21 April 2014

Nectar

Nectar

SECRET CODEWORDS OF THE NSA: NECTAR
woodblock print (mokuhanga)
6" x 6" (152.4 x 152.4 mm)
8 layers of color plus blind emboss on Kochi Kozo paper
edition: 20

N is for NECTAR. NECTAR is a designation applied to certain information (we don't know what kind of information) that marks it as being shareable with other countries. The NSA routinely shares information with the governments of our "second party" friends: Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But some information is shared more widely than that, with third and fourth party nations, which might include NATO countries or others. NECTAR is one of several designators that allows the data tagged with that name to be shared more widely. Just think, little bits of your very own personal information could be making their way anywhere in the world, like pollen scattered in the wind.

Bees love nectar. And bees pollinate. And bees are dying. But here in America, we believe in the power of technology to cure our ills. Enter robobees. Robobees are being developed at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, with funding from the National Science Foundation. They're pretty cool, and they can be used in all sorts of ways. It's possible that if we lost all our honeybees, robobees could save us from agricultural disaster by autonomously pollinating fields of crops. Or robobees could be used for search and rescue reconnaissance in dangerous situations. And, of course, robobees could be used for spying. Maybe they could even shoot little weapons, since they're basically tiny drones.

That's the beauty of technology: you can use it all sorts of ways.

15 April 2014

Magic Lantern


SECRET CODEWORDS OF THE NSA: MAGIC LANTERN
woodblock print (mokuhanga)
6" x 6" (152.4 x 152.4 mm)
13 layers of color plus blind emboss on Kochi Kozo paper
edition: 20

Magic Lantern is a software developed by the FBI for logging and recording keystrokes on a computer.  Keystroke logging has been used since the 1980s, and there are a number of different types (software, hardware, acoustic, etc.). Magic Lantern, first reported in 2001, is a software-type keystroke recorder that is typically deployed in an email which installs a trojan horse on the target computer.

A magic lantern set from the 1890s
Oh, where to begin. Let's start with the device called a magic lantern. A precursor to the film projector, the magic lantern (laterna magica) was a simple projector that used a concave mirror behind a light source (a candle or oil lamp) to direct light through a rectangular glass slide on which was a painted or photographic image. The light then passed through a lens in front of the slide which added focus to the projection. Although used as an entertainment device, the magic lantern was more often associated with magicians, conjurers, and mediums, who could use the device to project large and convincing images of ghosts and spirits onto smoke or thin gauze.

Which brings us to our 21st century spy agencies. Dear reader, I don't mean to alarm you, but I must  inform you: wizards, magicians, and conjurers abound among the employees of our intelligence agencies. Here are just a few examples:


(These look a lot like Girl Scout badges, no?) Personally, I like the Classic Wizard above. If I were a wizard I think I'd be a classic one.

Anyway, just as earlier conjurers were able to use the magic lantern, which was a cutting edge technology in its time, to project their sorcery, a leaked Snowden powerpoint document from a UK surveillance agency reveals that the spy agency wizards and conjurers of our day use their own tactics of deception and altered perception in the online world. Here are a few 'slides' from this leaked presentation, which is called "The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations." (You can see the entire presentation at this link.)







Creepy or what? I really get why Teller is holding his face like that.

To end on a lighter note, there's just one more tidbit of information that I came across while researching the magic lantern that I'd like to share with you, and which appeals to me very much as an artist. It seems that during the height of the magic lantern's popularity, the manufacture of lantern slides provided many aspiring artists with steady employment when sales of their own work were insufficient to keep bread on the table.

Maybe the NSA could use artistic help with some of the graphics on their slides and badges…

10 April 2014

SGCI Printmaking Conference 2014 (Part 2)

The first day of the conference was focused around two sites, San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco. I was excited to see a demonstration of flying printed kites at SFSU, having made a kite for the Mokuhanga Conference in Kyoto in 2011, but the event hadn't really gotten going yet when I was there and there wasn't much wind, so I continued on.

The exhibition I most loved at SFSU was one called Progressive Proof: Innovative Prints from the Pacific Rim, which featured dimensional work by nine women artists. Here are some shots from that show.

Double Happiness by Imin Yeh, Custom sawdust/paper fiber composite boards, ink, paper

Weight of Being by Hyeyoung Shin, digital prints and Gampi paper feet casts.

I love the sheen of the Gampi. The human body as print matrix.

Feminist Essay by Emily Floyd, medium density fiberboard (mdf) letters.

Portrait of Eve Clone by Pey Chwen Lin, hologram prints.

Portrait of Eve Clone by Pey Chwen Lin, hologram prints.

Making Everything Make Sense: A four-day print by Aimée Henny Brown, sewing machine, table, chair, bell, scissors, San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper from Jan 13 - Feb 13, 2014, thread, dress, sweater, shoes.

Detail of Making Everything Make Sense: A four-day print by Aimée Henny Brown

09 April 2014

SGC International Printmaking Conference 2014 (Part 1)

I've been waiting for some time to make a big long post about "Bridges," the SGCI Printmaking Conference that happened at the end of March in San Francisco, but it's become clear to me that no such time exists, so I'm going to do some short piecemeal posts.

The conference hotel was the Hyatt Regency, Embarcadero, and it's such a distinctive building that I'm going to give the hotel its own post. I roomed there as well, and enjoyed the amenities a lot (though my credit card bill still hasn't arrived).


The hotel lobby is like a movie set, which isn't surprising because the architect, John Portman, has said that the design was influenced by the 1935 science fiction film Things to Come. Also not surprising for the same reason is that the lobby has been used to shoot other films, most notably Towering Inferno and High Anxiety.


Some people reported high anxiety around the speedy glass elevators, but I loved those elevators and rode up and down to my room on the 14th floor as often as possible.


Above is a view of the lobby from the 14th floor.


I was delighted to meet up with my college roommate Mary on my first evening in San Francisco. We hadn't seen each other for over 30 years. At the time this photo was taken, I had been awake for about 21 hours. Kind of like being drunk, but without the alcohol. It was fun.

I'll show you some actual art in the next post.

09 March 2014

Lifesaver


SECRET CODEWORDS OF THE NSA: LIFESAVER
woodblock print (mokuhanga)
6" x 6" (152.4 x 152.4 mm)
5 layers of color plus blind emboss on Kochi Kozo paper
edition: 20

Lifesaver is a technique used by the NSA to read (or to image) computer hard drives. I'm not sure how the program got the name* Lifesaver, but there are a couple of interesting things that come up if you google the word. There's actually a data recovery product called EASIS Data Recovery that was formerly called LifeSaver. It's possible that the NSA software was developed from this commercial product. Or more cynically, if you google the words lifesaver, image and hard drive you get testimonials from customers of various commercial data recovery tools speaking about the products as being "lifesavers" for their serious hard drive problems. It's easy for me to imagine a bunch of NSA geeks thinking it would be funny to name their hard drive spy software lifesaver.

So I thought it would be funny to toss the NSA a lifesaver from the Titanic. The agency must have a sinking feeling right about now, as the Snowden revelations continue to ripple out into the world.
___________________
*MORE ON NAMING: This article from the Washington Post claims that most of the NSA’s code names are no more than computer-generated sequences of words. If that's true, then my little exercise in finding meaning in these words is an even more quixotic venture than I thought it was.

06 March 2014

Klondike


SECRET CODEWORDS OF THE NSA: KLONDIKE
woodblock print (mokuhanga)
6" x 6" (152.4 x 152.4 mm)
6 layers of color plus blind emboss on Kochi Kozo paper
edition: 20

K is for klondike. My sources say Klondike is "a control system for sensitive geospatial intelligence." 'Control system' refers to a type of intelligence known as sensitive compartmented information (SCI), a type of security clearance that is even higher than Top Secret clearance. SCI is subdivided into different control systems, and access to various control systems is granted on a case by case basis. The Klondike control system protects sensitive geospatial intelligence: physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth, and because it's classified as SCI intelligence it's the most secret of all the secrets. Really really secret.

The word Klondike also refers to the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwest Canada and Alaska where a gold rush occurred in the 1890s. I thought that the image of a prospector panning for gold was an apt metaphor for sifting through large amounts of data looking for special nuggets.

I hate that the NSA is spying on us, but as I was thinking about this image of the prospector I found myself feeling implicated in the same kinds of temptations. Really, who can blame the NSA for wanting to sift through all that juicy data? I mean, don't we all do it? Don't we all search out old friends or enemies on Facebook, or Google a prospective date or a new colleague? Are we looking at secret stuff, or just looking at what's there to look at? And don't we feel oh so powerful and smart because we have all the world's knowledge at our fingertips or in our back pocket? In a way, the NSA is just doing what we all do but on a massive — and probably illegal — scale.

This week, as I was working on this print, I read an article asserting that stores are now tracking smartphone signals in malls to follow customers' movements. It's not just the government that wants to find those valuable nuggets in the river of data. Every good capitalist wants it, too.

19 February 2014

Kobayashi Kiyochika Woodblock Prints in DC

Opening March 29 at the Freer/Sackler in Washington DC, an exhibit of woodblock prints by Kobayashi Kiyochika titled Kiyochika: Master of the Night. Using age-old Japanese woodblock techniques, Kiyochika mimicked the look and feel of Western photographs and engravings to express the huge social and technological changes taking place in Tokyo at the end of the 19th century. Looks like a great show, and timed just right for cherry blossom season.