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: http://aquak.home.att.net/index.html

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: http://www.andreapolli.com/

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.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)

Henrietta Lacks is considered a “Scientific American” because her immortal cell line has become an important resource in science research and particularly cancer investigation. A Black woman from Roanoke, VA, Lacks was a mother of five children and married to David Lacks. At the age of 31, Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer and died in Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, MD.

Without permission doctors took tissue samples from her cervix, and they soon discovered that her cells had miraculous potential to reproduce. Since 1951, Lack’s cells, called the HeLa cell line, have been vital to discovering a vaccine for polio, contributing to AIDS research, and advancing treatment for cancer.

The ethical issues raised from the use of the HeLa cell line are numerous:

Neither Lacks nor her family gave the scientists permission to use her cells in research. Her family was not notified about the use of her cell line until twenty years after the research and discoveries had been taking place. The Lacks family, still poor and struggling to afford health care, has not been compensated for the use of her cells.

Here is a link to the 1998 film “Modern Times: The Way of the Flesh”, which reveals the history of her life and immortal afterlife in the hands of scientists: http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtisTheWayofAllFlesh

Here is another link for the soon-to-be-published book titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, written by Rebecca Skloot, Random House, ISBN 9-781-400-05217-2, coming out this Spring: http://rebeccaskloot.com/?page_id=8

LATEST astrodime journal now available!

New Intransit Journal

Starring Julia Tenney!

Wow! we did it. The latest INtransit Video Journal is out and freed from discmakers. Yay!

INtransit V. 5: Can You Hear me Now? is available to purchase. This journal provides distinct looks at the historical successes and failures in communications technology. Including a performance re-enactment of the first Trans-Atlantic cable, this journal captures true and re-imagined moments of telecommunications history. You have to see this!

Come and get it. It’s $25.00 for individuals and $50.00 for libraries. Special offer..if you buy ALL of our previous INtransit journals now we will give you this for free.canyouhearmenowsmall

GLITCH is out!!

after a slight delay at Discmakers, INtransit V. 4: What the [Glitch]!? is out! It’s available for $25.00 for individuals or $50.00 for institutions. For more info, contact rocketscience@virtualberet.net.

INtransit V.4

INtransit V.4

Glitch and Secret Decoder Ring Nov 23!

On Saturday November 22 at 8pm, AstroDime Transit Authority will be screening INtransit V.4 “What the [ glitch ] ?!” and INtransit V.3 “Secret Decoder Ring” in the lobby of Brickbottom Artist building. The screening will be free and open to the public. You will also have a chance to see and use the new iCAN and give customer feedback.

The location is in Somerville, Massachusetts. The best way to get here from the T is the Lechmere Green Line stop, walk up McGrath Highway to the right, and then after you go over the bridge, (you will see Brickbottom to your right) there will be some stairs. They will take you to the building. There is also parking available. Here’s more directions, and check out the open studios Nov 22-23 as well!

Brickbottom Artists Association

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Got Glitch? 8pm Nov 1 in Lowell

INtransit V.4: Got Glitch? release party followed with performances by Id M Theftable + Birdorgan

Id M Theftable – voice and objects
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Birdorgan:
Marc Bisson – tabletop guitar and objects
deiX – vocals
Mike Fun – analog synth
Mike Dailey – drums
Walter Wright – analog synth and video

INtransit#3 CODE Screens August 8, 2008

CODE will screen on Friday, August 8th at Axiom Gallery to kick off an exhibition about art and text. See axiomart.org for more info or check back here next week.

Call for Work: Dropout

CALL FOR WORK: Dropout
Postmark DEADLINE September 15 2008

Seeking video, documentary and animation entries in relation to the idea of digital dropout for Volume 4 of INtransit, produced by the AstroDime Transit Authority. How does the loss or corruption of data alter information as it reaches us? What happens to the message when we become aware of the medium? When is a glitch not just a glitch? Digital decay, lost signal, system error, the cliff effect, rolloff, dropout, static, interference, noise, data loss, corruption, malfunction. Don’t put a magnet too close to your computer screen. Don’t store your DVDs in direct sun. Walk through a wall to get to the Minus World. Can you hear me now? Remember when all of your vacation film went through the x-ray machine at the airport? When technology fails, what is lost and what is gained?

Please mail your work to:

Ali Horeanopoulos
15 Channel Center Street
Studio 519
Boston, MA 02210

If you want it returned, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Preview copies should be on DVD, VHS, or mini-DV. For more info, contact AliNichole@gmail.com

The AstroDime Transit Authority is a Think-Tank and public service organization that considers issues of transportation, communication and world and intergalactic citizenship. We are specifically interested in issues of race, class, gender and culture, art and technoscience. In addition, we consult and advise in sustainable communication and transportation systems off and on this planet.

Our research includes curated video shows, data collection, and performances which reveal and explore these issues. We publish a twice-yearly video journal called INtransit. We invite guest artists and contributors to participate in our curatorial and creative projects.

For general questions about AstroDime Transit Authority, email rocketscience@virtualberet.net.

Our web site is http://www.virtualberet.net/ata.

We are sponsored by the 119 Gallery in Lowell, Massachusetts at http://www.119gallery.org/