Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm Leanne Joyce. I Solve Problems.

In my most recent read, a chapter entitled “Calder’s Once and Future Circus: A Conservator’s Perspective” by Eleanora Nagy in Calder: The Paris Years, I found purpose. The chapter grapples with the issues of preserving an artist's work, along with his intent, in this case, Calder's Circus. The art of it was a performance, and it is not really possible to bring him back to life... but there has to be a better way of capturing the spirit of his highly mobile figures than displaying them in glass cases. Carol Mancusi Ungaro, curator at the Whitney Museum, where The Circus is kept, writes in the introduction to this chapter:

In every sense, the engine (the artist himself) of the machines (the figures) has died. Yet, without energy, without movement, the machines settle for a subdued presence and elicit at best a static curiosity. Over the years, the Whitney Museum of American Art has chosen to exhibit Calder’s Circus in this stationary state, accompanied by filmed images of Calder “performing his circus by manipulating the figures. As spectators, we must provide the leap of faith that connects and energizes the two disparate site of the Circus—the actual (but still) figures and the moving images. Is it successful? It may be the best we can do within the boundaries set by responsible museum practice, but is it enough? As a seasoned, conservator, I think not. I wish I could provide a ready solution but I cannot—yet. Rather, I can muse about the production of a stop-motion animated film that demonstrates an celebrates the sophistication of Calder’s handmade mechanisms. I cannot endorse a refabrication of the figures from brightly colored new materials that may or may not resemble the original fabrics, because I accept that works of art age gracefully. Consider what a Rembrandt painting would be without its cracks. In short, a fake. What I can support, however, is an in-depth study of the physical phenomenon of the Circus with an eye toward Calder’s impressive engineering of his figures, his selective accumulation of multidimensional accoutrements, and his various demonstrations of how it all works.

Evidently, there is a very real issue to solve here. This brings my project in a slightly new direction, but it is one with a finish line and a purpose. I should strive to bring The Circus alive, at least as much as possible without its creator nor an imitation of him. Initially, I thought about performing a version of the circus to "digitize" it... but somehow this didn't feel right, and the more I read about Calder's art, and those who have attempted to mimic it, the more I doubted that would be going about this the right way. Turns out, I was right to feel unsettled about what would have been, in essence, creating replicas of his works for a replica performance. It wasn't really moving, and it wasn't really "me."

So what's the big idea?? Ideally, if there was a way to get access to the collection, I would take 3D photos of it (that is, take images of it from all sides) and then, using photo manipulation, combine these images (for example, Little Clown with a deflated balloon) with new images (a 3D model of little clown and the inflated baloon). The crystal-clear animation of figure's motion would play adjacent to grainy footage of Calder himself manipulating it, which would be next to the antique figure itself, safely preserved in a case.

This way, the objects would be reanimated but remain untouched and preserved. Granted, the authentic objects won't move, so visitors would still need to take a different [but smaller!] "leap of faith." But, the great thing is it shows how digital resources can be used to create, in turn, a new work of art-- one that won’t die, but bring the dead to life, until the technology is surpassed by a better one.

Truth be told, I won't have access to the collection at this point. So some figures will need to be made, but here lies yet another opportunity for hands-on education: I will, like Calder, make figures from found objects (modern ones) to illustrate how he used things readily available to anyone to make art. These found-object figures will each be tagged for the webcam. Users can pick up figures, place them on a shelf in front of the webcam, and when the tag is read, the animation/video will play.

There are a variety of issues that my solution does not solve, but to be quite frank, I do not see them as any reason not to try it out. For instance, one of the problems Nagy points out in the chapter is that there is only video footage for limited number of the figures. Fair enough, but do we really need to wait until all of them are discovered before we try to solve this?? Sometimes you just need to connect the dots, and if you get them wrong, you go back and fix them. Like in Archaeology-- they don't always get it right! And sometimes when the source of a work is gone, you just have to make due, and that should be part of the adventure of it all.

I don't mean to sound insensitive-- I am surely not taking on this project because I disrespect Calder. I just think that he'd be more amused by someone working towards something useful for his work than hemming and hawwing about it. Don't get me wrong, hemming and hawwing is very necessary. I am thankful for reading all the hems and haws I have, as it saves me from doing all of it. But like I said, I'm Leanne Joyce. I solve problems. I think I'll get working on that now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I <3 my Library Card

Just to update you, as I am sure everyone is waiting with bated breath for these updates, I've been in the library this week. My schedule said I should be done with this part, but as it turns out, I'm going to need more reading time than I thought-- keep finding out something new or getting lost in an idea about a picture of his work.

That's not to say I haven't been planning and scheming, which I have (read the last 3 posts). It just reaffirms everything I think about project schedules: each step always takes longer than you think it will. At any rate, the project is still moving. Things should pick up as I start making the designs.

I will be making some real-world designs to try and move away from the computer screen, which I'll explain later as I need to get going!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back At It

I have been OOC the past few days due to the whale tonsils that took over my life and ruined the break I was going to take with two best friends, but thanks to Fleming's moldy bread accident, I am getting better and am back to work. Joy! But seriously, I am happy to be doing this instead of just sweating all over the place.

Now that I have shared too much about myself, I must also share this resource with you right away because it is just too cool. The Whitney Museum, NYC, has Learning@Whitney, a portal for teachers, kids and teens, but don't let the labels dissuade you from exploring (they all lead to the same gallery). It has a wealth of information on, and high-res views of, pieces of the museum's collection, including 10 of Calder's.

There is also a write-up about each piece, including its context and artist. These write-ups site sources-- books in English (yay!)-- that I fully intend to check out as soon as possible.

The image of Rigoulot, the Strong Man, Weight Lifter, 1926-31 takes you to this page, on which you can view (and download) excerpts of video from Le Grand Cirque Calder 1927 (Jean Painlevé, 1955) of Calder performing his circus. Good gravy, that's a find. The 6 other circus pieces in the gallery will take you to a page to view those videos, as well.

Another gem in this gallery:

Chock, 1972

Wowwie zowwie. The obvious choice, for me, will be to take on this design and make it a grandchild, Buck.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fun Facts

The reading's been going well. Getting to the point where I need to skim over things I already know, but every once in awhile, a Calder fact jumps out at me as "fun." Here are a few of these such fun facts:

  • Calder knew what parts of work were fun and which were serious. Despite the fun and lighthearted nature of his pieces, Calder had a strong desire to be properly acknowledged/represented, as well as compensated, for his work (Ambitious).
  • He took his inspiration more from paintings and architecture than from sculpture for his stabiles (Stabiles).
  • He was featured in a Hans Richter Film, Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) (Sperling 17).
  • At the time of creating his Circus, it was prime time for Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, as well as a popular toy called "Humpty Dumpty Circus." His version "only truly came to life when it was performed" by Calder (Sperling 16, 17).
  • All of the texts indicate he avoided signing onto any manifesto/movement, except for Abstraction-Creation with the likes of Hans Arp, Piet Mondrian, Robert Delauney, Antoine Pevsner, and Jean Helion (Sperling 21). Nonetheless, his work is non often associated with Surrealism (which Calder liked to call "sewer-realism").
  • Marcel Duchamp is the one who gave Calder's mobiles their name (Sperling 21).
  • "Calder actively abhorred the slickly crafted art object. He used unorthodox materials in unorthodox ways, both in process and in final product" (Sperling 24).

I'm not feeling good so I'm going to stop for now. More later.

Friday, May 8, 2009

No, seriously. Calder is it.

So I lied about having second thoughts! I reasoned through what would actually be needed to do the Body of Doom idea, and it's just not in my realm. I'd need a lot of science and anatomy knowledge, aside from a veteran expert in 3D design. One of the program advisers, Mike Greer, did tell me about MakeHuman, which would have been a cool, open-source aid for the muscle-tone modeling.

Onto Calder things! I went to the library and picked up 3 books, as well. Unfortunately, 2 are in French. I tried reading one of them, but I am only on Rosetta Stone Level 1 Unit 2. Ce n'est pas assez bon. Un chat francais lit mieux que moi. In fact, I had to translate part of that online just now to say it.

The books are useful so far in terms of having a look at some of his work. I've found some of his drawings that would be cool to animate on a loop, including these (photos courtesy of ArtNet):

Star and Moon, 1974

Composition with Black Spirals and Circle with Red, 1970

There is another entitled "Black and White," but unfortunately I cannot find a photograph online. I will upload a copy from the book later.

Another thing I need to decide is whether the big piece, Jubile Joyce, is going to be about the circus, as Calder's was, or if I should use a parallel event in my own life. Something like the Nutcracker, which I went to several times as a child, or perhaps the zoo. If I did Nutcracker, obviously I would need the music. I looked on archive.org and found one, which is under a non-derivative license, so I might not be able to go there. I beleive it is also midi, which usually sucks, but I actually don't mind it because it adds to the comedy.

More later...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reading List

I am not the first to recognize the Virtual Model inaccuracies-- didn't think I was! With the internet, you are always the last to know (think about it-- it's true, at that moment you read it, you are the last until someone else comes along).

This paper, written by engineering students, is all about making the body images more accurate. The abstract reads:

"Computer generated models of the human body generally do not adequately model the complex human morphology. These models therefore do not reflect the anthropometric realities and are not specific enough for commercial use. This paper presents an approach to adjust virtual models through the use of body measurements as obtained from an anthropometric data set. In this approach, the measurements are used to group three-dimensional body scans, obtained using precise opto-electronic measurement devices, into clusters. The virtual mannequins are then adjusted by using the measurements of nearest cluster member. In this way, realistic, accurate virtual mannequins are created."

So this gives me an idea of how complex this could be-- yowza. Using circumference measurements and body types will still be approximate, but at least closer than MVM, to the shape of a person. Plus, my aim is to create more of an assessment of what the future holds for one's health and well-being than the present image. That should be made really clear.

One thing I'd like to do is, once the model has been generated, also generate 5 similar bodies and have the user select what they perceive themselves to look like, to show they might still be wrong. This is similar to what they do on How to Look Good Naked, and I think it sends a powerful message about how wrong people can be.

Another thing I would like to do is somehow show what the body would look like airbrushed on magazine cover-- or at least address that the covers are nothing to compare one to, even the people in the pictures don't look like themselves. Still haven't written my list of tasks... I will though. Parmise.

On Second Thought...

After further mulling it over, I am reconsidering my Body of Doom idea. This would allow for one cohesive piece, rather than an assortment of pieces. While I still think the Calder idea is a thoughtful one with some great artistic/academic points, I think this one is more about getting into the nitty-gritty of digital design and could be a launching pad for what I want to do in the future (primarily 3D animation and web design-- so I need to get better at them). The Calder project would be so cool and fun, but I think it wouldn't be as much of a design challenge so much as a brain exercise for how to emulate a sculpture/toy artist in a digital format.

First, let me give a better explanation for Body of Doom. I gotta come up with a better title for that.

The idea came from frustrations of my fiance and I upon seeing our Wii-Fit doubles. Mine has a chubby tummy, and while I might, like anyone, have qualms about my body, having a tub is not my primary concern. Fraser's is super fat-- and anyone who has seen Fraser knows he is anything but. The Wii also told us, based on our BMIs, we needed to lose 2 stone (28 pounds) or more each. Is this tough love or just bad measuring? Seeing as the Wii is a machine, I'm guessing it's bad measuring. Of course, these are cartoons with skinny legs, so of course they are not designed to be accurate. But I noticed in online catalogs, such as My Virtual Model, the results are simply designed to be your height and weight, but more perfect. I did a little test (shown below), and noticed that no matter how much your model weighs, it always has slim arms, toned legs, a lifted bum, and a flat stomach.

Here is a 5'4" woman at 106 pounds:

Here she is again, 50 pounds heavier:

The settings I selected are shown below, indicating that you can adjust your shape as more or less evenly proportioned, and frame bigger or smaller, but unless users know what that means or how to assess themselves, they might select (on a bad day) the larger looking figure.

Bottom line, I can't use these models to see how I look because I don't know how I look, and I am guessing there are people out there with more-- or for that matter, less--distorted body image who wouldn't know themselves, either. Documentary programs, such as Supersize vs. Superskinny or How to Lood Good Naked, prove this further. People don't seem to know what healthy is because all we know is what we see, through our moods, in the mirror or the scale, which are terrible indicators of how we really look.

So in this age of body obsession, and given my experience being an American and living in Los Angeles, there needs to be something to show people how they really are shaped, or at least give them a better sense of it, and how to best take care of themselves. There are certain things about your body that cannot be changed, such as your body type: ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph-- and muscle fiber types: fast-twitch, slow-twitch-- and your genetic propensity for "problem areas" or things like cellulite and stretch marks (even models have those!). So, to give a basic walkthough of how I see this happening, a user would take their measurements first (a measuring tape would be provided). They would enter these, then be guided through the rest of the process, selecting their age, body type, estimated fitness level, perceived problem area, and estimated eating/drinking/other habits.

The application would then take this info to generate their body-double, a reasonable likeness of the person, as well as an assessment of their lifestyle (health/fitness). From there, they could have the assessment/recommendations e-mailed to them, but then they could also see a projection of themselves at age 70, to see what would happen if they continued their habits, got rid of/took on bad ones, or got rid of/took on good ones.

I have no idea how difficult this will be, and I'd like to figure that out before I decide to do it for the next 586 hours (I've put in some time already trying to figure out what I want to do). Fraser can point me to the right health and fitness studies to read in terms of the scientific knowledge... but in terms of building a program that can work with these permutations might be a challenge. I might get to work on some combinations to start. I am guessing I could make the interface in Flash-- if not, then Processing. The way I see it at the moment, I would need a model made for each of the hip/waist/chest ratio, height, sex, and body type combinations. Then I would need to make a sort of formula for the health advice, aging... I better write it out. I'll be back.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Calder it is

After mulling it over, I have decided, at least until I hit a wall, that I'd like to go with the Calder idea I mentioned in the last post's vlog.

Why Calder? Why not some other artist? Well, I am running half on a hunch, half on inspiration, half on knowledge, and a third on the exciting feeling one gets from starting something new that has potential for goodness (for those of you who don't do math, that's 183.333%).

First thing I'm doing is reading up on his work. Well, actually, the first thing I did was view his exhibit at the Pompidou a month ago. It made quite an impression. Seeing his work, so modern-looking, and then reading on a plaque that the artist created his first sculptures 100 years ago, made me respect him immediately. His sense of humor, aligned with his treatment of the materials and subject matter in his pieces (see here and here) comes through as nothing less than brilliant. It is a delight to see someone who wasn't afraid to let his enjoyment of his craft show through.

So, really the second thing I am doing is reading up on him-- check this out, found on Calder.org, regarding Cirque Calder:

"The assemblage included diminutive performers, animals, and props he had observed at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Fashioned from wire, leather, cloth, and other found materials, Cirque Calder was designed to be manipulated manually by Calder. Every piece was small enough to be packed into a large trunk, enabling the artist to carry it with him and hold performances anywhere. Its first performance was held in Paris for an audience of friends and peers, and soon Calder was presenting the circus in both Paris and New York to much success. Calder's renderings of his circus often lasted about two hours and were quite elaborate. Indeed, the Cirque Calder predated performance art by forty years."
Forty years ahead of the times! You see-- I knew we had a kinship, Calder and I. At first I was thinking, perhaps it's the connection between us, he the inventor of the mobile, and I, the inventor of sweet F.A., that makes me like him. More likely, however, is this desire to be ahead of the curve. And Cirque Calder is an impressive display, indeed. See here:

So you see my inspiration. Now what to do with it. I have a name! I do. I came up with it last week-- Jubilé Joyce. Hence, the underlying glue would be a digital jubilee of visual artistry and physical formations. I want to pull Calder's pieces into the digital age, and in doing so, I hope to go beyond performance art into a new form. Let's push those boundaries. Now, moving onto how. Stay tuned, faithful reader-- I might be down to one fan; I luv you, one fan.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


This is my blob. I have neglected it, and for that I am sorry. I am (really) planning on writing in it more, as my two fans have demanded I do so. That is why, for the next 16 weeks, this will also be my launchpad for all things dissertation. "What might that be?", you may ask. Answer: a form of digital media genius that requires roughly 600 hours to complete. More specific answer: See video below (I go on for 3 minutes):

So, it's not that I lack ideas. I am a venerable fount of ideas, let me tell you. Well, that's all I got for now. As a final note, people on the street (Blarthikath, this is for you): Please don't tell me to "smile" as I walk by, as I might not have any teeth-- you don't know me. And children, don't run up to dogs and start "petting" flapping at them with your small hands-- they don't enjoy it.