Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Art and DNA: Careening All Over Da Place

Friends: Let us take a moment...let us all bow our heads and take a few deep breaths and...WILL YOU TURN THAT SHIT DOWN? WE'RE TRYNA GET IN TOUCH...with something profound. Sorry. I lost my head for a moment. Exhale loooong, slow, deep...seven...eight...that's good enough. Now: check out the pic an atheist took of Jesus in mold behind his refrigerator: HERE. (I thought it looked more like proto-neo-classical shred guitarist Uli Jon Roth, but what do I know?) I love how dad says he took the pic with his phone, then wiped it up and aye, it may be Jesus, but he's got three kids and he can't allow mold. For some reason this made me think of Robert Anton Wilson. RAW may have also liked this other little bit from the artworld's museum without walls:

A pubic hair on a urinal shaped perfectly like a treble clef. The comments on this I've seen fall into two basic camps: a one-in-a-million shot. Or: someone - some freak - spent way too much time before resuming time with friends or acquaintances in the bar. I thought, Hey, maybe he practiced this a lot and just got really good at it? He may have been able to pull it off in a few seconds.

Isn't the Art World wonderful?

Check out a photo of an interesting artist. I'll tell you why I think she's interesting, but first get a good gander at her:

                                                     Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Heather's one of those artists that would make C.P. Snow have a coronary if he had a time machine and  we could show him what Heather's been up to: she's a PhD candidate who combines: found detritus on the streets of New York, DNA sequencing, 3-D printing, forensic biology, algorithms, and art, all in a guerrilla ontological way.

Here's how she does it: she finds someone's used coffee cup or chewing gum or fingernail or cigarette butt (or maybe a pubic hair from a urinal?) and extracts enough DNA from the trash discarded by a stranger to sequence it. We have accelerated our abilities to do this so quickly that it's become cheap enough that a biologist-art student, working out of Genspace in Brooklyn, can afford the equipment to do this! Heather then feeds the information from the sequenced DNA into a computer, which has such fancy algorithms available to her that it quickly churns out a 2-D model of the face of the person who threw away the trash.

But wait, there's more: Dewey-Hagborg then uses the 3-D printer and creates a life-sized mask of the person...turning it into "art" and...well, just really making us think a whole hell of a lot about the implications of this. I think it's astounding stuff. Get a load of these "masks." Note the inclusion of the "self-portrait." She calls herself an information artist who's interested in art as research. Just imagine: you throw away a coffee cup in NY; you just had to have your latte, being from out of town and jet-lagged to boot. You walk on and don't give it the slightest thought. Heather finds it and ends up making a replica mask of your face, and hangs it on a wall. She's trying to make us think. It works for me: I've been thinking a lot about her work...

The DIY-Biology movement is shaping up to bring us all sorts of surprises, no doubt.

For more on her, Slate did a piece not long ago. (NB the title?)

That reminds me: have you heard of 23 And Me? Here's a video:

Now: genetics is NOT destiny (except in a few relatively rare cases), but this is cheap and promises all sorts of information about your risk factors (so you and your doctors can possibly avert unpleasantness), and your ancestors, which is, I think the thing that will begin to make this more and more popular. It also opens up a Pandora's Box: now that you know you have a substantial risk of getting a disease of which there is no known cure on the horizon, are you still glad you know? Do you have some sort of moral obligation to find out about what's lurking inside you, including who your relatives are? Etcetera! Whoa...(Already there are many stories of people who found out that the sibling they grew up with was really their cousin or uncle, or they aren't related, or mom probably had a tryst with the FedEx guy while dad was at work, etc.)

Returning to Heather Dewey-Hagborg, the Supreme Court, this week voted 5-4 that police can take a cheek swab/extract your DNA even if you've only been suspected of a crime! In other words, says the Court, no, that is not a violation of the 4th Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure and personal privacy. What world do the five Judges live in? This was astonishing to me, but on another level, it figures. This is a court that also ruled, again 5-4, that cops can strip search anyone, even for minor offenses like traffic stops or failure to leash a dog. In the you-haven't-been convicted-but-we're-taking-your-DNA-anyway case, Sotomayor worried that the State was overextending itself, and Scalia - who I find extremely offensive, personally - basically agreed with Sotomayor. Vociferously. But Alito saw DNA as the "fingerprints of the 21st century," and didn't have a problem. Notably, Scalia voted against the cops strip-searching for trivial offenses. He does seem to be for some personal privacy, but especially the personal privacy of corporations to do what they want.

I plan to write Heather Dewey-Hagborg and ask her if she can see if she can get hold of Alito's DNA and make a mask of him so I can throw darts at it, while sipping double IPAs, in time for next Halloween.

Meanwhile, sorry for ruining anyone's buzz, but the very real and growing danger of not only identity theft, but genome theft, is a thing now.

To recap our Top Story tonight: an atheist father sees Jesus in mold behind his fridge, then wipes it out with some disinfectant, while another guy either found or made a perfect treble clef from a pubic hair on a urinal. This led to a brilliant artist-scientist who really makes us think about what can be done with our own discarded waste, little intimate shards of our unique informational makeups we haphazardly leave all over the world, which led us to ponder whether we should spend $100 to find out detailed information about what diseases we might get and where our ancestors actually came from. This logically led to The State being able to strip search us and take our DNA for any reason, really. And we  learned that our genomes can be stolen by others, besides the cops.

Beautiful weather here in the Bay Area with a hot weekend up ahead. You literally have 17 billion blogs to choose from, so thanks for making the OG one of your sources for the latest-breaking weirdo news.

Good night, and good luck because we're all gonna need it.


Eric Wagner said...

Great piece. The reference to art as research made me think of Lester Bowie who usually performed in a lab coat, since he thought of himself as a sound researcher.

One could model this blog post using sonata form:

PS Decades of loving the Art Ensemble of Chicago definitely prepared me to love the Grateful Dead.

michael said...

I feel a dollop of gratitude that someone noticed my attempt to give what appears to be yet another divergent-thinking spew a form. I consciously had the form you delineated in mind; I didn't think anyone would notice.

I can see the Chicago Art Ensemble----> Grateful Dead thing. The other day I had been thinking that I ought to begin anew in my approach to The Dead, but this time with a "They're an American form of what the Master Musicians of Jajouka were doin'" kinda thang.

Eric Wagner said...

I still want to reread Laws of Form and Rosen's Sonata Forms.

I like your ethnomethodological approach to discovering the Dead. Contemplating your post, I put on the Sirius FM Grateful Dead channel. Man, I love Jerry's playing, but during my first 20 years of occasionally listening to the Grateful Dead, his playing didn't really hit me. During the last 13 years of teaching music history at the high school level I have not found a way of getting many students interested in the Dead's music. This contrasts with my experience teaching the Temptations' music. Every year a large number of my students fall in love with their music, in part because the students already have some familiarity with the music and also because the students love the made for TV film about the Tampts.

michael said...

I have long been fascinated in the power of melodic "hooks" and how sections of public taste in "pop" music has changed over time.

When I first gave the Dead a long listen (every day for a couple of weeks?) I heard a lot of Dorian mode jamming, not much in the way of hooks, no jaw-dropping virtuosity, but clearly: a joy in the music they were playing. And I came away thinking this was a sort of jazzy-folk music and I seemed to want it to be more jazzy (more virtuosity) or more folky. I wanted to get infected by them, because I've met so many Deadheads that I thought were Beautiful People. And I usually copped that I didn't get it; sometimes I said I thought they were cool...which was true: I like the social movement they created, or how they gestated from those days on Kesey's property, Owsley designing a sound system so that every player could hear themself, etc...to the sociological phenomenon of Deadheads.

What I erred: I had preconceived notions of how they'd impact my nervous system. And I had my own agendas in music. EX: I will stand up to any academic feminists and argue passionately for the non-violent "male-ness" of shredding, virtuosic players, form Paganini down to...Jarzombeck. Jimmy Page's swaggering male sexuality with the guitar...or Hendrix's. Or Van Halen's or Rhoads's. It's non-violent masculinity! Isn't that ADMISSIBLE?

I like long, melodic, well-executed LEGATO passages on any instrument, by anyone. It's just a basic musical value I hold, and fuck anyone who slags me for it.

Anyway: none of this was applicable to the Dead, as I heard them. They didn't fit into my personal musical agenda at the time.

I will see if I can make some inroads with them, by tweaking my own nervous system. I've done it before and I can do it again.

What are your main hypotheses about why your students aren't getting interested in the Dead?

Eric Wagner said...

I guess I hear a sort of virtuosity in the Dead's playing. Jerry seems a virtuoso to me, but I have trouble pointing to a specific example. The album "Postcards of the Hanging" has a harum scarum version of "All Along the Watchtower" that shows some more conventional virtuosity from Jerry.

I've heard Bob Weir called the best rhythm guitarist in rock. (Where else does one find rhythm guitarists?) I remember reading about him studying Bartok quartets for chord voicings. Keith Godchauk seems a virtuostic rock pianist.

I suspect my students don't get into the Dead for reasons similar to those you mentioned. The hooks don't hook them, the playing doesn't wow them, they see the band as noodling hippies.

This last year I got the best response I've gotten to the Dead's music. I introduced them early in the year when discussing time signatures, playing pieces in 12/8 and in 11/4.

Please let me know if I can help you in making inroads into their music. I love their music dearly.