Upcoming exhibit at the Harold Washington Library

March 20, 2014

Hello, faithful readers.

I have an upcoming exhibit of my artwork at the Harold Washington Library!  Check out the announcement about it, which should be up in a few days.  Please do come on by.


I will also be hosting three Open Studio visits at my space in the Bridgeport Art Center as well; while it’s true that there is an open studio every third Friday of the month between 6 and 10 pm, in honor of my Harold Washington show I’ll be hosting three events with a little more pizazz, more prizes, and more libations.  Don’t miss the Big Reveal of my four newest works.  Hope to see you in Bridgeport, just just pick your favorite day: April 18th, May 16th, or June 20th.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ll be presenting a Paper and Photo Preservation Basics Workshop on Saturday, the 24th of May, also at the Harold Washington. Here’s the lowdown:  “Do you still have your high school yearbooks?  Does your sister call you the family historian?  Do you know where the nearest scrapbook store is?  Then maybe I can help.  For one afternoon only, stop on by the Paper and Photo Preservation Basics Workshop for some guidance on how to best care for your treasured artifacts.  No question is too small.  Come hear a local archivist and special collections librarian who is willing to reveal all.  Participants are welcome to bring one treasured paper item for a free alkaline buffer.”

Everything in its right place.  I even have a post on the Chicago Artists Resource tumblr as of the 11th of March – search for Vaucanson’s Workshop to see three of my works writ large.

I’ll see you in the trees.

December 9, 2011

I was recently (as of 2007…that’s when I first composed this post, if you can believe it) looking through several architectural histories, amazed by the ingenuity and the hubris of the skyscraper. If you’re curious as well, this simple pictorial time-line should give you the basics for appreciating how quickly this symbol of modern city life developed. No matter how spectacular our collective accomplishment, and no matter how powerful our collective ideation of the skyscraper form is, they will never hold as firm a place in my heart as will the global community of trees.

Redwood trees are also living irrigation systems. “Redwoods can gather as much as half of a forest’s annual supply of water. Just one tree can effectively drop 4 inches of rainfall in one night.” 1

As far as I can gather, these trees are world-renowned, reigning record holders:

The Tallest: Hyperion


Hyperion, World’s Tallest Tree

Every year seems to bring news of a new tallest tree, but as of today California redwood Hyperion is the accepted champion. Standing 9 feet taller than the previous title holder, Stratosphere Giant (who lives in an adjoining park), Hyperion is a fantastic 378.1 feet tall. None of the pictures I found convey a suitable sense of scale, though some of the photos taken by those who climbed up to Hyperion’s canopy are worth searching for.

In 2003, what was believed to be the tallest tree in the world, El Grande of the Tasmanian rainforest, was inadvertently cooked alive “after a fire started to provide woodchips raged out of control.” 2El Grande was estimated to be only 260 feet tall, however, which just goes to show how rapidly such knowledge changes, or rather, how different a body of knowledge becomes when alternate questions are asked…

The Stoutest: El Árbol del Tule
El Árbol del Tule

El Árbol del Tule is a Montezuma Cypress that lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. I love this picture for how it captures the dominant physical presence of the tree, but here is one that shows its characteristic 37 foot diameter girth, as well as one of its signature knots.


El Árbol del Tule’s girth

The Most Massive: General Sherman


The General

And California makes the list again, this time with a sequoia. General Sherman is widely acknowledged as the largest living organism of any kind on Earth, so far as we know, though I have my suspicions that some creepy unknown deep sea critter would easily earn this crown. (Then again, isn’t the Earth itself alive?) The General is over 2.7 million pounds, and occupies roughly 52,500 cubic feet of forest. And I mean MASSIVE.

The Oldest: Methuselah


At an estimated 4800 years old, Methuselah, a California bristlecone pine has witnessed the greater part of all recorded human history.

If I could, I would dedicate my life to visiting elder trees out of humility, apologizing for centuries of mistreatment by human hands.  Perhaps I should abandon human-oriented archival programs and go work for the Waldspaziergang (The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research)… 

Of course, that might be too limiting.  As I’ve always been a touch pessimistic about our profound insensitivity to other life on this planet, I’m wondering if The Svalbard Global Seed Vault might be more my style.  What do you think?

2011, December: I am considering refreshing the ol’ Robotic Librarian Archivist, so I will be posting some of my old drafts, shaking off the dust, and starting fresh.  I’ll keep you posted. 

As it stands

March 17, 2008

Happy New Year! …and Martin Luther King’s Birthday! …and Valentine’s Day! …and St. Patrick’s Day! …

Amazingly, after all this time, only 9 unfinished blog posts await revision, additions, content, refinement, wholly redacting, or sending to pasture.

I’m currently swamped with/overwhelmed by memory — possessed; a lifelong pre-occupation of mine without a doubt, even a topic, it could be said, for which I’ve nurtured and collected data, statistics, hearsay, libel, fantabulation and theorization about since as long I can remember.

Which, if you’re wondering, is roughly and reliably since age 11.

My father, before my birth, back when he smoked.

I’ve no idea how often it is I wonder abstractly about what is myself that is absent from my neural vault’s mutable archive of summonable memories. Usually, these thoughts lead me to wonder about everyone else, the monumental sea of consciousnesses which are other than me — or how it must feel to be a tree, what kind of awareness I, a tree, would have about myself and others like me.

I am drifting, sometimes calmly, sometimes nauseatingly, sometimes with a reassuring purpose. I am traveling the globe in my research — through reading about the science and chemistry of memory, the politics of archives, cultural tensions over a peoples’ heritage , the international negotiation over cultural and societal memories; and through actual travel. I will soon be in Leiden and Den Haag, briefly Florida and even Paris, researching the International Committee of the Blue Shield.

(Did you know that this years’ 16th International Congress on Archives will be held in Kuala Lumpur?)

So I cast a line out and this is what I caught. Buster Keaton poetically cradled by Radiohead (and some admirable editing, I should add). Helped me focus, and I hope you like it as much as I do. If all goes well, you’ll be hearing from me while I travel. It’ll keep me tethered, as it were.

People have lost the ability to smile

December 17, 2007


Why do I keep thinking of Ray Wise?


Is it Leland Palmer?…

Leland Palmer redux

…or punk Leon Nash from Robocop?

Leon Nash, before the hair-pulling.

Seriously, though, I think Jack Lalanne is someone worth listening to. His sincerity is palpable, and skin-tight. As one commentator of the video says, he’s going to outlive us all. If you don’t believe me, check out his recipe for fish —



I mean, I feel like a voyeur somehow. How does he do that? it must be his inescapable finger push-up style. He uses television to massage our minds. His power over me is almost as stupefying as the bean-pile,

check it out

from images-trippy

Seriously, it’s not a flash file. Like the zen koan says, it is neither the wind nor the flag that moves, it’s your mind. (check out p.345)

Sorry, it’s almost mean to surprise people with it, if you don’t expect it. It’s like slipping somebody lsd unawares.


I should go to sleep, I think I’ve done all that I can do today.


Third time’s a charm

December 9, 2007

The merciless march of time continually surprises me, not due so much to its stealth — rather, due to its ability to blindside me as I watch its approach, wide-eyed, tharn and fearful to move and draw its full attention.

Cog Clock by Balakov

I am nearly done with my first year as a graduate student, and this too is an occasion for no small amount of surprise. I applied for school, was accepted, signed up and attended my first class all in under a month’s time. Talk about breathless…

The thing is, everything I am studying is just so intense and absorbing, and I have hardly a complaint when it comes to sustaining my interest in it all. I can pretty much study anything I want, since libraries and archives encompass every area of human thought there is. Especially archives, as one is dealing very often with primary, irreplaceable personal and institutional documents, the field of study is as large as life itself.

I am currently working on three papers, all due in the coming week and a half. I thought it would be fun to tell you about them…

The first one, for my Internet Publishing class, is concerned with online academic journals and the imminent effect of print-on-demand, networked books and eBooks on access to information as well as prospects for the survival of digital publications. Along the way I’ve read fascinating articles by Tim O’Reilly, John Dupuis (in a guest post to PersonaNonData), and from the 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) online evaluation data.

One of the more intriguing sites I will be referencing in the paper is co-authored by Lewis Lapham’s Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book, intellectually a sort of follow up to an earlier post on Robotic Librarian about networked books. It’s a digital version of the Iraq Study Group Report that offers a promising new model for publishing which I hope will become a standard formulaic publishing touchstone. The base text of the Iraq report is supplemented by annotations by a “quorum of informed sources (historians, generals, politicians both foreign and domestic) [who] add marginal notes and brief commentaries at any point in the text seeming to require further clarification or forthright translation into plain English.”

Their design is extremely simple and intuitive to use, and I can easily see the format reorganized to accommodate several oceans worth of digitally published materials, both interactive and static, yet informationally challenging and sophisticated. In a recent interview I read with Caroline Vanderlip, CEO of SharedBook, she alludes to a study wherein “Hewlett Packard recently estimated that 53 trillion digital pages will be printed in 2010.” Even if the Hewlett Packard estimate is wrong by half, it’s apparent that our fundamental relationship to information is undergoing a monumental degree of transformation, something that will forever alter people’s core notions of right to access, levels of privacy and confidentiality, interactivity, and timely provision of materials.

Interactivity is a property of technology, participation is a property of cultures

My second paper is about Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, one of the most fascinating concordances of cultural significance in the Industrial Age. This is the paper I alluded to shortly before I jumped the track on my blog posts, which I originally thought to write about Black May in Thailand. For a host of extremely sensible reasons, it was much more practical to work on something I could research in local archives, and there is no shortage of local material or of interested, knowledgeable archivists who were willing to provide me with help in understanding the Exposition. (First and foremost, many thanks are due to Newberry, and to the Chicago Historical Society)

Certainly Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City was also invaluable, largely by helping me to simplify the abstract time-line that existed in fragments in my mind, untethered to any but the most fleeting islands of context. As I am not a native Chicagoan, and not a natural historian, it’s hard for me to easily grasp historical context. It’s a fight every time (unless it’s about the advent of mechanization, which for some reason has interested me since I was 12 or so, no kidding…). Luckily the Exposition tells such a compelling story, and I did not want for a body of available narratives. I’ve found that there are at least 200 books in English about it, and more in German, French, Japanese and French besides. Once I am done with my paper, I am going to condense it into a post or two, there’s just so much to tell…

Grounds of the Columbian Exposition

The first Ferris Wheel (built with over 1 million pounds of steel), the introduction of Cracker Jacks & Cream of Wheat, very likely the origin of 20th century freak shows, and arguably even of Disney Land… Check out this online tour in the meantime, until I have time to cobble together my histories.

My third paper is the most intimidating of them all, and the most far-reaching. I am likely going to stretch it out into an independent study for my final Spring semester; in fact, if all goes well, I will turn it into both an address to professional archivists in June as well as a manuscript for a non-fiction book.

I am writing about unwanted histories, and the ways in which individuals and societies react toward their destruction/burial/ exposure/alteration. I am starting my story with the age of the armarius, the monks who were responsible for the preservation and provision of books from the 8th century onward. At times the armarius was called upon to destroy a given work which was officially proscribed by the church — a conscientious book keeper might scrape the offending author’s name from a vellum sheet and substitute an accepted name, or perhaps would find it easier to bind the pages with several other works and just not record the condemned works’ existence; both were documented practices. I hope to end the paper with Executive Order 13233, Bush’s attempt to prevent the accession and provision of Presidential papers that were previously protected as public property under the Presidential Records Act. Honestly, though, every President whose records fell under the aegis of the PRA (meaning everyone since 1978) tried to circumvent its scope and effect, Bush was merely the most successful in doing so. Here’s hoping that HR 1255 eventually passes through with flying colors…

The Basics by phatcontroller

In the meantime, please do wish me luck. I have yet to write about 25 or 30 pages, and to prepare my three presentations. Seriously, how can it possibly be December already?

A Taste of Things to Come

December 4, 2007

Here is a beauty of art nouveau architecture from the Tassel House in Brussels.

Tassel House Detail, Brussels

This is drawn from a mysterious boxed set of individual architectural detail pages I picked up at the White Elephant resale shop. I found it while researching Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which is a monster of a topic in and of itself. I’ll post more about it in the coming week, this here is just a little teaser.

Kicking Up Dust

September 28, 2007

A natural ebb and flow merges where Robotic Librarian lay temporarily dormant, assuming a posture of frayed edges. Or, long time no see.

At least six posts await completion, often begun with a kick of espresso when I haven’t the time to complete them. As I truck along in my third semester, getting my hands dirty with archival dust, I am hoping to discover a continuum of balance for work and play, as well as an affordable wireless connection. Without a connection at home I am discovering that I have difficulty with scripting posts. (Please let me know if you know of a reliable service that would be $20 or less a month…) Part of it is that I no longer have the free time between assignments to relax with hyperlinks and electronic free-association. If I have time to be online, it is planned and a necessary part of my school work for that day. I am in the midst of tackling this, and my eager enthusiasm for discussing librarianship has not dimmed.

In the coming weeks I am developing several different projects concerned with memory, all thematically related by their intimacy with “collective memory.” How do we decide that an event is memorable, and deserves a place of honor or respect in our cultural narrative? The first paper I am working on will be about the UbuWeb archive of avant-garde, ethnopoetic and outside arts. A massive, growing non-profit, wholly volunteer outsider archive, it strives to accumulate documents and evidence related to some fairly obscure threads of human society. Through interviews, videos, images, transcripts, podcasts, blogs and happenings, a wildly cross-cultural portrait is emerging of Ubu Roi and Dada’s children. Like this mesmerizing 1973 Matsuo Ohno video of Taj Mahal Travelers on tour, for instance.

I am also looking into writing a proposal for an internationally focused, professional film archive journal, as well as completing a large final project about the ongoing cultural memories of Black May, Thailand’s 1992 grass-roots uprising against General Kraprayoon’s military dictatorship. The protests led to a bloody confrontation at the Kreung Thep (Bangkok) Democracy Monument, near Rachadamneorn Road. It was slightly overcast in 2005, several days shy of the King’s birthday, when I visited this art deco oddity for the second time during my trip…

Thailand’s Democracy Monument, 02 December 2005

Hopefully I can find video of the surreal television broadcast inspired by the riots, where HM The King publicly berated the two leading political figures, the military man and the democratic leader, before leaving up to the to quell the disturbance caused by their difficulties. Amazingly, the violence ended with a peaceable transfer of power back to the monarchic democracy Thailand has enjoyed for over 70 years. (Anyone who might have access to any online materials about Black May, please let me know, I need anything and everything I can find.)

And so Robotic Librarian is not merely an archive of dust, and you will hear from me again. Until…