Thursday, May 22, 2008

Re Cycle beneath the wheel

The Creator stage in progress

People, myself included, talk about reducing our "carbon footprint", a term about to disappear from overexposure the same way any word repeated over and over loses its meaning as it is replaced by noise. At the same time we blog about it, consuming terawatts of carbon producing power exacerbated by the inefficiency of bloated operating systems, the apparently innocuous white screen of Google, by the energy consumed by the avatars in virtual worlds that need to be kept virtually alive by the server nodes and the computers around the world that hum incessantly without any hope of ever being silent.

Our self-made society has plugged a cannula into our collective vein, to transfuse itself into the mind of the machine, which like a life support system we cannot disconnect, or at least we think we can't, that is, until the plug is pulled by the system itself when no longer needs any more information, other than the one it itself generates.

WW II direct interhuman syringe.

That is the story of The Creator with which we are trying to portray, using puppetry as a transference medium, the stark reminder of our self-dependency. Who or what controls who or what?

On to the practicum.

Since I detest plastic and the many woes and sickness that has come as a result of its indiscriminate use, I try to target it as a primary candidate for recycling, which is just a palliative approach to the real problem. In any case, I took the vacuformed package of the "energy saving" bulbs that we use nowadays, and just as I was about to send it into its recyling path, I noticed a form which reminded me of ancient alchemical apparatuses which I needed to create for the robotic-marionette stage. So here is the process:

The background, built over the "hardware cloth" is semi-translucent, with the most translucent parts being the "genetic" containers which will transmute common information into a panacea.

A digital projector, fed with data generated imagery will fill up the vessels as well as create the fluid digital environment where the Creator lives.

Here is the very first test as seen from behind, where I am trying unsuccessfully to line up, scale and correct the angle distortion. As you can see I missed the mark by a few centimeters. I am now in the process of positioning the elements as close as I can to the target, given the limitations of inexact everything.


Nowadays it has become fashionable to "go green", like trying to patch a dam when it is about to burst. We have forgotten how, not too long ago, recycling was for many simply a way of life. But perhaps that is just because some of us grew up in a very different circumstance. People today would say that we lived in misery or poverty, therefore we were forced to straighten a bent rusted nail instead of simply buying a new one.

For me that was what made my life extraordinary. My grandmother, who had taken a "poverty vow" (go explain that to someone living in a consumer society!) lived a life where everything around her had a purpose and had to be taken care of. Since I grew up with her it was natural for me to learn and understand how to create with what the world around me, particularly our shelter, provided. To what others was a miserable shack, to me was a magnificent castle, full of adventure and stories, constantly morphing through the tension between entropy and our creative survival.

I tell all this (and there is so much more to tell) because that was, among everything else I know and care about, the root and the source of my current work. In that privileged environment where the fruit of our labor and our play (is there any difference?) both fed us and entertained us, I learned to make my first puppets and my first theater. My audience (beside my grandmother) were the three or four kids that survived in the vicinity of our house.

I say survive, because in their case even I, in my young age could tell the difference between my life, where every stone, stick or piece of paper was an immense treasure, to be enjoyed and shared and their miserable existence from which they could not possibly escape on their own.

Hundreds of years of oppression and slavery had transformed them into nothing more than a basic self-consuming organism that labored, like a fungus, to produce what others needed but without being able to make use of it themselves. They were the kids of adobe and brick makers and yet they could not build even the smallest adobe house to defend themselves from the extreme elements. Why not? think about it. If you were starving, would you build your house out of bread?

They lived in cardboard shelters, made from discarded boxes (they smeared the cardboard with asphalt to fend of the tremendous storms that are typical of the high plateaus at the center of Mexico, above 2,240 meters) just big enough to cover their bodies and not much more.

I remember, as one of the first tragedies that I witnessed in my childhood, a fire, produced by their simple kiln, that consumed their "house" in just a few minutes. I watched from my side of the river how they just stood helpless, since there was nothing they could do. The water they used for their adobes had to be carried in buckets from the river (more like a big sewage that came from the big city) and this took the majority of the day of my small friends who had to carry the heavy load.

After that I never saw them again. Perhaps something else happened within the cardboard walls that made them move away from that patch of dirt to another.

I guess this memories are prompted by the tragedy of the millions who have lost their homes and their lives. In their case, the solidity and the weight of their shelter crushed them to death, bricks and water, wind and fire. In the kids of my childhood it was the asphalt, which protected them from the rain, which burned their cardboard shacks in a flash. But they did not lose their lives just then, they had lost it many hundreds of years ago and continue to lose it under the empires who dominate the world through terror, so that their fat children can become obese with the food that the others don't eat, and their governors, kings and presidents can rot in gold and riches and trillions of petroleum dollars tinted with the blood of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people before they themselves die their solitary death.

So then I am here, putting up a sort of morality play, told from the point of view of the machine which will survive us and carry with them the good and the bad programming of the species that preceded them.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Chicken Coop

After thinking for what seemed years, about what the material for the background for the stage should be I decided to use something called "hardware cloth". I must admit I had never heard such term until I described what I wanted to a person I know at my local Loew's store. He immediately said, "you want hardware cloth", I said "no it must be metallic!". So he simply lead me to the garden area and noted that it was just a sort of "chicken wire". So that was exactly what I wanted, but did not know the name, so now you know too.

Hardware cloth

It is pretty sharp and can cut you very nicely if you are not careful. I did not use gloves because I had to bend the ends and the gloves prevented that, so it took quite a while to do it without bleeding to chicken death.

Here it is already cut and tried for a good fit. I like how it seems a natural fit to the rest of the stage. The idea is that not only supports the materials and "stuff" that I will put there, but it also acts as a grid with all the connotations that the word has in terms of media. Once I project from behind (over a translucent substrate) it will look, or so I hope, as a kind of coarsely pixilated environment, very apropos with the theme.

IR Beacon

This is the first finished beacon. It has 24 IR (infrared) LED's. The idea was that, since the tracking camera must have a wide angle in order to see the entire stage (which is about 6x6 meters, much smaller than I expected) from above, we needed an array big enough that would be easily tracked.

What I did not realize was that the angle of the LED's that I got was extremely narrow, so that when the performer lowers or tilts her head (the beacon is on top of her head) the LED's practically disappear. So we came up with the idea of using a diffusion dome to spread the light. That of course is half a ping-pong ball which happened to have the exact required diameter.

The ball was too thick and did not let enough light through, so I sanded it until it felt like a turtle egg, if you ever touched one. The solution worked, however there was still a considerable loss of light.

So I started to look for new LED's. This time I made sure that the lens of the LED would be wide enough to allow the free movement of the performer's head. This is what I found:

Ultra Wide Angle IR 850nm

These LED's are awesome. We could not believe how wide they emit light and how bright they are. You can almost turn the away from the camera and you can still see them!. So they will definitely do the trick without the need for a diffuser. We will use a set of ten which has the added benefit of resulting in a much smaller device and, because it is IR, it will be invisible to the audience.

I bought them form the guys at NaturalPoint which have a wide (yes, intended) variety of optical devices, mostly for motion-tracking. A set of ten cost me US$ 15 which is about half of the price of "cheap" LED's at RadioCrap.

So now we will design and burn another circuit and probably use a coin battery instead, to make everything really compact and unobtrusive to wear.

As soon as the UI (user interface) is ready for the tracking and motion-assigning program I will post pics of the UI and the tracking screen which is a lot of fun to see in operation.