March 2002 Archives

The independent web

Yesterday I happened to be in downtown L.A. on an errand when I saw an unusual sight in an empty parking lot. A long line had gathered around a mid-size car, where someone appeared to be handing out clear garbage bags to a waiting crowd. The combination "car + empty parking lot + bags changing hands" is usually a sign that it would be best to move along, but since I was a comfortable distance away from the action, I just watched the scene unfold.
A security guard standing nearby noticed my attentiveness to the gathering and helpfully explained to me what was going on. Every weekend, he said, an old woman drove out to this particular parking lot and dispensed bags of goods to anyone who came. There was no announcement about it, and the woman wasn't affiliated with any organization--it was strictly a word-of-mouth deal.
It seems silly to compare an activity like giving out food and other basic items to creating, handing out, or distributing art. One seems essential and the other one doesn't. But if you believe, as the great writer Audre Lorde once wrote, that "poetry is not a luxury" and that art is not a luxury, then one understands that the two activities are related. It's just that one takes place in the social sphere, the other, in the cultural sphere.
The part of the Internet that gets me the most excited is the independent web: weblogs, p2p, small community sites. It's the part of the web that's like someone handing out trash bags full of goods from the back of a car. These are the projects where word-of-mouth or other forms of person-to person sharing create a serial effect of goodwill: culture gets passed from one person to the next, mostly for free, and sometimes building a community in the process.
I've run across a number of literary sites lately that embody this spirit. BookCrossing, for example, is a community site that encourages users to register their old books on the web site, then purposefully pass them on or leave them in public for someone else to enjoy. The finder or reader is encouraged to visit BookCrossing and leave a message about their experience with the book before passing it on again.
The site BookLend is a sort of DIY lending library. Started by a handful of individuals, visitors to the site can sign up to borrow a book from the highly personal collection. The generous lenders cover the cost of book rate postage to deliver the books, which can be kept for as long as six months before a reminder notice gently prompts their return.
Nervous Industries is an original yet unpretentious site that organizes the distribution of "Land Mail Art Objects," or just "Objects" for short. Participants sign-up to receive a journal by mail and then add, write, draw, or collage an entry based on a pre-established topic or theme. 1000 journals is a similar project, though less populist, and more arty.
I found many of these links through the most excellent Boing-Boing, one of my daily must-reads.

Misunderstood icon

As both an animation lover and a 100% pure, genuine pocha, I feel I am in an ideal position to weigh in on the recent Speedy Gonzalez controversy. At least among my pocho friends and family, Speedy has always been accepted as one of us. I love Speedy because he breaks the stereotype of Mexican-Americans as slow-moving, which I feel helps take the pressure off of the rest of us to move any faster. Also, who can forget the inspirational speech Speedy gave when he won the Oscar for Speedy Gonzalez? Holding the golden statuette aloft, he declaimed, "This is for every nameless, faceless, mouse of color who came before me."

Lego storytelling

Among the many entertaining things one can do with Lego, there seem to be a number of people interested in telling stories with them, both on film and in a comic or storyboard format. What surprises me most about this phenomena is the variety of tones these stories can create.
I recently returned to The Brick Testament, which I originally found through the Biggerhand blog, to find that its author had added several new chapters to its ongoing retelling of the Bible stories through Lego. This project's astonishing scope is only rivalled by it's inventiveness. How lush the Garden of Eden looks! How wrathful the face of God! For it's sheer technical merit, I recommend reading "The Flood." I look forward to the day when "Sodom and Gomorrah" is added--I can't wait to see how he does the pillar of salt.
Equally grand in conception--though very different is tone--is the attempt by Bruce's Lego Site to bring The Lord of the Rings to life through Lego. Incidentally, in reading the Brick Testament and Bruce's Lego Site--which also contains "Masterpieces of Lego Literature"--one can't help but notice how well the costumes from the licensed Star Wars Lego figures lend themselves to different stories, places, and times. Who would have guessed that the Emperor Palpatine's outfit could be used to cloth both the High Priest Caiaphas and Hamlet, the Melancholy Dane?
The site Legodeath offers more of a historical narrative in its selection of galleries with names such as Age of Execution and Occupational Hazards. Billing itself as a "Museum of Horrors," I might have found this tongue-in-cheek site more amusing if I hadn't previously stumbled across images from Lego Concentration Camp, an assemblage work by Zbigniew Libera currently on display at the Jewish Museum in their controversial exhibit, Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art.
The New York Times has run two very different overviews of the exhibit, one thoughtful and positive, the other one, dismissive--not just of this show, but of conceptual art generally--and extremely negative. The wide difference in opinion seems to stem from different attitudes about context. Detractors of the exhibit worry about the feelings that Holocaust survivors will have in encountering Nazi imagery in new, and purportedly irreverent contexts within the supposed "safe haven" of the Jewish Museum. Supporters point to the tendency that even the most horrifying images have of becoming emptied of meaning, or sentimentalized, once they have been removed from their original historical context.
I haven't seen the exhibit, so I can't speak for it as a whole, but I certainly found Lego Concentration Camp disturbing in the sense that it provoked me to a powerful emotional response to the Holocaust that I was not prepared to defend against. So for me, the work was successful, but I can understand how others might think differently about it.

Subtext sighting on Enterprise

After several weeks of dutifully watching the swaggering Enterprise, I was perhaps overly excited to see T'Pol and Hoshi share a subtexty moment together in a recent episode. No matter how hard I try to resist Hollywood's gay tokenism, I have to admit I'll eagerly gnaw on almost any old bone they throw at me.
Nonetheless, I am happy that there are others less compromised than me who are willing to air their concerns. I agreed with much of Donna Minkowitz's feminist critique of Enterprise in the Nation, especially her description of T'Pol as a bitter woman of color. However, unlike Minkowtiz, I find T'Pol's role interesting--personally, I would like to see more bitter women of color on TV.

Topic shift

I've made a few changes to the site lately. First, a simple update: I got behind in updating the topic archives, but they have now been brought up to date through the beginning of March. Next, I decided to eliminate the page on environmental design and instead fold those posts into the sections on the Graphic Arts (the "designed environment" posts) or Games (the "virtual world" posts). The Graphic Arts section has been renamed Art and Design to accomodate its expanded focus.
The other major change is that I've renamed the section that used to be called Hypertext. It is now called Literature. When I began this blog, I envisioned that I would be spending more time reviewing experimental online literature in this section. However, I have in fact been more interested in serials, including print as well as electronic texts, so I have opted for a more inclusive title.

PDA Art

My Handspring Visor has provided my with plenty of entertainment over the years, which is why I was pleased to discover [re]distributions, a site that gathers together unusual and artistic projects designed for PDAs and other small-screen mobile devices.
I am enthusiastic about Tom Kemp's creation of the first-ever PDA painting. The work has been assembled from a sequence of drawings made with TealPoint Software. It's good to see this utilitarian device harnassed for more offbeat purposes.
I also have admiration for gameboy_ultraF_uk, a Gameboy emulator for the Palm OS that has been "pathologically" coded to degrade over time. The color screen shots are quite beautiful, although I doubt I'd actually have the guts to load it on my device.

Garner/Croft Connection

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed how much Jennifer Garner, the lead on my new favorite TV show, Alias, resembles Lara Croft? I don't mean to diss Angelina Jolie, who did an admirable job in the movie Tomb Raider, but Jolie is all about fullness, and ripeness, and excessive curvature, whereas Garner has a lean angularity that more closely approximates the polygonal babitude that is Lara.
Actually, I think all of Alias resembles a video game: the gadgets, the weaponry, the missions, the pacing, and especially the high-stakes "puzzles" that are so much a part of the show. Plus, I can't get the theme song out of mind.

It's just a jump to the left

And a step to the right.
I don't usually post quiz results here--mainly because it has nothing to do with the topic of this site, but also because I am so often disappointed by the results. For example, I took the "Which Sanrio Character Are You?" quiz in the hopes that I would be my favorite chracter, Chococat, but instead I was the naughty penguin, Batz Maru. Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at that.
But this time, it all seemed to go my way...



Which Rocky character are you?

Movable comics

There's an interesting project going on over at waferbaby's web site--you can read or contribute to a series of comics built by multiple authors one panel at a time. Each author see only the previous panel in deciding what to contribute. As a result, the final strip often looks like a visual game of "six degrees of separation," only in reverse. By reading the comic, the reader can follow the process by which author 6, for example, chose R2-D2 as his subject when the strip actually began with author 1 contributing an image of, say, John McCain. In other instances, the strips read decidely like non-sequential art, that is, they develop mainly through a series of non sequitors, occasionally with amusing results.

Animated beauties

While browsing in a bookstore recently, I ran across the title Digital Beauties, a doorstop of a book published by Taschen. It's a beautiful and exhaustive book, showcasing the considerable quantity of work that's been done creating 3D female personalities. However lovely the images, what struck me more than anything was the book's sheer size. It made me marvel to think how much the desire to represent the female form has driven this nascent artistic technology.

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