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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hazel Halloween

If you're looking for some seasonally appropriate reading tonight, after appeasing the diminutive ghouls at your doorstep, you can profitably head over to Arbogast on Film, a fine horror movie blog that celebrates October with the feature "31 Screams" -- for each day of the month, Arbogast writes about a memorable horror-movie scream, with a liberal amount of mouth-agape or teeth-bared screencaps. (It should probably go without saying that, since horror movies are known to feature gruesome and disreputable subject matter, the blog sometimes features images that might not be quite SFW)

One post this October actually has a small connection to the art collection of SNC. In the TCES building there's a sculpture by Hazel Court, who moved to Incline in 1999 (and who sadly passed away in 2008). Before becoming a painter and sculptor, Court was an actress who starred in several of Roger Corman's horror films -- including "Premature Burial," which features a scene of graveyard screaming that Arbogast saw fit to memorialize, as it were.

I'll have a future blog post on Court and her sculpture, but couldn't let Halloween pass without a brief tip of the Jack-O-Lantern.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Random #1

On certain Fridays I'll post five more or less random images, culled from a folder I keep for images downloaded from the internet. I offer them without comment or context -- sometimes I've forgotten the context and origin of the images myself (you can always avail yourself of if you're feeling desperate). They're simply things that, for one reason or another, caught my eye and imagination. You can click on them to see larger versions. Here's today's batch:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Burning Man, Cookies, Latex Grenade, et al.

Here are some short documentaries that were created for the documentary class running this semester. The assignment was an exercise in using audio interviews and still images. Three of the students were also in the burning man class; they each looked at the experience from different angles.

Here's Victoria Buck's piece on looking at Burning Man in retrospect:

Thomas Grana's overview of the structures the students inhabited at their encampment:

Jenna Bache's look at the burning man himself, and what he represented to Thomas as he went down in flames:

Outside of Burning man, Jake O'Leary did a profile of an aspiring filmmaker:

Lane Huntington interviewed the bassist for Latex Grenade:

Victor Gutierrez walks us through a cookie recipe:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Italian Sushi

Marco Ciafarone, one of our students from L'Aquila last year, recently posted a note on the SNC/FA facebook page. An animated short he created in the advanced animation class here at SNC was accepted on an Italian art website. Click here to see the animation (I've posted a still below):

Here's Marco's message:
Hi to everybody from Italy!
The video I realised for Advanced computer Animation at SNC has just been accepted by an Italian art website which gather young Italian video&sound artists, and I'm very happy of that. It's a good occasion to thank the SNC fine arts department for making my experience in the states so unique and productive - the faculty and the students, everybody! - thanks so much folks, i love you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

candy combover

A new show of student work, juried by the student gallery club, is up at the Reference Gallery, on the third floor of Prim Library. The show is called "Candy Combover" and here are a few details of some of the work on display. Check it out in person when you get a chance.


Here are some videos that I thought went well together

My friend Brittany sent me the El Guincho link a few days ago and I thought it was too great not to share (it is slightly nsfw)

And two more:

When I Grow Up from Fever Ray on Vimeo.


Thursday, October 14, 2010


Two weeks ago I completed an installation in a secret niche on the SNC campus. It was up long enough for some friends and the New Genres class to pass through. Here is some documentation, though it seems to fall short of the actual space.

The piece was done in two parts, the first part consisted in following a map to a special aspen grove (while the leaves were changing) and collect data. the second part was rebuilding the space with the data I collected.

Things I speculated/ buzz-words:
language barriers and translations
man machine vs. natural machine

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I find that I am contemplating what to do after I graduate in the spring time. It comes to me all the time, like when I'm concentrating on a sentence or picking out my socks.. BAM! "What are your plans after your done?" "Are you going to grad school?" "What kind of job do you want?" 
The commitment to anything right now makes me want to hop in a time machine and go back to the 60's and hitch-hike to someplace obscure. I guess what I'm saying is, the idea of building a form of mobile living to attach to my Ford Ranger is very appealing right now. I was googling images of home made campers and I found some good ones...

I feel like my ideal camper would be a hybrid of all the examples provided.. Maybe I would have an electric tricycle, with a tag-a-log type teardrop gypsy king, mini eco bubble chambers, and solar panels... and maybe it could be attached to the Lone Ranger for trips to colder climates.... maybe I could trike-it all the way to burning man... the Yucatan... (fade in camper bike atop Machu Pichu)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jennafay reporting for duty

As the new student blogger I thought i would shake things up a bit with some youtube mashup

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Starland, Bambi and the rest

Via the Burning Man Class blog, here's a video tour of the class encampment, created by Logan Lape and Tom Grana in the Video Practices class.

NWGN 430 Starland from Tom Grana on Vimeo.

More Burning Man documentation to come -- three students who went to Black Rock are in my Documentary class, and are polishing up some mini-docs about the experience.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Artificial Inception

I'm failing miserably at being timely this month, but though Inception has almost exited from local theaters, I still wanted to write a few words about it. The puzzle-like film has generated a lot of conversation and speculation on the internet, but there's one interesting aspect of it that hasn't, to my knowledge, been covered much -- an aspect that relates to the use of simulated virtual environments in psychotherapy.

Inception is a twisty enough movie that I think it's difficult to truly "spoil," but if you haven't seen the movie, I wouldn't recommend wading through this blog post.

One of the common knocks against Inception is that, for a movie which takes place inside dreams (or even better, inside dreams inside dreams inside dreams), it doesn't feel very "dream-like" -- it doesn't have the shocking plasticity of true dreams. Some film-makers are experts at conjuring the dream-state -- David Lynch, Satoshi Kon, Apichatpong Weerasethakul -- but Christopher Nolan isn't one of them. He approaches the nested chinese box structure of his film less as a metaphor than as an engineering problem.

That wasn't a issue for me, because I thought the movie's space wasn't really dream-space, it was fantasy-space. The images were attuned more to the desires expressed in daydreams than the free-associative cognitive state expressed in nocturnal dreams: the thrust of the movie was more psychoanalytic than surrealist.

It's become reflexive to name-check Philip K. Dick when you're writing about stories that question the fundamental reality of the apparent world, but the "what-is-reality" whiplash in Inception seemed less a throwback to Dick than to Jorge Luis Borges, whose fictional attacks on the nature of reality are rigorously logical, in their way. For Dick, the interrogation of reality boils down to the question: what if the world is merely a dream, or some sort of induced hallucination? For Borges the question is: what if the world is merely a system of information, or some sort of game? Considering that Dick was a drug-user, and Borges worked for many years in a library, the differences in philosophical temperament could probably be boiled down to differences in biography.

(To use another binary comparison between artists, the dreamscape of Inception owes less to the unbounded vanishing points of Dali than it does to the seamless grids of M. C. Escher, whose infinitely recursive flight of stairs provides a memorable punchline for one of Inception's action sequences)

Several reviewers noted that Inception has echoes of video-gaming, with its variety of action-scene "levels," and its faceless antagonists, who swarm on the heroes as if programmed with rudimentary artificial intelligence. Gaming is definitely one of Inception's models, but the movie seems more deliberately pointed at the intersection between gaming technology (or "simulation") and therapy. I wrote elsewhere that "part of the appeal of games is to give us a world we have some degree of control over: a portable universe that is bounded by rules that can be understood. Games give us fun, diversion, stimulation -- but most fundamentally, they give us the illusion of mastery."

And that becomes most concrete, perhaps, in “virtual reality exposure therapy” -- where the patient, suffering from PTSD, interacts with a virtual reconstruction of the memories that are causing distress. Soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are entering virtual warzones, built from the game Full Spectrum Warrior, where they essentially re-live events like a rooftop firefight, or an IED attack. PTSD, as I understand it, is being overwhelmed by a past event -- it bleeds out from the past to the present, making innocuous things like a stairwell, or the act of driving down the street, triggers that release all the traumatic emotion of that past event.

Therapists have been virtually reconstructing the particulars of vets' memories, so that the vets can replay the traumatic events, until they're drained of the initial emotional charge. There's a good article about it in the New Yorker here:

And some clips of "Virtual Iraq" here:

From the article, here's a summary paragraph of the technique:

Virtual Iraq is a tool for doing what’s known as prolonged-exposure therapy, which is sometimes called immersion therapy. It is a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy, derived from Pavlov’s classic work with dogs. Prolonged-exposure therapy, which falls under the rubric of C.B.T., is at once intuitively obvious and counterintuitive: it requires the patient to revisit and retell the story of the trauma over and over again and, through a psychological process called “habituation,” rid it of its overwhelming power. The idea is to disconnect the memory from the reactions to the memory, so that although the memory of the traumatic event remains, the everyday things that can trigger fear and panic, such as trash blowing across the interstate or a car backfiring—what psychologists refer to as cues—are restored to insignificance. The trauma thus becomes a discrete event, not a constant, self-replicating, encompassing condition.

Of course it's easy to see a reflection here of Dom, the protagonist of Inception, building a chain of elevator-accessible rooms in his subconscious, where the traumatic events of his life are fussily preserved, like interactive museum pieces. It's like he's trying to transcend his most awful moments and choices by making living dioramas out of them. He bills himself as an "extractor" of dreams, but he's just as much a virtual reality exposure therapist, with himself as the patient (or, per Bilge Ebiri's intersting reading of the film, perhaps Ellen Page's dream-architect, Ariadne, is the therapist).

And if you're modeling simulations rather than dreams, the element of "reality" that the Inception dream-architects pursue is crucial -- and not an expression of a failure of imagination. "Realism" isn't necessary for a dream, but it is necessary for the process of healing.

As part of the push and pull between simulation and memory, I think Inception says something very smart about the nature of fantasy. Dom's farewell to Mal, the dream-projection of his deceased wife, seemed to suggest a fairly ruthless (and I think true) definition of what constitutes reality: we know reality because that's the place where things don't turn out as we'd like. The texture of reality is full of failure and regret and loss. The real is defined by our lack of control, and the inevitability of our failure. That's a pretty spiky and bracing message to tuck inside an escapist summer film.

One last recurring objection to the film that I find funny is the complaint that, since so little (or perhaps none) of the film occurs in "reality," then it's impossible to have an emotional investment in what's going on. But the emotional throughline and the central objectives of the characters don't change from level to level of the story. It reminded me of Alan Moore's story of Superman's death -- which he states, in a preface, is only an "imaginary" Superman story. The conceit of the "imaginary story" was something that had been used several times in the long run of Superman comics, when writers wanted to create a narrative that would have disruptive consequences for the prolonged stasis that readers expect from a serialized comic. It would be disastrous for Superman to marry Lois Lane, or to reveal his identity as Clark Kent (or, of course, to die) -- but regardless, writers were drawn to tell these sorts of stories, which were permissible to publish so long as they were told outside of canonical continuity.

After reassuring his readers that the death of Superman was only an "imaginary story," Moore goes on to say -- "Aren't they all?" Some people have a reaction against characters that explicitly embrace their imaginary status, I guess. The objection that it's impossible to emotionally invest in characters that are disputably "real" within the context of their stories is particularly amusing when you consider that the crucial scene in Inception -- the thing the whole movie builds to -- is when Dom fundamentally rejects Mal on the grounds that she's a merely imaginary character. If an imaginary character rejects an imaginary character, does that short-circuit will deliver us once again to the real? We can only be sure if the top stops spinning.

Candy Danced

How much grease will accumulate on a surface elevated approximately two feet above a grill at Candy Dance on a Sunday, over the course of the lunch rush? Here are the experimental results of that query, compiled last weekend:

It was the 90th anniversary of Candy Dance this year -- the sprawling craft fair that takes place in picturesque Genoa, the first town established in Nevada. The SNC art department sells burgers there to raise some extra dough for supplies. I was on the frontlines Sunday, and was quickly inducted into the secret nomenclature for the typology of burgers on the grill -- cheeseburgers and veggie burgers et cetera re-christened "dairy farmers," "darth vaders," and so on ("darth vaders" were well-done burgers -- though it never came to pass, if someone were to order a well-done cheeseburger, there would have been a cry of "DARTH VADER DAIRY FARMER," which I think may be an actual spinoff series George Lucas is contemplating for the Cartoon Network).

The wares at Candy Dance range from edibles to musical instruments to lawn ornamentation to jewelry to ceramics to whatever decorative fancy you may wish to indulge. It was hard for me to imagine what sorts of crafts would have been on sale 90 years ago in Genoa (frilly bonnets for your farm goats? fancily-braided hanging nooses for special occasions of vigilante justice?). Logan informed me (and Logan's usually right) that the 90 years of Candy Dance stretch back beyond crafts, which were only part of the event starting in the 80s. Before then, there was an annual festival where candy was to be had, in concert with a town dance. Which, even if Logan is wrong, at least has the benefit of sounding very plausible, what with the "candy" and the "dancing" and all.

At one point, looking up at the open roof of the spot where we grill, I was struck by its resemblance to the apex of the dome the Burning Man class constructed for Black Rock, and wondered if there was some subliminal influence at work, since many of the students who participated in that class had served time before the Candy Dance grill, steeling themselves for the desert heat via prolonged exposure to propane flames.

Below is a statue of "Snowshoe" Thompson, located at the main crossroads in Genoa -- he stands frozen as passersby haul their purchases and lick their ice cream cones, immobile and sadly immune the the wafting scent of sizzling burgers.

Here's Russell with the day's count. And thus were cows (and also vegetable matter compressed into patties) converted to cash, eventually to be converted into art supplies. I think that's what's usually referred to as "The Circle of Life."