepWater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The health of workers was exposed to cancerous toxicant, the boats were expensive and pollutive to operate, they could not operate in bad weather (hurricane seaon) they could not operate at night or far away.
Protei is a technology currently in development that will provide
- Unmanned, no human exposed to toxicant.
- Green and cheap, sailing upwind, capturing oil downwind.
- Self-righting, rugged, can operate in hurricane time.
- Semi-autonomous : can swarm continuously and far away.
This video explains more about the project:
The main local connection is that the ‘Altair’ personal computer (if you remember that dorky made for TV movie ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’, it’s the blue boxy computer that Bill Gates first started writing programs for), was created by an Albuquerque-based company called MITS
However, the exhibit (including the pretty cool movie ‘Rise of the Machines’), ends up dismissing Open Source/Open Access as a quaint hippie movement that was unsustainable, in other words unable to make money. In contrast, for better or worse, the former blog post about shunning FB at least shows that it is possible to monetize (and at extremely high levels) people sharing ‘free’ content. This is not to say that Open Source/Open Access is by any means an economic panacea or the opposite, but to acknowledge that the reality is far more complicated than black or white.
Shunning Facebook, and Living to Tell about It, an article in the NYTimes today got me thinking about the work on labor and social media of a fellow doctoral researcher at Z-node Trebor Scholz. Although the Times article cites different reasons for shunning FB, Trebor’s arguments about privacy, ownership and exploitation have been the most compelling to me. He compares time spent on FB, MySpace and other social media to sweatshop labor. ‘Come on!’, you might say, ‘that is an extreme comparison, after all, FB is fun!’ Well, I thought that too but when Trebor pointed out the massive numbers of hours western teenagers spend on social media sites and the monetary value of this content to owners of social media sites (sites that would have zero content without the benefit of this free labor) I began to wonder about inequality and exploitation.
Content generated by networked publics was the main reason for the fact that the top ten websites accounted for forty percent of all Internet traffic in 2006. Community creates massive market value and has become the foremost commodity. Profiting from the labor of the very many, the very few get richer and richer. – Scholz
‘But social media users are also benefiting!’, you say. Yes, it’s true, but most users believe that their content and conversations are under their personal control, they are unaware of the dangerous privacy and restrictive content ownership policies of FB. Trebor continues:
Networked publics contributing to the main social networking sites, however, also gain much in the process! Don’t forget about the pleasure of creation, knowledge exchange, fame, a “home,” friendships, and dates. Contributors to the sociable web comment, tag, rank, forward, read, subscribe, re-post, link, moderate, remix, share, and collaborate, favorite, and write. They flirt, work, play, chat, gossip, discuss, learn and by doing so they share life experiences and archive memories. At the same time, the platform-providing businesses monetize their attention, time, and uploaded content.
I recommend listening to this presentation and demanding full transparency of the rules of social networking sites as they relate to ownership, privacy, and the relationship between cost and profit
Juan José Díaz Infante at the Mojave launch site, photo courtesy Nicola Triscott
I spent the day with Juan José Díaz Infante, artist, curator and one of the founders of the Mexican Space Collective visiting from Mexico City in anticipation of ISEA2012. Juan and the collective are launching ULISES I, a micro-satellite that he calls a ‘space opera’. The opera will be written as an algorithm, and the satellite designed as a musical instrument to ‘play’ the opera and to interact with the composition.
Juan said the collective was inspired in part by the drug cartel crisis in Mexico. He and others thought that if it was possible to imagine of something outrageous and wonderful like launching an art satellite, and then actually do it, then anything is possible, even in a climate of fear and economic depression. The collective is comprised of 11 artists and a broad collection of scientists and engineers, and although ULISES I was conceived of as a single satellite, the project will most likely launch a ‘cluster’ of satellites, both for redundancy and networking.