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What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

 Posthumanism  Comments Off on What is Posthumanism? | The Curator
Jun 152016

Perhaps you have had a nightmare in which you fell through the bottom of your known universe into a vortex of mutated children, talking animals, mental illness, freakish art, and clamoring gibberish. There, you were subjected to the gaze of creatures of indeterminate nature and questionable intelligence. Your position as the subject of your own dream was called into question while voices outside your sight commented upon your tenuous identity. When you woke, you were relieved to find that it was only a dream-version of the book you were reading when you fell asleep. Maybe that book was Alice in Wonderland; maybe it was What is Posthumanism?

Now, it is not quite fair to compare Cary Wolfes sober, thoughtful scholarship with either a nightmare or a work of (childrens?) fantasy. It is a profound, thoroughly researched study with far-reaching consequences for public policy, bioethics, education, and the arts. However, it does present a rather odd dramatis personae, including a glow-in-the-dark rabbit, a woman who feels most at ease in a cattle chute, an artist of Jewish descent who implants an ID-chip in his own leg, researchers who count the words in a dogs vocabulary, and horses who exhibit more intelligence than the average human toddler. The settings, too, are often wildly different from those you might expect in an academic work: a manufactured cloud hovering over a lake in Switzerland, a tree park in Canada where landscape and architecture blend and redefine one another, recording studios, photographic laboratories, slaughterhouses, and (most of all) the putative minds of animals and the deconstructed minds of the very humans whose ontological existence it seeks to problematize.

But that is another exaggeration. Wolfes goal is not to undermine the existence or value of human beings. Rather, it is to call into question the universal ethics, assumed rationality, and species-specific self-determination of humanism. That is a mouthful.

Indeed, Wolfes book is a mouthful, and a headful. It is in fact a book by a specialist, for specialists. While Wolfe is an English professor (at Rice University) and identifies himself with literary and cultural studies (p. 100), this is first of all a work of philosophy. Its ideal audience is very small, consisting of English and Philosophy professors who came of age in the 70s, earned their Ph.D.s during the hey-day of Derridean Deconstruction, and have spent the intervening decades keeping up with trends in systems theory, cultural studies, science, bioethics, and information technology. It is rigorous and demanding, especially in its first five chapters, which lay the conceptual groundwork for the specific analyses of the second section.

In these first five chapters, Wolfe describes his perspective and purpose by interaction with many other great minds and influential texts, primarily those of Jacques Derrida. Here, the fundamental meaning and purpose of Posthumanism becomes clear. Wolfe wants his readers to rethink their relationship to animals (what he calls nonhuman animals). His goal is a new and more inclusive form of ethical pluralism (137). That sound innocuous enough, but he is not talking about racial, religious, or other human pluralisms. He is postulating a pluralism that transcends species. In other words, he is promoting the ethical treatment of animals based on a fundamental re-evaluation of what it means to be human, to be able to speak, and even to think. He does this by discussing studies that reveal the language capacities of animals (a dog apparently has about a 200-word vocabulary and can learn new words as quickly as a human three-year-old; pp. 32-33), by recounting the story of a woman whose Aspergers syndrome enables her to empathize with cows and sense the world the way they do (chapter five), and by pointing out the ways in which we value disabled people who do not possess the standard traits that (supposedly) make us human.

But Wolfe goes further than a simple suggestion that we should be nice to animals (and the unspoken plug for universal veganism). He is proposing a radical disruption of liberal humanism and a rigorous interrogation of what he sees as an arrogant complacency about our species. He respects any variety of philosophy that challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism (62)anthropocentrism, of course, means viewing the world as if homo sapiens is the center (or, more accurately, viewing the world from the position of occupying that center) and specisism is the term he uses to replace racism. We used to feel and enact prejudice against people of different ethnic backgrounds, he suggests, but we now know that is morally wrong. The time has come, then, to realize that we are feeling and enacting prejudice against people of different species.

Although Wolfe suggests many epistemological and empirical reasons for rethinking the personhood of animals, he comes to the conclusion that our relationship with them is based on our shared embodiment. Humans and animals have a shared finitude (139); we can both feel pain, suffer, and die. On the basis of our mutual mortality, then, we should have an emphasis on compassion (77). He is not out to denigrate his own species far from it. Indeed, he goes out of his way to spend time discussing infants (who have not yet developed rationality and language), people with disabilities (especially those that prevent them from participating in fully rational thought and/or communication), and the elderly (who may lose some of those rational capacities, especially if racked by such ailments as Alzheimers). Indeed, he claims: It is not by denying the special status of human being[s] but by intensifying it that we can come to think of nonhuman animalsasfellow creatures (77).

This joint focus on the special status of all human beings along with the other living creatures roaming (or swimming, flying, crawling, slithering) the globe has far-reaching consequences for public policy, especially bioethics. Wolfe says that, currently, bioethics is riddled with prejudices: Of these prejudices, none is more symptomatic of the current state of bioethics than prejudice based on species difference, and an incapacity to address the ethical issues raised by dramatic changes over the past thirty years in our knowledge about the lives, communication, emotions, and consciousnesses of a number of nonhuman species (56). One of the goals of his book, then, is to reiterate that knowledge and promote awareness of those issues that he sees as ethical.

If you read Wolfes book, or even parts of it, you will suddenly see posthumanism everywhere. You can trace its influence in the enormously fast-growing pet industry. From the blog Pawsible Marketing: As in recent and past years, there is no doubt that pets continue to become more and more a part of the family, even to the extent of becoming, in some cases, humanized.

You will see it in bring-your-pet-to-work or bring-your-pet-to-school days. You might think it is responsible for the recent introduction of a piece of legislation called H.R. 3501, The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years, know as the HAPPY Act, which proposes a tax deduction for pet owners. You will find it in childrens books about talking animals. You will see it on Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and a PBS series entitled Inside the Animal Mind. You will find it in films, such as the brand-new documentary The Cove, which records the brutal slaughter of dolphins for food. And you will see it in works of art.

Following this reasoning, section two of Wolfes book (chapters six through eleven) veers off from the strictly philosophical approach into the more traditional terrain of cultural studies: he examines specific works of art in light of the philosophical basis that is now firmly in place. Interestingly, he does not choose all works of art that depict animals, nor those that displace humans. He begins with works that depict animals (Sue Coes paintings of slaughterhouses) and that use animals (Eduardo Kacs creation of genetically engineered animals that glow in the dark), but then moves on to discuss film, architecture, poetry, and music. In each of these examinations, he works to destabilize traditional binaries such as nature/culture, landscape/architecture, viewer/viewed, presence/absence, organic/inorganic, natural/artificial, and, really, human/nonhuman. This second section, then, is a subtle application of the theory of posthumanism itself to the arts, [our] environment, and [our] identity.

What is perhaps most important about What is Posthumanism remains latent in the text. This is its current and (especially) future prevalence. By tracing the history of posthumanism back through systems theory into deconstruction, Wolfe implies a future trajectory, too. I would venture to suggest that he believes posthumanism is the worldview that will soon come to dominate Western thought. And this is important for academics specifically and thinkers in general to realize.

Whether you agree with Cary Wolfe or not, it would be wise to understand posthumanism. It appears that your only choice will be either to align yourself with this perspective or to fight against it. If you agree, you should know with what. If you fight, you should know against what.

What, then, is the central thesis of posthumanism? Wolfes entire project might be summed up in his bold claim that, thanks to his own work and that of the theorists and artists he discusses, the human occupies a new place in the universe, a universe now populated by what I am prepared to call nonhuman subjects (47)such subjects as talking rabbits, six-inch people, and mythical monsters?

Well, maybe not the mythical monsters.

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What is Posthumanism? | The Curator

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about memes – Susan Blackmore

 Memetics  Comments Off on about memes – Susan Blackmore
Jun 132016

The term meme (it’s pronounced like dream or cream) was coined by Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. As examples he suggested tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.

Memes are habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information that is copied from person to person. Memes, like genes, are replicators. That is, they are information that is copied with variation and selection. Because only some of the variants survive, memes (and hence human cultures) evolve. Memes are copied by imitation, teaching and other methods, and they compete for space in our memories and for the chance to be copied again. Large groups of memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted meme complexes, or memeplexes.

The word meme has recently been included in the Oxford English Dictionary where it is defined as follows meme (mi:m), n. Biol. (shortened from mimeme … that which is imitated, after GENE n.) An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

According to memetics, our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection acting on memes, just as organisms are designed by natural selection acting on genes. A central question for memetics is therefore why has this meme survived?. Some succeed because they are genuinely useful to us, while others use a variety of tricks to get themselves copied. From the point of view of the selfish memes all that matters is replication, regardless of the effect on either us or our genes.

Some memes are almost entirely exploitative, or viral, in nature, including chain letters and e-mail viruses. These consist of a copy-me instruction backed up with threats and promises. Religions have a similar structure and this is why Dawkins refers to them as viruses of the mind. Many religions threaten hell and damnation, promise heaven or salvation, and insist that their followers pass on their beliefs to others. This ensures the survival of the memeplex. Other viral memes include alternative therapies that dont work, and new age fads and cults. Relatively harmless memes include childrens games, urban legends and popular songs, all of which can spread like infections.

At the other end of the spectrum memes survive because of their value to us. The most valuable of memeplexes include all of the arts and sports, transport and communications systems, political and monetary systems, literature and science.

Memetics has been used to provide new explanations of human evolution, including theories of altruism, the origins of language and consciousness, and the evolution of the large human brain. The Internet can be seen as a vast realm of memes, growing rapidly by the process of memetic evolution and not under human control.

The field of memetics is still a new and controversial science, with many critics, and many difficulties to be resolved.

Examples of memes

Anything that is copied from person to person, or book to person etc.

Scientific theories


Internet Memes

The Loo Roll meme !

Many other sites provide definitions, FAQs and other basic information on memes. See Links.

For more on definitions see Blackmore,S.J. 1998 Imitation and the definition of a meme. Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 2.

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about memes – Susan Blackmore

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Natasha Vita-More | Transhuman Art

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Jan 182016

Natashas research concerns the aesthetics of human enhancement and radical life extension, with a focus on sciences and technologies of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive and neuro sciences (NBIC). Her conceptual future human design Primo Posthuman has been featured in Wired, Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, Net Business, Teleopolis, and Village Voice. She has appeared in over twenty-four televised documentaries on the future and culture, and has exhibited media artworks at National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Brooks Memorial Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art, Women In Video, Telluride Film Festival, and United States Film Festival and recently Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-Biological Age. Natasha has been the recipient of several awards: First Place Award at Brooks Memorial Museum, Special Recognition at Women in Video, and Best Graduate Student Project of 2005 for her Futures Podcast Series: at the University of Houston, Future Studies program.

Natasha is a proponent human rights and ethical means for human enhancement, and is published in Artifact, Technoetic Arts, Nanotechnology Perceptions, Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology, Death And Anti- Death. She has a bi-monthly column in Nanotechnology Now, is a Guest Editor of The Global Spiral academic journal and on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Green Nanotechnology. Natasha authored Create / Recreate: the 3rd Millennial Culture on the emerging cybernetic culture and the future of humanism and the arts and sciences. She co-authored One on One Fitness, a guide to nutrition and aerobic and anaerobic exercise for women. Her new book The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Look at Philosophy and Technology is scheduled for publishing in 2012 through Wiley-Blackwell.

Natasha is Chair of Humanity+, international non-profit 501c3 organization and was the former president of Extropy Institute, networking organization Natasha continues to work with academic institutions, non-profit organizations and business about human futures. She is a track advisor at the Singularity University, on the Scientific Board of Lifeboat Foundation, a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Visiting Scholar at 21st Century Medicine, and advises non-profit organizations including Adaptive A.I. and Alcor Life Extension Foundation. She has been a consultant to IBM on the future of human performance.

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Natasha Vita-More | Transhuman Art

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Thats something that should make libertarians nervous: Inside the tumultuous rise of an American ideology

 Misc  Comments Off on Thats something that should make libertarians nervous: Inside the tumultuous rise of an American ideology
Mar 102015

Libertarianism, like its ideological cousin neoliberalism, is one of those words that people in the political world use a lot without establishing whether everyone agrees on its meaning. This doesnt really matter in the vast majority of cases (because nothing that happens during a fight in a comment thread or on Twitter matters). But as support for libertarian-backed causes like marriage equality, opposition to the war on drugs, and resistance against the rise of mass incarceration become ever-greater parts of U.S. politics, the definition of libertarianism will matter more, too for the sake of apportioning credit and blame, if nothing else.

In the interest of nailing down a famously elusive and controversial term, then, Salon recently spoke over the phone with David Boaz, longtime member of the influential and Koch-founded Cato Institute think tank and author of Libertarianism: A Primer, which was just updated and rereleased as The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom. Our discussion touched on the big issues mentioned above, as well as Boazs thoughts on what liberals and conservatives misunderstand about libertarianism, and why he thinks his favored political philosophys future is so bright. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

If you had to pick one defining or differentiating characteristic of the libertarian mind, what would it be?

The first line of the book says that libertarianism is the philosophy of freedom, so what distinguishes libertarians is their commitment to freedom. That can manifest itself in lots of different issues, from marijuana and gay marriage to smaller government and lower taxes, but the fundamental idea of freedom as the proper political condition for society is the thing that unites libertarians.

Wouldnt most Americans say they care deeply about freedom, though? So is it the definition of freedom that distinguishes libertarianism from liberalism and conservatism? Or is it where freedom ends up in the hierarchy of values?

In America, virtually everybody comes out of the classical liberal tradition. The classical liberal tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill stresses freedom under law and limited government and most Americans share that. The difference with libertarians is that we do make freedom our political priority. Freedom is not necessarily any persons primary value. Your primary value may be courage or friendship or love or compassion or the arts; but freedom is the primary political value for libertarians.

I do think that is a difference between libertarians and liberals or conservatives who value freedom but also value other things. Modern American liberals would say, I believe, that they value equality along with freedom. Libertarians would tend to respond, well, in the real world you get more equality when you have freedom and free markets, though libertarians certainly believe in equal rights and equal freedom. Some conservatives value doing Gods will or maintaining social order or maintaining tradition along with freedom.

In that sense, I do think libertarians put freedom at the center of their political philosophy in a way that many liberals and conservatives do not.

If you had to pick one thing about libertarianism that liberals misunderstand the most, what would it be?

I think there is first a misunderstanding that libertarians are conservatives and I think thats wrong. Libertarians are classical liberals. We trace our heritage back to, not the aristocracy or established church, but to the liberal thinkers and activists who challenged those institutions.

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Thats something that should make libertarians nervous: Inside the tumultuous rise of an American ideology

Charlie Hebdo, Zero Tolerance, and Freedom of Speech – Video

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Feb 042015

Charlie Hebdo, Zero Tolerance, and Freedom of Speech
Like many around the globe, people in the arts are contemplating the complex issues of free speech after the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo. So Creative Time, MoMA PS1, and The Museum of Modern.

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Charlie Hebdo, Zero Tolerance, and Freedom of Speech – Video

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Freedom Rider brings story to Chandler

 Freedom  Comments Off on Freedom Rider brings story to Chandler
Jan 062015

Carol Ruth Silver and Claude Liggins stand by a plaque commemorating the efforts of the Freedom Riders who challenged racial segregation in public places throughout the South more than 50 years ago. Silver and Liggins, two of the Freedom Riders, will share their stories during a panel discussion at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Jan. 10.(Photo: Chandler)

The memories Claude Liggins carries with him from more than 53 years ago are vivid. What triggered them remains essential to who he is today. Their message also remains as relevant now as in 1961 in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Liggins was among hundreds Black and White who hopped aboard buses and trains in 1961 to challenge lingering segregation in public places throughout the South. They became known as Freedom Riders, many of them encountering violence and arrest, hoping to force changes to long-established racial separation in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and other Southern states.

Liggins, 74, who is Black, will be in Chandler Jan. 9-10 , along with San Francisco attorney Carol Ruth Silver, who is White and also among the Freedom Riders. They will appear at the panel discussion “The Road to Freedom” at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Jan. 10, reliving threats, violence and legal repercussions they encountered in the name of racial justice. The forum is co-sponsored by the arts center, Chandler, East Valley Jewish Community Center and Chandler Unified School District. The two will meet the previous day with hundreds of high school and middle school students.

MORE HISTORY : Chandler historical photos | 10 hidden history spots in Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe | 5 things to know about the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Liggins, in an interview with The Republic, recalled how he got involved in what would become among the most memorable and important events during the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

“I had been looking for the opportunity to do something,” he said, recalling that at the time, he was enrolled in Los Angeles City College, landing there after leaving his hometown of Lake Charles, La.

In the spring of 1961, he got his opportunity after he learned through news reports about a group that was embarking on a bus trip from Washington, D.C., though Southern states to peacefully challenge racial segregation that was continuing in public places, such as bus and train stations. The effort was organized by Congress for Racial Equality, and inspired Liggins to head to the area to join similar efforts the group was organizing. Before he left, Liggins remembers hearing that one of the buses from the Washington group had been firebombed in Alabama.

The Freedom Riders’ bus was firebombed by an angry mob in Alabama.(Photo: Chandler)

“I remember saying, ‘Damn, I should’ve been on that bus,’ ” he said. “I wanted to participate to make a change.”

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Freedom Rider brings story to Chandler

Freedom | Jimi Hendrix Tribute by Randy Hansen | LondonBLUE Studios – Video

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Apr 162014

Freedom | Jimi Hendrix Tribute by Randy Hansen | LondonBLUE Studios
Support the arts by helping me to make more videos like these! Go to for details! “Freedom” performed by Randy Hansen at Th…

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Freedom | Jimi Hendrix Tribute by Randy Hansen | LondonBLUE Studios – Video

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Freedom Farmers opens this Saturday at Auckland Art Gallery

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Oct 252013

25 October, 2013

Freedom Farmers opens this Saturday at Auckland Art Gallery

Auckland Art Gallery kicks off Labour Weekend with the opening of Freedom Farmers: New Zealand Artists Growing Ideas, the largest overview of new contemporary art in New Zealand today.

This dynamic and free exhibition sees 20 artists engage with ideas of utopia and sustainability, and demonstrates the way these creative thinkers act as leaders and innovators in New Zealand a country whose culture values invention, ingenuity and liberty.

In his new installation for the exhibition New York-based artist Martin Basher comments on the ideals portrayed in modern advertising with Untitled (Spiritual-Marketplace 01), as does newcomer Dorota Broda in her work, Power to you. Adventurous visitors to Freedom Farmers can physically climb into Richard Maloys Treehouse or consider different ways of living with Louise Menziess video work on the alternative living community Peloha. Walters Prize winning artist Dan Arps shows his latest large-scale installation which scrutinises the world of daycare creativity and copyright.

Auckland Art Gallery Curator Contemporary Art, Natasha Conland, says, Freedom Farmers gives visitors an opportunity to explore how artists have examined tried and true values of New Zealand society, our care of the environment, our ability to live creatively and with freedom.

Our opening weekend offers rolling artist talks, an overview by myself, pottery demonstration, and leads into an exceptionally dynamic visitor programme over the four months.

Auckland Art Gallery Director, Rhana Devenport, says, Freedom Farmers reveals an energetic, varied view of New Zealand art not seen for some time, and is a continuation of the Gallerys commitment to contemporary art.

Equally exciting is the full events programme which has been workshopped together with the artists and The University of Aucklands Creative Thinking Project, which celebrates the importance of creativity not just within the arts world, but in all aspects of society today.

The events programme features a mix of performances, guest lectures, special events and ongoing artist talks. Upcoming event highlights include:

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Freedom Farmers opens this Saturday at Auckland Art Gallery

Hundreds of Free Staters to gather in Nashua for Liberty Forum

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Feb 222013

NASHUA – Hundreds of people are expected to gather in Nashua this weekend for the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, a four-day event organized by the Free State Project. The sixth annual forum kicked off Thursday with a tour of the State House in Concord, followed by a welcome reception, two seminars and a visit to a local movie theater to watch “Silver Circle.”

The conference is designed to promote and educate the public about the Free State Project, whose mission is to relocate thousands of pro-liberty activists to New Hampshire. Organizers are anticipating about 500 attendees this weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for the forum.

“It has developed a reputation for drawing together people of diverse backgrounds from across the Northeast and beyond for the purpose of discussing strategies to reduce government interference in our lives and build a better society through business, the arts and volunteer work,” says a release issued by Free State Project members.

The opening ceremony will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Friday, with speaker Jeff Tucker.

Various seminars are scheduled throughout the day, including a Non-political Activism New Hampshire seminar, and a Make Law Not Words presentation.

Friday’s keynote speaker is Jack Spirko, who will talk from 8:30 to 10 p.m. about modern survival concepts and philosophy often discussed on his daily web program, “The Survival Podcast.”

Several events will continue on Saturday and Sunday as well, including an Alt Expo Eye Opener seminar, a presentation on radical labor and libertarianism, an expo on building a new libertarian community and a seminar titled, “I got to New Hampshire: Now What?”

Saturday’s keynote speaker is Tom Woods, a New York Times best selling author of 11 books, who will take the stage at 8:45 p.m.

Liberty Forum is designed to give Free State pledgers who are in the process of moving to the Granite State an opportunity to visit the area, network with others and learn more about job opportunities and housing in the area, said organizers.

According to its website, the Free State Project has 1,130 participants already living in New Hampshire, with more than 13,700 committed to eventually relocating here. Its plan is to entice more than 20,000 pro-liberty activists to move to the Granite State, with participants pledging to “exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty and property,” says the site.

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Hundreds of Free Staters to gather in Nashua for Liberty Forum

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Environmental art heading to Marin County

 Beaches  Comments Off on Environmental art heading to Marin County
Jun 142012

Beaches up and down the West Coast are a repository for trash from around the world.

With each incoming tide, debris washes up onto shores, from old tires and appliances that make their way through rivers and waterways to water bottles and umbrella handles that trek thousands of miles across oceans from China and Japan before planting themselves on rocky shorelines.

Aside from being unsightly, ocean litter can be harmful to all forms of marine life. According to the California Coastal Commission, some animals mistake small pieces of debris for food.

Birds and other sea creatures can become entangled in common items such as fishing lines, rope and packaging material. For humans, broken glass and jagged metal pose risks to barefooted beachgoers.

An 11-foot leopard shark sculpted from thousands of small pieces of plastic, aluminum and miscellaneous beach debris was on display May 9 outside Fish restaurant in Sausalito during a World Ocean Day event hosted by local organizations the Shark Stewards and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The shark is one of 18 large-scale nautical sculptures created by the nonprofit Washed Ashore project. The organization, based in Bandon, Ore., promotes ocean awareness and environmental responsibility through art. The traveling exhibit has been shown at the Marine Mammal Center and the Earth Day Marin festival.

Everything you see on here came from beaches, said Executive Director Angela Pozzi Washed Ashores lead artist.

A former exhibiting sculptor and art instructor, Pozzi believes in the power of the arts to reach the masses and promote social change. We can reach people in a way talking heads, statistics and charts cannot, she said. Anyone can see that all this stuff is from the beaches, and we can all agree that its wrong.

Sculpted from broken buoys, aluminum cans, stranded beach sandals and numerous plastic fragments, the shark took seven months to create, and more than 100 volunteers lent a hand in some way.

Since January 2010, more than 1,000 Washed Ashore volunteers have cleaned more than 20 miles of beach, collecting more than 3 tons of debris.

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Environmental art heading to Marin County

When libertarianism fails

 Misc  Comments Off on When libertarianism fails
Jun 092012

If you took all the clichs about horrible urban design and shoved them into 75 acres, youd probably end up with something pretty close to Dallas Victory Park. A pre-planned billion-dollar collection of imposing hyper-modern monumental structures, high-end chain stores, enormous video screens, expensive restaurants, a sports arena and tons of parking, completely isolated from the rest of the city by a pair of freeways, Victory Park is like the schizophrenic dream of some power-hungry capitalist technocrat.

Or in this case, his sons. The neighborhood? development? was built by Ross Perot Jr. as an urban lifestyle destination. But what it really is is an entertainment district: that swath of cityscape whose character has been preordained by a city council vote and is now identified by brightly colored banners affixed to lampposts. (The entertainment districts close cousin, the arts district, is often lurking somewhere nearby.)

What could be wrong with a district where nightclubs and galleries are encouraged to thrive? Nothing, necessarily; done right, a city can help foster these scenes with a gentle guiding hand. Constructing an entire milieu from whole cloth, however, is where cities get into trouble. The problem with these created-overnight districts is that youre trying to create a culture as opposed to letting one grow, says Nathaniel Hood, a Minneapolis-based transportation planner. Youre getting the culture that one developer or city council member thinks the city needs, as opposed to the ground-up culture that comes from multiple players.

Victory Park is an extreme example, hyper-planned right down to the performances to be held at its American Airlines Center. (A U2 concert is fabulous, Perot told the Wall Street Journal. KISS, not so good.) But the Dallas Arts District, though less micro-managed, has struggled with its identity as well. Conceived in the 1970s by design consultants in faraway Boston, it relocated the citys arts institutions to the northeast corner of downtown. Another planning consultancy drew the boundaries of the district, and one by one, the citys cultural icons were moved there. Today, it contains the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Winspear Opera House. Its home to buildings by Renzo Piano, I.M. Pei, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster. In fact, youll find everything in the Dallas Arts District except a lot of people, says Patrick Kennedy, owner of the Space Between Design Studio and the blog Walkable DFW.

A district inherently becomes a single-use idea, says Kennedy. Everything has to be art. You end up with a bunch of performing arts spaces and when theyre not in use it becomes a vacuum. This vacuum has made the district itself a museum of sorts, something impressive to observe but strangely inert. (The Chicago Tribune called the area the dullest arts district money can buy.) It has few apartment buildings; one is the new Museum Tower, a 42-story condo residence that, as of last month, had sold only 16 of its 102 units. The Museum Tower recently made news when its glass facade began reflecting 103-degree sunlight directly into the Nasher Sculpture Center next door. Now the towers developers and the Sculpture Center are embroiled in a fight over which party should alter its building essentially, arguing over whether art or residents should reign supreme in the Dallas Arts District.

Thats a defeatist choice to have to make, but the monocultures created by urban districting make it almost inevitable. At last weeks 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Hood spoke about the folly that is Kansas Citys Power & Light District, an $850 million entertainment district whose neon signage is as blinding as its eagerness to be hip. But no one would mistake Power & Light for a neighborhood created by cool kids. Land costs are higher downtown, so you have to create something genuinely unique, says Hood. It cant just be an outdoor mall with slightly cooler bars.

But thats exactly what you get in the Power & Light District: themed venues catering to neatly delineated tastes, Epcot-style: the Makers Mark Bourbon House & Lounge (Southern Hospitality rises to a new level), the Dubliner (true Irish ambiance), Howl at the Moon (a completely unique dueling piano entertainment concept) and PBR Big Sky (every cowboy and cowgirls nighttime oasis). The model suggests that city life is nothing more than a selection of personal consumption experiences. But at times, the district feels more like a very enthusiastic ghost town one with a $12.8 million budget shortfall.

Its not just that the developers are boring people the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness. Chain stores and restaurants can afford to pay higher rent, so they get first dibs. To boost rents even higher, tenants are sometimes promised that no competition will be allowed nearby. Starbucks will be willing to pay the higher rent if [the developer doesn’t] let other cafes into the area, says Hood. And forget about occupying the Power & Light District youre on private property. For a full list of the rules (no bicycles, panhandling, profanity on clothing) you can consult its website.

A true [arts or entertainment] district is always sort of moving around, says Kennedy. Its wherever the bohemians find cheap real estate. For instance, compare Power & Light or Victory Park or even the Dallas Arts District with Bostons Kenmore Square, which developed in the 80s and 90s as a wildly diverse barrage of punk venues, rock clubs, dive bars, sports bars and beloved hole-in-the-wall restaurants, all anchored by Fenway Park, bringing together an unlikely cross-section of Bostonians into one spontaneous not-an-entertainment-district for freaks, foodies and sports nuts alike. And despite being unplanned and unsubsidized (or, more accurately, because of that), Kenmore eventually upscaled in exactly the way city leaders hope for.

Kenmore Square, by the way, also disproves the conventional wisdom that the presence of a stadium or arena automatically dooms neighborhoods. Fenway Park is a beautiful example of a large entertainment-type building sitting in a neighborhood thats very vital, says Dean Almy, director of the Dallas Urban Laboratory, and one of the things that makes it vital is that it isnt all about Fenway Park.

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Traversing the Transhuman: Bridging the Gap Between Biology and Technology Through Art [UKH+] (1/2) – Video

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Oct 162011

Luke Robert Mason is a digital media artist and an undergraduate student at the University of Warwick. He has spent the past year meeting and interviewing academics, writers and transhumanists. His upcoming film ERA: Evolution, Revolution, Awakening aims to communicate transhumanist and Humanity+ ideas to young student audiences.

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Traversing the Transhuman: Bridging the Gap Between Biology and Technology Through Art [UKH+] (1/2) – Video

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