Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Last Great Adventure - Nostalgia, Technology, and Death

It began in April when a message came to me with a peculiar request, and this disclaimer: I'm not pulling your leg. Not that such phrase typically instilled confidence, but I read on. A group of aerospace engineers in Kentucky started a business to provide a unique way to commemorate your departed loved ones - by taking their cremated remains to the edge of outer space and then dispersing it - amongst the magnificent vastness, the peaceful quietness, and likely the farthest place they've ever been. I've obviously come to think of this as quite poetic, but I can't deny that my initial reaction included visceral feelings of aversion or avoidance (probably because it is about death). And I wondered if my leg was being pulled. Their company name is Mesoloft.

Anyway, back to the request. They'd been struggling with the aesthetics of their device, so they wondered if I could design an origami paper enclosure to make it look more refined. Months passed by and emails exchanged. I experimented with different shapes and materials while the group at Mesoloft launched several test flights. Finally, they were ready for the public. And I got their permission to edit and make a video with their footages.

I like to use each video as an opportunity to learn something new about Adobe After Effects. So, while I was randomly animating vintage photographs with the parallax technique (public domain is awesome!), I decided that these definitely belonged with Mesoloft. And when my brother advised that I shorten the opening clips, because you can never underestimate people's attention spans nowadays, I stubbornly refused and defended my "artistic" vision. I mean, there must be some ingenious, romantic resonance between bringing old photos to life and this celebration of dreams and memories with flying balloon, right? I was just unable to articulate the reasons why, but I declared while trying to sound deep, "This video is about nostalgia. The fear of death and being forgotten is universal!"

Yup, I also could not believe the pretentious words that were coming out of my mouth (keyboard). But there is underlying truth, as it turns out. 

Even though, I soon realized that I was probably trying to mimic the hauntingly beautiful opening sequence of the movie Melancholia, in which Earth is on an inevitable collision course with a much larger planet. The end of everything was made clear right at the beginning of the film, yet we the audience proceeded to witness the now pointless, many struggles of human interactions. (It made such an impression on me that I was subsequently, majorly disappointed to check out that director's other films. Apparently, I just stumbled on to a Von Trier "lite".) We were not allowed to take comfort in ambiguity.

Nostalgia. In recent years, some have been critical of things that invoke nostalgia, from Instagram filters, hipsters, and indulgence in the "good old days", especially if you weren't even alive back then. In SALON, Amanda Petrusich warns us about the dangers of not being present:
But it’s troubling to think we could get stuck there — that we could lose our ability to forge new and significant relationships with art, and that we might no longer be able to use those connections to understand each other. Because that sounds counterproductive and, above all, lonely.
And not so surprisingly, K. Mike Merrill, being the the world's only publicly traded person, expressed his eagerness to only look forward in A Love Letter to Living in the Future:
To withdraw from society is to surrender to pessimism and accept that the best world we will ever have is behind us. I don’t buy it. I’m impatient for domestic robots, brain wave interfaces, crypto-currencies, bionic limbs, and video games as spectator sports to be commonplace. The future is coming true before our very eyes and if we are looking backward we’re not just ignoring what is ahead, we’re also going to miss out on what is happening right now.
But, should a techie not be able to appreciate the critical role any outdated piece of technology it once played? And like author John Green said, "Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia." Rather, Merrill offered more of a critique on the Kinfolk-esque lifestyle, where so much effort is put into living "simply" in this fast changing world that it inherently cannot be uncomplicated. I do not believe that nostalgia is defeatist. A BBC Future article explains why nostalgia is actually good for you:
Constantine Sedikides suggest nostalgia may act as a resource that we can draw on to connect to other people and events, so that we can move forward with less fear and greater purpose. Sedikides was inspired by something called Terror Management Theory(TMT), which is approximately 8,000 times sexier than most theories in psychology, and posits that a primary psychological need for humans is to deal with the inevitability of our own deaths. 
To face mortality, people gain strength through nostalgia, art, culture, and society - an intricate system to help us achieve ersatz immortality. Maybe that's why I needed those clips at the beginning of this video.

In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut describes an alien race Tralfamadore as having the ability to experience reality in four dimensions; meaning that they have total access to past, present, and future. They are able to perceive any point in time at will, and see their stories sideways - like being able to flip to any page in a book about their life:
There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.
In addition to seeing all the "marvelous moments", they know the exact time and place of their own annihilation. Yet they are powerless or reluctant to prevent it, as they believe that when a being dies, it continues to live in other times and places. Their famous response to death is, "So it goes."

Perhaps we also need a better relationship with the past, the present, the future, and all simultaneously, the end. 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Kate Duncan makes Cutting Boards + Wooden Chocolate Cake?

The 2013 Interior Design Show West (IDSwest) introduced Kate Duncan, a designer and fine woodworker, and I - even though during the four-day, ALL-day event, we did not manage to meet in person. (And a gregarious person would even consider our booths neighbours.) The fact that simple tasks such as going to the restroom and getting lunch required a "favour" system with your fellow sellers greatly reduced my mobility. You know, someone must man the booth at all times! I was so set on that concept, fearing that an eager buyer would arrive at just the most inopportune time. Alas, that constantly forced auspiciousness drained my energy and left me demoralized at this whole "craft fair" thing. 

Perhaps it was this same reason that Kate wanted to design her own kind of pop-up shop. She asked me (and several other local makers) to join. I sort of did, still not trusting my salesmanship. But she went all out and did an amazing job, at The Chinatown Experiment - in all her many roles as a leader, curator, and as always, designer. She would spent hours setting up the space and then plop down on the floor, have a beer with someone while singing along to the music that she just turned up. I mentioned to her how I am really into making videos. She said, "We should make a video, too!" And she actually means what she says. So, this happened. 

That one weekend I just followed her around her 1000 Parker Street Studio (a place so cool that it merits its own post) while she made her beautiful cutting boards. Surveying the space, I became fascinated by how much the wood shavings resembled chocolate curls (I am, like, literally, fascinated by the littlest things.) and how black walnut is basically blocks of chocolate. But of course, she indulged this by making a spin-off video where she made a "chocolate" sponge cake for me. 

A wooden "chocolate" cake that I later decorated with wood shavings and things you'd find in a woodworking studio. A very delicious spin-off. A bitter-to-sweet story? I will stop now.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Wave Machine ver. 3: FiberLab Symphony Orchestra

Ladies and gentlemen. Please allow me to present the FiberLab Symphony Orchestra, consisting of 1 perforated hardboard, 2 craft rings, 12 wooden trims, 288 wooden balls, 720 metal findings, and about 1500 feet of nylon string - all accompanied by the ravishingly beautiful String Quartet No. 2 by Alexander Borodin. 

Everything is connected, and just works because of a simple concept. Powered by hand with no help from motors and electricity, it almost dares to lean toward the hipster spectrum. But again, this piece of music was already cool in the 1880s. Anyway, here are some screen captures for you:

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Wave Machine Ver. 2 - the Carousel / a Moveable Feast

And I keep plugging away at this Wave Machine thing. With its new look modelled after the Eiffel Tower Carousel, it now generates two kinds of waves when you move the top ring and flag pole individually. More interestingly, combining the two motions adds the two waves together and allows you to observe a physics phenomenon called wave interference. Observe what happens when two different waves propagate through each other.
The resulting wave becomes amplified or cancelled depending on how the original two interact with each other. The plan is to continually develop this "toy" and hopefully it will engage more girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields in the future. 

I've also been having a lot of fun learning Adobe After Effects from Youtube channels like ECAbrams and Mt. Mograph. Thank you, Evan and Matt, for making learning tutorials totally binge-watching worthy. 

Paper Exchange: Bowtie for a Story

I just had this idea, and I am sending it out into the vast world of the internet, expecting zero responses. But it goes like this: Tell me why you would like to have one of my paper bowties and I may just send one over to you! All I ask in return is that you send me a photo of it being worn (and permission to use the photo). For example:
Be creative! And please keep in mind that this is an effort for effort project. Email me at: justina @ fiberlab.ca (no spaces) And we will see what happens...