photoAfter unknowingly attempting to attend a film during the release of the new TwilightSaga movie, Eclipse at the Arclight in Hollywood last night I was shocked to find the parking garage closed with a sign saying “full”. Aggravated in disbelief, I turned around to head home, and noticed a metered spot had just become available outside the theatre. I swerved into the space, scooped my sweater out the back seat and went to read the meter only to find that it is now $3.00 an hour to park in Hollywood (or 5 minutes a quarter). I took off to try to make the film only to discover the prices at the Arclight had gone up again.

In a town where change is omnipresent and the increase of day-to-day expenses make us feel we are in New York, there are less and less opportunities to experience the arts on a budget (did I mention the yellow plastic sunglasses in a 3-D film that will cost you your Popcorn and Diet Coke?) However, there is a beacon of hope nestled in the heart of Century City beneath the towering buildings that won’t cost you a penny and is sure to blow your socks off without wearing any yellow sunglasses.

The Annenberg Space for Photography, which has been open for a little over a year now, is as much an experience wandering through the curvy, camera-shaped building as it is seeing the photographs inside. Much more than just a traditional display area for prints, the digital projection gallery has two 7’x14’ seamless glass screens with real-projection imaging systems that exceed the level of image quality offered by Blu-Ray players. Watching photographs appear and fade with this caliber of stunning clarity and saturation paired with surround sound music will make your eyes and ears meld into one – taking the photographic image to the next level.

For the second year runningArclight the Annenberg Space for Photography is proud to host ‘Pictures of the Year’, a collection of the most outstanding documentary photography from 2009, recognized by Pictures of the Year International (POYi). With over 45,000 entries submitted from all over the world, the show is a pure visual story that explores humanity far beyond the greatest headline stories of 2009. Held for 65 years in Missouri, Los Angeles is fortunate to have the 67th annual exhibit return after it’s west coast debut last year.

With so many photographic stories being covered, the show is broken into four Categories: The United States War and Economy, The Human Experience, Ecologies and Economies, and The Globe. What makes the Annenberg Space for Photography unique is the digital features that play in the projection gallery. No longer is photography just a printed subject in a frame, but a visual story being told in a cinematic way, giving the viewer a greater insight to what is occurring inside the frame.                                                                                    67-CAA-01-SincS-A-01                    Be sure not to miss Stephanie Sinclair’sPolygamy in America” about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community in Eldorado, Texas. Also, Kitra Cahana’s portraits of teenage runaways who gather once a year in a different American national park are sure to drop your jaw.

Every now and then we come across photographs online or in magazines and newspapers that we cannot escape – they stick with us and often become permanent representations of a time or place. The images from ‘Pictures of the Year” may only exist for one moment but can last a lifetime. And that’s totally worth a free admission.

- By Gray Malin

The exhibit runs through October 10th and more information can be found on the Annenberg website, Hours are Wednesday – Sunday 11:00-6:00pm.

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Posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Installation, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Photography, Save + Misbehave, Technology, The Social Scene, West LA No Comments »

Cell Phone-Person

586737_300On my phone, I can store hundreds of contacts, dozens of messages—both text and voice—I can take photos, videos, and surf the web. But can a mobile device, such as my cell phone, store inspiration? Does it hold objects of historical, artistic, and/or scientific significance? Is it a genuine platform for discussion and representation of the human condition? Put more simply, and yet ultimately more complex: can a cell phone be a museum?

Most pro-Tweeters and social network-mongols—who would text yes to any and all of the questions above—will point to the Iran election as the tantamount example of mobile technology meshing with social and political phenomena to enact positive, realistic change. This is difficult to argue, as is the often belabored fact that such technology has radically altered the way in which we communicate. In Japan, for instance, the keitai shosetsu, or the “thumb novel”—a literary publication broadcast solely to cell-phones—has gained incredible popularity, with sites like Maho I-land generating millions of amateur novels, many of them going on to huge successes as tangible books.

Both the Iranian election and the keitai shosetsu would lead one to think that mobile networking may have a place within the world of museums. But as a casual user (and I believe that drug terminology is appropriate) of Twitter and Facebook, the main issue is not whether a cell phone can be used as museum, but how often the muses are overwhelmed by oblivious, shameless, and not-so-shameless marketing.

Which brings us to LACMA’s latest venture: Cell Phone Stories, a three-month-long chain of stories—much like keitai shosetsu—not told in first-person or third-person, but in an all-together new mode of narrative: cell-phone-person. Artist Steve Fagin conceived the project, and brings together a diverse grouping of commissioned authors, ranging from actor Rainn Wilson, to chic designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, to supply the tales.

Sounds interesting enough; I’m a huge proponent of using literature as art (LACMA’s other, less-publicized project, Word Without Pictures, is borderline brilliant), and the idea of telling your story walking is appealing to me (and Jonathan Lethem).

But there’s an odd catch. All of the stories/essays have to revolve around LACMA.  I suppose this is to bring up the idea that a museum is not just a building—after all, one can be mused anywhere—yet I can’t get over the idea that it’s all a clever marketing ploy.

The first story to appear publicly as a part of the Cell Phone Stories project was one by performance-artist Rich Bott. It began at 1 PM on May 29th, and combined brief text messages with even briefer cell-phone videos, which can be seen here. The initial installment: “Jacques Debierue sculpture reported missing STOP LAPD on the scene STOP Continental operative Richard Bott on the scene STOP.”

Clearly Bott was setting up an absurd art-heist mystery of some sort (by referencing a fictional sculptor), though I don’t claim to understand the repeated usage of “STOP,” which continued throughout his hour-long “text-performance”—a sort of hard-boiled detective story that had him speaking to a “wise-cracking lamp,” getting tips from a nude “prostitute” in a Picasso painting, and finally catching the thief and recovering the stolen sculpture. The problem is none of this was very clear at all, and any sense of drama that could be generated from the natural cliff-hangers of episodic text messaging was lost in translation.

Furthermore, I didn’t get to see, or even imagine, much of the museum at all. To me, the magic of a museum is the same magic of a church or a mosque or a synagogue; it’s a temple. When you walk into the LACMA, or the MOCA, or the MET, or the MOMA, you enter into a different frame of consciousness. You’re supposed to temporarily let go of the world of money, and traffic, and work, and advertising, and yes, cell-phones. There’s a reason why they’re not allowed. And while I love the idea of a global museum, or even a museum of the imagination, LACMA’s Cell Phone Stories has yet to provide one.

Cell Phone Stories runs until September 6, 2010, and can be accessed by texting “LACMA” to 67553, or by visiting their Twitter account at

Posted in Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Mixed media, Museums, Neighborhoods, Personalities, Technology, Video Art, West LA No Comments »

Robo-Fusion: Artificial Intelligence Takes the Stage at SCREAM Fest

KarmetikI may be living in the “age of technology” here in 2010, with the smart phones and the talking GPS devices and the iTunes auto-DJ always at my disposal.  We’ve all become pretty accustomed to—and spoiled by—this kind of “smart” technology that’s taking over at such a rapid rate. But, to this day, when I hear “robot technology” or “artificial intelligence,” I still think of Rosie—the sweet, lovable, wheel-legged house-bot from The Jetsons. And that’s just what I was expecting when I attended the SCREAM Festival at the REDCAT this Wednesday night, where the KarmetiK Machine Orchestra performed a unique symposium of electronic North Indian music.

The Karmetik Music Orchestra is the creation of music director Ajay Kapur, production director Michael Darling, and a whole team of musicians and designers both within and without the CalArts sphere. Ajay Kapur is the Director of Music Technology at CalArts and the creator of KarmetiK, a body of artists and engineers working to redraw the line between music and technology. KarmetiK uses artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction technologies to create new digital works of art. This is more than just reinventing the sitar, though. This is a whole new man behind the sitar. I’m talking about robots, here. The researchers and engineers at KarmetiK have pushed the technological barrier so far as to create custom-built robotic instruments that can improvise with a human musician, fusing musical tradition and modern engineering.

Neat! But are these robot-musicians self-aware? Maybe not, but this was nothing like what I expected. At Wednesday night’s performance, five robots shared the stage with a dozen or so musicians. Two strange looking drum sets hovered on each side of the stage, roughly seven feet from the ground, with drums, bells, cymbals, gongs, strings, and shakers splaying from the center. A rain stick spun slowly on an automated pinwheel at stage left. There was a gamelan-bot, like the Reyong used in the Balinese tradition, with upside-down metal pots suspended on a wooden frame. Tammy, a master-bot of sorts, stood high in the center. Tammy was designed by the well-known instrument sculptor Trimpin, Michael Darling, and Ajay Kapur, and built by students in the Robotic Design class at CalArts. Made up of a marimba, a self-plucking drone device, and five bells—all recycled objects found in the electronics junkyard—Tammy stands 14 feet tall and is certainly nothing like my dearly-beloved Rosie.

The program consisted of music in the North Indian style, beginning with a sparse call-and-response piece, Digital Sankirna, demonstrating the performer-robot interaction, in which the robots seemed to learn and play more as the piece progressed. Amazing was the robot’s sense of restraint—it seemed to intuitively know just when to release. Accompanied by Ajay Kapur’s ESitar and Curtis Bahn’s most beautiful EDilruba, it made for an arrestingly haunting opening. A second highlight was the appearance of the Ustad Aashish Kahn, considered one of the greatest living sarodists in the world, for a performance of the an Indian raga Shivranjani. Finally, the dance of the dalem, in the Balinese masked-dance tradition, concluded the program, complete with five gamelan players, the Reyong Bot, and the dancing white-masked king.

So maybe we haven’t yet advanced artificial intelligence to the point where robots are self-actualizing, but after watching KarmetiK, I feel that we are frighteningly close. This is more than a simple case of deus ex machina. Music is one of mankind’s most primitive forms of communication, fastening us together on the most gut level. The technology powerful enough to create a robot that can tap into the human psyche on that basic plane may be the great equalizer between man and machine, and that is a loaded possibility. Rosie is with us, certainly more than we might have known.

- By Helen Kearns

To see the full calendar of upcoming shows at REDCAT, please click here.

Posted in Bring Your Flask, Downtown, Music, Technology, World Music No Comments »