Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Artist Exhibition

I attended Mahsan Ghazlanzad's exhibition for my artist exhibition. Her work focused on paper airplanes. All her work was in an abstract style and done with paint on canvas. Meaning aside, all of the pieces were very aesthetically pleasing. They utilized muted colors and lots of negative space surrounding simple forms.
Besides me wanting to hang any of her paintings on my wall at home, I noticed all of her work had much more serious undertones. Perhaps it is because of her heritage but I believe all of her works dealt with issues in the middle east or at least with American imperialism, and it's force as an international police power. I took two meanings from her pieces. Either the planes were symbols of hope, crushed and crumpled in forgotten piles, or they were symbols of the US drones that bomb without discrimination, that had corrupted the blue sky to a object of fear.
They could have both meanings, or neither and just be a more innocent and personal obsession with paper planes. I think of paper planes in art usually as a symbol of freedom or hope, but when I saw her piece where the planes created a fence, it changed how I viewed all of the other pieces.  They are critical of US militarization and involvement abroad, taking something innocent associated with hope and freedom (paper planes and the USA), then corrupting them into drones, symbols of the American war machine.
Her works were very successful visually, and if I interpreted them correctly, then also successful in getting the message across.

Artist Talk

I attended Melissa Milgrom's talk, Adventures in Taxidermy, for my artist talk. I was skeptical going in because I have always found taxidermy very creepy. The way the animal's eyes watch you while in poses that are a bit too unnatural. There is a sort of uncanny valley.  The more realistic they are, the closer they get to creepy, and paradoxically unnatural.
Milgrom's main point was to address this common belief and hope to change people's minds about the art of taxidermy. For starters, just like any art, there are good and bad examples of works. The best taxidermists take extensive care to replicate their subject exactly. They will observe their specimen alive before killing it. Milgrom was somewhat hazy about whether or not they would kill the animals, and which animals were recently deceased before being preserved. She said they never would kill an endangered species and that taxidermists are in fact animal lovers.
Milgrom is a photographer that gained an appreciation for taxidermy while photographing to a book about the subject. She kept emphasizing that it was an art, again and again.
She discussed some artists that used taxidermy in absurd and unrealistic ways, such as a cow hanging by a noose. This was the only part of the talk I found as "art" since it creates a feeling that isn't inherent to the animal.
One interesting point  brought up was that our society is in nature much less today that ever before, and taxidermy may become more popular since nature is becoming a novelty. While this is true, I think this won't overcome the fact that taxidermy has a negative connotation in the public eye.

I still don't have much of an appreciation for this art, the taxidermists are just freezing a moment of what can be found in nature. The natural beauty is lost to me when the corpse of an animal is put up on display, it is entirely unnatural and if its art then its an art of illusion. Art usually requires creating something, or viewing something creatively, taxidermists just reuse what nature has already created. They are not artists in my opinion. Milgrom is passionate but I don't think she is in the majority, taxidermy will likely dwindle as a hobby or "art" form. It has a negative public view and is only effective in art if it makes a statement about something outside of the stuffed animal.

Final Project - Circuit Bending

For my final project I knew I wanted to do a project with circuit bending.  After watching the circuit bending video in class I was very inspired to try and bend a circuit myself. Like any circuit bent electronics, my work was inspired by Reed Ghazala.

I originally bought a cheap piano toy and had anticipated adding more functionality to it. However, during my experimenting I ended up damaging the part of the circuit that made the keyboard work. For a few days the toy made no sound at all so I tried connecting all of the points in any combination I could think of. Luckily I finally found a solution that created the sounds used in the final product.

I found 3 points that in combination could manipulate oscillating noises, one point controlled speed, one controlled pattern, and the other combined the original "guitar" and "piano" tones from the original instrument. This circuit also began picking up other frequencies, it is possible to pick up radio waves (which was very startling when the amp started talking unexpectedly), fluorescent lights, cell phones, and the musician's proximity. It is possible to manipulate the sound without touching the instrument, just by hovering close to the circuit.

I wanted to have these sounds playable as an instrument, since the keyboard wasn't working I did the obvious which was to put the board from the toy into a guitar. Being a guitar player I had all of the parts to do so. My first guitar was in pieces in my closet so I figured I could resurrect it as a sort of sound experiment. I added a switch to turn the circuit on and off while the guitar remained fully functional. The guitar was a simple circuit with just a bridge pickup and volume control (with a knob that goes to 11 of course).  The volume pot has a a push-pull switch to turn the toy part on. The toughest part was trying to find a space on the guitar for the circuit board to go. Due to some time constraint, I just taped it to the front of the pick guard. Ideally I would want to route some space out of the guitar to make it fit inside the body with the contacts still exposed. The wiring ended up being very complicated compared to normal guitar wiring. The batteries replaced the neck pickup since there was no room for them anywhere else.

Visually I think the instrument turned out exactly how I imagine a circuit bent guitar would look like. I chose to leave the cover off the batteries to make them obvious and I like the DIY look of the taped on circuit board. The board does get in the way of the high frets and is a bit to fragile to withstand how I treat my guitars. I have always hated the yellow paint of the guitar which is why I didn't mind possibly destroying it, it was also the reason I kept the video in color. Normally I would make most art videos about music in black in white because color makes the video attract more attention than the music and I just like the aesthetic. However I thought a guitar with such audacious sounds should have the brash color to match.

For my video I just made a demo video with little concern for it's artistic qualities, I just played what came naturally, since the added noises made me play differently. I didn't write a score or have anything I planned to play. I just wanted to show the sounds I could make. I think the sounds are very usable and I would like to use this instrument in a musical setting. I am planning on making the systems more stable and ergonomic and using this guitar whenever I'm feeling uninspired or want some more adventurous sounds for a project.

I have always wanted to incorporate some of the normally unattainable sounds of electronic music into an instrument I can play. This guitar is a step in the right direction and is maybe the only art project that I have use for once the due date has passed. I was hooked instantly when we watched the circuit bending video in class. I am interested to pursue it further and combine it with music and modify other instruments.

Here is a video of it in action: