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September 16 2011


The Art of Social Change – Why You Should Care

The European Congress of Culture that just ended in Wroclaw, Poland, has been one of the most important European events during this year’s Polish presidency in the EU. Run with impetus, packed with intellectual and artistic personalities, the congress made an attempt to highlight Europe's most important art initiatives. What about this cultural project could be interesting in the context of the NetSquared Community?

Technology Meets Art for the Social Good

I can think about at least two things. First of all, the congress’ motto: “art for social change.” When social change is the goal, the means leading to it are secondary. Many community arts projects already have their roots in new technologies, and the projects presented at the congress were no exception. During the event, I participated in the “Idea Generator” — an experiment inspired by the Social Innovation Camp model. For more than 24 hours, I found myself locked in a designed creative space with 50 other people. I had no Internet connection; they also took away our mobiles. We had nothing else to do than to form groups, think, plan, and work — be creative within this carefully defined setup. Our projects were all art-driven, all supported by technology. The idea was to address a real social need with an art project with a strong online component. A prime example was “e-motion,” the project I worked on myself. “E-motion” is about creating a map layer (in a form of an application). This emotional map would be the result of a joined effort: a week of the tech and art teamwork with young and elderly representatives of a certain local community. After the 24-hour sprint, we presented the results of our hard work in front of the Soul for Europe — a parliamentarian working group of the European Parliament.


When Wanting to Make a Change, a Focus on People is a Plus

What I really liked about the project was how in its core, unlike the “real” Social Innovation Camp, it focused on the participants rather than projects. The atmosphere of an experiment, of a performance even, made us feel like we were the artists and the stars of it all. The projects that we were inspired to create were as much about us as they were about the social challenge that we were trying to meet. However, I do not believe that truly meaningful projects can be designed within 24 hours. Great ideas can be born, but not implemented in that timeframe. It seems more honest to focus on things that we can actually achieve in this short period of time. And we can carefully examine our skills, work style, the role we happen to take when working in a group, re-think issues that we find most important. We can also meet people, make connections — all because of and for social change, but the impact cannot be - and never is - immediate.

Europe: The Challenge of Encouraging Diversity and Becoming "One"

The other thing that might be appealing to the international community was a discussion devoted to the topic first highlighted by Zygmunt Bauman during the congress opening speech: "What is Europe?" The European Union, and Europe itself, stands for a social, cultural, and political concept. The idea of Europe, although it is possible to differentiate it from the images that other continents bring to our minds, remains vague, undefined, and complex. We want to feel European because we know that, unless we form a union, we will eventually become unimportant, and overshadowed by the world’s big economies. However, we still have not figured out what this attempt of becoming “one” really means. We all speak different languages, we cultivate small local differences, and — interestingly enough — we want to make this diversity our strength.

Fussiness And Euro-Centrism

I couldn’t help noticing the euro-centrism of the event when I found this little note in the daily newspaper that depicted ECC discussions so carefully: The film awarded with the Silver Lion at this year’s Film Festival in Venice is “People Mountain People See”. It tells the story of Chongqing, the world’s biggest city — located in China — with 35 million inhabitants. Chongquing's population almost exceeds that of Poland. And it is bigger than many European nations — groups of people that were privileged enough to form their own complex cultural identity. The old continent is fascinating, but the history of a long cultural dominance over the world spoiled it. Whoever wants to go international by going European has to keep this in mind. Europe is many things, and all of them deserve your full attention.

All the materials linked are available in English language.

April 25 2011


Video: "Steve Kurtz: Cultural Resistance"

A Civic Media Session about models and techniques for public interventions and soft subversions aimed at undermining authoritarian tendencies in a time of neo-liberal domination.

Known for his work in Electronic Civil Disobedience and BioArt, Steve Kurtz is a founding member of the Critical Art Ensemble, a collective of five tactical media practitioners of various specializations including computer graphics and web design, film/video, photography, text art, book art, and performance.

Formed in 1987, Critical Art Ensemble’s focus has been on the exploration of the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism.

Download! (.mp4)

read more

December 15 2010


A Christmas Present for You, Ricochet Readers

I don’t know about you, but December’s been pretty crazy for me. Between trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance (yeah, right) and trying to learn new things, I was shocked to realize Christmas is next week.


Nevertheless, I’ve a little treat for you: Do-it-yourself polka dotted Christmas wrap and digital wallpaper, made with Processing. A sample’s below.

Take your pick of default sizes: 960 x 600 pixels or 1280 x 800 pixels.
Christmas polka dots
I learned a few things while making this project:

  • What they say about coding is true: You’re more apt to learn something if you’ve got a project in mind.
  • The initial bits of Processing are pretty easy to understand. But then there’s trying to grok random (not so bad) and shuffle (oy).
  • Coffee is good. Sleep is better.

To try Processing for yourself, copy my code from Github and paste it into the Processing.js Web IDE, or download Processing and tweak it locally.

Creative Commons LicenseThe code is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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December 06 2010


“An art brand”: Gawker Artists looks at the image beyond the display ad

Five years ago, Chris Batty, until this week Gawker’s vice president of sales and marketing, was looking to fill un-purchased ad space on the site. He wanted to forgo the “horrendous creative” of ad networks that litter sites with penny stocks and would keep his sales teams pushing buttons instead of building relationships. Batty sought something prettier, more intimate, more unique for the company’s growing real estate. At the time, he was living with a woman who worked for Christie’s art house, and he prodded her to find artists to fill the empty space. She didn’t act on Batty’s inspiration, but he did — bringing images of artists’ work to stand alongside Gawker’s blog posts.

The result was a workaround that gave Gawker full control over its pages’ aesthetics. Born as a stopgap to complement blog posts, Gawker Artists is now taking on an unexpected life of its own — it became a standalone site in 2006 — in large part by thinking of art not merely as a pretty placeholder for text but as something that could survive on its own. Something that could be modeled and monetized. “Gawker Artists is an art brand rather than an editorial brand,” Gawker Media’s director of marketing, Erin Pettigrew, points out. That’s a major distinction in an industry that uses the word “art” as shorthand for photos, infographics, cartoons, and any other visual.

G.A. curators — working with more than 1,400 artists with 35,000 images — tailor and export work to media partners like Elle, Curbed, and The Atlantic. They hang pieces at Gawker’s notoriously bit-focused office, and are in talks to curate work for the headquarters of another high-profile startup. G.A. organizes sponsored exhibitions and events and collaborates with brands on creative projects. Soon, it will launch an art shop that sells limited-edition prints.

It’s an experiment that suggests the power of looking beyond text in journalism’s business models. As Ivan Askwith, director of strategy at Big Spaceship and a founding member of MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, puts it: “Let go of the idea that content needs to be created in a certain medium.”

“A good karma project” is a good business proposition

In hindsight, Batty says he would have found a simpler solution for the ad space. Networks are more versatile now, and Gawker can collapse un-purchased space, folding the pixels away and making them disappear. That would have been a shame, though, for Jonathan Fasulo, a photographer who shows on artists.gawker.com. A company that builds websites for photogs found Fasulo there, liked his work, and is giving him a free site for two years. Berlin-based Winston Torr started exhibiting on G.A. earlier in 2010 — and within a week of signing on, his Facebook fan page jumped from 175 to 275 followers. That was followed up with a phone call from the curator of a new Berlin gallery, who wants Torr for a show.

Gawker doesn’t represent artists, but it provides free profiles and exposure. “We both want to communicate with as big an audience as possible,” says Liz Dimmitt, drawing a comparison between artists and journalism companies. Liz and her 24-year-old sister, Genevieve, curate Gawker Artists, visiting studios and taking submissions.

Right now, G.A. is a corporate art program: It’s not charged with generating revenue, producing traffic, or breaking news. The site is an endearingly calm space among Gawker’s tumultuous, often cheeky media properties. “We are sort of a good karma project,” says Liz, who interned with JP Morgan Chase’s corporate art program seven years ago and joined G.A. in 2006. Genevieve, fresh out of Savannah College of Art and Design, says, “I didn’t really know what Gawker was,” but adds that it’s “kind of genius for them to be placing art in their ad space.”

That genius is not just about G.A.’s use of ad space; it’s also about their construction of an entirely new community (in this case, artists) that builds an entirely new resource (in this case, art) that is entirely monetizable: exhibits, art-based events, prints, etc. Some of the most promising media organizations are bringing their business models offline: Mashable inaugurated Social Media Day; Vice invited its merry band of hipsters to watch Eastbound and Down; the Economist holds business summits; Vogue brings out the fashionistas; GQ opened a restaurant division; Wired pops up its SoHo store; Tyler Brule’s traveling journalism operation, Monocle, has an office that publishes in the back and sells products in the front. What makes G.A.’s model work is that they move offline by harnessing community-generated content online.

Gawker Media (and Art House)

Since Gawker differentiates between a Torr painting and, say, a picture of Putin, the company can use each resources in different ways. One way they do that is to spread their new resources to visually-based websites. Each month, the Dimmitt sisters cycle new content through Gawker Media properties, and G.A. offers to share the code with anyone who wants it (simply fill out a form with preferred display sizes). More than 200 sites — many of them those of Gawker Artists — feature Gawker’s art on their blogs and Flickr and Etsy profiles. Digital Americana, a literary and culture mag made strictly for the iPad, exhibits Gawker Artists as a footer banner on its site.

For bigger journalism outfits (like Curbed, Elle, and The Atlantic), the Dimmitts hand-curate. Curbed, a real estate-focused network, features art from thematically-related artists in the top-right corner of its site and as banner ads to break up blog posts. General Manager Josh Albertson trusts the Dimmitts to pick images that fit, and if you check out Curbed, there’s a pleasant mix of architectural work co-branded as the “Gawker Artists Curbed collection.” Even though Albertson looks forward to the day when Gawker Artists content is replaced by paying clients, “we’d rather be running this than 25-cent weight-loss CPM ads,” he says. Gawker curates these collections for free, but along the way, they’re building their second brand — and curators are getting to know their community for the time when bigger projects come along.

Gawker Artists also brings a three-dimensional sensibility to Gawker Media sites. Not Avatar 3D, but events, exhibitions, community. “I think Gawker has been somewhat of a pioneer in that respect,” says Erin Smolinski, media planning manager for Diesel USA. As part of Diesel’s Be Stupid campaign earlier this year, she spent $30,000 with Gawker Media, a buy that included run-of-site banners, custom roadblocks, co-branded posts, and a contest moderated by James Frey. Click-throughs were through the roof — 3.8 percent on custom builds, almost five times the industry average — and Diesel’s first-ever online campaign garnered Gawker up to $7 CPMs.

Simultaneously, Gawker Artists was curating its NSFW (“Not Safe For Work”) show featuring artist Justine Lai’s “presidents” series (somewhat SFW). Account exec Meredith Katz told Smolinski about the event, and Diesel put $5,000 of the buy to sponsor NSFW. “I liked the way it made our plan robust,” she says. Smolinski, who partnered with Gawker for its Silent Rave — a dance party with headphones (really) — says NSFW was “a little more intimate and brave” than the rave. It made the campaign resonate more, and Diesel got to wrap party guests in a room full of branded information.

This summer, the Dimmitts helped build an event with $10,000 from smartwater, a Glaceau (Coca-Cola) brand. Artist Ryan Brennan created a multimedia installation that synchronized with music and played well against the setting sun. Infinitely more engaging than a display ad, “the event creates a lot of value, no doubt about that,” says Clotaire Rapaille, author of Culture Code. He likes the fluid nature of Gawker’s creation. “Water is only good when it is in movement. Smartwater is ‘being’ movement, being alive and being in the moment. That reinforces your brand in people’s mind.” Not bad for community-generated content. “I’m actually shocked that more people haven’t done what we’re doing,” Liz says.

Image courtesy Gawker Artists.

November 02 2010


Century-old Rubino

Illustrations (mostly magazine covers) circa 1906 - 1910 by Antonio Rubino

01 Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

02 Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Polka du Jasmin
Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Polka du Jasmin

03 Antonio Rubino, 1910, cover for Il segreti d'amore al confessionale
Antonio Rubino, 1910, cover for Il segreti d'amore al confessionale

04 Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

05 Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Dan-y-Don
Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Dan-y-Don

06 Antonio Rubino, 1909, original illustration for the cover of Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1909, original illustration for the cover of Il giornalino della Domenica

07 Antonio Rubino, ca. 1907, cover for Delfina
Antonio Rubino, ca. 1907, cover for Delfina

08 Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Il Re Olaf (ballet)
Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Il Re Olaf (ballet)

09 Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

10 Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

11 Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

12 Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Maggiolata
Antonio Rubino, 1906, cover for Maggiolata

13 Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

14 Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

15 Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1907, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

16 Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica
Antonio Rubino, 1908, cover for Il giornalino della Domenica

These scans come from the heavily-illustrated coffee-table book Antonio Rubino: I Libri Illustrati, edited by Santo Alligo. Here are some links for the Italian illustrator Antonio Rubino (1880 - 1964):
--Comics from Coconino-World.com
--Italian photo gallery
--post at Lambiek.com
--kid's room decorated by Rubino

Salvador Bartolozzi (long overdue for another post)
Antonio Rubino, a couple scans from 1928 books
Mussolini's Toothpaste

September 14 2010


July 07 2010


Highlights and Pitfalls of Virtual Street Corners Project

We're just winding down my Knight News Challenge project, Virtual Street Corners, and haven't had time to sort through all the recorded materials and debrief the participants, but I wanted to share some initial thoughts and reactions.

The most encouraging takeaway from the project was the enthusiastic response it received. It seems to have struck a nerve and could be well worthy of further investigation. The piece is widely accessible without being overly simplistic, with the potential for opening up complex social interactions. On the other hand, there were also various aspects that fell short of my expectations.


The project aimed to connect the Boston neighborhoods of Brookline and Roxbury through citizen journalists' video newscasts that were projected on life-size screens to enable real-time interaction between citizens.

It seems funny in this era of technology, but people treated the idea of seeing another street corner across town appear in the window as something magical. They laughed and many people just found it very entertaining to connect in this way. I had many requests to set the installation up in other places -- including the MBTA, Boston's public transportation system -- and we attracted a wide range of willing participants. We also received excellent media attention, ranging from wide coverage in the blogosphere to substantial pieces in the Atlantic, the front page of the Boston Globe, CBC Radio, and WGBH (PBS) TV.


Local politicians -- from city councilors to former presidential nominee Michael Dukakis -- joined with artists, educators and activists to take part in street corner dialogues on a range of issues. Electricians, carpenters, web conferencing experts, community organizers and commercial designers all stepped up to donate services. However, one of my biggest lessons is that free is never completely free. As one person on our team was fond of saying, "Out of fast, cheap and good quality -- you can get two but never all three."


Tech Issues

In the end, I underestimated the amount of resources needed to carry out the project on the scale I had envisioned. My biggest pitfall occurred in the tech department. We went into the project with tremendous momentum -- an article on the front page of the Boston Globe on opening night, a great team of journalists, an exciting lineup of participants to carry out the street corner forums. I put the majority of my time and resources into community organizing, outreach and design, wanting to make sure that I moved the conversation from simple greetings into important and unique dialogues that this particular installation had the potential of achieving.

Having experimented with the installation before, I expected the tech piece to fall into place without too much difficulty. Getting a high-speed internet connection, videoconferencing and recording it all to a hard drive seemed like it should be pretty straightforward -- but that was not the case.

The combination of the various components, and getting them to operate for extended periods in environments other than what they were designed for, created endless problems. The issues were compounded by working in a community like Roxbury, which has a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure. Things as simple as acquiring high speed Internet became major hurdles. Comcast assured me that they could easily provide the connection but when they arrived for the installation told me it was impossible to do. So we actually had to spend three days rewiring a historic building to acquire Internet access.

I was donated a myriad of high-end equipment, which saved me a lot of money; but it also cost me dearly in time and functionality since I was not familiar enough to troubleshoot problems when they came up. We had many dropped calls and dropped audio, meaning the system was often not functioning.

Furthermore, as I was running the entire tech myself, I had to run back and forth to reset the audio and video each time it went down. This was obviously very frustrating, but the biggest problem was that it discouraged participation. Profound interactions, both planned and spontaneous, were interrupted repeatedly, or had to be rescheduled or cancelled.

Intense Committment Tough to Sustain

Tech problems also posed a major obstacle to the journalism piece of the installation. Our plan was that journalists from each neighborhood would file reports every day, and the reports would run simultaneously, allowing pedestrians to share the same experience and generate conversation between the communities. For a good part of the project, however, the videos would only show at one location or the other. So it was news to only half of the observers, and it interfered with my goal of a mutual experience. This was a huge disappointment and was very demoralizing for the journalists who worked so hard on their pieces.

The other significant problem we encountered was that our staff found it difficult to sustain such an intense commitment over a short period of time (one month). For example, the journalists were hired to file reports five days a week for three weeks. We had three people quit less than two weeks before we started because other longer term and higher paying jobs took priority. No matter how enthusiastic folks were when they were hired, we could not compete with full-time employment and family commitments.

Final Thoughts

We are excited by the potential of the project and how it was embraced by the communities where we installed it. We were also inspired by the relationships that were developed through the piece, and by the number of requests we had to install it permanently or set it up in other locations.

However, I would never again work with equipment I wasn't able to test extensively for months in advance, and would make sure I was able to pay enough money to retain skilled labor despite the length of the project.

Those are my inital impressions, and I'll share more thoughts soon.


From prefab paint to the power of typewriters to the Internet: Distrust of the Shallows is nothing new

[Matthew Battles is one of my favorite thinkers about how we read, consume, and learn. He's reading and reacting to Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. Over the next several weeks, we'll be running Matthew's ongoing twin review; here are parts one, two, three, and four. — Josh]

When factory-produced paint was first made available in tubes in the 1840s, it transformed the practices of painters. Previously, paint-making had been part of the artist’s craft (a messy task, ideally handled by assistants). Grinding pigments, measuring solvents, and decanting the resulting concoctions into containers (glass vials and pigs’ bladders were frequently used). The texture of the artist’s work was determined by the need to make paint, but the paints themselves also literally determined the palette, and even to a certain extent the subject matter, of their works. With the advent of cheap, manufactured tube paints, paint could be a sketching medium; it became easier to carry paints into the field to paint en plein air. Renoir even went so far as to say that without tube paints, the Impressionist movement would never have happened.

Looking through new tubes, so to speak, nineteenth-century artists found a new way to look at the world. Rarely will you find an art historian who will complain about the damaging effects of manufactured paints, or talk about ready-made pigments as if they determined the course of nineteenth-century art in some limiting fashion. Technological innovation made possible a creative renascence in painting.

Nicholas Carr begins the second chapter of The Shallows with a similar story, describing the transformation that took place in Nietzsche’s work when the beleaguered, convalescent philosopher purchased his first typewriter. A friend noticed a change in Nietzsche’s work after he began to use the machine — and Nietzsche agreed, noting that “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

Observers have long noted the uncanny capacity of the typewriter to tranform the very thinking of its users. Indeed the typewriter transformed many aspects of life in the last decades of the nineteenth century, from correspondence and private literacy to the role of women in the workplace — changes both lamentable and liberating. But the machine’s cognitive capacity was particularly disturbing to writers and critics.

Carr traces the advent of the typewriter brain to the concept of neuroplasticity: the notion that the brain is susceptible to changes in structure and function throughout its lifetime. It’s a broad concept, as Carr allows, covering addiction, neural adaptation to the loss of a limb or the mastering of a novel musical instrument, and the sort of changes in working pattern, attention, and even aesthetic sensibility that seem to accompany the advent of new tools. Carr begins in this chapter to trace some of the history of our understanding of the brain’s adaptability, arguing that neuroplasticity is a relatively new discovery in the cognitive sciences. (It isn’t; as this post at the blog Mind Hacks shows, research into various aspects of plasticity has been going on for more than a century.)

Carr’s concern about the effect of the Internet on our brains hinges on the slipperiness of neuroplasticity as an idea. Because after all, there’s good change and bad change, and little way of telling whether the Internet will induce all one or all the other — or (far likelier, if history is any guide) a fair share of both the good and the bad. Carr puts it like this: “Although neuroplasticity provides an escape from genetic determinism, a loophole for free thought and free will, it also imposes its own form of determinism…As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

I have no doubt that the Internet has changed my brain, and in a few of the ways Carr worries about. Some of those changes feel like transformations of consciouness; others feel like worrisome addictions. Thinking of Shirky’s cognitive surplus in particular, I can conceive a peril that Carr might agree with. Shirky’s surplus can be thought of as a newly-discovered resource — and it’s in the nature of capital to try and harness such resources. It’s becoming obvious that one way to harness it is by creating systems of reward that neurochemically goose our brains in exchange for access to our spare cycles. Cory Doctorow has aptly described the social media, and in particular Facebook, as “Skinner boxes” that reward our brain’s desire to communicate in return for access to our minds and our information.

So I agree with Carr to this extent: As users of new tools, we need to take care. But for our brains’ ability to adapt and change over time, we should be grateful. Looking to the past, we see that new tools have led to new possibilities, new ways of thinking and seeing, again and again. As a writer, I’m curious to find out where the tools of our time will take me; to the extent I’m an historian, I’m very skeptical that we can discern the form those transformations will take in aggregate.

To many art lovers in the nineteenth century, Impressionism looked like the Shallows in its obsession with surfaces and in its overturning of deep-rooted canons of painterly sensibility. But today, most of us are likely grateful for the changes the new tubes wrought in the brains of Renoir and Monet. Perhaps the tubes of our time should be approached in a like spirit.

March 16 2010


The Amazing Art of Disabled Artists

Some of the best artists deal with disabilities in their everyday lives that the rest of us can’t even imagine living with, and use art to communicate with the world. The results are often stunning.

We’ve collected biographies and sample pieces from outstanding disabled artists, both famous and lesser-known.

The artists below paint with their hands, their mouths and their feet.

Many are blind or suffer from mental disabilities, yet they produce some of the most beautiful and intricate artwork that you can imagine.

Their achievements are arguably epic in the face of the adversity that they face.

We hope that the artists in this post inspire your designs and make you look at adversity in any field as a surmountable obstacle.

Stephen Wiltshire

Disability: Autistic Savant

Wiltshire was born in 1974 in London to West Indian parents. He is an autistic savant and world famous architectural artist. He learned to speak at the age of nine, and at the age of ten began drawing detailed sketches of London landmarks. While he has created many prodigious works of art, his most recent was a eighteen foot wide panoramic landscape of the skyline of New York City, after only viewing it once during a twenty minute helicopter ride.

Maria Iliou

Disability: Autistic

Maria Iliou is a Greek artist with autism spectrum disorder. She lives in Long Island, New York, and is an advocate for the rights of people with autism.

Joseph Cartin

Disability: Bipolar

Cartin is from Brooklyn and actively lives with bipolar disorder. He has been active in the Mental Health Consumer Movement since 1990 and considers himself a “psychiatric survivor”. He has won numerous art competitions and does corporate design work in addition to his art.

Peter Longstaff

Disability: Missing Both Arms

Peter is a foot painter. He creates all of his artwork using just his feet, having no arms. Peter’s disability stemmed from the drug thalidomide, which was prescribed for morning sickness until it was discovered that it caused deformities fetuses. After living most of his life without arms, Peter considers his right foot to be like the right hand of most people, using it dexterously to open doors and perform many other everyday tasks.

Willow Bascom

Disability: Lupus

Willow grew up in Saudi Arabia and Panama, where her father was a pilot on sea vessels. Her early introduction to varying cultures made her a huge fan of tribal art. Later in life she was struck with lupus, and started drawing when it went into remission.

Alice Schonfield

Disability: Diminished capacity through multiple strokes

Although Alice Schonfeld is most known for her sculpting work primarily in Italian marble, she is also regarded as an inspirational figure for the disabled community. She has shown a considerable tenacity to work through debilitating illnesses and has done a lot to promote awareness of disable artists. She resides in California.

Keith Salmon

Disability: Visually Impaired

Keith is a blind fine artist and avid mountain climber. He has climbed over a hundred Munros (a type of Scottish mountain), one of which can be seen in the first painting below. In 2009 he won the Jolomo award for Scottish landscape painting.

Lisa Fittipaldi

Disability: Visually Impaired

Lisa not only learned to paint after losing her sight, she wrote a book about it. Her inspiring use of color and her ability to tell which color she is using just by feeling the texture of the paint are just two remarkable facets of her story.

Matt Sesow

Disability: Missing a hand

Just six years after losing his hand as a child in an accident in which a crashed plane severed his arm and took away his dominant hand, Sesow played for the US team in the disabled Olympics in England. While working at IBM as a software engineer, he began painting scenes in oils that were influenced by his traumatic injury.

Michael Monaco

Disability: Quadriplegic

Michael Monaco is a quadriplegic who paints with his mouth. His work has been featured in global exhibitions and he is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painters Association.

Simon Mark Smith

Disability: No lower arms or right foot

Simon has no lower arms or right foot. In addition to his still paintings, he teaches digital photography and writes poetry and prose. He is also a web designer.

Dennis Francesconi

Disability: Paralysis

Francesconi is a mouth painter that excels at adding a high level of detail in his works, especially considering his method of painting them. He has participated in over 75 exhibitions around the world.

A. Erich Stegmann

Disability: Loss of arm use through polio

The first President of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, Stegmann lost the use of both arms and hands from polio at the age of two. A prominent mouth painter, he formed the association around 1953 and was voted president for life. The association continues to be home to hundreds of Mouth and Foot painters globally.

Richard Wawro

Richard Wawro was a prominent and prolific autistic savant artist from the United Kingdom. He began drawing at the age of three, and immediately covered the chalkboard with a number of detailed images.

Jessy Park

Disability: Autism

Jessica Park is an autistic artist from Massachusetts. She starts with a sketch of the scene and may refer back to a photograph for more detail later. Her mother wrote a memoir about Jessy’s story.

Ping Lian Yeak

Disability: Autistic Savant

Ping Lian is an autistic savant who has been producing amazing art since his childhood. He is now fifteen. More of his amazing art may be viewed at his website.

Christophe Pillault

Disability: Autistic Savant

This French autistic savant artist was born in Iran. He is unable to speak, walk or feed himself, but he produces paintings of flowing, beautiful figures. His art has been exhibited globally.

George Widener

Disability: Autistic Savant

Widener is a famous autistic savant artist whose works are exhibited in museums and galleries nationwide. He not only creates intricate works of art; he is also able to make complex calculations in an instant.

Gilles Trehin

Disability: Autistic Savant

The city of Urville exists solely in the mind of this French autistic savant artist. His elaborate sketches of the city are executed in intricate detail. He has published a book with over 300 detailed sketches of his fabled city.

Amanda LaMunyon

Disability: Asperger’s Syndrome

LaMunyon is a talented child artist that began painting when she was only seven. She is now twelve. In kindergarten, instead of cutting out letters to illustrate her alphabet, she drew her own.


Compiled exclusively for WDD by Angela West.

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February 08 2010


The Takeo Takei Lab of Ornithology

01 Takeo Takei, 1974
Takeo Takei, 1974

02 Takeo Takei, 1967
Takeo Takei, 1967

03 Takeo Takei, 1968
Takeo Takei, 1968

04 Takeo Takei, 1969
Takeo Takei, 1969

05 Takeo Takei, 1970
Takeo Takei, 1970

06 Takeo Takei, 1973
Takeo Takei, 1973

Works by one of my favorite artists, Takeo Takei (1894-1982). These prints come from one of the jewels of my collection -- a handmade artist book that a friend found for me on a recent trip to Japan. It would be nice to own the original prints, but that is never going to happen.

If you want to buy all 139 handmade books by Takeo Takei and have $45,000 to spare, go here.

Click images to view enlarged.

This artist featured in previous posts:

--Takeo Takei - Children's Day in Japan, 1936
--Forty-five thousand dollar leftovers
--Oedipus at Hiroshima
--Early 20th century Japanese magazine covers
--Early 20th century Japanese book covers

Japanese design in previous posts:

--Give Us Back Man - Japanese Graphic Design
--Japan's First Illustrated Book
--Mad Men and Friends
--Yukihiko Tajima's Gion Matsuri
--Eraserhead vs. Protractorhead
--The Wonders of Life on Earth - Yokoo details

January 15 2010


Finding Common Ground Between Citizen Art and Citizen Journalism

Comparisons are rarely drawn between the fields of art and journalism. But most of last month's work on my Knight Challenge project, Virtual Street Corners, was spent networking and conducting research into these areas. Since I will be hiring several citizen journalists, I've been reading up on that topic, and thinking about the similarities with the art world, which is something I'm much more familiar with. I've been contemplating whether there are lessons that can be transferred from one to the other.

One of the most obvious connections between citizen journalism and community-based artists is the shared desire to create more expansive and inclusive viewpoints than those offered by larger corporate ventures. In going local (and now hyper-local), both these grassroots movements hope to reach a broader range of people by presenting news or art that is more relevant to the lives of their audience.

Creating an Informed Consumer/Participant

Chi-Town Daily News', a Knight-funded project in Chicago that developed a cadre of citizen reporters, reminded me of Wendy Ewald's art project where she handed out cameras to untrained artists, often kids, and asked them to take pictures, while also training them in the art of photography.


Many of the resulting photos were compelling (like the one above), but Ewald put equal value on how the process affected the new artists. That is, tremendous importance was placed on the transformation occurring among the participants, and how their perceptions changed as they analyzed their environment through a lens. This shift was then transferred to family and community.

If we return to the analogy between Ewald and Chi-town's citizen journalists, it's clear the Chi-town project is doing much more than gathering news quickly and cheaply. The project cultivates a public which is more educated about, and invested in, the process of journalism, thus increasing their interest in journalism, and their ability to analyze and interpret the news.

I always marvel at how, despite the enormous amount of information at people's fingertips, we remain so uninformed. A solution requires more than just developing methods to produce better information -- it requires better ways for people to digest that information and relate it to their personal experience. Although some worry that the democratization of new media has lowered professional standards, increasing participation by "non-professionals" in the creation of news and art creates a more informed consumer (audience), and a higher demand for what we produce.

Dialogue Instead of Didactic

A similar point is made by Jon Pounds in the latest issue of Public Art Review, where he argues that we need to push art to be more like cooking than science. That is to say, we accept that many of us can dabble with and experiment with cooking, while still understanding a need for high quality chefs and food experts. They don't have to be at odds.

It seems to me that the relatively recent activity in the blogosphere, on Twitter and in other forums for non-journalists to delve into the journalistic realm causes us to now ask how journalism is defined. "What is journalism?" This similar tension between fine art and community art is not new. The question, "What is art?" is cliché. But like the new media journalist of today, community artists now believe that we can best reach our audience when we engage in dialogue instead of didactic.

It is for similar reasons that many community-based artists choose to show in public or alternative spaces. While at first it seems that museums and galleries serve the purpose of promoting the importance of art, the flip side is that these institutions help establish a separation between art and daily life. It's a type of ghettoization, if you will, that prevents a majority of the population from experiencing the work. With the purpose of overcoming that division, many community-based or "socially engaged artists" have adopted an approach of either merging their practice with other fields, or disguising their arts identity altogether. I think my foray into journalism/art with Virtual Street Corners harnesses that strategy.

November 30 2009


Virtual Street Corners Aims to Engage Public, Connect Neighbors

#5-Pedestrians in brookline.jpgOne of the primary challenges of any community art project is how to engage the audience. If no one is lured to participate, the dynamism of the piece is lost.

Virtual Street Corners, my Knight-funded community art project, benefits from the fact that there is an element of symbolism due to the respective histories of the two neighborhoods we are trying to connect. As I noted in my grant overview, "The Greater Boston neighborhoods of Brookline and Roxbury are 2.4 miles apart, yet there is little interaction between them because of divisions of race and class."

This helps create interest in the project. I have received quite a response from people just by invoking the idea of establishing a live 24-hour connection between these two community hubs. Many have said that just having people acknowledge or greet each other is a significant leap forward. For example, here's part of an email I received from a Brookline High School student:

"... I have been working for The Food Project near Dudley Square (Roxbury) for three years, taking the 66 [bus] all the time. It's a terrible cliche, but the Brookline and Roxbury have often felt worlds apart. One of the only other BHS students I've met who had even heard of Dudley Square, know it as "the end of the 66 you don't want to go to" or ask me "Aren't you scared you'll get shot?" So when I hear someone is doing something concrete and creative to try and bridge this gap, it makes me teary happy.... It makes me laugh to think that eighty years ago when Roxbury was more Irish than African American, my grandma went to barn dances under the same roof."

We recently set up a pilot project of Virtual Street Corners to test the concept, and this resulted in some fascinating interactions. It also exposed some potential drawbacks. One participant wrote to me about their experience:

"...there was an odd sense of safety in talking with someone I had never met, about anything. It's as if the virtuality of the whole thing emboldened us to say things we'd never say if we simply sat next to each other on a bus."

Geographically Close, But a World Apart

#1 -crowd gathers in Roxbury.jpg

Many people, after an initial greeting, were unsure where to go with the conversation. It is my goal in this second edition of the project to inspire or provoke people into having more involved conversations and exchanges. I'd even like to see people travel from one location to the other. Despite it being a 15-minute bus ride between these two neighborhoods, it is amazing how rarely this happens. To illustrate this point, I interviewed 25 people in each location. I asked them to draw the path they had traveled that day on a map. The results were even more dramatic than I had imagined. As you can see below, their the paths barely touch.

#9-Map showing paths of residents.jpg

The challenge is to get them to engage with each other and this project. There are two approaches I am focusing on: effective design and community organizing. I am also happy that a number of prominent academics in the field have agreed to advise me on the project. Francisco Ricardo, a media and contemporary art theorist and an advisor, outlined the challenge well during one of our discussions:

What is helpful is not to be too drawn into narrow/literalistic comparisons between your work and that of others -- the comparison should be conceptual above structural, and in that case, it compares with phenomenological works like Nauman's Live/Taped Video Corridor because what viewers are engaging is not dialogue/non-dialogue, but rather separateness/union. That is the first encounter in the experience, and dialogue happens next. But, alluding to an earlier concern I'd made, Nauman was aware of exactly how long the interaction was to last, and structured the corridor's curiosity factor for 1-2 minutes. Tuning an installation so that what it produces matches the amount of time one would likely spend in it is important in every work that hopes to elicit response. So the time factor depends on the built environment. The most realistic way to approach it is to "engineer" a plausible goal into the experience, some way for visitors to want to exclude external stimuli and distraction while trying to engage in the work.

Creating Visual Cues

During the next couple of months, I will be working with designers to figure out an effective way to use visual cues to draw people into the space, and also create an easily navigated interaction. In the pilot installation, I initially favored a more wide-open opportunity for people to talk about whatever they wished, as opposed to steering the conversation. However, this approach ended up leaving most people at a loss for what to say.

Caesar McDowell, CEO of Dropping Knowledge and professor at MIT, believes that the project creates a great opportunity to address specific issues and urged me to take an active role in facilitating the dialogue.

We talked of a number of possibilities, including posing questions, replaying previous clips of conversations, and providing historical information. McDowell also thought that rather than running the piece continuously, it might create more excitement to instill a periodic countdown along the lines of, "we will be live in X minutes." Another promising solution would be to install question-gathering booths two weeks before the start of the live screens. (This worked successfully for GhanaThinktank in Liverpool.) The idea is that this would get people acquainted with, and thinking about, the project. They could consider what conversations they might like to have, while also becoming familiarized with the screen and space.

Community Outreach

I will be dedicating the next two months to community organizing/outreach. I will be trying to discover the primary issues of important to each neighborhood, and to get people invested in using the project to further those goals. I am very open to tweaking the project to help accomplish the objectives that are revealed in that process.

The other challenge that I face is finding and hiring three "citizen reporters" for each neighborhood. They will bring back daily reports to share over the screen when Virtual Corners is implemented. I'd be grateful for any advice or recommendations you can provide in the comments about this process. I've never had to hire reporters before!

November 26 2009


Native American Indian Music

Native American Music. The music of the Native American Indians consists mostly of songs and dances. They have songs for games, children, love, work and social dancing. But most of their music is associated with some kind of religious activity.

Before 1900 the Plains Indians performed the ghost dance. It was supposed to drive away the hated white men and help the Native Americans get back their land and buffalo. It consisted mainly of singing and dancing. Although the Native Americans do not do the ghost dance anymore, they still sing the songs.

read more

November 17 2009


All Sorts of Remedies

01 Herbert Pfostl, the sky still farther away
Herbert Pfostl, the sky still farther away
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

Herbert Pfostl's new exhibit "All Sorts of Remedies" kicks off at Observatory in Brooklyn this Saturday, Nov. 21. (Opening is at 7PM; exhibition runs until January 8, 2010.)

Herbert -- creator of Blind Pony Books and the Paper Graveyard and a friend of AJRMS from the beginning -- kindly shared this preview of the show. Here's a description:
Small paintings as parables of plants and animals and old stories of black robbers and white stags. Fragments on death like mirrors from a black sleep in the forests of fairy tales. All stories from the dust of the dead in fragments and footnotes like melodies of heartbreak and north and night and exploration – breakdowns. About saints with no promise of heaven and lost sailors forgotten and the terribly lonely bears. The unknown, the ugly – and the odd. Collected grand mistakes, noble errors from many sources. Sinking signals – conscious or not – sonatas and last letters and great insults. The impossible tears in landscapes of ocean or stranded whales. A going far back to coals and cruelties and sobbing like songs in whiskey and blood. Of soldiers' last letters and all seven seas. With pirates and wars and prayers in holes in the ground. Of fallen women and orphaned children and drowned slaves and burned saints.
About the venue: "Observatory is a new presentation and exhibition space in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. The space seeks to present programming residing at the interstices of learning and amusement, art and science, and history and curiosity."

See you there if I can drag my ass out of Philly for once.

02 Herbert Pfostl, i only want that i never had a friend
Herbert Pfostl, i only want that i never had a friend
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

03 Herbert Pfostl, wir sind nicht zum bleiben gezwungen
Herbert Pfostl, wir sind nicht zum bleiben gezwungen
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

04 Herbert Pfostl, confirmed superstitions
Herbert Pfostl, confirmed superstitions

05 Herbert Pfostl, charms
Herbert Pfostl, charms
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

06 Herbert Pfostl, all things of this world
Herbert Pfostl, all things of this world
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

07 Herbert Pfostl, 2 sonnen
Herbert Pfostl, 2 sonnen
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

08 Herbert Pfostl, the fish in the water will move through your head
Herbert Pfostl, the fish in the water will move through your head
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

09 Herbert Pfostl, many die, it may be, on the road
Herbert Pfostl, many die, it may be, on the road
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

10 Herbert Pfostl, Little Care I Take
Herbert Pfostl, Little Care I Take
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

11 Herbert Pfostl, les animaux des poles
Herbert Pfostl, les animaux des poles
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

12 Herbert Pfostl, it makes no difference, if you never return again
Herbert Pfostl, it makes no difference, if you never return again
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

13 Herbert Pfostl, and that it lived with nothing done and nothing made to last
Herbert Pfostl, and that it lived with nothing done and nothing made to last
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

14 Herbert Pfostl, aweary, aweary
Herbert Pfostl, aweary, aweary
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

15 Herbert Pfostl, ewig...ewig
Herbert Pfostl, ewig...ewig
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

16 Herbert Pfostl, will never return
Herbert Pfostl, will never return
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

17 Herbert Pfostl, winter house
Herbert Pfostl, winter house
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

18 Herbert Pfostl, if you are not lost
Herbert Pfostl, if you are not lost
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

19 Herbert Pfostl, kommst nimmermehr aus diesem wald
Herbert Pfostl, kommst nimmermehr aus diesem wald
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

20 Herbert Pfostl, companions
Herbert Pfostl, companions
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

21 Herbert Pfostl, Since I saw my grave, all I want is to live
Herbert Pfostl, Since I saw my grave, all I want is to live
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

22 Herbert Pfostl, the walls are covered with tattoos
Herbert Pfostl, the walls are covered with tattoos
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

23 Herbert Pfostl, stiefmuetterchen
Herbert Pfostl, stiefmuetterchen
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

24 Herbert Pfostl, clearing
Herbert Pfostl, clearing
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

25 Herbert Pfostl, the things of this world
Herbert Pfostl, the things of this world
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

26 Herbert Pfostl, animals are little children dying
Herbert Pfostl, animals are little children dying
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

27 Herbert Pfostl, the invite image of framed work before the show
Herbert Pfostl, the invite image of framed work before the show
[artist's sites: Blind Pony and Paper Graveyard]

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