11 April 2011

My Dinner's Journey

1500 miles or 2400 km. This is the average distance that food travels to be on a table in the United States. I've been thinking about how to represent this. Right now I've run a few stats.

In some ways, this is an homage to Walter di Maria's Broken Kilometer.

I thought about string or thread. A spool of thread of 550 yards is 503 meters or about 0.5 km. That would be 4800 spools.

A 2x4 is typically 8’-0” long. Laying 2x4s on end would require 990,000 2x4s.

I did a CAD drawing on 8.5x11 paper. It was purely lines spaced very close together. Each line was 9 53/64” long, which is 0.25 meters. 4 lines was 1 meter. Each page hold
s 100 m. Thus 24,000 pages (12,000 sheets, double sided) are needed to represent 2400 km. A ream is 500 sheets. That means 24 reams.

None of these felt right. It should be food representing food. So I have arrived at spaghetti. Spaghetti has a consistent size, and the packaging works well with the modular method of display of the quantities. A randomly selected one pound box of thin spaghetti contained 728 pieces. Each piece on average is approximately 0.25 meters. Therefore each box is 182 meters. 13,187 boxes equals the 2400 km.

08 April 2011

Winni Wintermeyer

I came across this photographer's work a couple of weeks ago. Much like previous posts, this artist strikes a chord with me. Again, these are all pictures I have taken, but done with a great deal more quality than I can summon. I have a real affection for night photography. I think this is in many ways a way of seeing the world much different from previous centuries. The ubiquitous presence of electric lighting has lit the world in a way heretofore unknown. I also like the odd house form with the elaborate walkway leading to an empty door in the middle of a wetland.

07 April 2011

Solar Sterling engine combined heating and power

I just came across this amazing contraption. It's a solar powered Sterling engine that generates electricity, hot water, heating, and and absorption chiller for air conditioning. I saw it in Solar Today magazine. It is a wild, almost Dr. Seuss-like contraption that generates electricity through solar thermal. A Sterling engine works on thermal expansion and compression of a fluid in a closed system, unlike a steam engine which relies on pressure to fill and push a cylinder and is then exhausted. The system is called DiGeSPo - Distributed combined heat and power Generation from small size concentrated Solar Power. It uses an evacuated solar tube collector with a parabolic concentrator for the heat source. Pretty nifty. Apparently there are two sizes, a 1-3 kW and a 3-6 kW. Not yet on the market. I also don't know the heating and cooling output.

06 April 2011

The shape of meaning

"Is all verse poetry or all poetry verse? - Depends on definitions of both. Poetry is speech framed for contemplation of the mind by the way of hearing or speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning. Some matter and meaning is essential to it but only as an element necessary to support and employ the shape which is contemplated for its own sake."
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, from "Poetry and Verse"

I posted this earlier. I am still divided. Hopkins privileges form over content - a decidedly modernist notion. My ambivalence stems from the fact that unless you speak in a foreign language, the meaning of the language cannot be ignored. Further, even in a foreign language, that meaning is communicated through the tone of the piece. Words are cannot be stripped of the meaning. The form of the poetry reinforces the content. Without the form, it would not be poetry.

05 April 2011

My problems with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission are deep. While I don't dispute the motive of preserving the character of neighborhoods and buildings, I do have problems with the manner in which they are pursued. For one, their principles are only applied politically. If you want to gut a designated landmark and build a 40 story office tower on it, that is deemed appropriate. Yet heaven forefend one propose an addition on the back of a brownstone! They seem consistent in their caprice.

I just came across their updated Rowhouse Manual http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/lp_rhmanual.pdf. In true LPC fashion, they have missed a great opportunity. A truly essential element to all building today is the manner in which they conserve energy. In New York the energy efficient renovation of historical structures is a huge opportunity to reduce our environmental footprint. The rowhouse manual is solely concerned with how things look, not how they work. There is no discussion of how one might improve performance while maintaining the historical character. While I understand that the manual's primary mission is an understanding of best practices for preservation, some discussion of other building practices would make a large contribution, at least through broaching the subject to the public. LPC has again missed the tenor of the times and remain mired in their 19th century Disneyland vision.

04 April 2011

I just want to make art - but is that okay?

I really just want to be an artist. Why am I engaged in politics? Why do I devote so much of my brain to the issue of climate change and public policy? I really just want to draw. If our world cannot get it together, what hope do I have of making a difference? I have already proven that I cannot even coax a group of academics to share a vision, let alone the rest of society.

It comes down to this: I feel I have an obligation. We collectively are in a bizarre state of denial about the impacts our culture, our economy, our way of life is having on our environment. It is much easier to deny than take action that might be uncomfortable. I am guilty of this. I find it much easier to pursue the formal composition than it is to address the more difficult problems of our culture. I am still transfixed by Edgar Allen Poe's observation about poetry:

"Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged… We have taken into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in true Poetic dignity and force: - but the simple fact is, that, would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified – more supremely noble than this very poem – this poem per se – this poem which is a poem and nothing more – this poem written solely for the poem’s sake."
-Edgar Allen Poe, The Poetic Principle

I am torn between morality and poetry. In some ways, Poe is right - a lot of bad art has been made in the service of morality. Then again, we have the Clash, Kathe Kollwitz, Francisco Goya, and Leonard Baskin to remind us that art can be both.

03 April 2011


There is a NY Times series called "Disunion," about the American Civil War. Today's was "How Slavery Really Ended in America." Apparently General Butler, in charge of Ft. Monroe in Virginia, created the wedge that eventually led to the emancipation of African slaves. Little known is that slaves were not emancipated at the start of hostilities. The north was still hoping for reconciliation and continuing to recognize the abhorrent practice of considering people to be property was part of that strategy of mollification. Butler refused to return runaway slaves. He argued that they were contraband. Like guns and ammunition, the slaves were being used to further the Confederate war effort, thus were fair game to be confiscated. Believe it or not, at the start of the war, runaway slaves were frequently returned to their bellicose owners. This stratagem circumvented that policy. This stratagem was a wedge that went viral.

Today we stand in an awkward position in relation to carbon emissions. If the worse case scenarios turn out to be true, we are looking at mass famines as the food system collapses; abject poverty; lack of potable water; intense storms and weather extremes. We have a moral dilemma. We have an existential dilemma. Much like slavery, we wed ourselves to a system we know to be morally indefensible. But wholesale abandonment of that system could also be catastrophic, not merely uncomfortable. Do we take on the issue and work towards a change? Or like the Civil War, do we wait for a precipitous calamity with untold violence, death, privation and misery? What is the wedge that begins to unravel the knot?