Images at Work in Recent Nuclear Armament Debates

Lately I’ve been trying out different slidecast technologies, and Slideshare’s audio-sync interface seems to be working pretty well. I took the opportunity to get some ideas down quickly from a presentation Ned and I gave last week as part of our affiliation with the Program for Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security here at the University of Illinois. It’s a sort of “image audit” of the rhetoric around the recent failed rocket launch from North Korea. Low-tech and unscripted.

Temporary Social Flows

This newest web presence is my seventh in the last dozen years or so. I’m learning that these revisions are determined less by a need for different technologies or interfaces, and more by the ebb and flow of my output as a maker, teacher, and scholar. Looking ahead to the coming year, I foresee a season of new project rollouts, and thought it time to get this site running again as a base and context.

Rhythms and timescales are of course often on my mind, and here it’s worth noting how a decision not to affiliate with any one disciplinary setting influences both the density of workflow as well as the temporality of public presentation and engagement. I certainly sign on to my own constraints in this regard through commissioned work (and end up routinely pushing beyond them, unfortunately). But when one chooses to move between multiple disciplinary spaces for multiple projects, and has the benefit of job security through academic tenure, the calendar can get pretty flexible. For someone especially focussed on process over product, that lack of constraint can get to be a problem. I sometimes worry about Jay DeFeo’s The Rose as a possible default model for my work.

The persistent “open studio” approach of social media doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t know that there’s any field left where workers aren’t encouraged to be “always on” in their interface with others – academic writers are encouraged to adopt practices from software versioning, and glass walls proliferate through the lab spaces of science. But I just care too much about crafting form to let any old day be a day for sharing. (Or perhaps I don’t care enough about form to always work in a way that’s formally considered.) So I don’t know how often I’ll actually be posting to this blog portion of the site.

BLDGBLOG recently posted this fantastic video of surfers hand-digging a channel to let collected rainwater rush out to the ocean, creating a surf-able torrent. That’s about as good a model as any for my participation in the sea of online media – every few years I’ll just open up my accumulated pool of words and projects to let it flow for awhile, then go away to take some time and fill it up again without really inviting anyone to watch. (Or maybe my colleague Christian is right, and choking or digestive metaphors are more appropriate.)

Artist’s websites serve diverse functions, but in the end I mostly need a place wherein my otherwise disconnected and disharmonious projects are forcibly viewed together. I still like the idea of my projects seeming at home in their respective spaces until viewed in light of my broader work. So I’m sticking with the name of Complex Fields, as a good image of that idea of multiple and even conflicting spaces.

A few details and credits worth mentioning this time around: this site is a heavily modified and knee-capped version of the very useful Portfolio2 WordPress theme by the good designers at Raygun. The typefaces are Benton Sans and Poynter Serif : the former because it’s by my former classmate Cyrus Highsmith, and the latter because I wanted to mix it up. Type design is an incredible craft that few can really accomplish, one I learned to see at all through watching Cyrus work over the years.

Turning the Lights Back On

  • Cold War Visual Alliances,” a special issue of Visual Studies that grew out of 2014’s Cold War Camera symposium in Guatemala is out, including our article on the transitional roles of film in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
  • Terri Weissman and I co-edited an issued of Media-N, the Journal of the New Media Caucus, on Art and Infrastructures. It’s out, go read it!
  • Learning to See Systems, our interdisciplinary graduate initiative, just concluded its second year of programming, and will be heading into two more years of funding with new fellows and new leadership. Lots more to come from this work.
  • Over the winter I delivered a talk at the University of Virginia on black box metaphors – this talk is now appearing as a series of posts at the Hedgehog Review’s Infernal Machine blog.
  • I had the great honor of respond-ing to a paper from colleague Jodi Byrd on indigeneity, object oriented ontology, and Bioshock Infinite. My remarks are available here at the blog for the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, where I hold an appointment.
  • Our paper on perception of algorithms in internet newsfeed sites won best paper at 2015 ACM/CHI. This collaborative work has been getting a lot of attention since last summer’s presentation at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and a subsequent panel at SXSW Interactive. More at Int’l Business Times / New Scientist / Fortune / Washington Post / Fusion .
  • Karrie Karahalios and I will be joint Fellows at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications here in Illinois next year.
  • Next up : presentations at ISEA 2015  in Vancouver (August, with Katja Kwastek), the Arctic Documentaries conference here in Urbana (August), and Media Art Histories in Montreal (November, with Orit Halpern.)
  • 2015-2016 will see me in continued service to the University of Illinois’ College of Fine and Applied Arts in support of research, while also taking up a new role in the School of Art and Design as Associate Director. (I’m also a newly-minted full Professor.

Summer 2011

The delicious season is well underway here, the school year a distant speck in the mirror, with open road ahead. Finances require that I stay close to home this summer, with less trips in coming months to the events I wish I could attend. (Regretfully I’ve had to pull out of a panel at ISEA and also out of attending at the promising Eyeo Festival). Hermit season, it seems. Just as well, there’s plenty to do:

Ned O’Gorman and I received a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We’re working on an online interface for navigating ten government films from the heyday of nuclear testing in this country. Each film will be viewable in the context of relevant documents, accounts, pictures, maps, the works. Our hope is to preserve the weird lives these films have had in internet fan-dom while also demonstrating their significant function in the archives of American nuclear memory (or amnesia). This summer we’re prototyping the interface and designing our data-acquisition process.

I also received a small Urbana Public Arts grant to support the self-publishing of a small book I’ve been yearning to make for a while. It will be a drawn book – a comic book, really – that explores some of my recent interests in chronology, rhythm, and simultaneity. It tells the story of a particular, nationally-broadcast moment that took place here in Urbana in 1968. On the way I tell some migration stories, histories of technology, and also some stuff about glaciers. All in 24 pages! Hopefully out in January. Will post images here as they come up.

Other current projects underway include a video I’ve been editing slowly for years about broadcast towers at night, and a new video collaboration with my friend Lara Scott about communication, telephony, intimacy, art…we’re still figuring out the boundaries of that one.

In other news, I now have appointments in the Media and Cinema Studies Program as well as the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security here at Illinois. Feeling good about this path of greater interdependence with my disciplinary neighbors.

After a couple years of running this site as a blog, I’m seeing where it does and doesn’t make sense. I’ve been using Tumblr a great deal, though I’m somewhat flummoxed by the social dimension of it. Twitter less so. But if I want to write something in long form online, there are other more established places I’d rather post than here. Also Ned and I run a private research blog that’s been a great help to us. Meanwhile, my current projects really need better consolidated representation online. New updates on that stuff soon, hopefully. I hope you’re all having a good summer whether you’re in or out of the academy. See you around.

Mediated Movements in the Archive

This is my setup for recording 16mm and 35mm prints to video while at the National Archives last month.

The oldest thing you’re looking at here is the footage itself, shot from an American military plane over Vietnam in the 1960’s. The K.E.M. flatbed editor is slightly newer, and the Sony DV Camera slightly newer still.

The original footage and editing machine is courtesy of the U.S. Government. The digital video camera is courtesy of – well, my father, whom I borrowed money from to buy the thing after grad school and then didn’t really pay him back, to my recollection. The still image is courtesy of the State of Illinois, who provided funds for me to purchase a digital still camera a few years back. Nothing in this image is very current by consumer electronics standards.

Here are some rhythms in place here:

  • A plane flies in a more-or-less preordained path over an expanse of land, dropping explosives at irregular, if planned, intervals.
  • Tied to this rhythm, a human finger starts and stops the motors of a camera, pulling unexposed film across an aperture to receive light for the first time since the film’s manufacture in America.
  • The same film spooled from one post to another in front of my eyes in College Park, Maryland, growing slack or taut with the warp of age. Occasionally, I stopped the machine to correct the rate of playback.
  • The imagery rose from bottom to top of the screen, as the plane moved forward, and the rear-facing camera caught the wake of action.
  • Meanwhile, my camera spooled magnetic tape from one post to another, recording the impressions of an electronic light sensor as one’s and zero’s, later to be decoded by my laptop computer (manufactured in China).
  • [The posted sign at the Archives requested that I not spend more than two hours at this station. Instead I spent about eight hours a day for the better part of a week.]

More to Come

My collaborator and I recently spent a week in the National Archives, where I was making low-fidelity dubs of old 35 and 16 mm films produced by our subject of study, the Air Force’s Lookout Mountain Laboratories. Among our finds was a brief, silent clip of a famous Hollywood actress pleading to young pilots that they please stay safe. We’ll be uploading all this stuff to the interwebs shortly…

Ere age arise

What do I know about longing, really? I’ve never longed for a lover or child who died. I’ve not longed for a meal. I’ve not longed for a meal for a child. I’ve never longed for shelter, nor refuge from violence. Is that even longing, what the hungry feel? Is it longing, what we fed and clothed and accompanied feel, when we experience the gaps, the failures in ourselves and the world for which we have another picture, a better one?

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Scraps at year’s end

And now, with no explanation and (hopefully) considerably less academic pretension than my last post, a selection of scraps from the cutting room floor – things found and thrown in a folder, plus some things I made but which look different out of context.