the long haul

yeah, I'm still here

Hey folks! So what’s up with you? Yeah, me too.

Honestly, it’s hard to think about or talk about anything other than the global pandemic right now. I’m in the UK, where the government response has been less than great, to say the least. I’m scared, both for the known consequences of mass illness and death, and the unknown consequences that will follow.

I hope all of you are staying safe and taking all the necessary precautions against spreading the virus.

This is where I got to when I last sat down to write a newsletter, about two months ago. I decided I wasn’t really in a good headspace to write anything more, so I put it aside for a bit. I’m not sure anything has changed, really, but here we are.

This past week, I’ve been realising more and more that this is it for the foreseeable future. We may see some changes, a loosening and tightening of measures as the statistics and politics decide, but we’re going to be living in this world for a long time to come. Best to get comfortable.

pencil and paper

As my work has moved from a lot of face-to-face meetings to a purely online setup, I’ve been really valuing working on paper, using my hands. Inspired by Dan Hett’s dives into Islamic geometry, I’ve been doing a lot of geometric drawings with compass and straightedge, brushing off my old technical drawing skills.

There’s a gentle meditative quality to work like this. It takes focus and precision, sustained over a long period of time. Lots of geometric relationships to hold in your head, balanced against the physical reality of your tools. The texture of the paper as the compass sweeps across it. Long periods of repetition, punctuated by small decisions. Pausing to think about an unintentional symmetry that has popped up.

Honestly, some aspects of it feel a bit weird: I’m a white Irish guy, from a Catholic background, and this stuff is all very tied up with Islam, and with Arabic and Persian cultural ideas that I’m only aware of as an outsider. It’s hard to know how to treat something respectfully when it’s so abstract — what does cultural appropriation look like when it’s a pattern of triangles?

I don’t know if this is going anywhere. As art, everything I’ve done is derivative, not interesting enough to make up for its lack of technical mastery. I don’t need it to, honestly I’m happy just holding the tools in my hands, making marks on paper.

recommendations

Kurenai no buta (1992)

I’ve been watching a lot of television recently, on account of the whole business. I finally got around to watching Chernobyl, which has been quite cathartic. It’s haunting stuff, but it turns out that was what I needed.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been working through the Studio Ghibli back catalogue on Netflix. I think Porco Rosso is still my favourite, but I wasn’t prepared to enjoy Ponyo as much as I did. Sometimes you just want to look at some beautiful pictures.

Way back before this all kicked off, I was playing around a lot with Mark Wonnacott’s Domino, a kind of mind-mapping/non-linear writing tool. I used it to write a little essay/rant about AI.

Speaking of stuff from the Before Times, this episode of Reply All is the single most satisfying resolution to any wild goose chase I have ever encountered. It’s like an incredibly low-stakes episode of the X-Files, guest starring the Barenaked Ladies.

actual news

The festival that we were running, Control Shift, has been delayed indefinitely. We’re still hoping to do something, but who knows what form that will take. More information to follow.

I’ve been doing a lot of stuff at work around video calling, live-streaming, and the artistic possibilities thereof. As part of that, I gave a talk about the history of video calls, which is on YouTube. Please watch, I went to the trouble of setting up a greenscreen and everything.