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The Far North of Experience by Rebecca Solnit

In books, environment, literature, nature, writers on August 19, 2014 at 03:14

From: The Far North of Experience: In Praise of Darkness (and Light) by Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

The far north is an unearthly earth, where much of what those of us in temperate zones were told is universal is not true. Everyone walks on water, which is a solid. In winter, you can build palaces out of it, or houses out of snow. Ice is blue. Snow insulates. Water crystallizes into floating mountains that destroy whatever collides with them. Many other things turn hard as rock in the cold. Nothing decays, and so time stops for the dead, if not the living. Cold is stability and warmth can be treacherous.

Their opposite is the equator, where every day and every night of the year is exactly twelve hours long. The further north or south you go, the longer summer days and winter nights get. In Iceland, each day of spring was several minutes longer than the one before, so that in May the days went from nearly 17 to 20 hours long, and by June there is no true darkness, no night. The sun dipped low around midnight or after and there were spectacular sunsets that melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away.

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

The Underbelly Project: Hiding in the Light, Painting in the by Dark Jeff Ferrell

In art, history of art, visual arts on August 19, 2014 at 03:03

From: The Underbelly Project: Hiding in the Light, Painting in the by Dark Jeff Ferrell, Rhizomes, www.rhizomes.net

A few years ago, New York City street artist and artiste provocateur PAC was out doing what street artists sometimes do: drinking. As the night wound down and the drinks added up, a guy PAC had met earlier in the evening asked him if he wanted “to go somewhere cool.” PAC soon enough found himself in a cavernous, never completed, long-abandoned New York City subway station, four stories below street level. “I woke up the next morning feeling like I might have dreamt it all,” PAC remembers. But it wasn’t a dream. It was the beginning of what was to become the Underbelly Project. 

IMG_2254In this sense, the Underbelly Project is, if nothing else, some next stumbling step in the evolution of street art and its relation to the gallery world and the “world in general”—kind of like Australian artist Strafe’s stumbling step over and off a subway platform in the middle of the night, in the dark, while painting in the Underbelly. In fact, the trajectory of art culture right up to the Underbelly can itself be seen as a long drunken stumble, replete with thieving, borrowing, occupying, screwing up, and generally mining mistakes and missteps. Looking back from the perspective of the present, from inside art history books and well-mannered museums and galleries, it can seem like it was all straight and honest and clean: new ideas, individual brilliance, a firm march toward beauty or enlightenment or profit. In reality, the whole thing has been more a matter of picking up the scraps, and figuring out ways to make those bits and pieces into something that matters. Dada artist Hannah Hoch recycling the fashion photographs that crowded her little Berlin magazine office in the 1920s into a confrontation with the horrors of World War I, Trinidadians transforming old fifty-five gallon oil drums into Caribbean steel drum music, hip hop pioneers digging through old records, cutting and mixing James Brown yelps and Clyde Stubblefield drum solos to invent a new form of global music and culture—time and again art’s forward momentum has run on what was around, with the only question being what to make of it. Then there’s Kandinsky, Man Ray, Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Pollock, de Kooning—all artists whose breakthrough works, we now know, emerged out of mistakes and misperceptions, out of cracked printing presses and broken picture tubes (Lovelace, 1996). So as I say, it strikes me that mounting a multi-year, international art project in an abandoned subway station four stories underground, sans legality or audience or fresh air, in violation of the norms of contemporary gallery art and artistic profitability, and with no certain prospects as to what it might become, constitutes just one more gorgeous mistake, one more moment of making do with what’s at hand and under foot, one more stumbling step toward…well, toward what?

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Reposted with permission from: Rhizomes

Building a Better Snowflake by Margaret Wertheim and Kenneth Libbrecht

In physics, research, science on August 19, 2014 at 02:49

From: Building a Better Snowflake: An Interview with Margaret Wertheim and Kenneth Libbrecht, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

You are also following in the footsteps of the Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya, who pioneered the classification of snowflakes. Tell us a bit about his work.

Nakaya was a student in the 1920s trained in nuclear physics. Like many physicists, he had trouble finding a job because there are only so many positions for nuclear physicists. He couldn’t get a job in Tokyo and ended up at the University of Hokkaido in the snowy north. There were no nuclear facilities there, so he had to find something else to do. In Hokkaido they get wonderful snow, so he decided this was an opportunity and started studying snowflakes. He was the first serious scientist to do this. He went outside and categorized things, but more importantly he started growing them in the lab under controlled conditions. Nakaya found out they grow differently at different temperatures—which is still a fundamental problem. We don’t understand why that is. He wrote a wonderful book called Snow Crystals about how you do science starting from nothing.

He tried to grow snow crystals on different kinds of threads. What did he use?

hexagonal_plate_FINALHe wanted to understand snow crystals as they fall out of the sky—which is basically single ice crystals. But when he tried growing them in the lab, mostly he got frost, which is a whole collection of crystals interfering with each other. This makes it hard to see what’s going on. It’s not easy to grow single crystals—you need something for them to grow on. In the sky, they grow on dust particles. Nakaya tried all sorts of things: silk, spiders webs, fine wires. Finally, he found that rabbit hair worked well. He decided it was because the hair is covered in a thin film of residual oil. It has these knobby things on it every now and then, and the knobby things are where the crystals start to grow. He was able to grow individual crystals provided he dried out the rabbit hair beforehand in a desiccator. We’re doing similar things, but we’ve got a different technique. I never liked the rabbit hair.

Read the interview

Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

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