William Kentridge: South African Artist

In February, I watched a EuroNews report about a South African artist named William Kentridge, whose work is being shown in Copenhagen, Denmark. Here’s the article video.

Link to the article on EuroNews.com

I was very interested in learning more about the artist after seeing that he uses a combination of video installations, animation, and live action. As seen in clips in the article, he’s also not afraid to explore the difficult history of his country. As MoMA puts it, “Dealing with subjects as sobering as apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism, his work is often imbued with dreamy, lyrical undertones or comedic bits of self-deprecation that render his powerful messages both alluring and ambivalent.”

This can be seen in the following video, which is embedded in the text of the article. It’s like a New Orleans marching band, set in a lyrically dystopian world.

When I looked up more about the artist, I was surprised to find that he was not ethnically African, because as the video shows he is using black subjects in the artwork. In my experience, it’s not that common to find an artist using the experience of another ethnicity in their artwork, although it does occur in decorative arts, photography, and performing arts.

I suppose performing artists do this because music, dance, and theater are somewhat universally accessible for all people. Photography is a little different, in that the photographer has to take a documentarian or voyeuristic point of view, as opposed to being part of the art. Wikipedia explains that Kentridge is Jewish, with attorney parents that fought against apartheid. Perhaps he felt like both an outsider, voyeur-documentarian and part of the struggle in South Africa.

What I find revealing is how well Kentridge’s use of African subjects shows his strong empathy and understanding of apartheid and this difficult period of South African history. He says, in Pain & Suffering, shown on art:21, that artists use the pain and suffering of others for their work.

Animation Style

Wikipedia explains one of his animation methods:
“in all of his animated works do the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer; as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed.”

The video above doesn’t show one of this animation style very well, but his style can be seen in other clips. He also uses stop-motion.

Other Work

Aside from animation, he uses live video and different masking and editing effects in his work. Here’s a video of him, from the Danish museum, the Louisiana, interviewing himself:

More Resources

I won’t be in Copenhagen anytime soon. But if you’re interested in learning more about William Kentridge, there are examples of his work online.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Of course, there is the Louisiana Museum that is currently holding a William Kentridge exhibition. It looks like an interesting exhibit. The site is in Danish, but Google should be able to translate.

art:21

art:21 has the most examples of him working and explaining his process. There are several clips of some of his video/media pieces.

MoMA

MoMA has an archival page documenting his 2010 exhibition, Five Themes. Also still available is a flash-site that contains many examples of his work and his process.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia also has plenty of information about Kentridge, from his bio, to listing his films and many exhibitions around the world. There are also external links, if you’re interested even more information about this artist.

Kihachiro Kawamoto: Japanese Animator

I recently watched The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto. I had never heard of this animator and I did not know what type of animation I was going to get. But, being a fan of animation, I looked forward to watching the DVD.

After watching a few, I did a little research. It turns out that Kawamoto was a well-known animator in Japan and internationally. One of his signature animation styles is stop-motion animation, especially his use of puppets. As Wikipedia points out, Kawamoto was well known for his puppet making skills and design.

The Films

I wanted to share these films as another example of storytelling. Japan has so many traditional methods of storytelling, which these films are a part of. As far as World and Character go, many Japanese stories are set in the samurai/Edo period. Most of the films below are the same. I suppose that frees up the storyteller to focus on the subtleties of how the story is told, rather than convincing the audience that the world and characters are believable. For instance, in Dojoji, there’s a scene where the woman chases after the priest. I love that Kawamoto takes the time to animate her breathing.

All the Kawamoto films were good, but there were a few that stood out to me. Here they are below:

Dojoji

19 minutes

Dojoji is a well-known Japanese play and one of the few that involves a large prop. The play tells the story of the installation of a new bell in Dojo-ji Temple. After the monks have been hypnotized by a mysterious dancer, the abbot tells the story of what happened to the first bell. The story is a woman falls in love with a priest who stays in her father’s inn every year. When the woman admits her love, the priest rejected her. She pursues him anyway, across a river to Dojoji Temple. In her passion, she transforms into a demon that kills him and destroys the bell. Kawamoto’s version of Dojoji is the story of the woman and the traveling priest. It is very tragic.

Going into the story of Dojoji more, I’d heard of this story after watching a Japanology episode on Kabuki and Noh. Dojoji was one of the examples of Kabuki, which is more elaborate than Noh and features a female dancer.

I was very impressed with the beautiful watercolor backgrounds serving as the backdrop for Dojoji and House of Flame (below). The sets are also well done.

The Demon (or Oni)

7:30 minutes

The Demon is also based on an old story, but I did not come across any versions of it as a play. The story is that an old woman, who has had a hard life, now lives as an invalid with her 2 sons. One day they go out to hunt and come home to a shocking discovery.

The postscript of the story is: “It is said that parents in their old age become demons who will consume their children.” Maybe this is the origin of the practice explored in Ballad of Narayama?

House of Flame

19 minutes

House of Flame is another stop-motion puppet animation that caught my interest. This one animates a horse, very realistically. I was quite impressed. This is also the only story with a narrator for the puppets. The story is about a woman who cannot decide between two suitors and lives in guilt forever more.

As I mentioned above, this one is another example of beautiful backdrops and sets.

A Poet’s Life

19 min

I chose this story for the interesting story about a worker who is fighting for worker’s rights after losing his job. The details of this story are too unusual to give away, but it is a very unique story.

This animation is a drawn style, though it still could be stop motion using paper cutouts. It reminded me more of The Snowman, by Diane Jackson, because of the way the pencil markings jump around frame by frame.

Pixar Storytelling in a Box (cont)

Continuing on from my previous post about my experience with the Khan Academy course, Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling, the next lessons are ‘What if?’ and ‘World and Character’.

Lesson 3: What If?

Video 3 and Activity 3 are all about What if? Coming up with a story scenario, by asking “What if?”, the Pixar story tellers do a great job of putting popular movies into What if statements. For instance, what if our toys were sentient and could come alive? This is Toy Story.

Part A. What would the What if statements be for my favorite films?

  • What if unicorns still existed and could only be seen by a few people?
  • What if a couple accidentally adopted a girl, instead of a boy?
  • What if the King of England lost his mind?
  • What if the new Emperor of China was just a little boy?

The exercise is a little hard with true stories, but I guess they still work.

Part B: Come up with 3-5 What if stories

I have to admit something embarrassing. I created a list of about 30 what ifs about a week before I wrote this – but somehow, I lost them all! So I had to come up with new ones. I needed some inspiration.

Inspiration: Sanjay’s Super Team

For inspiration, I watched a short video called “Sanjay’s Super Team”. One of the Pixar storytellers mentions the movie. “Sanjay’s Super Team’s” What if question is: What if an Indian father could show his son, who loves action figures, what he sees when he’s praying? It is a pretty impressive video and it’s only about 7 minutes long, so no excuses!

My What ifs?

Sanjay’s Super Team did inspire me. I didn’t come up with as many ideas this time around, but here are a few:

  • What if my cats could be real people?
  • What if pets could give their owners advice about life?
  • What if there was a world where your imagination rule everything?
  • What if my lost What if stories came true?
  • What if there was a land of lost and found, where every lost item lived?
  • What if my search to find my lost stories took me on a quest to an imaginary land, where my cats came along as my companions but were turned into humans?

Turns out, I’ve got cats and lost stories on my mind!

Lesson 4: World and Character

Part A: Identify the main characters and worlds in your three movies.

The Last Unicorn

World: Medieval world of magic. Most action is on the road or the woods, and then in a castle.
Main Characters: Unicorn, Magician, Cook, Evil King
Connection: I definitely connected more with the unicorn, but sometimes with the magician.

Anne of Green Gables

World: Small yet idyllic town in the 1800s.
Main Characters: Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Donna
Connection: Definitely connected with Anne!

Madness of King George

World: England, English palaces, late 1700s.
Main Characters: King George, Dr Willis, Equerry
Secondary: Queen, Lady Pembroke, Prime Minister, Lord Chamberlain
Connection: I connected with the equerry, who’s just trying to do the right thing.

Part B: Mix characters and worlds from a different stories

Combining worlds and characters gives pretty interesting results. The first time I did this exercise, I used The Last Emperor instead of the Madness of King George. So I got Unicorn + Forbidden City combinations. The combinations that make the most sense would be Anne of Green Gables + The Last Unicorn. Helping a unicorn find other unicorns would be Anne Shirley’s life’s dream. I could also see the Evil King thriving in the Forbidden City, or the mad King George doing pretty well in the medieval world of magic.
[pic]

Part C: Pick your favorite What if statement. Imagine a possible world and character.

Going back to my favorite What if statement, I guess the last one is the most obvious. A main character would be someone socially anxious who spends a lot of time living in his head. My cats as people would be about 11 years old. One cat would be an energy-filled girl. Not that different from Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, or Pippi Longstocking. The other cat would be a girl that’s a little bit overweight. She would have a pleasant demeanor, but also be easily frightened. Both of them, would at times be absentminded and always ready to take naps. But they would be very loyal and supportive.

Final: Storytelling Advice

The final video in this lesson features Pixar storytellers giving advice to new storytellers. The thing that I connected with in this video, is that getting good takes practice. Even if you think you’re not getting better, what you will see over time is a stack of drawings and papers that show your progress. Sometimes what you think are mistakes are not mistakes. They are signs of the search for the right story.

It’s going to take some time for me to think about Part D of Activity 4: What would my world look like? Until then, I’m going to keep thinking about storytelling inspirations, and remember to keep chipping away at it.


I don’t know when the next section in the Khan Academy course will come out. But, in the meantime, I will post more articles about storytelling.

More artwork from Sanjay Patel, the creator of Sanjay’s Superteam, can be found at Ghee Happy. It’s just cool.

Ancient Information Theory, Symbol Space, and Alphabets

It’s hard to believe that alphabet we use today is essentially a set of symbols that developed over thousands of years. And why are so many alphabets so similar, even though the languages are so different? There’s an answer!

In one of Khan Academy’s Computer Science track of videos, called Journey into Information Theory, there are two videos that are extremely informative in explaining how the written alphabet developed. I’ve included links to the videos on YouTube.

The initial breakthrough is simple: disassociating the meaning of the word from the symbols used to create it. This is also known as the Rebus Principle. (Also seen in picture puzzles and the game show, Catchphrase!) From that, symbols can be rearranged to create different sounds and convey meaning. This principle evolved over thousands of years, getting more and more abstract and, along with writing technology such as papyrus, gives us the alphabets we use today.

There are links below the videos, if you’re interested in learning more. I also recommend watching the whole series of videos on Information Theory.


The first video is the Origin of the Written Language. The video goes into cave drawings, or Pictograms, and the development of symbols called Ideograms, as well as proto-writing.

The second video is called the History of the Alphabet and the development of Hieratic writing, a type of cursive invented for papyrus, and Demotic writing, a further development of hieratic.

Remember that the point of these videos is to explain information theory, so there’s a focus on what is known as symbol space. Symbol space decreased as the use of the alphabet increased, as more information could be shared with fewer symbols.


After watching these, you might be interested in learning more. Here are a few references:

Still thinking about changing my final project idea: interactive plant vs blinky lights?

A discussion Monday night got me thinking about my Phys comp final again. I like the bionic gardening, but I also want something really fun. The other student I was talking with was trying to convince me to do my original-ish LED light board idea. So, at home I thought about it a little bit more.

If I had the time to do this, I’d get 108 RGB LEDs, and a perfboard in 5″ x 5″ squares to measure a rectangle 30″ L x 10″ H. Each LED would be spaced 2.5″ from its neighbor, so that there would be 9 LEDs per square.

The interaction: When a user walks by, the LEDs light up in response. The color of the LED depends on how far or close the user is to the LED board. So, the closer, the more red; basically it goes through the visible light spectrum starting from indigo to red.

In addition, my original idea had sound output as well. Sound might be too confusing. I sort of just like the LEDs. I think this is something that would look spectacular, but I just don’t feel that I have enough time.

UPDATE: Perhaps I’ll just do this on my own, anyway. Seems easier than the UV Sunlight watch, but more difficult than the talking plant. In any case, I need to order ton 0′ parts, soon!

Using FSRs to turn on vibration motorsor

Tonight I was working on putting together some of the pieces for my Android Pet Plant.

To make the plant vibrate, I plan to use the 1″ FSRs around the flower pot which will trigger at least 2 vibration motors. To test this out, I cut open a cardboard Diamond Crystal salt container and stuck a piece of foam in the bottom of the container. Then I poked holes through the foam and through them I shoved some leaves that I got from someone’s fruit and the two motors, which I taped to the leaves with electrical tape.

On the outside of the container, I attached the FSRs with masking tape and then covered them in this fake leather stuff, which I flipped over so the soft part faced out. I wrote Pet Me on them, too. All of that went into the Arduino and, when I switched it on, I got vibration when I “petted” the pot.

motors
motors


The code was fairly simple. I simply reused something I’d written before. I suppose I should change the code from LEDs to motors, but I’m just trying to make it work for now.

int analogFSR = 4; // FSR analog input
int motorpin = 10; // Motor pin
int FSRValue = 1; // Value of the FSR

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

void loop() {
  FSRValue = analogRead(analogFSR); // read the left FSR value
  analogWrite(motorpin, FSRValue/4);
  Serial.println(FSRValue); // print the FSR value back to the

  delay(500); // gives a 10 millisecond delay
}

Event: The Kitchen Presents – Nancy Garcia/Chase Granoff

Saturday, November 7, I went to The Kitchen with a friend to see a double performance by Nancy Garcia and Chase Granoff. Nancy Garcia is also a graduate of ITP.

As far as Chase Granoff’s work, “The Art of Making Dances”, I quite liked it. I found it easy to “get” quickly, in that I found it both entertaining and provoking in a non-intimidating way. They were offering a copy of The Art of Making Dances after the show. I didn’t get it because, well, mostly because I didn’t want to spend $10. Maybe if it had been $8 or $9, I would have bought it. Plus, I wasn’t alone and I didn’t want to hold up my friend. We were hungry.

As far as Nancy’s work, “I need more”, I really wanted to like this particular performance a lot more than I did. Maybe I was hoping for something that better fit my particular aesthetic needs, or maybe I was hoping for something I could connect with on a more immediate level. For instance, I would have liked to see more of an emotional statement with the choreography, as well as more cohesiveness between the dance sections. Although the four parts flowed one to the other, I also had a feeling of choreographic separation between the parts, but maybe that was done purposefully. In addition, I also did not appreciate the how loud music/sound was, and I didn’t understand the purpose of the singing. On the other hand, my exposure to the type vocal performance she was doing is still quite limited, so I guess I would have always a difficult time connecting with anyone’s show that involved that type of sound/vocal performance. I’m still learning, so there’s still time.

Anyway, none of these things really turned me off to her work, and I only offer these critiques as audience feedback (should she ever check out my blog). In viewing her website, I found her other work interesting and I’m impressed by her continued activity as a dancer, so if I have a chance to see her work in the future I’ll probably take it.

In any case, before I wrote this post, I checked my Gmail account and found the email Nancy sent to me regarding ITP. I asked her advice regarding ITP and she really wrote the most comprehensive and useful response of all the people I talked to about ITP. I wish I had looked it up when I was selecting classes this semester because it was really good advice. Well, I won’t post her answers but I will post my questions:

Hi Nancy,

Midori Yasuda sent me your contact info regarding the ITP at NYU. She
also sent me a link to your thesis, and I thought it was really very
interesting.

I plan to apply to ITP. My background is in dance and human-computer
interaction/usability. I’m interested in this program because I have
been looking for a way to synthesize dance and technology; although I
do not dance as much as I used to, I still have a passion for the art.
Your thesis seems very similar to an example something I might like to
pursue.

If you don’t mind, I have some questions that I’d like to ask:
————————————————————————-
I’m interested to learn more about what led you to ITP? Did you have
any doubts?
What have you been up to since graduation? Did you have a plan for
what you wanted to do after graduating?
What types of ideas did you want to explore?
How difficult was it to pursue study in movement, dance and
technology? What were some of the challenges? highlights?
How challenging did you find the more technical aspects of the program?
Is this still something you are pursuing?
If this was my focus at ITP, do you have any advice for me?
How did you come up with your thesis?

Tuition is a big factor for me. How did you deal with tuition costs?
Are you aware of any scholarships or grants for dance-based work in
technology?

Now that you’ve graduated, what is your opinion of the experience?
Would you do it again? Is there anything you’d change?”

Peaking, at Chez Bushwick

Peaking is a four-person exhibition of video by Janet Biggs, Heather Cassils, Molly Davies, and Andrew Sroka curated by Maya Ciarrocchi. I attended on October 17, 2009 at Chez Bushwick, in Brooklyn, NY.

While all the videos were impressive, my favorite was by Janet Biggs. A clip called ‘Performance of Desire’, from 2007. In this short video, Biggs cut shots of cadets from The Citadel practicing and then performing a drill using rifles with bayonets, with inverted shots of two synchronized swimmers practicing.

I think what I enjoyed about this film was the distant look of concentration in the cadet’s eyes. In one short clip he looked in the direction of the camera, but it didn’t quite register. I also liked the fact that the synchronized swimmers were in their underwater environment and if distraction was a possibility, they would be virtually immune, except that they had the added distraction of coming up for air.

If you’re interested, you can find a clip of that video on her website. Performance of Desire.