Communications Lab: Week 4 — Response to “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not sure why in the Preface Walter Benjamin makes a reference to Fascism. The early political reference gets me thinking that this is a political essay, rather than an essay about the changing nature of the relationship between art and audience.

In part I, Benjamin writes about the reproduction of art and how this act is not new within history. “Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech.”

Film’s impact on art in this case may be that it’s much easier for a the public to relate to film in comparison with the other examples given, engraving, etchings, painting, and lithography, because it appears to be created at the speed that life is experienced. He doesn’t quite make this connection in this section but in retrospect, it seems to be a point that is reiterated throughout the essay.

In part II, what I took to be a discussion on the provenance of a piece of art, I now think is more of a discussion on the significance of originality within art and how this significance affects the perception of art by the public. Furthermore, Benjamin gives examples of this significance of location by introducing the concept of “aura”, which I took to mean ‘uniqueness’. But, “aura” is also described as “the moment of awe seizing the first-time beholder of a singular work of art” (www.artintheage.com/about). I didn’t get that from the essay which compares the Greek perception of a statue of Venus as an object of veneration with the clerical interpretation of the same statue as an object of idolatry, at the point where “aura”, as a recurring concept, is introduced.

Shortly after aura is introduced, Benjamin discusses how mechanical reproduction, and I assume that at this point this reference is to mechanical reproduction on a mass scale, has transformed art production so it exists not for ritualistic purposes, but now exists for political functions. while it can exist for its own sake and

Throughout this essay, ritual and cult are used to refer to what have essentially been religious productions of art. If this were a less sophisticated piece of writing, I perhaps wouldn’t be so offended by the connotation he’s making, which seems to be that art for the sake of religion and worship is a bit of a fool’s pursuit. I’m not an entirely religious person. I just believe in tolerance. Cult is not lightly used term. I don’t think it’s changed much since 1936.

Anyway, Benjamin does semi-redeem himself by making the connection between “cult value” or “exhibition value” as stated in section V. In this case he’s relating the fact that works of art at an exhibition value, or works that have less of a unique cultural significance because they are reproductions, are more accessible. Works that have a cult value are less accessible, and he gives the example of a statue in a temple that is only viewed a few times a year, or viewers must make be within the temple itself in order to actually view the statue. While I’m not sure I would agree with the choice of terms, or perhaps I’m just disappointed because there’s no clarifying explanation, I do see his point. Yes, there are works of art that we place a higher level of sentimental significance to, and which are only seen at a special occasions. I’m not sure if the art of baking would count for Benjamin, but it is true that there are certain foods, like birthday cakes, that I only see a few times a year, particularly if I’m lucky enough to have a birthday party (with cake) on a particular year.

Benjamin also discusses cult in section X, where he relates the fact that the “cult” is now related to personality, which I also take to mean image. He also made a connection that being on camera for non-actors is like experience that same aura as the art itself, or the actors’ personality. I can see that this is true, and perhaps it explains why people go crazy to walk into the field of view in news reports.

In part VII, Benjamin makes the connection between film and hieroglyphs, as an example of pictorial language. I thought this was quite clever. I don’t know if film would be considered a pictorial language, but perhaps with so many films we are accustomed to moving pictures? I’m not sure….

In part VIII, I’m not sure that I followed the argument that because the film audience takes the perspective of the camera, then it also takes the perspective of a critic. Maybe, but there are still critics of plays, which is the alternative art (performance) form. I guess I didn’t see the strength of this argument.

In part IX, I think that Benjamin is making the connection that prior to film, or perhaps mechanical reproduction in general, art could could only take place in the setting in which it was created. Film is demonstrating that this is no longer the case, in that the audience and art are now separated, and time and place are no longer constraints. After this, the next few parts of the essay move fairly quickly. I’m not entirely sure of Benjamin’s point in part IX because he mentions “simultaneous collective experience” later in XII, where he discusses how a collection of people can experience a work of art differently for a painting than for a building. And, previously, part XI, Benjamin states that the painter and painting are more superficial to the experience of real life versus film which, like a surgeon, enters into the experience of life. He also mentions in part XIII that film allows us to experience familiar objects and movements in new perspectives.

Actually, I agree with his statements. Film (recording) does separate the ability for time and place to be constraints to a work of art. Further, it is true that the collective experience of a piece of art, such as that experienced by a movie audience, is different from that experienced by individuals at an art gallery. It is also true that film is a more realistic depiction of life. However, in part XV, Benjamin makes a distinction between architecture as a distraction, vs a piece of art that requires concentration. Again, maybe it’s just a word choice, but it seems that in this section, Benjamin is making the point that architecture is less significant than art that requires more concentration? It seems as if he’s saying that only if art requires concentration, and doesn’t include a specific part for distraction, then it’s not so important.

“Divertissement” in ballet is basically a short dance interlude that is included for no other reason than enjoyment and doesn’t really add to the plot. It literally translates to diversion in English, which seems in principle like distraction. Maybe it’s similar, but I think that Benjamin was pretty set on making a point here to worry much about exceptions to his essay, so ‘ll go on.

The last point I’ll make is Benjamin’s example of Dadaism as an example of art that is used to collectively shock the public. Yet another example of “simultaneous collective experience”. I think that he’s sort of using this to segue into his later paragraphs on the artistic beauty of war. I found those descriptions humorous, but bordering on inappropriate, unless he’s making a  reference that war is a cult, and the many associations we make with war are also art.

If that’s true, I guess I can see his point. But, it’s a stretch.

Phys Comp: Week 3 – Electronics

This week, our Phys Comp lab consisted of combining several previous labs plus the addition of using our multimeters to check the current of electricity. Checking the flow of electricity is something I’ll need to get used to doing, starting with just learning how to read the multimeter dial and learning to choose between A/C or D/C. Anyway, here are my steps:

A. Measuring Voltage: I set up the breadboard with a voltage regulator and a 12V A/C adaptor. Then I tested the input to and the output from the regulator.

Testing input (approximately 16 V)

B. A Basic LED Circuit: Next, I added a switch and an LED to the breadboard. This is when the voltage regulator came in handy, to decrease the amount of voltage coming into the circuit that the LED was attached to. (If not, it would have been too much current for the LED. That’s also why the regulator was so hot, the extra energy was being emitted as heat.)

Using a switch to turn on an LED
Using a switch to turn on an LED

C. Components in Series/Parallel: This experiment showed how parallel and series circuits work. Series circuits work like Christmas lights all in a row – when one goes out, the circuit is broken. Parallel circuits share the current, so if one goes out the other lights stay on.

3 LEDs in parallel
3 LEDs in parallel
Completing the circuit using the multimeter
Completing the circuit using the multimeter

D. Variable Voltage with a Potentiometer: This was pretty similar to “A”, except that now I was using an analog switch to adjust the output of an LED.

ICM: Week 2 – Using variables and interactivity in Processing

This week, I used the same concept from last week but I used variables to reduce the amount of code I was drawing. I also added an interactive element. Now, when you use your mouse to move left to right across the screen, the background changes from 255 (white) to 0 (black). The alpha level of each bar is still set manually, and choosing how much to decrease the level was somewhat mathematical but the level doesn’t decrease evenly. (This became a problem the next week when I used objects to create the sketch.) I like how it looks like there’s so much more to drawing the bars than just a change of alpha level.

ICM Week 2

Color bars, Week 2

Comm Lab: Week 2 – Reaction to “Orality and Literacy” (Ch. 1-2)

(Note: in starting the class late, I haven’t had time to finish week 1’s readings, but they will be posted in due time.)

In reading the first two chapters of Orality and Literacy, I can’t help but think of a time in which I’ve come across the topic of oral and written language. The first was to read Sundiata, which is a story from Mali about Sundiata, the first king of Mali, during an African history class. In the class we learned about griots, who are essentially living historians, and from whom the story has been recorded. My summary, is that they pass the history of a people or person to others by means of an oral tradition, which as I learned in the class, is or was relatively common in this part of Africa, if not in significantly many other parts of Africa.

After this story, I then learned much about the use of information, its preservation and use in our culture. I remember one discussion in particular, in which another student, who was African, had given an example of how he was able to recite the history of his family for several generations. I can’t remember now, but it was definitely impressive and represented the example of oral recitation demonstrated by griots of West Africa. I (stupidly) said something to the effect of how that skill was common to many Africans (because, of course, I was now an expert in African history).

Well anyway, I did enjoy reading the first two chapters. I don’t know if I’ve thought much about how the lyrical patterns in epic poetry can be used as memory aids, but I did find it surprising that anyone would be so shocked. In retrospect it seems obvious that someone attempting to recite the entirety of The Iliad would need some type of memory aid. But, then again, I also suspect that with practice, as is the case with griots, recitation could come relatively easily with practice.

I also found the discussion of how difficult it is for people with written literature to divorce themselves of words, such as with the example given of how to explain a horse to someone who has never seen a horse, or how ‘secondary oral literates’ will see the word “nevertheless” in their mind – I do – when they spell it or say it aloud. Along these lines, the first chapter seemed very concerned with explicating some of the negative impacts of written literature, while also explaining the difference between oral performance art and written literature that is simply read aloud.

Eventually, however, the second chapter has begun to discuss some of the benefits of the written language, particularly the ability of the written language to record the oral, of which, as stated on the second page, many have disappeared or become subsumed by other languages. I didn’t quite understand “bicamerality”, which is discussed at the end of this chapter, but I took it as describing the feeling I have when writing, when I feel as though I’m speaking to myself, and the introduction of the phenomenon of noting bicamerality as unusual occuring in the period of humanity immediately preceding the written language.

Comm Lab: Week 2 (and week 1) – Reaction to Xacti camera, in-class assignment

I just so happened to come across the video of another Comm Lab student, Alexandra Kuechenberg et al, which is posted on her elegant blog. The video here is basically a loop of four people participating in leap frog.

Well, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to comment, but it does seem interesting that it took 40 minutes to film and edit a clip that, when filmed, was probably all of 20-30 seconds. But, with this comment, I admit that I’m simply suspending my knowledge of working with a timeline in order to essentially make a naive comment, because in my experience, it seems like working with anything with a timeline takes forever to produce even the most basic material.

In any case, what I don’t see is that the final clip accurately captures a narrative arc…but maybe that might be my naive comment. Perhaps I’m thinking too literally about what makes a narrative arc, or simply projecting examples that are overly complex. As a narrative with a beginning, middle and end, each loop did accomplish that format. People leap frogged on, the leaped over each other, and they leaped off. So, I guess there is a narrative there that follows my self-imposed restriction on narrative arc. But, I do think the looping is throwing me, because with the start of each loop I’m expecting something to happen that doesn’t. So I feel disappointed in the story that more isn’t happening. Oh well. Maybe next time….

Phys Comp: Week 2 – Analog sensors, Part 2

This week’s assignment consisted of coming up with a fantasy device, and possibly going crazy using analog sensors. I did both.

First up: the UV-Sunlight watch. This watch detects how much sunlight you’ve received. The benefit to the wearer is that during winter months, you’ll know when you haven’t gotten enough sunlight, and during the summer you’ll know when you’ve gotten too much. I really thought about the design of this one, which may not have been the point, but I do like the final product.

It’s fairly practical and useful, and it was fun to make. But, I would, maybe, agree with the argument that it’s not that fantasmal. Hence, my second fantasy device.

The Unicorner! I learned by the age of six that most humans are incapable of viewing true unicorns. So try as I might, I have never seen a unicorn. My device changes that. This device changes the assumption that there are no unicorns in the world by revealing the true identity of what appear to be ordinary horses, by transforming them into unicorns so that humans can see them! It only works if they were really unicorns to begin with, but it’s only $49.95. It took me under 10 minutes to make, but I added the plastic bag and UPC code later, so maybe 15 minutes of work.

Other ideas included:

  • a camera that takes pictures of your food and reports the nutrition content
  • an alarm clock that mixes smells and sounds, like cinnamon rolls + Paris cafe, and bacon + New York diner.
  • a musical device for orchestra and band students, that plays back a pre-recorded song so that your band leader/conductor can’t tell when you’re playing out of tune. (Note: will not actually help you learn to play an instrument).
  • a remote control to make a parent slower and decreases the volume of their voice
  • an iPhone app that tells you if a store you’re in front of has your size in stock

Finally, I again took apart my teddy bear and hooked up light switches to two FSR sensors. When the hands of the bear are squeezed, the lights come on. But, because I put variable input into the Arduino, it’s difficult to get them both to light up simultaneously. I will add video later.

Code is here.

int ledPinGreen = 10; // Green pin
int ledPinRed = 9; // Red pin
int ledPinWhite = 11; // White pin

int analogFSRLeft = 0; // Left analog input
int analogFSRRight = 1; // Right analog input

int FSRValueLeft = 1; // Value of the left FSR
int FSRValueRight = 1; // Value of the right FSR

void setup() {
// initialize serial communications at 9600 bps:
Serial.begin(9600);
}

void loop() {
FSRValueLeft = analogRead(analogFSRLeft); // read the left FSR value
// if FSRValueLeft is under 300
// light nothing
// if FSRValueLeft is between 300 and 600
if( FSRValueLeft > 250 && FSRValueLeft < 375  ){
analogWrite(ledPinGreen, FSRValueLeft/4);
} else {
digitalWrite(ledPinGreen, LOW);
}
Serial.println(FSRValueLeft); // print the FSR value

FSRValueRight = analogRead(analogFSRRight); // read the right FSR value

// if FSRValueLeft is between 300 and 600
if( FSRValueRight > 200 && FSRValueRight < 750  ){
analogWrite(ledPinRed, FSRValueRight/4);
} else { // do nothing
digitalWrite(ledPinRed, LOW);
}

/*  FSRValueRight = analogRead(analogFSRRight); // read the right FSR value
FSRValueLeft = analogRead(analogFSRLeft); // read the left FSR value
if( FSRValueRight > 200 && FSRValueRight < 750) && ( FSRValueLeft > 315 && FSRValueLeft < 380  ){
analogWrite(ledPinWhite,  FSRValueLeft/4,  FSRValueRight/4);
} else { // do nothing
digitalWrite(ledPinRed, LOW);
digitalWrite(ledPinGreen, LOW);
}
*/
Serial.println(FSRValueRight);  // print the FSR value

delay(10); // gives a 10 millisecond delay
}

Response to “The Machine Ends” by E.M. Forster

Written in 1909, “The Machine Stops” is about a futuristic society in which humanity lives underground and is dependent entirely upon the Machine, which has taken over the entire maintenance and care of all human needs. It describes how people have given up control of their own freedom to exert free will, in exchange for complete obedience to the Machine.

It was a peculiar but interesting story, particularly being written in 1909. According to Wikipedia, US events in 1909 included Taft succeeds Roosevelt as president, Pearl Harbor is founded, and the Manhattan Bridge is opened, while in Europe construction begins on the Titanic and the oil company that eventually became BP was founded. Forster seems to be writing from a perspective of relatively significant industrial and social change so the story is likely meant to be a reflection and a warning on unrestrained acceptance of technological innovation, and a belief that machines alone are the key to the future of the human race.

One of the phrases that reinforced this idea was on page 18, “No one confessed the machine was out of hand”. That could be taken literally, as in ‘no one is willing to complain that the machine is breaking’. Or it could be taken as it is in the phrase, the “Master Brains had perished”, which describes how complete knowledge amongst humans regarding the mechanical knowledge about the Machine — and possibly its usefulness — had been split up, so that now no one can really remember how the machine is supposed to work. In comparison to the use of the internet, there are still people who do not know what the internet is, let alone know how it can be used or misused. I suspect that most people who use the internet, do not really understand how it works, why it exists, or care much to learn.

The first sentence gives a clue to that the tone of the story is about obedience and regulation, when it describes the setting as being similar to the “cell of a bee”. The discussions about ideas, seem like the collective thought for the humans in this story is that unless something leads to progress or to a new idea, it is a useless waste of time. For instance, when other people in the story discuss the rumor of the machine ending, they cannot even comprehend the statement. As much as I can hardly comprehend living without civil rights or an electrified home, I suppose that soon there will be people who cannot comprehend a time before the internet or computers.

Lastly, the people in this story seem afraid to think on their own and come up with their own ideas, particularly when those ideas are not acceptable to those allowed by the Machine. The internet now makes it very easy to find ideas like your own. So that if you want to find arguments that agree or disagree with your own, it’s easy to find examples, without really coming up with your own critical analysis of a problem.

Phys Comp: Week 2 – Analog sensors, Part 1

This week we worked with analog sensors.

For the lab, I was able to correctly set up the breadboard, Arduino, and potentiometer to create my first analog input. I documented along the way.

Then I made a two-input analog switch with two LEDs as output. Here’s the code:

int ledPinGreen = 10; // Green pin
int ledPinRed = 9; // Red pin

int analogFSRLeft = 0; // Left analog input
int analogFSRRight = 1; // Right analog input

int FSRValueLeft = 1; // Value of the left FSR
int FSRValueRight = 1; // Value of the right FSR

void setup() {
// initialize serial communications at 9600 bps:
Serial.begin(9600);
}
void loop() {
FSRValueLeft = analogRead(analogFSRLeft); // read the left FSR value
analogWrite(ledPinGreen, FSRValueLeft/4);
Serial.println(FSRValueLeft); // print the FSR value back to the

FSRValueRight = analogRead(analogFSRRight); // read the right FSR value
analogWrite(ledPinRed, FSRValueRight/4);
Serial.println(FSRValueRight);

delay(10); // gives a 10 millisecond delay
}

Cool devices I wish I’d thought of first

So, an assignment in one of my classes this week has been to come up with a fantasy device, that does something you’ve always wanted. I’ve always wanted a unicorn, but our assignment says we have to come up with some type of physical manifestation for this fantasy device. Unicorn-maker sounds a bit outside the realm of normal possibilities, even for ITP.

Most of my brainstorming has been to think about what’s going on in my life that could be improved by a handy-dandy “???????“. I think I may have an idea of something, which I’ll post later, but I did want to post some things I found as a part of the research I did on other cool things people have made:

Bacon-scented alarm clock – Since high school, I’ve had a terrible time waking up in the morning. But, whenever I go home, I don’t have any trouble getting up when I smell the scent of bacon cooking and hearing the sound of eggs on the stove. Thinking about this brings up memories of waking up in my bed at home, coming downstairs and my Mom saying good-morning. So, I had the idea to create an alarm clock that sounded like eggs and bacon frying, while also being attached to an aerosol canister that sprayed bacon scent, like those new kind of air fresheners that periodically spray your room. There would be maybe 2-3 scents, bacon-and-eggs, bakery-brownie scent, and bakery-bread scent, but there would a few sound environments to mix and match…like, Paris cafe, Mama’s house, New York diner. Unfortunately, someone beat me to it!

Cordless device charger – Spending too much time in Starbucks, fighting over outlets gave the idea that wouldn’t it be so nice to just put my laptop, iPhone, camera, walkie-talkie, pace-maker…whatever on a portable mat that just charged everything and I wouldn’t need to worry about all these cords.

This is Belkin’s version. I don’t know if it’s even real, but it’s pretty sweet. I like that it’s not too big, but I’d be worried about someone leaving the gas outlet open.

Here’s a solar-powered version, though it doesn’t look like it’s easily able to actually portable enough to get outside for a good charging.

I think it would work better if the table could sync my camera, iPod, and computer, too.

Oh, wait! Microsoft came up with something like that already. Microsoft Surface does a lot of neat-o stuff, that seems pretty far out of my league. This video from Popular Mechanics describes a lot, but I guess if you can build your own multi-touch screen interface + infrared cameras + projection camera + wireless CPU with graphics card, you could do it too.