Pictures of Nothing


“There are not any ‘hard’ reasons why abstract art has to be. Nor any teleology that explains why it developed as it did. And it is useless to keep looking for those kinds of justifications. This does not invalidate abstract art. The familiar arguments that abstraction is just a big hoax, a colossal version of the ‘emperor’s new clothes,’ perpetrated on a duped public by cynical art mandarins, seem like tiresome whistling in the dark. Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now, and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate, but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know that it works, even if we’re still not sure why that’s so, or exactly what to make of that fact. To borrow the phrase of the apocryphal contemporary academic, “Okay, so it works in practice. But does it work in theory?” … abstract art absorbs projection and generates meaning ahead of naming, establishing the form of things unknown, sui generis, in their peculiar complexities. This is one of abstraction’s singular qualities, the form of enrichment and alteration of experience denied to the fixed mimesis of known things. It reminds me of the joke about the person who invented the cure for which there was no known disease. … the development of abstraction in the last fifty years suggests something more Alexandrian than Adamic, that is, a tradition of invention and interpretation that has become exceptionally refined and intricate, encompassing a mind-boggling range of drips, stains, blobs, blocks, bricks, and blank canvases. The woven web of abstraction is now so dense that, for its adepts, it can snare and cradle vanishingly subtle, evanescent, and slender forms of life and meaning. … Just the same, this is risky business. Abstract art is a learned language, and not always easy to understand. Some of the most deep-seated pleasures of our natural selves…involve appetites that had to be educated. If these pleasures are rooted in crude instinct, they nonetheless grow in depth and power as we acquire hierarchies of discrimination, until second nature is nowhere separable from the first. Yet visual art – and abstract art most particularly – remains one of the last bastions of unashamed, unrepentant ignorance, where educated experience can still be equated with phony experience…This syndrome becomes even more acute as the tradition gets fatter and the work gets leaner. What we see gets simpler, and what we can bring to it gets more complex. So we are constantly worried that we are being played for fools by works like Flavin‘s sculpture or Marden‘s painting. What makes the anxiety even worse is the fact that this is an art that, by its very nature, willfully and knowingly flirts with absurdity and emptiness, dancing on the knife-edge of nonsense and beckoning us to come along. Why put up with it? Because we want what only this risk has been able to give us.”

Kirk Varnedoe

Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock

3D printed flowers reveal how orchids trick flies by mimicking mushrooms You might have heard the expression “you catch more…


3D printed flowers reveal how orchids trick flies by mimicking mushrooms

You might have heard the expression “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” but a new study has revealed, thanks to 3D printed flowers, that for a certain species of orchid the saying might actually be “you catch more flies by pretending to be a mushroom.

Weather on Demand: Making It Rain Is Now a Global Business

Weather, rain, technology, drought, India, cloud seeding

Sweeney has seeded clouds all over the world for more than 20 years, but the Maharashtra project is unique in that the circumstances are so dire. “The hardest part is managing expectations,” he says. “People in Maharashtra are hoping for a cure-all to drought. They come out and dance in the streets when it rains, they hug our pilots and say, ‘Do it again.’ But we can’t guarantee that the clouds will be there—and willing to cooperate.”

With an estimated 239 tonnes of mineable ore available in the region, the USSR’s insatiable desire for natural resources quickly…

With an estimated 239 tonnes of mineable ore available in the region, the USSR’s insatiable desire for natural resources quickly transformed the economy of the ancient city. However, a decline in the value of manganese, crossed with a bolshevik seizure of mining property and foreign divestment in operations, ushered the unintended decline of production at the mine, which had only a decade earlier provided more than half the world’s manganese ore. The divestiture of the mine caused officials to renege on plans to build infrastructure that would have modernized the mine and the lives of its workers. Miners continued to spend much of their days winding their way up and down steep, 80 degree cliffs, working excessive hours and in miserable conditions, until in 1954, shortly after Stalin’s death, city planners took to the sky to solve the issue of transportation. Almost miraculously, and without the use of heavy equipment, they constructed the intricate cable car system that would become a unique feature of Chiatura, transporting miners and citizens between the city and the mines above. Sixty-one years later, the system is still in operation and free to ride.(5/7 Soviet Swing) by misterzvereff (via

The NSA’s SKYNET program may be killing thousands of innocent people

Ars Technica, SKYNET, machine learning, warfare, murder, classification, NSA, CIA, USA, metadata

Many facts about the SKYNET program remain unknown, however. For instance do analysts review each mobile phone user’s profile before condemning them to death based on metadata? How can the US government be sure it is not killing innocent people, given the apparent flaws in the machine learning algorithm on which that kill list is based?“On whether the use of SKYNET is a war crime, I defer to lawyers,” Ball said. “It’s bad science, that’s for damn sure, because classification is inherently probabilistic. If you’re going to condemn someone to death, usually we have a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard, which is not at all the case when you’re talking about people with 'probable terrorist’ scores anywhere near the threshold. And that’s assuming that the classifier works in the first place, which I doubt because there simply aren’t enough positive cases of known terrorists for the random forest to get a good model of them.”

What if ‘The Onion’ Made Drones and Sex Toys?

Object Solutions, consumerism, heath, lifestyle, wonkiness, critique, 2016

Last week entrepreneur Amanda Chantal Bacon was in the news for her unbelievable lifestyle. She sells something at Urban Outfitters called “Moon Juice Brain Dust.” The product is described thusly: “Moon Juice Brain Dust is an adaptogenic potion that lights up your brain and increases mental flow by feeding neurotransmitters and brain tissue. Neuron velocity and vision are fine tuned by toning the brain waves, in particular the alpha waves that connect to creativity.”

The Art-World Insider Who Went Too Far

The New Yorker, Art, Yves Bouvier, art market, Natural Le Coultre, bizniz

Barely anyone knew about Bouvier’s dealings: a handful of gallery owners across Europe, his lawyer, and Sotheby’s private-sales department. His staff at Natural Le Coultre noticed the art works stored on his account but insist that they were never told more. Their boss was rarely in the office; Bouvier travelled constantly, investing. He controls more than forty companies, which cover a bewildering range of interests, from R4, a new complex of galleries on the site of an old Renault factory in Paris, to Smartcopter, an idea for developing a low-cost helicopter. His manner discouraged conversation. Reynard told me that he never inquired where the money for the Singapore Freeport was coming from. “It is a question you don’t ask,” he told me. “Because you know that he will not answer.”

Ignore the GPS. That Ocean Is Not a Road.

GPS, navigation, trust, technology, algoritmics, determinism, travel

Faith is a concept that often enters the accounts of GPS-induced mishaps. “It kept saying it would navigate us a road,” said a Japanese tourist in Australia who, while attempting to reach North Stradbroke Island, drove into the Pacific Ocean. A man in West Yorkshire, England, who took his BMW off-road and nearly over a cliff, told authorities that his GPS “kept insisting the path was a road.” In perhaps the most infamous incident, a woman in Belgium asked GPS to take her to a destination less than two hours away. Two days later, she turned up in Croatia.

The Burning of

libraries, academia, academic publishing, copyright, Elsevier, science, knowledge, open access

on February 2012, one of the largest library on Earth burned, and no “mainstream” media, no politician denounced it. The reason for this silence is that the library was “illegal” and that it wasn’t a physical one. was by far the biggest public library on the internet, with a catalogue of about 400,000 to 1,000,000 books. And, as Christopher Kelty said, it contained “not just any books – not romance novels or the latest best-sellers – but scholarly books: textbooks, secondary treatises, obscure monographs, biographical analyses, technical manuals, collections of cutting edge research in engineering, mathematics, biology, social science and humanities. The texts ranges from so-called “orphan works” (out-of-print, but still copyrighted) to recent issues; from poorly scanned to expertly ripped; from English to German to French to Spanish to Russian, with the occasional Japanese or Chinese text. It was a remarquable effort of collective connoisseurship.”

Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge

research, publishing, Elsevier, academia, academic publishing, open access, OA

A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles - almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published - freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers. For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

The salvaged cargo ship Modern Express is reflected in the still water of the port of Bilbao, northern Spain, February 4th 2016….


The salvaged cargo ship Modern Express is reflected in the still water of the port of Bilbao, northern Spain, February 4th 2016. The 164-metre vessel, which was transporting 3,600 tonnes of wood along with construction machinery when it ran into difficulty, was towed to the port on Wednesday after six days, abandoned, listing and dangerously adrift in the Bay of Biscay. Credit: Reuters/Vincent West

In terms of things we photograph the most, the moon probably ranks pretty high, especially when it floats in the cosmos as a…


In terms of things we photograph the most, the moon probably ranks pretty high, especially when it floats in the cosmos as a full-bodied orb. According to photographer Penelope Umbrico, 1.1 million images of the full moon existed on the photo-sharing website Flickr alone last November. A sample of those are on view in her solo exhibition, Silvery Light at Bruce Silverstein, which fills the gallery with such lunar photographs, of which not a single one she originally captured. Compiled from Flickr, with some color manipulated slightly by Umbrico, the different moons represent the efforts of photographers around the world — amateur and professional alike — brought together as an archive that contemplates why we continue to produce images of the same things and how we consume their digital representations.

Mining Flickr for 1 Million Moons

It’s Been 20 Years Since This Man Declared Cyberspace Independence

cyberspace, internet, John Perry Barlow, Wired, EFF, surveilllance, sovereignty

In the modern era of global NSA surveillance, China’s Great Firewall, and FBI agents trawling the dark Web, it’s easy to write off Barlow’s declaration as early dotcom-era hubris. But on his document’s 20th anniversary, Barlow himself wants to be clear: He stands by his words just as much today as he did when he clicked “send” in 1996. “The main thing I was declaring was that cyberspace is naturally immune to sovereignty and always would be,” Barlow, now 68, said in an interview over the weekend with WIRED. “I believed that was true then, and I believe it’s true now.”–20-years-since-this-man-declared-cyberspace-independence/

gravitational waves

physics, gravity, gravitational waves, LIGO

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed. The gravitational waves were detected on September 14, 2015 at 5:51 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (9:51 a.m. UTC) by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA.

The Eye of the Space Dragon


I’ve been reading about TrES-2b – an inexplicably dark planet circling one of the stars in the Draco constellation. It’s a gas giant with an atmosphere of vaporized Na, K, TiO2, and other chemicals that absorb light rather than reflect it. It’s also very, very hot (with temperatures approaching 1,800° Fahrenheit). Too hot for the kind of reflective clouds that enshroud, say, Jupiter. But even this doesn’t fully account for why so little sunlight – less than 1% – reflects off its surface. It’s a mystery. And so the planet vibrates, in my mind, at the interface between science and myth: A galactic anomaly of albedo; the space dragon’s dilated pupil.

As the hours, the days, the weeks, the seasons slip by, you detach yourself from everything. You discover, with something that…

“As the hours, the days, the weeks, the seasons slip by, you detach yourself from everything. You discover, with something that sometimes almost resembles exhilaration, that you are free. That nothing is weighing you down, nothing pleases or displeases you. You find, in this life exempt from wear and tear and with no thrill in it other than these suspended moments, in almost perfect happiness, fascinating, occasionally swollen by new emotions. You are living in a blessed parenthesis, in a vacuum full of promise, and from which you expect nothing. You are invisible, limpid, transparent. You no longer exist. Across the passing hours, the succession of days, the procession of the seasons, the flow of time, you survive without joy and without sadness. Without a future and without a past. Just like that: simply, self evidently, like a drop of water forming on a drinking tap on a landing.”

Georges Perec, Things: A Story of the Sixties; A Man Asleep (viacities)