Installation view: panorama of 96 photographic plates from the National Geographic Socety-Palmar Observatory Sky Survey (1949-58); the other 1,700+ plates are in the cabinet.
First off, thanks to everyone at apexart for the really amazing work on the show. “Exhibition Space” looks great, and it’s installed beautifully. Thanks, too, to the folks who have stopped by to see it, whether at the opening or since, and those who have sent along kind comments. I know Massimiliano curates three shows 10x this size each day before breakfast, but it’s still a BFD for me, and after writing and thinking about the objects and photos in the show for so long online, it really is a completely different thing to see them in person.
detail of a photographic plate from NGS-POSS
I’ll get some more systematic documentation shots of the show and the pieces in it soon, but in the mean time, here are some pictures I snapped last week. If you circulate them, I really hope you’ll check back and update them when I get some slicker versions.
Dude. I can’t believe it’s really happening. But it is. “Exhibition Space” is opening tomorrow night at apexart in Tribeca. There’s a reception from 6-8pm, and the show will be open to the public from Thursday the 21st through May 8.
What started out as completely separate ideas, spawned, obviously, here on the blog, has turned out to have all these amazing and direct interconnections, both among the objects in the show, but also into the art of the time.
As the new banner image suggests–which I love, btw, just so awesome, like it was shot just for me–there will be some extended posting about the stuff in the show here on greg.org. So please visit often.
image above inspired by Whitney’s suggestion at AFC that I’m on some kind of Indiana Jones-like satelloon quest, which, well.
“Exhibition Space,” photographs, objects, and perception at the dawn of the Space Race, 21 Mar – 8 May 2013 at apexart [apexart.org]
2007: The Sateloons of Project Echo, must. find. satelloons.
2008: On The Sky Atlas and the NGS-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey
I’d like to announce that my satelloon show “Exhibition Space” will travel from the Grand Palais to New York, where it will open at apexart on March 20th.
I’d like to, but it—eh, you know what, it’s close enough.
image: Chanel demands a closer look [nyt]
previously, like 2008 previously: Les Sateloons du Grand Palais
In response to Olia Lialina’s post last week about screwy reproductions of her c.1996 lo-res digital imagery, Ben Fino-Radin writes about how Rhizome deals with archiving and documenting digital art in its native formats, platforms and resolutions: by photographing it.
This very issue of how low-resolution digital images gum up the hi-res assumptions our visual systems are built on is was one of the unexpectedly central discoveries of making Untitled (300 x 404) project. Though initially, at least, the losses and distortions of moving a thumbnail-sized jpg through the media channels were for me evidence or symbolic of the information that’s lost through ridiculous copyright restrictions, and not so concerned with archiving or perpetuation.
But that’s not important right now. Because just a few days before reading about Fino-Radin’s archival challenges, I stumbled across another data-driven use of old-school photography, on Project Echo.
I just received a rare print copy of the 1961 Bell Systems Technical Journal devoted to Project Echo, which has a dozen papers reporting Bell Labs’ findings and processes of tracking and operating an inflatable, reflective communications satellite. What’s extraordinary about the papers is what’s always fascinated me about the Echo satelloons in the first place: they were analog experiments done largely by hand, and before computers were practical tools for real-time tasks.
And so, for example, in order to record all the satellite tracking data and readouts at the Holmdel, NJ receiving and transmission station, they took pictures of the control panel. Here’s the description from Bell Labs project engineer Dr. William C. Jakes’ paper [available from dtic.mil as a pdf]:
In order to have a record of the positions of the various moving elements of the system during a satellite pass, each element was provided with synchro read-outs which were periodically photographed. Pictures were taken at one-second intervals of a panel carrying the two-speed azimuth and elevation position dials for the DAC, M-33 (optics), 60-foot dish, and horn antenna. A Greenwich Mean Time clock also appeared in the photographs. Position angles could be read to +/- 0.01 degrees, and time to 0.5 second. An enlargement of one frame of such a record is shown. [above]
But wait, there was more:
The 60-foot dish and horn antennas were each equipped with a bore-sight camera [!] that could be started at will whenever the satellite was visible. Pictures were taken at four frames per second, and included a reticle for indicating angular offsets to an accuracy of +/-0.01 deg. and a time-coded counter.
It’s not that I feel a need to apologize for breaking some imaginary overall narrative flow, but I just need to put these here for current and future reference.
First, the SS Leviathan, as seized from Germany and as outfitted in WWI-era Dazzle Camo livery:
[boston public library’s flickr via proscriptus]
And then there’s the Lockheed Martin HALE-D, a next-generation military communications airship that obviously traces its design DNA back to the glorious Echo and PAGEOS satelloons of yesteryear. Unfortunately, like those ships, the HALE-D, and many of the inflatable, unmanned surveillance airships the Pentagon has burned $1 billion developing the last four years, have turned out to be an evolutionary dead end; the HALE-D crashed on its initial test flight, and the program is now on the chopping block.
Ray Bradbury reading a poem, “If only we had taller been,” at JPL in 1971, just as Mariner 1 was about to go into orbit around Mars. Here’s the text, which was published in a collection of Bradbury’s poems, When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, in 1973. [via boingboing]
UPDATE: A reader, Sara, noticed differences between the version of the poem Bradbury read in 1971, and the one he published in 1974. Sure enough, there are a few additional lines, and a tweaked word or two. Interesting.
John Powers has been on me for months to read “>Nicholas de Monchaux’s Fashioning Apollo, the incredible and unlikely history of the development of the Apollo spacesuits.
And I have been meaning to, I swear, but this insane photo may be just the thing to push me over the edge. Because in his otherwise heady interview with de Monchaux, Geoff Manaugh only captions the images as being from the book.
Which I will have to buy, to find out what this three-story dolly was doing in this massive, origami-ended space lined with sound-deadening foam pyramids. Because seriously, holy smokes.
Spacesuit Interview with Nicholas de Monchaux [bldgblog]
This is fantastic, a 1955 industrial film by E.I. duPont deNemours, Inc. about their miraculous new plastic film, Mylar.
I mean, first off, it’s Mylar, so satelloons and Warhol balloons and everything else about the future.
But then there’s the film itself. The Mylar trampoline and trapeze–with acrobats. The circus-y knifethrower’s assistant in satin hotpants and beret, doing her ur-Vanna Whitest by turning the painted bullet point signs around.
Last year I picked up this extraordinary photograph, and then didn’t have immediate results researching it, so I put it away until now. Then, wow.
NASA launched the first Project Echo communications satelloon in 1960 to much fanfare, but the 100-foot diameter inflated Mylar sphere’s actual performance as a reflective signal relay fell short of predictions. Echo IA launched in 1960 and stayed aloft and visible from earth until 1966, but it partially deflated within a few weeks, which weakened its reflectivity. And the drag of such a large object decayed its orbital speed in ways that made it an unreliable relay.
Soon after Echo II’s launch in 1964 by NASA and Bell Labs, the US Air Force began pursuing a next-generation technology with one of its leading military contractors, Goodyear Aerospace: the grid sphere.
The grid sphere satellite was designed, near as I can tell, by Goodyear Aerospace engineer Howard Barrett. The 30-food diameter sphere of rigidized, laminated aluminum wire was embedded in a UV-sensitive plastic, which would photolyze, or disintegrate, after inflating in space, leaving the open grid sphere intact. The sphere was calculated to produce a backscatter reflection signal more than 5x as powerful as the Mylar solid sphere three times its diameter, and would be immune to its puncture, deflation, and solar radiation drag effects.
image via National Museum of the US Air Force
I’ve found mention of both 2-foot and 14-foot diameter grid sphere models, and another image of this 30-foot test inflation. Good gravy, did they really just inflate it using that tiny, leaf blower thing? I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that when it launched in 1966 from Vandenburg AFB on an Atlas rocket, the grid sphere satellite became the second-most beautiful object ever put into space. Between July 13, 1966 and May 24, 1968, when Echo IA burned up in the atmosphere, there were two satelloons and this open grid sphere, all orbiting the earth together, in Minimalism’s awesomest group show.
Which would be cool enough on its own. And then Andy Beach sends me this.
It’s Nicholas Mangan’s 2008 photo of Ed Grothus’s Doomsday Stone. Grothus was the atomic technician-turned-anti-nuclear peace activist-and-retail-icon who ran The Black Hole, the legendary military/scientific surplus store in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Grothus died in 2009 without being able to realize his decades-in-the-making Doomsday Stones memorial, a set of massive black granite obelisks carved with warnings in 15 languages about the destructive power of nuclear weapons.
The obelisks I’d heard about, but not this insanely awesome 1-meter, 1.5-ton, black granite sphere, which rests alongside them in a shipping container in Grothus’s backyard. Mangan:
In late 2007 Ed went to the Art in Public Places board in Los Alamos to offer them his monuments for public display. They rejected them stating that ‘they couldn’t think of anywhere in Los Alamos where they would fit in’. They backed up their rejection by claiming that Ed was not an ‘Artist’ according to their set of definitions and requirements.
There is something about a prophet in his own country here. Grothus’s Doomsday Stones are art in every sense of the word, and his work is an artistic practice of the highest kind, and should be recognized as such.
Large Red Sphere, Walter de Maria, 2010, permanent installation at Kunstareal, Munich, image: e-flux
The self-proclaimed art world ignores Grothus at the peril of its own credibility and relevance. If it’s just a matter of the research not being done, let’s get on it. If we need to inflate the critical balloon to give Grothus’s reputation the structure it is obviously meant to have, let’s start blowing. From his quixotic minimalist megalomania in the desert [Heizer, Turrell, De Maria] to his performative taunts in high Catholic regalia [Klein], to his fantastical historical dumpsterdiving [Dion], Grothus is Los Alamos’ own Simon Rodia. It’s just a question of how long it’ll take everyone to realize it.
In what is probably the most ideologically analytical essay ever written about paperweights, curator Barbara Casavecchia notes that many of the 60 paperweights she selected from Enzo Mari’s collection “are the product of a manual labor–serving as fragmented evidence of the persistence of non-alienating forms of work, specifically within the craftsman-like dimension inherent to production that Mari has investigated for years.”
One incarnation of Mari’s investigation was an exhibition and discussion forum he organized in 1981 titled, “Dov’e l’artigiano”/”Where is the crafstman”. It was presented first at Fortezza da Basso in Florence, and then at the Triennale in Milan. There was a catalogue published–which I can’t find anywhere–and at least one review–which I can only find a few quotes from, but otherwise, the Italians have not yet processed or digitized their contemporary design history yet.
In his latest book, Venticinque modi per piantare un chiodo/25 ways to drive a nail, Mari says the objective was to “illustrate the unresolved ambiguity of the relationship between industrial design and ‘handmade.'”
Excerpts from an Ottagono review of “Dov’e l’artigiano” place the show and Mari’s critical view of the alienating labor conditions of mass production at the center of the debate over Italian design, culture, business, even a national identity of sorts. On the one hand, some Italian producers, still modernizing, hid the fact that their consumer products were partially made by hand because they “did not want to lose the noble title” of industrial design. And others hid the fact that they’d begun using industrial manufacturing processes because they didn’t want “to lose the prestigious title of an object ‘made by hand.'”
As he had done in 1973 with his autoprogettazione plans, exhibition, and product line, Mari eschewed theoretical arguments in favor of a “didactic exhibition” of objects and the close analysis of their creation. For the show he uncovered hundreds of examples of artisanal and craftsman-like processes being used to make mass-produced industrial design. Here are the objects and categories I’ve been able to find so far:
- Industrial prototypes and models made by craftsmen, such as hand-formed auto body parts by Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani for Alfa Romeo [top left, I think]
- Scale models and testing prototypes of turbines.
- A hand-made mold for high-quality plastic chairs [bottom left].
- The schematic drawing for an integrated circuit, which apparently took over 1800 man-hours to create. [I believe it]
- “Technological masterpieces” such as US nuclear submarines, one-off industrial objects.
- An 18th-century-style table with legs “built in series with industrial machinery, but finished with a stroke of the chisel to make it ‘unique.'”
- A Borsalino custom-made for the Pope [top right].
- A machine-like sculpture by Mari collaborator Paolo Gallerani [bottom right].
Oh yeah, and the whole show took place inside a geodesic dome.
I’ll add more objects and pictures if/as I find them. It’s hard to process a 30-year-old exhibit you’ve only just found out about. But it makes me think of things like, well, obviously, pen plotters and that insane William Shatner integrated circuit drawing movie. And NASA workers using giant clothespins to glue the mylar strips toghether for Project Echo satelloons. And Richard Serra sculptures made in defunct shipyards and Richard Prince car hoods. And hand-embroidered Gap kids’ dresses that turn out to have been made by children in India. And etsy and custom Nikes and pre-stressed jeans. And Ikea furniture that offloads all the non-alienating labor processes onto the customer.
Which is all by way of saying I have no grand theories on the current state of the relationship between craft and industrial production; but I think they’ve turned out to be not quite as incompatible as they seemed in 1981.
This all started with the catalogue essay for Enzo Mari: Sixty Paperweights, An Intellectual Work, which just closed in Berlin. [kaleidoscope-press.com, tanyaleighton.com]
Maddamura’s discovery of the Ottagono review is one of the few online sources of info on the “Dove’e l’Artigiano” show [image, too: maddamura.eu]
Mari’s new book, 25 Ways to Drive A Nail, is not available in English yet. [google books tho]
I’m sure the original’s long gone, but I want the Moog synthesizer-equipped lightboard from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The idea of communicating with extraterrestrials via “a basic tonal vocabulary” synched to a gridded light show is like the lovechild of Carl Sagan and Ellsworth Kelly, conceived at an outdoor Pink Floyd concert. In a good way.
Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1957, image: moma.org
[Just an aside, the story of Kelly’s Sculpture for a Large Wall is utterly fantastic. I’m glad that it’s safe and at MoMA, but the utter failure of Philadelphia to keep it should be discussed every time the Eakins or Barnes stories are told.]
Spencer Finch, The River That Flows Both Ways, image by iwan bann via thehighline
I would have expected Spencer Finch or Leo Villareal to have made one of these already. Or any one of a number of early Silicon Valley IPO nerds. But I can’t find any record of replicas anywhere. So I will step in where I must.
My first guess was that Douglas Trumbull gets the credit for the board; and maybe he designed and executed it. But according to Ray Morton’s definitive-sounding 2007 book on the making of Close Encounters, it was Spielberg’s idea to have a colored lights that correspond to each Moog tone. John Williams composed and recorded the music in advance, so it could be played back on set for filming what was called “the jam session.” I’ll gladly overlook this somewhat Milli Vanillistic approach to jamming in exchange for the score and the rig’s schematics.
Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled (Rehearsal Studio No. 6, Silent Version), 1996, installed at MCA Chicago, image via artforum
Because obviously, when you exhibit this, you’ll expect the first thing everyone will play is that iconic five-note greeting. Then they’ll get into a jam session of their own. You’d probably want to make it possible, via the web or USB stick or something, for people to execute their own compositions, to let the computer “take over the conversation” once in a while. And you’d probably stream the piece over the web, too, give it its own channel. Maybe schedule some performers to come in and use it.
Then for good measure, put the whole thing on a golden CD and launch it into space, and wait for a response.
Off the Golden Record
ce ci n’est pas un Razzle Dazzle? Ellsworth Kelly, Study for Meschers, 1951, moma
When tiny scans of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Interview interview with Ellsworth Kelly first appeared on tumblr, the only thing you could read was his pullquote about his tour of duty in World War II:
I was in what they called the camouflage secret army. The people at Fort Meade got the idea to make rubber dummies of tanks, which we inflated on the spot and waited for Germans to see.
Which, nuts, right? I guess I’d heard of Kelly’s camouflage involvement before, and I remembered somewhere that Bill Blass had also been in a camouflage division, but I’d never put it all together that these guys were in the Ghost Army, whose operations remained largely classified and unknown until the mid-1990s.
Here is Kelly’s fuller quote, and his photo of himself standing next to a burlap jeep:
PALTROW: Did you design camouflage while in the army?
KELLY: I did posters. I was in what they called the camouflage secret army. This was in 1943. The people at Fort Meade got the idea to make rubber dummies of tanks, which we inflated on the spot and waited for Germans to see through their night photography or spies. We were in Normandy, for example, pretending to be a big, strong armored division which, in fact, was still in England. That way, even though the tanks were only inflated, the Germans would think there were a lot of them there, a lot of guns, a whole big infantry. We just blew them up and put them in a field. Then all of the German forces would move toward us, and we’d get the call to get out quick. So we had to whsssh [sound of deflating] package them up and get out of there in 20 minutes. Then our real forces, which were waiting, would attack from the rear.
PALTROW: So in a way, it was just like an art installation! That’s amazing.
KELLY: One time, we didn’t get the call and our troops went right by us and met the Germans head on. Then they retreated, and they saw our blow-up tanks and thought they were real and said, “Why didn’t you join us?” So, you see, we really did make-believe.
PALTROW: It’s the perfect job for an artist in combat.
KELLY: We even had the tank sounds magnified because tanks would go all night long.
It sounds like Kelly was actually in the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, one of four units in the 23rd HQ Special Troops, which entered France just after D-Day and ended up seeing quite a bit of action, all with balloons and loudspeakers instead of actual weapons.
As Edwards Park explains in a fairly detailed history, the 23rd’s main objective was to impersonate various active divisions in order to cover or obscure troop movements. The inflatable weaponry was designed to fool aerial reconnaissance, but the 23rd also acted out the operations of the units they were impersonating/replacing, visiting fake garbage dumps, and laying fake tank tracks at night under the cover of pre-recorded troop sounds and fake radio broadcasts. And they created fake badges and mingled with local civilian populations, passing along disinformation. As Park puts it, “It wasn’t long, in fact, before the 23rd had a voluminous file on visual identifications and the men suffered many a bloody finger sewing bogus shoulder patches on their uniforms before going into action.”
It’s one of many not-too-thinly veiled references to the 23rd’s apparently fruity reputation. I’m sure there’s at least one queer studies dissertation out there on masculinity, war, and the confluence of camouflage, artsiness, and passing for “real” soldiers.
As NPR reported in 2007, most camo/deception soldiers were apparently ordered never to discuss their wartime efforts. But Jack Masey was never told to keep quiet–waitaminnit, Jack Masey? The USIA design director and serial Expo geodesic dome commissioner? Holy smokes! It all makes filmmaker Rick Beyer’s documentary Ghost Army feel like a race against time. I hope he got some good stuff.
Meanwhile, I guess I’m on the hunt for some 23rd material myself. In 2004, Sasha Archibald wrote in Cabinet about the Ghost Army’s unauthorized insignia for itself, which featured the three-legged triskelion and the motto, DECEIVE TO DEFEAT. [Christoph Cox’s excellent history of sonic deception in the military leads me to believe that everything I knew about the 23rd I learned in Cabinet Magazine.]
And I guess it’s too optimistic to imagine any rubber tanks or vintage camo have survived all these years; I can’t imagine if the top secret thing preserved such artifacts or doomed them. But at the least I could start tracking down some of those Ellsworth Kelly posters.
OK, Meyers’ site points to this 1992 video by/about the WWII paintings of Harold Laynor, who describes himself as part of the “famous Ghost Army,” and says its activities were “unknown to the general public until well after 1980.” Hmm. Laynor also says there was an initial plan in 1942-3 for the 603rd to focus on domestic camouflage. But that the British successes with battlefield camo in North Africa inspired the US to deploy the deception unit in combat.
Related: British WWII bullshit camo stories
The Civilian Camouflage Council, included a lot of folks at Kelly’s school, Pratt
Sounds so-so, but full of facts/details: military historian Jonathan Gawne’s 2002 book, GHOSTS OF THE ETO: American Tactical Deception Units in the European Theater, 1944 – 1945
Speaking of huge, impressive balls, Reuters reports that a Belgian firm called Barco is delivering its first order of eight, brand new, 360-degree flight simulators, each of which is a 3.4 meter-diameter cast acrylic sphere. The sphere is ringed by thirteen hi-res projectors, whose images are all laser-stitched together or something in some suitably seamless way.
Alls I know is, 10-foot-wide acrylic sphere screen. Also, Top Gun? Really?
Belgian firm unveils new Top Gun flight simulator [reuters via boingboing]
Hoo man, David has an interview with Ball and Nogue about their High Desert Test Site project which is called Yucca Crater, and which appears to be an earthwork, but is man-made. It’s a tricked out plywood recreational structure half-embedded in the desert which looks a bit like a half-pipe, an abandoned pool, and one of those deadly carnivorous pitcher plants. Because it’ll have a climbing wall and a pool in it, in which some random tripping art student will, I’m afraid, drown one day.
But that’s not important now. Yucca Crater is made from the leftover formwork from another Ball-Nogues project, Talus Dome, a public art commission for the Edmonton Arts Council. [Quesnell Bridge. Holy smokes, people, a mountain dome of giant mirrored spheres.
But why, you may ask, is the form available to bury in the desert if the Telus Dome is not actually complete yet? This is not some CAD/CAM hit ENTER and 3-D print operation. They actually pack those balls into that thing to make it.
image: Timothy Hursley via arch mag
Like how they made Cradle, Ball-Nogues’ shiny ball 2010 commission for the “updated” facade of what [used to be] Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place parking garage. [It’s called Cradle I guess because calling it a bulging “men’s Speedo” or “a big banana hammock” before they finished it might have raised some eyebrows.]
Anyway, who else but Design Boom has a big photo set of the making of Cradle. These balls are just hanging there, each held in place by a steel cable, the specific length of which was determined by rigging the whole thing up in a giant, wooden banana hammock mold. Designboom also shows how the balls themselves were made: they were welded together and blown in China. See how I avoided any innuendo there?
Whatever, I can’t stop staring.
If I’ve accomplished little else with my grandiose ambitions for my satelloon fetish, it has at least turned me into several people’s go-to guy for odd projects involving shiny balls and/or large amounts of Mylar.
So thanks Michael Dumontier of Stopping Off Place for passing along this video short, Masanao Hirayama Memory Master, which is thoroughly awesome.
Hirayama is a Tokyo-based zine artist, and from the timing and the decor, I would guess this was made as part of Hon to Sakuhin (Books and Works), his just-closed exhibition at Pantaloon, a design/event firm in Osaka. The show traveled the Japanese art book circuit, starting out at Edition Nord and Utrecht in Tokyo.
The un-Google Translate-able single jpg website for the Pantaloon show mentions a transformed cafe, video, and “movie-like sequences,” but has no mention of silent Mylar spirits.
Hirayama Masanao’s website, HIMAA [himaa.cc]
Hirayama Masanao show at Pantaloon, 8.20 – 9.25.2011 [pantaloon.org]