Experiences From A Fish Yet to Find Water

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Art On The Internet: A New Medium Crates New Depths

“Perhaps the waves are saying: remember your dreams. Remember your dreams. Remember your dreams.” –Gregory Colbert

The World Wide Web is continually growing in ease of use as well as daily updating the type of information that is available to the millions that use it. In fact to many, the internet has become a necessity in every day life. For some, loss of internet access is a kin to a college student's loss of their cellular phone. Similarly, it appears the number of people who are using the internet are growing themselves. According to a 2003 PEW Internet and American Life Project report, “more than 53 million American adults or 44% of adult Internet users have used the Internet to publish their thoughts, respond to others, post pictures, share files and otherwise contribute to the explosion of content available online.” Since then, the numbers have more than likely gone up. The personal responsibility with writing a blog or managing a website is no longer just a silly past time, instead the internet is a forum where the entire world can access information regardless of time zone and even award winning scholars post their own thoughts for anyone to see. It is quite obvious that the internet is a suitable home for open discussion, written word, photographic displays as well as encyclopedic wells of information and home pages dedicated to giving people basic, though easily accessed information about travel, movie times, and weather forecasting. The access to music and movie clips is unparalleled. The internet has even begun controversies as well as huge law suits over what information the people should or should not be able to access and if they should be able to access it for free. This is evidence enough to state that the internet is quite a powerful, society changing tool. Musicians and young movie makers have a new venue to voice their art and showcase their talents. However, the world of visual art has generally been one best left on display and in museums. That is, until now.

The Ashes and Snow website is a breathtaking one. Not only is the website inventive and original but it also successfully conveys the feelings of this extraordinary exhibit so that even those of us sitting at home can experience a little piece of this world. The Internet has been a place where few art lovers claim a home or find a new talent. In this case, The artist, Gregory Colbert, has used the Internet to its fullest capacity and through this new venue has mirrored his message that was once only visible by those in the right place at the right time and transformed it into a piece of art visible by anyone at any time in a relevant and appropriate way. A few new doors of cyberspace are officially open.

The Ashes and Snow Exhibit is quite a sensory experience in itself. The Nomadic Museum that has housed this work from Venice to New York to Santa Monica is a piece of art in itself designed by architect Shigeru Ban and helps create a feeling of organic spontaneity that is instilled in the exhibit. The artist, Gregory Colbert created the exhibit using photography, audio, video and written word. Colbert's work, housed in a museum that is rebuilt at each new location and made of recyclable materials, depicts the intrinsic sameness that animals and humans share and challenges our ability to so easily forget where we came from. To do this, Colbert set off across the world to capture images of animals and humans together, using footage of wild animals as well as footage of animals that have been habituated to human contact. There is no disclaimer on the website that no animals were harmed or forcibly controlled to perform, however it does not seem the message would be the same if those means had been used. Colbert is said to have spent months with the animals gaining their trust and is quoted on the website “I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals.”

Though this website was a 2006 Web Award Arts Standard of Ex
cellence winner I will be referring to the more extensive judging criteria of the Webby Awards as well as some of the rules of the Web Style Guide in order to discuss why the Site deserves the acclaim. According to the Webby Awards, “Good content takes a stand. It has a voice, a point of view. It may be informative, useful, or funny but it always leaves you wanting more.” This is certainly true of the Ashes and Snow website, you definitely want more. Colbert is quoted on the website: “I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals.” The content of the website is made up of the photographs, video clips, soundtrack and vision of the artist as well as the bookshop where you can buy prints of the work in beautifully bound editions as well as the DVD of the film and the book of letters that made up the written portion of the exhibit.

Part of what makes the exhibit so exhilarating is that it seems to have a life of its own. This is certainly no coincidence as it is a celebration of life itself. “When you look into the amber eye of an elephant, you may have the feeling he knows something that we once knew. Elephants remind us of the things that we thought we forgot.” Colbert infuses every step of the way with animal imagery that suggests a world overlooked by the average eye. Since Colbert has been working on this project since 2002, it makes sense that there are worlds and dimensions to the exhibit that may go undiscovered by most observers and it is clear that one visit to the New York installation is not seeing all there is to see. As you look through the entire website new images pop up that may have been shown in Santa Monica, though not in New York or Venice and vice versa. For improvements sake, there is one problem with the content of the website and that is that it is a little hard to find concrete information on the artists and how he collected his works. It would be nice to know a little more but too much could really ruin the fluidity of the website and the poetry of its design.

For the purpose of this analysis I am going to focus mainly on the enhanced version of the website, though there is a version for computer users who lack the correct programs.(Most of the links direct you to the non-enhanced version.) According to the Webby Awards judging criteria “Good navigation gets you where you want to go quickly and offers easy access to the breadth and depth of the site's content.” Ashes and Snow.org is this but so much more. The structure and navigation of this website are poetic. As you enter the website, you are engulfed by the beautiful soundtrack from the movie that is not your average Enya-type nature music that instills some sort of clichéd image of life. Instead these simple, but beautiful pieces of music really get at the heart of what it means to see human beings as animals, what it means to view this reality with a sense of acceptance and joy. As you first enter the site you are hit by music and animation as the navigation bar and title melt onto screen one of two animations appear. Either of a boy lit by sun, a bird's wings flapping behind him as though they were his own or the image of two people in a boat, slowly out of the water come towering the elephants as they move by the boat and out of sight. All the navigation options are all in the spirit of the art itself. Explore, Vision, Exhibition, Codex, and Bookstore. The word explore at the top of the page is like an invitation to the unknown and that is what is so brilliant about the design of this site. What you explore will never be the same each time around. The Web Style Guide sites that in a good website "important elements are emphasized and content is organized logically and predictably." However, it is in part the lack of predictability that makes this site so unique. When you are shown your first image it explains simply “Explore with your mouse. Click to Enter” and depicts how this will get you around this portion of the site. Little thumbnails of pictures pop up randomly when you move your cursor around, but there does not seem to be any sort of order to this chaos because if you bring your mouse back to the same position it won’t necessarily be the same picture. However, other times if you move your mouse from one place to another you’ll see a trail of thumbnails of the same picture. Once you click to see a new picture there are a few things that could happen. Maybe you will be brought right to a new picture, but other times you will be brought to a video clip from the movie and yet other times this click will be accompanied by an audio quote. Little excerpts of poetry such as “When my house burned down. When my house burned down. I could see the moon much clearer.” Or “The whales do not sing. The Whales do not sing because they have an answer. They sing because they have a song.”

Once exploration is finished for a moment (for it will never reall y be finished) One can "X" out of that portion and be brought back to the main screen. Once you visit a new portion of the site the navigation bar sits floating at the top left hand corner but slightly faded so as to become transparent and ignorable. However, once the viewer wants to utilize the navigation bar again, they simply need to place the mouse over it and it will appear bigger and darker once again. This is key because it makes the site so easy to navigate but does not take away from the mystery and beauty.

The Webby Awards say that “Good visual design is high quality, appropriate, and relevant for the audience and the message it is supporting. “ Well it seems almost foolish to even bother defending this aspect of the site, as the visuals of Colbert are nothing short of breathtaking. The work of this artist, the elephants, whales; cheetahs, tortoises and people alike are the visual design. They as well as the papery like background used for the pages brought in for the “business side,” such as pages dedicated to the artist and the project itself, create the world of mystery, of fantasy and of living reality to life. Even the papery background invokes the “one-with-nature” feeling that Colbert infuses into everything that is produced from this exhibition including the beautifully bound books that hold prints of the artwork and the book of letters that is bound in the same way. Very simple. Very primitive. Very elegant. Similarly it is most impressive that such a complex website seems to have every link in tact, every page loads quickly. A disappointed customer will exist only as the sad patron who does not have the appropriate plug-in in order to view the advanced version of the website.

It seems that as a whole, this site is more than just another stop in cyber space. It really has created its very own little niche in the art world where art has fused multimedia, fast paced imagery, mass accessibility and a sense of interactivity into one work. The entire experience of this site has a feeling of mystery and the viewer is not simply just a viewer and critic. With every click of the mouse as you explore the exhibit you make choices that lead you to new pictures every time. Similarly the website gives an eerie feeling that the viewer has sole rule over the world. The world of Ashes and Snow lives and dies with the viewer. If you watch it, it lives and moves and changes and grows. “If you come at this moment/ your minutes will become hours/ your hours will become days/ and your days will become a lifetime.” Poetry like this lines your journey and adds to this unshakable feeling and creates a sense of awe. One more click- Just one more click and who knows what will happen next.

The Web Style Guide mentions that "Most Web pages don't fit completely on a standard office display monitor (800 x 600 pixels), and so there is almost always a part of the page that the user cannot see:" indicating that in most web sites you invariably have to scroll down on your browser. However, this website has even taken that into account. Instead of making the viewer scroll down on the cumputer's browser, this site includes its own set of scroll bars within any type of textual interface so all the scrolling is done within the website itself. This makes it a bit easier to navigate as well as being visually pleasing.

The reason why this website works so well is because there is a sense of reality that butts heads with a fantasy land, or a land that maybe once was. A land some of us are striving to return to. However, it is also a land that can not really be regained so easily and there are some worries about this entire exhibit. Allegedly Colbert spent months gaining the trust of these animals, swimming with whales and communing with Elephants. However, there is a certain sense of danger in allowing wild animals like these to become comfortable with Humans. Many of these animals probably already are as they face humans every day of their lives. It is not inherently evil to teach them to trust. However, there is a theory of thought that any intrusive interactions like this will only further the damage that could happen to these animals, especially if they are free living ones. However, there is a lot to be said for the educational experience that this amazing and timeless exhibit holds. It is very powerful, very moving and has the potential to do a lot of good. Moreover, the sense of fantasy that is entangled in the reality of this work also changes the tone. It is not a reality television show that some could argue encourages kids to go out and handle potentially dangerous animals. Instead it encourages everyone to go out and embrace their own animal. We are all animals.

This website is mysterious and beautiful and certainly awe inspiring. Though recreating the exhibit in its entirety is impossible the responsibility that the artist has taken for his message is quite apparent through this site. He has clearly realized that the Internet has provided him with limitless ways of spreading his message and he has taken the challenge of creating a website for his art and lived up to it quite well. The music and spoken word sink you head first into this pool of life that reverberates through the site and keep you coming back for more.

"Only when we understand can we care, and only when we care sufficiently will we help"-Jane Goodall

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This Week in Animal Rights: Some Victories Won While Some Still Need Fighting For--All of Them Are Being Questioned.

Perhaps it is too easy to comment here on a blog entitled “California Conservatives: speaking out for the silent Majority.” However, it seems that it is just as easy to find needlessly angry liberals as it is to find needlessly angry republicans. On the other hand it is also quite possibly that a blog such as this is useless to comment on due to the bias that is not only used in this blog to communicate opinion but also used to communicate what are supposed to be the “facts.” Regardless, it was an interesting undertaking and good practice in attempting to communicate to someone who is only going to listen to me if I present my argument with a sense of inclusiveness. The fact that Spain is actually going to pass a law allowing great apes more rights is a huge deal in the eyes of myself and many others, as I have worked directly with Chimpanzees and hope to work in the future with many other primates. For decades people like Jane GoodallRoger and Debbie Fouts have been fighting to make the lives for captive chimpanzees and other primates better, considering the futility of trying to fight for there to be no primates in captivity at all. To think that finally somewhere there is a little ray of light breaking through is great. To think that anyone could misconstrue this rather benign law being passed as having a threat to the rights of human beings is laughable. Those issues are completely separate and it would be a shame if they were lumped together. The bottom line is, when people don't know the facts about great apes, they'll scoff at the notion of them having more rights. Hopefully, with some education, the laughter will stop.

In a slightly different vain, very sane minded, animal loving people grow angrier and angrier by the actions of animal rights extremists, rightly so. However it seems a shame that because of these extremists who go to horrific violent acts, even those who are using less violent tactics are being written off as worthless human beings worthy of death or worse, worthy of being treated the way we treat animals. Posting a response here, was very important because it seems people are so quick to gloss over what is really going on, and jump to conclusions or gross overstatements that essentially throw away the validity of one persons life because they don't agree with that persons actions. The fact of the matter is it is very easy to be scared of people who seem to care enough about animals as to use the famous “holocaust” analogy. However, as much as I hate to say it, one of the definitions of the word reads as such: any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life. Understandably used, but maybe not in the best taste. The point is it is very easy to think that animals are expendable, but it’s impossible to believe when you have actually had first hand experience with the type of emotions and intelligence an animal such as a chimpanzee is capable of. It’s jarringly familiar. They can communicate with us. Not many people realize what that means. I do not support acts of violence in the name of animal rights; I do not support the act of reducing the rights of humans in favor of rights for animals. However, revolution has never been a pretty thing. Maybe the three people who were sent to jail for harassment even deserve to be there. On the other hand, the amount of hatred that rises from people so uninvolved with these human's lives is quite unnerving. These are not people are trying to kill abortion doctors and restrict the lives of women. They are people are willing to go to jail, willing to test the limits of a corporation that is exploiting animal life to better our own. They are people testing what our systems of belief are really founded on. The reason why I posted my response was not because of what these activists did, that was not my mission here. My reason for posting was, instead to respond to the resounding response of other posters who had quite a bit of anti-animal sentiment as well as anti-human sentiment in regards to those who were sentanced. Quite frankly, I find this sad and hope to lend some helpful perspective to the matter.

"Only when we understand can we care, and only when we care sufficiently will we help"-Jane Goodall

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Foie Gras Debacle: Chicago and Maine Take Slightly Different Stances

Animal rights activists should be dancing in the streets. Foie Gras was banned starting last month in Chicago, and recently The Maine Animal Coalition, though small-scale, has begun to protest the food by setting up outside of restaurants with signs in tow. Though some of their protests have been as small as 2 people present, it seems the people of Maine are not only tolerant of their presence; they are also on their side. Foie Gras is one of those delicacies made by humans that is historically and culturally weighty as it is a classic of French Cuisine enjoyed all over the world. However, the meal is produced in cruel ways that are arguably inhumane and unfair. However, it seems Maine and Chicago are having slightly different reactions to the phasing-out of the food. While these two states battle the issue slightly differently it stands to question: Can you make people care about animals by restricting their rights?

Some people believe that any attention is good attention. In many cases this can be very true. If you get something out in the open, even if people hate it, at least they are talking about it. Open discourse is one of the fundamentals for change and progress. However, when rights are violated and people are told what not to eat it seems the backlash of this move could be counter active. Just to fill in those of you who do not know: Foie Gras (Fatty Liver in French) is the enlarged liver of a duck or goose that is force fed food through a feeding tube three times a day. The condition is actually medically known as hepatic lipidosis, hepatic steatosis or hepatic encephalopathy. The process of force-feeding is often painful and can injure the animal and can continue for up to a month, though in more animal friendly places these things are not necessarily true. However, Gourmet Cruelty.com, there is a high pre-slaughter death rate for these animals due to the traumatic pain and debilitation inflicted by the force feeding. Some chefs upon seeing how the dish is cultivated, immediately vowed to never make it again. However, not all feel this way, as has been shown by the people of Chicago.

The efforts that Chicago locals are going to in order to preserve their rights to eat foie gras are a bit unnerving, considering the meal is really not a viable food staple. However, we do love our luxuries, and Chicago has made that clear in a lawsuit against the state itself. The reaction from the people in Chicago is not exactly a letter of recommendation for this type of action for animal rights. However, it is encouraging to know that a state government in this country would agree upon such a law which reinstates these animals with a small shred of the dignity they were put on this earth with.

Interestingly, Maine is next on the band wagon with what seems to be some positive response already. Though not all local restaurant owners agree with the focus of the Maine Animal Coalition, many seem to care about the cause. The owner of Fore Street Restaurant, Sam Hayward, only buys foie gras from a Montreal-area farmer whose farm he has visited. The conditions the animals lived under were much higher and higher moral was evident as well, says Hayward. He evidentially witnessed birds readily coming to the workers and opening their mouths at the sight of the feeding tube. This brings the important issue of fighting the right fight. Telling people they can not eat meat will only make people want to eat it more. People hate to be told what to do. It seems a lot of breath is wasted by people who have their hearts in the right place, but can not figure out how to use them. Fighting the farming regulations in the American meat industry would be a much better place to throw down fists. Is there a right way to battle for the rights of another creature? That question has yet to be answered, however in every type of battle it seems that change only comes with a little bit from everyone. You always need the people who do things just to get a reaction, but you can not win a battle with just shock factor. However, it seems today the battle against foie gras in Chicago, is at least helping a little. The more that restaurateurs know about the cruel punishment of these creatures, the more it seems they care. If the attitude that Maine is taking in the matter is any proof in the case, it seems that perhaps Chicago's huge debacle over the issue is at least spreading some light on the once closeted issue.

"Only when we understand can we care, and only when we care sufficiently will we help"-Jane Goodall

Dying For Animals: Selfishness or Selflessness?

It is fairly obvious that human beings have encroached upon the other animals and all living things on this planet for centuries. We have affected the course of the future of our environment since the day we got here. The involvement of human beings in nature and what our role is here on earth is something that has recently come to great controversy even in the public and arguments continue as to whether or not Human beings are creators of science and not subject to its laws. Do we have the right to use the planet and its creatures for our own survival regardless of the consequences? But even more recent than this is a question raised by the death of one of the more prominent media icons in animal education and environmentalism, Steve Irwin. Know to most as The Crocodile Hunter, the Aussie's animal antics have raised eyebrows and rolled eyes across the world. Some found hiridiculousus, some found him endearing, others found him irresponsible but after today, September 4th, 2006, Steve Irwin'’s wild eyed fascination with the animal world is a thing of the past. Irwin is one of a handful of people who got to die doing what he loved best. He was filming a show about aquatic animals and was stung in the chest by the poisonous barb of a sting ray. Death by such a thing is usually very rare, as the poison is excruciatingly painful at best. However, Irwin, being the esoteric lover of the animals he observed, died in the same vain, with an uncharacteristic barb to the heart. The question comes up from such an event, as seen in the past by others dubbed brave, or stupid: Did this man's love for animals prove an honorable, maybe unsurprising, death at the hands of a creature he sought merely to educate the world about or was it is a brazen man conquering the wild” attitude that made his death inevitable and for the better? With all the damage human beings have done to the animal world already, is there any validity in this sort of contact with wild animals or, should we be avoiding contact at all costs? What is more, if it is beneficial to both wild creature and human to interfere with these’ animals’ lives, where do we draw the line?

Steve Irwin is not the first to bring up such a question; some might remember Timothy Treadwell, the author of the book Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska and subject of the 2005 film Grizzly Man. Timothy Treadwell was a man who spent 13 summers camping in Alaska wi
th Brown Bears and referred to them as harmless party animals which is not only a false statement, but a dangerous and irresponsible one made by someone who was allegedly attempting to teach children and the world about the animals he grew to love so much and die at the hand of. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Treadwell was dubbed by Chuck Bartlebaugh of "Be Bear Aware,'' a national bear awareness campaign, as one of the leaders of a group of people attempting to show the world that bears are not dangerous. There is little else known about Timothy's actual motives, though it is known that he had been an alcoholic and drug abuser whose life was supposed to have been changed by these bears. The Regardless of whether you deem to him to be psychopath or environmentalist, the end of the story is sad for man and beast. Not only did Timothy sacrifice his own life by being with these bears but also the lives of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard and two of the bears he loved so much. The fact of the matter is this was a tragedy that could have very easily been avoided.

To quote a popular movie, With great power comes great responsibility.” For better or for worse, human beings were given great power but we have yet to live up to the responsibilities we have in hand. It seems that there is no cut and dry about the situation. Without education and some hands on action there is little hope for the survival of some of the world'’s most beautiful creatures. If we do not try to make an impact, our children won't have the possibility of knowing these animals other than fantasy stories seen on re-run episodes. However, the responsibility to educate comes in many forms and one of them is educating accurately. Media is a strong tool. One image without context can set a reactionary response to group of people, a species of animal or the state of the environment. Steve Irwin was a man who wanted to spend his entire life saving animals, and has done a few brow raising stunts to make the world question his motives. However, at the end of the day, there is a sense of responsibility that a man like Irwin took that is commendable and appropriate, not to mention he knew how to make us pay attention. As for the actions of men like Treadwell, it is hard to know what his motives were, but it seems that he crossed a line somewhere from selflessness to selfishness that not only endangered himself, but also the creatures he wished to embrace.

"Only when we understand can we care, and only when we care sufficiently will we help
"-Jane Goodall