Monday, June 13, 2011

@Platea Featured in ARTnews This Month

An Xiao and Hrag Vartanian Tweet during "The Artist is Kinda Present" (2010) -- photo by Joanie San Chirico
Barbara Pollack has written an excellent article on social media art for ARTnews this month.  An Xiao's "The Artist is Kinda Present" is the lead image for the article and the only image included in the online version.  @Platea's "Tree-Blogging" project is also discussed.

As I look over the article and consider some of the work we've done with social media art, I am struck by two observations.  First, that almost everyone doing this work is simultaneously troubled and enthralled by social media.  That is, social media is always already a mixed bag of good and ill.  As a result, art and creative expression seems to be a particularly productive way to negotiate those rocky shores.  Second, that social media art struggles a bit with pre-existing interpretive frames for making sense of art.  At the simplest level, this might be summed up in the (fabricated?) disagreement between An Xiao and Lauren Cornell about whether this work is something new or something we've always been doing.  At another level, I think the article features individual works when the "work" is often the interplay between artists and sites of sharing/production.  So, for example, I think one of the central tensions in "Tree-Blogging" is whether the art is at the nodes of the emerging tree (so much easier to share in photo documentation) or in the branching relationships between those nodes.  Like some kinds of performance art, social media art seems to revel in the ephemeral, in art that exceeds "objectness."

The article is well written and demonstrates the considerable breadth of ways artists are working with social media. There are several provocative quotations from a variety of sources about the purpose and emerging prevalence of social media art.  Enough fodder, surely, to start a conversation in a Web 2.0 platform such as this...

Anarchy Tree (2006) -- Photo by Jonathan Gray.  One of the "trunk" prompts from "Tree-Blogging"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sunflower Seed Tributes for Ai Weiwei

It's been over a month since the disappearance of Ai Weiwei, and on this day with the opening of Ai's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in New York City, it seemed fitting to showcase some of the other "sunflower seed tributes".

@platea member Jonny Gray posted some of his images in a previous post. In addition to Jonny, An Xiao and I have also been posting images and keeping track of the hours lost. The jars are getting full.

An Xiao
May 4, 2011, 8:04am. It's been 744 hours since @aiww and, later four associates disappeared.
An's images to-date can be seen here.

Joanie Gagnon San Chirico
April 26, 2011, 3:04pm NY. It's been 571 hours since @aiww disappeared. More associates now missing.
Joanie's images to-date can be seen here.

Others participating:

André Holthe (@houan)
April 28, 2011, 8:04am. It's been 600 hours since @aiww disappeared, and, later four associates disappeared.
AndrĂ©'s images to-date can be seen here.

Laura Vermeeren (@lauravermeeren)
382 Sunflower Seeds, 382 Hours
Laura's images to-date can be seen here.

Maritza Ruiz Kim is keeping track of days on her blog.

A running clock of Mr. Ai's detention has been keeping time at

NYC Mayor Bloomberg stated at the dedication, "Today we stand up for those lacking in the most basic human right: free expression." as reports are coming out of Li Xiongbing,  yet another human rights lawyer, having disappeared.

Even with the momentous events of this week, we should not forget. If you are participating in some way, and I've missed you, please add your url to the comments in this post.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Knitting Vigil by Laura Isaac

Editor's Note: I was writing a post about responses to the prompt to show support for Ai Weiwei by using sunflower seeds. That post is still coming, but when I saw Laura Isaac's powerful new avatar on Twitter depicting her Knitting Vigil, I knew that I had to find out more. I asked Laura for an image and some information and decided that her email warranted being posted in full.

-Joanie Gagnon San Chirico

From Laura Isaac:

"I have always enjoyed Ai Weiwei's work and his Sunflower Seeds (2010) had quickly become one of my favorite works of all time. It's such a powerful and touching statement about individuality and mass consumer culture. I remember watching his interviews and sessions at the Tate during last October and really being afraid for him when he returned home to China. I have met many people who were "detained" by the Chinese government; they were lucky to survive. With Ai's arrest we have the opportunity to get a massive protest going because he is so well known internationally. The trick is to not lose focus and not let up. The Chinese government is good at playing the waiting game and they're hoping we'll forget. We can't forget about Ai, his associates, or the countless others who have "disappeared".

I was really moved when I saw the first Sunflower Seeds Hour Count photo on Twitter. I thought it was a such a beautiful way to peacefully protest. I wanted to participate, but I wanted to mark the hours he's lost in a different way. I wanted to spend time with each sunflower seed. I decided to write a knitting chart. (I've never written one before, since I only started knitting in February for another project.) I stayed up one night, charted out the sunflower seed, and the next afternoon I taught myself to knit the image from YouTube videos.

I decided to post the pattern for free on Ravelry for anyone else who would like to join my knitting vigil. As of this post, the pattern has been downloaded 45 times and there are 23 members of the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group and more from my website. Members of the group have decided to knit the pattern on squares and send them to Chinese embassies. Others have proposed knitting the sunflower seeds while pacing outside of the embassies. (You have to knit and walk at the same time since it is illegal to "obstruct the flow of traffic" on the sidewalk.) Another member is going to knit it on little cushions and give them to her friends as a way of spreading awareness. I think these are all beautiful ideas. Sending in a knitted protest is powerful. It says, "I have taken a lot of time to tell you that I think what is happening is wrong", but it's also soft and comforting. It's about as non-violent as a protest can get. I would love to see some group "yarn bomb" a public place with sunflower seed squares, and maybe include a "Release Ai Weiwei" sticker.

Meanwhile, knitting a little more on my sunflower seeds each day helps me cope with the idea that the world is not a safe place, that there are people I can't protect, and that time is precious. I sincerely hope that Ai Weiwei and his associates will be released safely very soon, and that they will be able to see how so many people across the globe have made sure that they didn't completely "disappear".

Here is the link to the pattern on Ravelry for free download:

Here is the link to the Ravelry Knitting Vigil Group where we'll be posting pictures of our projects and sharing news about aiww: "

Laura Isaaac's website is:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Social Media, Protest, and Art: The Case of Ai Weiwei

"Sunflower Seeds" by Ai Weiwei at the Tate Modern

Many of us at @Platea were stunned by the arrest and detainment of Ai Weiwei in Beijing earlier this month.  That Ai Weiwei was taken as part of an ongoing clamp-down on citizens critical of their government only makes it worse.  Ai Weiwei embraces the important function of art to comment on culture and sees the potential for social media not only to make art but as significant activists' tools.

"Study in Perspective" (1995) by Ai Weiwei (via
His critique of the Chinese government is pointed, especially when holding bureaucrats responsible for cutting corners in public construction in Sichuan Province where an earthquake in 2008 resulted in the deaths of at least 5335 children. This critique has found expression in interviews, installations, video, street protests, and postings on social media.  He has suffered grievous abuse at the hands of the Chinese police before, but his voice still rises in the name of social justice.

I could say more, but there are plenty of sites to find information about his work and his arrest.  Try herehere, here, and here, for example.

257 Hours.  Photo by Jonny Gray
What interests me and seems relevant to @Platea is an emerging social media protest concerning his continued detainment. It doesn't have a name.  It doesn't have a central organizing body.  It's not my idea.  It is not a project that is sponsored by @Platea.  Rather, it is the kind of organic eruption of solidarity with artists and activists that is, potentially, at the core of social networking.  Around the world, artists and activists are marking the hours of Ai Weiwei's disappearance at the hands of the state by filling jars or other containers with sunflower seeds.  Periodically, these artists post pictures of the jar with a count of the seeds/hours to Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc. accounts.

Porcelain sunflower seed via Pascale Petit's Blog.
Using sunflower seeds in this protest is a direct reference to Ai Weiwei's recent installation at the Tate Modern gallery in London.  Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of individually crafted porcelain sunflower seeds produced in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen.  Consider it, in part, a commentary on the relationship between unique individuals and the masses. 

And so, the sunflower seed becomes a potent symbol for protesting the disappearance of Ai Weiwei.  Marking his hours of detainment with seeds via social media demonstrates the power of a networked mass to defend the rights of individual freedom, to speak in support of human rights and social justice for all.  It is important to note that these seizures and detainments are happening all over China, that Ai Weiwei is not alone. 

281 Hours.  Photo by Jonny Gray.
So, if there are folks following @Platea concerned about the plight of Chinese freedom activists and Ai Weiwei in particular, I invite you to join the collective in defense of outspoken individuals.  Collect sunflower seeds in a jar or other container of your choosing.  Collect as many as there have been hours since Ai Weiwei's detainment (he was seized at 8:04 am April 3, local time Beijing).  Post a picture of your seeds to whatever social media account you use most often.  If posting to Twitter, include the hashtags #aiww or #aiweiwei. 

China is a growing world leader with significant cultural and economic power.  But with great power comes not only great responsibility but also accountability.  Ai Weiwei is not on trial; China is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Branches, Rhizomes and Roots: Project VIII Tree-Blogging

Trees grow and change. Forests can be safe havens; meditative environments for visitors to contemplate the patterns of leaves. Forests can be menacing and frightening. Trees have historically held symbolic meaning since the beginning of time. We use the word tree as metaphor. Trees are omni-present.

The trees that grew in this project created allegorical images of environmental consciousness, references to gun violence, and thoughts of sadness and loss.

Project VIII, Jonny Gray's concept of Tree-Blogging, broke new ground for @platea by creating a mash-up of work ranging from text, images, video, sound, installation and more. It also included a visual map documenting the performance both as it happened and after the final day. Previously, our performances have concentrated on primarily one type of media; for instance, "Hopes, Dreams, Fears" featured text and "Co-Modify" relied on photos.

From Jonny's original prompts the tree branched out, slowly at first, with a flurry of additions in the last days. Most of the content stayed consistent with the tree theme, yet when I saw Jonny's "Gradient Trees" prompt, I only saw blood vessels and veins. The Tucson shootings had occurred two days earlier and I had seen diagrams of brains used by gowned surgeons who demonstrated the small survival odds of taking a bullet to the head.

From here, many of our performers morphed this image to make it their own. Here is a small sampling:

Nina Melandandri's eerie painting incorporating the brain-tree image can be seen on her tumblr.

Jonny Gray wrote a beautiful and touching poem in response:

I must not argue with her,
I tell myself.
Just listen,
Be present,
Tell the truth.

She is losing so much:
Not just the car
And the independence it represents,
But the ability to read,
To connect,
To recognize.

The gaps of memory,
Fill in with stories
And fears
Leading to "spells"
Of paranoia

Impossible things
Seem possible to her,
Or at least seem preferred alternatives
To the missing

I do not argue with her,
Evidence being too fluid
When experience cannot be shared.
She forgets reasons
But not the slights
Nestled deep
In the family tree.
They are her only weapons
Fighting a family
Fulfilling her fears.

I want to tap that fire,
Turn it away from dread
and focus it on creation.
Lose inhibition, Ma,
Lose the internalized editor,
The constant critic,
The doubt and the depression.
Lose anxiety;
Let go of concern.
Lose the illusions of identity
and embrace the you that remains.

But she cannot choose
the gaps.
And I cannot fathom
her suffering
despite my listening and
commitment to empathy.
This is a truth
I cannot argue with her.

There were many more mixtures using the brain-tree and all can be seen on the final image of the tree map.

A tree is never still, it grows without our seeing it, and it moves in the wind. It was fascinating to check the blog to see how the tree had grown overnight, seemingly by magic. Of course, the magic was easily explained, Jonny had posted the day's additions late at night and revealed them every morning.

One such discovery was the haunting melody created by Salt Theory (Craig Gingrich) using software which created a midi file based on processing the Anarchy Tree prompt, adding his own original score, and lastly, including the woodpecker sound prompt. You can listen to "Last Word to the Bird" here.

Maritza Ruiz Kim used the John Muir prompt since she lives near Muir Woods north of San Francisco. Incorporating the "A Walk in the Woods" video prompt, photographs, wood vellum, song lyrics and text, she created an installation which was wracked with unexpected side trips. Visit her blog to see Maritza's entire transformation of the original prompts.

As always with @platea performances, the unexpected relationships that form during the projects are what make them so interesting. Sound morphed with imagery, installation was added to text prompts. On the last day, an anonymous artist named Bread Crumb posted one of the prompt images in various locations around New York City (at least it appears to be NYC). It could be any large city,  thus bringing the forest to the streets.

All 16 of Bread Crumb's image links can be seen on the final tree-map.

Trees have traditionally been used as symbols of life. Roots grow into the ground while branches grow into the sky. The @platea tree developed similarly in all directions creating an existence of its own.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Project VIII: Tree-Blogging, Final Map

And so we come to the end of our mapping of the Tree-Blog.  It grew quite a bit over the week, with several branches moving away from the tree theme (although that arboreal presence was never far behind).  The tree, of course, could keep growing even though our attempts to map it have come to an end.  Of course, even if inspirations aren't marked by links, those roots and branches have a way of working through our creative minds.

As always, if I missed any work that came in before the end of yesterday or any of the links in the map below are broken, let me know.  And please, feel free to share comments below about your experience with the tree. 

TB Map Day 5                                                                   

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tree-Blogging Map -- Day Four

Interesting growth with new challenges for the cartographer!  For example, it took me a while to figure out how to create a link for a specific tweet with "New Twitter," but I eventually figured it out.

There's been some uncertainty about where to post links.  When in doubt, post a link where you think it is appropriate.  In your own post, post link(s) to the material(s) that inspired you.  But also post a link to your work at the locations on the internet where that inspiration resides.  It also helps to post a Tweet if you use Twitter with a link to your work and the # "treeblog" and/or "treeblogging."  Redundancy of links is not a problems if it helps us find your work.  It also helps me (with the less obvious reworkings) to figure out how you are placing your work in the tree. 

I think I caught up with yesterday's activity and the Wednesday posts that I missed.  Still, if you see errors in the map, let me know.

TB Map Day 4                                                                   

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tree-Blogging Map -- Day Three

Quite the growth on the tree.  And quite a few discoveries.

For example, Tumblr which thrives on the concept of "reblogging" makes it notoriously difficult to comment on posts or indicate links forward.  You can embed "click-through links," but unless you enable a third party discussion application (e.g. Ask, Disqus, etc.) on your Tumblr blog, posting a link forward is difficult.  It helps if you link your Tumblr blog to Twitter and use the #treeblog in the caption or early in the post.

In general, Twitter (with the #treeblog or #treeblogging hashtag) is a good blog promotion tool and back-up announcement for new contributions.  That said, this morning my Twitter searches keep timing out.  So.  I may have missed some work posted last night to or through Twitter. 

All of which to say, the tree may be growing in ways not immediately visible.  That happens, right?  If I've missed a branch or root, please let me know. 

TB Map Day 3                                                                   

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tree-Blogging Map, Day Two

Below is the interactive map of Day Two.  We've got an interesting secondary trunk forming around Joanie San Chirico's "brain branch" image.  If I've missed anything, let me know.  As the branches proliferate, keeping track of additions becomes more challenging.

Remember, if you are posting work primarily through Twitter, please use the #treeblog hashtag.  Do your best to provide links forward and links back -- the link forward should be to your specific treeblog post and not just to your blog, Tumblr account, etc.  No worries, though, as I tend to catch and correct these when making the map.

Have a great Day Three of treeblogging!

TB Map Day 2                                                                   

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tree-Blogging Map -- Day 1

Okay, here it is.  If the embed is glitchy, follow the link to my Scribd account where you can view the PDF file.  Each node should be an active hyperlink, so just click on it to go immediately to the content.  And of course, if I missed any content, let me know so I can add it in to tomorrow's map. 

TB Map Day 1 pdf                                                                   

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Project VIII: Tree-Blogging. The Trunk

Use this material to begin branching out.  While the trunk material has a "tree and nature" theme, your work need not.


  68391 Ohrwurm Chainsaw Tree cases by Bungy32

[Copyright free, Creative Commons sound file.  WAVE version and attribution information available here.  MP3 download available here.]

  65883 Benboncan Woodpeckers Pecking 2 by Bungy32

[Copyright free, Creative Commons sound file.  WAVE version and attribution information available here.  MP3 download available here.]



The Remix Tree

When you add a sample which is a remix of another sample, it will appear in this tree...Remixed samples appear as branches in the tree.  (The Freesound Project)

"The Big Trees"

So far as I am able to see at present only fire and the ax threaten the existence of these noblest of God's trees.  In Nature's keeping they are safe, but through the agency of man destruction is making rapid progress, while in the work of protection only a good beginning has been made.  (John Muir, The Yosemite, 1914)


A Walk in the Woods from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

[Download this video here.  The download link is on the right, close to the bottom of the page under the heading "About This Video."]

Project VIII: Tree-Blogging -- A Brief Reminder on the Protocol

I will be posting the "trunk" material this evening at approximately 00:00:00 GMT.  Use this material to begin making your own work on whatever sites of your choosing.  There are no rules about how you use this material (from a spur for your own entirely original work to material that you collage/remix); we look forward to seeing how the ideas in the trunk branch out in different conceptual directions.

As a quick reminder, here is what you need to do/have to participate in the "Tree-Blogging" project:
  • Your “original” art in response to either the @Platea prompting material or art produced in the course of this project. The art can be in whatever form you can share on-line (text, image, video, sound, etc.). Create as many different works as you like.
  • A place (or places) to post your work: a microblog account, an image or video sharing account, a social networking account, and/or a blog. With the exception of microblogs (e.g. Twitter), this site should have a comments section so people can leave links-forward.
  • Link-Back. The ability to indicate with URLs or active hyperlinks where you got your inspiration(s) or material(s) you are sampling. In Twitter or other microblogs, you can either include a shortened URL or use the “reply” function.
  • Link-Forward. Be sure to leave a link to your work in the comments section of the site(s) where you found the material you are sampling. If you are using material shared in a Tweet or other microblog, you can use the “reply” function to Tweet your work.
Note: BOTH Link-Backs and Link-Forwards are important. Viewers and participants should be able to trace back or trace forward in the network of mutually inspired works.

Event Dates: Monday, January 10 to Friday, January 14.  (The end date is when @Platea will stop mapping the project; of course, there is nothing stopping anyone from continuing to grow this tree if they so choose.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

@Pla-TREE-a: A Brief Meditation on Trees

In anticipation of Monday's kick-off of "Project VIII: Treeblogging," I thought I would take this opportunity to stir the creative juices by contemplating the tree as a guiding metaphor for human interaction, from the digital to the spiritual.  There is something about a tree's form that offers a primordial organizing principle, whether for files or for the universe.  And somewhere in all those branches and roots is a palpable metaphor for social networks, as well.

Image courtesy
My father, in his retirement, has taken up genealogy as a hobby.  It is a recent passion for him and one sparked, I believe, by constant advertising from  The map he is making of our ancestry, of course, is called a "family tree."  Certainly, those concerned with pedigree have been making these sorts of diagrams for centuries, but what interests me about my father's new-found hobby is the role that social networking plays in filling out the tree. takes this process of family tree mapping on-line, recognizing that family trees intertwine and that sharing information is required to make that family tree bloom.  And so, the company helps my father connect with other users who may share hints for building our family trees and finding these connections. In this case, the connections in the social network are less "immediate friends" and (potentially) more "distant relatives."

Image courtesy of
Determining your ancestry isn't the only place that tree diagrams show up on-line.  I have been fascinated with the proliferation of on-line mind-mapping and brainstorming sites that encourage a structured free-association to creatively process ideas (see the sites on this list, for example).  The predominant image in most of these sites is the tree, a core idea with a series of branching ideas developing out from the center.  These sites (or their software) encourage a kind of visual thinking with (often) the tree as the central metaphor.

Image courtesy of
Similarly, time-management sites and advice for management in general offer "decision tree" graphics that provide organized ways of processing, well, processes to arrive at an optimal outcome.  Modeled off of flow charts and process diagrams, these decision tree maps feature that familiar arborescent metaphor -- the tree with its trunk and branches leading to the most fruitful decision. 

And all of this arboreal imagery can be found much closer to home on your own hard drive where your directories are nested in the organized pattern of a "directory tree."  Consider the C: drive the trunk and branching out from there user files and administrative files and program files and document files and so on.  Some of us are better than others at keeping those directories neatly "pruned," so to speak, and organized like a good topiary.  As the information on our ever-growing hard drives increases, we recognize the benefits of a carefully managed orchard over getting lost in a wild and unruly forest of tangled information.

"The Ash Yggdrasil" by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine
So, yes.  The tree as organizational tool and metaphor has a palpable presence in our digital lives.  But it also resonates in our collective unconscious as a powerful archetype of creation.  The Buddha sits under the Bodhi Tree to achieve supreme enlightenment.  In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the world tree and holds all creation.  In the Kaballah, the Tree of Life is a map for the structure and creation of the universe.  And then of course poor Adam and Eve transgress in eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, defying the ultimate information gatekeeper.  The sacred groves, the Druids' oak, the Yule evergreen, the Lakota Sundance from the sacred Cottonwood, and so forth -- trees proliferate in human metaphysics.

From Monday (1/10) to Friday (1/14), then, we encourage you to join @Platea in both the very mundane and very archetypal practice of growing a conceptual tree together.  In doing so, we embrace the collaborative process of creation, the organic structures of connection and innovation, and the fruits of such individual and collective labor.  Follow this simple protocol to include your blog(s) (or whatever other on-line groves in which you practice your art) in "Project VIII: Treeblogging."

"A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world."  Ralph Waldo Emerson ("History," Essays: First Series, 1841)