La Jam del Sur

AstroDime correspondant sam smiley just came back from a trip to Buenos Aires..and in the process was lucky to be invited to a grafiti party and jam in an area neighborhood. All and all, she shot an hour of video. The final version will be on vimeo, and will also be included in INtransit V.7: Ecology/Ecología, as part of “ecología de callejero” or street ecologies.
Here’s an interview with Ariel (Scratch) one of the organizers. He is a DJ, and his cousin, Nelson (Next Graf) is a grafiti artist. Included are photos of the final works.

Interview with artist Karen Aqua

Karen Aqua

One of the featured artists of INtransit V.6: “scientific american” is animation video artist Karen Aqua. Here is an interview exploring the process of creating “Twist of Fate”, a video piece exploring how modern illness intrudes and impacts one’s inner and outer experience. Her website is:

1)   What was the process of making this film like for you?

Sometimes the film was really hard to work on emotionally. But most of the time it was very positive: empowering and cathartic, a sense of taking control. When I first drew an image visualizing a cancer cell, it was very important for me. Here was something totally invisible that was dangerous and threatening, that I was able to make visible.  In a way, I felt that I could see and confront the enemy.  Visualization has always been a powerful tool for me.

The process of animation is also very labor-intensive & repetitive and there are lots of mundane tasks (like coloring and cutting).  So the work was also very distracting and absorbing, as I spent many weeks/months/years simply creating the drawings (a very pleasant endeavor).

2)   Do you see the arts and sciences related? How?

Many artists incorporate the sciences into their work (including my studio mate, Jeanee Redmond, who works in clay). The sciences offer a rich source of inspiration, and the intersection between the 2 disciplines is open to endless possibilities of creative interpretations.

3)   Would you relate any part of your art-making process to therapy, in the sense that it allowed you to reframe or transform your way of looking at or experiencing this illness? Or in another therapeutic way?

For a while after diagnosis and starting treatment, I felt so not myself, identifying myself as a cancer patient who happened to be an artist.  A huge shift happened when I started to get back into my studio and get to work again.  I was able to identify myself as an artist who happened to be dealing with cancer. This was when I felt the essence of myself returning, and it really helped.

In the creation of this film and related drawings over eight years, I turned to my art-making is a necessary, nurturing, cathartic, and life-affirming endeavor, as well as a means for sharing this experience with others.

Still image from "Twist of Fate"

4)   What are some of your future artistic and/or personal goals?

I have recently started a new animation project inspired by New Mexico, using pastel drawings to explore elements of architecture and the natural world.  It connects to the natural sciences through an interest in and close observation of insects and plants.  With this new project, I am continuing to experiment with combining drawings with animated textures and found materials.

Interview with artist Ben Aron

Ben Aron in recent performance "Where does it go?"

One of the featured artists of INtransit V.6: “scientific american” is video artist Ben Aron. Here is an interview exploring the ideas behind his work.

1.   What inspired you to create the piece “The Science of Business”?

My fascination with the capitalist basis of science and medicine in American culture inspired me to create this piece. It interesting, and backwards for me to see these systems fueled by the action/reaction of capital as opposed to the search for quality or advancement.

2. How does this piece relate to your past and future artistic ideas?

This piece is related to my larger body of work in that it uses a simple juxtaposition to hopefully bring up a larger relationship.

3. What connections have you made between the concept of “scientific American” and your piece “The Science of Business”?

I thought about what it means to make the distinction of “American” science, and how that is different from the larger practice of science itself. Also, how we treat science as a business, and business as a science.

4. Who would you consider to be a “scientific American”? Why?

Steve Jobs, because he is one of the most public embodiments of the American connection of science and industry.

Interview with digital media artist Andrea Polli

Andrea Polli

One of the featured artists in our upcoming INtransit “Scientific American” journal is Andrea Polli. She is a widely recognized digital media artist who examines issues of science and technology in contemporary society. She is currently an Associate Professor in Fine Arts and Engineering as well as the Director of the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media (IFDM) program at the University of New Mexico. Her 2008 piece “Ground Truth” looks at a how scientists track weather changes in Antarctica. Her most recent work is around developing sonification, a system that assists atmospheric scientists in understanding storms and climate through sound. Her website is:

This is an excerpt from a recent interview with Polli:

What inspired you to make this video on weather observation in Antarctica?

One basis for the ‘Ground Truth’ video was thinking about the fact that we are all actually weather stations. As human beings, we are endowed with a sophisticated set of weather sensors: rain, heat and cold are felt on the surface of the skin; clouds, fog and lightning are seen with the eyes; heavy winds and thunder are heard by the ears; and changes in atmospheric pressure are experienced in the ears and body.  A database of these sensory responses is not only stored in human memory, but in any situation, the brain can call up these memories and evaluate the sum of sensory experiences in order to make future predictions. In this way, the body is a weather station combined with the predictive and interpretive capabilities of a weather database and models.  However, although extremely effective in gathering qualitative information, the human brain lacks the quantitative abilities of computerized weather instrumentation.  In all the artworks I have created in relation to Antarctica, I have been investigating how humans gather and transmit qualitative information about weather and climate in Antarctica, and how this sensory experience may be interpreted and expressed via sonification.

After interviewing the scientists, what were the beliefs or ideas that most surprised you? Why?

It really surprised me how prevalent human weather observers are in that extreme environment.  I expected much more reliance on machines.  In fact, human weather observers have been stationed in Antarctica for over 50 years. Despite the isolated location, their work plays an important part in the generation of weather and climate forecasts throughout the world. In the interviews, I found two distinct worldviews about weather observation.  One group of scientists stated that human observers will only be necessary until instruments become advanced and reliable enough to collect the same level of information a human can gather, while a second group believed that machines will never be able to collect the same quality of information as humans, and that the human researchers will never accept the validity of information without the “ground truth”.  The one group viewed the results of computational and sensing machinery as absolute, while the other accepted a biological mode of sensing and analysis that has intrinsic value, either actual or perceived.  However, both views accepted that there is currently a symbiotic relationship between human and machine.

I witnessed the powerful authority of a weather observer at the South Pole firsthand.  During an interview with South Pole weather observer Victoria Sankovic, a C-130 flight came within range of the station.  Sankovic had the sole authority to determine whether or not this plane, containing about 20 researchers and much-needed supplies, would be allowed to land.  While the plane was approaching, the weather observations that she had been taking hourly necessarily increased in frequency until she found herself out in the -27 degree Celsius air every five minutes trying to determine whether the visibility was adequate for a safe landing.  She kept the plane in the air circling for almost three hours waiting for a window of visibility and came close to directing the plane to turn back.   A decision to make a C-130 military aircraft turn around, a situation called a ‘boomerang’, is taken very seriously in Antarctica.  The wasted fuel of a boomerang can cost over $50,000 in addition to lost research time, but the safety of the passengers and crew must take priority. Finally, Sankovic spotted a window of visibility and the plane was able to land.  At the South Pole and other Antarctic sites, weather observers can undergo this agonizing process as much as twice daily during the busy air traffic in the austral summer season.

As this episode indicates, despite the expense of keeping the human body alive in a dangerous environment like Antarctica, human weather observers are not only prominent, they are essential to field operations. Human weather observers must sense weather conditions with their bodies and respond rapidly to changing conditions.  In matters of life and death in the field, the sensing capabilities of the human body are trusted more than the “state of the art” instruments.

How have your views on climate crisis changed?

I have become very focused on public awareness of and participation in weather and climate monitoring.  The experiences with weather and climate scientists in Antarctica led me to create another project entitled Hello, Weather!.  This project is a series of professional weather stations installed in art and community centers across the world in order to de-mystify the collection and interpretation of weather and climate data. Artists, technologists, ecologists and environmentalists have been brought together around a growing number of these public weather stations.  By using sophisticated weather technology in an accessible way, Hello, Weather! attempts to create an alternative pathway for audiences to access and compare information about weather and climate.

At these sites, the station itself “becomes” a public artwork. All stations are wireless and solar powered and transmit data to a receiver that logs and uploads the data to an on-site computer.  Data is saved locally for archiving and use in art projects, and the Eyebeam and Debs Park stations currently provide data to three international volunteer weather observer projects: Weather Underground, Anything Weather and The Cooperative Weather Observer Program (CWOP).  This data is reused in government and commercial forecasts and scientific research.  In addition, the stations provide updated, online custom-formatted data, for example data in ascii text format and xml.  The station also serves as a context for workshops, presentations and other activities related to weather and climate.

Visitors to the Hello, Weather! website are also invited to contribute stories of extreme weather experiences, and the site includes several audio conversations between the author and interview subjects from all over the world about personal experiences of climate change.  Through the workshops, I am attempting to bring the affective experience of weather and climate into public consciousness and to connect personal stories to the process of weather data monitoring and analysis.  By sharing their experiences, workshops participants become aware of both the importance of weather and climate to their personal life history and the subjectivity of individual weather interpretation.   This awareness, coupled with learning about the science of weather and climate monitoring, will hopefully lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of the work of atmospheric scientists.

How would you describe your relationship with weather while at McMurdo Station?

In the South Pole where temperatures of -27 Celsius are considered warm in the summer, weather observers often limit their observations outside to just a few minutes.  Often they must take a partner on the observation for both verification of the observation and for safety.  When humans spend time in extreme environments like those of the Antarctic, they become very aware of the fact that the accuracy of weather information is necessary for safety and survival.  It is also very important to track weather in the Antarctic precisely because melting and other events have the potential to transform global weather patterns, which can cause disastrous changes across the globe in areas including temperature, sea level rise and wind circulation.  So, in my experience, the weather was both a local phenomenon and a global one, and I have tried to maintain that sensitive awareness in all my weather-related experiences and studies.

From an artist’s perspective what struck you most about the landscape in Antarctica?

It was definitely a shock to get off the plane for the first time in Antarctica and experience the vastness of the landscape, but for me what was more interesting was exploring the soundscape.  The Antarctic soundscape is one of extremes, from the very quiet to the oppressively loud.  For example, the wind produces a lot of white noise at the surface.  You can’t correlate it between locations, and you can’t subtract it out.  The quiet times are the most interesting, the times when the wind drops and you have no reflectors around you at all.  It actually can get still enough that you hear your heart beat. To be in a place so quiet you can hear the processes of your own body is a profound experience.  For example, while recording in the Dry Valleys, I continuously heard a high-pitched sound I attributed to the wind.  However, when I reviewed the recordings in the lab, the high-pitched sound was not on the recording.  After trying to record the sound twice, I realized that in the field I was most likely hearing the sound of my own nervous system.

While the soundscape of the Antarctic can be one of the most quiet in the world, it can also be extremely loud.  The experience of these sonic extremes was one of my motivations to travel to Antarctica.  In an attempt to reproduce the immersive nature of the Antarctic soundscape, I recorded while wearing in-ear binaural microphones (microphones that are placed inside the ears while recording in order to create a stereo image).  These soundscape recordings were used as inspiration for sonifications of Antarctic weather and climate data collected by the researchers.  The results serve as the soundtrack of the ‘Ground Truth’ documentary.   Through these soundscape recordings, audiences can become immersed in these environments. Through the sonifications, the scientists and scientific instruments ‘speak’ directly to audiences through data sets. In this way, the video integrates a combination of sonification and soundscape to try to bring audiences closer to a visceral understanding weather and climate and the Antarctic continent.

Astrodime at Maker Faire Rhode Island

Astrodime at Maker Faire Rhode Island

Sept 30 2009 by Amanda

This is a recap of Astrodime’s experience at the Maker Faire festival in Providence, RI. The website for the festival is at

On Saturday, September 19 the Astrodime Transit Authority demonstrated our tin can telecommunications system at the Maker Faire Rhode Island festival. The technicians of Astrodime, including sam, Julia, Lisa, and Amanda worked directly with adults and young children in using the AstroCan communications systems. Many adults were eager to prove to their children that the tin can system worked just as well as their iPHONES.

Set in the heart of the Financial District in Providence, Astrodime’s exhibition consisted of 2 videos displaying the most current INtransit journal “Can You Hear Me Now?” and “Secret Decoder”. Also on display were the hand-crafted iCANs, tin can phones, and wire tapping devices. Between 2pm and 10pm locals and out of towners experimented with our iCAN, tin can party line, and tin can phone wiretapping. Throughout the day, over 200 people tested the tin can communication device, and sam experimented with our wiretapping capabilities.

Maker Faire is the foremost event for grassroots American innovation. Being the first Maker Faire festival in Providence, this event attracted over 50 makers, inventors, and artists to showcase their most recent inventions. One of the highlights of the day was the disco bicycle party, designed by the custom frame bike-makers Circle A Cycles; another rare gadgeteer was Tellart, and they installed an interactive mixed reality pong game that people could play by wearing helmuts with IR LED’s attached. As Maker Faire continued into the late evening, the Providence River was set on fire as the themed “Celebration of Life” Waterfire festival took place!

Love on the Line

This is one of a short series of interviews on artists who are featured in our special and upcoming edition of INtransit: Can You Hear Me Now. G. Melissa Graziano’s animation, Love on the Line was featured on Cartoon Brew. It is an amazing work out of cutouts, featuring long distance love in the Victorian era

What inspired you with the original storyline?
I was driving around Westwood (the area of L.A. where UCLA is) and I had what I
thought was a funny image pop into my head: a very prim and proper Victorian
gentleman doing a Tex Avery take (bugging eyes, huge salivating tongue, wolf howls)
as he talks to his prim and proper girlfriend over the telegraph. Later that day, I
did a sketch of the idea in my sketchbook. About six months later, when I needed an
idea for my second-year film, I went back into my old sketchbooks and found the
drawing. I thought it was a good, simple idea and decided to run with it.

How did you come up with the title?
It’s about two lovers sending messages on a telegraph line. I thought “love on the
line” was a commonly used phrase that just fit the premise perfectly. I don’t
actually know where it comes from.

What interested you with the Victorian era setting?
I thought about the characters and why they would be apart, and
why they’d even have access to telegraph machines, since not everyone did in those
days–the telegraph was more akin to a courier service than a telephone service. So
I had Phineas’s father be a major player in the newly-constructed cross-continental
American railroad system. It wasn’t really important to the story, but it gave the
setting a bit more authenticity. As for Elizabeth, her family is just ridiculously
wealthy and very high on the social ladder, so I figured her parents would be the
first in their neighborhood to have their own telegraph machine in their parlor.

How did you make the set for the animation?
I did a lot of reseach on Victorian era furniture, architecture, wallpaper designs
and paintings. I designed the sets in Photoshop first, then painted the backgrouds
in watercolor on huge sheets of watercolor paper. I painted the furniture separately
and then cut it out and pasted it onto the set; I only just started using watercolor
paint as a medium when I started this project, so I wanted to make sure I could
control how my set looked as much as possible. Both sets are flat so that I could
lay the cut-out puppets on top and shoot the animation with a digital camera
suspended above the set.

What excites/interests you as an artist/animator?
I love using different animated media to tell stories in ways that I can’t do any
other way. It’s really exciting to take two different things and put them together
in ways no one has seen or done before. I always try to have the medium I’m working
in match with the story. In this case, I tried to use a paper doll technique to tell
a story that takes place in the 1870s because the Gibson style is iconic for that
time period. I didn’t use that exact aesthetic, but it inspired me to creat my own
designs. I almost used silhouettes, but decided against it in the end.

Interview by sam smiley

Love on the Line can be seen on Cartoon Brew at

In Memory of Woody Woodson

On June 13, 2009, biker dyke extraordanaire Woody Woodson died of ovarian cancer. Woody appeared in an interview in Astrodime’s INtransit Journal FAST WOMEN in all of her rainbow mohawked glory. She was 64, she was a member of Moving Violations, and a round the world biker legend.

I last saw her at the Boston GLBT film festival this spring 2009..she sat by Gina and me at the Womens’ Opening Night and we talked. She died on this Saturday, Boston Pride 2009. She’s awesome, we’re going to miss her

Here’s the interview I did in FAST WOMEN.
-sam smiley \(-_;)/


Interview with Geoffrey Alan Rhodes

This is the first in a short series of interviews on artists who are featured in our special and upcoming edition of INtransit: Can You Hear Me Now. Geoffrey Alan Rhode’s film, Tesseract is a fascinating and multifaceted look at Eadward Muybridge. -sam smiley

What sparked your interest in Muybridge and the topics in Tesseract?

I came to the story of Muybridge inadvertently. When I was first conceiving of this multi-channel film, I wanted to adapt a story written by Steven Millhauser, “Eisenstein the Illussionist,” which tells the history of stage magic’s demise in the face of cinema at the turn of the century. I was in contact with the author, but wasn’t able to get the rights because it was already optioned (and, in fact, was made in to the film “The Illussionist” with all the smart bits taken out). But telling the story to a friend, it made her think of an essay by Hollis Frampton on Eadweard Muybridge, “Fragments of a Tesseract.” Reading it, I immediately realized the resonance between the multi-channel form and Muybridge’s work and saw, as well, the connection between all these great upheavals at the turn of the century… the moving image, Taylorism, the end of stage spectacle… And Hollis Frampton was an amazing thinker. His essays are only beginning to be re-discovered. He saw in Muybridge’s obsession with pulling apart time a resolute humanism— a current against the regimentation of time… a view of time and movement as obsessional and inconceivable.

How did you decide on the use of multiple screens in your video? How
did that influence your editing?

The idea for making up the screen into multiple parts preceded the content, as I stated above. It was one of my first formal film ideas, it came to me when I was 19 and reading Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” while staying at my brother’s place in Boston (we shared a fascination with comics in the 80’s). I was struck by his comparison of cinema and comics as to how they communicate time. He calls the process of communicating action in comics “closure” where the reader has to reconcile the “gutter” between frames and imagine the movement (whereas cinema, of course, just moves). I was fascinated by the idea of bringing this irreconcilable difference in to the film frame and what that could make possible. It did make editing a nightmare. The amount of editing choices grows exponentially when you split up the screen. I didn’t feel like an editor, but a layout artist working in four dimensions: where in the x,y on the screen and how large, what’s on top and what’s underneath, and when does it happen. I wound up having to give myself limits, compositing the material based on my original drawings and then editing those mixdowns more like a normal film.

What did you have to do with respect to researching this topic?

I have slowly become a better expert on Muybridge. At the time of production I was most concerned with images and original text (Muybridge’s defense attorney’s speech and the events of his crime are taken directly from the reports in California newspapers of that year). In researching the timeline of his life I was struck by how flexible that history is… most biographies have slightly different years for the events– especially the sequencing of his experiments leading up to his more famous Motion Studies. In the editing room I found that I had to follow his process in a way. In order to produce the animated sequences of his photos, I scanned in almost 2,000 original photographs (a small portion of his 80,000 negatives!) and then produced individual animations of each. All this done on a home computer, waiting for the render bar to clear. Once animated, I discovered in those images while sitting in my dark editing room a certain melancholyâ especially in the image of the young lady joyfully dancing. It occurred to me that all these people are long gone. In fact, they are the end of history… I will never see the image of someone moving before those years of Muybridge’s obsessive production; before that it is still photos, then paintings, then nothing.

What did it take in terms of time and coordination to get all the cast
members and tech people together?

The project was generously funded by the Princess Grace Foundation, a really exceptional funder of moving-art works. Still, much of that was reserved for post, and the film was produced on a shoe-string. What made it possible was the arts community in Buffalo, New York. No where else could I have found such an exceptional community of theater costumers, actors, photographic collectors, and antique locations willing to donate their time and resources. And Buffalo is a city of that time period, its most famous hay-day the 1901 Pan-American Exposition when some of the first Edison films were produced and the first city lighting grid assembled.

What impassions you as an artist/cinemat0grapher?

I am quite attached to ideas and visions. I once read a Pat Conroy book where one of the characters says that he is capable of anything as long as he can see it in his head before-hand. I am like that. I can have very convincing images in my mind of how something will be, and without those, I have no idea how to create or want to.
For more information on Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and his work you can visit his web site at

iCan Featured in Citywide Section of Boston Globe

Sam and Gina’s presentation of the iCan was featured in an article by Katherine McInerney on December 21, 2008.  Only available in the actual paper was a photo of the audience’s engaged and beaming faces as they learned about the new possibilities for communication with ATA’s latest product offering- priceless! Check out complete article here.


Q&A with Mark Adams ('Secret Decoder Ring')

Continuing our blog series for ‘Secret Decoder Ring’ we hear from artist Mark Adams regarding his entry: A Model of the Universe: the work of Nathalie Miebach

What inspired you to produce this video piece about Nathalie’s work?

I’m always interested in work that looks back at the planet with humility from our exalted position as king of the beasts. Also how we can process real world information into beautiful things. Too often, environmental artists are preachy or hopeless. Nathalie Miebach is a modest questioner with the patience to watch the world unfold. She’s not afraid of looking at numbers and measurements which are normally intimidating and off limits. Even many of the smartest people I know refuse to let themselves dig into real information about the world.
How do you see this related to “code?”

I’ve always been drawn to the mysteries of forces we cannot see, either because they happen in timeframes we can’t see or because they aren’t directly sensed by our humble orifices. The world is full of code that is being interpreted for us: weather, statistics, fashion, trends — we can’t take it unfiltered and need it decoded in small doses we can easily swallow. Nathalie is someone looking for patterns in the raw code and making it visible. Much art in any medium — my own paintings included — are code but they don’t necessarily translate… Sometimes code is deciphered to clarify and sometimes it is meant to obscure. Both are interesting but the clarifiers are more rare.
What was your overall concept and design, such as doing audio layering and incorporating ocean scenes?

I began by trying to get her to talk, ask the right leading questions to open up the flow of her ideas without scripting. But her sculptures invited fly-throughs, so much was happening on their surfaces. Also I wanted to mess with scale — the tight shots attempt to blow up the sculptures into little worlds. The layering — both video and audio — was a response to the complexity of layers in the sculptures and in Nathalie’s ideas. I was looking for echoes from the big notions to the detailed execution. Plus I had lots of footage I wanted to distill and couldn’t part with all of it. The ocean stuff was a way to get out of the closed world of the
gallery and go to a source.

What do you want viewers to take away from watching your installment?

I like being dazzled by the visuals flying by. I love Nathalie’s questions and lack of pretension — how she decided to follow any patterns she found without concern about where she was going. She made a leap when she decided its OK to be naive. The biggest thing is for everyone to be their own observers — tin can scientists.
What did you learn about weaving and the designs?

I think of the materials as a little mundane, ordinary reeds — and in fact there are no real designs — but the accumulation of pattern creates an intuitive whole. I think it’s cool to build from really simple raw stuff. Like
the notion that when Steve Reich makes layers of simple rhythms and tones, these unintended resonances appear, accidental music. I’m a big fan of following instincts and letting things grow.

How did you produce this? In what format? Editing? etc?

I’m not much of a techno. I got the cheapest 3 chip camera I could find and Final Cut Express. I also use mpgs from my still camera, a Panasonic Lx2 with wide format. I’ve learned everything I know, such as
it is, in a few months. I work as a cartographer for the National Park Service and use GIS mapping software which is all about layering images and finding conjunctions and geographic relationships. I’ve found
plots of forest that hadn’t been cut in 180 years by digitizing some old maps and layering them on top of recent aerials.