Film doesn’t feel

One of the limitations of photography — especially that which eschews unrealistic post-processing — is that it provides limited means for expressing emotions. There is no link between the feelings in your mind and the data your sensor collects, unlike the stroke of a pen in forming a word of brush in making a drawing.

Nonetheless, photography is art-by-doing. An unaltered photo is a credible statement: I was at this place, these things were around me (Exif data can make it especially intimate). In that spirit, I tried to take a walk to express grief and pain photographically. When you’re sick with these feelings — when your brain feels like it’s being pulled apart — one answer is to travel somewhere strange and remote. To listen to the night wind blowing across something enormous and cold.

I’m working on practicing non-self-destructive ways of handling overpowering emotions.

Canada’s National Gallery

During my Christmas visit to Ottawa, I visited the National Gallery with Myshka’s mother and sister.

It was a rapid tour where I focused on statuary. The concrete aggregate work by Ugo Rondione (“We run through a desert on burning feet. All of us are glowing. Our faces look twisted.”) near the group entrance reminds me a bit of one of Bathsheba’s commissions. The dépanneur installation was odd, though it’s easy to read it as about surveillance as the convex mirrors and digital cameras reflect back the visitors exploring it. It also seemed notable to me that so much of the purpose of the shop was dedicated to alcohol (the European painting area has a most unflattering portrayal of drunken excess).

It’s neat to see statues made with such a variety of materials, from marble to plastic patio chairs to some kind of simulated camel hide.

The gallery has an unusually permissive photography policy, with everything in the permanent collection available to be freely photographed. The one time I got shut down was trying to photograph a Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux marble from a private collection, where the guard tried to stop me from even photographing the ‘no photography’ sign.

Crystal Structure of a Y-family DNA Polymerase in a Ternary Complex with DNA Substrates and an Incoming Nucleotide

Sulfolobus solfataricus P2 DNA polymerase IV (Dpo4) is a DinB homolog that belongs to the recently described Y-family of DNA polymerases, which are best characterized by their low-fidelity synthesis on undamaged DNA templates and propensity to traverse normally replication-blocking lesions.

By Bathsheba

genre experiments

For two years I have been working on an art project.

I’m not sure whether the concept predated when I first heard James Allard’s lecture on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but the lecture is a great demonstration of how labeling does interpretive work when it comes to art.

Presented with a digital file, we may struggle to decide what it is in both a technical and artistic sense.

Perhaps it’s an HTML file with embedded image files being displayed in a web browser, or the raw data from the sensor of a digital camera. In either case, it’s also an object within a software and operating system-defined architecture and also bits physically written to some data storage medium.

From an artistic perspective, it may be a line from a play quoted in a piece of art which has been photographed and posted online (or a screenshot of a cell phone app displaying a tweet of a digital photo posted online of a print of a photograph taken illicitly in an art gallery, on display in that art gallery).

The multiple presentations of the same data are the idea of interest: like all the exposure and white balance modifications that can be applied to a raw file from a digital camera, meaning that every photograph arising from that process is an interpretation.

These experiments are also intriguing insofar as they concern cybernetic relationships between individuals, organizations that archive data (like search engines), algorithms nobody fully understands, and governments. The location of a data file on the internet does everything to establish its visibility and significance.

The idea of the project is that every distinct work within it is presented to the viewer with multiple possible modes of interpretation, whether they are based on data architecture, metadata, or the cultural and political content of the human-readable image.

Pullman on authoritarianism and eroded democracy

Along with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Phillip Pullman’s essay “Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms” must be one of his most radical pieces of writing. It corresponds to his general concern about lack of oversight over powerful institutions and speaks out powerfully against the authoritarianism that can arise in parallel with public fear:

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

One early passage in his new novel La Belle Sauvage evokes a similar theme:

She tried to keep a steady pace. She had nothing to fear from the police, or from any other agency, except like every other citizen she had everything to fear. They could lock her up with no warrant and keep her there with no charge; the old act of habeus corpus had been set aside, with little protest from those in Parliament who were supposed to look after English liberty, and now one heard tales of secret arrests and imprisonment without trial, and there was no way of finding out whether the rumors were true. (p. 153–4)

Authors like Pullman and Margaret Atwood play a valuable societal role in drawing attention to such dangers: that fear will drive us to hand over control to unaccountable entities and that a drift toward dystopia is possible. Among all the dangers we face, we mustn’t forget the nightmares the state is capable of imposing.

Related:

Dunkirk

I saw the 70mm film version of “Dunkirk” last night and found much to appreciate about it. The production values are excellent, and it generally seems an unusually realistic depiction of history and combat, with less of the spectacle and fewer of the implausible dramatic storylines that often dominate the genre. The non-linear storytelling adds to the sense of chaos, and perhaps adds a bit more dramatic tension to a story where — for anyone who has taken high school history — the broad outlines of the ending are known in advance.

The film is unusual in part because almost no characters have names which are mentioned or emphasized. Rather, most of the storytelling is visual and told in overlapping vignettes: sinking ships and air combat, and repeated portrayals of the men of the British Expeditionary Force waiting on the beach for its evacuation.

In some ways, I felt the film consciously subverted some of the tropes of spectacular high budget war films like the notorious “Pearl Harbor“, and even the more unified and neatly structured storytelling of classics like “Saving Private Ryan“. For instance, a successfully tense scene centres around whether an oil slick from a sinking ship would catch fire; in a “Pearl Harbor” type film, the leaking ship probably would have exploded in the shot when it was first shown. Only two moments struck me as transparently unrealistic: when the senior officer on the beach somehow knew exactly how many people had been rescued just as the last boats were leaving, and an odd scene in which men trapped in a sinking ship somehow believe that throwing a man or two overboard will address the problem of bullet holes below the waterline in the hull.

All told, the film was evocative and memorable, as well as generally non-moralizing (though the heroic Winston Churchill quotation in the closing minutes might have been usefully tempered with some reference to his disastrous involvement in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16). The absence of well-known actors (though I certainly recognized Mark Rylance from the excellent “Bridge of Spies“) added to the sense of watching a plausible historical reenactment more than a standard Hollywood drama.

Recommended for those with an interest in history, real-world sets in place of heavy CGI, and perhaps seeing very expensive ship sets being rotated and submerged. I’m curious about whether some genuine WWII aircraft were used in the air combat scenes that linked together the disparate bits of the plot.