Chris Burden, Extreme Measures, New Museum

Among my first stops during this year’s New York trip was the New Museum, which is currently featuring a museum-wide exhibition of works by Chris Burden.

His work spans several decades and includes sculpture, performances and pieces that blur the boundary between the two. While the exhibition officially focuses on “weights and measures, boundaries and constraints”, the theme that seem to most unify all the pieces was “play”. Certainly, he has access to toys on larger scale than most of us could only dream of as kids who loved building sets. This was most apparent in his series of bridges, made from custom erector sets and other materials.


Similar principles are at work in his large-scale sculptures, which use metal and found material and also included a sense of motion. The Big Wheel is indeed a huge wheel constructed from weathered metal.


It is designed to spin freely, and visitors are treated to a twice-a-day “performance” of the piece where a motorcycle is used to start the wheel spinning. You can see a bit of this in the following video:

A nearby sculpture address the absence of motion with a perfectly balanced Porsche and meteorite. I am curious as to how Burden obtained such a large meteorite to use in this piece.


Motion is taken to another extreme in an outdoor piece (shown as video documentation in the exhibition) where large steel beams are dropped into a pool of wet cement. As the positions, angles, are unpredictable, the result is a rather chaotic jumble of vertical steel spires. The video itself is quite interesting with the motion of the cement in response to the the dropping beams.

Perhaps the element of play is most apparent (and most poignant) in A Tale of Two Cities. Burden constructs a tableaux of two city-states at war using sand, plants and a large array of toys.


Some of these toys (in particular, a few of the space-themed toys) were familiar from my own childhood. And certainly we sometimes created battles with them. But those fantasies never touched on the realities of war, and somehow Burden made that very apparent in this piece. Perhaps it was the presence of bullets among the toys that made it seem like something very, very bad could come of this.

The exhibition also includes other conceptual pieces, as well as some examples of Burden’s early video work, which was interesting precisely because it seems dated.

Chris Bürden: Extreme Measures will be on display at the New Museum through January 12, 2014.

Weekend Cat Blogging with Luna: Napping near the Artwork

Luna napping next to the art

Cats always find interesting places to nap. For Luna, that sometimes means next to the standing artwork. We have quite a few free-standing 3D pieces in the collection at CatSynth HQ.

Luna will probably be napping quite a bit this weekend, as I will be spending most of it in the studio with Reconnaissance Fly as complete the final mixes for our upcoming album. In the evenings, I will be back here to work on a completely different musical project, my electronic solo show in Portland next Saturday. But Luna gets to sit in and supervise that one.

Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by Samantha, Clementine and Maverick.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

By-product Becomes Product, Intersection for the Arts

Intersection of art and science is not uncommon in contemporary culture, or on the pages of this site. While this most often involves the integration of high technology (e.g., electronics and the Internet) into artistic pieces and practice, the current exhibition at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco takes a new look at a more basic technology, the manufactured materials used by many artists. The show, titled By-product Becomes Product, is a collaboration of lead artist Christine Lee with research engineer John F. Hunt at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory exploring the use of excess wood waste as a safer alternative to some of the toxic materials often used by artists.

Artists have made use of engineered wood products originally created for practical uses such as homebuilding and furniture manufacturing. Among these are plywood, particle board, oriented strand board (OSB) and medium density fiberboard (MDF). All of these have their positives and negatives, and among the negatives are the manufacturing processes, byproducts, and especially in the case of MDF toxic chemicals in the product itself. While a resident the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Lee worked with Hunt to develop a custom composite board made entirely from sawdust and paper fibers. A sample was available at the start of the exhibition:

Because the board was made entirely from waste material, it required no additional wood to be harvested. And because it does not include any adhesives or other additional chemicals, it is non-toxic for artists and viewers of the art. Finally, because it is made entirely from wood by-products, it is biodegradable, and the objects made from it will naturally decay and return to the environment. With this theme in mind, the boards were given to five additional artists to create new work for the exhibition. The results spanned a variety of conceptual and aesthetic styles, and crossed the boundaries between art and design. They were brought together into Intersection’s gallery space in an installation whose clean and spartan quality matched the texture of the material itself:

Russel Baldon’s Mutant Boxes perfectly balanced art and design, and was in many ways the most fun piece in the exhibition. Baldon used the composite material to fashion a series of exquisite corpse boxes featuring his own drawings. The drawings were fun, surreal, often comical or fantastic, and I found myself quite engrossed in playing with them.

[Russel Baldon, Mutant Boxes, 2013.]

This is Baldon’s first public exhibit featuring his drawings – most of his existing work is sculpture and furniture – but they look like the product of someone who is at ease with drawing. The images are clean and precise while maintaining a hand-drawn quality and a common sense a style among a diverse set of characters ranging from anthropomorphic cats to multi-tendriled space aliens. The idea to fashion the material into an object of play was a natural one for the artist, who started his work in his family’s wooden-toy business. It was also an opportunity to feel the material in the form of a finished piece, after touching the prototype board at the start of the exhibit.

Design was squarely the focus of Christine Lee’s own piece, Interwoven. This sculptural furniture piece is a prototype demonstrating the properties of the composite board in terms of strength and flexibility, and an effort that minimized wasted material and toxicity. But the geometric simplicity combined with the detail of the weave also makes it an aesthetically strong piece. It would certainly be at home at CatSynth HQ.

[Christine Lee, Interwoven, 2013.]

Imin Yeh adapted the new boards to an old artform, woodblock printing, in her conceptual installation Double Happiness. She used the composite board as a safe and more natural alternative to other materials used in contemporary woodblock printing. The result was a series of printed paper fruits that were assembled into a cart and crates, also made from the composite board. The scene evokes the wooden produce stands that can be seen around San Francisco:

[Imin Yeh, Double Happiness, 2012.]

The sculpture itself is intended to be a vending station, selling limited edition paper fruits as “organic, fresh, fine art.”

For feed/rest/nest, artist Barbara Holmes created a series of colorful bird houses arranged around the gallery’s spiral staircase.

[Barbara Holmes, feed/rest/nest, 2013.]

Aesthetically, the birdhouses themselves are reminiscent of California architecture of the mid-to-late 20th century. But they also serve a function of returning the materials, sawdust and paper fiber that were themselves by-products of trees removed from the natural environment back into the natural world. They provide habitat for birds, but also will naturally bio-degrade and be reabsorbed into the environment. Holmes intends to place the birdhouses into friends’ yards for habitation and will continue to track their use.

Like Imin Yeh, Julia Goodman used the composite board indirectly, is this case as a series of molds for cast paper. Her conceptual pieces FEMA 3 Step, Forgive and Forget, and Oversight embed words into the cast paper that recall the issues surrounding MDF and formaldehyde leakage in FEMA trailers after Hurricane Katrina. The issue of MDF had a personal dimension for Goodman, as she used MDF in her own art practice and was exposed to its toxic byproducts. She was drawn to the new materials promise as a non-toxic alternative for both art practice and for homes.

Among the artists in the exhibition Scott Oliver seemed to take the sustainability and minimization of waste to its furthest extreme. He used not only the composite boards, but the wooden crate that used to ship the raw material to him. The crate and boards were fashioned into a camper shell for the his Toyota pick-up, once again making an object that is both art and function at the same time. His title Tree, Crate, Camper Shell, Or, On the Way to Becoming Something Else suggests that the life cycle of the piece and its materials is not yet over. They started as trees, become crates and composite boards, but in the future the natural materials of the camper shell will decay and be returned to the environment.

The pieces in this exhibition demonstrate that Lee and Hunt’s new composite-board material has promise as a medium for art and design. They were all quite simple in both form and concept and attempted to relate directly to the themes of sustainability inherent in the material. It will be interesting too see if the material has a wider arrange of applications in more complex artworks in the future and ideas beyond these themes. That will clearly depend on its availability and the imagination of artists.

By-product Becomes Product will remain on display at Intersection for Arts through March 30.

San Francisco Electronic Music Festival (SFEMF): Art Installations

In addition to the main concerts, this year’s San Francisco Electronic Music Festival featured a concurrent gallery exhibition. It took place at Million Fishes in the Mission District of San Francisco, and featured a variety of works that combined sound and visuals. I had the opportunity to visit the gallery on the Saturday of the festival, just before that night’s concert.

I have experienced Matthew Goodheart’s work with transducer-excited cymbals a few times now, most notably in his solo performance at the Outsound Music Summit. Here, he arranged them around the front room over the gallery to create an immersive installation called …silence through things secret….

The installation dominated the main room both visually and aurally, with the late-afternoon sun reflecting off the cymbals, and a variety of sounds echoing around the room. Computer-generated sounds were created from analysis of the resonances of each cymbal and recordings of each instrument played in a variety of manners. The sounds were then used to excite the cymbals via small transducers.

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

Because the sound from the cymbals is acoustic, the only notion one has of electronics at work is the fact that they are standing on their own without anyone there to play them. But there is nonetheless something otherwordly about the visuals and sounds of the unattended cymbals. Goodheart’s piece was part of a larger project he has developed in conjunction withe Center foew New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) at UC Berkeley.

Giant Leap, the result of collaboration by Floor van de Velde and Elaine Buckholtz, paid tribute to the late Neil Armstrong and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. The audio-and-visual work combined an anaglyph image of the moon with a sound score realized using modified rotary telephones.

The moon landing and the sounds associated with that achievement are still quite fresh, but the use of rotary telephones reminds us just how long ago this achievement took place. I consider rotary phones a particularly endangered technology in that it bears so little resemblance to contemporary phones in both form and function.

Dan Good presented two small kinetic sound sculptures. Artificial Lung combined standard speaker drivers in a novel way. They were pressed against one another a driven with a 1Hz sine wave. While the signal is far below the range of human hearing, the pressure on the speakers was visible and created the illusion of a breathing organism.

[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

In, Good’s sculpture Petri Dish, small glass spheres are pulled up and down in a glass bowl and tubes. The sound of the glass is subtle, but the visual is quite striking, especially when it is moving (the photograph does not really capture this aspect.)

Both of Good’s sculptures draw upon simple shapes, lines and processes to create something conceptually compact and understandable. As such, they play to the strengths of modernism – something refreshing to see in a contemporary setting,

SFEMF has featured installations before, usually as fixtures in the lobby during concerts. I thought separating it out into a gallery presentation worked well and allowed the pieces the chance to be seen outside the shadow of the live performances and milling crowds. I hope they do this again next year.


re:BOUND, visual and performance art at Live Worms Gallery

Two weeks ago I participated in a two-day opening with visual artist Yong Han and performance artist Jacqueline Loundsbury Live Worms Gallery in San Francisco. Together, we created an experience combining sculpture and two-dimensional artwork with music and performance art.

The overall show was anchored by Yong Han’s sculptures, paintings and drawings. The sculptures, which range widely in size, use a combination of metal, ceramic, beeswax and other materials. The two dimensional pieces were a combination of ink drawings and paint.

[Image courtesy of Yong Han.]

There are elements that are common in his work across media, including graceful geometric curves and lines with organic shapes and patterns seamlessly integrated. Indeed, some of the two-dimensional works appear to the shadows of his sculptures.

What particularly works for me in these pieces, whether two dimensional or three dimensional, is their simplicity. The lines and curves form repeating patterns and leave empty spaces; and the areas of color are simple and well-deliniated as well. Many of the pieces have a very delicate feel to them, but some of the more recent ones are very densely packed and suggest strength.

The basic structural theme of thin metal and curving lines carried over from the visual art to the performance aspects of the event, providing a level of continuity between the two. The first night featured Jacqueline Loundsbury in an improvised performance piece called re:BOUND where she wrapped her body in steel wire bindings. Large rolls of steel wire were placed around the performance space where she stood and visitors were encouraged to participate by taking pieces of wire and wrapping them around her bare body. Throughout this performance, she was quite exposed and accepted the risks of not knowing what participants might do – something taken to much more dangerous extreme by some of the early performance artists in the 1970s. Indeed, the resulting “wrapping” was less of a cocoon and more an overwhelming array of adornments, such as headgear and other decorative elements, some sexually charged. And the whole amalgamation of wire seemed quite heavy and uncomfortable. But she successfully completed the performance and the resulting embodied artwork fit well with the existing sculptural pieces. After extricating herself from the wire, some of the pieces themselves became independent elements (along with the unused wire) for the presentation on the next day.

The second evening featured my live improvised electronic music in the space with the artwork and a video projection of Loundsbury’s performance from the previous night. For the set, I used several iPad apps including Animoog, Bebot and iMS-20, along with the Dave Smith Evolver and a couple of newly acquired analog synthesizer modules, the Wiard Anti-Oscillator from Malekko Heavy Industry and the E350 Morphing Terrarium from Synthesis Technology. Overall, I intended the sounds to reflect the wire theme that was present in the sculptures, drawings and the performance, with sounds that were metallic, continuously curving, or otherwise reflecting of the other elements. You can see a short clip below of the video projection and the music-gear setup in action.

re: BOUND, with Yong Han, Jacqueline Loundsbury and Amar Chaudhary from CatSynth on Vimeo.

The improved music continued for the whole evening, about four hours in all, with breaks for selections from my CD Aquatic.

A decent number of people came through the show over the duration, a combination of people who knew advance from announcements as well as some who wandered in from the surrounding North Beach neighborhood and enjoyed the experience. I am glad I was able to participate, and look forward to working with both artists again in the future.


Occupy Wall Street (Zuccotti Park)

Being in New York in the third month of Occupy Wall Street, I of course had to visit Zuccotti Park, the symbolic and initial geographical center of the movement. And I did visit for a while on Saturday.

This is of course coming a little less than a week after the major raid on Zuccotti Park, so things were a bit sparse, indeed less active than some of the events I have attended in San Francisco. The ban on tents was in full force, with not a single tent in sight. I had also heard about a ban on musical instruments. So here I am playing the Smule Magic Piano on the iPhone in defiance.

Zuccotti park is in fact not much of a park at all. It’s a paved plaza with lights in between some of the stones. A few of the planted trees in the space were festooned with holiday lights. It’s the sort of modern public space one often sees near commercial buildings. If it wasn’t a protest site and rather cold, it would be a perfectly nice spot for lunch. I did of course get to see the “weird red thing”, aka Joie de Vivre by Mark di Suvero.

At the time I arrived, many of the leaflets and signs were in fact not about the core issues of the Occupy movement, such as income inequality and accountability of the financial institutions and their leaders, but rather a mix of 9-11 conspiracy theories (though I should not be surprised as we were just over a block from the World Trade Center site). I was disappointed to see that, as I place very little credence in such conspiracies and think of it as a detraction. But fortunately, a large march of people came back from the direction of the actual Wall Street and seemed to be more on message. I was even able to get from them a copy of the “Occupy Wall Street Journal”:

There was one tense moment when there were rumblings about police entering into the main area of the plaza. A quick look around confirmed this to be the case. As one speaker got up to address the crowd and remind everyone to be civil and not to repeat the mistakes of previous encounters, the police suddenly swooped in on one person, whom the arrested and carried out of the perimeter. It was all over quite quickly, and without any confrontations – there were additional calls to those assembled not to do anything provocative. But there was a lot of confusion, and no one seemed to know exactly why this one person was arrested. But it seemed to be connected to disrupting the putting up of holiday lights by the park’s owners.

Other than that, it was relatively calm and quiet visit to Occupy Wall Street…and a very cold one. The sparseness in comparison to recent west-coast events and the cold further suggests that the movement has to morph into something else beyond camps and marches.


Weekend Cat Blogging: Cat at Islais Creek

Islais Creek in San Francisco is a favorite photography spot of mine, and also home to an art studio complex featuring many metalwork sculptors. While walking outside of Islais Creek Studios, I encountered this gray cat.

It’s not the first time I have come across cats at Islais Creek Studios. Indeed, I posted about a cat I encountered there last year. It seems to be a natural environment for outdoor cats, lots of places hide in the industrial debris, and friendly people who leave food for them.

In the picture, we see the cat sitting near large metalwork sculptures by the artist David I McGraw. I like the abstract shapes and focus on single, and the fit well with the environment. And they go well with cats.

We participated in this year’s BlogBlast for Peace, which occurred yesterday. Cats have been quite prominent among the entries every year. You can see our peace globe here.

Weekend Cat Blogging #335 is hosted by Kashim, Othello and Salome at PaulChens FoodBlog?!

Carnival of the Cats #399 will be hosted this Sunday by Nikita and Elvira at Meowsings of an Opinionated Pussycat.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.