Field Trip

A couple months ago, Mike and I visited Jackie at her job cataloging insects at the Natural History Museum.

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I’m thinking of doing a taxonomy project myself, so I wanted to see how it’s done by professionals… how the bugs are stored, what types of programs they use to digitize the info, what sort of data they track, etc.

These are the notes I took:

NYC Surplus Property – Where I might be able to buy display drawers and cases on the cheap.
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MySQL – A database programming language. Seems pretty hardcore. I want a real database, but not sure I’ve got the patience for learning a computer language. A friend who works in archiving suggested Tumblr and getting some of the functionality of a database with tagging. However, that only allows for searches using one criteria. But maybe I’ll start there.
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Morphological Key – A kind of guide or document that helps you identify & classify a specimen. Need to read more about this.
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Leaf Snap – An app that helps ID plants based on pictures you take of leaves and upload. More about this in a future post.
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The Stray Shopping Carts of North America: A Guide to Field Identification – By Julian Montague. Bought it and love it. More about this in a future post.
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Clustering Algorithm – Need to read more about this.
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Above: It’s hard to see here, but each insect has a tiny QR code which can be scanned and then brings up all the info about that specimen.
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Above: Number of bugs Jackie has digitized.
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Journée des Barricades

By Heather & Ivan Morison

Journée des Barricades
2008
Various industrial and domestic items
800 x 2100 x 1000cm
Commissioned by Litmus Research Initiative, Massey University for One Day Sculpture
Photos: Stephen Rowe

The first decade of this new millennium is haunted by the spectre of catastrophe, found in spectacular events that invade and haunt the collective imaginary: floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and invasions, as well as the collapse of monuments, regimes and economies. Operating on an epic scale these extended moments in nature and civilisation unsettle our sense of security, shift our consciousness and blur boundaries between the local and the global. British artists Heather and Ivan Morison tend to refer to this “worrying world” through what curator Claire Doherty calls an “ongoing investigation into future catastrophic scenarios and their social implications.” Their most recent project, with its direct allusion to the Parisian revolutionary barricades, also references the blockades of more recent protest and warfare as well as forming a post-apocalyptic image that suggests some “climatic disaster.” Such artwork, which takes on the role of playing between past, present and future histories not only elicits an aesthetic charge within the civic realm, but could also feasibly harness public and private performances…

The monumental installation “made up from the detritus of Wellington” inhabited and bifurcated Stout Street, which provided an ideal urban frame for viewing the sight from Lambton Quay. A colossal mass of inorganic rubbish borrowed from local recyclers and the dump, it was formed from abandoned vehicles, tyres, compacted plastic, household appliances, bicycles, supermarket trolleys and – on closer inspection – garden and domestic objects, including a host of children’s toys. It seemed as if Wellington had violently disgorged its suburban contents only to be washed up onto the city’s original shoreline, now 250 metres from the existing waterfront. Passers-by were drawn towards this massive spill, which somehow made sense of Ruamoko (1998), the Hotere/McFarlane sculpture standing in the foreground. Like Ruamoko – composed of pillars and letters from the State Insurance Building that once occupied the corner site – this behemoth was formed from salvaged materials. However, unlike the smaller public artwork, the wall of rubbish was designed to inhabit the street for a single day; from its construction, which began at midnight on Saturday, to its total disassembly and dispersal 24 hours later: hence Journée des Barricades – The Day of Barricades…

The paradox of the Morisons’ project is that, despite its associations with political resistance (involving radical, hostile or unexpected manoeuvres), the erection of the barricade engaged in neither spontaneous nor furtive action. Theirs was a carefully planned installation that required exhaustive negotiations with the authorities in order to close off a city street, erect a blockade and comply with health and safety issues – all with minimal disruption to the city’s traffic and negligible damage to its urban fabric. This pacified both the object (and its objective), rendering it monumental, sculptural and totalising rather than durational, subversive or communal. The giant barricade – perspectivally framed by some of the most European buildings in Wellington – also resembled a scenic backdrop. Cleared of parked cars, Stout Street became a picturesque space that drew the public in from Lambton Quay towards the artwork. But once you approached the spectacular assemblage, you realised that physical engagement with it was restricted, other than to look and marvel at its epic scale or enjoy the carefully arranged objects within objects – the most delightful being a collection of toys staring out at you from the dashboard of a van. Discretely placed stewards appeared (like museum docents) to prevent people from rummaging through its contents, scrambling up its precipitous structure or even climbing the rusty ladder left invitingly against the back of a battered vehicle. Nevertheless moments occurred where the barricade was breached to the delight of onlookers who tended to stand back and capture it on camera…

The potency of Journée des Barricades lay in its scenic splendour as a sculpture that fleetingly linked the theatrical and the quotidian with the catastrophic. Confronting the public with an image that suggests some sort of epic failure (social, political or ecological) recalls Walter Benjamin’s conflation of the “moment of enchantment” with the “figure of shock.” Coming across a barricade constructed of refuse indexes the ground on which its stands – reclaimed land constructed over a century ago from barricades of refuse – reminding us that we occupy despoiled shores. It also affirms Victor Burgin’s statement that art itself could be considered a “form of ecological pollution.” Although the barricade was more object than action, returning the sculpture’s contents to the dump and recyclers from which it was borrowed still positions the artwork as a fleeting event: a transitory performance that leaves its traces only in the minds of those who witnessed it as well as in the archival documentation and articles such as this one.

Dorita Hannah, Constructing the Barricade – an urban performance building between the archive and the repertoire (excepts from), critical response to Journée des Barricades, 2009

Documerica

For the Documerica Project (1971-1977), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hired freelance photographers to capture images relating to environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s.

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Thanks for the heads up, Jaime!

Roadside Attractions

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“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.

“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog, and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”

― Neil GaimanAmerican Gods