Friday, November 20, 2009

What We're Reading Now #1

Mindport’s staff is comprised of inveterate readers.  If you look in any staffer’s car, you are likely to spy a pile of library books and audiobooks stacked on the seat, threatening to slide off into the nether world of the vehicle floor.  We often make recommendations to one another or just share our excitement about a particular aspect of a text and how it relates, directly or tangentially or very tangentially, to our work at Mindport. 

KevinShop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

If you’re old enough to have taken shop class as a junior high or high school student you may lament its passing.  Crawford (who has his own motorcycle repair shop and a doctorate in political philosophy) explains why it should be brought back, arguing that working with one’s hands is essential to mental well-being. 

Karen: Basho: The Complete Haiku by Matsuo Basho translated with an introduction, biography, and notes by Jane Reichhold

Karen says this book is so nice that she’s going to buy herself a copy as her Christmas present.  The poetry itself is transcendent, and the book also has beautiful ink drawings and interesting historical commentary.

This road 
No travelers pass along --
Autumn dusk. 
Matsuo Basho

Tallie: The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

Vreeland provides a fictionalized but well-researched account of the life of British Columbian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945).  Based in part on Carr’s many journals, The Forest Lover inspired me to take another look at both Carr’s paintings and her life. 

Emily Carr: Tree in Autumn

Bill: The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler

Kessler, a Harvard-educated pediatrician and former FDA head (who admits to having struggled with overeating) explains how the processed food industry has created combinations of foods that stimulate our brains to want more, more, and more!  Apparently, fat, sugar, and salt alone are not particularly potent, but in perfect combination they trigger the brain’s reward system and make moderation difficult.  The book makes for interesting reading as Kessler explores both the way the food industry engineers food, and the way our brains relate to that food.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Speak Easy 2

Join us in Mindport's gallery Friday, November 6th from 
7pm to 9pm 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

No Universal Healthcare?  That's Cuckoo!
AnMorgan Curry
(the label reads Ratched's Embalsamic Vinegar

All I want for Halloween is a "snack-sized" Baby Ruth candy bar, a toothbrush, and healthcare for all.  What a treat that would be.

side note:  Our more "senior" staff members think no one under the age of 50 is going to get the reference.  I, being one of the more junior staff members, argue that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has "classic" status and that many folks 16 to 50 are going to get it.   So far the jury is still out. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Organ Donors

Sometimes additions to Mindport’s collection find us rather than us finding them.  This summer Mindport Director Kevin Jones received a series of calls from the volunteers at the Lummi Island church rummage sale.  The conversation went something like this:

Church Ladies: We think you should come on down and place a bid on this nice little Hammond organ we have here.

Kevin: No.  I don’t have room for an organ.

Church Ladies: Oh, sure you do.  It’s really a nice one.

Kevin: No. I don’t have room for an organ.

Church Ladies: It’s real small. At least come down and take a look.

Kevin: No.  I don’t have room for an organ.

3 hours later

Church Ladies: You need the organ.  You can have it for free.

Kevin: No. I don’t have room for an organ. 

But, Kevin did go down and take a look.  A seventy-five dollar donation from Mindport, some heavy lifting, and a pick-up truck ride later, Mindport is the grateful owner of a lovely little Hammond organ.  So far we’ve heard Bach, the Doobie Brothers, and some old school roller rink-inspired tunes, and we’re glad this little instrument is here to stay.  Thanks, Church Ladies.  You knew what we needed. 

Side note: The Hammond has inspired Kevin to build a two-octave pneumatic organ for Mindport.  He’s already three pipes into the project. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Love Your Liberty? Love Your Library.

Bellingham Public Library - one of the most used library systems in the country - is facing severe budget cuts.  This window display evolved out of a staff meeting discussion of the value and purpose of libraries.  Mindport Art Director AnMorgan Curry created the piece.

Exhibit-Building at Mindport

At Mindport many visitors ask what new exhibits we have planned, or why we don't get new exhibits more often.  We are also often asked where we get our ideas, or "how did you think of that exhibit," and related questions.

The process by which exhibits show up on Mindport's display room floor is a complex one, not by  intention but because the process just evolved that way. "As it happened," in other words.

Before discussing these matters, I'll remind you that most of the hands-on exhibits at Mindport are accompanied by a notebook. On the front you'll find instructions for the exhibit, and inside more information about it, often with much detail about how the exhibit was made and why.

Generally, we choose to build a particular exhibit because it interests whichever one of us builds it. We assume that if an idea interests us, it will interest visitors, which is an assumption that has proved valid in most cases. If the exhibit only interests a minority of visitors, we still tend to view it as successful, because we don't believe that the interests of the majority should necessarily triumph over the interests of the few. Something for everyone, including us, is our motto.

The exhibits we either try to improve or completely eliminate, are those that visitors avoid because they're too confusing or complex, or ones which are more trouble to maintain than they're worth. Sometimes exhibits go away because we're bored with them and something else interesting has turned up as a replacement. As time has passed, we've paid an increasing amount of attention to making exhibits both robust and relatively easy to maintain. Maintenance is one of our least enjoyable tasks, which is why we request that guests treat exhibits gently and with respect. It leaves us more time to build new things.

Ideas for exhibits crop up everywhere. Sometimes an idea that starts out as a joke at one of our meetings ends up, with modification, becoming an exhibit. One exhibit, Sonoluce, with the whirling musical lights, was inspired by a hand-held toy brought back by one of our staff members from a trip to San Francisco. Some exhibits, such as the Tornado, are our own version of well-known exhibits at other museums.

With a few exceptions, we build most of our exhibits rather than buy them; they're often a product of much thought and experimentation. . . and, since our staff is very small, we don't turn out new major exhibits at a great rate. None of us builds exhibits exclusively, because we have many other tasks to attend, which rarely leaves us undivided time for new construction. With this slow turnaround in mind, we put much thought into creating exhibits that visitors will find interesting enough to return to repeatedly. The "creek" is one example. Visitors young and old find the creek highly alluring, which isn't surprising, since I myself, the designer/builder of this exhibit, never grew tired of playing in creeks as a youngster, and still like playing in creeks, rivers, and Puget Sound as an oldster.

For every exhibit that finally makes it to Mindport's display floor, two or three are usually abandoned before they're finished or even halfway started. Usually, after some experimentation or trial, they turned out to be uninteresting, impractical, or they seemed like they might prove too difficult to maintain. Some exhibits we abandon because we feel they might not be safe. The shelves in my shop at home, where I build exhibits, are full of bits and pieces of exhibits that haven't happened yet, or are left from others that didn't work as expected, or fell to others of the perils just mentioned. They may later be incorporated into other exhibits later on.

Often, an exhibit that started out to be one thing turns into something else. Marbellous, for example, was assembled from disparate parts that I hadn't fully decided what to do with. The main "pump" with the rotating wheels was built as a module to see how and if it would work. The marble course on the right side, I built as a second module to explore mechanical "flip-flop" gates, and as an experiment in generating interesting sounds with falling marbles. The marble course on the left was built pretty much "off the cuff," as a spontaneous creation. The whole works took about 15 months to build. It includes some electronic logic designed to unstick hung marbles in the main pump, and another circuit to detect marbles that fly off the labyrinth above and end up in the "basement," visible through a circular window at the bottom of the piece.

Perhaps this will give you more insight into the exhibit-building process at Mindport. As you can see, there's no set process or routine. Serendipity takes its course, and we're happy with that. It makes life and our exhibits more interesting for us and for our visitors.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Welcome to Mindport's new blog

Visitors to our website are sometimes frustrated because they want to know MORE about Mindport, like what are we thinking or doing today. Since our website only gets updated infrequently, this information is not in evidence. We hope this blog will satisfy you and also provide an outlet where we can post links to the same articles and sites that we share amongst ourselves, which often inspire interesting conversations and occasionally new exhibits.
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