Category Archives: Arts and Letters

Reading Makes You A Better Person

Scientists have finally learned what book lovers have known for some time — reading fiction makes you a better person.

From Readers Digest:

Anyone who reads understands the bittersweet feeling of finishing a good book. It’s as if a beloved friend has suddenly packed her things and parted, the back cover swinging closed like a taxicab door. Farewell, friend. See you on the shelf.

If you’ve ever felt weird for considering fictional characters your friends or fictional places your home, science says you no longer have to. A new body of research is emerging to explain how books have such a powerful emotional pull on us, and the answer du jour is surprising—when we step into a fictional world, we treat the experiences as if they were real. Adding to the endless list of reading benefits is this: Reading fiction literally makes you more empathetic in real life.

Not all fiction is created equal, though—and reading a single chapter of Harry Potter isn’t an instant emotion-enhancer. Here are a few key caveats from the nerdy scientists trying to figure out why reading rules.

Rule #1: The story has to “take you somewhere.”

How many times have you heard someone declare that a good book “transports” you? That immersive power that allows readers to happily inhabit other people, places, and points of view for hours at a time is precisely what a team of researchers in the Netherlands credit for the results of a 2013 study in which students asked to read an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery showed a marked increase in empathy one week later, while students tasked with reading a sampling of news articles showed a decline.

Read the entire article here.

Zebra Stripes


Why do zebras have stripes? Well, we’ve all learned from an early age that their peculiar and unique black and white stripes are an adaptation to combat predators. One theory suggests that the stripes are camouflage. Another theory suggests that the stripes are there to confuse predators. Yet another proposes that the stripes are a vivid warning signal.

But Tim Caro, professor of wildlife biology at the University of California, has a thoroughly different idea, conveyed in his new book, Zebra Stripes. After twenty years of study he’s convinced that the zebra’s stripes have a more mundane purpose — a deterrent to pesky biting flies.

From Wired:

At four in the morning, Tim Caro roused his colleagues. Bleary-eyed and grumbling, they followed him to the edge of the village, where the beasts were hiding. He sat them down in chairs, and after letting their eyes adjust for a minute, he asked them if they saw anything. And if so, would they please point where?

Not real beasts. Despite being camped in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park, Caro was asking his colleagues to identify pelts—from a wildebeest, an impala, and a zebra—that he had draped over chairs or clotheslines. Caro wanted to know if the zebra’s stripes gave it any sort of camouflage in the pre-dawn, when many predators hunt, and he needed the sort of replicability he could not count on from the animals roaming the savannah. “I lost a lot of social capital on that experiment,” says Caro. “If you’re going to be woken up at all, it’s important to be woken up for something exciting or unpredictable, and this was neither.”

The experiment was one of hundreds Caro performed over a twenty year scientific odyssey to discover why zebras have stripes—a question that nearly every major biologist since Alfred Russel Wallace has tried to answer. “It became sort of a challenge to me to try and investigate all the existing hypotheses so I could not only identify the right one,” he says, “but just as importantly kill all those remaining.” His new book, Zebra Stripes, chronicles every detail.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Zebras, Botswana. Courtesy: Paul Maritz, 2002. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.

Post*Factua!ly Speaking – Inauguration Day


In keeping with today’s historic (and peaceful) transition of power in the United States — I’m taking time to celebrate the inauguration of… Post*factua!ly.

Post*factua!ly is my new social art project aimed at collecting lies, sharing misquotes and debunking facts. How timely, right?

We’ve entered a new age where lies matter and fact is meaningless. As a result Post*factua!ly aims to become a community focal point — with an artistic slant — for fibs, lies, falsehoods, deceit, half-truths, fabrications, bluffing, disinformation, misinformation, untruth, truthiness, post-truth, post-fact, and other stuff that’s just not real (or perhaps it is).

Post*factua!ly will formally open it’s doors by early February. So, in the meantime if you wish to join the community please visit this link, and thanks for giving the world of post-fact and truthiness a chance.

What Up With That: Nationalism

The recent political earthquake in the US is just one example of a nationalistic wave that swept across Western democracies in 2015-2016. The election in the US seemed to surprise many political talking-heads since the nation was, and still is, on a continuing path towards greater liberalism (mostly due to demographics).

So, what exactly is up with that? Can American liberals enter a coma for the next 4 years, sure to awaken refreshed and ready for a new left-of-center regime? Or, is the current nationalistic mood — albeit courtesy of a large minority — likely to prevail for a while longer? Well, there’s no clear answer, and political scientists and researchers are baffled.

Care to learn more about theories of nationalism and the historical underpinnings of nationalism? Visit my reading list over at Goodreads. But make sure you start with: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. It’s been the global masterwork on the analysis of nationalism since it was first published in 1983.

I tend to agree with Anderson’s thesis, that a nation is mostly a collective figment of people’s imagination facilitated by modern communications networks. So, I have to believe that eventually our networks will help us overcome the false strictures of our many national walls and borders.

From Scientific American:

Waves of nationalist sentiment are reshaping the politics of Western democracies in unexpected ways — carrying Donald Trump to a surprise victory last month in the US presidential election, and pushing the United Kingdom to vote in June to exit the European Union. And nationalist parties are rising in popularity across Europe.

Many economists see this political shift as a consequence of globalization and technological innovation over the past quarter of a century, which have eliminated many jobs in the West. And political scientists are tracing the influence of cultural tensions arising from immigration and from ethnic, racial and sexual diversity. But researchers are struggling to understand why these disparate forces have combined to drive an unpredictable brand of populist politics.

“We have to start worrying about the stability of our democracies,” says Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He notes that the long-running World Values Survey shows that people are increasingly disaffected with their governments — and more willing to support authoritarian leaders.

Some academics have explored potential parallels between the roots of the current global political shift and the rise of populism during the Great Depression, including in Nazi Germany. But Helmut Anheier, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, cautions that the economic struggles of middle-class citizens across the West today are very different, particularly in mainland Europe.

The Nazis took advantage of the extreme economic hardship that followed the First World War and a global depression, but today’s populist movements are growing powerful in wealthy European countries with strong social programmes. “What brings about a right-wing movement when there are no good reasons for it?”Anheier asks.

In the United States, some have suggested that racism motivated a significant number of Trump voters. But that is too simplistic an explanation, says Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard University.  “Trump dominated the news for more than a year, and did so with provocative statements that were meant to exacerbate every tension in the US,” she says.

Read the entire story here.

p.s. What Up With That is my homage to the recurring Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch of the same name.

Heroes Only Die at the Top of Hills

google-search-heroes-comicWe all need heroes. So, if you wish to become one, you would stand a better chance if you took your dying breaths atop a hill. Also, it would really help your cause if you arrived via virgin birth.

Accordingly, please refer to the Rank-Raglan Mythotype — it is a list of 22 universal archetypes that are prerequisites to you becoming a hero of mythological proportions (far beyond being a Youtube sensation):

  1. Hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
  2. His father is a king, and
  3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
  4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
  5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
  6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but
  7. He is spirited away, and
  8. Reared by foster -parents in a far country.
  9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
  10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
  11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
  12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
  13. Becomes king.
  14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
  15. Prescribes laws, but
  16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
  17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
  18. He meets with a mysterious death,
  19. Often at the top of a hill,
  20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
  21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
  22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.

By far the most heroic fit to date is Mithradates the Great with 22 out of a possible 22 cross-cultural traits. Jesus comes in with a score of 18-20 (based on interpretation) out of 22 , beaten by Krishna with 21, while Robin Hood only manages a paltry 13. Interestingly, Buddha collects 15 points, followed closely by Czar Nicholas II with 14.

The mythotype comes from the book The Hero: A study in Tradition, Myth and Dreams by Lord Raglan.

List courtesy of Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz, Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois. It is based upon material used in his mythology classes for many years, first at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

MondayMap: A Global Radio Roadtrip


As a kid my radio allowed me to travel the world. I could use the dial to transport myself over border walls and across oceans to visit new cultures and discover new sounds. I’d always eagerly anticipate the next discovery as I carefully moved the dial around the Short Wave, Long Wave (and later the FM) spectrum, waiting for new music and voices to replace the soothing crackle and hiss of the intervening static.

So, what a revelation it is to stumble across Radio.Garden. It’s a glorious, app that combines the now arcane radio dial with the power of the internet enabling you to journey around the globe on a virtual radio roadtrip.

Trek to Tromsø north of the arctic circle in Norway, then hop over to Omsk in central Russia. Check out the meditative tunes in Kathmandu before heading southwest to Ruwi, Oman on the Persian Gulf. Stopover in Kuching, Malaysia, then visit Nhulunbuy in Australia’s Northern Territory. Take in a mid-Pacific talk radio show in Bairiki, in the Republic of Kiribati, then some salsa inspired tuned in Tacna, Peru, and followed by pounding Brazilian Euro-techno in João Pessoa. Journey to Kinshasa in the DRC for some refreshing African beats, then rest for the day with some lively conversation in the Italian Apennine Mountains in Parma, Italy.


During this wonderful border free journey one thing is becomes crystal clear: we are part of one global community with much in common. History will eventually prove the racists and xenophobes among us wrong.

Images: Screenshots of Radio.Garden. Courtesy of Radio.Garden.

Computational Folkloristics

hca_by_thora_hallager_1869What do you get when you set AI (artificial intelligence) the task of reading through 30,000 Danish folk and fairy tales? Well, you get a host of fascinating, newly discovered insights into Scandinavian witches and trolls.

More importantly, you hammer another nail into the coffin of literary criticism and set AI on a collision course with yet another preserve of once exclusive human endeavor. It’s probably safe to assume that creative writing will fall to intelligent machines in the not too distant future (as well) — certainly human-powered investigative journalism seemed to became extinct in 2016; replaced by algorithmic aggregation, social bots and fake-mongers.

From aeon:

Where do witches come from, and what do those places have in common? While browsing a large collection of traditional Danish folktales, the folklorist Timothy Tangherlini and his colleague Peter Broadwell, both at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to find out. Armed with a geographical index and some 30,000 stories, they developed WitchHunter, an interactive ‘geo-semantic’ map of Denmark that highlights the hotspots for witchcraft.

The system used artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to unearth a trove of surprising insights. For example, they found that evil sorcery often took place close to Catholic monasteries. This made a certain amount of sense, since Catholic sites in Denmark were tarred with diabolical associations after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. By plotting the distance and direction of witchcraft relative to the storyteller’s location, WitchHunter also showed that enchantresses tend to be found within the local community, much closer to home than other kinds of threats. ‘Witches and robbers are human threats to the economic stability of the community,’ the researchers write. ‘Yet, while witches threaten from within, robbers are generally situated at a remove from the well-described village, often living in woods, forests, or the heath … it seems that no matter how far one goes, nor where one turns, one is in danger of encountering a witch.’

Such ‘computational folkloristics’ raise a big question: what can algorithms tell us about the stories we love to read? Any proposed answer seems to point to as many uncertainties as it resolves, especially as AI technologies grow in power. Can literature really be sliced up into computable bits of ‘information’, or is there something about the experience of reading that is irreducible? Could AI enhance literary interpretation, or will it alter the field of literary criticism beyond recognition? And could algorithms ever derive meaning from books in the way humans do, or even produce literature themselves?

Author and computational linguist Inderjeet Mani concludes his essay thus:

Computational analysis and ‘traditional’ literary interpretation need not be a winner-takes-all scenario. Digital technology has already started to blur the line between creators and critics. In a similar way, literary critics should start combining their deep expertise with ingenuity in their use of AI tools, as Broadwell and Tangherlini did with WitchHunter. Without algorithmic assistance, researchers would be hard-pressed to make such supernaturally intriguing findings, especially as the quantity and diversity of writing proliferates online.

In the future, scholars who lean on digital helpmates are likely to dominate the rest, enriching our literary culture and changing the kinds of questions that can be explored. Those who resist the temptation to unleash the capabilities of machines will have to content themselves with the pleasures afforded by smaller-scale, and fewer, discoveries. While critics and book reviewers may continue to be an essential part of public cultural life, literary theorists who do not embrace AI will be at risk of becoming an exotic species – like the librarians who once used index cards to search for information.

Read the entire tale here.

Image: Portrait of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Courtesy: Thora Hallager, 10/16 October 1869. Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Wound Man


No, the image is not a still from a forthcoming episode of Law & Order or Criminal Minds. Nor is it a nightmarish Hieronymus Bosch artwork.

Rather, “Wound Man”, as he was known, is a visual table of contents to a medieval manuscript of medical cures, treatments and surgeries. Wound Man first appeared in German surgical texts in the early 15th century. Arranged around each of his various wounds and ailments are references to further details on appropriate treatments. For instance, reference number 38 alongside an arrow penetrating Wound Man’s thigh, “An arrow whose shaft is still in place”, leads to details on how to address the wound — presumably a relatively common occurrence in the Middle Ages.

From Public Domain Review:

Staring impassively out of the page, he bears a multitude of graphic wounds. His skin is covered in bleeding cuts and lesions, stabbed and sliced by knives, spears and swords of varying sizes, many of which remain in the skin, protruding porcupine-like from his body. Another dagger pierces his side, and through his strangely transparent chest we see its tip puncture his heart. His thighs are pierced with arrows, some intact, some snapped down to just their heads or shafts. A club slams into his shoulder, another into the side of his face.

His neck, armpits and groin sport rounded blue buboes, swollen glands suggesting that the figure has contracted plague. His shins and feet are pockmarked with clustered lacerations and thorn scratches, and he is beset by rabid animals. A dog, snake and scorpion bite at his ankles, a bee stings his elbow, and even inside the cavity of his stomach a toad aggravates his innards.

Despite this horrendous cumulative barrage of injuries, however, the Wound Man is very much alive. For the purpose of this image was not to threaten or inspire fear, but to herald potential cures for all of the depicted maladies. He contrarily represented something altogether more hopeful than his battered body: an arresting reminder of the powerful knowledge that could be channelled and dispensed in the practice of late medieval medicine.

The earliest known versions of the Wound Man appeared at the turn of the fifteenth century in books on the surgical craft, particularly works from southern Germany associated with the renowned Würzburg surgeon Ortolf von Baierland (died before 1339). Accompanying a text known as the “Wundarznei” (The Surgery), these first Wound Men effectively functioned as a human table of contents for the cures contained within the relevant treatise. Look closely at the remarkable Wound Man shown above from the Wellcome Library’s MS. 49 – a miscellany including medical material produced in Germany in about 1420 – and you see that the figure is penetrated not only by weapons but also by text.

Read the entire article here.

Image: The Wound Man. Courtesy: Wellcome Library’s MS. 49 — Source (CC BY 4.0). Public Domain Review.

Nightmare Machine


Now that the abject terror of the US presidential election is over — at least for a while — we have to turn our minds to new forms of pain and horror.

In recent years a growing number of illustrious scientists and technologists has described artificial intelligence (AI) as the greatest existential threat to humanity. They worry, rightfully, that a well-drilled, unfettered AI could eventually out-think and out-smart us at every level. Eventually, a super-intelligent AI would determine that humans were either peripheral or superfluous to its needs and goals, and then either enslave or extinguish us. This is the stuff of real nightmares.

Yet, at a more playful level, AI can also learn to deliver imagined nightmares. This Halloween researchers at MIT used AI techniques to create and optimize horrifying images of human faces and places. They called their AI the Nightmare Machine.

For the first step, researchers fed hundreds of thousands of celebrity photos into their AI algorithm, known as a deep convolutional generative adversarial network. This allowed the AI to learn about faces and how to create new ones. Second, they flavored the results with a second learning algorithm that had been trained on images of zombies. The combination allowed the AI to learn the critical factors that make for scary images and to selectively improve upon upon them. It turns out that blood on the face, empty eyeball sockets, and missing or misshaped teeth tend to illicit the greatest horror and fear.

While the results are not quite as scary as Stephen Hawkins’ warning of AI-led human extinction the images are terrorizing nonetheless.

Learn more about the MIT Media Lab’s Nightmare Machine here.

Image: Horror imagery generated by artificial intelligence. Courtesy: MIT Media Lab.

MondayMap: The Architecture of Music


A couple of years ago I wrote about Every Noise At Once a visualization, with samples, of (almost) every musical genre. At last count Glenn McDonald’s brainchild had algorithmically-generated and scatter-plotted 1,496 genres.

Now courtesy of Belgian architect Kwinten Crauwels we have the next gorgeous visual iteration of the music universe — Musicmap. It took Crauwels seven years to construct this astounding and comprehensive, interactive map of music genres, sub-genres and their relationships. It traces the genealogy of around 150 years of popular music.

Crauwels color-coded each of the major genres and devised different types of lines to show different relationships across the hundreds of genres and sub-genres. You can fly around the map to follow the links and drill-down to learn more about each musical style.


Now you can visually trace how Garage Rock is related to Detroit’s Motown and Doo Wop, or how present day Industrial Synth evolved from Krautrock of the 1970s.

It’s a visual, and musical, masterpiece. Read more about Musicmap here.

Image: Musicmap screenshots. Courtesy of Kwinten Crauwels, Musicmap.

A Vinyl-head’s Dream


If you’ve ever owned vinyl — the circular, black, 12 inch kind — you will know that there are certain pleasures associated with it. The different quality of sound from the spiraling grooves; the (usually) gorgeous album cover art; the printed lyrics and liner notes, sometimes an included wall poster.

Cassette tapes and then CDs shrank these pleasures. Then came the death knell, tolled by MP3 (or MPEG3) and MP4 and finally streaming.

Fortunately some of us have managed to hold on to our precious vinyl collections: our classic LPs and rare 12-inch singles; though not so much the 45s. And, to some extent vinyl is having a small — but probably temporary — renaissance.

So, I must must admit to awe and a little envy over Zero Freitas’ collection. Over the years he has amassed a vast collection of over 6 million records. During his 40 plus years of collecting he’s evolved from a mere vinyl junkie to a global curator and preservationist.

From the Vinyl Factory:

Nearly everyone interested in records will have, at some point heard, the news that there is a Brazilian who owns millions of records. Fewer seem to know, however, that Zero Freitas, a São Paulo-based businessman now in his sixties, plans to turn his collection into a public archive of the world’s music, with special focus on the Americas. Having amassed over six million records, he manages a collection similar to the entire Discogs database. Given the magnitude of this enterprise, Freitas deals with serious logistical challenges and, above all, time constraints. But he strongly believes it is worth his while. After all, no less than a vinyl library of global proportions is at stake.

How to become a part of this man’s busy timetable – that was the question that remained unanswered almost until the very end of my stay in São Paulo in April 2015. It was 8 am on my second last morning in the city, when Viviane Riegel, my Brazilian partner in crime, received a terse message: ‘if you can make it by 10am to his warehouse, he’ll have an hour for you’. That was our chance. We instantly took a taxi from the city’s south-west part called Campo Belo to a more westerly neighbourhood of Vila Leopoldina. We were privileged enough to listen to Freitas’ stories for what felt like a very quick hundred minutes. His attitude and life’s work provoked compelling questions.

The analogue record in the digital age
What makes any vinyl collection truly valuable? How to tell a mere hoarder from a serious collector? And why is vinyl collectable now, at a time of intensive digitalization of life and culture?

Publically pronounced dead by the mainstream industry in the 1990s, vinyl never really ceased to live and has proved much more resilient than the corporate prophets of digital ‘progress’ would like us to believe. Apart from its unique physical properties, vinyl records contain a history that’s longer than any digital medium can ever hope to replicate. Zero Freitas insists that this history has not been fully told yet. Indeed, when acquired and classified with a set of principles in mind, records may literally offer a record of culture, for they preserve not just sounds, but also artistic expression, visual sensibility, poetry, fashion, ideas of genre differentiation and packaging design, and sometimes social commentary of a given time and place. If you go through your life with records, then your collection might be a record of your life. Big record collections are private libraries of cultural import and aesthetic appeal. They are not so very different from books, a medium we still hold in high regard. Books and records invite ritualistic experience, their digital counterparts offer routine convenience.

The problem is that many records are becoming increasingly rare. As Portuguese musicologist Rui Vieria Nery writes reflecting on the European case of Fado music, “the truth is that, strange as it may seem, collections of Fado recordings as recent as the ’50s to ’70s are difficult to get hold of.“ Zero Freitas emphasizes that the situation of collections from other parts of the world may be even worse.

We have to ask then, what we lose if we don’t get hold of them? For one thing, records preserve the past. They save something intangible from oblivion, where a tune or a cover can suddenly transport us back in time to a younger version of ourselves and the feelings we once had. Rare and independently released records can provide a chance for genuine discovery and learning. They help acquire new tastes, delve into different under-represented stories.

What Thomas Carlyle once wrote about books applies to vinyl perhaps with even greater force: ‘in books lies the soul of the whole past time, the articulate audible voice of the past when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream’. This quote is inscribed in stone on the wall of the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Having listened to Zero Freitas, this motto could just as easily apply to his vinyl library project. Focusing on rare Brazilian music, he wants to save some endangered species of vinyl, and thus to raise awareness of world’s vast but jeopardised musical ecologies. This task seems urgent now as our attention span gets ever shorter and more distracted, as reflected in the uprooted samples and truncated snippets of music scattered all over the internet.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Vinyl LPs. Courtesy of the author.

Times Continue to Change

A thoroughly well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature to America’s unofficial poet laureate — Bob Dylan. Some good news that we can all cheer during these troubled, changing times. In the Nobel committee’s words,

For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.


Video: TV Movie, The Times They are a Changing’ (1964), directed by Daryl Duke and starring Bob Dylan.

Why Collect Art?


Art collectors have probably been around since humans first started scribbling, painting, casting and throwing (clay). Some collect exclusively for financial gain or to reduce their tax bills. Others accumulate works to signal their worth and superiority over their neighbors or to the world. Still others do so because of a personal affinity to the artist. A small number use art to launder money. Some even collect art because of emotional attachment to the art itself.

A new book entitled Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors by Erin Thompson, delves into the art world and examines the curious mind of the art collector. Thompson is assistant professor of art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. Parts of her recent essay for Aeon are excerpted below.

From Aeon:

The oil billionaire J Paul Getty was famously miserly. He installed a payphone in his mansion in Surrey, England, to stop visitors from making long-distance calls. He refused to pay ransom for a kidnapped grandson for so long that the frustrated kidnappers sent Getty his grandson’s ear in the mail. Yet he spent millions of dollars on art, and millions more to build the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He called himself ‘an apparently incurable art-collecting addict’, and noted that he had vowed to stop collecting several times, only to suffer ‘massive relapses’. Fearful of airplanes and too busy to take the time to sail to California from his adopted hometown of London, he never even visited the museum his money had filled.

Getty is only one of the many people through history who have gone to great lengths to collect art – searching, spending, and even stealing to satisfy their cravings. But what motivates these collectors?

Debates about why people collect art date back at least to the first century CE. The Roman rhetorician Quintilian claimed that those who professed to admire what he considered to be the primitive works of the painter Polygnotus were motivated by ‘an ostentatious desire to seem persons of superior taste’. Quintilian’s view still finds many supporters.

Another popular explanation for collecting – financial gain – cannot explain why collectors go to such lengths. Of course, many people buy art for financial reasons. You can resell works, sometimes reaping enormous profit. You can get large tax deductions for donating art to museums – so large that the federal government has seized thousands of looted antiquities that were smuggled into the United States just so that they could be donated with inflated valuations to knock money off the donors’ tax bills. Meanwhile, some collectors have figured out how to keep their artworks close at hand while still getting a tax deduction by donating them to private museums that they’ve set up on their own properties. More nefariously, some ‘collectors’ buy art as a form of money laundering, since it is far easier to move art than cash between countries without scrutiny.

But most collectors have little regard for profit. For them, art is important for other reasons. The best way to understand the underlying drive of art collecting is as a means to create and strengthen social bonds, and as a way for collectors to communicate information about themselves and the world within these new networks. Think about when you were a child, making friends with the new kid on the block by showing off your shoebox full of bird feathers or baseball cards. You were forming a new link in your social network and communicating some key pieces of information about yourself (I’m a fan of orioles/the Orioles). The art collector conducting dinner party guests through her private art gallery has the same goals – telling new friends about herself.

People tend to imagine collectors as highly competitive, but that can prove wrong too. Serious art collectors often talk about the importance not of competition but of the social networks and bonds with family, friends, scholars, visitors and fellow collectors created and strengthened by their collecting. The way in which collectors describe their first purchases often reveals the central role of the social element. Only very rarely do collectors attribute their collecting to a solo encounter with an artwork, or curiosity about the past, or the reading of a textual source. Instead, they almost uniformly give credit to a friend or family member for sparking their interest, usually through encountering and discussing a specific artwork together. A collector showing off her latest finds to her children is doing the same thing as a sports fan gathering the kids to watch the game: reinforcing family bonds through a shared interest.

Read the entire article below.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

New Worlds


Although I hung up my professional photographer credentials a while ago I continue my quest for great imagery — whether mine or belonging to others. It’s increasingly difficult nowadays to separate the wheat from the chaff with so many images from so many aspiring photographers armed with their ubiquitous smartphones. Yet, some image-makers continue to rise to the top, their special and unique views separating them from the armies of millions (now probably billions) of regular snapshot-takers.

Catherine Nelson is one such visual artist. Some of her recent work is on display at New York’s Saul gallery. But I urge you to visit her work here. Her series are rich, eerie and (appropriately) other worldly — my favorites: Other Worlds, Submerged and Origins.

Image: Sydney Spring. Courtesy: Catherine Nelson.

What’s Up With Middle-Aged White Males?







Not too long ago I came across a number of articles describing the high and growing incidence of suicide among middle-aged white males. Indeed, the suicide rate has skyrocketed 40 percent since the early 2000s.

Understandably, and no less sad, the increase in suicides seems to be driven by acute financial distress, chronic pain and/or illness, alcoholism and drug addiction.

Now, it seems that there is a corresponding increase in the number of white males faking their disappearance or fantasizing about it. A classic example is John Darwin from the UK, also known as “canoe man“, who faked his own death in 2002. But a key difference between this group and those who take their own lives is that the group of white males looking to disappear tends to be financially and (reasonably) emotionally stable.

So what on earth is going on?

A soon too be published book — Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, by Elizabeth Greenwood, examines what it’s like to fake your own death and burgeoning “disappearance” industry.

Here’s an excerpt:

Perhaps Todd’s plan for faking his death will remain in the realm of pure fantasy. But were he to put his plan into motion, Todd fits the prime demographic for a death fraudster. As a middle-aged, middle-class, heterosexual white man with a family, Todd represents the person most likely to fake his death. I’d noticed this disproportion in the demographics, and I wondered if there was anything to it. Privacy consultant Frank Ahearn and author of How to Disappear told me that the majority of his clients who sought to leave their lives behind were men, and J. J. Luna, author of How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life, told me that “far more men than women!” seek his “invisibility” services. In the 1996 guidebook How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, disappearance enthusiast Doug Richmond writes, “To a man of a certain age, there’s a bit of magic in the very thought of cutting all ties, of getting away from it all, of changing names and jobs and women and living happily ever after in a more salubrious clime!”

But why do these seemingly privileged men, who enjoy every perk that DNA has to offer, feel so hemmed in that they must go off the radar entirely? Perhaps it’s because although men still out-earn women, they then entangle themselves in financial trouble trying to enhance their fortunes. Maybe they shrug off because they feel less responsibility to see their children grow and flourish. Women shoulder the burdens of family and community—they take care of dying parents, snotty kids, shut-in neighbors—anyone before themselves. Though that might be relying too heavily on conventional wisdom about gender roles, the numbers speak for themselves: faking death seems to be a heavily male phenomenon. After combing through the stories and examining the traits that men like Todd share, I noticed that they all seemed to feel emasculated, made impotent, by their mundane lives. So, not earning enough money, they invest in a harebrained scheme. Underwhelmed with their monogamous sex lives, they take up with other women. Faking death seems to be not only a way out but also, counterintuitively, a way to be brave.

Read more here.

Image: Actor Leonard Rossiter plays Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, a mid-1970s BBC sitcom. Courtesy: BBC.

Steps of Life


Are you adolescent or middle-aged? Are you on life’s upwardly mobile journey towards the peak years (whatever these may be) or are you spiraling downwards in terminal decline?

The stages of life — from childhood to death — may be the simplistic invention of ancient scholars who sought a way to classify and explain the human condition, but over hundreds of years authors and artists have continued to be drawn to the subject. Our contemporary demographers and market researchers are just the latest in a long line of those who seek to explain, and now monetize, particular groups by age.

So, if you’re fascinated by this somewhat arbitrary chronological classification system the Public Domain Review has a treat. They’ve assembled a fine collection of images from the last five hundred years that depict the different ages of man and woman.

A common representation is to show ages ascending a series of steps from infancy to a peak and then descending towards old-age, senility and death. The image above is a particularly wonderful example of the genre and while the ages are noted in French the categories are not difficult to decipher:

20 years: “Jeunesse”

40 years: “Age de discretion”

50 years: “Age de Maturité”

90 years: “Age de decrépitude”

Image: “Le cours de la vie de l’homme dans ses différents âges”. Early 19th-century print showing stages of life at ten year intervals from 10-90 years as ascending and then descending steps. Courtesy: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Victorian Mesmerism


Myth suggests that Victorians were highly moralistic, sober, earnest and straight-laced. Yet, a cache of recently unearthed posters shows that those living during the mid-1830s until the turn of the century had other things in mind. Mesmerism was quite the rage, apparently. Oh, what would her majesty, Queen Victoria, have thought.

See more of these curious posters here.

Image: Poster showing a Victorian hypnotist at work on a group of subjects. Courtesy: Library of Congress.

The Lines


In an earlier post I wrote about Star Axis, a land art form designed by artist Charles Ross. One of its main elements is an 11-story high Solar Pyramid, which marks the daily and seasonal movements of the sun across a Shadow Field. It’s not only a naked-eye astronomical observatory, it’s a work of art — on an immense scale.

This cast my mind back to the late 1980s, when I was lucky enough to visit Peru for the first time. My trek included the Sechura Desert, also known as the Nazca Desert, about 250 miles southeast of Lima. The Nazca Desert is home to many thousands of land art forms — massive geoglyphs carved into the earth of the arid plateau.

These are the Nazca Lines.

Many of the lines form simple geometric patterns. However, around a hundred or so feature immense stylized images of animals and plants, including a monkey, spider, condor, and hummingbird. The largest of these figures is about 600 ft across.

Archeologists believe the figures were carved into the desert by the Nazca culture, dating from 500 BCE to 500 BE. The purpose of the geoglyphs is still debated today; theories include: astronomical observatory and calendar, fertility symbols and religious rituals.

Interestingly enough, many can only be best appreciated from the air — and that’s where they become works of art. This extraordinary art gallery is now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Image: Hummingbird, Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru. Courtesy: Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Desert Earthworks and Cosmic Connections

Star Axis

Some timepieces are intimate, think Breitling or Rolex or your trusty Timex [does anyone wear a watch anymore?] Some timepieces are monumental — prime examples might include Big Ben in London, the astronomical clock in Prague and Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel,.

But then, there are time-keeping instruments on an altogether different scale — ones that dominate a significant portion of the landscape. And, where better to find one such example than the stark, high desert of New Mexico.

From the Guardian:

Somewhere in the deserts of New Mexico, a nail is embedded into a type of flat-topped mountain known as a mesa. The positioning of this nail, shielded from the elements by a tin can, took days of trial and error, with astronomical measurements provided by the US Naval Observatory and the help of a surveyor. Finally, the correct spot was located: exactly in alignment with the axis of the Earth from the south pole to the north.

This nail – which I braved rattlesnakes to find, on a mountaintop strewn with slabs of granite – was fundamental to the success of Star Axis, an extraordinary naked-eye observatory that is the brainchild of artist Charles Ross. Only when Ross was sure he had the orientation precisely correct could he begin to build the structure he had dreamed about – an obsession that has consumed him since 1971.

Star Axis is one of the world’s defining earthworks, otherwise known as land art. In the late 60s, a generation of young, New York-based artists, inspired by the space race but also by the turmoil of Vietnam, decided that galleries weren’t big enough to house their visions. So they struck out, choosing instead to make works on an epic scale, sculpted from the elements, in the astounding desert landscapes of the US south-west.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Star Axis. Courtesy: Star Axis / Charles Ross.

MondayMap: Connectography


I have had a peculiar affinity for luscious atlases and maps since childhood. They held promises of future explorations and adventures over ancient peaks, within new cultures, beyond borders. I also have a strange fascination for data, patterns in data, trends, probabilities, statistics (though I’m no mathematician).

So when I see someone combining maps and data, especially in fundamentally new ways, I have to take notice. Enter stage left: Parag Khanna. He’s a global strategist, author and a true cartophile. His new book “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” uses grand cartographic visualizations to show how the world is steadily integrating.

Even for a reasonably geo-savvy person like me it’s eye-opening to see maps being used in insightful new ways — especially to draw attention to our global neighborhood and its common challenges.

One striking example shows the ties of railways, cables, pipelines and trade that further bind nations rather than the borders, often arbitrarily drawn, that once divided.

Dive into are recent interview with Parag Khanna here.

Map: The emerging silk roads of commerce interlinking 60 Asian nations. Courtesy: Parag Khanna, “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization”.

The Rembrandt Algorithm


Over the last few decades robots have been steadily replacing humans in industrial and manufacturing sectors. Increasingly, robots are appearing in a broader array of service sectors; they’re stocking shelves, cleaning hotels, buffing windows, tending bar, dispensing cash.

Nowadays you’re likely to be the recipient of news articles filtered, and in some cases written, by pieces of code and business algorithms. Indeed, many boilerplate financial reports are now “written” by “analysts” who reside, not as flesh-and-bones, but virtually, inside server-farms. Just recently a collection of circuitry and software trounced a human being at the strategic board game, Go.

So, can computers progress from repetitive, mechanical and programmatic roles to more creative, free-wheeling vocations? Can computers become artists?

A group of data scientists, computer engineers, software developers and art historians set out to answer the question.

Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian has a few choice words on the result:

I’ve been away for a few days and missed the April Fool stories in Friday’s papers – until I spotted the one about a team of Dutch “data analysts, developers, engineers and art historians” creating a new painting using digital technology: a virtual Rembrandt painted by a Rembrandt app. Hilarious! But wait, this was too late to be an April Fool’s joke. This is a real thing that is actually happening.

What a horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature. What a vile product of our strange time when the best brains dedicate themselves to the stupidest “challenges”, when technology is used for things it should never be used for and everybody feels obliged to applaud the heartless results because we so revere everything digital.

Hey, they’ve replaced the most poetic and searching portrait painter in history with a machine. When are we going to get Shakespeare’s plays and Bach’s St Matthew Passion rebooted by computers? I cannot wait for Love’s Labours Have Been Successfully Functionalised by William Shakesbot.

You cannot, I repeat, cannot, replicate the genius of Rembrandt van Rijn. His art is not a set of algorithms or stylistic tics that can be recreated by a human or mechanical imitator. He can only be faked – and a fake is a dead, dull thing with none of the life of the original. What these silly people have done is to invent a new way to mock art. Bravo to them! But the Dutch art historians and museums who appear to have lent their authority to such a venture are fools.

Rembrandt lived from 1606 to 1669. His art only has meaning as a historical record of his encounters with the people, beliefs and anguishes of his time. Its universality is the consequence of the depth and profundity with which it does so. Looking into the eyes of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, I am looking at time itself: the time he has lived, and the time since he lived. A man who stared, hard, at himself in his 17th-century mirror now looks back at me, at you, his gaze so deep his mottled flesh is just the surface of what we see.

We glimpse his very soul. It’s not style and surface effects that make his paintings so great but the artist’s capacity to reveal his inner life and make us aware in turn of our own interiority – to experience an uncanny contact, soul to soul. Let’s call it the Rembrandt Shudder, that feeling I long for – and get – in front of every true Rembrandt masterpiece..

Is that a mystical claim? The implication of the digital Rembrandt is that we get too sentimental and moist-eyed about art, that great art is just a set of mannerisms that can be digitised. I disagree. If it’s mystical to see Rembrandt as a special and unique human being who created unrepeatable, inexhaustible masterpieces of perception and intuition then count me a mystic.

Read the entire story here.

Image: The Next Rembrandt (based on 168,263 Rembrandt painting fragments). Courtesy: Microsoft, Delft University of Technology,  Mauritshuis (Hague), Rembrandt House Museum (Amsterdam).

Bad Art of the Deal


It goes without question that a billionaire narcissist — who just happens to be running for president of the United States in 2016 — will have any number of images of himself (there aren’t many billionaire narcissistic women). But for every photograph or artwork that celebrates and reinforces the narcissist — no doubt commissioned for or by the narcissist and hanging in a prominent spot in one each of his homes — there will be another work that seeks to counter the narcissist’s carefully curated image. This is what good political art does. It counters and questions, and it supplements our open political discourse so that we may see and weigh other perspectives.

Oh, and it’s sharply and darkly funny too!

Image: Donald Trump meets Rolling Stones-inspired urinals at Belushi’s sports bar in Paris. Artists: William Duke and Brandon Griffin have added. Photograph: Meike van Schijndel.

Photography At Its Best

Wasteland with elephant - Nick Brandt

Ecological destruction, urbanization, species extinction, wildlife displacement and human poverty — a compelling and disturbing story told through a collection of eerily beautiful images. I have nothing more to say about Nick Brandt‘s latest collection of gorgeous photographs. Please take 15 minutes to visit his online exhibit titled Inherit the Dust or order the book — you’ll be moved and captivated.

Image: Wasteland with Elephant, 2015. Nick Brandt.

A Trip to Titan

titanNASA is advertising its upcoming space tourism trip to Saturn’s largest moon Titan with this gorgeous retro poster.

Just imagine rowing across Titan’s lakes and oceans, and watching Saturn set below the horizon. So, dump that planned cruise down the Danube and hike to your local travel agent before all the seats are gone. But, before you purchase a return ticket keep in mind the following:

Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan’s perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon.
Image: Titan poster. Courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Adieu! Death of the Circumflex

je-suis-circonflexeThe French have a formal language police.

The Académie Française (French Academy) is the country’s foremost national watchdog of the French language. It’s been working to protect and preserve the language for over 380 years — mostly, I suspect, from the unceasing onslaught of English, think words like “le week-end”.

Interestingly enough members of the Académie Française proposed and accepted over 2,500 changes to the language — mostly spelling revisions — back in 1990. Now with mainstream French newspapers and TV networks having taken up the story, social media is abuzz with commentary; the French public is weighing in on the proposals, and many traditionalists and language purists don’t like what they see.

Exhibit A: the proposed loss of the circumflex accent (ˆ) that hovers above certain vowels. So, maîtresse becomes maitresse (mistress or female teacher); coût becomes cout (cost).

Exhibit B: oignon is to become ognon (onion).

Sacre bleu, I don’t like it either!

From the Guardian:

French linguistic purists have voiced online anger at the loss of one of their favourite accents – the pointy little circumflex hat (ˆ) that sits on top of certain vowels.

Changes to around 2,400 French words to simplify them for schoolchildren, such as allowing the word for onion to be spelled ognon as well as the traditional oignon, have brought accusations the country’s Socialist government is dumbing down the language.

Nothing provokes a Gallic row than changes to the language of Molière, but the storm took officials by surprise as the spelling revisions had been suggested by the Académie Française, watchdogs of the French language, and unanimously accepted by its members as long ago as 1990.

The aim was to standardise and simplify certain quirks in the written language making it easier to learn (among them chariot to charriot to harmonise with charrette, both words for a type of cart and the regrouping of compound nouns like porte-monnaie/portemonnaie (purse), extra-terrestres/extraterrestres and week-end/weekend, to do away with the hyphen.

While the “revised spelling list” was not obligatory, dictionaries were advised to carry both old and new spellings, and schools were instructed to use the new versions but accept both as correct.

The reforms provoked a #JeSuisCirconflexe campaign (derived from the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag) on Twitter. As the row spread across the internet and social networks, some wondered why the reforms, decided 26 years ago, had suddenly become such an issue.

In 2008, advice from the education ministry suggested the new spelling rules were “the reference” to be used, but it appears few people took notice. Last November, the changes were mentioned again in another ministry document about “texts following the spelling changes … approved by the Académie Française and published in the French Republic Official Journal on 6 December 1990”. Again, the news went unremarked.

It was only when a report by television channel TF1 appeared on Wednesday this week that the ognon went pear-shaped.

Read the entire story here.

Image courtesy of BBC / Twitter.

SPLAAT! Holy Onomatopoeia, Batman!

Batman fans rejoice. Here it is, a compendium of every ZWAPP! KAPOW! BLOOP! and THUNK! from every fight scene in the original 1960’s series.


I think we can all agree that the campy caped crusaders, dastardly villains and limp fight scenes, accompanied by bright onomatopoeiac graphics, guaranteed the show would become an enduring cult classic. Check out the full list here, compiled by the forces for good over at Fastcompany.

My favorites:



Video: Batman (1966):Fight Scenes-Season 1 (Pt.1). Courtesy of corijei v2 / Youtube.

Documenting the Self

Samuel_PepysIs Nicolas Felton the Samuel Pepys of our digital age?

They both chronicled their observations over a period of 10 years, but separated by 345 years. However, that’s where the similarity between the two men ends.

Samuel Pepys was a 17th century member of British Parliament and naval bureaucrat, famous for the decade-long private diary. Pepys kept detailed personal notes from 1660 to 1669. The diary was subsequently published in the 19th century, and is now regarded as one of the principal sources of information of the Restoration period (return of the monarchy under Charles II). Many a British school kid [myself included] has been exposed to Pepys’ observations of momentous events, including his tales of the plague and the Great Fire of London.

Nicolas Felton a graphic designer and ex-Facebook employee cataloged his life from 2005 to 2015. Based in New York, Felton began obsessively recording the minutiae of his life in 2005. He first tracked his locations and time spent in each followed by his music-listening habits. Then he began counting his emails, correspondence, calendar entries, photos. Felton eventually compiled his detailed digital tracks into a visually fascinating annual Feltron Report.

So, Felton is certainly no Pepys, but his data trove remains interesting nonetheless — for different reasons. Pepys recorded history during a tumultuous time in England; his very rare, detailed first-person account across an entire decade has no parallel. His diary is now an invaluable literary chronicle for scholars and history buffs.

Our world is rather different today. Our technologies now enable institutions and individuals to record and relate their observations ad nauseam. Thus Felton’s data is not unique per se, though his decade-long obsession certainly provides us with a quantitative trove of data, which is not necessarily useful to us for historical reasons, but more so for those who study our tracks and needs, and market to us.

Read Samuel Pepys diary here. Read more about Nicolas Felton here.

Image: Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, oil on canvas, 1666. National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain.

Streaming is So 2015

Led Zeppelin-IV

Fellow music enthusiasts and technology early adopters ditch the streaming sounds right now. And, if you still have an iPod, or worse an MP3 or CD player, trash it; trash them all.

The future of music is coming, and it’s beamed and implanted directly into your grey matter. I’m not sure if I like the idea of Taylor Swift inside my head — I’m more of a Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin person — nor the idea of not having a filter for certain genres (i.e., country music). However, some might like the notion of a digital-DJ brain implant that lays down tracks based on your mood from monitoring your neurochemical mix. It’s only a matter of time.

Thanks, but I’ll stick to vinyl, crackles and all.

From WSJ:

The year is 2040, and as you wait for a drone to deliver your pizza, you decide to throw on some tunes. Once a commodity bought and sold in stores, music is now an omnipresent utility invoked via spoken- word commands. In response to a simple “play,” an algorithmic DJ opens a blended set of songs, incorporating information about your location, your recent activities and your historical preferences—complemented by biofeedback from your implanted SmartChip. A calming set of lo-fi indie hits streams forth, while the algorithm adjusts the beats per minute and acoustic profile to the rain outside and the fact that you haven’t eaten for six hours.

The rise of such dynamically generated music is the story of the age. The album, that relic of the 20th century, is long dead. Even the concept of a “song” is starting to blur. Instead there are hooks, choruses, catchphrases and beats—a palette of musical elements that are mixed and matched on the fly by the computer, with occasional human assistance. Your life is scored like a movie, with swelling crescendos for the good parts, plaintive, atonal plunks for the bad, and fuzz-pedal guitar for the erotic. The DJ’s ability to read your emotional state approaches clairvoyance. But the developers discourage the name “artificial intelligence” to describe such technology. They prefer the term “mood-affiliated procedural remixing.”

Right now, the mood is hunger. You’ve put on weight lately, as your refrigerator keeps reminding you. With its assistance—and the collaboration of your DJ—you’ve come up with a comprehensive plan for diet and exercise, along with the attendant soundtrack. Already, you’ve lost six pounds. Although you sometimes worry that the machines are running your life, it’s not exactly a dystopian experience—the other day, after a fast- paced dubstep remix spurred you to a personal best on your daily run through the park, you burst into tears of joy.

Cultural production was long thought to be an impregnable stronghold of human intelligence, the one thing the machines could never do better than humans. But a few maverick researchers persisted, and—aided by startling, asymptotic advances in other areas of machine learning—suddenly, one day, they could. To be a musician now is to be an arranger. To be a songwriter is to code. Atlanta, the birthplace of “trap” music, is now a locus of brogrammer culture. Nashville is a leading technology incubator. The Capitol Records tower was converted to condos after the label uploaded its executive suite to the cloud.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Led Zeppelin IV album cover. Courtesy of the author.


RIP: Maurice White


We’ve lost another great musical innovator. I’m sick and tired of my artistic heroes dying. But, at the very least, I still have the sounds and the visions.

More on the sad passing of Maurice White from Rolling Stone, NYT, USA Today, BBC News, and CNN.

Image: Maurice White performing with Earth, Wind, and Fire at the Ahoy Rotterdam; 1982. Courtesy: Chris Hakkens –

The Random Darknet Shopper

Good art pushes our boundaries; it causes us to question our accepted views and perceptions. Good art makes us think.

So, here’s a great example — the Random Darknet Shopper.

Briefly, the Random Darknet Shopper is an automated shopping robot; actually an automated process running on a laptop. It makes random purchases online, and then has its booty delivered to an art gallery in London where it is displayed. Once a week the shopping bot will spend up to $100 on Alpha Bay, one of the Darknet’s largest marketplaces — a trade zone for many dubious and often illegal goods and services.


During its first run from October 2014 to January 2015, the Random Darknet Shopper bought a dozen items from the deepweb market Agora, including: replica Diesel jeans, Hungarian passport scan, Sprite stash can, baseball cap with integrated spy camera, ecstasy pills, fake Nike trainers, platinum Visa credit card.

This may not be altogether visually appealing, but it’s thought provoking nonetheless, with an added twist — the artists and art gallery may end up in legal hot water should the robot make some dubious purchases.

Read more about the artists and the project.

From the Independent:

On balance, it’s unlikely that police will swoop on a south London art gallery this week and apprehend a laptop that will be busy making random purchases from a secretive part of the web known as the Darknet.

Then again, it depends what the automated shopping ’bot known as Random Darknet Shopper chooses to buy online and have delivered to the gallery. Fake trainers or a counterfeit designer T-shirt are unlikely to attract the interest of the authorities, but Class A drugs or a gun would be a different matter.

“We just don’t know what’s going to turn up [at the gallery] which is what makes it difficult legally,” said Susan Singleton, the solicitor who has provided legal advice to the Swiss artists who designed the Shopper. “The major caveat here is that the artists are not telling it to buy drugs, so they wouldn’t be responsible. But once the goods come into their possession you move to an entirely separate set of offences.”

Artists Domagoj Smoljo and Carmen Weisskopf are well aware that their creation may land them in hot water when it begins an eight-week shopping spree at the Horatio Junior gallery in Rotherhithe on Friday. Every Wednesday, the ’bot will spend up to $100 (£66) in Bitcoins on an item selected at random from Alpha Bay, one of the largest marketplaces on the Darknet. Each item will be delivered to the gallery, where the artists will add them to a display they describe as a “Darknet landscape”.

“It is both exciting and nerve wracking,” said Smoljo, 36, who created the Shopper with Weisskopf, 39, last year as a means of exploring and understanding a secret part of the web. “I sleep badly the night before it goes shopping  … it is something that is out of our control. We feel vulnerable, but at the same time we like it.”

When Darknet Shopper was exhibited in Switzerland last year its random purchases included a pair of fake Nike trainers, counterfeit designer jeans from China and 10 packets of cigarettes from Ukraine. Swiss police took an interest when it added a bag of 10 ecstasy tablets to its haul and the pills were put on display.

Read the entire story here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.