Archive for the ‘Ashley’ Category

Gattaca – extra response

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Gattaca, directed by Andrew Niccol, follows the dream of “God child” Vincent Freeman as he tries to live a meaningful life in a world where genes determine one’s class. The storyline is set in the “not so distant future,” but does not appear to occur in as futuristic a setting as one might think. As I watched this movie, I saw shadows of the conversations we have had in class; and I was able to notice the unique, intertwining conversation of nature, art, and technology within the narrative.

At his birth, the parents of Vincent Freeman are speedily informed of his likelihood of depression, heart condition, and age of death. The technology available in their world has left them no doubt as to what each individual’s cababilities are. The narrative voice of Freeman introduces his own conception as being done “the old fashioned way,” aka: taking a random chance at the outlook of gene selection in a baby. For you see, most of the babies in Vincent’s world had begun to be created artificially. That is, a scientist/doctor creates a fetus from mother/father supplies and preselects for all the “right” genes – in addition to any requested ones from the parents. By the time Vincent’s parents have a second child, they choose this latter route; and although they are extremely hesitant to allow for more genetic preselection than disease prevention, their doctor convinces them to allow their new child to represent nothing but the “best” of their genes.

The story then evolves with the Vincent’s childhood alongside “little” brother Anton, being older but always second best. His narrative enters into a discussion of the discrimination that has been perfected down to science due to the inherent superiority of those born via the genetic pre-selection method. I found it interesting that the Freemans’ doctor, when selecting genes for Anton, who is African American, takes notice of the request for Anton to be “fair skinned.” I just found this slightly ironic because this scene seems to exist as a commentary on “old age” vs. “new age” discrimination. Ability and place in society had now been determined by the chance of success, otherwise known as genetic predisposition. And instead of trying to create a tangent into civil rights issues, I argue that discrimination has everything to do with art and nature and technology.  The human obsession with perfection places demands on every other piece of this society: further technology needing to be developed to continue perfection, “natural” coming to mean disease-free and disability-free. Why would an insurance plan cover someone if they knew there was a far greater chance of that person getting ill or developing a genetic disease? These questions have everything to do with humankind’s relation to creations of their “naturally” technological world. These questions drive societal motivation under the auspices of innocence. Vincent’s world seem to have everything figured out.

However, Vincent proves his entire society wrong in his impersonation of Jerome Eugene Morrow. Jerome, a former (predisposed) athlete turned paraplegic, allows Vincent to be morphed into his identity in order to fit into the “normal” part of society. After being taught how to fake the necessary urine and blood tests necessary to prove one’s right to existence in the upper echelons of society, not to mention a total alteration of his “God-given” body, Vincent assumes the role of Jerome as an employee of Gattaca, a aerospace corporation and works toward his lifelong goal of traveling into space. Along the way, he meets a police investigation, which almost succeeds in making his “invalid” identity known to the entire company of Gattaca. Vincent falls in love with another woman in his company and must continually destroy all evidence of Vincent “sheddings”/DNA/loose skin and hair in his attempt to be Jerome: the man with the “right” genes – the man whose identity will get him into space.

Concerning art, this film successfully displays the attempt at “perfecting” humankind. In a way, we could call this art. The background subject of Gattica – genetics – actually make me think of Mitch’s presentation today: the discussion of the Japanese wanting to perfect nature because humans see it to be their role in nature to create “art” from it – to make nature beautiful. Well, in Gattaca, human babies are created with the greatest likelihood for perfection – the greatest likelihood for aesthetic pleasantness and physical performance. At the same time, this unique art would not be possible were it not for the power of technology. The doctors and geneticists in the movie are definitely “creators” in the same sense an artist can be deemed one, and they work with technology in order to form their natural perception of the world. In the first sense, they manipulate genes in order to serve society’s (and their clients’) wishes on the type of baby wished to be created. Secondly, they create the basis for acceptance of the “correct” human identity by making genetic predisposition so widespread that the humans who were not created in this way – “God children” – are significantly disadvantaged to their more intelligent, healthy, successful, “perfect” peers. And finally, they shape a discourse by which a society relates to the world : a society based on DNA testing at every entrance to a building/room (at least in Gattaca), and a perfected way of doing things that frowns upon abnormalities and uniqueness that are aberrant to the accepted form of perfection.

Furthermore, those humans not created the “right” way (in the lab) are considered “invalid,” and those created correctly (or in the accepted form) are “valid.” This definitional divide demonstrates the discrepancy that exists in the understanding of what is “natural.” Based on the way the terms are used in the movie, it seems that the invalids are definitely weeded out of every position or social role considered prestigious or successful, suggesting that only the “valids” are the “natural” members of humankind. However, today we would most likely consider “natural” humans to be more along the lines of the “God children,” as invalids are described in the storyline. With the advancement of technology and the media’s suggestions of genetic predisposition in animals and human babies, this movie is a hot-topic for debate and political commentary.

The movie has an extremely foreboding tone to it when everything is said and done – similar to the message from Frankenstein in Jessica’s presentation.  Hubris is a dangerous thing when it is created at the intersection of humankind and technology. Interestingly, the dangers of technology never seem to exist absent the allure of artistic “perfection” or artistic appeal, and a more “healthy” version of what should be considered “natural.”

Questions for consideration:

1. Many of the words I used in this commentary are italicized…what significance exists in the double meaning of words like “natural” and “right” and “perfection” within the storyline of Gattaca?

2. Why is it so hard for Vincent’s brother Anton to believe that Vincent is able to accomplish his dream of traveling to space – despite his “condition”?

3. In what ways can “invalids” be said to be humankind’s tie to the “natural” world?

Georges Teyssot response

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

In The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life, Georges Teyssot delineates the evolution of sociology surrounding the concept of “lawnspace.”  At first, I struggled through the chapter and its history of lawn care and social perception, but the deeper into Teyssot’s work I read, I realized how relevant the discussion of lawn was to the ideology of suburbia – in general, to American culture itself.  The chapter works in a convoluted chronology: it begins with discussing a [1970s] proposal of “envirionmental harmony,” which would involve eliminating the “industrial lawns” of manicured perfection, and installing “freedom lawns” of wild, unmowed spaces.  Teyssot then highlights the response to this “new ecology” with the backlash of mowers who cherish the connotations of a well-cared for lawn space.  When Teyssot quotes a political commentator as saying, “In an era where almost everything is beyond our control, our lawns are not,” he highlights perhaps the largest underlying principle of the chapter.  Americans like their lawns – need their lawns – because it provides them with a sense of control over their immediate environments – and conceptually, their world.

Teyssot does not seem to leave out any piece of analysis about the American lawnscape.  He bounces between the 19th and 20th centuries as he describes the observational, pleasant qualitites of lawn care.  From the consideration of lawns as animals, to the American tendency to apply Victorian decorative themes to their lawns (circa 1850), to the terminology of velvet as a a descriptive quality of what a quality lawn should look like.  The flatness of a lawn, Teyssot emphasizes, is generally presented as a positive attribute.

The ability to manipulate one’s lawn to perfection signals status as well – the status of the middle class.  Lawnspace becomes an extension of the home’s interior carpet, with the potential to be tranformed and “embroidered” to display elemental beauty.  In 1964, Fletcher Steele is cited as commenting on the refinement and cleanliness of a mowed lawnspace and how it is comparable to a cleanly shaven face.  Furthermore, Steele’s example adds to Teyssot’s discussion of cleanliness: how we derive pleasure from making shapes in the grass, watching the patterns being cut away – and how the examination of a “perfection of cleanliness” has evolved into a measurement of social standing.  Toward the beginning of the chapter, Teyssot mentions Micheal Pollan’s 1989 article in the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Why Mow?”  Pollan uses the story of his father’s refusal to mow his lawn more than once a month as a commentation on society.  He says that a notion has evolved in suburbia along the lines of: “mow your lawn or get out.”

The cookie cutter version of perfection available in the front lawns of every middle-class American carries the dual identification of “green desert” for Teyssot.  The point where I really got into this work was where Lewis Mumford discussed society’s lawn obsession as the tendency to conform “in every way outward and inward in respect to a common mold.”  Teyssot added to this by saying that the lawn acts as a law; it orders control over how one must live in suburbia.  There are standards of upkeep.  Most relevant to this idea of the social standards of lawn care is the British idea of the “borrowed view” mentioned by Teyssot.  The openness of the suburb life (due to the absence/disapproval of fences) encourages neighbors to “watch each other” to a degree that they would not be capable of attaining in cityspaces.

There is a certain “democracy” about an open, inviting lawn that American society has sought to preserve – perhaps for our national consciousness.  But there is a sense that one’s lawn is public space: I know my neighbors use my backyard at home to play football all the time.  My dad complains when one of our neighbors does not mow his lawn, and many times caves in to performing the task himself.  I think the obsession of our open spaces of lawn and the social pressure to maintain the cleanliness of suburban property has a lot to do with the point of control by which I began this response.  Although Teyssot provides ample room in his chapter for the opinion that suburban landscape is “fatally monotonous” with monochromatic schemes and an invasion of private spaces, it represents the “American Dream.”  There is almost an uncanny notion of “everyone being the same” – everyone being able to watch over one another due to the openness provided by the lawn space.  Everyone serves their duty to society by preserving the small piece of “nature” in front of his/her homespace.  Perhaps this contributes to the tragedy of the commons when we consider preserving nature spaces outside the vicinity of our home?  Perhaps.  I am a little creeped out, however, by how accurate Teyssot’s observations are of the American attitude toward lawnspaces.

Questions for Discussion:

1. To what extent does the care for one’s lawn become an art?  To what extent do people avoid living in the suburbs because they do not want a lawn to care for? (social pressure etc.)

2. Do you think caring for one’s lawnspace creates a sense of apathy when it comes to trying to preserve nature outside the vicinity of the home?

3. Artists like Walt Whitman and his poem “Leaves of Grass” have elaborated more so on Teyssot’s idea of grass as “democratic” space.  Do you agree with this idea? Why/Why not?

Man, Nature, Henson, and Kolbert

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

My perception of climate change has experienced a tremendous evolution this semester – both from the multifaceted social issues I learn about in my environmental public policy class, and from the unique perspective of nature I have been gathering through this class.

I really liked the Henson piece because it was so informative, and it filled in a lot of the holes of knowledge I still had about the topic of climate change. Henson begins with a discussion on the development of public thought toward climate change in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A culmination seemingly occurs in 1985 and 1988 with the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole and occurrence of a massive drought in Middle America respectively. As in many major events in human history, the world needed a wake-up call (or two) to get the ball rolling in its acknowledgment of a global warming predicament (as opposed to a global freezing problem). Because the metaphorical fire alarm can’t drone on forever, however, the problem of global warming has receded and surfaced and ebbed again within the consciousness of human society. We make a big deal out of “finding solutions to the crisis at hand,” but most modern lifestyles are dependent on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for energy! Henson mentions this dilemma when he discusses the “shallow” support for climate-change action, and reluctancy to forgo the luxury provided by carbon-based products for energy efficiency.

Henson also spends a significant amount of time considering the viewpoint of global warming skeptics – a position with which I have a difficult time sympathizing. After reading his discussion, however, I thought the addition of counter-views of global warming made Henson’s argument stronger. What was most shocking to me, however, was the extent to which some people will go to deny even the possibility that we are endangering the earth with greenhouse gas emissions. After the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Henson explains how the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) created TV ads with the running tagline: “Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life.” Additionally, he presents the general arguments of skeptics as mainly prioritizing the economy ahead of the environment. And the diversity of skeptics’ arguments is really interesting as well: from economic benefits of non-action, to the influence of solar variation, to excess carbon dioxide “feeding” plants, to Michael Crichton.

Henson also notes the lack of creative literature devoted to “exposing” climate change. I have never even considered this seemingly massive hole in social protest, and am curious why there has not been a larger movement from poets and playwrights and novelists. On the other hand, per the topic of our course, there have been several types of art media and photography and “projects” promoting respect of the natural environment. After a succinct, yet descriptive discussion of climate change issues, Henson ends on a hopeful note. Like him, I hope that interest in the climate crisis will continue, and with the U.N. Climate Change Conference fast approaching, I hope there will be a focused, cooperative push for global solutions.

After reading Henson’s overview of sorts, I moved on the Kolbert – a very entertaining read in my opinion. The observations she makes really drew me into the visceral reality of what climate change really means to the people who literally see it every day. In the chapters we read from her book, Kolbert smoothly transitions from first-hand experiences in the Arctic to personal interviews with political figures that are directly shaping the global “fight” against global warming. What’s more, the perspectives she offers are very personalized. She demonstrates the minutiae of consequence that we will see on a much larger scale if we allow the progression of global warming to continue. Like Henson, Kolbert offers excerpts of history concerning the societal concern for the warming of the climate. In Chapters Two and Three, she mentions Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius and Keeling, who created the Keeling Curve of CO2 concentration over time. Essentially, although Keeling recognized the adverse effects of fossil fuel emission into the atmosphere, he predicted that the actual effect on our climate would negligible for quite a while – 3,000 years! BUT- at the rate we are going, Kolbert points out – we will double pre-industrial levels of CO2 by 2050 (2,850 years ahead of Arrhenius’s prediction).

During Kolbert’s experience at Swiss Camp, she follows Steffen and his studies of the ice in the Arctic. By 2003, she mentions, the average global temperature increase was so significant that 5 feet of ice were lost. Soon, her interactions with the local researchers suggest, there will be little ice left to study. She discusses the powerful metaphor (but shoddy science) evident in the movie, The Day After Tomorrow, and the interestingly delicate system of the thermo-haline circulation – of whose power over and relation to global warming I was not aware.

In Chapters Seven and Eight, Kolbert allows her readers to see more of the policy side of the climate change debate – how society is still able to run with a clean conscience despite glaciers melting in the Arctic and carbon dioxide emissions threatening an irreversible change in the average global temperature. She calls the manner by which our society functions, “Business as Usual” – the passive acceptance that “Yea, things are going to change, but I’m comfortable with my lifestyle, and I’m not willing to change that!” In a unique coincidence, my public policy professor discussed the theory of Socolow and Pacala in class the other day: the concept of “wedges” needed to mitigate the harm being done to the environment. Socolow and Pacala prescribe a strict adherence to the wedges system, or we undoubtedly pay for it later. The overriding message of Socolow, Kolbert says, is that “the longer we wait and the more infrastructure we build without regard to the emissions it will impact, the more daunting our task will be.” Our world has been working toward “decarbonization” for the past few decades, but we need to move faster.

Kolbert also discusses an interview she had with the George W. Bush Administration’s representative to the Kyoto Conference, of which the United States and Australia were the only two industrialized nations that rejected the protocol. In a year, she mentions, the average American produces the same greenhouse gases as 99 Bangledeshis – a disgusting fact. If anything, evidence like this should push the conscience of the United States closer to fighting the “war against climate change.” However, until we can maintain a political hold on the stability of our economy, I think the United States will be reluctant to accept the sacrifices that must happen in order for our country to significantly impact a decline of our carbon emissions. The problem that is beginning to emerge, however, is China: the largest (by far) emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, due to its rapid economic build-up.

In reading these two works (as you can probably tell by the length of this blog response) I experienced frustration at the “tragedy of the commons” that we experience when trying to confront global climate change and a deep concern for “where we can go from here…” I think there is great potential for artistic media to increase public awareness, and I think that there is a huge window of opportunity to begin a widespread effort of introducing alternative sources of energy. So many facets of our social reality play a role in the drama of global climate change – so many in fact, that we should be able to unite them in the fight to remedy this crisis, but the politics of our world are so divided that it will take a tremendous push for change to occur at the rate that is necessary.


1. After reading these articles, what reservations do you have toward the ability of global society to remedy global warming?

2. Why do you think people are so adamantly opposed to believing that there is a problem to begin with?

3. What can you do in your daily life to disrupt “business as usual?”

4. How do the people we have spoken with, the art we have seen, and the scientific developments we have learned about contribute to the “culture” of global climate change?

Mary Hambleton and her “Hard Rain” exhibit

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Most of Mary Hambleton’s late work at the exibit seemed to have been created through a very therapeutic process.  Although most of her “cancer-specific” work included the image of her PET scan and perhaps a dodo bird or two (or three), Mary also used the ambiguity of color and shape and natural inspirations that continued the themes of her earlier work while battling cancer.

Her colorful - and in my opinion more abstract – works were almost oozing with emotion and careful thought.  The ways Mary scraped away parts of her paint, added shapes on top of each other, and adhered 3-D objects around the wood block or canvas impressed upon me that art served the same effect for Mary as does journaling for others.  Tiffany Bell mentions that Mary took time to create her works and had begun crafting Quech (my favorite) and Query long before she confronted cancer.  Although she began these works before her relationship with cancer began, Mary finished and titled them between 2002-2004, and so they have been included as part of this exhibit.  I liked how the curator included these works because it represents a link between Mary’s past and present life in the context of her cancer timeline.  The pattern of her work demonstrated that color and natural shapes were very important to her, and her abstract style held great potential for serving as an outlet for human thought – both her own and her viewers.

On the other hand, the PET scan-esque pieces that were contained within game boards of extinct animals (over and over again), or by themselves were not my favorite.  Of course, I realize that she must have been very contemplative about her life and the possibility of death — which no doubt led her to consider her own demise against the demise of other species.  There was something very uncanny about seeing an x-ray-type image of a human, which serves the specific purpose of clarifying the agent of death: cancer.  I can only imagine that Mary was mystified by the deep symbolism her scan represented and saw it as the potential to remind her viewers of the reality of death as part of the circle of life.  At the same time, caner did not become the soul focus of her work, as Tiffany Bell’s article attests to.  Even while knowing of Mary’s story, most of her work encourages the viewer to create her own interpretations out of the ambiguity of color, shape, pain, and humanity evident in her works.

Like Yu mentioned in class, I would have liked to see more of her work before her diagnosis – just out of curiosity.  Bell mentions how Hambleton wanted to “endow her work with spiritual or mystical content.”  In reading the article about Mary, I get the feeling that her projects aroused affects similar to those of “Hard Rain” even before her cancer-imbued work began.  Bell also mentions Mary’s fondness of incorporating natural materials into her work, as well as creating nature-inspired images and forms.  The ambiguity inherent to her pieces correspond to the mystic reality of nature when one takes the time to consider it closely. 

In terms of nature, art, and technology, I witnessed yet another perspective of this topic in Mary Hambleton on Tuesday.  She incorporates the shapes and contemplations of nature/humanity into either canvassed wood blocks or digitalized, abstracted compilations of her own PET scans.  Mary allows us to consider the picture of our own mortality that would not exist if it were not for technology.  She also encourages her viewer to find the piece beneath the technology, which exists in the careful thought that composes her art.

Eduardo Kac and the consideration of transgenic art

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

As Brianna mentioned in her response below, after reading these excerpts from Eduardo Kac’s book, Signs of Life: Bio Art and Beyond, I am also in awe of the wide array of inspiration that can go into creating and presenting a work of art. Kac begins his introduction to transgenic art through a discussion of the socially controversial aspects of biological manipulation and the “simplified treatment of life” to which scientific developments have led us. He briefly outlines some of the more recent man-made biological phenomenon, and concludes that it would be absurd to encase this discussion into the realm of science and production alone. Doing so, he seems to suggests, would promote the banality of “man-made mutations” within society – something the Kac does not seem to find as acceptable. Cultural thought and ideology are most specifically impacted by humankind’s experimentation in the biological world. Specifically, Kac uses his discussion of biological advancements throughout time to lead into “biomedia” artwork, where he considers its evolution from all disciplines, from Thomas Malthus to Darwin to Picasso, to a bioluminescent bunny, which Kac discusses in a later chapter.

Most interestingly, Kac urges artists who work in the field of biomedia to consider their efforts as having their own “subjecthood.” He says that it is necessary to “articulate a new critical vocabulary to meet the intellectual challenge posed by the emerging bio art documented here…” – a language of respect. It is perhaps our fascination with the potential of biological processes that allows us to look at works using blood and other bodily fluids as an art form. At the same time, however, the fact that living specimens can be genetically manipulated in ways once inconceivable allows for a serious discussion of bioethics and its placement in the aesthetic – rather than economic – world.. I liked how Yves Michaud defined this new art’s impact as existing in the creation of experience rather than production; artwork inspired by the new ability of humankind to create mutants and chimeras disallows the possibility of this practice to become too commonplace.

In Chapter 10, “Life Transformtaion – Art Mutation,” Kac delves even deeper into his description of biotechnology vis-à-vis art by discussing the impact of his own work. I really like his comment that states that “art can, and should, contribute to the development of alternative views of the world that resist dominant ideologies.” This idea seems, in fact, to support the reasoning behind why he creates the sort of work he does. His discussion of the work entitled Genesis allowed me to better understand the potential of transgenic artwork (beyond genetic mutation and canvassed fluid). It was extremely interesting to me that he used the translation and exhibit-induced mutation of DNA to change the context of a Biblical passage. The core purpose of this work seems to be summed up by the symbolism he mentions: we cannot assume the structure of [ideologies] that we inherit because as our culture changes we create new meanings by which to view our world.

At the same time, I was initially confused by the purpose behind the GFP Bunny. And then the more I thought about it, I realized that the global controversy surrounding the GFP Bunny’s creation allows for a constructive, conscious discussion about humankind’s capacity to change the genetic coding of living beings. It’s interesting to me that protein manipulation of this sort could exist so passionately in the aesthetic realm, and really challenged me to consider why work like this is so fascinating to society. The piece Move 36: a transgenic installation which symbolized the defeat of man by machine in a chess game, presents a similar stimulus for thought.  Kac has genetically curled the leaves of a plant and placed it on the exact chessboard spot of the human’s defeat in a game between man and computer. This philosophically could represent the mutated, improved capacity of the human mind when inside a computer, and the ideological conflict of “checkmate” in the context of man, nature, and machine.

Kac’s conclusion states that the notions of what is “natural” need to be viewed under a different light and seriously questioned. He mentions that the more we are all aware of our own “transgenic mutations,” humankind may be able to consider the biotechnological art world with a greater sense of understanding.

Discussion questions:

1. What sort of future does biotechnological artwork have in today’s world? In other words, what political statements can be made through an aesthetic consideration of biotechnology; and how can it open the public’s eyes to the controversies of biotechnological developments?

2. How has transgenic technology become a “dominant ideology” in our society and how do you consider it in relation to your own life?

3. Why do we feel hesitant to accept transgenic manipulation as art?  What about it is uncanny and monstrous?

Nye Reading Response

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Engineering Professor Edwin Nye begins his exploration into the world of “technology” through a discussion of its multiplicitous definitions over time.  In Chapter One, he questions whether or not we can ever really define “technology” due to the drastic ways its meaning has evolved throughout social history.  He claims that it is difficult to “imagine human beings as pre-literate, but it is difficult to imagine them as pre-technological,” providing evidence of humankind’s “upbringing” side-by-side the use of technology, or tools.  We come to know every tool we use through the ways it interacts with our body, Nye says.  This thought ties nicely into Nye’s citation of Walter Benjamin, who says that “technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relations between nautre and man.”   Humankind interacts with nature through the tools that he creates, which in turn affect the social interactions he creates with his peers.  The relationship humankind has with technology ultimately feeds into and shares the space that he uses for his social existence.  To prove the point he makes in the title of this chapter, Nye delineates the thoughts of both ancient and more contemporary philosophers and scientists, demonstrating that [technology] was not always so closely associated with the digital technology we think of today; in fact, the word “technology” was not adapted until its practice had been in use for quite some time.   The idea of technology began, as Aristotle might say, as a “rational faculty” that is equivilant to the production of an art form.  If technology is essentially human creation and humankind’s relation to the world, then it is simiultaneously conducting the business of art, which is “to bring something into existence.”  The cause of the tool – of the technology or art – lies in the motivations and the inspirations of the creator.  Cicero was quoted at one point as saying that in “tools” the human ability  “to transform the environment and create a ’second nature’” lies inherent.  And again, Stanley Smith says that “technology is more closely related to art than to science – not only materially, because art must somehow involve the selection and manipulation of matter, but conceptually as well, because the technologist, like the artist, must work with unanalyzable complexities.” 

The ideas of these people so long before our time definitely parallel to some of the conversations we have been having in class.  Although it’s been a recent academic exploration for me, technology is not merely applied science, but it can also be considered as abstract creation – as art!  Nye goes on to cite that inventors like Edison often created their “invention” before technical terms were applied to it.  In other words, their tools of technology were art forms before they were standard – I might even argue mundane – forms of modern day technology.  The evolution of the word “technology” arose out of Germany and graudally evolved into a masculine exclusion principal: where the “useful arts” such as weaving and potterymaking once stood as viable forms for humanity’s relation to the world, industrialization swept in and began to be more intimately tied to a discourse of “technology” that still survives today. 

Perhaps the biggest point that Nye tries to make from the first chapter and into his second chapter, “Does Technology Control Us?” is the push-and-pull between the machinated world and the social world.  He immediately disproves the inevitability of “technology” to control us by demonstrating the Japanese rejection of the gun during the time of the Samuri, and the similar selective use of farming equipment by the Amish in the United States.  There has been a long debate of how technology has shaped social conditions, ranging from Braudel who argues that “technology is only an instrument” that man does not know how to use, to the idea that humans reference their culture to determine how they utilize certain available technological tools.  Nye explores Karl Marx’s opinions on technology and the ties he makes to capitalism and socialist revolutions; and then moves into McLuhan, who says that every form of communication (which is a human creation or “tool”) shapes how people view the world. 

In response to the debate Nye poses toward the end of the reading, he mentions “externalists” who give technology a large slice of the pie that determines factors of social change.  I would argue, in conjunction to our discussion in class, that yes, technology does have a profound effect on the ways in which we approach our social interactions and interpretations of the world around us.  Michel Foucault summed up the possibilities of this through his discussion of “discourse,” as mentioned in Nye’s chapter, and how every human being has discourses permanently imbedded into his or her being that determine a relation to the world.  At the same time, because technology evolved from the “tools” created by humanity to relate to the world – to employ, reproduce, and reflect on nature – I stand by the belief that social relations and culture can never be absent from the influence of technology.  We would never say that art “controls” us, and I think that is what externalist are trying to extrapolate onto the advanced ideas of technology.  Humans created technology. We simply have to recognize the great tools we have made, and recognize how to adapt them wisely to our relations both with nature and within it.

Questions for Thought:

1. If technology is indeed primarily an art form, how has popular culture come to dissociate it so much from the conception of “art.”

2. Nye mentioned how the Japanese Samuri claimed that the gun had little symbolic value to their culture at the beginning of Chapter 2.  How have different forms of ”technology” come to be symbolically admired in some cultures, but spurned or rejected in others?

3. Why did Nye use the citation of Cicero in Chapter 1 as praising the human ability to “transform the environment and create a ’second nature?’”  How does it support the arguments he makes?

Williams and Marx reflections

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

In Raymond WIlliams’ ‘Ideas of Nature,’ he deals principally with the evolution of humankind’s relationship to nature, or rather: the ‘idea’ of nature.  Although most people, Williams claims, think of the world of nature in contrast to the world inhabited by humans, our manner of thinking about nature is paradoxically shaped by human history.  Humans have an inherent connection to nature by the ways in which we attempt to understand it.  Williams begins his discussion by detailing the critical moment in human history where there was not only a singular God, but also a singular Nature.  We personified Nature in order to explain her as the minister of God: all actions that could be explained back to Nature were simplified and demystified within a language of “providence” and “destructiveneess.”  This singularity, the author argues, does nothing for his attempt to grow closer to an understanding of nature.  A simplified description does more to separate than it does to connect.

Williams then goes on to say that the evolution of our understanding of nature was ironically ushered in by scientific ideas of evolution.  Humankind began to feel the need to relate to God through the avenue of Nature.  What is troublesome, however, is the need felt by humans to then lay out a language that “intervened” and “controled” Nature due to their God-given right to command the elements and find the tools of God within them.  In essence, man “abstracted” himself from nature.  Williams then cites Hobbes and Locke, who differ in opinion of how humankind best exists with Nature, as well as Rousseau, which begins a conversation of humankind, Nature, and property.  Ultimately, these conversations are here only because we have separated ourselves from Nature.  Williams claims that we have distinguised between Nature and God in order to examine, experiment, and produce.  We ‘project’ ourselves onto Nature, splitting ourselves; but when we alienate nature, we inevitably alienate ourseves.  We separate ourselves from the effects of our interactions with Nature, which puts us dangerously close to absolving ourselves of responsibility for it.  Only when we realized that we must identify ourselvs as “one” or as a part of Nature will we learn the language of the conversation that needs to take place.

In Leo Marx’s ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ he develops on the thread where Williams left us.  He discusses the ‘pastoral ideal’ in art and in literature as a “powerful metaphor of contradiction” between ’society’ and Nature.  There is another discussion of separation here.  There are two kinds of pastroalism according to Marx: sentimental and imaginiative.  The former primarily serves the purpose of defining societal feelings, such as the need to ‘get away from the city’ and into the country.  People under a sentimental notion of pastoral feeling turn away from the harsh reality of technology that human society has become.  The imaginative expression, on the other hand, exists in literature and descriptive art form.  The art within ‘pastoral literature’ attempts to capture the feeling of the human juxtaposed to Nature.  The landscape is idealized and high metaphor is used in order to convey impossible thoughts of refuge within nature.

Nathanial Hawthorne is Marx’s prime example; he usees natural facts “metaphorically to convey something about a human situation.”  Marx’s argument seems to say that Hawthorne, as an artist, sees trouble in the advancement of technology and its encroachment onto Nature.  This both destroys humankind’s refuge of contemplation and serenity, and promotes complex emotions in regards to the advancement of our society.  Marx makes note of the “little event” that is a popular trope in literature, as the sign of technology, the machine, invading natural spaces.  There is an interrupted ideal.  Hawthorne’s biggest contribution to Marx’s essay here is his line which says: “when we see how little we can express, it is a wonder that any man ever takes up a pen a second time.”  There is something sublime and magical that results from the relationship man has with nature, and the inexplicable emotion he feels when this places begins to be invaded by the creations of his own species.  Marx uses Hawthorne to urge the consideration of a widened gap between pastoralism of the mind (in which we consider the effects of nature) and pastoralism of sentiment (the urge we feel to leave society behind).  Marx’s essay agrees with the message of Williams’: when we begin to recognize this separation that we have created between the world of humans and the world of nature, we will notice how utterly connected they already are within ourselves.  When we keep these worlds mentally separated, however, we run into the danger of forgetting how the wastefulness and disruptiveness of the world of machines affects the pastoral world we hold so close to our beings.

Questions for discussion:

1. What does Marx mean when he says “Art, as usual, has been on the scene first?” on page 18 of his essay.

2. Does Leo Marx provide any motivation for how we are to avoid or lessen the encroachment of technology onto the world of Nature?

3. What are the benefits and negatives of the intellectual separation of economy and ecology that Williams mentions at the end of his essay?

Object of Nature Assignment

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
clouds above a field

clouds above a field

Clouds seen from the vantage point of an airplane.  This is an example from a different view of why I find clouds so awe-inspiring.  (See below)

I don’t think I feel more inspired/optimistic/humbled/empowered as I do when I look at cloud formations like this one.  As inflated as it may sound, there is just something about a great sky of clouds that makes me giddy, makes me feel as though all of nature were working to make my day great in that particular moment.  I will, of course, discuss this more in class on Tuesday.

*My second object of nature is an article from Newsweek Magazine that I am bringing into class about global warming and the effects of carbon on plants in our environment despite our best efforts at buying hybrid cars and recycling.  The article discusses the various pros and cons of carbon emissions into the natural environment, and onto which dangerous roads excess carbon in the environment may lead us.  I’m oftentimes perplexed at the conflicting perspectives we get about the environment through the media.  This particular article seems to be especially bleak, and inspires me to ask the following questions (of which you will understand after seeing the article in class):

1. What is the effect of the media’s role in the race to perserve the environment?

2. How can it be possible to decrease our carbon emissions to the environment by 80% in the next 40 years?

3. How can we bring nature back into previously industrialized epicenters of our society?

Freeland response: “But is it Art?”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

In Chapter six, Freeland leads us to consider forms of art interpretation, and begins to answer some of the questions that our class was perplexed by last week in regards to “liking” or “disliking” a particular piece of work.  She mentions that critics approach art through several different perspectives and in turn, different pieces of the work’s effect speak to each individual who views it.  As humans, we seem to be more satisfied by a work of art when we can explain why it speaks to us, or when we can explain the meaning behind the creation of the piece.  The first type of interpretation Freeland develops is Expression theory, focusing on Tolstoy’s theory that the artist needs to pass on a particular emotion that she might be feeling.  At the same time, I agree with Tolstoy’s critics who say that an artist most likely does not feel the same emotion for the weeks or months on end while he is working on his artwork, so the “expressiveness,” Freeland writes, “is in the work, not the artist.“  The emotional interpretation of art allows us to recognize, according to Suzanne Langer, that much of our sentiment about it cannot be described by familiar notions or phrases.  There is something that speaks to us – this aura, maybe, that we have discussed in class.  I like the line at the bottom of page 161, were Freeland draws upon a quote from the poet Coleridge to demonstrate how when we “follow the artist’s efforts, we recreate the process of self-discovery, so we too become artists…”  The notion of self-discovery ties into the delineation of Foucault’s theory as well.  At the end of the day, it may be best to not get stuck on what the artist wants or intends to be viewed in her work.  Foucault mentions that viewers can get “locked” into trying to interpret an artwork in the “correct” way, as opposed to allowing their own interpretations to make the piece of work meaningful to them.  Yes, it is important to consider the artist’s intent, but it is ultimately all the pieces, histories, emotions of the work that should formulate an interpretive response by the viewer.

The example of cognitive interpretation that Freeland gives with Dewey parallels to the sentiment we get from the expression theory she mentioned earlier.  We discussed this quote in class, but I really relate to Dewey’s quote about how to “know” art: “The medium of expression in art is neither objective nor subjective.  It is the matter of a new experience in which subjective and objective have so cooperated that neither has any longer an existence by itself.”  We come to “know” art through the way we are involved in the work.  In a way, art becomes a language through which we converse with ourselves, allowing the pieces of an artwork to assemble in our minds in order to allow a dialogue of consideration about it.  Freeland does not believe that there can be a “true” account of cognitive interpretation, but she does agree that art is a cognitive process from both sides.  It allows us to think for ourselves and consider the thoughts of others in the “open” environment of our minds.

Chapter seven begins with the discussion of more modern forms of art, primary those that have been circulated to the “masses.”  We spoke about Walter Benjamin’s idea that the “loss of aura was not a bad thing” because the “aura” in a particular piece of work separates it from the viewer, makes it – in a way – inaccessible and inhuman.  Photography, according to Benjamin is much more democratic.  More people can access the stages of its production; more people can own a copy of a photograph in their home.  He mentions that the more modern works encourage the viewer to look at them critically, as opposed to the Picasso that may discourage the viewer from analyzing any interpretation of it because the artwork is “above” the viewer and the viewer is not sophisticated enough to understand it.  However, there is now a different relationship between society and the notion of “cultural capital.”  If works of art are accessible for viewership on the world-wide-web, why do so many people still travel the world to merely catch a glimpse of an original Monet or the Mona Lisa?  Yes, the pilgrimage is made, but we spoke in class about how our expectations can be disappointed depending on what images of the sought-out artwork had been spewed at us before our viewing.   McLuhan’s new theory that the content does not matter as much as the type of media that is used definitely speaks to the culture of the 21st century.  I would argue that the general society has become impatient toward some forms of art because they are not displayed in the highly technological media that we are used to.  We may not be able to figure out what that classical piece of artwork is saying to us, but Disneyland and MTV allow us to view images all the time without ever really having to think about them.  In trying to be democratic, we may be running ourselves into a dangerously homogenized world of “accepted” artwork.  Perhaps it is the “hyperreal, from Baudrillard’s postmodern ideas, that disassociates individuals from the critical analysis of art, the dialogue of interpretation with artwork.  Baudrillard mentions that “the simulation of live TV…is too intimate.”  He believes that we have come to think we “know” [art] – representations of our world – and don’t bother to really consider them much. anymore.  Although the new media of Internet and television montage disconnects us as a world society from both “reality” and the desire to speak with a piece of art, I believe that there is room for improvement; there are many ways in which we can tweak the presentation of web-based, quick-media art that can utilize the advantages of democratic art.

Questions for discussion:

1. In respect to Foucault’s concern that we, as viewers, can be distracted with what the artist intends us to see (the author function), what do you do to allow an artwork speak to you in your interpretation of it?  In other words, what approach of interpretation do you take when looking at an artwork?

2. In what ways do you think the loss of “aura” can be damaging to society’s consideration of art?

3. McLuhan and Freeland’s thought that new media “promote[s] connectedness and new international community” speaks to some of the examples of art we see on television and in society today.  In what specific ways have you noticed the advantages of working with new media, compared to “classical” artwork?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I will be printing out the pieces of art that I chose and bringing them to class.  I will definitely upload them later to add that what is already on the blog page.  While you won’t see them right now, the first work that I chose is a photograph.  There is a bridge that leads the observer’s gaze into the horizon from the right center of the page, thrusting itself into the sea.  The main focus of the piece is a really cool skyline of cumulous cloud formations.  I chose this work because I have a real appreciation for clouds (both in art and in realtime), and for anyone that has the ability to capture their sublime-like essence in representation, whether it be through picture or painting or sketch.  It takes great effort to make hem appear life-like.

The second piece of artwork that I chose is a shades painting of a city building, angled so that the viewer can see the river/stream that runs congruent to it, and off into the distance.  The color was the first thing that struck me about this picture.  The careful shading pulled me into the picture and made me want to be there.  What I thought was especially interesting was the lack of human presence in body form.  There is a certain peacefullness about the painting – it’s very calming.

The work that I did not prefer as much is in a much more modern style – caricature format.  The piece is highlighting Barack Obama in the center, and several other political figures are angles to his side like his cronies.  I just found the depiction of the human form in this work (and all those like it) to be very disturbing.  I am not a fan of this cartoon version of these people: it looks very dehumanized in its exaggeration of human emotion, and almost laughable.  I know that there is probably a particular intent for comedic relief/convenience in the formation of these type of works, but I do not like it at all.