Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Hug from a Stranger: Saturday Night in Lower Clapton

I was waiting with Sonia at the bus stop, when she saw a man across the road collapse. I went over and he didn't seem to speak English, so I waved Sonia over because he sounded Russian. He couldn't get up, so I lent him a hand, but then he was having trouble standing. I had a bunch of his clenched in my fist, as he swayed back and forth. Sonia decided to call the paramedics.

He noticed me touching his back and threw his other arm around me, leaning into a hug, I thought to keep his balance, but he lay his head on my shoulder. I told him everything would be ok, but his hot breath on my neck was more intimate than I expected. He moved his head and I thought he was going to kiss me, so I moved my head back away from him. He stood apart and then embraced me again. I kept my head away from his this time and he started to walk away, but was unsteady, so I lead him to the bench in a bus shelter.

He sat down and after a moment, started bashing his head against the back wall of the shelter, with an angry intensity. I put my hand on the back of his head and asked him to stop, but he didn't understand. After a while he gestured angrily that I should remove my hand, so I did. Three teenagers came up, waiting for a bus and told him to sleep it off. One of them said he was a rap star and would pay the man a thousand dollars if he quit bashing his head. The man listened and as soon as the kid stopped speaking, bashed his head with greater force.

A paramedic arrived on a motorcycle, which the kids ran over to flag down. The high-vis vests medics wear don't look all that different from the ones the police wear and the man became more alert and said a few words in English, but ran out of vocabulary quickly. Sonia and I left them to it, but after a few moments, the man had enough and walked away as quickly as he could. The paramedic spent the next ten minutes filling out paperwork. We watched from the bus stop back on the other side of the road as a young woman approached and put on his motorcycle helmet, and sat on his bike, asking for a ride, until one of her friends dragged her away. Sonia's bus came and I walked towards home, the feeling of the man's boozy breath still tingling uncomfortably on my neck.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Letter writing

Dear Sir or Madam,

I found your story 'Meet Nell Pickerell' to be fascinating, but I was dismayed by your use of pronouns. The author writes, 'Nell appears to have been consistent in viewing herself as a man.' Given that consistency, wouldn't it be more correct to refer to him as 'he'? Most style guides, including the AP guide, do say that pronoun use should conform to how the subject views themself. I would like it very much if you could please correct this otherwise excellent article.

Charles Hutchins
London, England

How can a journalist get something so right and so wrong at the same time??

Saturday, 26 July 2014

My Week

I am posting about my week, something I used to do here with more regularity. I'm not sure if this last week has been busier than most, but has involved more modes of transport.

On Saturday, Sonia and I went to a wedding out in the countryside, held at the Bride's family's manor. It was a lovely wedding. They had a live brass band (note to self: try to find a brass band ASAP). At the end of the evening, the later soul and broke up in a screaming fight that threatened black eyes. We stayed in ahotel room in the town near the manor.

On Sunday, we decided to look around for a place to have breakfast that was not a horrible, soulless chain restaurant and that didn't have Muzak. This took a while and we were later than intended back in London, which meant we were in serious danger of missing our skype appointment, so we stopped in an internet cafe near Paddington. The dream of the 90's is alive in a Paddington basement. I was in so many internet cafes just like that in my travels in 2001 and this place was a perfectly preserved specimen of the era. It was fantastic. And the meeting went well. The pracher, Sonia and I formed a todo list of things that needed to happen by the following Sunday. Not one of those things has been done.

Honestly, I don;t really remember Monday at all. I think I put a few things in boxes and then went to Sonia's dad's house.

On Tuesday, Sonia, her dad and I drove to Dover and then took the ferry to Calais. We went to the Carrefour in the outlet mall there and I felt despair. The British experience of France is very different than how Americans tend to approach the place. Sonia's dad went for a swim in the channel. We drove to a village I've forgotten the name of and had crepes and carrefour items. Then we went to Montreuil and checked into the most picturesque hotel I've ever seen. On the inside of the room, none of the walls were at right angles to each other and some sagged in completely different direction. The room was done up entirely in dark wallpaper with roses on it that covered every surface, including the ceiling. I felt somewhat dizzy whenever my eyes were open. We had dinner and then the next day went to The Wine Society and bought enough wine for the London wedding event and loaded it into the car. then we went back to the Carrefour, back for another swim in the sea and back on the ferry.

On thursday morning, I stuffed most of what I own into boxes and in the afternoon, a removals van arrived and took my stuff to Hackney, were it was strewn around the house fairly randomly. So I've moved house, but I have no idea where my socks or underwear are.

On Friday, I brushed up on how to cite things in wikipedia and then went off to the She Must Be Wiki feminist film wikithon at the ICA. I was originally meant to be leading the workshop, but then some volunteers from wikimedia got in touch and sort of assumed control of things, which I was fine with, but, in retrospect, it did set a bit of a tone, of which the implications become more apparent. Anyway, rather than go on about it, I do tend to have a different method of workshop delivery which assumes a higher competence of participants and takes less time, but I certainly have less experience with the wiki project. Uncomfortably, all of the people setting out to add feminist content were women and all of the 'wiki experts' were men. I use the scare quotes because, although the other three men have thousands of edits each, one of the women organising the workshop certainly has more edits than I do. The leader was trying to address the gender inequality of wikipedia, which is very nearly 90% male, by resorting to gender stereotyping, which I did not feel was entirely helpful. Another volunteer mentioned in passing that the project was founded on an 'Objectivist philosophy', which I think better explains the disparity. It's not really surprising that something founded under a pro-sexist, pro-racist, pro-classist philosophy is overwhelmingly staffed by extremely privileged people. The ability of 'axe-wielding feminist mobs' to access the tools does not address the inherent problems in the organisation.

After the edit-a-thon and a panel session, they showed the film She Must Be Seeing Things, which is about a white bisexual filmmaker and her black lesbian partner. It's funny, well-constructed, interesting and, as the introductory speech noted, pre-figures some of the shifts in LGBT culture that came up in the 90s. For example, they're a butch-femme couple, more in line with modern ideas of queerness than the ideals of the 70s. Cross dressing and a certain amount of cross-gender identification is a repeated theme. There is a film within the film, directed by the femme character. The lead character of that film often functions as a stand-in for her partner. That character would certainly be seen as trans* now, but at the time, was seen as a woman who gradually 'forgot her womanhood'. The butch lead also cross dresses and, in a scene that may be resonant for some trans* viewers, wanders transfixed into a dildo shop to inspect the wares. Shelia Jeffries was apparently outraged.

After the film, I went to a birthday party at a pub in Tooting, which is in south west London. My new house is in the North East, so it was kind of a journey. House parties are a relatively rare thing in London, as most people want to entertain in pubs. A lot of people don't have much space. Pubs don't have annoyed housemates lurking about. You don't have to clean up a pub before inviting people around to it. Anyway, it was a fun party.

Tomorrow, I'm going to move some furniture, do some things on the todo list, and got to trans pride in Brighton.


Apropos of nothing in particular, I'd like to offer some random advice:

  • If what you're saying is actually a long plea to explain how you're a good guy or deserve a cookie, maybe stop talking.
  • Don't apologise for the actions of your ancestors. Nobody cares about how you great grandfather was sexist or racist and it really is quite easy to see how you're trying to deflect attention from yourself and your own poor actions.
  • If you don't identify as a feminist or a feminist ally, try to find somebody who does to come to feminist events in your stead.

Monday, 21 July 2014

This is a test

The revolution has not actually been cancelled, but I am curious about using other people's photos without asking... 'Liberating' them, if you will. So, this is actually part of the revolution, maybe? Assuming revolutions conform to the API's TOS, so I guess facebook is running my revolution now. Anyway, check out my invite for a general strike...

What I've learned from this exercise:

  • You can't sign up to instagram without putting their app on your smart device, so no losers with cameras that are just cameras.

  • If you want to grab somebody's picture (somebody much cooler than me because they have a smart phone and I don't), click on the '...' button in the lower right corner, click on embed, copy the embed code, paste into your blog post.

  • This embed code does not seem to support ALT text and so is completely shit on disability issues, so only use this if you're happy with parts of your website being inaccessible to people using screen readers.

  • Facebook really cares very deeply about your copyright and gives access to anyone and gives them loads of control over their content and how it is shared. ... ha ha ha. Yeah, won't be getting an account here ever.

By the way, for all my lynx readers, the image above is a page of some 50's style line drawings plus text in fancy fonts, including the phrase 'Sorry, the Revolution has been cancelled'

Friday, 18 July 2014

Review: Digital Revolution

I went to see the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican yesterday. It was much better than I expected. This exhibition includes part of Google's DevArt initiative. That framework is unusual for arts projects funding because it requires the use of Google APIs and thus is problematic in terms of controlling artists. Also, things I've read have implied it to be a sort of anti-historical move, as if Google invented the idea of doing arts with a computer

The exhibition, therefore, provides a solid historical grounding in the history of computer creativity. Many historical digital arts projects are displayed. Some of them running on emulation, but many running on the original machines they were designed for. Thus I learned about an art movement called the Algorists, who's ideas live on in the Algorave movement. Much of art works were interactive, thus giving visitors a chance to interact with old hardware and software platforms as much as the artwork. For example, there was a piece of web art that was running on an early version of Netscape Navigator, on a period machine.

This is where the exhibition lost focus. Unsatisfied with showing a record of historical projects on historical machines, they went further to amass a collection of old digital stuff, more suited to the Science Museum. So next to an iPad showing Conway's Game of life, there was a completely unrelated early computer. Across from the Algorist was a Linn Drum in a glass case, with some headphones playing a song by the Human League that used this drum machine (which created some cacophony, discussed below).

The historical computers included working versions of several home game computers, so kids could get their first taste of Super Mario Brothers on 8 bit. Near that was a NeXT cube running the web browser written for it. This part of the exhibit was apparently calculated to make me feel old. Just to reinforce that, I will now complain about the loudness.

The room itself had a lot of projection displays and loud sounds that seemed to lack context. They were seemingly played through the entire room and would turn out to be linked to one of the displays in the middle. A short excerpt from some display somewhere and then on to the next loud thing. So the projections might show Super Mario or something else and then a blast of the Human League, all in an effect full of sound and fury, but with very fuzzy signification.

Other parts were blatantly corporate. The huge installation explaining how they did the animation and lighting for the film Gravity was interesting, but, again, perhaps better suited to the Science Museum.

The new artworks did tend to be quite good and were, thankfully, mostly not in the room of old computers and flashing lights. One piece was birds made up of upcycled mobile phones, with bird heads on the phone's colour displays. There was an (even louder) pop music video experience which used the hollow face illusion on a projector screen, which was stunning when experienced for short periods. (Alas, that I did not take notes on titles and artists and this information appears not to be on their website.)

Next along was an installation using Kinect, which was strikingly well constructed. Users had to assume the arms over head kinect pose. However, rather than being an annoying pre-requisite to further interaction, the piece used the starting position of an essential element of verticality which began with the hands. In the final bit of it, hands upwards dramatically opened to wings upwards.

All of the new art in the first section was interesting and a lot of it was fun (Shelly Knotts burst our laughing at one point) and some of it, such as the kinect piece were inspired.

There are also interactive installations in the free parts of the building, for example a video game that tracks where you're looking to control which way the player's actions were executing. A kinect-using robotic petting zoo was enigmatic. The robots were definitely interacting, but with what? The small display screens up top suggested that the robot's gaze was not looking where you might expect (or that the kinects were aimed poorly, but let's be generous).

The second part of the exhibition was a cage full of modern computers running indie games. I didn't have time to hang around in a cage trying out a lot of games. Many modern games are really complex and beautiful and take hours to figure out what the potentials of the environment really are, so I'm not sure about this format, but I have a feeling a similar format is used at industry events.

The third and final part was interactive laser beams in a fog-machine-filled room deep in the basement. After I got over making quiet jokes about sharks with laserbeams (which took longer than it should in an adult), the piece was fun and the interactivity well-designed.

Standard tickets are £12.50, which seems steep, especially considering the amount of corporate branding all over the signs and website. If Google is going to pay for art that's designed to promote themselves, then they should actually pay for it. Steep ticket prices also do nothing to ameliorate the digital divide, nor do displays encouraging people to download apps to their smartphones. I've programmed (as in curated) smartphone based art in the past, at the Network Music Festival and I'm not against it in general, it just seemed off in this context. To be fair, in pieces that were driven by apps, the Barbican had installed tablets running the app, so us smartphoneless riffraff could still use the piece. However, in a time of austerity, I feel public institutions such as the Barbican should be making an effort to encourage open access, especially for something that is intended to be the next major cultural/export product from the UK. The exhibition is clearly intended to promote this and recruit people into the field, so I feel the high price is an impediment to the (obviously, blatantly) commercial goals of the project.

Is it worth the price? I don't know, but it's a lot easier to get to than ZKM in Kalrsruhe or the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.