Dec 10, 2013
Pulitzer Prize-winning cinematographer and photographer Vincent Laforet started his career at age 15 and has been steadily expanding the field and impressing just about everybody ever since. He is a forerunner in digital photography and filming with HD-capable DSLR cameras, has photographed for countless major newspapers and magazines, and writes an extremely popular (at least 3 million readers!!) blog featuring gear and tech reviews and other resources for fellow photographers and filmmakers. When I learned via Filmmakers Collaborative that Laforet would be speaking at the Arsenal Arts Center in Watertown, an event sponsored by Rule Boston Camera, I responded right away.
My introduction to Laforet’s work and cinematography/filmmaking blog came via Sean Meehan (at that time a Boston College film student and Canon DSLR enthusiast) who worked with me Winter of 2009/10 while I was posting "New Form at the Farm" and in pre-production for "Lightning Dreams." In fact, that introduction inspired the timelapse opening sequence for "Lightning Dreams.”
Laforet opened with his Reel and I watched in appreciation along with the packed theater. I tried to live-tweet what I could of Laforet's terrific talk for those who weren’t there. Here's what I managed, embellished with some links from Laforet's website. I hope this is as inspiring for other photographers and filmmakers out there as I found it. Here's a compilation of my tweets you can enjoy from the comfort of your sofa: #Laforet-#Storify.
and someday I hope to own a really big print of this:
Photo by Vincent Laforet
TOP OF PAGE PHOTO BY VINCENT LAFORET
Feb 24, 2014
James Turrell was part of the Southern California Light and Space movement in the late 1960s like Eric Orr, the artist behind Electrum. 2013 was a big summer for Turrell with concurrent shows in Los Angeles at LACMA, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX, and the Guggenheim in NYC - and this was his first solo show in New York City since 1980.
For a time (around the turn of the millenium, after completing the Electrum documentary) I was obsessed with Turrell’s Roden Crater project, and made queries about helping to document the creation of this monumental and notoriously secretive work. At the time it seemed like a huge undertaking that would never see completion; now it is nearly finished and open by invitation to generous patrons of Turrell’s work.
L: Portrait of Turrell by Chuck Close on the cover of New York Times Magazine (June 20, 2013) via http://jamesturrellcatalogues.blogspot.com/; R: Roden Crater, satellite photo USGS
This Fall, when a friend called with an extra ticket to the sold out James Turrell Symposium at the Guggenheim I jumped at the chance to go -- the show was to come down in less than a week. After securing our symposium tickets, we were met at the museum’s side entrance, VIP style, and taken to see the Turrell works. The works we saw, First Light Turrell’s aquatint renderings of light cubes, were so luminous that on first impression I thought there actual lightboxes lit from within; only upon closer inspection I was amazed to find that they were paintings. They were sublime. Wow. In two adjacent galleries there were light works, one a light projection into the corner of a room Afrum I (White), and another projected onto a flat wall. On our way down the ramp, there was a long line to see Ronin a very tall light work maybe two stories tall that juxtaposed walls to create the perception of an entire wall being ajar. We wandered through Aten Reign in the Guggenheim rotunda on our way to the symposium taking place in the basement level auditorium.
We took in talks by scholars of art history, religion, and modern art as they discussed the way Turrell’s life experiences have influenced who he is as an artist, and the rituals and philosophies of light and perception apparent or inherent in his works. Nat Trotman, Co-Curator of the Turrell exhibition, moderated a conversation among the three presenters.
I got to experience Aten Reign for myself while my pals waited in the long line (45 minutes) for Iltar in the highest exhibition room. I found a spot on the chaise bench that circled the perimeter of the room and got comfortable. The light gradient shifted so slowly it was initially imperceptible. The light intensity and color gradient change with the passage of time.
Aten Reign in the Guggenheim rotunda, September 2013
Iltar was to be experienced in small groups of fifteen or less, hence the long wait. The room was quite dim. There was a rectangular piece on the wall which initially seemed like a grey rectangle painted on the wall, but was in fact, an unlit opening to another room. So really it was nothing. But we waited so long to see it so I stayed for a while. It made me think of the Emperor’s New Clothes, but I did enjoy it very much.
Amazingly, I got another chance to see Turrell's work at his retrospective at LACMA over the holiday break while visiting with family and friends in LA. It was a much more extensive show than that in NYC, and more experiential. For one piece, we donned booties and entered a large room transformed into a color wash chamber with a group.
Unbelievably, on our day to visit the Turrell show at LACMA, there had been a couple of cancellations and we got the hottest tickets in town -- sold out for the entire duration of the show: Perceptual Cell and Dark Matters. Each 20-minute appointment to see these works (individually and in pairs, respectively) is spoken for; most of the museum staff hasn't even had the chance to experience these works.
Turrell's Perceptual Cell is reminiscent of the isolation tank (aka sensory deprivation tank) popular in the 1960s, developed by John C. Lilly. The attendants (sporting A Clockwork Orange-like black derby hats with their white labcoats) give you the option of color wash or strobe effect (I chose strobe). After signing a waiver, you remove your shoes and lie on the narrow bed, with noise cancelling headphones on. An emergency panic-button is placed in your hand. Like a drawer, the bed with you on it, is rolled into the chamber, sealing the opening. Once in the chamber, the strobes created fractal-like mathematical patterns in my vision, almost inside my head it seemed. I was uncertain whether my eyes were open or closed. After a time, the assault of the strobing multi-colored light on my perception was dizzying. Here, the results of a googleimage search for 'Sierpinski carpet' can help me share what I experienced (minus the small headache.)
"Fast Fourier Transforms, Diffraction Patterns, and J" by Ned W. Allis (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jeffrey P. Dumont (email@example.com), Flynn J. Heiss (firstname.lastname@example.org), Clifford A. Reiter (email@example.com). Source: http://archive.vector.org.uk/art10007200
In contrast, Dark Matter is quiet and calm: you grope your way into a pitch dark chamber (using the railing as your vision is useless). The chamber is anechoic (dampened for noise so there is zero sound). You feel for a chair and settle in to gaze at nothing, again unsure whether your eyes are opened or closed. What is vision in complete darkness? After a while a faint glow emerges in your peripheral vision.
While I've tried to describe these works by James Turrell, its cliche but words really don't do justice. These are perception-altering works which must be experienced. I chalk it up under the category of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and my mind's eye revisits them often.
The show at LACMA is in its final days - coming down and the end of April 2014 - definitely go see it if you get the chance. (I personally plan to visit The Color Inside, Turrell's Skyspace at UT Austin this summer, as my timing to see Turrell's Meeting at MOMA PS1 has always been off...)
And I'll close with a Hollywood anecdote: an artist friend of ours has a friend who works at LACMA. One morning, early, before the museum doors opened to the public, Brangelina were spotted climbing into the Perceptual Cell together.
James Turrell page on Artsy.net
James Turrell website by Peggy Weil
Roden Crater website (implements a changing color wash effect - check it out!)
Doug Aitken INTV w Turrell in the NY Times T Magazine Website
Visit The Pace Gallery London James Turrell: Recent Works through April 5, 2014
TOP OF PAGE: Two separate shots side-by-side looking up toward the ceiling in the middle of the Guggenheim Museum in New York during James Turrell's light exhibition Aten Reign. Photos by Adam Shankbone. From http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Turrell_At_the_Guggenheim_2013_NYC_Shankbone.jpg
Jul 9, 2013
One thing that is so exciting about the intersection of science and art is the pervasive spirit of innovation and experimentation. Inspired in part by some of the work we saw in Synergy’s Ocean Stories exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science (closed June 9 but coming soon to New York!) and the always amazing MIT museum, we thought we’d pull together some great experimental sciart short films available online and off. To be honest, when we’re talking about sciart shorts, the word “experimental” is pretty much implied. Whether the experiment is in the science or the art (or both!), here is a little taster of what’s out there.
Of course we have to start with Doc Edgerton’s films. We’ve mentioned them before, but they’re worth the repetition. If you haven’t yet, or you haven’t lately, check out MIT’s digital archive for some of Doc’s films, stills, and other experiments, as well as biographical information and more. Another early experimental sciart filmmaker was Jean Painleve. His work relied less on the popular techniques of sets, editing, and other manipulations of reality to create surreal films. He stated instead that nature itself is surreal, and he dedicated himself to capturing that on film. An online archive provides short snippets of a selection of his films, and a DVD collection is available either through the BFI or the Criterion Collection.
Much more recently, IBM released A Boy and His Atom, hailed the “world’s smallest movie” - and it must be. The stop-motion animation was created by literally moving atoms around one by one, capturing each shot through their scanning tunneling microscope. The results are pretty great, harking back to early video game graphics in their pixelated simplicity.
The Durance. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt
Audiovisual sciart creations have also been put to work for the science and communities they represent. A series of works called “Interlaced Waters” were made in the early 2000s to explore and teach about the Durance River’s ecosystem in France. Intended to help scientists research the ecosystem of the river, these films were compiled using the new (at the time) technology of DVD, as well as to educate the public and tourists about the region’s environment through exhibition, workshops, and lectures, ultimately working to help protect that environment from detrimental influence. Another more recent project, TheBlu, brings the oceans of the world to your desktop computer via thousands of artists and animators. According to their website, “TheBlu turns the Internet into a globally-connected 3D digital ocean, providing an immersive experience that is both fun and educational for all ages.” With connections at MIT, National Geographic, and the Animation Director of Avatar, this is one seriously exciting and massive sciart collaboration.
Screenshot of TheBlu taken June 6, 2013
Finally, 2011’s Subtle Technologies Festival, in Toronto, featured two curated sets of experimental sciart shorts. Dan Falk’s article pretty much sums it up (for those of us who couldn’t be there), but the programme is impressive and worth checking out, as is the work of the curators and contributors (like Stanza, Scott Arford, and Dmitry Gelfand & Evelina Domnitch).
With the growth of science festivals, science and art collaborations, and websites like YouTube, there are probably more avenues for experimental sciart shorts than ever before. Check them out - maybe they’ll inspire you to make your own!
PHOTO TOP OF PAGE: Inspired by Doc Edgerton. http://www.flickr.com/photos/21649179@N00/486540093/, Wikimedia Commons
Find ASKlabs on Facebook: ASKlabs Documentary Film
Follow ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
Jun 10, 2013
Collaborations between artists and scientists are certainly not a new phenomenon, particularly when the aim is to make scientific data accessible or visual for a public - among other forms, scientific illustrations are a perfect example. Recently, however, resources aimed at developing art and science collaborations have expanded exponentially, from the STEM to STEAM movement and UCSC’s OpenLab, both aimed at bringing art and science together in educational environments, to Story Collider, which brings the art of storytelling together with scientists and science experiences, and Artisans Asylum, which provides space, resources, and education on craft and technology from crocheting to building robots. Other groups support and promote research projects and artwork, like the Australian Network for Art and Technology and the NYC-based Art Science Research Laboratory. Cynthia Pannucci’s Art/Science Collaborations Inc (ASCI) provides an online forum for people interested in science/art collaborations to post calls for work/projects, conferences, and meetups.
New to the scene, Richard Lowenberg’s Scientist Artist Research Collaboration (SARC), based in New Mexico, aims to bring together artists and scientists for somewhat structured collaborative explorations. Scientist/artist collaborators can take part in seminars, a commissioning program, a festival, or interactions through social media and publishing. A similar project, based locally at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Oceans at MIT, Synergy produces science communication through its work. The results of their first collaborative project, the amazing Ocean Stories, is currently showing at the Boston Museum of Science. The project stretches beyond the museum, with the hopes of expanding the impact of the science and art. Synergy’s website includes short videos about each collaboration project, information about the artists and scientists, and links to articles and media coverage. Their new social media presence, too, is aimed at allowing them to network beyond their impressive local contacts, so that they can share the results of the fantastic collaborative art and science projects more broadly.
Watery Depths from collaboration between Bryan McFarlane and Jill McDermott. http://synergyexhibit.org/press/
For the scientists involved, taking part in the Ocean Stories collaborative project has meant that their research has now been communicated through the work itself in whole new ways and to brand new audiences. Not only do these projects take the research out of the lab and the field and into the museum, the gallery, the public space, but it also puts that research online through videos and articles on Synergy’s website, Facebook, and Twitter. Both scientists and artists benefit from these collaborations. Certainly participation in interdisciplinary projects helps scientists connect with the public, enabling them to disseminate their research through art, which can open up whole new channels of expression and interpretation. Artists, can learn about science and our world through these collaborations, and flex their communication skills in helping bring the research to their work.
The innovative modes of communication which result from art and science collaborations promise fascinating breakthroughs in scientific research, art and design, science communication, and public awareness and engagement with each of these fields. We can’t wait to see what comes next!
Photo Credit, TOP OF PAGE: Great Egret (Ardea alba) John James Audubon. From http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/audubons-birds-fly-again/?pid=6424
Find ASKlabs on Facebook: ASKlabs Documentary Film
Follow ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
#sciart #oceanstories #scicomm #science #STEMtoSTEAM #art #WHOI #MIT #MuseumofScience #Boston #collaboration
May 22, 2013
Long ago, I left the lab in order to “make science cool.” I forged my way into science communications, starting a science consulting agency to work with Hollywood screenwriters (where I consulted with sci-fi movie set decorators and screenwriters and producers such as Ed Solomon (X-Men) and Josh Brand, creator of “Northern Exposure”), and answering “ASK a scientist” questions for AOL and Earthlink in the early days of the internet. I got my big break when I was hired as a researcher on a TLC magazine show and worked my way up to producing science documentaries for TV networks such as Discovery, TLC, Sci-Fi Channel, National Geographic, and PBS. The world of science communication, especially online, has changed drastically since those times.
Admittedly late to the party (by a few years), I was struck by the ScienceOnline (#sciox) thunderbolt at this year’s #AAASmtg in Boston. I found myself among a highly-engaged group of people (aka Tweeps) using social media to communicate about science. Using conference-wide, topical, and panel specific hashtags (eg #AAASmtg, #sciart, #scicomm), attendees were able to broadcast what they learned, extend discussion, add links and sources, and network with each other beyond the physical conference space. Other users were then able to gather all that live-tweeting together into stories about particular panels on Storify, preserving the tweets and discussion for future reference; the linked story is just one of many examples from the conference. Wow! This really got us thinking about how science communication happens, how it benefits the science and the public, and what our role is here at ASKlabs.
After the excitement of the AAAS Meeting in February, especially around science, media, and communication, we helped to launch the inaugural activities of the fledgling ScienceOnline Boston chapter! (Twitter @sciobeantown or sign up for the Sciobeantown Google Group.) Our monthly Tweetups are a terrific way to meet area science communicators and journalists, science writers and bloggers.
Top: @Sciobeantown on Twitter. Below: #Sciobeantown April 2013 Tweetup at Za’s in Kendall Square (@biochembelle, @blattanzi, @easternblot, @haleybridger, @erinpodolak)
The communication tools available for scientists and science writers have multiplied exponentially, as have the potential audiences online. In fact, this Fall, MIT is hosting a special workshop called “The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement,” highlighting the kinds of changes occurring in science communication and, consequently, engagement. These changes mean more public access to science and to scientists! And hopefully, this will lead to a reversal of the shockingly low science literacy rates, which despite having tripled over the past two decades is only 28% among the US public (J. Raloff. Science News, March 13, 2010; Vol.177 #6. p. 13.)
However, it seems that scientists themselves haven’t necessarily caught up with the technology or the possibilities of social media. Social media is a continually growing medium for communication, while print (newspapers, journals, and magazines) are on the decline. Evidence to support this can be found, among other places, the online open-access peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology: “An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists.”
Science writers such as Christie Wilcox have called on scientists to focus on communication, and especially to learn how to use social media to spread the word about research. But more than just pointing out the need for and benefits of communicating to the public about science, these science writers have gone a step further and offered how-tos (from Jonathan Eisen), wikis (Christie Wilcox), workshops (Chris Mooney), and other resources to help scientists achieve social-media proficiency. There are even businesses like Compass Online which work to train scientists in social media and communication, and others like Science Sites that help scientists establish themselves online with websites and social media. Once established, scientists (as well as science writers already online, of course) can use metrics services like Impact Story or Orcid to figure out the kinds of audiences they’re reaching, and the kind of impact they’re making.
Obviously, there are a lot of scientists already using social media and communicating well. Those mentioned above are all scientists who blog, tweet, and generally engage in online science discussions. They are also helpfully encouraging other scientists to do the same. There are probably too many scientists online and science writers to name individually (for example, see the popularity of the Science Online annual conference!) but certainly Scicurious, Veronique Greenwood, and Virginia Hughes could be mentioned. Scientists who engage online, alongside science writers and bloggers, are amping up the level of scientific communication, particularly through social media.
L: Screenshot of SNFS Wiki; R: Oli Scarff/Getty Images from The Guardian “Are Scientists Normal People?” by Steve Caplan
Aside from social media, there are also academic articles and themed journal issues published on the benefits and strategies of social media communication for science and scientists. Among other important observations, these point out that, for NSF funded projects, “Broader Impacts” requirements might be met by social media engagement.
Communicating about science is not just good for scientists and their research (introducing them to new networks and conversations) it’s good for everyone. Indeed, a democracy strengthened by an informed technology-literate public is an asset to everyone’s future.
-- Alberta Chu
ASKlabs Documentary Film
Find ASKlabs on Facebook: ASKlabs Documentary Film
Follow ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
Top of Page: Wordcloud generated using wordle.net
Feb 5, 2013
Another awesome day for “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1”. The Peabody Essex Museum was a popular destination on Saturday as the closing day of the "Hats" exhibit concurred with the opening day of the museum’s new exhibit, "Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India After Independence" and our screening.
A big THANKS to everybody who came along for our Saturday screenings at the Peabody Essex! We hope had as much fun as we did. Our audience included families, filmmakers, design geeks and of course the South End hipsters rolled in, which made for lively Q&A discussions!
Gibbs Farm is indeed visible on Googlemaps satellite photos and the Kapoor sculpture is quite prominent: (See if you can spot the Serra!)
We especially want to thank Jennifer Evans, Manager of Programs at the PEM for putting these fantastic screenings together.
Jan 31, 2013
ArcelorMittal Orbit http://www.arcelormittalorbit.com/images/hi-res/25_mediagallery_download.jpg
This weekend’s screening of “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1” at the Peabody Essex Museum chronicles Kapoor’s largest permanent outdoor sculpture to date at Gibbs Farm in New Zealand. But Dismemberment Site 1 isn’t his only large outdoor piece. In fact, the sculptor is well known for his large public works. We’ll share a few here, from the simple and remote The Eye in the Stone in the northern reaches of Norway to the mammoth and controversial ArcelorMittal Orbit, part of London’s 2012 Olympic Park.
Many of Kapoor’s outdoor sculptures are what he calls “Mirror Objects.” The most famous of these is Cloud Gate, otherwise known as “The Bean,” in Chicago’s Millenium Park. Though Kapoor dislikes the work’s nickname, it is an extremely popular sculpture, drawing tourists and film crews alike. In fact, several Chicago-set films have used Cloud Gate since its completion, including Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011), The Break-Up (Peyton Reed, 2006), and The Vow (Michael Sucsy, 2012). The work itself is shaped like a bean, and is highly reflective on all sides. Its shape allows visitors to pass under the sculpture, adding to the interactivity of the already reflective piece. On Kapoor’s website you can find some cool plans and drawings for the work, too.
Other Mirror Objects include the various Sky Mirror pieces. These are both permanent and travelling pieces, concave mirrored discs often placed at an angle or hammered irregularly so that they both reflect and distort. These can be found permanently at The Nottingham Playhouse in England, and The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Other versions have appeared in exhibitions at the Rockefeller Center in New York, Kensington Gardens in London, and the Brighton Pavilion Gardens for the Brighton Festival in England. Last year a similar mirror object was attached to a wall at the Storm King Art Center, and one is currently in place as a part of Koelnskulptur 6 in Germany.
Dismemberment Site 1, while similar to several of Kapoor’s other works (mostly indoor works, such as Marsyas at the Tate Modern 2002) is another beast altogether: huge and red and constantly changing in relation to perspective, it both complements the famous mirror objects and doesn’t merely reflect the landscape: it transforms it. Find out for yourself at Saturday’s screenings, 11am and 2:30pm.
Jan 30, 2013
It's never too early to get your children interested in innovation, collaboration, engineering, and the design process! The scale, playfulness of design, color, and the aspiration of great art all make “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1” a great documentary for kids. It’s showing this Saturday at 11am and 2:30pm at the Peabody Essex Museum, so the timing is perfect too! To gear up for these screenings, we thought we'd share other documentaries about art that the whole family can enjoy.
Legendary documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (also hailing from Boston) have a slate of films about the large-scale outdoor works of artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. From “Christo’s Valley Curtain” (1973) to “The Gates” (2007), the collaboration between filmmakers and artists has meant that many of these temporary works, and the struggles behind them, are preserved for future audiences. While Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1 is a permanent installation in the landscape, “New Form at the Farm” likewise captures the difficulty of getting artwork of such proportions built. Other films in the Maysles/Christo vein are “Running Fence” (1978), “Islands” (1986), “Christo in Paris” (1986) and “Umbrellas” (1994). For older kids, Albert Maysles also made a more involved film about the planning and building of LA’s Getty Center, called “Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center” (1997).
If your kids are into design and architecture, they would also love “Eames: The Architect and the Painter” (2011), a film directed by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey about designers and artists Charles and Ray Eames, narrated by James Franco, which is streaming on the PBS website.
Or, if you think your kids might be more interested in watching other kids achieve artistic heights, there are some great films about children in the arts. “First Position” (2011) is a film directed by Bess Kargman, documenting a handful of entrants in the Youth America Grand Prix, a ballet competition. The film focuses on the stories of the competitors, and the hard work and sacrifices necessary for these kids to follow their dancing dreams. “Mad Hot Ballroom” 2005, directed by Marilyn Agrelo, is another film about kids dancing, this time in the New York based city-wide elementary school ballroom dance competition.
Films are definitely a fun way to introduce children to art and artists. Even more so, films about huge, temporary, or faraway artworks allow kids to experience the process of thinking up great art, and then making it happen. Show your kids how to think big, following Anish Kapoor’s example. We hope to see you Saturday at the Peabody Essex Museum for our screenings of “New Form at the Farm”; admission to these screenings is FREE with museum admission. Hope to see you there!
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/443575572363099/
PEM Museum listing: http://bit.ly/QVvyEI
Boston Central Listing - Family activities - includes some reviews: http://bit.ly/VGuT90
Jan 28, 2013
How exactly did Anish Kapoor manage to build Dismemberment Site 1? This question is part of the appeal and fascination of the huge sculpture, and our documentary short film “New Form at the Farm” helps to explore the process of conceptualization and creation.
Kapoor and Gibbs worked closely with engineers and architects who could take their dramatic ideas and make them material. Kapoor’s frequent collaborator, Cecil Balmond, is himself an exhibited artist, and is well known for his collaborative work on large sculpture and sculptural architecture projects. In fact, after Marsyas and Dismemberment Site 1, the two won a bid to build the permanent sculptural aspect of London’s 2012 Olympic Park: the result, an interactive, massive (tallest sculpture in the UK), and intriguing sculpture called the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Balmond, educated in Sri Lanka and the UK, worked with reknowned engineering, architecture, and design group Ove Arup Group for many years before moving away to form his own Studio, based in London and Columbo. His work combines geometrical concepts of spatial organization and natural occurrences such as fractals, with high-level architectural design. In fact, while with Arup he founded the Advanced Geometry Unit, dedicated to research and design.
Certainly having a brilliant designer and engineer on his side like Balmond has helped Kapoor to develop and realize his visions. In fact, huge sculpture of this kind almost always requires the work of engineers. As the engineer interviewed in “New Form at the Farm” explained, there’s not much practical structural difference between a car park and Kapoor’s sculpture. But as we know, the results are wildly different!
"New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor's Dismemberment Site 1" screens twice at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem MA on Saturday, February 2nd, 2013. The first screening is at 11am and the second screening at 2:30pm. The screenings are FREE and open to the public. Please join us.
Jan 22, 2013
Photo Credit: David Maisel’s History’s Shadow http://davidmaisel.com/works/photo/his_xxx_m_01.jpg
Thanks to everyone who submitted to our BLUR Art & Science Pinterest Contest! Here are some ongoing and upcoming events in the world of Art and Science for you to check out:
Ongoing at FACT Liverpool: Noisy Table, an interactive ping pong table which emits sound as games are played, and Winter Sparks, a show in which four new media artists play with electricity and Tesla coils (both shows until February 24).
January 24: DIY BIO led by Romie Littrel at the Broad Art Center in Los Angeles
January 24: Maya Lin speaks at the Central Library in Copley Square, Boston
January 24: Brazilian animator Guilherme Marcondes presents the work from MIT Game Lab workshop at MIT Museum
January 28: Science on Screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre presents Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998) with a talk by Steven Schlozman, MD
January 30: A Symposium with Gallery talk by Swiss Landscape Architects at Boston Architectural College
February 6: LASER event at Stanford University with talks on various subjects as well as an exercise to encourage discussion of ongoing art and science projects. (Next event April 4.)
February 14: Chemical Romance workshop led by Christina Agapakis at Broad Art Center in Los Angeles
February 15: Compass Points: Joël Tettamanti opens at the MIT Museum with work that focuses on the impact of humans on their environment and landscape.
February 16: Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Science at the Museum of Science, Boston.
February 25-March 24: Encounters Between Art and Science, an exhibit at The British Library by artists on the Art and Science MA programme at Central St Martins - the work is all inspired by the Library and its science collections, and runs alongside Inspiring Science, a series of events and workshops which runs from March 11 to March 24 at The British Library.
Various events held by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences can be found here, taking place in California and Cambridge, MA.
Various events held by the UCLA Art│Sci Center and Lab
For more ideas about exhibits in the coming year, the Smithsonian blog Collage of Arts and Sciences has some recommendations too.
So check out some of these events if they’re near you while we wait for the BLUR contest results!
Jan 18, 2013
Last night’s World Premiere of New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1 at the RISD Art Museum was great. We were thrilled to share our films about the creation of landscape sculptures at Gibbs Farm with the RISD community, and Producer/Director Alberta Chu and Editor Stephanie Munroe enjoyed the Q&A afterwards with such an engaged audience of filmmakers, artists, and designers.
It was so interesting to see the New Form at the Farm documentary alongside our 2004 film Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra’s Tuhirangi Contour. Thanks to Deborah Clemons, Associate Educator, Public Programs, at the RISD Art Museum for programming such a nice event. A big THANKS to everyone who attended, and especially those who travelled up from NYC and down from Boston.
A group of us from Boston jumped on the Amtrak and headed down to Providence in the afternoon to explore RISD’s Nature Lab as well as the RISD Museum prior to showtime. RISD is one of the centers of the STEM to STEAM movement, which strives to change public policy by adding the "A" (for art and design) back into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum of public education. Last night, we learned that RISD President @JohnMaeda is a prime mover in this area. EVENT PHOTOS
We hope to see you at our next event, a screening of New Form at the Farm at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum on February 2!
Jan 15, 2013
Dismemberment Site 1 at Gibbs Farm. Anish Kapoor. 2009
Our documentary film “New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor’s Dismemberment Site 1” will be having its World Premiere this week at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. At the premiere we will also be showing our 2004 film “Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra’s Te Tuhirangi Contour.” Both of these films explore the planning and execution of large-scale sculpture projects within a landscape, and both are set on Gibbs Farm in New Zealand, but what about other sculpture parks around the world?
While Gibbs Farm is 1000 acres, two of the next biggest sculpture parks in the world are around 500 acres each and feature internationally renowned artists: The Storm King Art Center in New York state and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England. Storm King features work by artists Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, David Smith, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Andy Goldsworthy, and Isamu Noguchi, while Yorkshire includes work by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Sophie Ryder, and Barbara Hepsworth, and is free of charge. Both are must-see parks for anyone interested in large-scale sculpture. Further afield, Norway has several parks, including two which feature work by Anish Kapoor (Artscape Nordland and Kistefos-Museet Sculpture Park) as well as the largest park dedicated to the work of a single artist, the Vigeland Museum and Sculpture Park, which features the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. In South Africa, the NIROX Foundation Sculpture Park, which is set in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, aims to “advance Africa’s place in the global contemporary arts” and provides a residency program, temporary exhibits, and a museum in addition to the park. On Naoshima Island in Japan, the Benesse Art Site Naoshima offers both outdoor and indoor commissioned and site-specific work, and visitors can experience the art over a series of days, as the Site also includes four hotel facilities, renovated by architect Tadao Ando.
Guilin YUZI Paradise Sculpture Park (http://www.china-tour-guide.com/uploads/allimg/110606/13314aF2-0.jpg)
Some newer sculpture parks include the Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh, Scotland, which includes commissioned work by Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor. The park opened in May 2009. The Guilin YUZI Paradise Sculpture Park in China also recently opened to the public after an extensive phased construction, and, alongside its spectacular surrounding landscape, represents an exciting addition to the field. In Brazil, the Insituto Inhotim has a superb collection of sculpture and contemporary art which features Brazilian and international artists. Their gardens, recently officially made Botanical Gardens, hold the biggest palm collection in the world.
In Santa Barbara, CA, David Bermant’s incredible collection of sculpture melds science, technology, and art, and can be found exhibited in locations throughout the city of Santa Barbara.
Researchers at the University of Birbeck, London, with the help of San Francisco Bay Area sculptor James Benbow Bullock, have created an International Directory of Sculpture Parks. Though by no means exhaustive you can browse by location or search by park or artist name. So if you’re looking for an art pilgrimmage this site will help.
In the meantime, if you are in New England this week, you can enjoy the lush vistas of Gibbs Farm without getting on a plane at our RISD Museum World Premiere of “New Form at the Farm,” where you can learn more about Anish Kapoor and Richard Serra’s exciting work in New Zealand. January 17th @ 6:30.
FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE: http://on.fb.me/VCPVmU
Jan 3, 2013
2012 was a busy year for ASKlabs: filmmaking, social media, researching new ideas and stories, and an excellent film premiere. We participated in our first hackathon, went to our first Meetup, and made our first microdocumentary (super short film). Additional 2012 highlights include artist Tom Sachs' "Mission to Mars" installation at the Park Street Armory, Ai Weiwei at the the Hirshhorn Museum, Lauren Greenfield's documentary film "Queen of Versailles," meeting popular science author Steven Johnson, attending the World Congress of Science Producers conference in DC, and being safe inside a Faraday cage while being zapped with 1 megavolt of electricity.
We completed our film “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm,” in February and had an excellent film premiere event at the Boston Museum of Science in November as part of their "When Art Meets Science" film series. San Francisco high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh appeared in person and Daniel Davis dazzled our audience with an amazing show of electricity in the MOS Theater of Electricity; the event was lauded in the Boston Globe and sold out. Audience members and MOS staff all agreed that our event “Lightning Strikes” exceeded every expectation. We are extremely grateful to our friend and supporter, Boston artist and inventor (and sometimes museum consultant) Steve Hollinger for making this happen. Thanks to Lisa Monrose and Jennifer Garrett at the Museum of Science. West-coast and European premieres of the film are being planned for 2013. Stay tuned for details.
ASKlabs continues to develop films that increase public awareness and knowledge of global climate change. One greatly impacted area is the coral reef ecosystem. For that project we travelled to Cancun, Mexico to film the underwater sculptures of Jason de Cairnes Taylor which are seeded to help coral regenerate. The film will be completed in Spring of 2013.
In August, ASKlabs produced the microdocumentary “Putting it Together: The Modular Car” about group of MIT students leveraging crowd-sourced innovation to build a fuel-efficient modular vehicle - this car is to be developed in 2014 will do better than 200mpge. Filmed on location at MIT's Edgerton Center, thanks to Camilla Brinkman for helping to make this happen.
We jumped into transmedia when the Zeega/Tribeca Film Festival Hackathon accepted our interactive documentary concept about the late 19th century War of Currents between Edison and Tesla; during the day-long Hackathon we created films with other media-makers and artists using the novel new browser-based editing software developed by Jesse Shapins and his crew at Zeega in Cambridge.
ASKlabs is currently in the midst of the BLUR pinterest contest - people from around the world are submitting Pinterest boards of images that say "beautiful science." We’re excited to bring the international emerging art/science community together as we approach the January 15th deadline for submissions.
At the close of 2012, we are developing what we believe is the perfect science-art documentary. We’ll reveal more as soon as we can.
Dec 27, 2012
Twitter is a GREAT way to reach out to people that you don’t know but who have similar interests or do similar work. But to catch their attention, how do we know which hashtags to drop into which Tweets? Certainly more specific ones like #physics or #illustration make sense, but what about more generally? If Twitter can help us build a community around people who appreciate the collaboration of art and science, then we need a common language to help us communicate with each other. We have looked into the most common uses, recently, of some art and science hashtags and here's what we found:
But where’s the hashtag??
Image from http://swartzentrover.com/cotor/Photos/Hiking/Birds/BirdPages/Anatomy/Anatomy.htm
So, we’ll start with the shortest, and most easily Tweetable: #artsci does bring up some interesting tweets but the feed is choked by information from the Registrars of Arts and Science departments such as Rutgers Camden or University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science. On the other hand, #sciart has lots of great Tweets, and seems a lot more widely used than #artsci. Surprisingly, though it seems clunkier, #scienceart comes up with the widest and coolest array of relevant entries. These include videos of snowflake chemistry, beautiful illustrations, and calls for collaborations and submissions to science and art competitions. And finally, the very clunky #artandscience, as far as we can tell, brings up great stuff but is more institutionally based, so things like exhibits and articles are there, rather than random Twitter users sharing with each other.
This is not to say these hashtags are going to continue to be used this way. Social media is constantly evolving. If nothing else, it will remind you of the variety of ways you can search for cool ideas and inspirations in the world of art and science, which you can then use for your BLUR Pinterest board contest entries! Entries are due in just a few weeks on January 15, 2013. You can SUBMIT via Facebook message to our FB page: ASKLabs Documentary Film.
Announcing revised ASKLABS BLUR Pinterest Contest Prizes:
1st place: $200 Visa Gift Card and collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.
2nd place: $50 Visa Gift Card and collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.
3rd place: Collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.
Dec 19, 2012
Looking for some inspiration to help prepare your BLUR contest entry? Here are some of our favorite recent blog posts from the world of Science and Art.
Visual Science is a frequently updated blog from Discover magazine which presents new work, interesting issues in scientific imagery, and current exhibitions. A recent post highlights the work of local artist Nathalie Miebach, who combines basket-weaving, climate data, and climate change in her sculptures. Miebach’s work can be seen at the Massachusetts College of Art New Residency Hall in Boston, or at any of her upcoming shows, including a collaborative exhibit at Museum of Science, Boston and a solo exhibit at the California Museum of Arts and Craft, Los Angeles, CA in 2013. Exciting stuff!
If you want to know more about upcoming exhibits in your area, Symbiartic, which is a great blog from Scientific American run by bloggers Kalliopi Monoyios and Glendon Mellow, has brought back its “SciArt Buzz” segment, which lists regionally relevant SciArt exhibits and events. Even if you can’t make it to any of the events they’re promoting, you can check out their blog posts, which frequently focus on illustration and visualizations. We enjoyed and shared their shock and horror about sugar contents of common snacks as visualized by Visual.ly!
For more conceptual inspirations, we’d recommend At the Interface, by UK Blogger Johanna Kieniewicz, who works at The British Library. Her recent posts discuss the “how” and “why” of art and science collaborations. Or, if you want something entertaining, check out this post from Hayley Gillespie’s Biocreativity, which highlights the finalists from the Dance Your PhD competition, in which science PhD students choreograph their research! Hayley, who is also the owner/founder of Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, TX, has some great information about regional Texan events and resources, too.
Just wanted to give you some ideas for your BLUR Pinterest board entries! Entries are due in just a few weeks on January 15, 2013. You can SUBMIT via Facebook message to our FB page: ASKLabs Documentary Film.
Nov 22, 2012
The film's world premiere at Boston's Museum of Science was a huge success; thank you to everyone who helped make it happen and all who came out and had a great time! It was great to see some of the "Lightning Dreams" Boston film crew: Eric Masunaga of Modulus Studios, and Composer P. Andrew Willis. Thanks to Museum of Science's David Rabkin, Lisa Monrose, Jennifer Garrett and Patricia Meegan and to Boston artist/inventor Steve Hollinger for making it all happen. Special shoutouts to everyone who participated in mad-scientist demonstrations and turned out Steampunk, and to our Steampunk fashion judges Tina Cassidy, Jill Palese, and Aricia Symes-Elmer. Thanks to Boston Globe reporters Ethan Gilsdorf for his wonderful piece in the BOSTON GLOBE (11/6/12) and June Wulff for featuring our event for the Globe's To-Do List (11/7/12) on the day of the event and to journalist Astrid Lium (@astridspeak) for our blog interview.
It was a terrific event. EVENT PHOTO GALLERY. The film was extremely well-received and was followed by high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh's presentation of his plans for the ambitious Lightning Foundry project. The museum's own resident high-voltage physicist Daniel Davis moderated a conversaton with Greg Leyh of Lightning on Demand and Survival Research Labs, and filmmaker Alberta Chu. Afterwards, Daniel Davis amazed all with his Theater of Electricity show and mad-scientist demonstrations. Several lucky audience members including the winners of the Steampunk Fashion contest had their 15 seconds of fame in the Faraday Cage.
Nov 7, 2012
Photo: Boston MOS' Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh
Last night, Greg arrived from San Francisco and we had a meeting at the Museum of Science with Jennifer Garrett to plan tonight's events. Daniel Davis and Greg Leyh had a lot to talk about. Here they are chatting inside one of the spheres at the top of the MOS' Van de Graaff generator - I have to say that Greg was impressed with the Theater of Electricity and we're all set to have a BLAST tonight!
A FEW TICKETS LEFT: http://bitly.com/PxYRvr
Nov 6, 2012
Alberta Chu: So let’s catch up - what have you been up to since Electrum (completed in 1998)?
Greg Leyh: Electrum offered a unique opportunity to test the engineering and scaling laws needed for designing very large coils -- ones large enough to replicate some of the more esoteric features of natural lightning. The construction and testing of Electrum provided invaluable experience towards developing the Lightning Foundry design. Measurements of Electrum’s output waveforms showed how critical the control of phasing and initial polarity is towards enhancing arc formation and growth.
The Advanced Lightning Facility was the original concept with two towers. A couple of years ago we evolved the Advanced Lightning Facility into the Lightning Foundry project, based on discussions with researchers and new theories addressing relativistic avalanche phenomena in natural lightning. Although the Lightning Foundry is more closely tailored for pursuing relativistic phenomena, it’s also been optimized to be built from ‘obtainium’ (parts that can be obtained rather than bought) so that we can begin construction without waiting for flaky funding sources that might not ever materialize. Average power for the Lightning Foundry design is lower than the original ALF, but the peak power and output voltage should be slightly higher. With luck, the Lightning Foundry should just be able to reach the regime where relativistic effects begin, providing a first close look into the secret gain mechanisms of lightning. Gamma-ray bursts will be the first relativistic calling card we’ll be watching for. Lightning Foundry will run on 4 megawatts, the equivalent of 2 million iphone5’s
AC: What is your most gratifying high-voltage project to date?
GL: Without a doubt the development work towards the Lightning Foundry facility has been the most satisfying. Since the project isn’t funded, we’ve avoided a tremendous amount of political, regulatory and PR overhead, allowing us to focus purely on the key physics and technical issues. This has allowed us to advance the design effort at a wonderfully fast and efficient pace.
Pictured: Typical large scale data center (non-Google)
AC: What else are you up to these days?
GL: Recently I started a new job at Google, working on data center power distribution. Data centers are huge, warehouse-sized computers that convert 100’s of megawatts into kitten videos. Many data centers process more grid power than the SLAC 2-mile linear accelerator where I used to work. A new datacenter will often reclaim abandoned aluminum smelters or factories, or any location with a strong power grid connection and a good water source. Demand for cloud computing and social networking is growing rapidly, so there’s tremendous research directed towards gaining every last bit of efficiency out of a data center and focusing even more power into them. In many ways the job is similar to power conversion work back at the SLAC accelerator, except that instead of producing a megawatt beam of relativistic particles, the output stream is megawatts of… internet.
AC: What do you consider your greatest technical achievement?
GL: Hopefully that’s yet to come!
Boston's Museum of Science welcomes High-voltage engineer Greg Leyh in-person on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity. Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Nov 5, 2012
Alberta Chu: How is it safe to be inside the Electrum’s sphere while measuring streamers?
Greg Leyh: Electrum was also the first coil designed to operate at power levels higher than 100,000 watts. This required developing a unique 4-armature rotary gap design, 3-phase-to-DC power conversion, and a finite-element high voltage electrode design large enough for a person to climb inside.
After we got the Electrum working, we had to operate it a maximum capacity for a required number of hours in order to test it. These turned into big events in San Francisco. We even got the chance to stage some performance art of our own. Oddly enough, the space inside Electrum’s high voltage electrode is one of the safest places to be while the coil is operating. The person inside the electrode is protected by Faraday’s Law, which states that the electric field inside a conductor is zero. Ironically, the audience standing around the coil is exposed to much higher electric fields as they marvel at the brave soul inside the electrode. A couple of months after this photo was taken, we shipped the Electrum off to New Zealand.
AC: We’re all dying to know - how does one build the world’s largest tesla coil? Tell us about the unique ‘firsts’ for the Electrum sculpture.
Greg Leyh: The Electrum sculpture lives outdoors and needs to withstand exposure to a harsh seaside climate for decades. This is definitely a first for Tesla Coil design. To guard against the harsh environment the entire coil form was literally built ‘inside-out’ -- The secondary coil is molded to the inside wall of the cylindrical fiberglass tower, and the primary drive coil resides *inside* the secondary coil. Although there was no precedent for this approach, calcs and simulations supported the idea, and ultimately the test of time proved it out.
The Electrum consumes the power of 50 homes when it’s being operated.
AC: You visited the Farm to do a tune-up on the Electrum a couple of years ago - how did you find things there?
GL: In 2009, about 10 years after the initial installation, I was asked to visit the Farm and diagnose an apparent internal arcing issue with Electrum. Fearing the worst, I brought a full complement of diagnostic gear, and scheduled 10 days to work on the problem. As it turned out, the salty environment had managed to corrode an open hole through a 3/8” steel plate at the top of the tower, allowing saltwater, cobwebs and bird guano to freely enter and completely coat the high voltage windings inside the tower. Fortunately there was no permanent damage, and I only had to spend a couple of days hanging from a rope inside the tower, cleaning the winding surfaces. Once cleaned and the steel plate replaced, the coil ran just like I remembered. Aside from Electrum, the Farm itself changed dramatically between 1998 and 2009. So many new and incredible sculptures. I walked around the extents of the Farm for days. It’s a fantastic, very meditative place.
TO BE CONTINUED
San Francisco High-Voltage Engineer Greg Leyh, the builder of the world’s biggest tesla coil, will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity. Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Nov 2, 2012
Alberta Chu: What are some of the other fun things that you built in collaboration with Survival Research Labs?
GL: The Lorentz Gun was originally inspired by a high voltage mishap, where a high-energy capacitor bank fired into a set of electrodes with a thin wire filament accidentally draped across them. Even though the wire was hair-thin it easily conducted thousands of amperes, completely discharging the bank. After discovering how the Lorentz force allowed this misdeed to occur, we decided to attempt a directed energy weapon in honor of this principle.
The Lorentz Gun can direct a 25,000 Ampere plasma channel through the air, at grounded targets up to 35 ft downrange. The gun consists of 30 high pressure pneumatic dart stations, each capable of launching a tapered aluminum sabot that trails a thin 'seed wire' 0.008 inches in diameter. Cannon tilt and pan is pneumatic, and a sighting laser is located inside the cannon head.
When a launched sabot contacts the target, the Marx-configured capacitor bank automatically fires and erects the bank to 110,000 volts, igniting a plasma channel along the vaporized seed wire. The plasma channel quickly intensifies, magnetically confined in the air by the Lorentz forces of its own current. Damage to the target can vary widely. Most spectators experience some degree of sinus discomfort after several firings, due to the high brissance of the plasma explosion. The capacitor bank is currently disassembled, and newer capacitors are being added to increase the bank energy to 250 kilojoules, and the range to 50 feet.
The Spark Shooter I built and operated for several SRL shows operates essentially as a railgun, but uses a molten metal projectile instead of the the traditional sabot-armature arrangement. The box contains a 20 kilojoule storage bank, and can cover an area the size of a football field with molten metal when it fires. It’s one of my favorite SRL machines in terms of its compactness and efficacy.
TO BE CONTINUED
Engineer Greg Leyh will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity.
Buy your tickets in advance: http://www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620
Oct 25, 2012
OK Greg, whatever you say, but do random nerds have magazine articles like this written about them?
by David Pescowitz
MAKE MAGAZINE (Volume 11, Summer 2007)
Greg Leyh is the pre-eminent high-voltage expert and tesla coil guru responsible for building the Electrum sculpture, by artist Eric Orr for Gibbs Farm, New Zealand in 1998. He has since gotten his ambitious Lightning Foundry project underway which is an enormous twin tesla coil concept - and you guessed it - bigger than anything ever built before. Greg is known for his work with SF machine performance art group Survival Research Labs and the Burning Man Festival.
Greg will appear in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, as part of the "Lightning Strikes" event film premiere of the documentary "Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm." On this evening, Greg will unveil his Lightning Foundry proposal.
Perhaps the Oatmeal would consider this idea for the new Nikola Tesla Science Center being planned in NY state.
Purchase your tickets in advance.
MOS event page:
Oct 31, 2012
Boston-based documentary filmmaker Alberta Chu loves to combine two passions––art and science––in her work. She does it yet again in her latest film, Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm (2011), which premieres November 7 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Alberta’s fourth documentary, Lightning Dreams highlights the story of Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand’s most prolific art patrons.
She took the time to talk with me about her career path, the journey leading up to this film, and the voice that she hopes to offer her subjects in the fields of art and science.
ASTRID LIUM: How did you get involved with documentary filmmaking?
ALBERTA CHU: I started out as a biologist, [and] I worked as a researcher in L.A. at a biotech company. I had always wanted to get into journalism, and I thought maybe science documentaries could be a way for me to use my science background and break into documentary or journalism. I started a science consulting company, [where] scientists who were tops in their fields would consult with Hollywood screenwriters and set decorators for accuracy. We worked on one of the X-Men films to develop the Wolverine character [and] help them figure out what his supernatural powers would be. It was a way for them to bounce ideas off scientists and get more creative.
How did working as a researcher lead to documentary films?
I did a segment on volcano research. As a researcher there were tons of stories being produced all the time, and I met tons of producers and directors. Most of the stories I would pitch were science, and on one of the shoots I was producing for Sci-Fi Channel I met Greg Leyh, the guy in my film that is premiering at the Museum of Science. I found out that he was building the world’s biggest tesla coil for this billionaire art collector in New Zealand. I pitched it around L.A., but no one wanted to do it, so I decided to make an independent documentary film called The Electrum about the project in the year 2000 about the Electrum sculpture. That film played at a lot of festivals, aired on PBS, won a bunch of awards.
What is the documentary about?
The film was about a quirky group of scientists and engineers that build the world’s largest tesla coil, which ends up in New Zealand. But the guy who commissioned it––the billionaire–– gave me permission to do the film but he didn’t want to be in it. He was very private at the time. His name is Alan Gibbs and he’s ... just totally cool. He’s building a giant sculpture park and the reason he likes art is the likes the mental sparring with the artists. He likes to push them to do better work. He pushes everyone around him, you can see why he’s so successful because he never settles for anything. He’s always pushing for more ... so that’s why he’s the owner of the world’s biggest tesla coil!
How is your relationship with Alan?
He’s bigger than life. It’s been so interesting to have interactions with him, and he likes my films. So he’s been sort of like my patron, in a way. So he invited me to do the Serra film (2003-04), then the Anish Kapoor film (2009-10). Then he asked me to do a film about the Electrum sculpture in 2010, about 10 years after the original film was made. He wanted this new film to include his perspective. The new film, Lightning Dreams, is about the conception and the whole story of the sculpture.
Why do you do the work you do?
I make films about scientists and artists because they see things that aren’t there yet. They’re envisioning the future and I think that’s really inspiring. They inspire me to make films about them, and my hope is that my films will inspire other people to push boundaries of what’s known and unknown and to look and wonder and dream themselves. Because that’s the only thing that humans can do that computers can’t. There’s something about creativity that’s impossible to articulate. I mean science and art really are the same thing and they have become very divergent in today’s culture.
How do you choose the topics for your documentaries?
I’m about making films about creative people that are changing the world for the better, who want to make a difference. I make films about scientists that are making a difference, trying to make the world a better place. If I can give a voice ... I can help them announce their victories and inspire people to help with what they’re doing. I can help them get out their important messages because they are doing very important work. A lot of time they can’t explain it to a regular audience, and I can help.
Do you feel like you’re a translator in some way?
Yes, translating ideas and concepts for a general audience, totally. I hope to be. And same with artists.
It can be a challenge, though.
Yeah, it’s hard to create something. It’s not easy, none of it’s easy, it’s all work. It can be very rewarding work, but if I can help a scientist or artist expose their labors and their victories ... and their failures to a wider audience, that’s what I’m about -- finding the most interesting creative people in the world, and telling stories that really inspire people to create.
- Interview by Astrid Lium, Twitter: @astridspeak
The world premiere of Lightning Dreams is November 7, 2012, at 6:45 p.m. at Boston’s Museum of Science (1 Museum of Science Drive, Boston, MA). The screening is part of the museum’s “Lightning Strikes” event, one of the Fall 2012 adult offerings. For more information:
Facebook Event Page https://www.facebook.com/events/425196287515432/
MOS Event Page www.mos.org/events_activities/events&d=5620.
Nov 1, 2012
I first met Greg Leyh in 1997 while Producing a Sci-Fi Channel shoot for Paramount TV. We were filming with Mark Pauline’s notorious San Francisco machine performance art group Survival Research Laboratories, and Greg was tasked with operating the smoke machine during our shoot. On a documentary TV budget, DGA Director John Jopson wanted to create a post-apocalyptic look and feel in an industrial warehouse wasteland under the highway in San Francisco’s Mission District. On that day, we filmed interviews with SRL Founder Mark Pauline, Computer Scientists Eric Paulos and Karen Marcelo, and we filmed several of the SRL machines cavorting about the yard. Eric Paulos gave us a demonstration of a telepresence robot that was designed to be operated remotely over the internet, alluding to the scary and very real possibility of not knowing who is behind the controls in a war of the future.
As we were wrapping our shoot, Greg approached me in his nondescript manner, “I’m building this really big tesla coil for an eccentric and very wealthy patron of the arts in New Zealand who wants to put it on his Farm.” Greg continued, “It’s gonna be the biggest tesla coil in the world, even bigger than the one Tesla built in Colorado.”
Considering Greg’s background collaborating with Survival Research Labs he was the obvious choice for the task.
Alberta Chu: Greg, can you tell us about your first significant tesla coil. How big was it? Where’d you get the parts?
Greg Leyh: My first coil project was inspired by an accidental collection of parts I came across at a salvage yard in 1989. Sifting through palettes of used pulse capacitors, transformers and busbars from a demolished particle accelerator, I realized that the whole lot could make a decent-sized Tesla Coil. I brought the parts over to Survival Research Labs, and in a few months we assembled what was the world’s largest operating Tesla Coil at the time. We christened the coil by shipping it to Seattle and using it in the ‘Carnival of Misplaced Devotion’ performance. It stood 17 feet tall.
Photo captions: (Seattle, WA 1990) Setting up the coil for "A Carnival of Misplaced Devotion" Survival Research Labs show
AC: Tell us about your favorite SRL show.
GL: The most interesting show was the one where it actually exploded – the Seattle show in 1990, its first SRL performance. In fact the coil was shipped to that show in pieces, untested, and we were feverishly throwing it together during the few days before the show. We finished assembling everything just before the show, so I spent the first 10 minutes of the performance tuning the coil and ramping power until it was running at full bore. The coil then began to reveal some of its unexpected abilities. For instance I didn’t expect the arcs to be able to strike the ground, but they did so quite readily. We also discovered that the arcs happily punch through pneumatic tires on mobile machines. One of the robots, the Running Machine, also displayed an interesting survival trait; when it was struck by an arc, the radio control would glitch and the machine would immediately start marching in reverse. During the show I continued ramping the power, and before long the rotary gap was running well beyond it’s max speed. Near the end of the show when everything usually starts catching fire and blowing up, I discovered that in my haste I forgot to install two critical bolts holding up a large insulator between the rotors… An errant arc reached down and struck the primary winding, jolting the insulator into the high-speed rotors and transforming the gap into a swirling explosion of fire of shrapnel. The coil committed suicide just as everything else in the show was expoding and dying; I couldn’t have planned it any better.
TO BE CONTINUED
Engineer Greg Leyh will be appearing in-person at the Boston Museum of Science on November 7th, 2012 @ 6:45 pm to present the world premiere of filmmaker Alberta Chu’s documentary “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm.” Greg will give a presentation about the proposed Lightning Foundry project, followed by a reception in the Theater of Electricity afterwards.
Buy your tickets in advance:
Photo Caption, Top of Page: (San Francisco, 1990) The 17ft Tesla Coil at the Palace of Fine Arts, sponsored by the Exploratorium Museum
Oct 12, 2012
This just in: the RISD Museum will be holding the world premiere screening of our 2010 film "New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor Dismemberment Site 1" along with an old favorite, our 2004 film "Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra's Tuhirangi Contour." Back in 2004 "Seeing the Landscape" screened at the MFA Boston, the MIT List, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Gallery of art as part of the Washington DC Environmental Film Festival as well as at the Festival of Films on Art in Montreal.
Both films will be screened on the same night, and we're looking at Jan./Feb. 2013.
Hope you can make it and please help spread the word!
Oct 2, 2012
In today's NY Times, John Tierney's article "If He Starts Nodding Off, Try Another Million Volts" reports "David Blaine, the magician and endurance artist, is ready for more pain. With the help of the Liberty Science Center, a chain-mail suit and an enormous array of Tesla electrical coils, he plans to stand atop a 20-foot-high pillar for 72 straight hours, without sleep or food, while being subjected to a million volts of electricity.... When Mr. Blaine performs “Electrified” on a pier in Hudson River Park, the audience there as well as viewers in London, Beijing, Tokyo and Sydney, Australia, will take turns controlling which of the seven coils are turned on, and at what intensity. They will also be able to play music by producing different notes from the coils. The whole performance, on Pier 54 near West 13th Street, will be shown live at www.youtube.com/electrified.
Greg Leyh, San Francisco tesla coil guru, known for building The Electrum, the world's largest tesla coil remarks, "I don't really see what the big risk is." He goes on, "If he's inside a Faraday Cage he's under no risk at all. The electric field inside a conductor is zero. If he were outside of it however that would be truly interesting death-defying work." Greg Leyh will make a rare public appearance and perform live demonstrations at the Boston Museum of Science event "Lightning Strikes" on November 7, 2012. BUY TICKETS.
Oct 1, 2012
I'm in awe of people who can envision things that don't exist yet and then actually make them a reality. The triumvurate of entrepreneur and art patron Alan Gibbs, artist Eric Orr, and high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh is a great example. Working together on The Electrum sculpture, they overcame unheard of physical and technical hurdles and in the end realized the impossible. Gibbs provided the vision and the funding, Orr made the magic, and Leyh built the device.
The making of "Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm" has been an amazing journey, which began in San Francisco waaaay back in 1997. It has been a pleasure to working with and getting to know Alan Gibbs, Noel Lane, and the entire Gibbs Family on this and other documentaries about the building of Gibbs Farm.
I had an excellent crew on "Lightning Dreams," one I'm eager to work with again. New Zealand DP Scottie McKinnon delivered above and beyond. Editor Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, Composer Andrew Willis, and the Modulus crew: Eric Masunaga, Paul McGowan, Evan Schwenterly and Frank McDonnell on Color-Correction and HD Mastering, Damon Addleman the Re-Recording Mixer. And of course my trusty "Kitchen Cabinet" who reviewed numerous roughcuts and gave invaluable feedback: Murray Robinson, Steve Hollinger, Fritz Klaetke, Susan Battista, Polly Becker, Camilla Brinkman, Alexandra Metral, Gitika Desai, and Jocelyn Glatzer. Thanks to all!
Sep 16, 2012
Congratulations to Niclas Bahn - our WINNER! He and his partner run an amazing video software company Noise Industries providing special effects for film editing, and they are based right here in the South End! Maximize your color correction capabilties, photo animation and even titiing with the tools of FxFactory, and that's just the tip of the iceberg! Niklaus, the "Lightning Dreams" DVD will be personally delivered to you next week, but we must insist that you still attend our MOS premiere on Nov. 7th! Thanks to everyone for participating.
Sep 14, 2012
Sep 13, 2012
The MOS event venue seats 300 and the program will sell out. If you're interested in attending, please purchase your tickets right away. Tickets go on sale to the public today - Thursday Sept. 13th at 9am.
Sep 12, 2012
We didn't realize that Boston's Museum of Science holds such interesting adult offerings until recently. All-year round, a team of savvy programmers develops edgy events for the 18-and-over set to enjoy. Programs range from "Food for Thought" to "Connections" and our personal favorite "When Science Meets Art."
The November 7th "Lightning Strikes" event at the MOS will feature ASKlabs' film "Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm" along with a panel discussion by notorious high-voltage engineer, Greg Leyh, filmmaker Alberta Chu, and Daniel Davis, resident MOS high-voltage physicist.
Afterwards, a reception in the Theater of Electricty will celebrate all things high-voltage. Our mad scientist engineers, Greg Leyh and Daniel Davis are at this very moment devising fascinating (and hopefully not too dangerous) experiments and demonstrations with electricity for us all to enjoy apres screening. A lucky few may even get the rare opportunity to go inside a Faraday Cage and put Maxwell's Law to the ultimate test. And to top it all off, there will be a cash bar, for those who think the combination of electricity and alcohol make the perfect "date night."
We got a sneak peek at the brochure for MOS Fall 2012 Adult Programming hot-off-the-press, and our "Lightning Strikes" event is featured on the cover! If you're an MOS member you have the chance to get your ticket early - tickets will be made available to the general public at 9am Thursday Sept. 13th. PURCHASE TICKETS ONLINE NOW!
Sep 11, 2012
Jun 6, 2012
Mark your Fall calendars! ASKlabs is pleased to announce the world premiere of "Lightning Dreams" our documentary film about the creation of the world's largest tesla coil, permanantly installed at Gibbs Farm sculpture park in New Zealand. This fantastic Boston Museum of Science event will include a panel discussion including Engineer Greg Leyh and other special guests TBD, as well as live demonstrations in the MOS' Theater of Electricity, home to the world's largest Van de Graaff generator built by Dr. Van de Graaff himself who was a professor at MIT. Stay tuned for details regarding ticket sales.
Feb 1, 2012
The making of this film has been an amazing journey, which began in San Francisco in 1997. It has been an incredible pleasure to work with Alan Gibbs and Noel Lane, and the entire Gibbs Family on this series of documentaries about the building of Gibbs Farm.
I had an excellent crew on this show, one I'm eager to work with again. New Zealand DP Scottie McKinnon delivered above and beyond. Editor Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, Composer Andrew Willis, and the Modulus crew: Eric Masunaga, Paul McGowan, Evan Schwenterly and Frank McDonnell on Color-Correction and HD Mastering, Damon Addleman the Re-Recording Mixer. And of course my trusty "Kitchen Cabinet" who reviewed numerous roughcuts and gave invaluable feedback: Murray Robinson, Steve Hollinger, Fritz Klaetke, Susan Battista, Polly Becker, Camilla Brinkman, Alexandra Metral, Gitika Desai, and Jocelyn Glatzer. Thanks to all!
May 10, 2012
Apr 3, 2012
Mar 13, 2012
(Linz, Geneva, 13.3.2012) Creative collisions have begun at CERN with the arrival of Julius von Bismarck as the laboratory’s first Collide@CERN artist in residence. A rising star of the international arts scene, von Bismarck will team up with theoretical physicist James Wells as he works alongside the lab’s engineers and scientists for the next two months before moving to the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria for the second part of his residency. Von Bismarck and Wells will give a public presentation in CERN’s Globe of Science and Innovation on 21 March.
Mar 4, 2012
Mar 3, 2012