setting a rhythm

one, two, one two three four

The architecture textbook I mentioned last time talks about how repeating objects establish a rhythm. First, a pair of objects suggests a spacing, then a third confirms it. So I guess you should take this as a suggestion of the schedule for these newsletters, and await confirmation in a two weeks’ time.

In truth, my life is operating on a two-week rhythm at the moment. I’m living in Bristol, and Abi’s in Newcastle, so we’re bouncing back and forth at weekends: one weekend together, then one weekend apart.

The bi-weekly tempo is an interesting one – slow enough that there’s some time to breathe within it, but fast enough that I’m always aware of where I sit in the cycle. I listened to a podcast recently where Devine Lu Linvega talked about two weeks as the ideal length for a project, to the point where he uses a calendar system with twenty-six months of fourteen days each. I don’t think I’m ready to commit to that level of fortnightophilia, but it’s something to ponder.

preservation

Multicolored Butterflies Taxidermy

There was a Twitter thread doing the rounds recently, where a museum software developer gave some advice for digital artists on how to make their work easier to keep running in the future. For the most part, it was good advice – the web browser is a fickle beast, and if you write something for it you shouldn’t be surprised if it arbitrarily stops working at some future point. Keeping digital art running is hard work, and I bet it would be easier if artists followed the advice in the thread.

Still, the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. There was an unquestioned assumption that keeping digital art running is an unalloyed good, and that if it stops working, then that’s a flaw in the artwork. There’s something in there about intention, an idea that immortality is the goal, and anything less is failure. This ties in with a lot of ideas about preservation of “internet history”. People have noticed that everything on the web has a short lifetime, and so organisations like the Internet Archive are preserving copies, trying to keep a record of everything that was ever online, no matter how private or ephemeral. I can’t help but feel this is a deeply intrusive act, comparable to ubiquitous CCTV cameras in public space.

Is there a difference between campaigning for longer lasting artworks and showcasing a million teenage diary websites, or filming the daily activities of your neighbours? Sure, but I think they’re products of the same impulse. The internet is eroding the spectrum that used to exist between public and private, between preserved and destroyed. The choice has become much more binary – everything must be either ubiquitously and eternally available, or gone forever. I guess it’s natural to choose the first option, but I’m not convinced by it as a universal principle.

Leaving that aside, there’s also an issue that changing the materials and techniques used will change the artwork in a fundamental way. A piece made in shonky JavaScript for the browser will be very different to one developed with “better” development processes. Even if the same results are achievable both ways, the creative process is a dialogue with the medium.

With respect to my own work, I’ve produced series of cyanotype prints, a “traditional” medium which is fairly sensitive to factors like ultraviolet light or alkaline environments. When I sell them, I provide some care instructions but I’ve got to assume that they won’t last forever. If somebody were to come along and tell me that I should use a more durable printing process, I can’t say I’d react positively to the suggestion. I chose my medium, and I’d hope that a future conservator would respect that choice.

I guess what I’m saying is, maybe it’s okay that some things don’t last forever. If people in a hundred years time can’t access some of today’s digital art, that’s fine. They can go and make their own.

recommendations

The newsletter bug is real! My pal Dominic Smith has started one as well. Dominic is a digital artist who’s been digging deep into analogue photography. Recently he’s been mixing the digital back in there, producing stuff like the gorgeous salt print of the moon you can see above.

I gave a talk at work last week about how to do creative technology on the cheap (see more below). Somehow I restrained myself from getting too het up about what counts as “technology”, but in preparation I did re-read Ursula LeGuin’s A Rant About Technology, which is glorious as always: LeGuin at her cranky best.

For the same talk, I re-read some chunks of Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without A Crew, the story of how he made his first movie (El Mariachi) on a budget of about $7,000. I love this sort of process diary, seeing all the cheap tricks and false starts that go into real creative work. Jordan Mechner’s Making of Prince of Persia is another classic in this genre, and also gives a great portrait of the video games industry just as it was becoming a serious “industry”. Both books are about young men making their first major creative work, and it really shows. I’d love to read something similar from a woman’s perspective, so please let me know of anything you can recommend.

Despite what I said last time about finishing books rather than starting them, I started (and finished) the new Alastair Reynolds book, Bone Silence. It’s the third in a series (start with Revenger), and it’s great: space pirates and cosmological mysteries, with one of the best fun sci-fi settings I’ve read in years.

Finally, we all watched The Witcher on Netflix, right? Top quality cheesy fantasy. But what it was missing was an analysis of the music theory behind Toss A Coin To Your Witcher, the in-universe theme song? Well, the Strong Songs podcast has you covered. Thanks to Michel McBride-Charpentier for this one.

actual news

As I mentioned above, I gave a talk last Friday at the Pervasive Media Studio, about creative technology, and how to do it without spending very much money. It was mostly an excuse to talk about my experimental AR piece Apimancy, and to get out some ideas I had about the benefits of doing cheap, weird, risky work. I’m not sure how much sense the slides will make on their own, but here they are if you’re interested.