Category: Blog

2022.02.16 Quick video: train journey

This was a quick attempt at a video which is obviously an artificially constructed image, but that holds together if you watch it for a while.

I set myself the challenge of shooting and editing a video on a 25-minute train journey. I failed my challenge as I got too into the editing and had to shut my laptop quickly in the station, but finished it over lunch. The film is composed of segments of the same shot spliced together, looped, and overlaid, alongside a very quick soundtrack in GarageBand (so quickly edited that the noises that come on with the white fence only do it the first time).

In retrospect, this is based on a work I saw when I was 18, about a train journey, that has stuck with me ever since. It was in a gallery in Melbourne, and featured still shots of a train which updated vertical slice by vertical slice, each about 50 pixels wide, from the left to right on the screen, to make a composite film. Funny how those formative moments stick with you – what was one item in a gallery has become something I come back to time and again.

Anyway, hoping to do more small challenges like this in the future.

ABC

A while ago I made a simple website to help teach my daughter to read the alphabet and numbers. It’s very basic, because it had to be intuitive enough for a 2-year-old to click through on a tablet or old mobile phone.

Screenshot of the website abc.olliepalmer.com. A single lowercase 'a' in the middle of a light red page.

It doesn’t do a lot – just presents and reads aloud each letter of the alphabet in order. You can switch between uppercase and lowercase by clicking on the letters, and toggle auto-playing the alphabet. The colour changes with each letter thanks to randomColor by David Merfield, and the font is Manrope by Mikhail Sharanda. The source code is available on Github. I’m sure anyone with a little coding knowledge could improve it.

The audio on the site is the stock Mac voice Fiona, who has a Scottish accent. My daughter now copies Fiona’s pronounciation whenever she reads the alphabet from the website (despite having a fairly English accent the rest of the time).

If there is a small person in your life, here is a site you can safely leave them with. Just go to abc.olliepalmer.com, put your phone/tablet in locked mode, and let them click away.

Every emoji

Before I start this post, I just want to point out that I’m not a particular fan of emojis. I don’t use them that much, but I am curious to see how this strange fragment of culture evolves. Emojis are folded into the Unicode set by a consortium of representatives of largely California-based technology companies, who shape what we can and can’t represent with little symbols on our phones. The emojis are specified by the Unicode Consortium, then the icons we see on our devices are designed by software companies – so that on my iPhone, the emojis are designed by Apple, yet on my PC they’re designed by Microsoft (hence cross-platform changes in appearance).

In 2017 I started making videos with every emoji available on an Apple device. That was 2718 symbols, and the video looked like this:

I recently re-scraped the available emojis – now there are 3962. A good deal of these are variations of the same symbol, but with differing skin tones. The best way to represent this seemed to be as an explosion:

Or perhaps like falling into an infinite tunnel:

Link to video

Hello, Goodbye

I just found this silly video I made a few years ago, back before QR codes were as widely used as they are now:

PhD: Online version

My PhD thesis, which describes my practice through seven built projects, their theoretical backgrounds, and methodologies, is now available in even more of an open access format – it’s a fully-searchable website at phd.olliepalmer.com.

screenshot of the website phd.olliepalmer.com, rendered in the safari browser

It’s taken some time to convert and optimise for the web, but hopefully this means it’s easier to share any of the research with anyone, anywhere in the world.

The PDF is already available to download as open-access from UCL Explore, but now the whole thesis is indexable by search engines and readable on any device – which means it should be easier for someone, say, who wants to know about the rules I used to create the film Network / Intersect, or the method for creating a 24-hour film from 86,400 Google Images, or learn about the process to create Scriptych at the Opera Garnier de Paris (or even look through the words embedded in its three-dimensional database), to do exactly that.

screenshot of an embedded video on the website phd.olliepalmer.com

And even better, I have embedded supplementary materials, which can’t be seen in the PDF version,, so that it’s easy to jump between a projects’ written and filmic documentation. Chapter 3, for example, has excerpts from the two films it describes, as well as photos of the projects in situ and their methodologies.

You might notice that there’s a new tab on this website which takes you straight to my thesis site.

If you’re interested in what’s going on under the hood of the website (or would like to implement something similar yourself), the thesis is written in MarkDown and hosted on GitHub pages (so the source is also open source). It uses MkDocs with the Material theme.

More open access materials I’ve made:

  • Scripted Design, an open-access, podcast-led course about designing and using creative constraints (directly built on top of Chapter 4 of my thesis)
  • Parallel Worlds, an open-access, podcast-led course about world-building in artistic practice

A small piece of folded paper

I just came across this article I wrote for the TU Delft magazine Bnieuws, back when I worked in the Architecture faculty. The magazine has a regular column where they ask a staff member to write about one of their favourite objects. I chose a small piece of folded paper. Here is the article (you can read the original in Bnieuws 52/2 here):

A piece of paper, covered in notes, on which is composed the entire article you're reading now

This article describes an object and a process. The object is a piece of cheap A5 paper torn from a notepad, and the process is the one I use whenever I have to define an idea, or communicate something complex to anyone else. I use this process for every presentation, lecture, lesson plan, syllabus, artwork, or article (including this one).

Limitations fuel creativity. A single small piece of paper is great for clarifying ideas. It fits in your pocket, it’s cheap, and there is always a piece of paper nearby.

I fold my piece of paper into eight segments, to make a little pad. Then I go for a walk, and think. I write down ideas as they come to me, putting each separate idea or theme into a new section of the paper. If I can’t think of anything to write, I’ll continue walking. If I have another idea, I’ll stop, and write again. Walking removes all my usual reasons for not starting, and all the distractions that usually stop me. I don’t plan a destination, but try to take a route I haven’t taken before. I just walk to enjoy walking, and thinking. When my paper is full, or I feel I have enough written to continue with my project, I go home.

So much of communication is about finding the hierarchy of information that enables other people, who don’t have the knowledge you have, to understand what you’re thinking. On my little piece of paper, similar ideas naturally cluster together, and soon enough an order emerges. I try to write everything that someone with no knowledge of the subject would need to understand it, but not too much. After all, I only have one piece of paper.

There are little folded pieces of paper full of notes in plenty of my pockets, my wallet, my sketchbook, books, and drawers. Finding them again instantly takes me back to the places I was when I wrote them, and the little journey I took to come up with an idea. Similarly, there are strange pockets of cities around the world inextricably linked to the ideas I had when I was there, writing scrawly notes on tiny pieces of paper such as this one.

A piece of folded paper, covered in notes, on which is one eighth of the entire article you're reading now A piece of folded paper, covered in notes, on which is one eighth of the entire article you're reading now A piece of folded paper, covered in notes, on which is one eighth of the entire article you're reading now

Echoes of Disruption by Dubmorphology / commissioned by Invisible Dust

I feel honoured to have been interviewed by Trevor Mathison and Gary Stewart from Dubmorphology about ants as part of their work Echoes of Disruption. The work forms part of the new exhibition UnNatural History, a major new exhibition exploring natural history and climate change curated by Invisible Dust at The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry.

More about the video:

Echoes of Disruption, 2021

Digital video

18 min

Courtesy of the artists

Echoes of Disruption is video entry 11543.1 from the laboratory log-book of time-travelling researchers, with journal notes narrated by an Artificial Intelligence program. Having travelled back to the 21st century the researchers begin decrypting clues by exploring natural history collections, carrying out observational experiments and assembling interviews and content from scientific researchers, social scientists, cultural theorists, writers and poets. Their objective is to gain an insight into the turning point after which a dramatic change in the Earth’s delicate and precarious ecosystem leads to a catastrophic fracture in the future timeline.

Credits:

In conversation with Deborah Wolton and Ollie Palmer
Voice over Aniruddha Das
Processing ant simulations Ollie Palmer
Soundtrack Dubmorphology and DSPSSSSD

More about the exhibition:

UnNatural History features 26 international artists working in Aotearoa New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Germany, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Singapore, Turkey, UK and USA. It includes four newly commissioned works responding to the Herbert’s Natural Science Collection by Frances Disley, Dubmorphology, Tania Kovats and Gözde İlkin.

The observational skills and techniques of artists, including their speculations, have enabled us to learn about plants and animals in drawings, long before the advancements of technologies such as microscopes and photography. Featuring drawings, paintings, sculpture, installation, lens-based, digital media and new technologies, UnNatural History will connect these valuable collections to the past, present, and future of our relationship to nature through depictions, scientific representations and imagined realities created by artists.

The exhibition is open from 28 May – 22 August 2021. More information here.

Broken camera

I’ve just been digging around some old hard drives and came across this screenshot from a project I did for Krieder O’Leary back in 2012. It was an experimental camera that moved back and forth along an aluminium track, writing small changes in the space over the top of its existing images. Unfortunately the prototype suffered an electrical malfunction when I installed it in the Tate Britain (entirely my fault) and so it never got a change to take slow pictures of people moving around space.

It’s funny how ideas ricochet around inside one’s own head, morphing over time and through practice – nine years later, I’m mid-way through a project that collates audio in a similar way, with an almost identical tendency to fail at the critical moment.

Things I Learned in 2020

Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s annual lists of 52 things that he read in any one year (see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020), I decided to make a list of interesting snippets from articles I’d read this past year, one for every week of the year.

a selection of the accidental photos of my foot taken this year

However, my 52 things list, like most of the extra-curricular projects I had planned to work on, was 2020’d, and currently sits at a meaningless and un-symbolic thirty-two things. Still, I think this wouldn’t be writing that emerged from the past year without acknowledging that I am lucky to have had the time to read these articles (and countless others that I didn’t take notes from).

So, without further ado, here is a bag of interesting facts I read in the past year.

  1. The word “fancy” was an early contraction of “fantasy”. Source: One Man’s Trash by Michael Friedrich for The Baffler
  2. More land and water in the USA are devoted to lawn grass than wheat and corn combined; the total lawn grass area is larger than Italy. Lawn grass also uses approximately 1/3 of all of the nation’s available drinking water to maintain. Source: Googling Strangers and Kentucky Bluegrass on The Anthropocene Reriewed by John Green
  3. If you want to be a bounty hunter, don’t wear leather – the chemicals they use in the tanning will infect the wound when you get shot. Instead, wear a silk shirt. Source: Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man by Andrew Forsthoefel on the Transom podcast
  4. The novelist John Steinbeck was an observer during the US’s attempt to drill the deepest hole during the cold war. Their attempt took place on the floor of the Pacific near Guadalupe, Mexico. Source: The Deepest Hole We Have Ever Dug by Mark Piesing for BBC Future
  5. The preference for scarce objects begins at age 5. Source: The Development of a Scarcity Bias by Matar Ferera, Avi Benozio, and Gil Diesendruck. Child Development, Volume 91, Issue 5, Sep-Oct 2020, pp.1698-1708.
  6. The practice of “adversary air support” provides mock enemy planes for air forces to train with; the largest privately owned military fleet exists primarily for this purpose. Source: This Man Owns The World’s Most Advanced Private Air Force After Buying 46 F/A-18 Hornets by Tyler Rogoway for The Drive
  7. The first animals proven to have stereoscopic vision (the ability to interpret three-dimensional shape and form from visual inputs) were – unsurprisingly – humans in 1838. It then took 132 years to prove any other animals also had stereopsis. Cuttlefish were added to the list of stereoscopic animals in 2019. Source: What Scientists Learned by Putting 3-D Glasses on Cuttlefish by Ed Yong for the Atlantic
  8. “the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive today on Earth lived only around 3,400 years ago […] [with new, more conservative variables] the age of the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive went up to 3,600 years ago.”Source: You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else by Adam Rutherford for Nautilus Magazine
  9. Giraffe populations have decreased by 30 percent over the past three decades. Only 111,000 individuals remain. There are at least four African elephants for every giraffe. Source: How to Tackle a Giraffe by Ed Yong for the Atlantic
  10. The French Revolutionary (or Republican) Calendar was the official calendar of the French First Republic from 1793-1805. It promoted a “non-hierarchical and secular system of ten-day weeks (or décades) in thirty-day months, without days of religious or royal significance”, whilst “each day of the year also celebrated a different item of everyday rural life (although their precise distribution can vary), whether a herb, a foodstuff, a livestock animal, a tool or a utility: wild thyme, rhubarb, goat and beehive are just a handful of examples.” Source: The Fountain in the Forest by Tony White (book)
  11. There are still 158 toll collectors working for the Port Authority in New York. Source: The Last Toll Collectors by Winnie Hu for the New York Times
  12. The rivalry between three towns in North Dakota competing to be recognised as the ”Geographical Center of North America” (a trademarked phrase) has led to one of them creating the “International Center for Determining Centers”. Ironically one of the towns is actually named Center, and was so before this dispute – because it was deemed the centre of the state, not the nation. Source: Journey to the Geographical Center of North America by Kathering LaGrave for AFAR Magazine
  13. In the USA, rehabilitation centres can bill insurance companies up to $5000 per urine test – and frequently coerce patients into daily tests. Source: #121 Pain Funnel by Reply All
  14. In 1951, Dr. William L. Davidson invented a “golf ball that can’t get lost”. Its secret was the radioactive material embedded under its surface – so that with the aid of a portable Geiger counter, the Bali could easily be found. Source: Atomic Golf Ball, Modern Mechanix story from 1951 – found via We Make Money Not Art
  15. The USA’s first water park – the Wet N’ Wild – opened in 1977 in Orlando, Florida. Source: Disney’s Empty Promise by Kent Russell for the Paris Review
  16. Wild Wild West by Will Smith is “fading far faster than any other ’90s hit with comparable starting popularity.”Source: Defining the ’90s Music Canon by Matt Daniels for The Pudding
  17. There were 248 episodes of the Love Boat, which is remarkable if you’ve spent any time at all watching even one of them. (There was one feature-length film too.)Source: Wikipedia
  18. Shops in New England in the early 19th Century didn’t sell nuts and bolts – “instead, blacksmiths were commissioned to make them on demand, as non-interchangeable custom sets.” Source: Community Plumbing: How the hardware store orders things, neighborhoods, and material worlds. by Shannon Mattern for Places Journal
  19. Octopuses on MDMA tend to hug each other (like humans). Source: What Ecstasy Does to Octopuses by Ed Yong for the Atlantic
  20. About 56 million Americans believe they have seen a UFO; 33% of Americans believe that aliens have visited this planet, and 60% believe that the US goverment is “hiding something”. Source: How UFO culture took over America by Stephen Rodrick for Rolling Stone
  21. There is only one known Maltese serial killer. Source: Wikipedia
  22. The widespread fear of clowns was sparked by the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, leading to the coining of the term coulrophobia in the 1980s to denote a fear of clowns. Source: Having a laugh: is this the end for clowning? by Mark Wilding for the Guardian
  23. First Nations people were denied the right to vote unless they legally renouced their indiginous status in Canada in the first half of the 20th Century. Source: The Map and the Territory by Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil for the Baffler
  24. Surgeons are more likely to make mistakes on their birthdays. Source: Christmas, Death and Surgeons’ Birthdays by Neuroskeptic for Discover Magazine
  25. Winning the Nobel prize adds an average of 1-2 years to your lifespan but confers no overall financial gain (or at least, this was the case for winners in the 19th Century). Source: Mortality and Immortality by Matthew D. Rablen and Andrew J. Oswald
  26. The first Arabic novel was written in the 12th Century by Ibn Tufal, and is about a lone child on a remote island who is raised by a gazelle and has no access to human culture until he meets a castaway. Source: This is the Muslim tradition of sci-fi and speculative fiction by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad for Aeon Magazine.
  27. The term “used future” refers to an image of the future “unconsciously borrowed from someone else”, mimicking “what everyone else is doing.” Source: Theories of change and theories of the future by Andrew Curry on The Next Wave
  28. “[…] three conditions are essential to making friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in others.” Source: Death of the Neighborhood Bar by Gabriel O’Malley for Boston Magazine
  29. Swifts sleep in the sky, and are capable of seeing the movements of clouds from a great height to forecast weather. Source: The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down by Helen Macdonald for The New York Times Magazine
  30. The number of inmates in solitary confinement in the United States is equivalent to the entire general prison population in the UK. Those who are in solitary confinement “frequently experience psychological distress, with symptoms including perceptual disturbances, hallucinations, anxiety and panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, revenge fantasies, diminished impulse control, hypersensitivity to stimuli, paranoia, and self-mutilation. More recent reviews of the California, Alabama, and New York City prison systems demonstrate that people in solitary are many times more likely than their incarcerated counterparts to commit suicide.” Source: The Solitary Garden by Anya Groner for Orion Magazine
  31. The Dutch tradition of “dropping” consists of leaving children nearing their early teens somewhere they don’t know, so that they can find their way home. Source: A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Let Loose in the Night Woods by Ellen Barry for the New York Times
  32. A man dressed as a clown on a cruise ship sparked a “mass brawl” on a P&O cruise ship in 2019, as another passenger had “specifically booked a cruise with no fancy dress.” Source: Simon Murphy for The Guardian

 

Note that this is cross-posted on Medium.