Sunday, March 2, 2014

back to blogging





There's something about rainy days that inspires impromptu posts. :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Suited Up





The new Exploratorium opens -- are the piers as good as the Palace? | SF Arts

The new Exploratorium opens -- are the piers as good as the Palace? | SF Arts


The new Exploratorium opens -- are the piers as good as the Palace?

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As someone who was practically bottle-fed on the old Exploratorium space, I was hesitant approaching the science museum's opening day at its new home on Pier 15 and 17. Like many other SF natives, I was attached to the old world charm and neo-classical elegance of the Palace of Fine Arts location, opened in 1969 by physics professor Frank Oppenheimer.
But consider me a convert. Where the Palace of Fine Arts' physical layout seemed to dictate the content of the old museum, the new building, extensively rehabbed to house the famously hands-on exhibits, allows them to exist more organically. The new site now houses the largest pod of solar panels in the city, holds a magnificently vista-ed observatory, and harnesses as a heating source the Bay waters it sits above on 1800 wood and concrete pilings built around a century ago.
Paul Doherty the self-proclaimed “physicist, teacher, author, and rock climber,” has worked at the Exploratorium for 26 years, making the senior staff scientist the perfect person to lead me on a tour through the two-story space yesterday.
"We wanted it to be open, so a flood (of people) could come in, but then,” Doherty says pointing towards the Atrium, the first space visible to museum visitors. For long-time Exploratorium fans, the result is a comforting mix of the familiar and new, and as Doherty tells me for new visitors, it's meant to be a good intro to what lies beyond. “This space here features classic Exploratorium exhibits that will show people who aren’t necessarily San Francisco natives the kinds of things that they will be experience while they’re here," he tells me. "We wanted to showcase the best of the best."
The atrium houses well-loved classic exhibits like “The Turn Table”, originally a physics Ph.D. thesis intended to show how a ball rolls across a spinning metal disc. When the ball crosses the “turntable”, it takes a chaotic, almost torturous path before it unexpectedly exits the table parallel to the point at which it entered.
Doherty said museum attendees, not staff, were the first to wheel coin across its surface. He picks up one of the plastic discs now part of "Turn Table" and wheels it across the moving table. “As you can see, the visitors taught us what this exhibit was really about. We watch our visitors, and we learn from them.”
Traversing the museum floor, we pick up new listeners gravitating towards Doherty's excitement, almost as tactile at the Exploratorium's most famous "Tactile Dome" (which will be up and running by Summer 2013). It's enough to make you a little envious that your own workspace doesn't inspire raptures like those of Doherty in his new digs.
For another atrium exhibit entitled "Moving Objects” (2012), by Exploratorium artist in residence Pe Lang, suspends rubber rings on vibrating rods, giving the illusion that the rings are passing through each other. “Drip Patterns” is a staff-made offering which illuminates the oozing drip of mineral oil. The effect is surprisingly artsy, and demonstrates the existence of caustics, which in differential geometry are“envelopes of rays either reflected or refracted by a manifold." True to the spirit of the Exploratorium, no PhD is necessary to enjoy the installations -- even to the uninformed onlooker, "Drip Patterns" looks cool, dispelling the idea of science-art dichotomy,
The new space's innovations are enough to make me wish little Jessica could have seen the space. All the old favorites are present: the giant bubble-maker, live tornado capsule, artist in residence Ed Tannenbaum’s “Recollections” (1981), which freezes your image via a large scale projector in oh-so-'80s-music-video manner. These exhibits -- all made in-house, as Doherty reminds me -- trick you into learning, entice you into participating, and invite you to interact. I'm not eight anymore (dammit) but they made me feel like a kid again.
According to my guide, over the years, Exploratorium staff has made 2,000 exhibits. 600 are in the new space, 450 classics carried over from the Palace of Fine Arts, refurbished. 150 are brand new.
If you're going to brave the crowds this weekend -- or tonight's continued opening ceremony celebrations -- be sure to bring comfortable shoes and an open mind. If you can catch Doherty passionately explaining the mysterious behaviour of dry ice on water or the density of mineral oil suspended in light, all the better. 
The Exploratorium Piers 15 and 17, SF. (415) 528-4360, www.exploratorium.edu

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is your cat the Devil? Learn its historical precedence at demonic kitty lecture | SF Arts


Is your cat the Devil? Learn its historical precedence at demonic kitty lecture

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Are you in? Detail from poster for Fri/8's demon cat lecture.
Has your cat spit fire recently? Exhibited fluency in multiple languages simultaneously? Levitated? Flown? If so, your furry feline may be experiencing the troublesome symptoms of housing a demon. And fire can really do a number on those expensive drapes.
Luckily for you, occult expert Paul Koudounaris is coming to SF this Friday, and as part ofDavid Normal's "Crazyology" art exhibit will be shedding light on the dark world of demonry in his lecture series, looking at both historical and modern accounts of devilish domestics.
Koudounaris stumbled upon this cryptic world of bedeviled kitties during research for his upcoming book Heavenly Bodies. Initially seeking evidence of angelic cat spirits, like the fluffy white Swiss apparition rumored to protect both the town B├╝rglen and the remains of St. Maximus, Koudounaris realized that the wealth of information on supernatural kitties was located on the dark side.  
Even the goddess Bast, one of the most enduring Egyptian cat figureheads, was revered for her dark side. According to records from Herodotus, Koudouanris explains in an email interview with the Guardian. “Debauchery was part of the celebration of Bast. One source I found indicated that rapes and assaults were totally acceptable during the celebration of Bast, because it was believe that the spirit of Bast had taken over the perpetrators during the festival. ”
While the how's and why's of cats becoming possessed remain unexplained, accounts of these Luciferian faring felines are centuries-old.
And given the responses to Koudounaris' lectures, still relevant today. “I started doing this lecture as a kind of series” he says, “People who had not been to it would come to me and say, ‘oh, you should talk about my roommate's cat, that thing is a total demon.’ But [they didn't] mean bad kitty, [they meant] possessed by demons, or at least suspected of it.” Throughout his research Koudounaris has seen enough bones that he doesn't spook at just any apparition.
After completing his Ph.D. in art history at UCLA in 2004, Koudounaris was left waiting for some kind of otherworldly inspiration to direct and supplement his extensive training. Inspiration struck in 2006, in the seedy lobby of a Czech hostel.
“I had spent a day in Melnik , where I visited an extraordinary charnel house in the crypt under the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul,” wrote Koudounaris on his website, “It was gritty and dirty — decidedly not sanitized for tourists — but the arrangements of the bones showed genius, not just in formal artistic principles, but also in their understanding of philosophy and theology.”
For the next four years, his interest in the bizarre left him mausoleum-bound and underground, photo-documenting his journey into innumerable holes, crypts, and churches around Europe.
The Empire of Death, his recently-released book, documents this journey in rich color printed photographs, visually raising from the dead the largely forgotten history of ossuaries.
While he’s by no means a bone collector,  Koudounaris, is certainly an archaeologist of sorts, exhuming the forgotten, the unbelievable, and even the seemingly bizarre. His work breathes new life into forgotten chapters of history, like that of devil cats.
One such chapter belongs to the United States, and a cat that haunts the Presidential homestead.
D.C., short for the District of Columbia (but also Demon Cat) has been purportedly haunting the White House since the Civil War days. Legend has it that General Nathan Bedford Forest, who was also the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was responsible for invoking this common cat with demonic duties. D.C. was “initially related to the death of Lincoln," says Koudounaris, “hence the suspicion that the confederacy was involved, apparently as an attempt to undermine the Union through a decidedly guerrilla tactic of sending in a demonically-possessed cat.”
D.C.’s historic haunting's have even garnered him his own Wikipedia page. According to Koudounaris, D.C.  “has a tendency to reappear and presage national disasters -- the last account of it was right before the 9/11 attacks. It also appeared before Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, when it appeared and told JFK to "go fuck off."
Koudounaris muses, “Do you think they have to brief every new president? 'Sir, now that you have taken the Oath of Office, there is something we must tell you. If you happen to see a black cat that metamorphs, disappears, and speaks to you in tongues, it's a demon, sir.'"
Humor is clearly unfiltered when one deals with darkness daily.
A cat owner himself, he notes that chances of actually encountering a demonically-possessed cat is rather rare, but rogue demons have been known to take form in even the most docile of kitties. ‘I don't consider this something most of us should be worried about. But if your cat starts spitting fire--well, get the hell away from it.”
Paula Koudounaris demonic cat lecture
8pm, free
1000 Van Ness, atrium, SF




Is your cat the Devil? Learn its historical precedence at demonic kitty lecture | SF Arts

Pressure, two ways: Academy of Art and Project Runway at NY Fashion Week | SF Arts


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While hyperbolic coverage of what many news pundits called the ‘storm of the year’ raged across the Tri-State area, Manhattan’s would-be-mammoth blizzard arrived in the Big Apple as a pint-sized flurry that the Weather Channel dubbed Nemo. Nemo did little to deter the stilettoed, snow-shoeing pack of fashion-forward who started the morning of Feb. 8 filing into the tents at Lincoln Center for New York Fashion Week hullabaloo around 6 am.
This is the world of fashion, where a steel backbone is required. Plus, “this is New York, we have noreasters," said a publicist with whom I scored post-show beers. "This is not a some kind of apocalypse blizzard. This is a snow storm. Put on your big girl boots and get over it.”
The action outside the white-tent runway shows of NYFW has become something of a spectacle recently thanks to the hyper-documentation of show attendees by bloggers, fashion journos, and Instagrammers. The evolution of the street scene has become almost as hyped as the collections themselves -- outside-the-tent has converted into a place where writers, buyers, and industry professionals rub shoulders with blogosphere self-starters and editorial wanna-bes. Once you’ve crossed the threshold, however -- moved past security and secured your seat -- the herd thins out. Inside the shows, attention shifts from the amateur peacocking out front onto the belabored fashion lines themselves.
I attended two shows on February 8 -- Project Runway's, and that of my Bay Area peers from the Academy of Art University. 
Project Runway: Lacking any true designer start that has emerged from this TV series, the jury is still out on whether reality show competition breeds success or mediocrity. Regardless of who will sink or swim in Project Runway’s 11th season, fierce competition certainly yielded entertainment at NYFW.
Usually by Fashion Week, the Project Runway panel -- composed of designers Michael Kors and Zac Posen, fashion editor Nina Garcia, and supermodel host Heidi Klum -- has winnowed competitors down to the final three. This season, NYFW crowds were treated to the work of seven. The normal Project protocol was thrown to the wind, each designer remaining anonymous, a move that forced them to compete solely on the strength of their garments, without the crowd bias based on on-air personality.
Fashion is an exhibitionist’s sport, but flashiness is not always effective when it comes to style. Some collections at the show came out swinging, trying too hard to define a point of view. Others showed up more quietly, using complicated shapes and silhouettes without appearing self-indulgent. Most resisted the urge to disguise imperfect results with fluff. Michelle Lesniak Franklin’s collection hit the highest note, with several structured pieces rendered in soft quilted fabric, giving way to an ethereal easiness. It appeared elfin or even Zelda-esque, but retained it’s modernity in the silhouette and layering. She took the road less traveled, mixing 1980s-inspired jacket shapes with earth tones, rendering their severe structures soft in wools and knits.
In short, the show was a mixed bag, and no one went home a true winner.
Academy of Art University:  Pressure is an odd catalyst. Some respond to it favorably, combining time and tension to yield extraordinary results. For others, pressure works against success, internal combustion evident in the resulting design.
Where Project Runway’s contestants are forced into a pressure cooker for 12 weeks to design, shop for, sew, and style their collections, San Francisco Academy of Art University students are incubated in a better-paced program. Here, years of planning and months of preparation produce the impressive work that the school has come to be known for. These student-designers are not working for cheap airtime or a bump in ratings for their network television handlers, but instead are putting in the hours of work for genuine academic recognition, fashion futures the old-fashioned way.
As an Academy fashion journalism student myself, I have witnessed the rigorous, extremely exhausting, but equally rewarding process firsthand. In last weeks leading up to the end of the semester, there is a pronounced hush in campus design studios, the only audible noises come in deep hums of the sewing machines, the incessant clicking of mechanical needles, and the hissing of industrial-grade irons. Each student, earbuds in, rips, measures, presses, tapes, pins, and repeats. One feels guilty even walking past such determination on the way to the bathrooms, so intense is the creative process.
This year, the collections from AAU's multi-national student body were marked by a range of culture fusions. The show's focal point was the visual negotiation between student, fabric, form, and heritage.
The runway sequence ebbed and flowed between moments of sparse minimalism, as in Yuming Weng ‘s simple monochromatics and plays on texture and structure, in Chenxi Li’s over-sized crushed velvet coats, rendered unique by combining elements of ‘50s Americana with traditional Chinese armor. Knitwear student Heather Scholl’s sexually charged, gender-explorative neon psychedelics stalked the lane.
Stand-out collections included show openers Janine M. Villa and Amanda Nervig’s marriage of tailored suiting and free-falling knitwear, which gave the rigid geometric patterns that adorned both fabrics fluidity, and embued the suiting with an astonishing sense of movement. Inspired by traditional Welsh blankets, Villa and Nervig's work felt eclectic and free-spirited on the runway, the print-on-print combinations of chunky knits and embellished tailoring gave the collection an exciting and unexpected visual depth.
Heather McDonald took taut silhouettes to new heights with soaring shapes that defied gravity. These exaggerated forms were rendered in deeply-saturated angoras and wools, which brought the avant-garde down to earth. The final act was perhaps the most impressive. Qian Xie’s crystal-encrusted coat dresses and lattice-woven leather overcoats followed her apt theme “50 Shades of Grey”, and the results were lust-worthy.



Pressure, two ways: Academy of Art and Project Runway at NY Fashion Week | SF Arts


Light-up wonders, deep sea explorers, jelly apps: Marine biology at the Bone Room | SF Arts



Light-up wonders, deep sea explorers, jelly apps: Marine biology at the Bone Room

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You don't have to travel far to enter foreign waters. Just a few miles off San Francisco shores lies a world more alien to us than anything dreamed up by the likes of Ridley Scott or James Cameron. And as Doctor Steve Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute told us in his lecture, entitled "No Bones About It: The Diversity of Gelatinous Invertebrates in the Deep Sea" at Berkeley'sBone Room last Thursday night, this world -- otherwise known as Monterey Bay -- holds 4,000 meters of uncharted underwater territory , miles of yet-to-be-discovered ecosystems, organisms, and almost unimaginable possibilities of new life.
Monterey Bay is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of waters in the world due to the massive sub-oceanic Monterey Canyon, one of the deepest of its kind off the coast of the United States. It stretches about 4,000 meters in depth, surpassing the depth of the Grand Canyon. 
Bioluminescence and zooplankton expert Haddock came up for air from his research to tell tales about the diversity of the underwater world, not to mention his discoveries regarding siphonophores, ctenophores, and various other classes of jellyfish -- which turned out highly mysterious creatures, as far as science is concerned. 
Through his dedicated and highly specified research, Haddock is shedding light on what lies beneath. Reconsidering previous discoveries and challenging everything previously known about these deep-sea and open-ocean ctenophores, siphonophores, radiolarians, medusae and deep-sea gelatinous zooplankton, the scientist has discovered many new species, and has put out a call to realign and redefine some of the branches on marine biology’s tree of life.
He offered us a simplified glimpse into the world he is slowly but assuredly helping to piece together, proving that sometimes, all it takes to reach a sound conclusion is to turn off the lights.
More specifically, the lights on his submersible, which allowed Haddock to see the light, meaning bioluminescence.
This became the highlight of Haddock's lecture on Thursday. He closed his talk with video slides of various jellies lighting up the layers of sea where the sun don’t shine, using a chemically-produced mechanism to hunt prey, defend themselves, find mates, and survive in the unfamiliar world of the deep.
Want to help Haddock and his team put together a more comprehensive look at the behaviors of jellies? There’s an app for that. (And it rocks). Next time you see a jelly, a bloom of jellies, or an an unidentifiable invertebrate washed up on a beach, snap a pic and upload it to Jellywatch -- it's available on iTunes for free. Happy jelly-watching! 
The Bone Room 1573 Solano, Berk. (510) 526-5252, www.boneroompresents.com


Light-up wonders, deep sea explorers, jelly apps: Marine biology at the Bone Room | SF Arts