TANIA DIBBS https://taniadibbs.com contemporary visual artist Wed, 29 May 2019 14:34:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 https://taniadibbs.com/wp-content/uploads/cropped-extraction2-e1446215551497-32x32.jpg TANIA DIBBS https://taniadibbs.com 32 32 The Arctic Circle Residency, October 2016 https://taniadibbs.com/arctic-circle-residency-october-2016/ https://taniadibbs.com/arctic-circle-residency-october-2016/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 23:31:25 +0000 http://www.taniadibbs.com/?p=4676 If this post is too long to hold your interest, please skip to the movie at the end. The ArcticCircle.org is a residency program for creatives of all types on board a tall ship that sails in the international waters of Svalbard, north of Norway. The program’s mission statement says “the Arctic Circle is a […]

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If this post is too long to hold your interest, please skip to the movie at the end.

The ArcticCircle.org is a residency program for creatives of all types on board a tall ship that sails in the international waters of Svalbard, north of Norway. The program’s mission statement says “the Arctic Circle is a nexus where art intersects science, architecture, education, and activism – an incubator for thought and experimentation for artists and innovators who seek out and foster areas of collaboration to engage in the central issues of our time.” Yea, I didn’t really know how that would translate into my time on the ship either. Basically, participants either brought supplies for experiments or projects that they worked on during our journey, or like me, just came to experience the trip and to work from those experiences later. There was an opportunity to disembark at different shorelines, glaciers, or areas of interest twice a day unless we were sailing. There were some epic hikes, a visit to an abandoned Soviet era mining town, a visit to small research station at 79° north, a visit to Smeerenberg, the site of a 17th century whaling outpost, slide presentations of our work at night, occasional dancing on the deck, nighttime viewings of the aurora above the masts, a costume party, and lots of sailing.

Remains of a blubberoven at Smeerenburg from the 17th century whaling outpost of Smeerenberg

I wrote this journal entry the second day on the ship:

Already this boat feels like a space station. The lounge area, which includes 3 large booths and a small 3-stool bar, is intimate and softly lit. The portholes don’t have too much light coming in today… it is really grey outside. The captain came in and told us that beluga whales were nearby this morning. Jordi and I went outside to see. They were quite close this time; close enough to hear the hiss as they breathed. It really is magical here, both on the ship and off. We are floating in a giant bowl of blue ice and water. It is not too cold out so the air feels melty and wet. You can hear the ice chunks clicking and clacking as they bump against each other and melt. It is an eerie and lovely sound that punctuates the quiet.
Jess went to shore with the group this morning. I’m getting a sore throat and feel weak so I stayed inside and worked on my slide presentation. I am not sure how this trip will inspire me or affect my work. I don’t care. I met Jess, and I met Jordi, and they have made the trip worthwhile already.

The days got 20+ minutes shorter every 24 hours and the captain put us on “ship time” to maximize daylight. It took me days to give in to the dim light, to the time zone, to the rhythms of life onboard, to the constant rocking, to the tight quarters, the constant direction by the captain and our guides, and lack of sunshine. This combined with the experience of the small theatrical looking indoor space that was our shared dining room/living room/bar/meeting place, punctuated by exits into the fantastic and ethereal landscapes made the whole trip very dreamlike.

waking up in a sea of ice no other human sounds

I could not envision bringing art supplies all the way to Norway and beyond to try work without a studio so I brought a camera instead and decided to spend my time just experiencing the adventure. Of course I began to desperately miss making which is an integral part of my everyday life. I had no interest in drawing – something I have not practiced for probably 20 years – but eventually I had to do something so I started doodling on the piece of paper I had been carrying around that Lene had given to me from her pad. Once I started I couldn’t stop. She gave me more paper and Jen Crouch gave me an eraser and I doodled for the rest of the trip. To use a pencil again after so many years of painting was a homecoming. I am not really interested in returning home and painting scenes of the Arctic. The drawings are an offhanded way of expressing the trip. They are doodles inspired by the cracks in the glacial ice, by the surrender to the rhythm of our days on the ship, by boredom, by nature, by physics and by the slow, creeping perseverance of life.

The trip was a constant exercise in adjusting to being outside of the comfort zone in so many ways. It was also an exercise in rising above, adding to the whole and not personalizing or judging. First of all there were the challenges of being in tight quarters with a group that is diverse in age, backgrounds and countries of origin. I honestly feel like every person on the trip added to the whole, and the group did an exceptional job of giving each other slack and working together. There was an awful lot of witty humor and laughter.

Then there was the adjustment to managing seasickness, being out in the wet cold for hours, the water shortage, the failed salt water pump for flushing toilets, the weird schedules, the cough and sore throat that spread through the ship, the lack of sun, and the mostly grey, short days. It was also difficult to be so managed. On shore you could not roam freely because of the danger of polar bears, so armed guides created a sightline territory within which you could walk. If you wanted to come or go from shore you had to plan around the zodiac schedules. The rest of the time was measured between scheduled meals and twice daily debriefings.

ship to shore on the zodiac

I had not realized how sad it would feel to have such uncannily warm weather in the Arctic. A few really cold days punctuated the usual misty wet weather that only hovered around freezing. There was not much snow, and it left me heavy in my gut to see white arctic foxes, white ptarmigans, reindeer, and white polar bears standing out like flags on the dark brown hills. I think we all imagine the glaciers dripping away when in reality there are rivers of melt water gushing from them constantly. I learned that climate change is more extreme at the poles and witnessed it firsthand. Glaciers are calving regularly – loud thunderous crashes as they dismantle into the sea. It was also saddening to be beyond any human sound or habitation but to find disintegrated plastic washed up on shorelines.

Let us also not forget our Napoleonic German captain who had made it known that he did not think too highly of Americans. On the first evening we were all so excited to finally be on board, but as we started out straight into the wind on rough seas the excitement quickly turned into groans and vomit. Crystal, who manned the kitchen and lounge, said she went to the wheelhouse to complain to the captain who laughed and said he “wished he had told them not to throw up in the dust bins,” and then eventually changed course for a calmer ride after our initiation was over. Then there was the next morning, when he publicly singled out my roommate for a public berating, thinking that she was a guy challenging him when she was neither male nor provoking him.

Best of all was the man overboard drill that lasted three hours in biting wind, driving sleet and rough seas. It was near the end of our journey when we heard the alarm siren and so put on our heavy clothes and met on deck in order of our cabin assignments as we had been trained to do. One of our participants, Oskar, had made a small pontoon boat rigged with a sieve for particulate plastic collection that was being dragged behind the ship. It had come loose and a lifebuoy had been thrown in after it, but as had been explained to us before, hopes of finding anything overboard were dim. Nonetheless we were to stand watch at the rail of the ship in hopes of a sighting. After twenty minutes or so the captain came out of the wheelhouse to angrily scream at us for talking amongst ourselves during a “man overboard situation.” Chastened, we all went back to the railings until we were allowed to start rotating for fifteen minute breaks in the lounge to prevent frostbite. During one of these rotations the captain came in to lecture us for not taking the drill seriously enough. Everyone was quiet. I was prepared for a harsh response when I respectfully asked why were treating it as a “man overboard situation” when in fact there was no man overboard. That really triggered the captain, who repeatedly pointed a finger at me and kept reiterating the phrase “people like YOU” during his explanation, which ranged from safety of needing to recover the lifebuoy to not wanting to leave debris in the ocean to needing to have us trained. I pointed out that we were only on the ship for two more days so our training wasn’t of much benefit, then he said it was to train his crew. So many people thanked me after the meeting for asking what they all wanted to know. Against all odds we actually did spot the red lifebuoy on the horizon and eventually recovered it. At that time I decided I was not going to spend any more time in the driving wind with my sore throat since we had recovered the most important item, we were not his employees, and no one could fathom the purpose of spending our few daylight hours recovering seemingly insignificant items. Several people had bagged the whole affair and were hiding in their bunks. I had done the same but then decided I had nothing to hide and returned to the lounge, only to find out that the captain had thrown open the doors of the cabins to yell and threaten to throw off the ship those who were in their bunks. It was such a weird and tense day. I made a silly movie on my computer to break the tension, which made everyone laugh hysterically, even the crew. When darkness came drinks went round out on the cold deck and a party broke out, dissipating the tension. To see the funny video click here.

All of these hardships were the spice in the mix that made the trip memorable and brought us together. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We helped each other cope and listened to each other’s gripes and constantly found things to laugh about. We broke through each other’s barriers and got to know our shipmates in a way that a year of working together in another context couldn’t possibly achieve. I loved the interaction with so many generations and backgrounds whose paths would otherwise not cross, all held together by the glue of our shared creative sensibilities. I realized I am not around my kind enough. I am so inspired by the people I met. They left me feeling good about my work and about myself. I feel more determined to live by my ideals, to let my freak flag fly, to not bother being affected by bullshit. I came home wanting to do great work. I both care more about art and life and give less of a shit what anyone inside or outside of the art world thinks. My comfort zone is larger. Somehow experiencing a sense of being dislodged ended up making me feel home. In the face of melting glaciers and the power of the sea and the vast quiet, all of my personal trivialities seem comfortably miniscule.

The trip left me with faith in something but I am not sure what – I just feel a sense of ambiguous faith. It is as though the experience brought something in me close to being dislodged, or busted loose, and I will see where it drifts. I cherish the change in perspective I got from this voyage. I desperately wish I knew how to make it last. Scroll down for a movie about the trip.

no other human sounds

For a higher quality version of video below, click here 

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Rocky Mountain PBS Arts District Story on Tania https://taniadibbs.com/rocky-mountain-pbs-arts-district-story-tania/ https://taniadibbs.com/rocky-mountain-pbs-arts-district-story-tania/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:59:39 +0000 http://www.taniadibbs.com/?p=4313 The Rocky Mountain PBS Arts District story on Tania aired January 9, 2015 highlighting artwork both old and new. Tania’s new body of work, Anthropocene can be viewed on her website or at her pop up gallery at 308 E. Hopkins in Aspen until March 31, 2015 open daily from 10a-10p.   Artwork from the Anthropocene series discussed in the video  

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The Rocky Mountain PBS Arts District story on Tania aired January 9, 2015 highlighting artwork both old and new. Tania’s new body of workAnthropocene can be viewed on her website or at her pop up gallery at 308 E. Hopkins in Aspen until March 31, 2015 open daily from 10a-10p.

 

Artwork from the Anthropocene series discussed in the video

 

anthropocene, Tania Dibbs, art Tania Dibbs art, contemporary art Tania Dibbs, anthropocene, art Tania Dibbs, Anthropocene, art tania dibbs, contemporary, anthropocene contemporary art, Tania Dibbs, anthropocene

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Contemporary Art Rules https://taniadibbs.com/contemporary-art-rules/ https://taniadibbs.com/contemporary-art-rules/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 22:17:01 +0000 http://www.taniadibbs.com/?p=4166 Yes, there are contemporary art rules – codes to let one another know whether or not you are a contemporary art insider or poser. Number one is that anyone who is anyone does not sign their works of art, with few exceptions. You might as well dot your i’s with hearts.  This was once a […]

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Yes, there are contemporary art rules – codes to let one another know whether or not you are a contemporary art insider or poser.

Number one is that anyone who is anyone does not sign their works of art, with few exceptions. You might as well dot your i’s with hearts.  This was once a little tough for me to buy, having started my career in realism where there was a good chance that a painting hung with an unobtrusive signature on it led to more sales. You are aiming to be such a somebody that people know its your work without needing a signature, and if you are not there yet, pretend you are, because a signature yells that you are not even going to get there. Your signature is not part of the work. A frame is not part of the work. Your collector list is not part of the work. All of this is both true and not true.

Which brings me to the next rule, which is that you can be taken as a whore or a sellout if you are actually making money with your art, or that your art has the cultural integrity of bubble gum if it sells too easily. It is a sort of catch-22. I am happy that in my thirties I was paying off a house with my paintings instead of flipping burgers while being artsy fartsy, but I did not yet know that success was not sales. You cannot both make a living and be doing real art, unless you are one of the few who have gained acceptance into the art world equivalent of the NBA. “Who is your audience?” is the phrase here.

Beauty, realism and skill are all intertwined in this next point. In the world of contemporary art it seems that using beauty and skill might automatically lead experts to believe that you lack imagination. If you employ these crutches there is a chance that you might not be an intellectual and you run the risk of having your art immediately dismissed by the tastemakers. I think real experts are able to hold beauty, skill, content, intent, irony and many other things in their consideration all at once, and the pretenders are the ones who feel the knee-jerk reaction to ixnay beauty just because they know it’s loaded. I am glad to see that these qualities seem to be making a comeback.

Another rule is that you can’t be seen as trying too hard. Don’t use the word “professional.” My astute artist friend Kris Cox points out that one doesn’t say “professional doctor,” but a doctor definitely got an advanced degree. What if I danced the way Karen Kilimnik paints, and managed to make money at it? Would the word “professional” distinguish me from being a “dancer” in the YouTube oddity sense or not?

 

A “dancer”, a “professional dancer”, or a YouTube oddity?

Websites are another good example. Most of the really successful artists have websites that are crappy or non-existent, because they are too busy to deal with a website, do not need to self-promote and besides, Gavin Brown’s site is fine. If your font is too big, forget about it – your font should be microscopic even if no one can read it. (i.e. Brent WaddenPetra CortrightSebastian BlackDominique Gonzalez-Foerster). I think tiny font means you are neither O-L-D, which is a no no, nor trying too hard.  I had a curator tell me recently that if an artist’s site has a taupe background, she won’t even look at the work. She also has a list of other website prerequisites to check that inform her opinion of the art that she hasn’t seen yet. Photos of the work should be on a white wall, as if you have already arrived at a white box gallery, not cropped around the painting. Oh yea, and the work should stand on its own.

Which brings me to the thorny subject of contextualization, which is worthy of it’s own post. For now I will just say that it is de rigueur to disdain contextualization because, again, the work should stand on its own, though I have yet to tour a museum with a director, read an article about an artist’s work or go through a personal collection without someone contextualizing the work for the viewers the whole time. Maybe once an artist’s work is in museums and private collections it goes without saying that it stands on its own already, so the backstory runs no chance of supporting the work and everyone already knows what it is anyway, although I often come across art in these situations that doesn’t visually interest me in the least without a comment on the artist’s intent. (Maybe this point should be under the “trying too hard” section.)

 

So remember the rules:

Pretend you are not trying.

Don’t explain. Hope you get to the point where someone else will.

The work should stand on its own ( ha).

Paint like no one’s watching, but don’t dance that way.

 

 

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Burning Man 2014 https://taniadibbs.com/burning-man-2014/ https://taniadibbs.com/burning-man-2014/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 22:03:39 +0000 http://www.taniadibbs.com/?p=3982 The city of Black Rock is created on the “playa” of the Black Rock Desert for the annual weeklong Burning Man Festival. We flew from Reno to the playa on a terrifyingly small and old charter plane that seemed barely able to make the 50-minute flight.The door handle fell off when we were loading and we […]

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The city of Black Rock is created on the “playa” of the Black Rock Desert for the annual weeklong Burning Man Festival. We flew from Reno to the playa on a terrifyingly small and old charter plane that seemed barely able to make the 50-minute flight.The door handle fell off when we were loading and we couldn’t take off until we found it and put it back on. Then the passenger door flew open in midair. I sat in the front worrying over the antique looking dials and gauges and the scratched up paneling effect on the steering column that looked like décor from an old station wagon. The logo said “Skywagon.” Nothing new or cool has been called “wagon” since the seventies. Excitement replaced fear when I saw half circle of the city below us.

 

burning man 2014
notice crumpled instructions on his leg
burning man 2014
Black Rock City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the cooler aspects of the festival is the way people share their talents. It is easy to spend an evening going to see live jazz, live folk or any other kind of music you would like to find. Bruce and I stopped in for a while at a large geodesic dome where a very lively and fun dance instructor on a microphone was teaching dance classes to a crowd of couples staged around the circumference of the dance floor. The abundant creativity everywhere is really amazing. Our camp was proud to showcase an art car made by Henry Chang that inspired gearheads to stop and whip out cameras all day long.

 

 

burning man 2014
Henry Chang’s art car

 

Just like in a real city, there is an element of seediness to be found if you seek it out or put yourself in its path in the wee hours, but Burning Man is large enough and diverse enough to be what you make of it.

The daytime vibe is funky and upbeat. At 8:45 and C (The layout is that of a clock) I rested in the “Center of Attention Chair” that was decorated like a throne. As soon as I sat down some people at the camp came out to spritz me if I was overheated, ask if I needed anything, announce, “She’s here!!!”, get me a drink and to tell me how fabulous I looked. In one of the most upscale camps on the outskirts of the festival I got to hang for a few minutes with the actor Will Smith who is as charming and handsome in real life as he is on film. Unfortunately there was also tragedy this year. Alicia Louise Cipicchio, 29, fell while attempting to jump onto an art car (in this case a double-decker bus called Shagadelica which had been covered in white fur) and got run over, even though the universal speed limit there is 5 mph. Out of the almost 66,000 people at the festival, it turns out she was someone I knew. She had worked for a guy who used to sell my art, and had told me last year what a fan of my work she was. R.I.P Alicia.

One of my Burning Man contributions was to bring a bunch of homemade necklaces to give away to members of my camp and to others I met. Burning Man is necklace intensive. It made me feel great to see my decorations on the people around me. There was a “gifting mailbox” down the street and I put some in there as well, taking sunscreen in exchange. I also sent a bunch of art supplies, plywood and 2 x 4’s to the camp ahead of time. With the wood I built a little painting booth that faced avenue A. It was an invitation for people to come try their hand at painting. Passers by could contribute to a group canvas or paint their own. Some people stayed for hours, like Roni Yaari, Matt Hanover, and Brittany Mason. Others would just stop in to watch or to try their hand at being expressive in an unfamiliar way.

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I painted a playa sky with a rough semblance of Black Rock City underneath. I put a glitter grid over it then left it out. On the night of the big burn someone painted the symbol of the burning man on the top in acrylic paint, which finished the piece off perfectly. My new friends Shannon Tobin and Steve Funk took that piece home as a remembrance.

burning man 2014 burning man 2014

 

The best part of Burning Man is not the partying or the drug culture. Burning Man changes your perspective. Burning Man is hard. The climate is harsh, it is exhausting, and being there is challenging. There is a lot to take in and a lot of people to deal with. It can be overwhelming. To really participate you have to get out of your skin, lose your judgmentalism, change your mindset, and be totally okay with yourself and with a swath of humanity.  It took me several days to really get my head in the right spot and when I did I felt different. At first I had to get used to all of the stimulation, all of the hugging and all of the acceptance and openness. Now I am trying to get used to “normal,” which doesn’t include those things. You don’t know how heavy the usual baggage you carry in your life is until you put it down, such as worrying about how you look, and picking that weight up again feels unpleasant. On the way home I was wondering why I work so hard and why everything in life is not good enough just as it is in each moment. Now those feelings are fading somewhat, and I will see how much of the positive Burning Man ethos stays with me over time.

 

A great slideshow that really captures the event and an article by Sai Mokthari can be read here

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Hiring a web developer? Read this first. https://taniadibbs.com/hiring-web-developer-read-first/ https://taniadibbs.com/hiring-web-developer-read-first/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 15:52:19 +0000 http://www.taniadibbs.com/?p=3859 Hiring a web developer? Read this first. Because my website had not been properly set up in the first place I was faced with the dilemma of constant manual fixes or a complete revamp of the site, so I decided to stop fixing what was basically broken and to start over. This would provide me […]

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Hiring a web developer? Read this first.

Because my website had not been properly set up in the first place I was faced with the dilemma of constant manual fixes or a complete revamp of the site, so I decided to stop fixing what was basically broken and to start over. This would provide me with the opportunity to implement some upgrades and redesigns that would have been tough to integrate retroactively. I had a pretty solid idea of what features and functionality I needed in a website and how I wanted it to look. I had no idea that translating this into a working site would be such a challenge.
Finding someone to take the job is relatively easy. Finding someone who can actually deliver is astonishingly difficult. It seems there are several types of developers out there.

1. The lone wolf: The lone wolf is the friend of a friend who does web design. The pros are that they are usually available to chat about your needs and less expensive than a high-end company. The cons are that they might or might not have the skills you need, and might not even know they lack skills until they find they can’t implement what you requested. My first “lone wolf “ experience some years ago was fine. I had a great working relationship with the guy, but when it turned out that my initial setup was wrong and so was not upgradeable as software updates arrived, he was gone and I was out of luck. My second “lone wolf” was fantastic until he (predictably, because he was fantastic) became too busy for my small job, and my emails and calls went unanswered. The third, whom I hired to do my recent rebuild, over-promised and under-delivered. I wasted weeks of frustration with someone who probably didn’t have the skills I needed in the first place. (Advice – find an example of what you are looking for in their portfolio before you hire. No one admits, “I don’t know how to do that.”) The fourth guy wasted another month or two by promising one thing, giving me another, then arguing about it. One thing that surprised me is that even within your geographical area, most developers do not work one on one in person but instead communicate mostly by email or Skype. It is a good idea to be very specific about what you want. I created a Photoshop mockup of how I wanted my site to look and operate, and even then there were misunderstandings galore. It seems computer tech types are not always the best listeners or communicators. I got a lot of “that is how it has to be,” after they had agreed to make it look like my mockup. Also, be careful of being overcharged. While creating a website from scratch can be a lot of work, using a content management system such as WordPress and importing correctly sized images into a themed template is not very difficult and should not cost thousands of dollars. Customizing one of these themes, however, involves another level of work input. Be clear about what you can provide your developer. Are you presenting them with organized, sized content or are they supposed to start from scratch? Prices for these two scenarios should be very different.

2. The small to mid-sized development company: Pros: Professional, usually has a talent pool and therefore broader experience and hopefully a higher level of professionalism. Sometimes are more reliable than the lone wolf who might be out on a bike ride or claim the proverbial “web emergency” situation just when you desperately need help. Usually are not prone to disappearing or switching careers. Cons – significantly more expensive (in my area $1,800 – $5,000 for the basics of a site)

3. Cadillac company: The high-end companies have advanced hosting tools, design teams, highly skilled coders, can give you whatever you want, are extremely professional, etc. The cons are that the pricing is usually out of the everyday person’s budget (sites can start at $15,000 – $20,000) and you are likely not going to be calling to chat about little issues you might want to change on your website.

4. The per-item freelancer: As it turns out, the web development world in my geographical area, where so many fail to return calls in a timely manner, argue, and/or have a “take it or leave it” attitude is not the web development world in general. It seems harder to find a good, reliable web developer here than a good doctor, and none seem particularly concerned with customer service, deadlines or returning phone calls in a timely manner. I wondered if it was this way everywhere or just in this relatively affluent area, so I started doing some research. As it turns out there are multitudes of options for getting all sorts of help online for all sorts of issues, and there are a LOT of hungry people out there who are dying to work for you on your terms. Here are some of these options that I explored:

A. Liveperson.com. This site offers help with technology, education, counseling and other things. You can choose from an array of experts, each displaying a thumbnail image, ratings, specialties, and rates. I ended up getting quite a bit of help from “Shaam,” who had an average of five out of five stars from 1,253 reviews. His computer degrees are listed as well as his areas of expertise. He was extremely helpful and did a lot of the site customizations that I could not do myself. When we were later unhappy with some of the changes, he willingly came back to fix our issues.
-Pros: you can see the quality of the help before you hire them and you can negotiate a price or accept bids. You usually pay at the end and the experts are very concerned with pleasing the client. The experts can use an easy to install “TeamViewer” app to see your screen and to show you theirs. It is a super flexible way to go. You can agree on a price for one thing, say, getting a drop down menu to work, or for making a whole website.
– Cons: many of the experts are in India or some other time zone, limiting your work hours, and language might be a barrier if you don’t check out language skills before hiring.
Be sure to agree on price and scope ahead of time.

B. Justanswer.com is a site that seems better suited to getting a fast answer to a particular question. On this site you prepay an agreed upon amount based on your question’s urgency, and wait for an expert to respond.
– Pros: Easy to get your money back.
– Cons: Have to ask for your money back if the expert answered when you were not available or if the answer didn’t help. This sites also uses Teamviewer as previously mentioned.

C. Wizpert.com: This was my least favorite option because the user has to buy coins in advance of the chat session then watch the clock tick down as you correspond, taking my focus away from the issue and making me feel like I was on a game show. You have to “add more coins” to continue, as if you were operating from a payphone booth.
– Pros: Fast answers.
– Cons: Prepaying and on a time clock.

D. Freelancer.com is a great site, where the user can post a job and a desired price range and then wait for bids to come in. Initial contact with your chosen expert is usually through Skype. This site also enables you to look at the expert’s degrees, proficiency in particular fields, pricing, completion rate, reviews, etc. You can filter your bid results by any of the above categories to help narrow your choices, and the site provides you with an average bid price which is helpful in getting a realistic idea of cost for a particular job. I paid the extra $9 to hide the bids from other developers; otherwise the bids are more clustered in price. Obviously the experts in the U.S. and U.K. charge a lot more than those in less developed countries. I was amazed to get cheap, accurate advice from people with advanced degrees in engineering and computer science.
– Pros: You post your desired price range and job requirements and then receive bids from contacts where you then can compare and filter their proficiency, degrees and reviews.
– Cons: Seems most of the freelancers use the same response templates over and over and when you need extremely intricate items done, they say they can deliver, but can’t.
Be sure to use the freelancer “milestone” payment system, and be very detailed about what you want. Also it is a good idea to ask people not to apply unless they have done what you are asking before, and be up front about not paying in full until the work is delivered on your site. I reached a standoff with one developer who had good reviews, when I found he would not put the work from his server to mine without first getting a review and payment. I disputed the issue and got my money back but will be more clear in the future about when I will pay. Our favorite from this site quickly became Shiny Dgn from Bangladesh, who is very talented, helpful, tries very hard to give you what you want, and adjusts his work schedule to be awake when you are. We rehired him many times and will use him again I am sure.

E. Message boards at jobs.wordpress.net. I got a lot of help from posting my issues on this board. The only problem with this method is that you are inundated with offers of help, some specific to your request and some from developers looking for work in general, and you cannot instantly take down your posting when your job has been filled.
– Pros: There are plenty of people to pick from.
– Cons: You continue to receive answers after your issue is resolved. You are also on your own with these freelancers, without a dispute resolution service, rankings or other clues to past performance.
Again, be very clear about your needs, expectations and time zone. Our most helpful developer that we found on the job board was Sanjay Rawat from Pramarsh Web Services and his teammate Bikram Singh. They were professional, helpful, and came in on deadline.

If your aim is to be presented with a finished product and you don’t want any involvement beyond that, the freelancer route is probably not for you. Be prepared to pay for what you want and to be at the mercy of the people who are available to you in your area. If you have specific requests, be sure to look at the developer’s portfolio to see examples of the kind of work you are hoping to get done. If you are a hands-on person, if you are planning on managing your own site, if you want to save money and are not technically challenged, working with an online freelancer might be the route for you. Be prepared to spend a lot of time checking your email or Skype, because if they have a question and you delay answering it, you are slowing down the workflow. The DIY route suited me because I enjoy learning how things work and how my site functions, and also now feel much less dependent on the limited services that are available in my area. If I don’t like someone’s work or work ethic, I have a world of other people to choose from, literally. If you have any questions before you hire someone or if you have another idea to add to this list, feel free to reply.

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Art Writing as Conceptual Art https://taniadibbs.com/art-writing-conceptual-art/ https://taniadibbs.com/art-writing-conceptual-art/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 01:16:30 +0000 http://taniadibbs.com/?p=2224 Reading art writing requires an extra cup of coffee for me to be able to stomach. I can more easily plow through a scientific abstract than smoothly digest art writing, which takes the simplest ideas and often strives to make them as complicated, vague and important as possible. I feel oddly guilty about this because […]

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Reading art writing requires an extra cup of coffee for me to be able to stomach. I can more easily plow through a scientific abstract than smoothly digest art writing, which takes the simplest ideas and often strives to make them as complicated, vague and important as possible. I feel oddly guilty about this because I love art, I love exploring ideas, I love to learn, I am not intimidated by difficult text and art is my chosen field. Yet when I want to wind down with an article at the end of the day, art writing is not my choice. I fail to buy it, and get distracted and exhausted by my own judging and eye rolling when I notice the effort that the writer took to make a simple idea seem lofty or ambiguous. On many occasions I am bewildered by the first or second reading of a sentence. Art writing is the frame taking over the painting. Here are the types words that are favorites in the field: polymath, normative, palimpsest, transversal, polemic, zeitgeist, ziggurat, semiotic, polemic, etc. Sure, there are uses for them, but sometimes I feel like yelling, “Stop trying so hard! It’s just art!”  Here is an example of some drivel from a Whitney Biennial catalogue as noted in the blog of artist and critic Carol Diehl:

“Bove’s ‘settings’ draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.”

Really?

The conceptual art trend that started in the 1960’s valued the idea or concept behind the art rather than its physical identity. The “father” of conceptual art, Sol LeWitt, codified these ideas in his “Sentences on Conceptual Art”.  Here are some statements from that paper:

“Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.”

“The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.”

“When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations.”

“All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.”

The theory that anything is art and anyone with an idea is an artist infuses art thinking all the way into post modern and new media art of today. But if anyone with an idea is an artist, it doesn’t seem to follow that anyone with a pen is an art writer. Just as most currently celebrated art is conceptual in nature, so is the writing about it. This is not necessarily a no-brainer; in fact art writing historically was aesthetically based. But if art itself is no longer aesthetically based, it follows that art writing would become an account of the viewer’s experience of the work, but with so much of today’s art having no obvious meaning, meanings are deciphered by the curators and critics, and the accompanying vague and nonsensical gibberish has itself become part of the art. How would the art be received without it? As stated by Eric Gibson in his hilarious Wall Street Journal article, The Lost Art of Writing About Art, “The writer no longer [has] to base his critical observations on a close scrutiny of the work of art. He [can] simply riff.” This is just what Sol LeWitt (Artsy’s Sol LeWitt page) was talking about in terms of fine art so imagine how I died laughing when I came upon “Paragraphs on Conceptual Writing” by Kenneth Goldsmith, an American poet/professor/artist who is driven by a preoccupation with “Uncreativity as Creative Practice.” Echoing Sol LeWitt’s sentences, he writes:

“Conceptual writing is not necessarily logical. The logic of a piece or series of pieces is a device that is used at times, only to be ruined. Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the writer, to lull the reader into the belief that she understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation (such as logic vs. illogic). Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually. The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable. In terms of ideas the writer is free even to surprise herself. Ideas are discovered by intuition. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the writer is concerned. Once given physical reality by the writer the work is open to the perception of all, including the author. (I use the word perception to mean the apprehension of the sense data, the objective understanding of the idea, and simultaneously a subjective interpretation of both). The work of literature can be perceived only after it is completed.”

His comical but to the point article on “how to be dumb” pushes  further the idea that taking inanity seriously is in itself a clever intellectual maneuver.  Goldsmith states:

“I am dumb. Dumb is an ill-prepared slacker, riding on hunches and intuition. Willfully amnesiac—History, what’s that?—dumb is a tabula rasa,  full of emptiness. Caring little for progress or narrative, dumb moves laterally, occasionally spiraling back in on itself. Dumb loves easy. Eschewing climaxes and crescendos, dumb favors stasis, grids, and predictable systems simply because they require less effort. Similarly, dumb favors re—recontextualization, reframing, redoing, remixing, recycling—rather than having to go through the effort of creating something from scratch. Dumb embraces the messiness of contradiction and revels in the beauty of the ridiculously obvious. Trading on the mundane and common, dumb plays a low-stakes game. Since dumb has nothing to lose, dumb owes nothing to anyone, and in that way it is free.”

And even more germane:

“There is dumb dumb and there is smart dumb. There is also smart smart. Dumb dumb is plain dumb and smart smart is plain smart. Smart dumb rejects both smart smart and dumb dumb, choosing instead to walk a tightrope between the two. Smart dumb is incisive and precise. In order to be smart dumb, you have to be really smart, but not in the smart smart way.”

It seems that silliness in art writing requires the sort of art that is devoid enough of obviousness that it can be the writer’s slate. This makes me think of Wade Guyton and his meteoric rise to darling of the art world. His appropriated inkjet “paintings” of keyboard “x” and “u” symbols, made by computers and inkjet printers, now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and are in permanent museum collections nationwide. Guyton was quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “I never really enjoyed drawing or art classes. I would prefer to sit in front of the TV or play video games… I chose the computer because it was right there.” But he says he’s not very sophisticated when it comes to technology: “I don’t do Facebook. My Photoshop skills are rudimentary. I’m lucky to download my e-mail.” After cringing while listening to him participate in a panel discussion on conceptual painting hosted by the Frieze Foundation  and chaired by art historian and critic Jan Verwoert, I started to think he is the ultimate exemplification of a slacker-surfer dude who was called to speak publicly but hadn’t read the material.  At points the audience chuckled at his responses, as did Jan himself. Maybe his presentation skills have improved since that talk, but I was truly shocked that his art practice seemed to primarily consist of aimlessly throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. I have to include some transcript from the talk, typed word for word as it was spoken:

Wade Guyton: “I was making these sculptures, um, … I wanted something really simple and immediate that would very quickly register as a sculpture, or, uh, linguistically, or sit in the space and do different things….” and “Okay, then I decided, okay, well this is kind of dumb, but, so, I felt like the “x” was becoming like this caricature, or, uh it was kind of becoming really ridiculous, um, so I was wondering, like, I’m really just typing, and I just type another letter, and the “u” seemed sufficiently abstract, and close enough on the keyboard, it didn’t change anything, really, so uh, so then I ended up using this, which ends up going through much later work……” and “All these events that happen, like the struggle with the printer, the material’s not right for the machine…”

Mr. Guyton goes on for an eternity like this, and then Jan offers, “So on the one hand you seem to identify your work or yourself with this kind of a certain drama of modernist self-reflective critique that we say, “How is it possible to make a mark or make a gesture in the face of history? What are the last possible moves to make to suggest a shift at all? And then sort of this conceptual struggle is also linked to the struggle with the machine and the possibility of sort of a failure that might come as a move…It’s almost the agony of making these last possible gestures.” Wow. Is that elucidation or extrapolation?

Mr. Verwoert then asks, “What would be the liberating dimension to this kind of struggle in the face of history?” to which Guyton replies,

“Well, I kind of feel liberated by them…uh, I guess… I also feel you know…. chained to the fucking printer too…and not knowing how you, um, do anything else…but, umm, uh, uh, let’s see…(big pause)…I mean, for me it becomes very mechanical and that kind of is attractive because I can kind of turn my brain off, and, well, and even though like they are mechanical but the printer can’t do it on it’s own, like you know you have to, like, work with it…but there is this, uhhhmmmm, I don’t know how to describe it, but its, uh …there is this space that opens up for me like, mentally, working with this kind of, ah, seemingly, uh, technological, uh, mechanical computer …I sit at my desk, I look at the computer, I move these windows around, I press print then I like think about, like, these ideas of like whether it’s a quality print, a draft print, you know….”

He rambles on a while longer. Finally Jan interjects hopefully, “Saved by the bell, in the face of history? Technology is the bell that saves?” Pause, and Guyton says, “I also don’t know what else to do…. ummm…” There is some more rambling, then Jan sums it up in a neat synopsis about reductionism. It is as though they were having two completely different conversations. This is certainly a good example of LeWitt’s point that the artist doesn’t necessarily have to understand his own art. I am not sure if Wade Guyton is smart dumb or just dumb dumb, but I do see that the subject of the art writing or critique is not connected to his process. Perhaps the blanker the better for the critic or writer. There is less subject to have to work around. About Guyton’s exhibit at the Whitney critic Jerry Saltz said, “This quasi-nostalgia gives Guyton’s work a troubling, lurking aura, implying a double-edged Romantic wish that art can again be what it once was.” Who knew?

This whole scenario reminds me of the nursery spider, Pisaura mirabilis, which presents its mate with a gift of silk-wrapped prey. While the female examines the gift, the male spends its time mating with her. If the gift is not wrapped the female just takes the gift and runs away or eats him before mating can occur. Over time this spider’s behavior has evolved such that the male is often wrapping useless husks of seeds, detritus, or even nothing at all, hoping to mate without first investing in catching prey. The males wrap their gift with so much silk that the females can’t tell what is inside, but mating is cut short as soon as the female notices deceit, resulting in fewer sperm being transferred. If the wrapping is the art writing and the mating is market success, there is no joy without the ball of silk, and what is inside the wrapped package ultimately matters but is not of primary concern. This weird evolutionary analogy is the only explanation I can fathom to explain the curious evolution of the art world to its current state of collusion between the artists, critics and curators who ultimately get the market to follow. My point is not at all that Wade Guyton’s art has no worth or that art writing is without merit, but that there is something farcical about the current extremes of the scheme. It makes me reassess my own aspirations in the world of art. I want to be part of the conversation but I don’t want to yearn to enter into a club that I don’t completely buy into, or strive to be smart dumb when I am more smart smart. Absurdity in art writing has become to me the symbol of what I don’t like in the art world, and if I am not aspiring to engage in that scenario then what scenario am I aspiring to?     UPDATE: read Sept 22 comment below.

Wade Guyton
Wade Guyton at Aspen Art Museum presentation

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Defaulted https://taniadibbs.com/defaulted-painting/ https://taniadibbs.com/defaulted-painting/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 17:05:30 +0000 http://taniadibbs.com/?p=2157 Defaulted: I was driving by the frozen river on a winding road on my way to cross country ski with my dogs last Sunday. The sun was shining and flakes of snow were falling off of the trees and catching the sunlight. Some high, echoing piano notes were repeating on the radio. I used the […]

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Defaulted:

I was driving by the frozen river on a winding road on my way to cross country ski with my dogs last Sunday. The sun was shining and flakes of snow were falling off of the trees and catching the sunlight. Some high, echoing piano notes were repeating on the radio. I used the Shazam app on my iPhone to find that the song was “Wash.” by Bon Iver. The notes sounded poignant and lilting and like a memory. They sounded to me like light green, and the sound matched the feeling of the flakes of snow catching the sun, and described the heartache of loss. I knew then exactly where to go with the canvas that had been sitting unfinished in my studio.

The painting, a 6’ x 9’ panel, was faintly sky blue covered by layers of dark drips. While listening to the song I got the idea to cover the blue with a spare, transparent wash of light spring green, turning the painting into a fresh forest, but one that is melting and dissolving and haunted by a few out of season snowflakes flying amidst the greenery. The snow over full green represents the sad fact of our climate turned upside down: snow in summer, heat in the winter, freezes in the tropics, heat at the poles, tornadoes and storms and all of the upheavals of a pained planet. I want the piece to be sensuously beautiful but to also give the viewer a jab, like the feeling you get when a beautiful bird smacks your window and falls. I want the piece to look delicate but slightly wrong, and to be evocative of loss. I want the piece to be eloquent and poignant.

Surely everyone feels some pain when they think about what is going on with the earth. Surely on some level we all do, or we are actively turning away from the pain, or feeling anger at the possibility of being made to feel pain or guilt or sorrow. I know I feel it. We have defaulted on our obligation to the planet. I sat on a beach in the Virgin Islands and cried because all the reefs we saw were dead. I could not focus on the margaritas and sunshine alone.

While I want to address the topic, I don’t want to make art that makes the viewer turn away. I don’t want to repeat or augment the ugly or the ugliness, or to wag a finger, or to miss the sensitivity of the situation. I want to engage the viewer, to have them lean in and look and feel, and then notice that wait, it’s melting, its not quite right, it is beautiful but broken and yes, I feel that too. I hope that this art creates a space in which we can share our compassion and acknowledge our feelings.

I was explaining my artwork to Matthew Frum, (Stillness Daily) a Buddhist artist, designer and mediation instructor who pointed me to the work of Joanna Macy. She is a PhD, an Eco-philosopher and scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology who said, “Don’t be afraid of the dark. This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.”

Do I myself even have the “right” to these feelings? Really my lifestyle is as destructive as anyone’s, and what effect would any small change I could make really matter anyway? A sense of impotence in the face of such an overwhelming situation makes people want to turn their focus away from the matter completely. Matthew pointed out that it is like the death of your mother. You want to be there for her until the very end, doing whatever you can, giving her all your love. You don’t turn away because she is dying, and it is the same with the earth. So true, and so well said.

 

 

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Damaged Artwork or Garbage? https://taniadibbs.com/damaged-artwork-garbage-fire/ https://taniadibbs.com/damaged-artwork-garbage-fire/#respond Thu, 07 Nov 2013 18:22:52 +0000 http://taniadibbs.com/?p=2079 How do you know when to stop working on a piece? Sometimes it is obvious, like when the thing you are going for has been achieved. Sometimes it is open to interpretation. Then you just have to live with the piece awhile to see if the need for more work becomes apparent or not. Other […]

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damaged artwork Tania Dibbs damaged artwork Tania Dibbs ddamaged artwork Tania Dibbs ddamaged artwork Tania Dibbs

How do you know when to stop working on a piece? Sometimes it is obvious, like when the thing you are going for has been achieved. Sometimes it is open to interpretation. Then you just have to live with the piece awhile to see if the need for more work becomes apparent or not. Other times you just don’t have a choice but to go past the end point.

A few of my paintings got damaged when transporting them to Denver for my October gallery opening because I wrapped them in plastic before the paint film was suitably dry. The plastic wrap stuck, the paint film wrinkled, and I took the damaged artwork back to my studio in dismay. The upside is that once a painting has become garbage in my mind, I am able to experiment with a freedom that is difficult to achieve otherwise.

Torching “Momentum”

Torching Video

 

I decided to see what would happen if I burned the parts that were messed up. My torches were kind of small for the task so Brian brought over a propane tank and a weed burner so powerful that it sounds like a jet engine taking off when you light it. How exciting. What fun. In some areas the flame burned all the way through the canvas, and in others it just toasted the front nicely. I absolutely love some of the effects I am getting (I am now laying down paint with the intent of torching it later) and am wondering if I can have some burned effects that also show some distance instead of ending up with a beautifully aged and interesting but flat surface. Having nothing to lose can really be freeing.

Tania Dibbs Contemporary painting
Trajectory, 60″ x 48″, oil

 

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Nature / Human Nature https://taniadibbs.com/naturehuman-nature/ https://taniadibbs.com/naturehuman-nature/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 08:30:28 +0000 http://taniadibbs.com/?p=1891 After years of landscape painting I began to realize that scenery was not so interesting to me as the fundamental biology behind the scene and our pervasive role in the system represented. I am fascinated by human progress, by the effects of human advancement and by the complicated interrelationships of those effects. Moore’s law, which […]

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After years of landscape painting I began to realize that scenery was not so interesting to me as the fundamental biology behind the scene and our pervasive role in the system represented. I am fascinated by human progress, by the effects of human advancement and by the complicated interrelationships of those effects. Moore’s law, which describes an exponential growth pattern in the complexity of semiconductor circuits, was extended by the well known futurist Ray Kurzweil to describe exponential growth of diverse forms of technological progress. Whenever a technology approaches some kind of a barrier, he said, a new technology will be invented to allow us to cross that barrier. He predicted that such paradigm shifts have and will continue to become increasingly common, leading to “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.” It is widely agreed that technological progress is now the primary factor driving the development of human civilization. This continual acceleration occurs because new technological systems continually use fewer and fewer resources (like matter, energy, space and time) to accomplish physical or computational change. As a result, the limits to exponential growth that are seen in a system of fixed complexity are theoretically avoided, unlike the natural limits of, say, bacteria growing in a pond, which can multiply only until local resources are used up. The past fifty years have brought about an unprecedented increase in the welfare of humankind propelled by technology. The flip side to this progress, however, is that with accelerating growth comes accelerating planetary dissolution and degradation. While it is true that economic growth and technological growth are tightly linked, there is a conflict between growth and environmental protection that technology can lessen but not reconcile. Human health is still ultimately dependent upon the integrity of ecosystems.

The overall picture of these correlations becomes so complicated and entangled that I find my mind boggled. I am inspired to paint the world as a glowing font of potential, superimposed upon systemic struggle and dissonance, graced by the adaptive and mutational perseverance of biology. Moral judgments of right or wrong are not as interesting to me as observing the actions and reactions within the system. That is not to say that I don’t cringe with sadness at the omnipresent theme of environmental change and destruction. I do. I also feel an enormous sense of awe at our advances in science and technology. These two issues are flip sides of the same coin. There is no simple categorization, blame or justification. That is why I find the story of Fritz Haber to be such a compelling parable for our current state of evolution. His influence can’t be fit into a category of good or bad, it can only be seen as endless ripples of effect on the pond of humanity. Nor do I think anyone has the ability to overcome the sheer scale, intensity and momentum of our trajectory any more than a bee has the influence to purposefully affect the entire hive.

The first of my paintings that were influenced by this topic reflect the massive plant growth brought on by the Haber Process, when it first became possible to fix nitrogen from the air into liquid ammonia, thus creating fertilizer and feeding a hungry population. Intentionally grandiloquent, entirely positive and without tension, you can almost hear choir voices in the background when you look at these pieces.

tania dibbs anthropocene art

The Haber Process was seen as such when it was first invented and the catastrophic ramifications it would have on the planet were as of yet undiscovered. In the following group of works we see lush growth as well as some dissolution caused by the negative effects of population growth and strain on the planet. The beauty of biology continues in the face of change. The colors of the environment lead the viewer to understand they are depictions of our world. Biology elegantly mutates, continues and evolves, despite selective pressure.

The next images remind me of miracles of biotech: how bacteria can be altered to produce our pharmaceuticals, how a trachea can be grown in a lab, how scientists can order up machine made DNA, how they can make a glow in the dark bunny by manipulating genes, etc. The forms in these paintings could be molecules, or biological transformation, or microscopic views of infection. The technology described seems both miraculous and unnerving and the shapes can be viewed as beautiful or scary. They float, groundless, allowing them to have many meanings and or to maintain their mystery and beauty and potential without distinct interpretation.

Adding additional dimensions to the drips caused the resulting paintings to take on more of the aura of the “manmade”. The  intersecting drips are reminiscent of urban streets. The linear qualities remind me of the footprint of technology, and the wildly intersecting lines feel to me like a visual representation of the incomprehensible complication of human endeavor. Some of the pieces represent a conflict between the manmade and the biological, with one section being immiscible with the other:

Tania Dibbs contemporary art tania dibbs contemporary art tania dibbs contemporary painting anthropocene art tania dibbs anthropocene art

These are my interpretations of the image of planet earth from space, the “Big Blue Marble.” They are made of the colors of the globe, but the sphere appears to be dissolving and out of sync, as if off kilter or losing integrity from spinning too fast. In some the image of the globe has become completely obliterated by white. White is the color of brilliance, possibility, innocence, goodness, etc. but the white  still obliterates.

 

Tania Dibbs anthropocene art

These are clearly landscapes but they are dissolving, degrading and disintegrating. There is a tension between entropy and growth. Biology perseveres and continues despite the  altered environments.

Tania Dibbs contemporary art

Do you have positive or negative feelings about the state of our evolution, or do you not focus on it at all? What is your take?

 

 

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Humanity, Earth, Intention, and Consequences https://taniadibbs.com/humanity-earth-intention-and-consequences/ https://taniadibbs.com/humanity-earth-intention-and-consequences/#comments Sat, 01 Jun 2013 15:45:14 +0000 http://taniadibbs.com/?p=1832 Shortly after composing my last artist statement, I came upon this podcast while listening to old episodes of my favorite audio show, Radiolab. The show fascinated and stunned me, because it so very much provided a clear and timely example of the very complex relationship I have been exploring between humanity, earth, intention, and consequences. […]

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Shortly after composing my last artist statement, I came upon this podcast while listening to old episodes of my favorite audio show, Radiolab. The show fascinated and stunned me, because it so very much provided a clear and timely example of the very complex relationship I have been exploring between humanity, earth, intention, and consequences. As I listened to it in my studio I actually got goose bumps on my arms. If you take a few minutes to hear the segment  you will have a clear understanding of my current 2013 work.

Nitrogen is one of the nutrient elements needed to make cell walls, proteins, and life. Farmers have always known that composting crop waste, animal manure, and even human waste led to better harvests, but these methods were not enough to keep up with the world’s growing population – about 1.5 billion around the turn of the century. Although nitrogen makes up four out of every five atoms in the atmosphere, plant-available nitrogen in the soil is scarce, and there was no way to capture atmospheric nitrogen for plant use. Enter Fritz Haber, a young chemist in Germany, who was intent on solving the biggest problem facing his country: how to feed a growing population. At the time, everyone was starting to worry that humans had maxed out how much food the Earth could produce, until about 1911 when Haber made arguably the most significant scientific breakthrough in human history–how to pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere, which could then be used as fertilizer. They called it “bread from the air” and Haber’s work eventually earned him a Nobel Prize for chemistry. The Haber process is what has enabled our population to grow to seven billion, and today the world produces 100 million tons of synthetic fertilizer per year. It is estimated that half of the average human body is composed of nitrogen that has been through the Haber Process.

Haber also, however, played a major role in the development of chlorine gas and other deadly gases for use in trench warfare during WWl. By 1913, the German chemical giant BASF had a plant operating in Ludwigshaven-Oppau, Germany making ammonia at the rate of 30 metric tons per day to use in explosives, another of Haber’s fields of study. Without question, this technology permitted Germany to continue making explosives and extended the war for many years. During the 1920s, scientists working at Haber’s institute developed the cyanide gas formulation Zyklon A, which was used as an insecticide, and which was later modified by the Nazis to become Zyklon B, used in the gas chambers to kill Jews.

habergasmasks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A century ago, when Fritz Haber first learned how to capture nitrogen from the air, synthetic fertilizer seemed like an easy shortcut out of scarcity, delivering a limitless supply of agriculture’s most important nutrient and sustaining a hungry and growing population. Today, runaway nitrogen is suffocating wildlife in lakes and estuaries, contaminating groundwater, and even warming the globe’s climate via emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 200-300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The US fertilizer industry increasingly relies on cheap natural gas to power the synthesis of fertilizer. The gas is extracted by “fracking”—the controversial process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with water spiked with toxic chemicals. Like any petrochemical activity, generating nitrogen from natural gas is a dirty process. To make fertilizer, ammonia companies not only generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide, they also emit millions of pounds of toxic chemicals each year. Deerfield, Ill.-based CF Industries owns 28 percent of the nitrogen-fertilizer market “in key Corn Belt markets,” according to the company’s website. In Donaldsville, La., the company runs what it calls “North America’s largest” nitrogen-producing facility. The Donaldsville plant lies in so-called “Cancer Alley,” the petrochemical-intensive zone between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is notorious for its alleged cancer clusters. Donaldsville is in Ascension Parish. As of 2002, Ascension “ranked among the dirtiest/worst 10 percent of all counties in the U.S. in terms of total environmental releases,” according to the pollution-information site Scorecard. According to Scorecard, the worst polluter in the county was CF Industries. Two other fertilizer firms, Triad Nitrogen and PCS Nitrogen Fertilizers, also cracked the top ten, joining German agrochemical giant BASF and Dutch-owned Shell Chemical, among others.

So, the story is not a simple one. In my artistic exploration of these very complex relationships between humanity, earth, intention, and consequences, I make an effort not to be subjective. Of course food is “good” and pollution and overpopulation are “bad,” but it is not the judgment that is as interesting to me as the actions and reactions within the system itself.

 

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