Category Archives: Technology

Burning Man at the Renwick (2)

My earlier post about Burning Man at the Renwick took a look at the first floor of the museum and focused on artifacts. That part of the exhibition has now closed. The second floor, which will be open until 21 January 2019, is about environments.

These, uh, “things” are identified as “steel polyhedral sculptures” that “generate tension between hard geometric surfaces and soft interior illumination, promoting a sense of contemplation and awe of the inherent beauty of universal forms.”

(I made a note of the name and the description, because that’s the kind of stuff that comes up a lot in casual conversations.)

What fascinated me was the use of light and the everchanging colours. One of the “steel polyhedral sculptures” was large enough to hold several people inside.


The Grand Salon

The largest room in the Renwick is called the Grand Salon, and until the building’s most recent renovation, that was a perfectly descriptive name—it was heavy on the damask, and the walls were full of (mainly) 19th- and early 20th-century paintings by American artists.

That’s all gone now. For the Burning Man exhibition, the space was given over to David Best, the designer of many of the Burning Man “temples”.

The structure in the above picture hangs from the room’s ceiling. The photograph below, from the Renwick’s website, is a look at the full room.

At Burning Man in Nevada, these temples are among the things burned at the end of the festival.  That won’t happen to this one. The Renwick says it will be “on view indefinitely.”

David Best Temple, 2018, Rernwick Gallery, photo by Ron Blunt

David Best Temple, 2018, Renwick Gallery, photo by Ron Blunt


The Mushroom Room

Oh, this was fun!

The giant “mushrooms” changed colour and seemed to breathe and grow when someone activated them by standing of the red-circled control panel on the floor.


The “Before I Die” Room


Last stop before the exit.

The Renwick set up a room, painted black and stocked with of coloured chalk, at the end of the Burning Man exhibition. Visitors were invited to write or draw a message about what they hope to see or do before they die.

Love, travel, drugs, self-fulfillment, and the future of Donald Trump were frequently mentioned.


The Burning Man exhibition has been wildly popular. Great show!

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Burning Man at the Renwick (1)

The Renwick Gallery, the branch of the Smithsonian Institution dedicated to American crafts and decorative arts, is currently presenting a knockout of an exhibition called “No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man”.

Finally made my first visit a few weeks ago.

Entrance

“Abandon All Inhibitions, Ye Who Enter Here.”

Admission to the Renwick is free. Tickets for this year’s Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, ranged from $190 to $1,200.


Burning Man Haute Couture


Last year, a group called Catharsis on the Mall asked for approval to install a 45-foot-tall sculpture of a nude woman on the National Mall, near the Washington Monument. For some reason, the National Park Service rejected the application.

What we did get was this artifact at the Renwick. She’s not 45-feet-tall, but she gradually changes colour.


The Dragonmobile


The Inevitability of VR


No contemporary art installation is complete without a sampling of Virtual Reality. The monitor at the top of the picture shows a flat-screen version of what the user is experiencing in VR.

We’ve been hearing that the big VR breakthrough is just around the corner since—Let’s see now, Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, and 2018 minus 1992 equals 26—more than a quarter-century ago. Gotta say, Oculus Rift is looking really tempting these days.

“Fractal Worlds” at ARTECHOUSE

The current show at ARTECHOUSE, “Fractal Worlds” by Julius Horsthuis, is the venue’s most impressive immersive experience since Thomas Blanchard’s “Kingdom of Colors” played last November.

Here’s a brief video I took at the site, offered with the usual apology:  My decidedly low-tech hardware comes nowhere close to capturing the beauty and power of the huge HD projections on the site’s walls. The image at the top of this post is from the program notes, and gives a hint of the clarity and detail of the show.

Some images from the show:

Yet Another Video Game I’ll Probably Never Play

I’m not a Gamer. I don’t own a PlayStation or an Xbox. But when I see something like this 8½-minute trailer for an upcoming game called Death Stranding, it makes me wonder what I’ve been missing.

No firm release date as yet, but it’s supposed to come out sometime this year.


Watching this reminded me that we’ve come a very long way from Pacman. And that reminded me of Marcus Brigstocke’s wonderful defense of video games against the charge that they’re a bad influence on children:

Every Christopher Nolan Movie Ever

There are certain actors and directors who do something so original, so stunning that they and their collaborators earn one of my personal Get Out of Jail Free cards. Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and everyone else associated with Breaking Bad have cards. So does everyone who worked on Buffy or Utopia or Let the Right One In. This year, I added The Good Place and Killing Eve to my list. The card indicates that I trust the creators to continue to amaze me, and if they make a slip or two, it’s no biggie.

Ever since I was awed by Memento in 2000, Christopher Nolan has been one of my favourite directors. That film was so mind-blowingly good that he gets a lifetime pass.

Back in March, I posted a Screen Junkies video of “Every Wes Anderson Movie”, which took a humourous look at the oeuvre of a director of whom I am not fond. To balance things, here’s their examination of the works an insanely talented director:


Here’s the trailer for Memento. Still gives me shivers.

Prague, Beautiful Prague

This is a live stream from Prague, provided by a company called CamStreamer. The Czech Republic is six hours ahead of US East Coast time, so the stream is best viewed between late night and early afternoon in the East. When it’s dark in Prague, the images are murky and uninteresting.


If I could live anywhere in the world, Prague would be near the top of the list. The great disqualifier, for me, would be my inability to learn the difficult Czech language this late in life. While English is the de facto common language in much of Europe, it’s far from universal.

For a certain kind of American, Prague in the 1990s was what Paris was in the 1920s, or what San Francisco was in the 1960s—the Red Hot Center, the Happening city, a culturally rich environment with a thriving creative class, free from the conformist restraints of buttoned-up America. It didn’t hurt that the cost of living was a fraction of what it was in the States.

In the video stream, the camera pans from the Charles Bridge over the Vltava river, past the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral, to the Strahov monastery and back. Walking across the ethereal, haunting Charles Bridge in the evening is one of those things that everyone should do before they die. It’s magical.


The background music is “Vltava”, the tone poem that serves as the second movement of Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast, which is best known in English as My Country. The Bedřich Smetana Museum is one of the endpoints of the video stream.

Since 1952, the Prague Spring International Music Festival has opened on 12 May, the anniversary of Smetana’s death. The opening concert has always been a performance of Má vlast.

Here’s the 2018 concert:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the One Night Only Screening

The National Theatre in London captures some of its finest offerings and makes them available for very limited runs—usually just one night, with possible encore performances months or years later—at selected theatres around the world. I’ve seen perhaps a dozen of the shows.

The one that impressed me most was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name. The play won seven Olivier and five Tony Awards, and even by the monumentally high standards of the Theatre, it was dazzling. I saw it when it was first screened, in 2014, and called it one of the high points of the year.

The play follows Christopher, a boy on the autism spectrum, as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbour’s dog. The staging at times puts us inside Christopher’s head, as he navigates a sometimes overwhelmingly perplexing reality.

And now it’s coming back: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is returning to selected international cinemas this month. But you have to act fast. Most of the shows are scheduled to run on Tuesday, 12 June 2018.

Sorry for the short notice.

To see if it’s playing near you, check the listing on the National Theatre’s website.