Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

Toward Frisco

Organizing files of key events in the shadow of Frisco Bay. Data managementsaladGoldenGatetennessebridge

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Subterranean Estates

12/13: The time was 4AM when I left the hotel, hopping a taxi out of Helsinki for the airport, catching the 6:30 flight to Frankfurt, then the long haul to SFO International.

I dreamt enroute that the KLM flight required a promotional fly-by to provide passengers with a quick glance of off-shore oil platform laborers.

The images that flashed across my retina were of Paul Bunyan sized figures, waving toward the aircraft, leaning off the platform with one hand holding the side of the rig.

Of course, this was likely conjured from the purpose of my flight itself, purchased specifically so that I would arrive back in time to attend the editorial meeting of a nearly completed book with nineteen authors reflecting on oil and gas industry, with fellow co-editors Hannah Appel and Michael Watts titled:



Lifeworlds of Oil and Gas

The book will be published on Cornell University Press in 2014.

Our meeting took place at Michael’s home in San Francisco, where we covered a variety of topics in lively debate. Michael brought out his photography book collection on oil and gas images, and we had a chance to discuss how we plan to address the rich imagery invoked by the industry.


image 1


The above image is of Hannah Appel looking through the photographic images. Below, I have reposted the top image from a different angle, in order to provide a sense of the collective nature of our productive discussion. We gathered in Michael’s kitchen, in San Francisco, and talked for about 2 hours, over tea and biscuits.



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Still holding on to keys of romance

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4(S) Meeting, Cleveland, November 2-5, 2011.
Energy: Place, Politics and Justice (Phadke and Mulvaney)
My paper: Sites of Regulatory Power in Flux

11/5: evening — Arriving at SFO airport and receiving a call from Biliana Stremska demanding that transportation on the BART would lead directly to Balboa Station — a short walk from the Croation Cultural Center in South San Francisco, where this evening Bulgarian musician, Theodosii Spassov would be performing.

Hesitation. A long flight, having to walk through rain, arriving hungry, foolish looking, carrying bags.

In addition to the celebrated Bulgarian musician and the star quality of Theodosii Spassov, there was local singer, known for her vocals on film Avatar, the beautiful and talented, Radka Varimezova.

11/4: Hotel room television in Cleveland.

5PM: Drinks with Dustin Mulvaney, David Hess + others. David wrote the Science Technology Studies primer Science Studies. We chatted on the topic of Pierre Bourdieu‘s Habitus.

Candis Callison, now at UBC in Vancouver, working on the Arctic and climate change, has walked in.  She expresses an interest in mushrooms, to which Dustin broke out his IPad to show photos of all variety of mushrooms in the Santa Cruz mountains. Hugh Gustafson was with us until around 2AM.

3PM: Remote Presence, Present Futures. Princeton University’s Janet Vertesi is giving on ethnography of space scientists, and the coordinating activity on Saturn and on Earth by space projects. Janet uses the term fleeting alignment (difficult to reproduce, difficult to pin down), to describe the multiple overlapping infrastructures (knowledge, practice) that create moments of distinction bringing together different spaces of coordination (space-craft-time) that permit local activity of action at a distance. Lucy Suchman from Lancaster University is now talking — applying Walter Benjamin‘s insight about modern industry’s heavy impact on the body, increased repetition of actions, etc. cites Karen Kaplan‘s piece on visual targeting which appeared in the very cool journal titled Vectors.

MIT’s Zira Mirmalek is summing up the panel, suggesting the work was oriented toward compressing distant practices, actors and knowledges and in some cases the work of compression takes place in such compelling ways, that offer new forms of the mundane. Sensory insulation? or Censory insulation. Remote presence allows persons to inhabit far away places that place humans in jeopardy.

11/03: Chit-chat.

A Plenary with Gabriel Hecht and Hugh Gustafson talking about Fukushima. Gabriel gave a fabulous talk on the divide between exceptionalism and banalism that continually defines nuclear power. Accidents such as the Fukushima reactor need to be understood under the so-called normal conditions of the nuclear industry.

11/2: Hotel life.

Taxi Ride.
At the airport gate and checking out a plaque on tennis star Rosie Casals, the Women’s singles for 11 consecutive years ranked #1. When who should be sitting there but UC Berkeley’s Dr. Mary Sunderland, also going to Cleveland for the 4S, and fiddling with her presentation. She mentions to me at this moment, that on this very plane is Chris Jones, Dustin Mulvaney and Alister Iles, to name a few Science Technology conference goers.

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6/1: We completed our book’s introductory precise. Here are the documents:

On Friday, we made the promise of a draft precise for authors. On Saturday, the Supreme Being guided us. By afternoon, we were totally wiped out. Showered, shaved — and dragged over to San Francisco for a performance by Iliana Georgieva.

5/27: Last Friday, we emailed our invite to authors. We heard back a few days ago with confirmations from all authors — totally taken aback by the enthusiasm. We regrouped at Café Que Tal at 4PM, as usual.

Today, Michael suggested that we draft a four page introduction and revise it by this coming Wednesday. On Friday, we meet at his place and go over the logistics of submission. We set January 15, 2012 as the deadline for drafts from authors. Last Friday, when we met, we promised to exchange ideas for the introductory precise.

Brainstorming, took place last weekend, on Sunday while having coffee. Ideas were transferred to the computer, and two more sections added: (1) conventional wisdom of oil political economy and; (2) postmodern conventional wisdom list of considerations.

In turn, Michael sent over a 30 page manuscript. It was fabulous. He was writing on a variety of topics — relation to technology, production, history– but also conveying meaning about unaccountability, extensive chains connecting our lives to the center of the earth, parallel systems of management, addiction, poverty and fabulous wealth. In short, we write events and tell emotions. And this sense of distance began to suggest — it is the concept of distance to oil, the appropriate distance, that we have been talking about all along.

5/20:  We crafted an invitation to a few scholars on our oil and gas book:

Oil and Gas Publication Letter of Invite

5/19: On Fridays at 4PM, I stumble over to meet with Michael Watts, UC Berkeley Geography Professor, at Café Que Tal. The Café is located in the Mission District of San Francisco on Guerrero and 22nd street. We usually sit near the front of the shop, in an alcove by the window. Our discussion covers a co-edited book project.

Some months earlier, Michael suggested we co-edit a book on oil/gas. The idea is to provide a counterpoint to current approaches on oil and gas framed by progress, economic growth, elite decision making.

Of course, Dan Yergin’s The Prize, offers fabulous descriptions of personalities in history. What we take issue with is how these stories follow a premise — that stages of modernization (W.W. Rostow) are real and that the empirical is a formula of interactions between supply and demand.

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Vanesa Gingold

Cutting, balancing, painting, sewing, carving, tying, grating – these are some of the words that Vanesa Gingold uses to describe assembling her Kite Mobiles, on display at the CellSpace Art Gallery on Bryant Street, way, way, south of Market in San Francisco.

Vanesa also uses the word Dappled to describe the effect her work has on spaces where the Kite Mobile casts a shadow (Dappled – past tense of dap·ple. Verb: To mark with spots or rounded patches: e.g., “dappled sunlight lay across the balcony”).

In her installation– cloth stretches across wooden frames taking the shape of a toy kite. Strings hang from the corners to support delicately carved paper leaves. The effect of Kite Mobiles, as Vanesa describes it, is akin to a forest canopy, with light streaming through the cut paper, reflecting different shapes on the floor, walls, and body parts.

The Canopy

Dappled light cast upon hand gesture — a kite supports a paper leaf

To more fully enage with the canopy, I laid on the floor to photograph the installation vertically.

Looking up through the trees I began sharing her perspective. Vanesa also uses hand gesture when talking about her work. Kite Mobiles are created from recycled materials.

The leaves of the canopy are discarded prints. The kite cloth is carved up old clothing. The yarn and threads that connect the entire contraption appear old, frayed, but durable. Only the box cutter she uses to make the razor sharp cuttings is new.

Each piece of the mobile takes about 30 minutes to assemble, create, cut out. If you count each piece, multiply the sum by 30, add extra time for balancing, and tying, plus grating, because the edges of the kite frame are shaved — each Kite Mobile, based on rough estimates, and working steadily, could be assembled in 4 to 5 hours. That’s my guess.

Shadows of a lifetime

Mobiles are known for their movement. They are in constant motion.

So are the shadow images that these mobiles cast as they twist to and fro, mostly from being bumped by art gallery goers, as they pass the installation. But mobiles also invite nudges and pushes. They accept and display the kinetic energy of touch.

It’s not often that you come across art that is interactive. As I witnessed the crowded space, I saw revelers touch the Kite Mobiles with their hands, but often times, they did so with their shoulders, by backing into them without intention, making room for party goers to squeeze by.



Across from Vanesa’s work, and in contrast to its ephemeral quality — a refinery explosion proof lamp sat mounted on a teak wooden pedastal.

The untitled beacon was the work of molecular biologist Heiko Greb, who recently left Genentech after ten years to concentrate his effort more on art.

Heiko, talented in so many ways, originates from southern Germany. I have the impression that he carries a nostalgic Heideggerian sensibility for celebrating the organic in relation to the industrially manufactured. In an earlier posting, I mention briefly Martin Heidegger‘s The Origin of the Work of Art in the context of materials that take on the effects of the human touch (e.g., wood).

Heiko Greb

Contemplating Heiko

And these materials, Heidegger contrasts to modern products that, no matter how much you interact with them (e.g., refrigerator door handle), never is there left the patina of humanness.

Nevertheless, something nagged me about this particular piece of work, as if I had seen it before. Some time later, sharing a drink in Slow Club, a restaurant nearby, I had the vision that Heiko’s untitled beacon shares a similar quality to the creosote lamps that dot the bay, indicating to fishing boats the depths of inlets.

For some time now, the San Francisco bay has been in-filled, to build homes, schools, factories and the like. Consequently, many of these creosote nautical lamps are no longer in use. Some lamps however, have since become garden fixtures because they were literally, surrounded by development, when parts of the bay were filled in, and the laborers just left these lamps in place.

Creosote lamp

trapped in landfill and now part of my father’s backyard

Untitled lamp

As these images depict, taken from the backyard of my father’s home in Tiburon, creosote nautical lamps continue to be a visible part of the landscape.

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Lounging at the ArtMRKT

When we heard that the San Francisco ArtMRKT was holding its inaugural fair, we decided to pay a visit. We were not disappointed.

Doniece Sandoval…

…using hand gestures…

…to explain the Tent.

The ever glamorous and articulate art critic, Doniece Sandoval, Chief Officer for Zero1 Gallery, introduced us to the work of artists Adrienne Pao and Robin Lasser, who created a number of installations they refer to as Dress Tents: Nomadic Wearable Architecture.

The most popular of the dress tents is titled Ice Queen: Glacier Retreat which was an installation at the entryway to the artMRKT Fair. It is surrounded by small flags printed with the names of glaciers that are receding. A woman sits atop the tent holding a weather balloon and does not respond to any of the jeering of passers-by.

Man with Ice Queen

Ice Queen up close

The Ice Queen tent is charismatic because it taps into themes in which expert prognostication plays a critical role in the unfolding of the present. Looking ahead to whatever lies in the future is a desire that dates back at least as far as Mesopotamia.

Seeing an igloo in the middle of San Francisco, with a woman popping out of the top also helps to create excitement. But the afternoon was unusually warm and we became worried that the Ice Queen might well just burn up, sitting on a ladder inside a tent and wearing an arctic moo moo. Perhaps this is one message of the installation– that the Arctic is so hot, you might as well just set up an igloo and wear a parka in the center of any town — for all that it is going to mean to anyone anymore in the Arctic.

Chris Antemann

Doniece assured us, however, that there are several Ice Queens and that none of the queens stay out longer than 30 minutes at at time.

In a complex society with differentiating knowledge systems, the rise of non-human forces of regulation through cybernetic systems and probability calculations, it’s good to know that art still stands in for and procures the aura of the future vision.

boudoir state-craft

delicacy of touch

We spent time wandering around. Nevertheless, I kept returning to the work of Chris Antemann, who created a set of ceramic models titled Paradise and Boudoir. There is something in the aesthetic features of these ceramics that captured my imagination about the corporeal romantic (versus what I usually write about — the corporeal expert).

I’m reading Norbert Elias Court Society, about the role of etiquette in shaping the interdependences of Nobles to the French King at the 18th century court of Versailles. Notice, in these images, the emphasis placed on glances, whispered communication, and sleight of hand gesture.

These forms of meaningful communication convey a variety of messages about intimacy and statecraft — how the personal and professional were once merged — and provide a contrast to my own current research interests that emphasize a distance between these same life-spheres.

corner-of-one’s eye

touch and glance

secret and whisper

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