The Art of Obsession

The Art of Obsession

!!Con Keynote

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Michael Bernstein

May 17, 2014
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Transcript

  1. 1.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - The first time I saw

    Harry Smith was in this photograph - My friend Stinky had a copy of an Allen Ginsberg photography book, we were teenagers - He was totally precocious and had tons of shit we didn't understand - The caption is great - “Harry Smith, painter, architect, anthropologist, filmmaker & hermetic alchemist, his last week at Breslin Hotel Manhattan January 12 1985, transforming milk into milk" - I had to know - who the hell was this guy?
  2. 2.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - Here’s a picture of Smith

    when he was younger - It was pretty hard for me to find stuff out about him at that point, but I did eventually - He was all of the things Ginsberg wrote and more - a trained anthropologist, a linguist, a translator, a painter, and perhaps most of all, a collector - An obsessive collector
  3. 3.

    “Harry Smith liked to look for keys to the universal

    patterns that shape our cultures and the hidden realms of the human unconscious.” Saturday, May 17, 14 - This quote and many of the images in this presentation come from the work of the Getty Research Institute, a part of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles
  4. 4.

    “He compared patterns in native American music with the eccentric

    rhythms of jazz; the patterns in Seminole patchwork with those on Ukrainian Easter eggs; the intricate diagrams of master occultists with the ambient rhythms of the sounds of New York street life...” Saturday, May 17, 14
  5. 5.

    “...and somehow assembled from these a harmonic web of cosmographic

    ideas, employing all the investigative rigor of his early anthropological training” Saturday, May 17, 14
  6. 6.

    A Collector Saturday, May 17, 14 - As I said,

    Smith was a collector - Here are some of the things that he collected
  7. 7.

    Sounds Saturday, May 17, 14 - He is perhaps most

    famous for his collection of sounds - He was an seasoned Ethnomusicologist - Also an avid recorder of every day life - the sounds from Ginsberg’s window
  8. 8.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - 1952, The Anthology of American

    Folk Music - Smith collected 84 songs from the mid 20s to the early 30s - Inspired a lot of people, a generation of folk singers and beyond
  9. 11.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - And a lesser known but

    equally brilliant artist named John Fahey - He also released some other work with the Smithsonian
  10. 12.

    “In 1964, Harry Smith was held for a week in

    the Anadarko, Oklahoma, jail on suspicion of stealing guns, and there he met several Kiowa Indians who introduced him to peyote rituals and songs of the Native American Church.” Saturday, May 17, 14 - From the notes of another major release I’d like to point out - Just to show what an amazing life Smith had
  11. 13.

    “In 1973, Smith returned to Anadarko to record. He decided

    to set up his equipment in singers’ homes or his hotel room, rather than at an actual ceremony, because the Kiowa often sang the songs in casual settings; he also would be able to record commentary.” Saturday, May 17, 14
  12. 14.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - Kiowa Peyote Meeting - A

    collection of recordings made in Oklahoma of the Peyote rituals of the Kiowa tribe - Shows the range of his interests
  13. 15.

    Egg Shells On Toilet Paper Rols Saturday, May 17, 14

    - He also collected more...esoteric things - Like egg shells on toilet paper rolls
  14. 20.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - All of these photos are

    from the Getty Institute’s collection of Smith’s belongings
  15. 21.

    Paper Airplanes Saturday, May 17, 14 - Paper airplanes were

    one of Smith’s many obsessions - He had a huge collection of found Paper Airplanes - Each was annotated with the location and time he found it - The collection was donated to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum - They hold fascinating cultural meaning
  16. 22.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from “Many Smokes

    and Spring Seasonings” by artist Martin Carey, published by the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, 1967. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  17. 23.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from from a

    flyer for “The Event from the Cafe Au Go-Go” published by Verve Folkways and the Infinite Poster, Inc., 1967. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  18. 24.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from “Demonstrate Against

    the War,” published by the Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, 1967. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  19. 25.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from an Empire

    State Building informational sheet, 1968. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  20. 26.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from a menu

    inscribed “X-celsior” from Max’s Kansas City, about 1978. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  21. 27.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Paper airplane made from a connect-the-dots

    page titled “Oh! How I Wish I Could Fly,” unknown publisher, about 1982. Harry Smith papers. The Getty Research Institute, 2013.M.4, box 286
  22. 28.

    String Figures Saturday, May 17, 14 - Smith was also

    deeply interested with string games and string figures
  23. 29.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - Here’s a photo of Harry

    with a String figure - Photo Jon Palmer, Harry Smith Archives.
  24. 33.

    Images Saturday, May 17, 14 - An extraordinary filmmaker -

    “Collected” images, in a way, to produce his films
  25. 34.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Still from Film #18, Mahagonny Harry

    Smith (American, 1923–1991) 1970–80 (restored 2002) 35mm, color, sound, 141 min. The Getty Research Institute
  26. 35.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Still from Film #18, Mahagonny Harry

    Smith (American, 1923–1991) 1970–80 (restored 2002) 35mm, color, sound, 141 min. The Getty Research Institute
  27. 36.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 Still from Film #18, Mahagonny Harry

    Smith (American, 1923–1991) 1970–80 (restored 2002) 35mm, color, sound, 141 min. The Getty Research Institute
  28. 37.

    & etc... Saturday, May 17, 14 - He also collected

    many more things. Here are a few...
  29. 42.

    (spoons shaped like ducks, banks shaped like apples, anything shaped

    like a hamburger) Saturday, May 17, 14 - For example - So in other words
  30. 43.

    Harry Everett Smith was a master of obsession Saturday, May

    17, 14 - Which is why I jumped right in to telling you his story - Maybe a little bit too much so
  31. 45.

    The Art of Obsession Michael R. Bernstein !!Con, New York

    City 18 May, 2014 Saturday, May 17, 14 - Here’s the requisite proper title slide - Thanks for having me, it’s an honor - It’s my first Keynote talk... - Anyway, back to the subject
  32. 46.

    Why? Saturday, May 17, 14 - Why did I tell

    you about Smith? - Because I’m interested in the following questions, and I wanted an excuse to ask them to you
  33. 47.

    What can we learn from Harry Smith’s techniques? Saturday, May

    17, 14 - He found satisfaction in knowledge in the intersection between his interests - Artifacts were a means to an end - Paper airplanes were interesting because of the stories they told as a whole, their shapes formed a language - Paintings, songs, things that looked like other things - they all could communicate ideas
  34. 48.

    How can we master “The Art of Obsession?” Saturday, May

    17, 14 - And why do we want to? - To me it’s summed up by this quote that we saw
  35. 49.

    “Harry Smith liked to look for keys to the universal

    patterns that shape our cultures and the hidden realms of the human unconscious.” Saturday, May 17, 14
  36. 50.

    Keys to Universal Patterns Saturday, May 17, 14 - The

    term that I liked the best from that description - We can master the art of obsession by “looking for keys to the universal patterns” - Universal patterns are composed of connections - And I have a connection I’d like to share
  37. 51.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - String figures and knots were

    some of Smith’s favorite things - He believed they held some secrets to universal human understanding - Knot tying could be found in many cultures but not others - Smith believed they worked similarly to how the human brain understood written letters and numbers
  38. 52.

    Saturday, May 17, 14 - Computer scientists and mathematicians are

    also interested in knots - This is a figure from a book about term rewriting - This complex un-knotting operation, composed of various prescribed “moves” has parallels to program execution and term rewriting - Imagine a complex term that can be normalized to a value - This connection is deep and interesting - They make me think that..
  39. 53.

    Knots are Programs Saturday, May 17, 14 - And they

    signal at what is interesting about computation - Computation is more than “how computers work” - Influences how we understand nature - Influences how we live and communicate - One of the deepest human achievements - Which leads me to believe that
  40. 54.

    Harry Smith would have loved Computer Science Saturday, May 17,

    14 - It has universal application - Gets to the heart of many human problems - Codes, languages, esoteric
  41. 55.

    Get Obsessed Saturday, May 17, 14 - And if he

    would give us advice, he would tell us to
  42. 58.

    So many possibilities when it comes to computers and computer

    science Saturday, May 17, 14 - So many starting points for exploration
  43. 59.

    Compilers Saturday, May 17, 14 - My favorite type of

    program recently - So many different things going on
  44. 60.

    Type Systems Saturday, May 17, 14 - Getting to the

    heart of how we express programs
  45. 62.

    Logic Programming Saturday, May 17, 14 - Solve problems you

    didn’t know you have! - Shatter narrow paradigm worldviews!
  46. 65.

    How? Saturday, May 17, 14 - But how do we

    get and stay obsessed? - How do we understand these subjects in a way that will lead us to find these types of connections? - Here’s a little advice on my take
  47. 67.

    Follow the Links Saturday, May 17, 14 - Look for

    influences and connections between resources and disciplines
  48. 68.

    Open Your Eyes Saturday, May 17, 14 - Be open

    to connections to your interests in unlikely places
  49. 69.

    Pursue Discomfort Saturday, May 17, 14 - Regularly consult texts

    and concepts that are challenging for you
  50. 70.

    And Squash It Saturday, May 17, 14 - And over

    time, watch them become understandable as you work hard to learn
  51. 72.

    Contact Your Heroes Saturday, May 17, 14 - Because they

    want to teach and learn (typically)
  52. 73.

    Forget What Is Practical Saturday, May 17, 14 - It’s

    important to pursue concepts past the point of simple applicability
  53. 74.

    And Then Remember It Saturday, May 17, 14 - But

    it’s also awesome to ship. So do it!
  54. 76.

    Thank You michaelrbernste.in @mrb_bk Saturday, May 17, 14 - Thanks

    to the Getty Institute for their amazing support of Harry Smith’s legacy
  55. 77.

    Works Cited • Bender, Jan “Treasures from the Vault” http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/treasures-from-the-vault-

    harry-smith-and-patterns-in-the-wind/ • Getty Archives “Collections” http://archives2.getty.edu:8082/xtf/view?docId=ead/2013.M. 4/2013.M.4.xml;chunk.id=ref8;brand=default • Andrew Perchuk, Rani Singh, editors “Harry Smith: The Avant-garde in the American Vernacular” • Perloff, Nancy “Harry Smith’s Archives and Collections Now at the Getty Research Institute” http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/harry-smiths-archives-and-collections-now-at-the-getty-research- institute/ • Notes for the Kiowa Peyote Ritual Release, Smithsonian Folkways http:// www.folkways.si.edu/kiowa-peyote-meeting/american-indian/music/album/smithsonian • Exhibition Press Release for “Harry Smith: String Figures” http://cabinetmagazine.org/events/ smith_string_figures.php • Terese, "Terese Lite," Excerpts from the book TERM REWRITING SYSTEMS. From the Course Term Rewriting Systems at the Vrije Universiteit, fall 2006. Saturday, May 17, 14