Underground and in the net

I spent 3 days in London this weekend, and almost all of it can be classed research. Amazing.

Friday was spent entirely on the Underground – no joke, I saw sky only when the trains emerged aboveground – taking photographs to use (likely much altered) in my digital fiction project. I know, I know, there are a ton of subway station and train photos available on Flickr, etc., but as a train system is the foundation for my work I really wanted the experience of taking the photos myself. Particularly as it’s one discipline in creating digital stories that I do have experience with (learning all the coding, web building, and networking has been humbling). So I dusted off my old film camera (yes, film is still better for art photog, in my mind), and trolled the Underground.

I don’t have the film back yet, but I do want to note the experience of that portion of the process. For one, I got tired. I spent 5 hours taking pictures, and I don’t recall ever being so sick of a subject. I’ve spent days out in the open at Ghost Ranch, taking far more than 6 rolls of film (plus some digital lomo), spending hours in a darkroom, and I was tired, sure, but I didn’t grow nauseated at the sight of red cliff faces or sighing cottonwoods. Maybe the air underground gets to you – maybe just being enclosed for so many hours, under the earth, got to me. I didn’t care anymore about stairs or escalators or trains or platforms with Art Deco walls.

I also didn’t care about anything playing in the West End, or anything else advertised throughout the system. I was bombarded with so much advertising throughout the day, I actually started to hate plays and movies and albums and health clubs. I really hated the way they masked the stations, particularly the lovely ones that are more than easily-cleaned plastic. Meh.

But…I loved working with film again. I still have far too many rolls of Velvia 50 unexposed in my cabinet (no room in teeny UK fridges for film storage). I need to get out with it more. Maybe when I’m home, where sun actually exists.

The second day of the trip was primarily spent at the Decode Digital Design Sensations exhibit at the V&A Museum. Amazing. My particular favorite was the Venetian Mirror, which reflected you, but on a pretty severe time delay. You had to wait for your image to appear, and it was not as you are now, but as you were minutes ago. And it seemed to only capture an image every few seconds, rather than recording continuously – if you moved a hand, for instance, the hand would eventually disappear, then fade in in its new position a while later, leaving you an amputee for long moments.

I also loved Oasis, which allowed you to “let the light be so” on a little world, and watch it evolve from a bubble of cells to fish and lobsters and other creatures. In Dune, a hallway full of lighted shafts responded like happy little Alice-in-Wonderland plants to your movement, and Gold drew you as a constellation of stars, its tune changing with your movement. So many of the pieces were exciting, fun, engaging, thought-provoking. I wanted every one of them to come with a nerd telling me exactly how it was done, but our resident nerd (let’s call him “Sky”, shall we?) was laid up for the weekend and couldn’t make it, so I had to spend some brain cells figuring out what I could for myself.

It was a truly inspiring exhibition, not the least because it was incredible to see both children and adults being equally engaged (and excited!) by something in an art museum.

Our next day at the Tate Modern was perhaps less equally engaging across the spectrum, but we did get to see the “No Ghost Just a Shell” collection display.  We sat in an anime character’s personal space, on her furniture, on her street.  She talked to us about her life, as she never gets to in the originating anime.  She read to us from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was a little mind-blowing – an avatar created from a minor literary character reading from a story that ponders what it means to be human.  I love how she came to life in so many ways, through so many artists’ visions, and I love that they entirely skirted the question of copyright – did these artists have the right to co-opt this character from someone else’s published story?  Were they harming that originating story, or were they expanding it?  For myself, I would think it a tragedy were the anime’s author to sue the collective and have the art removed/destroyed.  It would be murder, to say nothing of the loss of the story.

I can only hope to aspire to these levels of awesome.  I’m just doing my best for the ballclub at the moment.

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