I'm very excited to finally be able to share this project I Am and I collaborated on recently.
The Shadow Machine is a hand-made analog projection system that reanimates two blacksmiths from the late 1800's, photographed by Eadweard Muybridge and compiled on plate #374 of his Animal Locomotion series.
The Shadow Machine was conceived of and created for the The Underbelly Project, an extraordinary, unauthorized exhibition of more than one hundred international street artists in an abandoned subway station in New York City. The Shadow Machine's projected, ghostly figures hammer away in complete darkness at the far end of the platform, ever-toiling spirits working on a never-finished station that was abandoned generations ago.
Inside the Machine, six frames hand-painted on clear plexiglass operate as gobos when lit from behind by narrow beam LEDs. A light sequence, controlled by an Arduino board with custom software using a 9V battery, casts each successive shadow in a loop.
The Spoiler Alert signs are faith-enhancing adjustments to New York City subway platforms, creating opportunities for trust in the city’s most important institution in the face of its overeager self-quantified broadcasts.
Their primary effect, then, is to erode faith in the system, to create expectations that can’t always be met, to raise false hopes, and to erase the mystery and magic of the wondrous system that transports more than five million riders a day.
These LED signs also threaten historical social behaviors, rendering obsolete the time-honored New York tradition of leaning over the platform edge with the hope of glimpsing headlights from an approaching train.
The Spoiler Alert signs warn waiting riders of this potentially unwanted information – allowing them to avert their eyes so they may preserve their spirit of adventure – while still leaving visible the data for travelers who wish to ruin the surprise for themselves.
1 ea Env. Golden Onion Soup Mix 1 1/2 c Milk 10 oz Frozen Peas & Carrots * 8 oz Medium Egg Noodles ** 6 1/2 oz Tuna, Drained & Flaked 2 oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese ***
* Frozen Peas & Carrots should be thawed. ** Egg Noodles should be cooked and drained. *** Cheese should equal 1/2 C
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, blend golden onion recipe soup mix with milk; stir in peas & carrots, cooked noodles and tuna. Turn into greased 2-quart oblong baking dish, then top with cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until bubbling.
That's it. No links, no mention of viagra, nothing.
Spam has delved so far into the absurd that it's become generous and helpful! This is a gift! More of this, please!
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If we spoke in the last four months, you probably asked what was up and I probably told you I was redesigning my website, and then I apologized that I didn't really have anything better to tell you, and really I was sorry for bringing it up in the first place, how are you?
Well, my friends, the days of those awkward social moments are over. Introducing:
Currently only 22 of my most recent and successful efforts are available, but that number will continue to grow as I finish digitizing the back catalog. In the meantime, Senseless Venn Diagrams will stay live until I've finished the migration.
Also, Amtrak finally finished their job, so I was able to complete a video about the Astoria Scum River Bridge, embedded below. Enjoy!
I made a Twenty-First Century Campfire for Flux Factory's inaugural show, Housebroken. It's a chandelier (as I originally envisioned the project) made from a 27" television I found on the street. If you're ever at Flux, have a look! It's hanging in the library.
A block away from the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd N-train stop, a giant puddle of standing water covers a heavily-trafficked sidewalk, a cesspool we endearingly refer to as Astoria Scum River. Seriously, it's gross, and in the winter the river ices over and becomes really dangerous.
A couple months ago, Posterchild and I simultaneously arrived at the same idea: build a bridge over Astoria Scum River! A few weeks later we found an abandoned work bench left for trash on the sidewalk and used rescued screws from a recently disassembled desk to turn the work bench into a bridge. Posterchild engraved an awesome plaque, and the bridge was installed as 2009 ended, christened the Astoria Scum River Bridge.
Our neighbors have really taken a liking to it, and just yesterday we received an e-mail from NYC Council Member Vallone's office thanking us for the bridge and pledging to work with Amtrak to solve the drainage problem! We couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
Pro Pants returned yet again this year to greet participants of Improv Everywhere's annual No Pants! Subway Ride. Two dozen passionate pants-lovers showed up to spread the good news to the 3000 pantsless riders emerging from the subway at Union Square.
This year we added a third pamphlet to our literature and sent four representatives to roam the park wearing sandwich boards. Our conversion rate was, once again, perfect! Within 24 hours, roughly 100% of the pantsless riders we encountered had accepted pants into their lives!
Pixelator is a runner up in the Babelgum Metropolis Art Prize. This means the Pixelator video will be screened on three jumbotrons in Times Square, jumbotrons that usually show advertising. Please take a moment to bask in the irony.
In 2006 I came up with the idea for the Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce, a roving handbell choir that would provide unexpected accompaniment for those ubiquitous Salvation Army bell ringers, with the hope that my sister and I could gather musically talented friends in Houston and tour around the city's busy shopping areas. It was a follow up to our two previous pranks, the Christmas Lights "Participation Award" Anti-Prank of 2005 and the Parking Lot Note Anti-Prank of 2004. Alas, we could never pull the project together.
But last year, after working with Improv Everywhere on the Subway Art Gallery Opening, I pitched the idea to Charlie to see if he wanted to help make it happen, and he was in! Three years later, the Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce came to fruition!
I received the following in the mail a couple days ago. It appears to be a reminder about a state law that went into effect last summer. (For some reason, the Board of Elections misread my name when I registered to vote, and despite repeated attempts to correct it, the misspelling remains on the books.)
I decided to write back. For those who don't follow NYC politics, the letter, reproduced below, is annotated with hyperlinks!
Esteemed Council Member Vallone,
I appreciate your reminding me about the Lawn Litter Law, but surely you see the irony in doing so by sending me an unsolicited flier (on my own taxpaying dime, no less). In return, I am sending you some unsolicited criticisms.
The copy on the back of your flier is misleading, at best. Simply displaying the card isn't enough; landlords and homeowners must submit written complaints to the Department of Sanitation in order for fines to be levied. Really, it's a difficult law to enforce, and I expected that as a lawmaker you would know the details of the actual law. However, I suspect this flier is merely disguised as a public service in order to trick your constituents into thinking you're doing something worthwhile for them. The "Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. Says:" at the top of the notice is especially egregious ego-stroking. Why is your name on this, exactly? The Lawn Litter Law was the state's doing, not the city council's, as I'm sure you're well aware.
While I am disappointed you explicitly ignored the will of the electorate by giving yourself the chance at a third term, I am hopeful that these next four years you will spend less time constructing elaborate photo opportunities for yourself and instead use your family's political capital to address actual problems!
These are just a couple of ideas. If you're interested in doing something productive with your ill-gained power instead of engaging in the same old back-patting publicity stunts, I'd be happy to have a dialogue.
Jen and I have been making bets on Flickr photos since we first became friends in 2006. It started when we noticed a ton of photos on Flickr from large scale public events like Newmindspace pillow fights and bubble battles, roving street parties like One Night of Fire, and crazy costume processions like the Mermaid Parade. We would attend these happenings and then bet on how many photos from the event would be up on Flickr by the end of the week tagged with an obvious, agreed upon tag. Whoever was closest won a free drink from the loser the next time we hung out.
The game was both a criticism and celebration of NYC's penchant for over documentation of public space spectacles. It was also a way to not take that last sentence too seriously.
In 2007 we had an idea to become a part of the game! We would choose a sure-to-be over photographed happening, then the two of us would don shirts with the text "Tag me on Flickr as JasonWinsTheBet" or "Tag me on Flickr as JenWinsTheBet". The main rule would be that we couldn't offer unsolicited explanations of the bet. We could only tell people about it if they asked first. And no bribing! At the end of the week, whoever was tagged the most received a free dinner from the loser!
At Burning Man later that year, Jen rolled up with a surprise. Her mom had made the shirts for us! Awesome! They were even pink and blue like the Flickr logo! We agreed to tuck them away until we could find the perfect event at which to unveil them.
Unfortunately, no one had taken into account that humans are not flat, but in fact, cylindrical, and my tag—JasonWinsTheBet—which is two characters longer than Jen's tag—JenWinsTheBet— was often lost under my arm pits or just partially obscured by my slender physique.
Jen ended up winning the bet 5 to 0 because of these flaws, but maybe also because she's prettier to look at. I took her out for dumplings and tried not to gnash my teeth too much. After all, this was only round one.
I think we'll submit this to Conflux next year. Hopefully I can convince Jen to wear the shirts all weekend, and then the loser has to buy drinks not just for the winner, but for everyone who tagged the winner on Flickr!
Last month I was invited to participate in the Conflux Festival! What an honor! Conflux—"the art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space"—is one of my favorite happenings in the fall. I was asked to lead a workshop and to exhibit Pixelator at Conflux HQ.
I've struggled with how the Pixelator should work in a gallery setting because one of the most important aspects of the project is that, in its natural environment, the Pixelator filters unwanted information in public spaces. (My conundrum was: if you can control the source material and the space, then what's the point?)
What I ended up proposing and installing was the Pixelator Lounge, which features a double-sided Pixelator suspended from the ceiling. Live digital television is projected on the back, a single armchair provides a perfect spot from which to view the pixelated image on the front, and Nevin's incredible album Rambler fills the space with an ambient soundtrack. I think adapting the project to this method of media consumption—invoking a living room setting and piping in actual live television—addressed the conceptual challenge nicely. People seemed to like it, at least!
As for the workshop, I figured what I could most offer was a way of seeing: a way of noticing and reimagining the city. My lecture and walk was entitled Adventures in Urban Alchemy, and it gave me a chance to define the specific practice of urban engagement I'm interested in. If alchemy is the art of transformation, then urban alchemy is the art of transforming common public structures and systems into rare moments of unauthorized culture. It mixes street art, culture jamming, and pranksterism into a whimsical, site-specific, moment of public engagement.
The workshop went so great! The whole group was very participatory, and we came up with some awesome ideas. Hurray! Also, Fast Company wrote a really nice piece the day before the talk, and I was invited back by David Darts, Conflux's Curatorial Director, to lead my talk/walk again with his media literacy class at NYU.
I was invited to submit a project to Winkel and Balktick's annual "Stranded" party, an event for people in the Burning Man community that, for whatever reason, are not at Burning Man. This year the party's theme was the Galapagos Islands, dovetailing off Burning Man's "Evolution" theme. One thing I really like about Winkel and Balktick's parties is that they focus significant attention on creative works in the event space. Fiscal support of art projects is actually built into the budget.
Thinking about ocean islands, extinction, and evolution, I remembered a childhood game from elementary school fairs: for one ticket you could rent a fishing pole, "bait" it with a paper fish and dip it behind a booth. Behind the booth, below your line of sight, an attendant would remove the fish and replace it with a piece of candy and tug on your line. Awesome!
I wanted to recreate this interaction model, but in three dimensions. So I constructed a triangular "pier" or "shore" from plywood stage platforms, inside which a 12'x12'x17' "pond" of folded poster board was suspended. Prospective fishers left their shoes for collateral at the Fishin' Pole Rental station and received a fishin' pole, a temporary fishin' license, and access to materials with which to construct their own bait: play-doh and pipe cleaners. Once their bait was ready, fishers climbed onto the shore, lowered their bait into the fishin' hole, and waited. Underneath, Fishin' Hole staff exchanged bait for beer fish (a can of PBR with googly eyes, fins, and a tail), water fish (a water bottle with googly eyes, fins, and a tail), or candy fish (candy taped to a paper cut-out of a fish). Creative bait was rewarded with beer fish. Bait that took some effort was rewarded with water fish. Half-ass bait was rewarded with candy fish, if anything. Sometimes fishers got a bite within a couple minutes. Sometimes they spent thirty minutes without a nibble. The pond was pretty much fished to extinction by the time we left at 3 a.m.
Reactions were enthusiastic, as they are any time you're giving away free beer. While there were certainly some petulant and entitled moments, many fishers were creative, excited, and grateful, and really, the evening was a smash success. Perhaps most important, the patrons were very happy. Balktick cited the Fishin' Hole as his favorite interactive art project, and Winkel invited me back.
Some of the best interactions of the night were completed unplanned and unexpected. One reveler showed up to the party with an alligator hand puppet, found his way underwater, and started snapping at fishing lines. The fishers LOVED it and for long stretches of time completely forgot about the original task at hand because they were too busy trying to feed the alligator. Heather, who was helping under water, decided she didn't want the second half of a sandwich she'd brought along and decided to hook it to a fisher's line. That catch became a legend; for the rest of the evening, people were asking if the pond was stocked with any more sandwich fish.
Unfortunately, because the project was so conceptual, the photos don't do it much justice, and one of the main things I would improve is the Fishin' Hole's aesthetics. But the project turned out to be pretty evocative:
Transactions are typically judged by their speed and efficiency, but the Fishin' Hole purposefully created a communication barrier which slowed down the transaction and created less precise communication. Though spoken language is more precise than play-doh figurines, it isn't perfect either.
Creative works are often meant to last and be admired by many, but fishers created art objects for bait that were intentionally ephemeral. Many collective hours were spent crafting play-doh and pipe cleaner masterpieces, only for them to never be seen again.
For urban dwellers, fishing is neither safe nor are opportunities readily available. Engaging in a simulacrum of the exercise seems a crude gesture, but is a strangely comforting reminder of the uncertainty and chaos we're surrounded by, whether in the middle of the woods or a bustling city.
I continue to be really interested in interactive party art. It can create really magical experiences for the less-than-sober, and the limitations are challenging:
The project can't be fragile or too precious.
The interaction model must be immediately apparent or easily explainable.
The project must reward interaction immediately but must also reward sustained interaction.
The project cannot rely on audio.
Really, I'm quite proud of the Fishin' Hole and can't wait to do it again. Super huge thanks to Matt, Albert, Heather, Naomi, Jen, Aaron, and Abe for all your tremendous help. I couldn't have done it without any of you. Thanks, friends!
Some suckers at an outfit called Good Magazine decided I was one of the top 100 most important, exciting, and innovative people, ideas, and projects making our world better and changing the way we live.
The Print After Parties are a series of unauthorized notional raves thrown in the abandoned distribution infrastructure of crumbling print institutions. (They're pretend parties, not real ones.)
While dead tree publishers loudly lament the fate of their aging information delivery system in the wake of the internet, enterprising trailblazers have found cheaper, faster ways to successfully meet public demand for celebrity gossip and sex scandals without razing forests, filling dumps, or obsessing over boring foreign affairs.
Abandoned by floundering media conglomerates, thousands of neglected newsracks command valuable real estate on busy street corners across New York City, remnants of diminishing demand and a disintegrating economy. Many have already been reclaimed and transformed by urban alchemists, whether as canvases for stickers and paint or clever conceptual works that turn the once important vessels of information into repositories for garbage.
The Print After Parties continue this line of collaboration with blinking LEDs, disco balls, cut-out silhouettes, and handheld radios. When the last vestiges of a collapsed empire litter the landscape, there's only one thing to do: throw a bumpin' party and dance on the ruins.
As someone with libertarian instincts, I’m sympathetic to the "It's their property, they can do whatever they want" argument.
However, there are many laws restricting what a landowner can or cannot do with their land, especially in dense urban areas where someone's actions on their property affect a lot of people not on their property. There are many compromises we pay to live around other people, and I expect most people would agree with many of them.
For example, you can’t modify buildings that are deemed historical landmarks, blast loud music at all hours, or release harmful chemicals.
Public advertising isn’t innocuous building decoration; it’s well-funded and highly engineered to modify the way you think. It frames discourse, influences language and behavior, and sets cultural standards and values.
Advertising is POWERFUL, and a city that values its unique history, culture, and culture makers - like NYC - is right to regulate its visual landscape, just like it regulates other gray areas in the realm between public and private.
Third-party sign regulations are already on the books! We’re just asking NYC to enforce its own laws and reap MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in fines in the process.
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Last month, Matt and I led a day-long mystery bus tour (in which participants have no idea where they're going or what they're doing, only what to bring and where to meet) for Flux Factory's summer series Going Places, Doing Stuff Part II. Our tour was entitled The Quest for Immortality!