A beautiful and dangerous idea: art that sells itself

Artist Caleb Larsen seems to have the right idea. Rather than relying on the subjective wants and needs of galleries and the dubious nature of the secondary art market (and some equally dubious auctioneers) his art sells itself.

His work, entitled “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter”, is an 8-inch opaque, black acrylic cube. But while the exterior may be simplicity itself, the interior holds a fascinating premise. The cube is connected to the internet. In fact, it’s connected to eBay, where through some hidden hardware and custom programming it constantly auctions itself.

As Caleb Larsen describes,

Combining Robert Morris’ Box With the Sound of Its Own Making with Baudrillard’s writing on the art auction this sculpture exists in eternal transactional flux. It is a physical sculpture that is perptually attempting to auction itself on eBay.

Every ten minutes the black box pings a server on the internet via the ethernet connection to check if it is for sale on the ebay. If its auction has ended or it has sold, it automatically creates a new auction of itself.

If a person buys it on eBay, the current owner is required to send it to the new owner. The new owner must then plug it into ethernet, and the cycle repeats itself.

The purchase agreement on eBay is quite rigorous, including stipulations such as: the buyer must keep the artwork connected to the interent at all times with disconnections allowed only for the transportation; upon purchase the artwork must be reauctioned; failure to follow all terms of the agreement forfeits the status of the artwork as a genuine work of art.

The artist was also smart enough to gain a slice of the secondary market, by requiring each buyer to return to the artist 15 percent of the appreciated value from each sale. Christie’s and Sotheby’s eat your hearts out.

Besides trying to put auctioneers out of work, the artist has broader intentions in mind, particularly when viewed alongside his larger body of work. The piece goes to the heart of the “how” and the “why” of the art market. By placing the artwork in a constant state of transactional fluidity – it’s never permanently in the hands of its new owner – it forces us to question the nature of art in relation to its market and the nature of collecting. The work can never without question be owned and collected since it is always possible that someone else will come along, enter the auction and win. Though, the first “owner” of the piece states that this was part of the appeal. Terence Spies, a California collector attests,

I had a really strong reaction right after I won the auction. I have this thing, and I really want to keep it, but the reason I want to keep it is that it might leave… The process of the piece really gets to some of the reasons why you might be collecting art in the first place.

Now of course, owning anything is transient. The Egyptian pharaohs tried taking their possessions into the “afterlife” but even to this day are being constantly thwarted by tomb-raiders and archeologists. Perhaps to some the chase, the process of collecting, is the goal, rather than owning the art itself. As I believe Caleb Larsen intended, he’s really given me something to ponder. How different, really, is it to own this self-selling art versus wandering through the world’s museums and galleries to “own” a Picasso or Warhol or Monet for 5 minutes? Ironically, our works live on, and it is we who are transient. So I think Caleb Larsen’s title for the work should be taken tongue in cheek, for it is we who are deceiving ourselves.

The Real Rules for Time Travelers

[div class=attrib]From Discover:[end-div]

People all have their own ideas of what a time machine would look like. If you are a fan of the 1960 movie version of H. G. Wells’s classic novel, it would be a steampunk sled with a red velvet chair, flashing lights, and a giant spinning wheel on the back. For those whose notions of time travel were formed in the 1980s, it would be a souped-up stainless steel sports car. Details of operation vary from model to model, but they all have one thing in common: When someone actually travels through time, the machine ostentatiously dematerializes, only to reappear many years in the past or future. And most people could tell you that such a time machine would never work, even if it looked like a DeLorean.

They would be half right: That is not how time travel might work, but time travel in some other form is not necessarily off the table. Since time is kind of like space (the four dimensions go hand in hand), a working time machine would zoom off like a rocket rather than disappearing in a puff of smoke. Einstein described our universe in four dimensions: the three dimensions of space and one of time. So traveling back in time is nothing more or less than the fourth-dimensional version of walking in a circle. All you would have to do is use an extremely strong gravitational field, like that of a black hole, to bend space-time. From this point of view, time travel seems quite difficult but not obviously impossible.

These days, most people feel comfortable with the notion of curved space-time. What they trip up on is actually a more difficult conceptual problem, the time travel paradox. This is the worry that someone could go back in time and change the course of history. What would happen if you traveled into the past, to a time before you were born, and murdered your parents? Put more broadly, how do we avoid changing the past as we think we have already experienced it? At the moment, scientists don’t know enough about the laws of physics to say whether these laws would permit the time equivalent of walking in a circle—or, in the parlance of time travelers, a “closed timelike curve.” If they don’t permit it, there is obviously no need to worry about paradoxes. If physics is not an obstacle, however, the problem could still be constrained by logic. Do closed timelike curves necessarily lead to paradoxes?

If they do, then they cannot exist, simple as that. Logical contradictions cannot occur. More specifically, there is only one correct answer to the question “What happened at the vicinity of this particular event in space-time?” Something happens: You walk through a door, you are all by yourself, you meet someone else, you somehow never showed up, whatever it may be. And that something is whatever it is, and was whatever it was, and will be whatever it will be, once and forever. If, at a certain event, your grandfather and grandmother were getting it on, that’s what happened at that event. There is nothing you can do to change it, because it happened. You can no more change events in your past in a space-time with closed timelike curves than you can change events that already happened in ordinary space-time, with no closed timelike curves.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force

[div class=attrib]From The New York Times:[end-div]

As with any other species, human populations are shaped by the usual forces of natural selection, like famine, disease or climate. A new force is now coming into focus. It is one with a surprising implication — that for the last 20,000 years or so, people have inadvertently been shaping their own evolution.

The force is human culture, broadly defined as any learned behavior, including technology. The evidence of its activity is the more surprising because culture has long seemed to play just the opposite role. Biologists have seen it as a shield that protects people from the full force of other selective pressures, since clothes and shelter dull the bite of cold and farming helps build surpluses to ride out famine.

Because of this buffering action, culture was thought to have blunted the rate of human evolution, or even brought it to a halt, in the distant past. Many biologists are now seeing the role of culture in a quite different light.

Although it does shield people from other forces, culture itself seems to be a powerful force of natural selection. People adapt genetically to sustained cultural changes, like new diets. And this interaction works more quickly than other selective forces, “leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution,” Kevin N. Laland and colleagues wrote in the February issue of Nature Reviews Genetics. Dr. Laland is an evolutionary biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

The idea that genes and culture co-evolve has been around for several decades but has started to win converts only recently. Two leading proponents, Robert Boyd of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Peter J. Richerson of the University of California, Davis, have argued for years that genes and culture were intertwined in shaping human evolution. “It wasn’t like we were despised, just kind of ignored,” Dr. Boyd said. But in the last few years, references by other scientists to their writings have “gone up hugely,” he said.

The best evidence available to Dr. Boyd and Dr. Richerson for culture being a selective force was the lactose tolerance found in many northern Europeans. Most people switch off the gene that digests the lactose in milk shortly after they are weaned, but in northern Europeans — the descendants of an ancient cattle-rearing culture that emerged in the region some 6,000 years ago — the gene is kept switched on in adulthood.

Lactose tolerance is now well recognized as a case in which a cultural practice — drinking raw milk — has caused an evolutionary change in the human genome. Presumably the extra nutrition was of such great advantage that adults able to digest milk left more surviving offspring, and the genetic change swept through the population.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]