Friday, 19 August 2022

Writing a new sonnet ('In the know') for a sequence: 'Salve'

Establishing the Eastern Suburbs Art Group functions as a kind of watershed in combination with the production of paramontages. The latter dates from the end of April the former from mid-July. This month I went back to ‘Salve’ and added a new sonnet, the last one having been written for the sequence in the middle of 2021, a poem titled ‘Arrival’ in which I talk about moving to the new house.

It seems that the new house, and my plans for making art, are central to the artistic process. I remember meeting with the estate agents at the place in Beaconsfield and praising the property but adding that I wanted a studio. At that point they asked me if I wanted to see a place in Botany where the owner was building homes for his family.

‘Arrival’ also mentions friends, and Esag complements its convivial push, somehow all this has resulted in the creation this morning of ‘In the know’.

The shadows that we build our childhoods on
race tremendous against a frothy track
the walk to the bus-stop, the horizon,
the wind from yesterday pressing our back

or a segment on the evening news
about tiger cubs born two months ago
reminding me why we need bloody zoos
and infill development. We would do

so much more to care for the fragile light
but are dissuaded by the shame and fear.
We compensate with the play and the fight
of politics and sport because they’re near

the rightness of the dark patch by the kerb,
the formidable noun, the struggling verb.

In ‘Salve’ there are sections and ‘In the know’ sits in ‘The city’, with the poem coming before it having been written over several years (25 February 2017, 2 December 2020, 11 August 2021, 3 and 28 July 2022), it’s titled ‘Guardians of the city’ and it talks about the Pyrmont apartment where, living there, I’d hear birds call out and cars race up the street. In the distance the buildings of the central business district like evidence of permanence in the fact of settlement.

Somehow moving away from the city into a larger house has freed me of a burden, or maybe it’s just that I don’t notice the aeroplanes taking off like I used to do the automobiles charging up Bowman Street. I think it’s the space, the staircase, the capacity given also by having gotten past the silent trauma of mum’s death.

It took me about 18 months to recover some equilibrium after the fact, I’ve got photos I took of me sitting at my desk overlooking the city with its lines of concrete buildings, each face slightly different, perhaps I’ll use them one day along with a poem about drinking, for I gave up the booze three years ago, I don’t regret the loss for an instant it makes my life so much simpler not having to worry about getting into trouble, I can jump in the car at any time without a qualm.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Google Lens approximations of living room hang

In mid-August I rehung the living room wall, pulling down some pictures and bringing others from different parts of the house to put in their places. What follows is an experiment inspired by the range of approximations Google Lens delivered to different aspects of the same hang. It’s instructive as it shows how AI (artificial intelligence) might not always be able to mimic human cognition, memory, and imagination. In fact this demonstrates a distinct failure on the part of the algorithm to even come close to exhibiting human characteristics though because of the wide encyclopedia of images its draws from the results are still interesting.

I’ll start with the wide-angle view of the hang (see below), which contains in prime position a painting by James Drinkwater titled ‘Victoria Road’. In fact the landscape is a central theme of the hang.


I put this image into Lens and got the following results at the top of the results window.


It’s clear that Lens has understood that we’re talking about a TV surrounded by pictures on a wall, so five points for being correct in the broad sense. As to what kinds of pictures the database holds, I think my selection is far more interesting that what Lens delivered.

The second view is from the side, privileging the Drinkwater (see below). This view was taken during the day so that the light is good, the light comes in from the big windows that form one wall of the room.


The painting under the Drinkwater is Ari Athans’ ‘Champagne Afternoon in the Off-world Colonies’ which came from Brisbane (I don’t remember when but it’s quite recent) and is also has the land as a theme. This is what Lens came up with.


Lens has ignored the Athans and gone full-bore inspired by the Drinkwater, dredging up pictures that feature something like a face with its mouth open. I’m not entirely convinced by the resemblances, but again it’s fairly accurate in a vague sense. Five points, again.

The third view privileges Nancy Toovey’s ‘Burrill Lake’, a watercolour I bought via Facebook Marketplace for 20 dollars. I drove out to a place near Blacktown and the M7 to pick up this painting from a man with an Indonesian name who resided in a large free-standing home on a quiet street.


Lens this time ignores everything except the Toovey.


Snow or water, the program has identified that the Toovey contains trees and blank spaces that might be either. I’ll give it eight points this time, it seems to cope better with figurative works than with works that are abstract or expressionist.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Classification and the species

Despite being busy with the art group I’ve still been making paramontages though at a reduced rate. At the beginning I’d usually take along a USB stick with new images when I picked up prints in Chippendale but it’s different now that I’ve got Eastern Suburbs Art Group to look after, an activity that makes me very happy.

So I’m happy on two counts.

With the art, I’ve been making type-1 and -10 paramontages, the latter being a new format (see below) that provides a space for sonnets but with fewer images and less busy-ness than a type 2.


The image shows ‘Waiting for the doctor’s report’, a sonnet written in 16 February 2013 that was updated on 11 August 2021 and 28 July 2022. The photos are from 31 December 2008, at a time when I was still living in Sydney before my relocation to Queensland. Over a few days I visited Maroochydore to see mum and dad and took a large number of photos, something I’m grateful for now because once I moved to the region I didn’t take many at all apart from touristy snaps. The poem goes like this:
The sky’s metal and the primary green
of the sward unbend as the rain applauds
above the black cul-de-sac’s glossy sheen,
when it falls from the slow flanks of the clouds.

Parakeets careen loudly across the park
where footy players cry out their routine
while water’s plucked up by the paperbark
that stands tall. Harnessing a force, unseen

in bruit the chambered dawn bevels a hymn
as I contemplate what mortality
provides in an endless moment of time
visiting within this locality.

It is what I see; I dread to confide
what creatures flutter in on the flood tide.
This work is being framed so I can hang it on a wall or else send it to someone. I chose a silver frame to go with it and a lilac mount. 

I’ve been out to the framers by car. In fact it was Tuesday 9 August when I drove there along the Eastern Distributor, the Harbour Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the M2 and the M7, retracing and surpassing a route I’d use to get to mum’s nursing home back in the day when she was still alive. 
It’s a road I know well.

I also know well the signs of a panic attack so I was wary at the beginning, before I got onto the fast roads, when my heart was beating insistently but not breaking through into a trot.

For the type 2s I chose a natural wood frame, the classification of my work being integral to the process because it allows me to concentrate on the specifics while following a pattern for the design. Specifics include which original image to put in each quarter, and how to enlarge and crop them. It includes the choice of backing colour for the text, a calculation that also involves choosing a density for the field of colour – a lighter tone brings out more of the image sitting underneath. It involves cropping the colour field and the underlying central image, and it also means choosing a font and the colour for the text.
Because there are many variables in the specific characteristics of the layout it helps to have a structure upon which to rely when deciding them. Classification has always been part of humanity’s arsenal of abilities when confronted by a hostile world, consider the Cinq Ports (see image below), which is an archaic system of defensive infrastructure in England.


It’s fascinating to imagine that the government of the country spent a lot of time in negotiations, in building, in spending, in levying taxes, all based on a set of ephemeral words used to classify places and their inhabitants. 

More than fascinating, it’s enchanting. That was hundreds of years ago, and now, in the year of Our Lord 2022 classification is just as relevant on a micro scale to help me make art. 

We classify all the time. It’s essential for the survival of the species, for example in our use of special words for discrete individuals, where “sister” has an entirely different set of feelings associated with it compared to “friend”. The class of people known as “friend” includes those who are not related by blood (though a sister can still be a friend and not an enemy). It’s this need conditioned by biology to set rules relevant to consanguinity that demands a certain sequence of letters when looking for a label for a person.

The word “sister” is a semantic marker that biology demands. It’s not an accident. It’s doesn’t have “no meaning”. It’s mandatory if we’re to survive as a viable race of biological organisms. You could say that it’s been so successful that disaster looms as wildfires ravage Europe and western United States, and floods crippled eastern Australia and the east coast of the US.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Testing Google Lens

When I opened up my browser as usual this morning I had a small surprise when Google gave me as the first tab an outline of new functions, one of which (the tope one) was Google Lens, an AI-powered search tool that gives mixed results. To test the functionality I dropped some images into a new browser window, I’ll add four different searches here to show how it works.

Search 1: Photo of art supplies


The above photo is the cache of materials my art group co-founder dropped off as supplies for artists in Sydney if they want to come and pick them up. Simon and I have to catalogue the items so that a list can be put on the group’s blog. Here’s what Lens thought:


This is quite nice because Lens accurately identifies that we’re talking about stationery or something like that. It’s correctly generated a range of images showing things that you’d buy from Officeworks in a jumble.

Search 2: Painting of a South African landscape


I bought this little oil via Facebook Marketplace though actually it cost me nothing, the handyman in charge of part of a deceased estate just wanted to get rid of things. Here's what Lens wanted:


You can see that it "gets" that we're talking about paintings, and it has accurately brought out pictures showing landscapes. Pretty good result, though the South African angle isn't covered.
 
Search 3: ABC news segment on Uluru Statement


I took this photo of the tele the other day when news of the government response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart was to be announced. The prime minister was at the Garma Festival for the event, and after the journalists were on-camera Albanese fronted the gathering and made an address to the nation. It was an historic occasion and the number of journalists in volved in the ABC’s coverage attested to this. Here’s what Lens did with the image:


Complete fail, Lens thinking we’re dealing with men’s fashion, specifically ties. There’s a sweat shirt picture in the results as well, so clothing seems to have been the main focus of the AI.

Search 4: paramontage ‘On madness (William Cowper)’


This is one of my artworks and I was curious as to how Lens would cope with the fractured, multi-image nature of this file. Here’s what it found:


Well, it got the fact that we’re dealing with real estate alright, but that’s about as far as it was able to go without failing. Interesting attempt, however …

Search 5: painting of wildflowers in a glass jar


I bought this painting in 2008 and it's on the wall in my middle bedroom. It shows a range of things, a still-life view of the world. Here's what Lens found:


All of the resulting images show paintings of yellow flowers in a glass jar, so pretty high marks for the AI. The artist who made my work, Melissa Selby Brown, is however not acknowledged. Also, the phone and pencil sharpener are missing from the results.