It is not even 4AM yet and I’m wide awake in a strange bed. My son and I landed in Seoul a few hours ago, tired and hungry after a long airport limousine bus ride into the city from the Incheon Airport where we were plopped down into a bustling area at shortly after 7:00 in the evening. Trying to remember our directions to the guest house where we’re staying was not bad–I had been here several times before–but this was my first time arriving into this area of town after the long, grueling flight. Finding the place was not too difficult–people here are very friendly and willing to help out a stranger, even if they don’t know a word of English. I forgot my Korean phrase book at home. Oops! And my son forgot his dress shoes, but that’s another matter. Technology helps; smartphones abound here. After all, this is where LG and Samsung are headquartered. They guy waiting on the corner brought up his smartphone map and showed me which direction to go. Luckily, I had written on a piece of paper in Korean Hangul the name of my destination.

We’re here now and checked-in at the guest house, a little room with two small beds, but comfortable. And they have provided wireless for my laptop excursions, like this chance to write at 4AM because my body clock is still some 15 hours different from here, meaning I’m going on as if it is early afternoon. This should surprise nobody who is a well seasoned traveler to faraway locations, however it never ceases to amaze me each time this happens.

After checking-in, we ventured out in the local neighborhood to find a place to eat. Like at home in Minneapolis, the mid-winter snow is also very lacking in Seoul this year, although it is a bit colder here. Walking about in my vest with no jacket, the cold air woke me up; this left the only remaining basic need all the more stark–I was very hungry. We found a Korean fastfood-like place called 2900 which was quite good and inexpensive. It was named 2900 after their phone number. We both had some variety of Bim-bim-bap, a rice/vegetable mixture. The accompanying little bowl of soup was both warm and comforting after that chill air.

Besides the original motivation for this trip, I hope to capture some of the images of Seoul and combine those with my previous visit here in 2007 to create a book much in the same spirit of One Hundred Views of Beijing. I expect it will be called One Hundred Views of Seoul. Part of my interest in these images will be a study of the use of color, the meaning which is applied to it, and how it is interpreted. The toilets at the Incheon airport for example had red and green symbols for women and men, respectively, a use of color I have not seen (or noticed) before in the states for male/female markers. I will keep my eye out to see if this use of color in this way is prevalent. And, we will see if my 8mp smartphone camera will do that image any justice; I was reluctant to get out my big camera in the middle of all that airport security.

During my trip to China in May 2010 I accumulated more than 3,000 images. From these, I chose a set of 100 images from Beijing to create my book titled One Hundred Views of Beijing, a name derived from One Hundred Views of Edo (1856-58) which later inspired artists like Vincent Van Gogh. Preceding this work was Thirty six Views of Mount Fuji, large color woodblocks, by Hokusai, created 1826-1833, and later, One Hundred Views of Mount Fuju, upping his previous number.

Technically, one of my images in this collection of 100 is of the great wall, which is not exactly Beijing. But since I felt the great wall had a close relationship with Beijing, I deemed it okay to make this stretch. (But I didn’t want to push it and only kept it to the one image; I could have gone wild with great wall pictures!) Also, Ninety Nine Views of Beijing with One Thrown In of The Great Wall would’ve been a very cumbersome title.

The organization of these images were done as a part of a graduate design studio class I had Fall 2010, and later improved upon.  I first went through an exercise of pairing photos in preparation for each spread, for an early first draft. This process was mostly intuitive. But this wasn’t enough by itself, it needed an additional form of organization. As such, I came up an idea for four themes, or chapters: Iconic, Architectural, Patterns, and People. Still, there were other issues to be solved. Tagging images wasn’t perfectly exclusive: there are people patterns, architectural patterns, iconic architecture, etc. But in general, I assigned a major attribute to each image. Most people shots were on the street, so that section was named accordingly.

Later, the Iconic split into Prologue and Epilogue, joining the two ends. Doublends Jined as Joyce would put it. Now I had a continuous loop when you considered Epilogue and Prologue as a split-Iconic. Every chapter had a one before it and one after it. Now I could make use of each image’s secondary attributes and sort them according to what section preceded and followed. For example, architectural images when from iconic in style to pattern. The pattern section began with the most architectural looking images and ended with people-patterns. Likewise for the other two sections, On the street (people), and Iconic. I had a system for placing every image appropriately to a spread.

Given the symmetry which emerged from this project, when I went to add a preface, it seemed to throw it off balance, looking at it holistically. So that gave me the impetus to create a colophon to put at the end, and why not describe my work? Except I didn’t go into as much detail about the organizing principles in the colophon as I did here, but rather kept to typeface choices and other interesting details which I did not include in this post.

It was a very satisfying book project and a great accomplishment. Now I’m ready to start another.

I just tried out Spaz twitter client the other day, a sweet app built on Adobe Air technology. It helped me find a few lost messages I didn’t know I had. I also liked it because it was an open source project. I am also thinking about trying out Buzzbird, another open source client.

The other day, I found myself wandering the periphery of Tianamen Square trying to figure out how to enter.  I had no idea it was so surrounded by busy roads so wide that they could easily be considered expressways.  The tunnels are the way in, security check included.  In the process of wandering, I ran into a guy who called himself Tom.  He is a middle school history teacher on one of the cities outside Beijing, returning to Beijing for some training and now seeing the sights.  He and I hung out for a while, and he showed me the ropes at Tianamen, and the old part of the city just to the south.  We stopped at a shop for a beer and a bite to eat when he told me about Friday nights at Renmin University, the regular event called English Corner.  English Corner at Renmin University happens every Friday night, starting about 8pm.

Friday evening I was on my own and not terribly far from Renmin, relatively speaking, I decided to go to English Corner.  It was about a 25 RMB taxi ride, so not very close either.  I arrived shortly after 8pm at the east gate entrance to the University.

I entered and found the park area, just inside.  It was dark, but the open space in the middle of the park was very crowded, and, as expected, everyone was speaking English, various levels.  People were in groups of various sizes, some very large, actively discussing.  Inhibited to interrupt any of the goings on, I nearly circled the whole area before finding someone alone.   I said ‘hello’ and we started talking.  I soon found myself surrounded by at least 5 or 6 people, which peaked later at some higher number.  We talked about photography, art, politics, philosophy, opinions and attitudes, comparing China and the USA.  I was like a celebrity, talking constantly and constantly being surrounded by the curious and the engaged conversationalists.  Many were engaged with very thoughtful, challenging questions.  I handed out many of my business cards, and received a couple in exchange.

I’m not usually good at standing for long periods of time, and I knew some time had passed when the crowd starting thinning out, but I was surprised to find out it was nearly midnight when I looked at the clock.  Nearly four hours had passed since I had arrived!

To anyone traveling to Beijing: reserve your Friday night for this!  Highly recommended.

Internet access for me has been difficult while in Beijing, at least from the Hotel where I’m staying.  I found a nice little Internet cafe called Sculpting in Time, and this evening I’m here catching up on my online stuff.

Today, we presented our works for the faculty and students in the photography department at the Beijing Film Academy, which was well received.  Everyone has been great.  There was a lot of interest generated from the presentation.  The Beijing Now blog has a little more detail about this.

(And I hope to have some photos posted soon.)

Not earth shattering, but this thought just struck me.  A great application for Apple’s new iPad would be a traveling portfolio.  My iPhone is just too small to do justice to any of my photos.  Laptops are ok, but inconvenient, when you’re going from gallery to gallery to other venues.  The iPad fits in-between very nicely.

Media was an ancient empire which directly preceded the Persian Empire.  This area of northeastern Iran existed along the collective trails which would later be known as the silk road.  Media, as we now know and pronounce this word, was “madiya” or “madhya,” inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) into their pre-Iranian languages such as Avestan, Old Persion, Sanskrit, and which means “middle.”  To name an empire based on its middle-ness (spatially, I presume) privileges the recognition of its central status, say, perhaps in mediating commerce along the silk road between China and the Mediterranean.  (Which is a conjecture on my part.)

The concept of “middle” came into Latin, also by inheritance from PIE, as “medius.”  Its related Latin forms are mediatorum (one who mediates), mediatus (to mediate), mediocris (middle quality), and so on.  English gets a lot of its Latin roots through French, so going from “medius” to “medium” or “intermediate” is not a difficult stretch.  As reported in the OED the phrase “intermediate agency” meant “channel of communication,” first recorded in 1605.  A nineteenth century “medium” could be one who communicates with the dead, or a splotch of oil paint on canvas, both arguably a channel of communication.

The phrase “mass media” was born about 1923 when used as a technical term in advertising, and applied to newspapers by about 1927.  By the 1960s, media in all its forms as “channel of communication” was further abstracted by media theorist Marshal McLuhan to mean “any technological extension of ourselves.”

Looking up “media” and “medium” in the OED will deluge you with a number of definitions perhaps exceeding 60.  How’s this one: “the middle layer of the wall of a blood vessel or lymphatic vessel,” or this one: “a voiced stop in ancient Greek”?

The common thread running through all of these seemingly wide and varied set of definitions is the concept of “intermediation between two things,” a form of being in the middle.  When the intermediation occurs between a human being and something else, we come back to a channel of communication, or a tool, or as McLuhan said, an extension of ourselves.

As an initial exercise in one of my classes this semester (which is taught strictly online and is called DHA 8181) I introduced myself with the following message.  Then I thought, why not include this here?  This is it .  .  .

My background is varied with an emphasis on the technical side, meaning physics and mathematics from an academic perspective, and an all-to-lengthy career in computer science. My pursuit of an MFA in interactive design comes from a desire to bridge a gap between my technical skills, such as building software systems, and my background in the fine arts, which includes painting and photography. If I could sum up the common thread of my existence, it would be the appreciation of beauty in all the universe and a striving to understand it. Even software can be beautiful. Physics certainly is.

A few years back I began working in New Media art projects, and this also follows this sort of bridging, or merging, between the technical and the artistic. I am very interested in both art and design and intend to weave these together in my graduate studies. Last August, I started [this blog] to talk about art, design and related matters, though my graduate studies tend to keep me from the requisite regularity of an average blogger. Most recently, I have been working on a photography project called Weiji, under the direction of professor Tom Rose (UofM) and Tang Meng (Beijing Film Academy). Weiji is the Chinese word meaning crisis=opportunity.

When I am not part of a focused study, I dream of travel to remote and exotic parts of the planet (Seychelles anyone?) or just being outdoors with nature, but in reality drift my attention from one shiny object to the next. And sometimes, I get stuff done around the house in spite of myself. Last summer, I build a Japanese style garden fence out of cedar, my own design. Almost complete!

The past semester for me was a brutal one, in that it consumed all my available time in addition to displacing the nearly the rest of my life.  However, that was to be expected, taking a full-time graduate load while remaining at full-time status at my place of employment.  All that, and a family of four.

It was a good semester and the grades were decent.  Because of the Beijing Now photography class, I was introduced to the Chinese students from Beijing Film Academy, and their professor.  They visited us in Minneapolis in the first week of December, right before the snow hit the fan.  It seemed cold then, but that was only our introduction, as those early-season introductions are usually felt in their more extreme while we acclimate, albeit slowly, as this season progresses into the depths of darkness, snow and lower temperatures.  It was only within a week of their leaving that the snow came and with a petty vengeance.  It was late in coming this year, or shall I say ‘that’ year because now I am speaking of the other.  That petty vengeance was followed by the real one in the days leading up to the 25th, with well over another foot of snow layered on top of what had already accumulated before.   (I have photos, and will try to publish them as soon as I can.)

One of my big accomplishments of 2009 was finishing the book Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce.  I actually read the whole thing!  To anyone not familiar with this work, that accomplishment in our literate society might not sound like much.  I believe it was 628 pages which took Joyce 17 years to write, about half of his creative life.  The book is a fictional depiction of a dream.  Its language is twisted with double and triple meanings (maybe more), multiple and layered voices (often competing), and a highly disconnected flow (this sentence pales by comparison).  Finnegans Wake is psychedelic.

These mechanisms succeed in creating a dream like state.  But the book is a very slow read.  It crawls, and when I return to the bookmarked spot I end up re-reading the page I knew I read previously, only to reinterpret in yet another way.  The highly ambiguous text yields many interpretations.  The meanings are deeply layered.  All this is why I find this book so inspiring.

Of course there were many other accomplishments and highlights of 2009, other books finished (Name of the Rose, to name one other, and many text books and non-fiction which work like text books, such as Roland Barthes’ Semiotics), acceptance and entrance into graduate school, camping in the Porcupine Mountains last June, to list a few but not exhaustively.

What this reflection has to do with New Media or Photography is yet to be revealed.  Suffice it to say, the seeds of inspiration are about to germinate.

Last night, I attended a well-attended panel discussion at the Art Department (INFLUX) at the University of Minnesota.  On the panel were two artists from China, Li Shuan and Liu Xuguang.  Their show, the past re-configured, is at the Nash Gallery.

The works based on certain Chinese characters retain the idea of past Chinese art, but with new methods and materials.  Their thought process seemed very holistic to me.  I also couldn’t help wonder, in a McLuhan sort of way, the advantage these artists have, embodied in the Chinese pictographic writing system, the more directness of the imagery in the signs used, such as Li Shuan’s use of the Chinese character for person ( rén) in a visually repeated way to represent a sense of humanity; the  character itself resembling the outstretched arms of a human being.  I wish I knew Chinese; I would like to better understand the role this writing system plays in one’s thinking process–especially the visual thinking process–and the significance and type of impact it has.  McLuhan has a lot to say about the impact of typography on social structure and social roles, but I will keep this article short.

Liu Xuguang talked about his life’s influences in his art, especially of the Yellow River, and compared this great river to the Mississippi River on which the University campus rests.  This was Liu’s first visit to Minnesota.  Liu is professor of fine art at the Beijing Film Academy and his current work involves New Media, however the brief time I had talked with him after the panel discuss did not allow any in-depth discussion.

Also attending the panel was Wang Chunchen, curator for CAFA Art Museum (Central Academy of Fine Arts).  One theme discussed at length during the panel session was the rapid change that China, and Beijing itself, is going through, and the impact this has on artists, and on the people of China in general.