Tag Archives: design

A Case Study of The Real Costs

Project Summary

The Real Costs is a Firefox web browser plug-in that inserts CO2 emissions data into airplane travel e-commerce websites such as Orbitz.com, United.com, Delta.com, and so on. Like the nutritional information labeling included on food packaging, this plug-in provides emissions information that is otherwise excluded from travel websites.

Artist Background

The Real Costs builds on many of my prior investigations into intersections between conceptualism, Internet art, and activism. I make art that explores the way the Internet shapes subjectivity and consumerism. As an artist, I find structures to shape or modify by inserting and projecting new information. Within common genres including e-commerce, blogs and opinion poll sites I create site-specific interventions in this digital vernacular to provoke a moment of contemplation for the viewer. A good example of this is the Oil Standard Firefox plug-in that converts all prices on a web page from U.S. Dollars into the equivalent value in barrels of crude oil. When a web page loads, the script seamlessly inserts converted prices into the page. As the cost of oil fluctuates on the commodities exchange, prices rise and fall in real-time causing the user to reflect on her relationship to the abstract fluctuation of the price of oil. Oil Standard synthesized my interest in hacktivism and Internet art, sustainable economics, and information design to create an art piece that opened up a dialogue about oil, economics, and the environment. It was used and discussed by eco-techies, high school classes, progressive politicians, and Internet artists. This project achieved the goal of making abstract information legible so as to create dialogue about the important issues surrounding how we use earth’s natural resources.

This project intentionally sits in the liminal space between art and design, hacktivism and software development, and situationist intervention and green-tech tool making. I often situate my work in this position at the edge of art because it allows me to present unexpected content in familiar forms. The goal is to seduce the viewer through what appears to be a comfortable and usual situation and to create an experience of surprise and wonder. I have done this before, in Shop Mandiberg, where in the fall of 2000 I built an e-commerce site as a container for self-portraiture. I made this project just as the dot.com bubble was bursting. I used the e-commerce genre as a location to critique the consumerization of the Internet, assuage my own anxieties about “selling out,” and compose a poetic dirge to the dot.com crash that was going on around me. By making art appear in everyday contexts the capacity for art to instigate change is integrated into daily life.

Introduction to The Real Costs

The objective of The Real Costs is to increase awareness of the environmental impact of certain day-to-day choices in the life of an Internet user. By presenting this environmental impact information in the place where decisions are being made, I hope to impact the viewer, encourage a sense of individual agency, start ongoing discussions, and provide a set of alternatives and immediate actions. In the process, the user/viewer might even consider a personal transformation from passive consumer to engaged citizen.

You can experience the project by installing the The Real Costs plug-in into the Firefox web browser. Currently, this plug-in uses the arrival and departure information for each flight on the page to calculate and reinsert the CO2 that would be produced. It compares the CO2 produced for that flight to the CO2 for making the same trip by bus or train, and to the average CO2 produced per capita for the average US and world citizen. It is configured to work on the websites of the largest global air carriers. A list of these carriers and documentation of all scientific calculations is available on the project Wiki. Anecdotal accounts suggest that most people install the plug-in, test it out on several travel sites to see that it really works, and then promptly forget about it until they book their next flight when the plug-in appears unexpectedly. This moment of surprise shocks people. It makes them see what they are doing in a new light; they understand their own complicit causal relationship to the world, and the pressures that prevent them from breaking this relationship.

Technical Description of a Creative Process

The Real Costs is a Firefox web broswer plug-in, built with the Greasemonkey userscript platform. When you load a page in your web browser, you are loading an HTML document. That HTML document likely includes images, CSS style sheets, javascript, embedded videos, and other components that are fixed in place before you download the page. A userscript is a script that loads after the page has loaded on your computer, and modifies your downloaded version of the HTML document.

Many of these userscripts have been written as plug-ins for the Firefox web browser. Greasemonkey is a plug-in that creates a platform to write userscripts in Javascript, bypassing the more complicated Firefox specific extension programming language. The Greasemonkey platform has lead to an explosion in scripts on repositories such as userscripts.org, which holds over 80,000 Greasemonkey scripts.

When you load a page with The Real Costs installed, the script goes through the following procedures: First it checks whether the domain is an airplane travel website. If it is an airplane travel website the script will parse the page from top to bottom looking for pairs of three letter airport codes, like JFK, CDG, and NRT. Each airline website uses a different set of patterns, so the script associates the right two codes with each other to properly handle connecting flights. It then converts the set of airport codes into latitude and longitude coordinates, calculates the distance between them, adds the total distance travelled and multiplies this by a constant value for the average CO2 per passenger per mile to find the carbon footprint for this trip. This number is inserted back into the page next to each flight option. Based on this final number, the script inserts an informational graphic above the list of flight options which shows the carbon footprint, as well as information that put this number into context.

Each artist has his or her own creative process. I like to work within pre-existing structures. I have an informal collection of ideas and a mental list of sites of exploration, and try to find the right match between the idea I want to explore or express and the sites I think are suitable for the kind of site-specific interventions I tend to make. Sometimes I sit down, write out these lists, and actively explore potential matches, but most of the time I do this brainwork while reading the news, day dreaming in the subway, or while trying to fall asleep. I like to find and reuse new tools for a purpose other than what they were initially intended to do. I usually match an idea to a structure; the structure is the site of curiosity, and I anchor the ideas to that location.

In order to find a close match between ideas and tools, I do a lot of research. To an onlooker, my research activities may not seem like “research,” as it does not abide any disciplinary traditions. I read the news, watch videos, and spend a lot of time looking at art and design online and in the physical world. Concurrently, I am actively considering the platforms and tools that are being used in online communities. While using a new type of web tool, or language, I am thinking about how the tool fits into my art-making process. For instance, I found so many discarded books anonymously given away on stoops in New York City that I could not help but think about what I could do with them; it was this exploration that led to a series of laser cut books and paper works. Most of this labor will have no direct impact on a specific work, but all of it is part of my creative process.

I will often research a technical subject with intensity if I am exploring how I could make something with it; I want to know what the subject can do, but not how it does it. I will take a rough look at many different platforms and languages; most of these I will never use for a project. I regularly learn new tools and languages for projects, but I learn them after I figure out what I want to do. This was not true when I was first learning the tools, but at this point I rarely learn new a language or technique solely to explore it in order to learn what I want to make.

I may develop these ideas far enough to answer some basic technical questions: Is the language/platform flexible enough to do what I am interested in doing? Is the scope of the project something that I can complete? Do I have the skill, or can I collaborate with someone who has the skill to successfully make the project? If all of this is true and I think my idea is rooted in a strong concept, I will move forward. Often this is the point at which I will write up a grant or research proposal; in this case it helps that I have done all this research, as it will form a large portion of the proposal.

Historical Perspectives

1. Activist Art and Hacktivism

I made this work informed by a continuum of activist art work. Activist work aims to use art to change the viewer’s beliefs. This spirit is felt in moments of political protest, in paintings such as Picasso’s Guernica, or Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971. Haacke’s exposure of the real estate transactions of Guggenheim Museum trustee Harry Shapolsky was so contentious the museum’s director cancelled the show six weeks prior to the exhibition. Activist work can be strongly conceptual; it treats the idea of the intervention as the artistic gesture.

Early Internet artists morphed activist art into the technologically infused hacktivism. Although this term carries some of the same tarnish as other techno-utopian ideas from that imaginary global village, it is still useful. Some of the artists who were called, or call themselves hacktivists include RTMark/The Yes Men, The Bureau of Inverse Technology, the Institute for Applied Autonomy, and Critical Art Ensemble. It is notable that all of these hacktivists are art collectives, not individual artists.

2. Data Visualization & Artist Startups

Data visualization represents large sets of data in a visual form, leading to a new understanding of the information. This technique was spearheaded by financial services companies, but has been used by artists as well. Martin Wattenberg has notably pioneered both financial and creative visualizations. While most visualizations tend toward the aestheticization of information, Josh On’s They Rule uses the tools of visualization to chart the power relationships amongst board members of Fortune 500 companies. Tiffany Holmes has traced origins of what she terms “ecovisualization” from work like Hans Haacke’s Rhinewater Purification Plant of 1972; she also includes work like The Real Costs, Brooke Singer’s Superfund365.org, and Holmes’ own 7000 oaks and counting.

Another important context are the growing number of functional projects that straddle the line between a work of art and an Internet startup company. Prior to making this project, I was inspired by projects like Angie Waller’s anti-social networking site My Frienemies, Ben Engebreth’s political statement in the form of a very early energy monitoring site Personal Kyoto (no longer online, but information here), and xtine burrough’s Starbucks coffee un-finder site Delocator. One of the core motivations in these works is to make something that has a function which changes or articulates how we interact with the world.

Technical and Design Perspectives

1. Open Source

Web programming of the last decade has placed a large emphasis on modularity, the separation of content and form, and the portability of information through standardized data structures and web services. A lot of these principles often fall under the Web 2.0 brand, though many are quick to point out that this is part of a smooth transition: this supposed “upgrade” is largely marketing. A tool like the Greasemonkey userscript platform is part of this shift to customization and modularity.

The ability to make a project like The Real Costs is also a result of the Firefox web browser’s prioritization of plug-ins and other forms of collaborative peripheral development. This focus on openness and collaboration stems from the means of production itself: Firefox is collectively written through input and contributions from a community of Open Source developers. No company owns the code, and anyone is free to use it as long as they continue to share the code.

“Open Source” is a term used to refer to computer software where the source code can be viewed, modified, and used by anyone. The source code contains the modifiable, human readable instructions that are compiled into an un-modifiable computer readable binary code. As the story goes, once upon a time all software was open source. In 1980 MIT researcher Richard Stallman was using one of the first laser printers. Printing took so long that he decided he would modify the printer driver so that it sent a notice to the user when her print job was finished. Unlike previous printer drivers, this software only came in its compiled version. Stallman asked Xerox for the source code. Xerox would not let him have the source code. Stallman became upset and wrote the manifesto that lead to the statement that Free Software was “Free as in speech, not free as in beer,” and the Free Software movement began. Stallman’s great contribution to this movement was the GNU Public License or GPL. Software licensed with the GPL is required to maintain that license in all future incarnations; this means that code that starts out open has to stay open. You cannot close the source code. This is known as a Copyleft license. Later, Eric Raymond published The Cathedral and the Bazaar which popularized the term “open source,” a business-friendly term which would spark much debate. The term is frequently referred to by the acronym FLOSS, which stands for Free/Libre/Open Source Software.

The Real Costs is an open source project. You can view the source code at https://github.com/mandiberg/The-Real-Costs. By working within an open source model, I signal my desire to share my work, and accept contributions from others. Others have joined my project by submitting “patches” which are rewrites of sections of code that fix bugs or add features. Open work results in more frequent code updates, which in turn produces fewer errors during the user experience.

Making artwork in a model used for software development highlights some of the major differences in the goals of these two paradigms, even when they share the same tools. Traditional arguments for open source development stem from a purely materialist angle: you can write better code in larger quantities through collaboration, and you retain freedom to use the code in a way that most proprietary ventures forbid. One of the traditional guidelines for evaluating the success of an open source project is the so-called “bus factor:” if the lead developer for the project was hit by a bus, would the project stay alive? It is a brutal mental experiment, but it forces the evaluatation of the survival of long term projects like Linux, WordPress, or Wikipedia. I would argue that it is not the most useful tool for evaluating art that also happens to be open source. For an open source software project, a lack of upgrades and updates is the mark of a “dead” project. Conversely, in the tradition of making art, completion usually marks the end of all revisions. Historically, works of software art have been updated for a period of time before the main creator(s) moved on to a new project. From time to time the artists may work out the major bugs and broken features, though this is not an upgrade or update, but rather maintenance required to keep a project working.

The difficulty of keeping things running is an important consideration. At the time of this writing, I am making a round of maintenance to IN Network, Oil Standard, The Real Costs, and HowMuchItCosts.us; all of these are currently broken in one way or another. Maintenance is one of the inherent problems in working with software and Internet art, and something that has vexed curators and museums. How do you display art that was created for technological platforms that are themselves museum pieces, such as vintage 1970s mainframes, punch card readers, or scripting languages for early web browsers? While curator at the Guggenheim, Jon Ippolito spearheaded the Variable Media initiative, which explored these questions and formulated a set of guidelines for preserving experimental media art, and a method for artists to designate how their works should be preserved if the original equipment is no longer available.

The Real Costs has encountered archival problems quicker than most technology projects, as it is dependent on the airplane websites it runs on, over which I have no control. These sites will inevitably change their HTML/CSS so that the plug-in can no longer decipher which site it is running on and how to calculate the distances and thus the carbon footprint. Or worse, these sites will cease to exist as companies absorb each other: Northwest Airlines and several others have already ceased to exists as companies. In response to this inevitability, I have started making screencasts of all of my projects. These screencasts document the work through video taken from the computer interface, and show the experience of the piece. These will eventually replace the working online versions, as I cannot “preserve” the airline websites themselves.

2. Collaboration

Despite the arts and humanities’ heavy emphasis on the individual creator there are a number of reasons to collaborate. I often collaborate because the work that comes out of a collaboration is better for having multiple eyes and brains working on it, the project is too big for one person to undertake, and the project requires skills or knowledge that I don not have and/or can not learn within time constraints. It is worth noting that these are some of the same arguments given for open source software development.

My primary concerns for The Real Costs were the ambitious scope of the project, and the scientific focus. I turned to former students Carlo Montagnino and Evan Moran for help with coding and design; Carlo, in turn, organized a group of my students who helped with some manual data wrangling. For the science, I turned to the guidance of ecologist Dr. P. Timon McPhearson, who advised me in my research, and was able to consult his own colleagues for the more obscure questions that arose.

Dr. McPhearson helped me negotiate the industry of carbon offsets that was taking off right as I was launching the project. In a carbon offset scheme, a businesses plants the equivalent number of trees that it would take to convert the CO2 produced in a year by the purchaser. Theoretically, it sounds like it could be productive in the short term, but science indicates otherwise. All of the companies use annual per capita carbon footprints that were four to eight times less than the numbers accepted by scientists. Reports on these tree plantations indicated that they were often planted with trees that would never grow in that location, or poorly tended to, leading to the death of the trees. Most importantly, these carbon offsets were modern day “indulgences,” alleviating consumers of their guilt from their carbon sins, without changing any of their behaviors. We did not add offsets to the plug-in.

3. Design

Artists make works for an imaginary “viewer” who experiences the work in a white cube. The viewer walks around the work, maybe scratches their chin and nods, but the viewer does not touch the work. Designers create works for a “user” who experiences the work in every way except for the metaphorical (or literal), pristine white cube. Hopefully the user immediately grasps the meaning of the designer’s interface or object, does not end up scratching their chin, and touches the work in all the correct places. A media artist has to balance these two creative roles and audience positions.

Design is a tool that can be used to instruct your viewer while she uses your work. I used a number of design tools to help convey complex ideas on The Real Costs website, like annual carbon footprints and comparisons between the CO2 produced from multiple transportation methods. I used design to put these massive abstract numbers into a context that made them understandable for the user. I inserted an infographic that used color and graphics above the trip selection interface. I also created a unit of measurement, the “tree-year,” which represented the number of years it took to convert the CO2 created by the travel back into oxygen. Pounds or Kilograms of CO2 are abstract and meaningless to most people, but a year of a tree’s life is something our imaginations can easily grasp. These design elements helped convey the meaning and intentions of the website.

I got carried away while designing. One of the best pieces of feedback came from someone whose job requires her to travel extensively. She wrote to say that while she would love to use the plug-in, she had to de-install it because the banner took up too much real estate in her browser, making it impossible to actually use the air travel site she was browsing. In response, I redesigned the interface to have a much smaller impact. In hindsight, it could probably be cut in half again. While viewers are silent, users talk back.

Conclusions and Outcomes

Looking back on this work two months into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, from the perspective of the work I am making now, I see the sadness in The Real Costs. At the time I had hoped that this would somehow change things. I dressed that hope up in bright colors and nice design, but now I see how much this work was leading to the next body of work I made that was unabashedly a memorial for a loss.

The other outcome of this work was HowMuchItCost.us, a car direction website that took much of the research and data sources from The Real Costs and applied them to a non-plug-in based website. HowMuchItCost.us is built with Google Maps in a way that the platform intended it to be used, unlike the way I used the airplane travel websites. Using Google Maps in this way meant that it the project continues to be more stable than The Real Costs in the long term. Additionally, one criticism of the plug-in was that it cut down on the potential audience for the project because it had too many specific requirements for use; a website that integrated the same functionality avoided these requirements and expanded the potential audience. By moving from a plug-in to a website I lost some of the element of surprise of using the plug-in, but I gained stability, and I expand the range of viewers who were able to access the project.

______________

Bibliography

Holmes, Tiffany. “Searching for Stories in the Sea of Data: Promoting Environmental Stewardship Through Ecovisualization.” Journal of Museum Education. Summer 2007.

——. “Eco-visualization: Combining Art and Technology to Reduce Energy Consumption.” Reconstruction 6.3: Studies in Contemporary Culture, Summer 2006.

Hyde, Linksvayer, Mandiberg, Peirano, Toner, Zer-Aviv, et al. Collaborative Futures. FLOSS Manuals, last accessed June 25, 2010, http://www.booki.cc/collaborativefutures/a-very-short-history-of-collaborati

O’Reilly, Tim. “What is Web 2.0.” O’Reilly Radar, last modified September 25, 2010. http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.htm

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Bright Bike on Kickstarter

Bright Bike on Kickstarter

I am running a Kickstarter Campaign for the Bright Bike DIY Kits. Even though all the promotion I have done is email this list a little over two months ago, response to the Bright Bike DIY Kits has been larger than anticipated. So much larger than anticipated that I cannot keep up with demand: my assistants and I are making these things by hand. I am actually worried that a big blog might pick it up, as I will not be able to handle the flood. I have to scale the project up, or it is going to eat up all my time (or die.) I am running a Kickstareter.com campaign to raise $2000 to fabricate a jig to cut the kits, buy a whole bunch of vinyl in bulk, and hire an assistant to fabricate the kits.

Please contribute to the campaign to make the Bright Bike kits a stable project. You will get cool stuff in return — Kits! And other special things.

bright bike packaging

Bright Bike color chart

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Design Educator – My New Favorite Blog

picture-18

My new favorite blog, from my long time favorite education collaborator. At Design Educator xtine burrough takes on design and education, with a focus on the role of art in design education, and vice versa. written by an artist teaching design. Full of great things to think about as an artist teaching design, and as a student learning design or art or art & design.

I asked xtine to write a post about bad email addresses. These are only slightly modified versions of some of my students current email addresses. I have modified them enough to preserve their anonymity, but preserve their character:

xxxrlf2k1xxx@aol.com

bellabambola967@aol.com

catseyez1984@aol.com

not coincidentally, the best ones are all aol.com accounts…

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New Amsterdam Bike Slam in the New York Times

FDR Bikeway

The New York Times covers the New Amsterdam Bike Slam. We won hardcore. We proposed angle in parking, charging for street parking (!), bike ferries, multimodal transport, passive visibility through retroreflective coatings, secure centralized bike storage, a bike school bus (where a leader comes by and picks up all the kids on bikes and bikes to school in a posse), but best of all, we proposed a bike freeway:

But Team Amsterdam had more tricks up its sleeves. How about bicycle freeways? asked Carmen Trudell, a New York architect and City University professor. Imagine a bicycle speedway running under the shadow of Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, a rain-free place for athletic cyclists out on training rides or those who just are not going to go at a “Dutch pace.”

Our presentation was awesome, and we are going to work on turning it into a paper or video in the next month or so. Too many good ideas. Too many good collaborators. Shout outs to great collaborators Claire Weisz, Carmen Trudell, Shachi Pandey, Wendy Schipper, and Stefan Verduin.

I can’t wait for my dutch bike!

More from our presentation:

Manhattan bridge to FDR Bikeway

Direct access to the FDR Bikeway from the Manhattan Bridge

Angle In parking and Bike Lane

New York City has the most expensive parking lot parking, and the cheapest street parking: free!

Think about those 150 sq feet of pavement transported to underneath an appartment building. If the building is four stories high:that is two studio apartments we’re talking about. That’s $3000-$5000 per month! And the city gives it away for free.

We need to take it back for the 99% of city dwellers who don’t park a car on city streets, with angle in parking, a bike lane on every street far away from doors (my assistant was doored today even!), a special spot for short truck deliveries, and a spot at the end of each block for 10 minute parking so people don’t just leave their cars in the middle of the street to pick up take out or dry cleaning.

And of course, bike parking at the end of each block

—-
Concept by BrightNYC team from the New Amsterdam Bike Slam (Michael Mandiberg, Shachi Pandey, Wendy Schipper, Carmen Trudell, Stefan Verduin, and Claire Weisz). All renderings by Carmen Trudell.

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Dorkbot PDX talk: FAIL, WIN!, FTW?

I gave a lecture on August 8th at Dorkbot PDX entitled FAIL, WIN!, FTW?. It is a summary of my recent work experimenting with open licensing on physical objects. I explore what has worked, and what hasn’t, and some of the lessons I have learned.

Marisa Olson also spoke; her lecture is here

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Ulrich Franzen’s Street: Radical Urban Planning from 1969

Watch the whole thing. Or at least the first 12 minutes. Its worth it. Fascinating. It is so familiar that I feel like I was shown this in grade school… alongside Powers of Ten.

Some things have changed since Ulrich Franzen made it: waterfronts are now viewed as more precious potential parks than he views the street. Putting a two mile long building on any waterfront would not work these days. Also, his vision of shared cars is starting to come true, with shared rentable cars now available in most cities, and bicycle share programs across Europe and heading stateside. I wondered if today’s political and economic culture could handle he importance and respond to the difficulty of such massive change; a review of Boston’s tragically executed and financially draining Big Dig would be a good case study in what can go wrong. All that said, I felt there were two things missing: Subways and Bicycles.

He never addresses subways: do we keep them, do we make more, are they better or worse than busses (electric or otherwise)? Which really is a question of fixed route transportation: you can put a bus in anywhere you want when you need it, but you can’t just add or take away a subway. There are vast swaths of Brooklyn and Queens that are underserved by Subways because in the first half of the 20th Century, either no one lived there because they were factories and are now living lofts, or (I would guess) the people that lived their lacked the political or economic power to bring the subway closer to them.

The other absence is any discussion of the bicycle. And while the bicycle is not the cure-all, for every transportation woe, having spent time in cities like Amsterdam, Portland, and even Shanghai & Beijing, it is clearly a hugely important part of removing strain on existing private and public infrastructure.

Just for comparison look at Shenzhen. Located just north of China’s border with Hong Kong, Shenzhen was designated China’s first Special Economic Zone roughly 30 years ago. At the time, it was rice patties. Now it is a city with the same population as New York City. It is the location one of the countries two stock exchanges, has remarkable skyscrapers, but has almost no urban planning to speak of. Much of the development has been dictated by the swaths of land set aside for corporate factories made possible by huge foreign investment. A subway was opened sometime in the last ten years, and it is in the process of being expanded. But it is one line. Running east to west. And only covers a small percentage of the width of the city. Running above this subway from the water to the city center is the main thoroughfare. When I visited we drove in my host’s car through this mostly-stoplight-free congested two lane road at a mere 25 MPH; all because of congestion, a disproportionate number of accidents by new drivers, and a lack of any other east west transportation mode. In Shenzhen new wealth lead to massive purchase of cars by first time drivers as a proud sign of their rise into economic power. At the time I was there, Shenzheners were purchasing 200,000 new cars per year. All this in a city of roughly 10 million. It corresponds with a Los Angeles like breakdown of the transportation system.

Inversely, the much much older Shanghai and Beijing have established subway systems, and a long standing bicycle culture. Despite being much larger cities traffic moves much faster, even though more people moving from one place to another. The citizens of Shenzhen do not commute far, as much of Shenzhen is made up of large and small factories that usually contain their own workers housing, which ranges from formal dormitory style high rises, to informal ramshackle wooden bunk beds in unlit rooms divided by curtains.

All this always interests me, but I am especially interested in these questions right now, as I am about to participate in the New Amsterdam Bike Slam a Transportation Alternatives co-sponsored bike related three think-tank as poetry-slam. I’ll be on one team, and some of the participants are listed here.

And while the focus of this session is on bikes in the harbor area (something dear to my heart as I commute to teach at the College of Staten Island/CUNY by bike and ferry), seeing (or maybe re-seeing) Franzen’s film has spurred my thinking in a different direction.

(via Urban Omnibus)

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New Amsterdam Bike Slam

In early September I will be participating in New Amsterdam Bike Slam, Transportation Alternative’s co-sponsored bike think-tank as poetry-slam. As the description says:

Over three challenging rounds, each team will defend its proposals in front of a panel of expert judges and a live audience. At the end of the evening, the judges will declare a winner, with the most innovative and practical plan for making New York, and New Yorkers, more bicycle-friendly.

I’m brainstorming already, and I welcome suggestions about how to improve biking in downtown and the NY Harbor area. This is, of course, something near and dear to my heart as I commute by bike to CSI via the SI Ferry.

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Laptop Stand – first attempt

Laptop Stand, Experiment 1

Laptop Stand, Experiment 1

Laptop Stand, Experiment 1

This is the first experiment with making a laptop stand.  Cardboard mockups, Foamcore  refined design, then final one cut out of wood (bubinga).  It was really interesting to see how much my sense of process had changed since using the laser cutter.  I wanted to just draw out the shape, and let the laser cut it all, but of course we (my dad and i – he did most of the cutting work on this one) had to work step by step angle by angle, cut by cut. I forgot how to work that way, but over the last few weeks, i’ve remembered it.

I really wanted to make a round one with steam bent wood, but we never got around to it.

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Advice for Artists and Designers

Liz Danzico (of Bobulate and SVA) asked me to finish this sentence in front of a camera: “So you’re thinking about becoming a designer? If I could tell you only *one thing* about going into the field, my advice would be ___________ ”

I think the most important piece of advice is to bring your camera everywhere you go. If you think your camera is too big, get a smaller one. I have a big DSLR that almost never gets used for anything other than documentation, but I always have my little point and shoot with me.

Just this weekend I was at a wedding. I didn’t bring the camera because… well, I’ve shot my fair share of weddings. But I cursed myself for not bringing it, not because I wanted to photograph the proceedings, but because there were some remarkable architectural details in the …mansion… that it was held in. The floors were all end grain pine. End grain is very hard, and if you cut and lay out pieces like a loaf of bread, you get beautiful patterns as the little bits of sapwood form quilt-like repeated triangles that wax and wane with the portion of the sapwood in the original board.

Sounds beautiful, right? Too bad I didn’t take a picture, and instead have to describe it imperfectly.

I think this advice holds true for any visual maker, artist, designer, architect, gardener.

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Richard L. Nelson Gallery: Black Market Type and Print Shop

Black Market Type and Print Shop


July 9 – August 14, 2009
Opening July 9, 6-8pm

This installation is guest curated by Joseph del Pesco. He has created font alphabets based on the handwriting of famous contemporary artists, which are available for use by visitors.

Image is from Black Market Type and Print Shop Installation

The Black Market Type & Print Shop starts with a collection of 30+ type-fonts extracted from the artwork of an international array of artists. Scanned and converted into working computer fonts, these letterforms are available for use by visitors to the exhibition via a free print shop.To take advantage of the free printing services visitors are obliged to use the types in at least part of their design. Through this process the visual language of contemporary art is subtly distributed beyond the gallery through street-level ephemera such as rock-show flyers and for-sale notices. Other material produced in previous iterations of the exhibition include personal letters, out-of-order signs, and ‘free kittens to a good home’ posters.

Utilizing the Black Market Type, a group of 15 artists have been invited to make a text-only poster, to be posted in the public area surrounding the gallery. These include a small line of text at the bottom that quietly points back to the gallery. In the gallery these posters serve to incite the imagination of the visitor, offering possible formats and outcomes for their own ideas to take shape in the print shop.

Artist types included in the project: John Baldessari, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mel Bochner, R. Crumb, John Cage, Henry Darger, Julie Doucet, Jimmie Durham, Marcel Dzama, Tracey Emin, Howard Finster, General Idea, Thomas Hirschhorn, Chris Johanson, Jasper Johns, Ray Johnson, Mike Kelley, Margaret Kilgallen, Duane Michals, Chris Ofili, Laura Owens, Gary Panter, Raymond Pettibon, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Richard Prince, Ad Reinhardt, Dieter Roth, David Shrigley

And the artists making posters using the type:

Mike Arcega – SF
Anne Walsh – Berkeley
Gareth Spor – SF
Aurelien Froment – Paris/Dublin
Stanislao Di Giugno – Rome
Chris Sollars – SF
Dan Seiple – Berlin
Germaine Koh – Vancouver
Arnold Kemp – NY/SF
Jan Estep – Minneapolis
Marisa Olson – NY
Michael Mandiberg – NY
Amanda Ross Ho – LA
Matt Keegan – NY/SF
Lee Walton – North Carolina

Richard L. Nelson Gallery: Black Market Type and Print Shop.

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