hel·low (ˈhelō/) exclamation. A salutation embodying the vibrant energy found in the color yellow.

13 December 2012

Pisco Sours

He was five-four, one-hundred and thirty-three pounds. A small belly peeked out under his child-sized XL salmon colored t-shirt. His khaki shorts hung a little above the knees, showing off his pale skinny legs. Keen-style water sandals covered his feet. Thick glasses sat on the bridge of his nose. He was sitting at the far table on the veranda, watching the straw umbrella sway in the ocean breeze.
            A man sat down across from him; six-two, two-hundred and fifteen pounds. A blue T-shirt with his dated logo stretched to contain his muscles.
            “It’s nice to meet you, Kent,” the small man said, holding out his small hand, “In person.”
            “A pleasure.”
            They shook hands and Kent sat down. His black hair was cropped and his eyes were blue.
            “Would you like a drink?”
            “I don’t drink.”
            The small man grinned and sipped his cocktail. He smacked his lips at the bitterness and set the glass on the table.
            “You never change, Kent,” he chuckled, “You never change.”
            “I see no reason to.”
            “Of course not. You’re perfect. Flawless, I might add. But where will you be when the Storm comes?”
            The palms between the veranda and the beach shuddered against the wind.
            “Things aren’t concrete anymore, Kent. Villains don’t run around with explosives and rob banks, at least in the physical sense. Criminals work undercover. Corrupt data miners can abstractly control this world. A crook with internet connection is more deadly than a mutated freak with firearms. Your fists of steel may have saved this rock for years, but you can’t punch data.”
            Kent leaned forward on the table.
            “You’re telling me you can?”
            The small man took a sip of his drink.
            “Me? Certainly not. I am singular,” he smiled, “But my group? Most certainly. We are plural.”
            Kent sat back in his chair, taking note of the people around him. Everyone was wearing large sunglasses and flowered shirts, laughing and sipping on their drinks.
            “You’ve been crowd-sourced,” he continued, “But you’ll never see your replacements.”
            Kent became agitated. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. There was something about this man that unnerved him. He was so calm, so matter-of-fact, like he was not a man.
            “You’re everywhere. Data is not lacking on you, Kent. An anomaly of your extent has highways of digital footprints. When the bureaucrats want you gone, all they need is one steel-piercing bullet, and they’ll know right where to place it. I fear for you.”
            The waves crashed lightly on the shore, one after another for as far as they eye could see.
            “A man so mighty, now so…”
            He paused, making eye contact with Kent across the table.
            He took another sip of his cocktail.
            “What are you drinking?”
            The small man smacked his lips, “Let me tell you a story.”
            Kent sat back in his chair and the brown-skinned waitress placed a glass of iceless water before him.

            “Once upon a time, in the great Pisco desert, there were two naked hermit crabs lying in the sand. They were the only living things for as far as the eye could see. In fact, they were the only things for as far as the eye could see. There were no cacti; no other crabs, no water, and certainly no shelter—save for the single grey shell between them. It was slightly too large for the smaller crab and slightly too small for the larger crab.
            ‘When the Storm comes, we will need shelter,’ said the larger crab.
            ‘He will provide it,’ said the smaller crab.
            ‘When He permits it.’
            The larger crab, displeased with this response, became angry with his friend. The Storm could occur at any moment, and he was entirely exposed. He could feel the sun beating down on his skin. Why should he die in the Storm while his weaker friend was covered? Decidedly, the larger crab reached out with his claws and snatched the shell. He forced himself inside. Even crabs understood Darwin.
            ‘I am sorry, friend,’ said the larger crab.
            ‘I am too,’ said the smaller crab.
            At this point, the ground ruptured beneath them and a pair of enormous silver claws tore up through the sand. Each of the crabs was enclosed by a claw. Almost immediately, the one containing the naked crab returned beneath the sands. The other, dropping the shelled crab back on the ground, descended beneath the surface after the first.
            ‘I have survived the Storm!’ the larger crab delighted as he fell back into the sand. Feeling safe in his shell, he started trekking across the desert.
            After a few days, the sky opened and rain showered down. This did not phase the crab. He continued to delight in his good fortune as the shell kept him dry. He continued his journey. As the hours passed, the rain did not let up. The sand soon became so inundated that water accumulated along its surface. The crab struggled to keep walking. Soon he struggled to keep afloat. As the rain continued to fall, the water levels rose and the crab realized he had misidentified the Storm. The Pisco desert filled with water and the crab cursed his sour luck. He drowned.
            When the rain ended and the desert drained, the gigantic silver claws rose up from the earth and dropped the smaller crab back in the sand. He walked across the desert until he found the emptied shell of his friend. Crawling inside, he began his trek across the desert, to live another day.”

            Kent stared at the small man across the table.
            “Who are you?”
            The man crossed his legs. “A vigilante, like you, Kent. But there’s a difference between us. They know too much about you.”
            “What are you talking about?”
            Setting down his drink, the small man crossed his arms.
            “You can settle here. It’s warm, relaxing, inconspicuous. The Storm won’t reach you, and we’ll cover your tracks. Let us protect you. Hang up the cape and we’ll finish the work.”
            Kent frowned and slid back his chair. Standing up, he looked to the sky.
            “I’ll be fine.”
            He turned and walked away. Shaking his head, the small man picked up his drink. It was so bitter. He watched Kent rise up through the clouds like a rocket. Tipping his glass, he finished his Pisco Sours and listened to the crashing waves.

12 December 2012

Yuriy Norshteyn’s Tale of Tales, 1979

Like a visual representation of literary nonsense, or Alice in Wonderland tripping on psychedelic mushrooms, Norshteyn’s film appears as purely aesthetic display of randomness. As the reels roll, viewers fall into the transit of a lullaby through time and LP vinyl of a memory skipping through sequences. These 29 minutes are often acclaimed as the ‘greatest animated film of all time,’ despite the numerous modern masterworks created by Pixar and other animators across the globe. This film originates from the Soviet Union and is technically written in Russian, yet, as it bears no visible plot and is stripped of any real dialogue, the potential language barrier is debunked, as it can still be viewed and appreciated by a speaker of any language. Norshteyn’s Tale of Tales offers an insightful glance into the true nature of memory. It is stubbed and fragmented, with splits in logic and sensible thought. It is a series of vignettes, a handful of sounds and images pieced in ways often unknown to us. In this sense, the narration of the story cannot be told chronologically. The events that occur are linked through a shared idea or feeling. Like the little grey wolf bent over a small fire, the film is the painting of patience, waiting out the winter of history.
It can be seen as a visualization of emotions on high during the World War II era on the Eastern Front. Pleasure can be discovered and embraced in mundane tasks of living, as a way of coping with the sadness and overarching gloom of reality that hovered over one’s life during the time of war. Powerful images, such as the male dancers individually evaporating from their women to convey the loss of companionship via war, reach their way into this short animation, taking on the nature of sheer minimalism. The film itself adheres to this simplicity, drawing its strength from the lack of density and higher order. The animations appear to be sketched fluidly and easily, free from a domineering refiner. This stark frugalness gives the film strength, which embodies the essence of the content—drawing strength from the act of living to keep on living. This basic sense capitulates a paramount position in the human condition. It captures a realness that many animations gloss over. It abandons the flashing lights and popping colors of cinema, as they paint over the rough surface of the content, hiding the very flaws and nature of what we are. Modern pictures revolve significantly more around production, which steals attention from the wholesome nature of what truly makes a work—the story. In lieu of a good tale, artfully crafted animation must also follow, as a proper container is necessary to enclose proper insides, but should not enable the container to overpower the content.
Akin to the holiday season, in celebrating Christmas, one may exchange gifts. Beautiful wrappings may surround the gift, but when those are torn off, they are forgotten. The thing that is kept and remembered is the contents of those wrappings. The true beauty of a tale lies in the tale itself. That is the tale of tales, and Norshteyn could not have captured it more beautifully.

05 December 2012

Modern Day Doodling

Boredom strikes in the midst of a most arid lecture. Abandoning this desert of interest, you vicariously dive into the seas of social media, but soon grow ill of surfing Tumblr. Twitter is no longer piquing your creative interest. You wish to build, to construct something clever; something more than a witty one liner and ironic hashtag. You search your backpack and find nothing by a laptop charger and a wireless mouse. There is a graphing calculator without games in the front pocket. Oh god! Oh pi! How could this be?
You find yourself paperless. You carry no notebook—the class notes are posted online. You bear no pen—your fingers type away anything else you have to say. You realize you no longer possess dexterous artistic ability, from all those hours staring at your computer and not setting pencil to sketchpad. But you have an undying desire to doodle. And no, creating an easy scheduling experience on www.Doodle.com does not suffice. Editing photos or scrawling random words into a .txt document is not the same. You need to draw pointless things in the corner of your document. But you don’t have a stylus with interactive digital ink. The ‘Draw Something’ app on your iPhone has simply lost appeal. Appeal…Your fingers, poised above the keyboard, become attractive to your eyes—the mirrors to your soul, the container of your ideas. The metaphorical light bulb goes off. You draw a stick man.
The idea incites you.
The symbols on your keyboard dissolve all meaning. Letters and numbers become new shapes. Various symbols become tools to be employed. You chuckle at your ingenuity and become absorbed in the possibilities. Your fingers dance across the keyboard and soon your mind is racing to discover new and clever ways to turn the text symbols into pictures. Slashes and bars become your best friends, O’s and underscores become your guilty pleasures.
Soon, the class empties and you remain in your seat. The absence of fellow man is barely recognized. You remain locked to the screen and your newly fabricated flow state continues. Seconds tick by and minutes melt into hours that go extinct. Before long, clever you has created several side-splitting variants of cows. You chuckle. You chortle. You gurgle and titter.
You have created a new art form.

This digital graffiti (Nyan Cat!), or modern doodling, is growing in brilliance around the web. With the evolution of online media, we transform the handful of characters and symbols we are bound to from shackles to tools. A new medium to paint images.

28 November 2012

140 Characters or Less

As I am sitting around the table for Thanksgiving Dinner, my grandma is telling me about her time as a stenographer. She told me about shorthand—where one can write lines and dashes in regards to the sounds being emitted in conversation. It made for scarily fast documentation and was ideal for recording conversations. My grandma had been extremely gifted in this regard, as she could write in shorthand faster than people could talk. She told me stories of how her teachers in high school would speak as quickly as possible, switching the tone and pitch of their voices in attempts to throw her off. But my grandma would recite back to them exactly what was said. It was a phenomenal skill. She told me about Thanksgiving Dinners when she was kid. She would sit back with her steno pad and record her parents and relative speaking around the table. When they were done talking, she would recite the entire conversation back to them. I was engrossed. I had her write my name in shorthand. A six-character name—Justin—was reduced to two quick flicks of the wrist, resulting in something that looked like an italicized ‘h’. It was genius.
As I got to thinking about shorthand, I started to wonder why it had died. Quick recording was definitely a highly-regarded need in the modern age—probably more so than ever. We want minimalistic accuracy. Shorter. Sweeter. Simpler. Communication is key to any aspect of life, and when it is elegantly frugal, it is most effective and beautiful. Why, then, did shorthand largely disappear? Or, more accurately, why was it never adopted for public use?
In the rise of social media and the digital transfer of information, most communication is done through text. Whether it be emailing, messaging, texting, tweeting, or whatever, a reliance on characters has become nearly unavoidable. As a result, people are writing much more. Not with the hands, as cursory handwriting has been eliminated from most education systems and printing has declined in neat/careful+ness, but through typing. People can type as fast as my grandma could write shorthand. On the surface, the move to typing would be common sense, as the text could be CTRL+C & CTRL+V <copy and pasted> infinitely many times. It could be reformatted and edited—if need be—and is written in uniform characters which would be readable by anyone. Anyone, that is, who can read the language of documentation. As character typing seems more effective, I feel that it loses the universal abilities of shorthand. If this style of writing was truly subjected to sounds alone, it could, potentially, be used to document the speaking of any language in perfect detail. By reading back the sounds, one could potentially recite any tongue. This is something characters cannot represent. In the English language, characters do not fully reconstruct sounds. Rather, they can stand in place of ideas or meanings.
With so much text-based communication, we often inject emotions and symbols (like the ever famous UNICODE SNOWMAN! ) 8^B <<< this is a nerd-face emoticon.
In a sense, this new form of life documentation is more natural and fluid. Formal conversations no longer require a stenographer. Anyone can pull out a smart-phone and text his/her thoughts to Twitter or Facebook or the tumbleweed rampant Google+. While we may not be recording conversations in a potentially universal medium, we are keeping an ongoing log of our lives and thoughts in the most efficient form possible.
While my grandma reminisces on writing shorthand on her steno-pad, I pull out my phone and tweet about the table conversations in 140 characters or less.
Elegance in the art resides in selecting those ≤ 140 characters.

21 November 2012

Tossing Balls: Watching Manipulation

Dancing is an art form, as the performance aspect is a live and kinetic display of controlled movements in visually-appealing fashions. In the same respect, one can see juggling as a work of art as well. Much like dancing, it involves coordination and bodily practice, as well as rhythm and style. One of the most brilliant displays of juggling I have seen is Viktor Kee’s stunning act in Cirque du Soleil’s performance of Dralion –>

Juggling embodies the essence of the human condition, as it involves intentional manipulation of objects. The ability to inflict life into objects comes from the innate nature of our species. We have opposable thumbs and incredible brainpower, allowing us to bend objects into our desired shapes and purposes. This has been engrained in our species. As a recreational and performance activity, juggling has many origins. The earliest forms of this activity stem from several ancient cultures around the globe. From the Romans to the Chinese, Egyptians to the Norse, Polynesians to the Aztec, the roots of juggling can be found. In all of these cultures, juggling emanated from the work of entertainers, or ‘fools.’ While their primary concentrations were on recitation of poetry, storytelling, etc, skills such as ball tossing were also commonplace for entertainment.
It is a unique artistic display, as it takes the manipulation of objects into a visually pleasing performance. Juggling follows a pattern and that repetition is not only fluid and appealing, but the nature of the art. We enjoy seeing the flying balls, circling in arcs back to the thrower’s hands. The three-ball-cascade, the most basic and elemental of tosses, is a fluid and infinite loop that can be mesmerizing to viewers. Each ball completes the same cycle and receives an equal amount of attention from the juggler. It is a brilliant cycle of coordination, even at its most basic level. When advanced, the performance can become truly breathtaking.

The varieties of juggling—changing the patterns of tosses, increasing the number of objects, replacing the objects themselves—are ultimately limitless, allowing for a continuing improvement and evolution of the activity. For instance, contact juggling, which involves moving a single ball around the hands and arms as a form of optical illusion, has grown in popularity over the years. Other variants include the more treacherous acts of juggling chainsaws or flames. Unicycles and stilts can be incorporated, and soon the varieties of the performance reach new levels. Yet they all maintain the same fluid and mesmerizing cycles that captivate us. All the varieties can be traced to their entertaining origins around the globe. All of them are forms of art.

07 November 2012

Reshaping the Shackles on Banned Books

Nigel Poor, a visiting artist residing at Alice Lloyd Hall, has inspired a great movement in the arts over the past week. She has introduced a new form of social-redemption in literature, which reworks censored material into a more liberated state. This banned book project has been incorporated into the community of Alice Lloyd, allowing students to take part in reshaping novels into new pieces of art.
Whether it be torching a copy of Fahrenheit 451 or separating black-and-white pages from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the process of recreating these books more powerfully captivates the original spirit of the work itself. Especially now in the information age, when physical books often go extinct for the more suitable online medium, the power of paper in a work is an attempt at reviving the spirit of physicality available in books. There is something about bookstores and libraries that is intrinsically pleasing in real life, as opposed to the digital medium. One can argue the aesthetic value of actually seeing the sheer volume of information available in a bound piece. When this body, this container for the substance within, is minimized to the visually unsubstantial work on a computer screen or digital reader, something is lost within the book. It is like a person being transformed into digital material, like on Facebook or Twitter or any other form of social media. The ideas—the spirit—of the person remains, as they can write their mind and demonstrate the thoughts swimming within via pictures and art and music and all these great things, but the container, the body, is not transferred. Therefore, it is not the same. We crave to meet people in person; which is why we still have interviews and keep restaurants and social gathering places in business. The body, our container, affects the content. Be it from body language or outward expressions of our personality—hairstyle, skin color, piercings, etc—our physical form has an effect on the thoughts within. This is what the banned book project plays upon.
The paper books themselves were not the things that were banned, it was the ideas within. However, in order to truly demonstrate the power of those ideas, text is not entirely captivating. While we can write about the struggle and ignorance of censorship and topics of controversy for hours, the physical art form is what embodies a deeper meaning, which can withdraw personal emotion and insights from the viewer and give off something the banned books were once unable to give—inspiration and revelation.
They embody the power of the written word in a new shape, and provide a growing deviant of inspiration unachievable by simply the text itself. It gives new life to these formerly shackled pieces. It frees the book.

This project is currently on display at the University of Michigan’s North Quad, Room 2435, through December 8, 2012. In the spirit of this post, I encourage you to view them in real life. The pictures do not give them justice.