PM Pick

Ken Goldberg, New Director for Berkeley Center for New Media

Ken Goldberg, a pioneer of telerobotic art projects on the Internet, has just become the Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media. I've been following, and writing about, his projects for over ten years now, since we first met at one of Peter Lunenfeld's Mediawork gatherings at Art Center in Los Angeles. He'd been a professor with the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research department at Berkeley and had a dual identity: as a scientist he invented new tools, and as an artist he found cultural applications for them and critiqued them. His branch of robotics is telepresence, which grew out of the second world war atomic bomb project's need to work with dangerous objects at a distance. Telepresence was brought into the popular realm when Dr. Robert Ballard's remotely operated robots discovered and explored the wreck of the Titanic. Ken developed a theory, 'telepistemology', to explore what we can know from a distance, and he's wary of how people unquestioningly accept the veracity of what they find on the internet. "I'm trying to facilitate the resumption of disbelief," he says.

The Telegarden. Image courtesy of Ken Goldberg.

Among his projects are The Telegarden, where people planted and tended a community garden in a large flowerbox, by controlling a robot arm over the internet; Dislocation of Intimacy, a meditation on how both Plato's Cave Parable, and Duchamp's surrealist art translate to the internet; recent explorations of surveillance technologies in an anonymous monitoring system after John Baldessari's 'bubbles' project, that obscured the faces of the people he photographed; and Ballet Mori, where San Francisco Ballet principal Muriel Maffre improvised a dance to a live feed of activity from the Hayward earthquake fault -- translated into sound -- on the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

His first release as Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media reminds us just how crucial scientific innovation is in shaping the direction and content of media.

A medium, from the Latin for "middle element", acts as a lens between observer and object, or between subjects. New Media refers to media that are discovered, invented, or adopted during a particular point or period in history. The alphabet was a new medium in 1800 BCE; subsequent new media include the printing press, telescope, camera, X-Ray, and the electric light. Contemporary new media range from Wifi to Wii to Wikipedia. Lenses both transmit and distort. As Sophocles observed, "nothing vast enters the life of motals without a curse." One goal of the BCNM is to highlight and critically examine the opportunities and risks associated with new media, and to consider how they can constructively benefit education, political engagement, privacy and aesthetic experience.

Organizations such as the Berkeley Center for New Media help compensate for the way that the mainstream media is failing us through its lack of understanding and involvement with the process of the invention of new tools and lack of engagement with the artists and critics who link the new storytelling methods with ancient traditions and put timeless symbols and parables, that guide and sustain us, into context for the time were living in. There's just a restless anxiety, a fear exhibited by media organizations, that by not grasping what's happening they'll be bumped off the gravy train as it hurtles down the information highway. Wired reports in it's August issue that marketing and advertising executives are rushing to be a part of the synthetic environment "Second Life", afraid to miss out on the hot new phenomenon, even though it's becoming apparent that it's not living up to its hype. "It's as if the moon suddenly had oxygen. Nobody wants to miss out," wrote Frank Rose. "Ever since BusinessWeek ran a breathless cover story titled "My Virtual Life" more than a year ago, reporters have been heralding Second Life as the here-and-now incarnation of the fictional Metaverse that Neal Stephenson conjured up 15 years ago in Snow Crash. (Wired created a 12-page "Travel Guide" last fall.) Unfortunately, the reality doesn't justify the excitement." In the same issue it was Martha Stewart who proved to be the tech savvy one, with hints on making a digital sound system disappear in the home, and how to manage banks of battery charging devices, by showing an awareness that technology is for communications. "I think we are insane," she said. "I used to get 120 to 140 phone calls a day. And now rarely does the phone ring — other than a few archaic friends who call me — because of the BlackBerry.... I think it's awful. My daughter emails me. When your daughter starts to email you instead of talk to you... It's horrible. You cannot forget human communication."

"New media can transform how we perceive, learn, communicate and experience the world," says Ken Goldberg. "What is 'new' is accelerating rapidly with emerging technologies, yet remains deeply rooted in powerful aesthetic, cultural and political forces."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.