Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks

A New Wave of Abstraction

Understanding always requires a radical simplification of what really is to what can be held-in-mind and used.
— artist Ward Shelley (2010)

Morning, June, Evanston, near Chicago. It’s a warm walk from my hotel to the campus of Northwestern University, passing under elevated tracks into clusters of brick buildings with green lawns. The grasses and I enjoy spray from the sprinklers chugging in circles. Yesterday I spotted a small beautiful rabbit crouching beneath the shrubbery. Today an orange streak startles me; as the narrow body leaps the curb, I realize it’s a fox. I’m headed to a day of talks on Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks, where I will see some old friends and meet some new ones. Continue reading

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Credit Where Credit is Due, Part II

When computer scientists Jon Kleinberg and Sigal Oren came up with a theoretical model showing that assigning credit unfairly resulted in the most productive creative community, they were thinking about individual scientists and credit in the form of prizes, high-status appointments and publications, and “good reputation.” But as I played with applying their model to the art world, I began to think the process they were describing might be work at larger scales, too, and wondered how it might relate to art history. Continue reading

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An Unfair Fight: The Clock, Clutch, and a Chainsaw

The slanting light gives our sheer curtains a sheeny glow, although the fabric is matte. Outside the air is both warm and cool, just a touch hot in the sun but pleasant wherever there is shade. It is late on a Friday afternoon and the thin thrum of traffic says that people are winding up the week. Desultory, I think this mood is called. The rude cough and whine of a chainsaw starts up, but I am home with my thoughts and it’s far enough away not to break the mood. Continue reading

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Does Credit Go Where Credit Is Due?

Right now someone is destroying art. Clearing out a studio, a house, or a storage unit and pitching art into the trash. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the factors that determine which art escapes, which artists receive credit for their work and which of their works are carried forward, bear inspection. All the exhibitions in the massive Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiative were about retrieving art for history (as you know if you’ve been following Art & Shadows, PST was a Getty-funded extravaganza that engaged more than sixty institutions in telling the story of art in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980); it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe such an intense effort to rescue art for history. For me personally, the PST exhibition State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, curated by Constance Lewallen and Karen Moss, stimulated the best questions about the history-making process. Continue reading

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Installation at the Mills Museum

Size Matters: Sonya Rapoport

Our scale—our size in proportion to our environment—is something most of us don’t think about. After we’re grown, our size is a given; such a constant factor that we don’t notice how it underpins a sense of self, or wonder why that sense of self only emerges when a body is at a certain size. Perhaps, in a biology course, we consider briefly that we started at microscopic scale. Maybe, in a walk by the ocean, we get a taste of self as a tiny impulse within an immense life force. But mostly the span in which we know ourselves is the familiar “middle ground,” constructed by the distances our adult bodies can see, walk, and reach.  Continue reading

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Pacific Standard Time I: Mary Corse

Photography fails me

The photograph you see here captures nothing—nothing—of what makes Mary Corse’s paintings worth your time. Photographs of her work are poor, dead things, confounding the truism that a picture is worth a thousand words. Showing you this picture doesn’t tell you that when I saw it in the gallery, it danced with me.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Art

If you hang out in an art school, you hear lots of talk about “art as discourse.”  It’s a thought that is almost worn out, yet ideas become commonplace because they are apt. And sometimes an artist can extract a combustible bit of material from the ashes of cliché. In their playful, collaborative work Object Lessons (2012) Robin Hill and Ulla Warchol (working together as Biolunar L) tease the notion of  “art as discourse” to life.

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Reading Other Minds, Part II

It has been shown, by thinkers such as Donna Haraway and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, that opining about human nature on the basis of primatology research is an excellent way to reveal your deepest, darkest, most unflattering beliefs about human existence.

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Reading Other Minds, Part I

I’ve found Rachel Mayeri’s Primate Cinema captivating ever since I saw the first video in the series, Baboons as Friends (2007). The questions she tackles—questions about our human nature, our place in the world, and how we explain the world to ourselves—seem so fundamental, and are treated with such humor, that any rough spots in the work just emphasized the ambition of her project, and made me root for its further development.  So the arrival of her Apes as Family, a new two channel video installation, at Arts Catalyst in London, was an occasion.

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The Red Bow

Today I dropped into the Carnegie Art Center in Goodland, Kansas, a county seat on the state’s Western flank.  Goodland has a population of 4,948 people and one of them is my father, so although I’ve never lived here myself, I’ve visited with some regularity.

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