Friday, December 6, 2013

Making Mail at Mindport

Lovely design work by Sean Echelbarger of Echelbarger Design

For awhile now, I've wondered if visitors would enjoy writing a note or letter during their visit to Mindport if all the materials were provided.  Carol and Thor - veterans of community art events - reassured me that tables with art supplies tend to attract people in most venues, so we decided to give it a try.

On a blustery Saturday a few weeks ago, docents Sarah and Fiona and I dragged a folding table and a suitcase full of postal supplies down to the exhibit floor, and the Mindport Mail Station was off and running.

For three hours, a steady stream of visitors - couples on dates, dads and kids, a whole family on a road trip from Canada to the States, even a mom and nursing infant- made their own stationery and postcards, wrote notes and letters, and figured out how to type on a mechanical typewriter.  "Jab it with your finger - kind of like you jab your brother," was heard at one point.

A number of letters and postcards were sent, and I think we all had a good time.  I certainly did.  What could be more satisfying for a snail mail enthusiast and USPS cheerleader than seeing people discuss and make mail!

The Mail Station is a bit too involved to have out on the floor ALL the time, but if you see this sign in the window, we're open and ready for business.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing Thor Myhre

Zen Beacon by Thor Myhre
We're extremely excited to have sculptor Thor Myhre join Mindport's staff as Exhibit Designer & Maintenance Technician.  Thor brings with him technical expertise and ingenuity, a wide-ranging imagination, and a commitment to both his own art and to encouraging others to pursue their creative leanings -all of which make him a perfect match for Mindport.  Stop by now to see Thor's contributions to the Faces show, or in the coming months to try out some interesting additions he's making to the beloved and venerable Aerotrack.  In the meantime, here are Thor's interesting answers to some of my nosy questions. 

Where were you raised?  
I grew up on a farm in Montana, near a town so small Montanans haven't heard of it.

Did you always make things?  What were your earliest projects?  Did you take any art classes growing up?  
I made a lot of my own toys and birdhouses, but I always chose shop class over art class until I went to college.

What changed for you in college? 

I thought I wanted to be an architect or an engineer, but I realized that often those are desk jobs.  It dawned on me that artists both design and build objects.

What sorts of materials interest you?
I tend to collect and use older metal objects, things that were made when concern about the efficiency of mass producing an item didn't trump form and aesthetics as often as it does now.  Durability appeals to me, as does farm ingenuity - modifying what you have to build what you need.  When you live an hour's drive from good parts stores, you end up getting pretty creative, and I remember often returning from the dump with more than we dropped off.

How do you feel about rust?
I like rust.  I find it much more interesting and intricate than paint.  Rust is actually a way metal protects itself.

How many found objects do you have right now?
I have about a 20 ton collection squirreled away in various places - lots of old, curvy, rusty things.  I feel like we're saturated with rectilinear shapes in cities, so I collect a lot of objects from periods when designs featured more curves.  It's hard to see good things going to the dump, but I'm running out of room.

Was the need to divert things from the waste stream (and your yard!) part of the inspiration behind founding RARE (Recycled Art & Resource Expo)?
Yes.  But I also feel like some of the green movement tries to motivate by guilt, and I want to inspire people by showing the fun and creative side of conservation.  Bellingham has an unusual number of reuse events, and I figured if we worked together to create a large collaborative event, it would attract out of area visitors, money, and press.

What's one of the workshops you teach?
My class titled Junk has Soul: Sculpting with the Found Object offers a huge variety of interesting bits and different ways to connect them.  In part, it's about recognizing that with hours of human contact and use, a lot of tools and other parts are imbued with their own character, memory, or soul.   In general, I hope to ignite or feed a creative spark in students that they might access at other moments in their lives. 

What are you working on right now?  Where can people go locally to see some of your work?   
Right now I'm working on a public sculpture for downtown Anacortes and a gate for a community garden that’s a collaboration with members of a high school welding club.  Appliance Depot has a 10' tall figure made from stove burner grates under their sign on Marine drive.  I made a bike rack from stainless steel plumbing fittings at Chuckanut Brewery, and the Beach Store Cafe on Lummi Island has a rack made from farm and fishing implements.  This spring I installed a large one ton piece titled Satori in Fairhaven in an alley between 15th and 16th streets, just south of Taylor street.

That was fun.  Thanks, Thor!

For more about Thor or his work, visit his website,
check out this cool YouTube video,
or become a fan of his Facebook page
....and keep an eye out for Thor's work at Mindport.  

Satori by Thor Myhre
Chuckanut Bike Rack by Thor Myhre
Burner Man by Thor Myhre

Friday, November 1, 2013

You're Invited to a Mail Art Workshop

The text is a little small to read comfortably, so here are the details.  We'll be meeting: 

Sunday, November 17th, 1-4pm 
Mindport Exhibits
210 W. Holly St. 
Bellingham, WA
call 360.441.7162 to register
$10 suggested donation includes materials
no one turned away for lack of funds 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Upcoming gallery show, "Faces"

"Cocktail Gal," a rare happy "ghoul"
 A suggestion came to me not long ago that I should hang show of my pictures that had faces in them. I knew that I'd purposely photographed faces in things at times, when they were obvious, but others have noticed more faces in the photos than I'd ever paid attention to.

When I went through a few thousand images consciously looking for faces, it seemed to me that the photos, often abstract, that carried the most emotional impact often did include subliminal forms that looked like faces, or other features reminiscent of body parts, or visual analogs of muscle tensions. The exercise reminded me of a book I read back in the seventies entitled Subliminal Seduction, by Wilson Bryan Key. The author had a  PhD in communication and wrote a number of books on the theme of subliminal advertising, now billed by Wikipedia as "controversial." Whether Key's conclusions were controversial or not, they did open my eyes to the way imagery is used in advertising to capture our attention. Advertisers would be fools NOT to have used such techniques if they wanted their ads to be effective.

Nowadays I ask myself whether Key's book was instrumental in influencing my photographic eye. Could be so, or it could be that the human mind simply has its eyes open for faces and other forms related to human body appearances. More than likely, it's the latter. Research has shown that newborn babies are "exceptionally capable of facial recognition shortly after birth." (Wikipedia) That stands to reason. It also stands to reason that survival would dictate that we'd remain exceptionally capable of facial recognition throughout life, not to speak of developing sensitive abilities to recognize clues to personality from facial and other bodily cues.

I notice that, as often as not, the faces I find in my photos carry a ghoulish aspect. Is that the image I project on the world? Or is it just that faces hidden in photos are necessarily distortions, and ghouls are distorted beings? Most of us, especially children, harbor a fascination for horror stories or monster images. We seem to enjoy being scared, as long as we can be scared and feel safe at the same time. That may play into the subject choices I make when shooting certain photos. Is the perceived mood of any arbitrary environment we visit influenced by unconsciously perceived faces or forms?

Another aspect of ghoulish imagery that occurred to me as I was picking images to print for this show, was that North America tends to be a "happy face" society, which strongly tends to suppress awareness of injustice or other negative aspects of life in our country. This sort of awareness doesn't go away, but rather just goes underground. I've noticed on various podcasts I listen to, such as KMO's C-Realm, that discussion turns now and then to the subject of zombies, the living dead. Maybe my unconscious is alert to the zombies among us as well.

A favorite book of mine is Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques, photos by F-Stop Fitzgerald with commentary by Stephen King. Gargoyles were traditionally installed on cathedrals and other buildings both to serve as rain spouts and to scare off evil spirits. Maybe that's the best possible interpretation to apply to the gargoyle-like figures in these photographs.

Several of the pictures provide fertile ground for ghoulish projections. They are full of faces if you throw your eyes out of focus and view the image in a glancing manner. There are other images where it's difficult to find anything recognizable as a face at all, but somehow they convey the impression of a face, or at least an emotion that might be conveyed by a face. Use your imagination, and have fun. Remember, Halloween is almost upon us!

This show will be hanging in Mindport's gallery for an indefinite period, commencing on or about October 9th.

Kevin Jones

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Work in Gallery

Now through October 
Sixth in Mindport's Gallery:
  8th Annual Downtown Bellingham 
Plein Air Paint Out & Exhibition (PAPO)
We paint from life in order to learn how to see.
If you can paint light, you can paint everything under the sun.

                                                           --Frank LaLumia, PAPA Signature Member

Thao Le
Painting from life is a pursuit unlike any other painting technique. It challenges artists to concentrate every sensory nerve on the information in front them. They absorb it all, from sight to sound, from temperature to atmosphere, and then channel those feelings from head to hand, re-creating the vision in paints on paper or canvas.

The roots of painting from life are found in 19th-century Europe. Englishman John Constable believed the artist should forget about formulas and trust his own vision in finding truth in nature. To find that truth, he made sketches outdoors, then elaborated on them in the studio.

Around the same time in France, in a small village outside Paris called Barbizon, a group of artists focused their attentions on peasant life and the natural world surrounding it. Like Constable, Francois Millet and Gustave Courbet challenged conventions of the day, choosing everyday subjects rather than the traditional cliches and presenting them in natural settings, the information for which came from sketches made in the field.

These realists, as they came to be called, laid the groundwork for the mid-19th century revolution in France that took painting from life to its logical conclusion. Lead by Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edouard Degas, Auguste Renoir, et. al. the impressionists espoused the belief that you should trust your eyes. Using newly developed theories of how the eye physically registers color, they maintained that what you saw in nature was not form, but rather light on form. And light could be conveyed by color. To prove their theories, they took their paint tubes and easels outdoors, where they re-created the world as colors which suggested light. Rebuffed at first for what appeared to be unfinished paintings, the impressionist vision soon became a standard for truthfully conveying the outdoor experience.

Painting en plein air (in the open air) would forever change how we see the world. Artists in the United States were attracted to the concept, and many, like Californian Guy Rose, traveled to France to study with Monet. Suddenly, places with remarkable light were of particular interest to painters, including the both the East and West Coasts, and the American Southwest, where painting colonies formed. The goal of teachers and students alike was to capture the light and colors peculiar to the place.

Dave Nichols
Today, painting from life is a pursuit that continues to challenge the finest artists in the world, as well as the group from Studio UFO here in Bellingham.  This is our 8th Annual Downtown Bellingham Plein Air Paint Out & Exhibition (PAPO).  This year we have 24 artists that participated.  The Bellingham PAPO is different in that it focuses on the downtown core and not a natural or wilderness setting.  It is our mission to raise awareness about plein air painting, to show the community how many artists are here in Bellingham and to show the artists’ interpretation of downtown Bellingham.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer at Mindport

During this practically cloudless and rainless Pacific Northwest summer, SUN has been streaming through our doors and windows.  The air conditioner has been running, we've moved a precious drawing away from the front because of all the bright light, and passing canines have been making much use of the water bowl set out in the front entry.
Along with the increase in sun, there's been an increase in Mindport visitors who are travelers from afar, and in the number of folks visiting with three generations of their family - kids, parents, and grandparents all together, generally having a relaxed and companionable time.  That's great to see any time of year.  

The guestbook entries for the past few months show we've had visitors from:   

Across the United States

Up and Down the I-5 Corridor and Points West (+ Spokane!)

and... Around the World

Thanks for visiting, everyone.  May you have a safe and happy journey into autumn, and come back and see us - rain or shine.

Tallie Jones

Monday, August 19, 2013


Apples help tomatoes ripen
I’ve never formally defined myself as a gardener, but I’ve cultivated some sort of garden nearly every year since I was 25 years old. In the beginning it usually consisted of a few tomato plants, maybe following in my father’s footsteps. He often raised a small crop, which turned up in salads, BLT sandwiches, and straight up, with mayonnaise. That was his favorite.

Once you’ve tasted a home-grown tomato, you never want to go back to those lumps of pink plastic that pass for tomatoes on your local grocery store’s shelves. Maybe the best variety I’ve ever found is the heirloom Black Krim, which ripens through green to a purplish red with greenish shoulders and delivers flavor beyond imagination.

Squash patch May 4

Squash patch June 29
As the safety concerns with industrially-raised food increase, and rumblings grow that we might eventually face food shortages or extreme expense, I’ve gradually expanded my gardening activities. This year I fenced in another 200 square feet of lawn, covered it in black plastic, and started six squash plants in holes cut in the plastic. I learned this technique during a visit Bullock's Permaculture Homestead   on Orcas Island. It saves you from having to dig up all that sod, once you’ve killed off the lawn, obviates the necessity for weeding, warms the ground, and helps retain soil moisture. The squash plants have gone crazy, even expanding beyond the fence, where they get crudely pruned by the deer who circulate through our yard on a daily basis.

Previous year harvest (3 plants)
 The earlier area of garden, reclaimed from a weedy flower bed adjacent to the aforementioned squash patch, has been planted in potatoes for the last several years. I actually didn’t do much of the planting. The previous crops seeded themselves because it seems impossible to dig out all the potatoes once you’ve got a batch going. Every spring volunteers pop up, eventually crowing out the new plants due to the fact of having gotten a head start. I advocate potatoes, tomatoes, and squash, because they yield the most food for the least amount of work.

This year I bought four huge plastic pots and experimented with growing Anaheim and Poblano peppers, along with cucumbers, in a $200 plastic greenhouse. We’ve been getting as many cucumbers as we can eat, and enough peppers are maturing on the three plants to supply us with several meals-worth of chilis rellenos.

If the idea of growing even a few tomatoes or other vegetables appeals to you, it doesn’t take much to get started. A sunny south or southwest- facing area on a deck, the edge of a porch or along the foundation of a building where you can situate a few large growing containers is desirable. Big plastic flower pots, ceramic pots, or even wooden containers work. I’ve heard of people punching a few drain holes in the bottom of a bag of potting soil, then planting seed potatoes in it. No reason why that wouldn’t work with tomatoes, cucumbers or squash. You can buy tomato and other starts in the spring at a local garden or nursery. Here in Bellingham starts are available at Joe’s Gardens or the Food Coop, as well as a number of other outlets.

I bring up gardening in the context of Mindport because I’ve come to recognize it as one more example of integrating aesthetic and spiritual pleasures with science. You don’t even need much science for a beginning garden. Your successes or failures will send you on a quest for more knowledge, of course: how to deal with various pests, what plants prefer acidic or alkaline soil, etc. There’s the art and science or composting to explore, and various sorts of fertilizer. My own garden navigation has been seat-of-the-pants. I’ve bought any number of gardening books, but hardly look at them. If a problem crops up, I usually find myself searching on the Internet for a solution. Even that hasn’t happened very often. Given a little fertilizer, sunlight, and water, the stuff I plant usually grows fine. Usually my garden area gets very weedy, but it still produces.

After weathering a couple extended spells of gloom over the last couple years, mostly brought on by too much exposure to news of environmental degradation, collapsing economy, and the general disaster being foisted upon us by our dysfunctional industrial system, I discovered that digging in the dirt was one of the few activities that, if it didn’t immediately raise my spirits, distinctly buoyed them over time. Growing things is emotionally therapeutic. Gardening is an activity that calls on your nurturing instincts, and returns them in kind. When I dig a colander-full of potatoes, accompany them to the kitchen with a couple of fresh tomatoes collected from richly fragrant tomato vines (evoking nostalgic childhood memories), I’m warmed by a sense of pleasure, wonder, and gratitude toward these plants that feed us and have fed our ancestors for generations. It’s partially this deep connection to the past that reassures me in the face of doubt and disaster that life does go on, and that we’re a part of it, no matter what madness at the moment happens to afflict the outside world.
Kevin Jones

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Photos

A new collection of photos entitled "Creek" is now hanging in Mindport's gallery and will be up until at least the end of August. You can find commentary relating to this exhibit here.

This group of twenty images is one of the most abstract sets that I've hung at one time. Viewed casually, they seem to me to blur into uniformity, but when I inspect each frame closely, I gradually begin to slip into the hypnotic state of mind that I experienced during the hours that I originally spent in the presence of the creek. Each image, reminds me of the  infinite variations of color and patterns and how they lulled me into a pleasant dreamlike state, erasing awareness of the passage of time. You too may find that after sitting with these images for a spell, you begin to encounter something of the same sensation of being in the actual presence of this creek that I do myself.
Kevin Jones

Sound Thoughts

A few years back I put considerable amount of time into recording various sounds, which I eventually posted on a website called Two of these sounds have been downloaded over a thousand times each. One is the sound of an old rod pump in operation, the other was recorded from a home built stereo shortwave receiver, in which each ear hears signals received by a separate antenna, one horizontally polarized, the other vertically polarized. There are detailed technical descriptions of the recordings on the Freesound site, so I'll let you read them there, rather than reproduce them here.

The other day I received an email from someone who had incorporated the shortwave radio recording into the soundtrack of a play. It works very effectively there, and I thought it was an intriguing case of a technically mediated phenomenon being incorporated into a work of artistic creation. The recording was accomplished by unusual technical means, while the sounds themselves are an expression of a very human phenomenon, that is, many people competing for the attention of one individual offering something much sought after, a radio contact with a station located in an out-of-the-way place. The spacial sense afforded by the stereophonic recording technique confers an expressive dimensionality that would be completely absent if the recording had been made via an ordinary single-channel shortwave receiver.

The recording puts me in mind of a short essay that's posted on my ham radio website, which describes something of the "magic" which attracted me to radio in the beginning. Here's an excerpt:

"Given that we [ham operators] hardly communicate anything of substance via radio, unless it happens we’re involved in emergency communication, what motivates us to put so much energy into the avocation? For me, part of the attraction is to the primordial mystery of the medium; with what I’ve sometimes termed, “divining the ether.” From age fourteen, the quavering CW (Morse code) note of an early morning transatlantic signal, dipping in and out of the background noise generated by zillions of thermally excited ionospheric molecules, evoked a visceral excitement that I’ve compared to some people's passionate attraction to for trout fishing. Instead of the secret allure of dark waters, I'm drawn to the gleam of a twilit sky and the responsive sea of ionized particles above us, invisibly charged by the sun, kaleidoscopically reflecting faint signals from people situated in far away places.

"As with fishing, the radio addict hangs his antenna in space in hopes of snagging that lurking lunker, which would be the occasional exception to the routine exchange of signal and weather reports. Now and then my enthusiasm is renewed by flashbacks to my twelve-year-old self, still lurking in the wings, excited by the mysteries of a universe not yet rationalized into "explainable" phenomena."

You might understand from this why science was never just a technical discipline to me, but something much more. The radio sounds are technologically mediated, but my wanting to know how ionospheric (and human!) phenomena would sound in stereo motivated building the technical means to hear them. It was not the other way around. The rod pump sound was interesting to me (and over 2000 other people) as an an intriguing sound representing a particular historical context and set of associations that the sound encodes.

One implication of what I've been saying, and this is not the first time I've made the same argument, young people might become more interested in science and math if these subjects were presented in a larger context than simply a means to earn a living, or worse, "make a killing."

Unfortunately tagging any scientifically related discipline as carrying "romantic" overtones (i.e. tinged with love or other "irrational" varieties of excitement) is looked upon with suspicion and disdain in today's scientific milieu. But if we came to understand science and its applications as being at one with other forms of human creativity, instead of something "objective," standing apart from these, we'd be less likely to get ourselves into the sort of desperate environmental and social crises we've dragged  ourselves into by mindlessly deploying every conceivable technological innovation for no other reason than the fact that it existed and someone could make a buck from it.
Kevin Jones

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Confessions of an Exhibit-Builder

Marbellous Indeterminacy

I've had any number of visitors and prospective interviewers ask me where ideas for exhibits come from and what goes into building an exhibit for Mindport, i.e., what does the process involve. It's difficult to come up with any sort of pat answer to this question, because the process involved in creating each exhibit depends on the creator and the individual exhibit. They're all different. I'll attempt to say a few things about my own process of exhibit creation and about Mindport's general experience with our exhibits, which we often characterize as "interactive art."

House of Unborn Saints
It seems that one stage in the process of all sorts of creative work, and which plagues some other creative people I know, is an encounter with the "this is dumb" stage. There's almost invariably a point early in a creative project when it seems like a dumb idea, that it won't work, or nobody will like it. That's usually the second hump to get over. There's an earlier hump for me, which is taking the step from an emotional sensation or idea to something that embodies it in physical form. In my case, there's always an uncomfortable transition back and forth from a logical "left brain" mode, to a more lyrical and imaginative "right brain" mode. This is more true with those of my creations that involve both imagination and a certain amount of engineering. If you've visited Mindport, "Marbellous Indeterminacy" and "House of Unborn Saints" are just two of my pieces to which this applies. There's a strong element of sheer imagination in these, but also quite a bit of practical engineering involved, not only to get the things to work, but to make them easy to disassemble and to repair. That in itself is a skill that's taken me the full duration of Mindport's existence to refine to a semi-satisfactory level.

Pipe Organ
Some of the exhibits I've built didn't require much imagination. They were mostly engineering challenges, and, in the case of the pipe organ, I relied heavily on information found on the web, posted by pioneering organ makers who had gone far deeper into the subject than I had. The finished organ was an example of what's lately become known as "mission creep." For some years I'd had it in mind to build one or two large organ pipes, which would generate very low tones. The purpose of those would be to demonstrate how organ pipes work. After considering that idea for a spell, I thought, why not make an octave-worth of smaller pipes that would allow someone to play a simple tune. That proposition expanded to two octaves, then to two and a half, with all the sharps and flats, thirty pipes total. That sent me on a web search which turned up the website of Raphi Giangiulio, who has built a truly impressive organ. He had posted full dimensions for complete sets of several types of pipes, without which I might never have attempted building an organ at all. To make a long story short, or a short story longer, you can find a detailed description of my version of the organ project here.

Most exhibits I've built turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated, and not all of them ended up being good exhibits. Some were maintenance nightmares that eventually had to be retired because, in the case of a couple of them that included water, they stubbornly leaked, or, in the case of one that included a large volume of sand, the latter had a way or migrating into other exhibits, much to their detriment. There is even an unanticipated difficulty with the organ, which is otherwise a good exhibit: it's a lot louder than I expected it to be. When Mindport is crowded, we sometimes must levy controls on its use.

We still harbor one maintenance nightmare, which is Marbellous. We keep maintaining her because she's a fascinating character who represents much of what Mindport is supposed to be about. Also, there's a paradoxical rule that truly interesting exhibits almost always require more maintenance than their ho-hum compatriots. In order to minimize the need for maintenance we've gone to lengths to encourage our visitors to treat exhibits gently, and I must gratefully acknowledge that 99%  of them do so, and guide their youngsters in that direction as well.

One challenge, when a new exhibit is completed and ready to be installed, is to write comprehensible instructions for it. This task usually falls to me, mostly because I'm interested in the way people interact with, not only our exhibits, but with any sort of tool or technology. I find it fun to imagine encountering any piece of equipment as though I was seeing it for the first time, and attempting to anticipate what questions might come up in connection with its operation. The question with exhibits is, how much I can leave to the viewer to discover for him or herself, and how much has to be documented in some way. Some of my work experience previous to the advent of Mindport involving technical writing has come in handy in writing documentation for Mindport's interactive exhibits. If you visit Mindport, you'll find quite a bit of information about various exhibits, including their history  and the process of creating them, posted inside the accompanying white notebooks.

Thus far, I've focused on practical aspects of Mindport's exhibits. The question, Where do your ideas come from? is more difficult to answer. You may find hints in the aforementioned notebooks. Often I can't exactly identify the sources of exhibit ideas. At core, they arise from my long-term interest in science and art, which dates back to pre-teen years. Reading and experience with these subjects have been roiling around in my brain for decades and mixing in often unexpected ways. Sometimes I see some sort of equipment or artwork created by someone else, imagine it's one thing, only to discover that it's actually something other than what I'd imagined. . . but that what I'd imagined had some merit of its own as an exhibit possibility. It's little like imagining faces in an Oriental carpet, in driftwood on the beach, or cloud forms. My imagination has a way of projecting itself on outer forms, and sometimes what I project plays a part in creating an exhibit.

One thing that keeps me interested in creating exhibits for Mindport is that doing so is always a learning experience. Even exhibits that turn out to be a bad idea teach me something worthwhile: Like, don't do THAT again, or if I'm going to do it, do a better job, make it easier to fix, or don't make it so complicated that nobody can figure out what to do with it.  One thing I've observed is that someone, usually a smart kid, will do exactly the thing to an exhibit that I hoped it would not occur to anyone to do. The corollary wisdom is, if I can figure out a way to screw it up, so will someone else. The name of the game is, design an exhibit which encourages creative experimentation without including hidden vulnerabilities.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


 On a recent road trip to Colorado and back, I had occasion to spend several days with friends in  Montana who own property situated on a creek. . . or river, the appropriate designation depending on what time of year you visit. In spring, with snow melting and runoff in progress, the flow rate approaches river status. When we've visited during late summer, the flow has dwindled to a trickle, due largely to water diversion for irrigation and waning snowpack.

Being a lover of water in all its forms, ocean, sea, trickle, flood, puddle, pond, pool, I spend a great deal of time in its company. Considering the average flow of the particular watercourse I mention here, I'll call it a creek. During my visit, I took advantage of a sunny afternoon to walk upstream a quarter mile, admiring what river-runners refer to as "hydraulics," though when we're talking "creek" the depth isn't sufficient to float anything larger than in inner tube or a small kayak.

I found a gravel bar that allowed me to station myself and my camera conveniently close to the flow of water over obstacles; boulders, bushes, cobble, gravel, and became so absorbed by the action and color there that I recorded over one hundred images in a half-hour. Later on, I went through these and selected a group that seemed best to express my fascination with water and the emotional reaction it evokes. They will find their way into Mindport's gallery in due course.

Upon reflection, it seems to me that over the millions of years that life has evolved on this earth, we've become intuitively attuned to the characteristics of what the Greeks considered to be the four elements; earth, air, fire, and water. Our survival depended on intimate observation and knowledge of these, not to speak of the behavior and essence of the plants and animals that share our environment, feed us, and provide us with shelter. Any of those four elements can hold our attention for hours. Beside the obvious attraction of water, consider the infinite variety of pleasures afforded by observing clouds, geological land forms, or simply the hypnotic effect of an open camp fire.

At least that was so traditionally. Nowadays survival seems to dictate that we focus our attention exclusively on electronic screens, ones like your eyes rest upon just now, where you observe an illusory pixilated representation of the creek I've described, augmented by the hieroglyphics we know as writing. I can't help but to contemplate the irony of my attempt to encapsulate my experience of this flowing stream in digital form to be transmitted to you via fiber optic cable. It's a pleasant way to relive the experience, but I'd rather be there still.

Kevin Jones

Thursday, April 4, 2013


We first started asking visitors to sign a guestbook in 2010, primarily as a way to ascertain whether we should continue to spend money on expensive print and internet advertising.  Three years later, visitors have filled up one rather large book with their names, hometowns, and how they heard about us.  It makes for interesting reading, and we've gained a few insights about our visitors in the process.

Mindport visitors tend to:

a) use the internet to figure out what's fun to do in a town they are visiting (and are sometimes visiting from quite a distance)

b) notice ads placed on public transportation but are only occasionally prompted to visit Mindport as the result of a brochure or advertisement in a magazine

c) are not opposed to a little aimless wandering on foot

d) have kids, grandkids, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles, friends, sweethearts, veterinarians, counselors, employers, coworkers, roommates, baristas, teachers, and "nice ladies on the street" tell them about Mindport

e)  be enthusiastic, descriptive, funny, and curious (but we could have guessed that)

Here are a few visitor responses to the question:  How did you hear about Mindport?

I love reading that "GABE!!" or "my friend Gracie's stepmom who works across the street at the Blue Horse Gallery" or the "Sehome Starbucks drive through barista," or "my doctor's nurse," or "fellow campers at the Cedar Park campsite" told a visitor about Mindport, and then imagining the conversation and the path they took to wind up here.

What we say matters.  Not always, that's certainly true, but perhaps more often than we think.  In Mindport's case, all those people saying, "Hey, check out Mindport" means we can spend more money and time making things and welcoming visitors and less of both trying to just get folks in the door.  Thank you for your kind words.  Keep on talking.

(And thanks for sharing these milestones with us.  Congratulations!)

Tallie Jones

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Virtual Life

Nosing about on the Web I ran across mention of a book of photographs by Doug Rickard that interested me enough to acquire a copy. These aren't really photos by Rickard, but were shot by Google's Street View camera. Rickard re-photographed the Google images on his computer monitor, cropped and processed them, and assembled them into this book. I guess you'd have to say it was a joint effort between him and Google, though nowhere in his book did I find any formal credit attribution to Google. His focus was on the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in several US cities, which he discovered via City Data website, from which he gleaned information on which neighborhoods were to be avoided in the cities in question. Ironically, the most broken parts of any US city he said could be found by looking at a Google map of the city and dropping in on any street or boulevard named after Martin Luther King.

Having done a lot of virtual "driving around" via Street View myself, I was very curious what sort of images Rickard had extracted. To me they're reminiscent of of the lonely, alienating paintings of Edward Hopper. If you blurred out the faces of a Hopper painting, the emotional affect would be similar. The human figures in Rickard's Google images have been recorded by a machine, so there's no relationship established between them and the photographer, which partly accounts for my bleak emotional reaction to them. Of course the areas Rickard chose to portray are bleak in themselves, and he went out of his way to convey an idea about the bleakness associated with poverty and racism.

Aside from the subject matter of these photos, and the artful way Rickard has processed them, the other aspect of them that interests me is the general idea of virtual reality, i.e. accessing graphic space in a way that conveys the illusion that we’re accessing a “real” world. Cruising along via Street View gives the impression that you’re actually viewing the area you’re accessing. Even though I know intellectually that these are machine images, and they may be years old, I can slip into believing that I’m looking through a window at the place being represented. It’s not unlike interacting with video games or virtual reality programs like Flight Simulator.

The few video games I’ve tinkered with (Riven, Wild Divine), and other V.R. apps, like Flight Simulator, and Google Street view all have had a similar emotional effect on me. After being involved with them for awhile, I begin to get the same bleak, lonely feeling that Rickard’s work conveys. I haven’t fully penetrated what this means, but I think it has to do with the fact I’m instinctively looking for relationship and not finding it. In other words, if I didn’t have means or ability to access human relationships in the real world, I might resort addictively to virtual reality in a fruitless quest for them. All addictions amount to looking for satisfaction in the wrong places, due to the fact that authentic satisfaction, for one reason or another, is not available.

This line of thought lead me to an idea: suppose Google Street View was somehow made to operate in real time, so that you’d be able to cruise the streets of a foreign city (as I’ve used Street View to cruise streets in Europe) and “be there now.” Then take this ability one step further: Rent-a-Robot. You go to a website, put $50 on your credit card. The site, for a day, assigns you a drone-like ground-based robot that operates just like our military drones, except it’s not equipped with killing equipment, but rather with shopping equipment. It allows you to wheel around the streets in a remote town with stereo vision, stereo sound, and the ability to rotate your remote “head” 360 degrees, thereby letting you look around and up and down, just as you do in Street View. Naturally, there would be provision for anything you bought to be shipped to you at nominal cost.

What a kick, eh? Of course you’d have the ability to speak: “Hi, I’m a virtual tourist and I’d like to shake your hand.” And you’d want arms to shoplift. . . er to pick things up with. . .and to shake hands, of course.

Then I thought about hackers. It would be inevitable that someone would hack the remote tourism site and start controlling the drone robots anonymously. Maybe by this time they would have been developed to the point of being indistinguishable from real people, so you’d have these robot people walking around, being sometimes controlled by legitimate clients, sometimes by anonymous hackers, who could do anything they wanted and get away with it, and sometimes by authorities trying to catch the hackers. In other words, you’d effectively have anonymously controlled sociopathic robots roaming the streets.

Oops. I guess it would be a lot like things are now, with the “real” world. Way too many apparently robotic humans are heading corporations that do things like pollute the Gulf of Mexico with toxic dispersants in order to hide the messes they’ve made in consequence of their own crass negligence.

At one time in our country's history, corporations were allowed to exist only if they served the public interest. This function has now been subverted, to the point that too many of them act like sociopathic hackers, for whom there seems to be no operating rationale other than hoarding dollars and political power. This is undertaken with little discernible benefit to the public. Indeed, corporations themselves are robots, operating according to simplistic legal programming designed only to generate profit, with their operations frequently subsidized directly or indirectly by taxpayers. They assuredly are not people and should not have the rights of people.

Despite my fanciful digression, I wish to convey that Doug Rickard’s book is an impressive and evocative piece of work, and a good example of a creative use of the Internet. I hope I haven’t given anyone ideas for an actual tourism service, or if I have, I want a commission on any profits accruing, which I will donate to Mindport.

Study question: How would you feel about tourist robots cruising your neighborhood? How about remotely-controlled airborne drones?

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New Exhibits

Joining our freshly painted walls and reorganized displays are two new exhibits, both collaborations by Exhibit Manager Bill Lee and former Exhibit Builder/Designer John Ito.

Swirl, a stand-alone sculpture featuring rheoscopic fluid under glass, evokes air and ocean currents and was inspired in part by a trip Mindport's staff took to Science World in Vancouver a number of years ago.  I can't help but say, "Come give Swirl a whirl."  All flippancy aside, it's a lovely exhibit.

Magnetic Molasses, which shows off the interaction between a large magnet and an aluminum tube, is a re-visioning of our original table top version.  The new magnet is mighty enough to be a danger to folks with pacemakers and to credit cards, so be sure to stand back a foot or more while operating if you have either.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A visitor quizzed me recently about a group of my photos hanging in Mindport's gallery. Quite a number of them most viewers might term "abstract," in that they are images of patterns in seashore gravel, water, clouds, seaweed; fragmentary views of pedestrian objects whose identity is not always apparent from their close-up perspective. Our visitor told me he couldn't tell what they were, and wanted me to explain it to him. Doing so was a challenge, akin to attempting to ascertain whether, when I see blue, another's experience of that color is the same as mine.

Patterns attract my eye without any rational explanation. They give me a certain feeling, and that's what the images are about. Either they give someone else a feeling or they don't. Whether they give someone else the same feeling they give me, I don't know. But most people seem to respond favorably to such abstractions. Eventually I told our guest that the pictures were simply of patterns I found appealing because they reminded me of images I see in dreams. He seemed satisfied with that explanation.

One of the interesting lessons learned from my years of experience attempting various art forms, including photography, ceramics, drawing/painting, and three-dimensional kinetic sculpture, is an awareness of the diversity of perception between different people viewing the same piece of work. I became increasingly conscious of this during a period when I was working with clay, mostly making ceramic hanging lamps, but also miscellaneous glazed clay vessels. One woman who was quite taken by my efforts, which she'd seen displayed at a local crafts fair, came by my studio for a visit. I gave her a tour during which she spotted a box of rejects, mostly things that I thought were ugly or which didn't meet my standards in one way or another. You'd think she'd found a pot of gold! She asked if she could go through the stuff. As a starving potter, who was happy to glean every cent possible from his work, I told her, Certainly. She carried away a number of items and insisted on paying me $15, which at least covered the cost of the materials from which they were fabricated. Some artists wouldn't get caught dead letting "inferior" work loose on the world, but I was living on a pittance at the time and wasn't going to let pride stand in the way of my next meal.

That was my first objective demonstration of how radically taste varies from person to person, and it was a good one. It taught me not to worry excessively about people's reactions to what I create, since whatever I do, some will like it and some won't. Having grown up in a household where criticism was rampant, it was finally liberating to realize that as an artist I have a choice whether to take criticism to heart or to let it go the way of water on a duck's back. In one sense criticism, preferably self-criticism, is a good thing when done in the correct spirit, because it keeps you on a path toward improving your work, or perhaps I should say it can hone your ability to express your feelings accurately as well as helping you clarify the direction your future efforts should take. But when fear of criticism prevents you from doing anything at all, it's good to come to terms with such fear and not let it paralyze you.

It's naturally pleasing when people love your work, but even that can be an inhibiting factor. I had a conversation once with a well-known local artist who was experiencing distress because he was tired of doing the sort of thing he'd been doing for years and wanted to take a new direction. He'd tried new forms of expression but a large number of his "fans" had objected so strenuously that he felt like making changes had become a painful uphill battle. This situation is especially difficult for artists who are attempting to earn a living with their creations. It's easy to become a slave to the tastes of your public rather than feeling completely free to go your own way. The tragedy is that so many past artists who remained true to themselves died paupers, only to have their work become highly valued decades after their lives had ended.

One moral you might take from this story is that the happiest artist is the one who isn't required to earn a living from his or her work. But I've heard it argued that the agonies of the market ultimately push artists toward excellence. . .  which inspires the question, is the happiest artist necessarily the best artist? The question, if answerable at all, could be the subject of a whole essay in itself. It all depends on the personality of the artist, circumstances, the sort of work s/he's doing, and how you define "best" and "happy."

For awhile, at Mindport, several artists met weekly to discuss their work. The rule was that when viewing another's creations, you didn't label them "good," "bad," or with any other objective label. Rather, the instruction was to describe how a piece made you feel, what it reminded you of, or otherwise how you responded to it. We all came to agree after practicing these habits for awhile that receiving this sort of response to our artwork was much more helpful, not to speak of interesting, than having pat labels applied to it. Even receiving such comments as "I like this," or "I dislike this," were of little use to us. As an artist you're attempting to communicate something, and the most gratifying response is hearing the details of how your work affects others, beyond simply kudos or condemnation.

It's true that as a viewer of art in some circles you may justifiably fear that you'll be considered naive or ignorant if you respond honestly to work in the way I've suggested. But I promise you that you won't get a response like that at Mindport. We're happy to discuss what we show, and will meet any questions you have with respect. But please, remember that we're vulnerable too and like to be accorded similar consideration.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Mindport's tenth-year (in this location) revamp, painting, cleaning, and exhibit-shuffling session is near its end. We're open again, most exhibits are ready for visitors, and a new show of Kevin Jones photos is hanging in the gallery. One new exhibit, a newer and larger version of "magnetic molasses" has been installed by AnMorgan and Carol. The whole staff, including docents, have put in a lot of effort on this project. When you visit, we think you'll like what you see.

Regular followers may notice that the Blog heading has also been remodeled to reflect better what actually goes on with this blog. Over time it's become apparent that only a couple of the eleven staff members have much interest in writing entries. We, the two writers, are more entertained by writing about the philosophical ideas relating to Mindport and its social environment, than we are by writing about Mindport's internal daily doings. One reason for this is, in the collaborative process inherent in Mindport's operation, there isn't much obviously visible on a daily basis. Exhibits have a way of "coming about," rather than being a consequence of a hard-and-fast planned process. Often, an exhibit or project which starts out being one thing becomes another, an implication of this being that most of us who build exhibits don't care to talk about what is in process until it's actually complete. Personally, I've found that the surest way to lose interest in building something is to talk much about it while it's being conceived or built.

Judging by the statistics on our blog site, and by the questions asked by visitors in person, more people are interested in the ideas behind Mindport and in the sort of ideas that keep US interested in the ongoing collaboration which is Mindport, than are interested in descriptions of physical "daily doings."  We do enjoy writing something about new exhibits when they show up on our floor, and we'll certainly continue to do that, as well as announce any events of interest that happen to be imminent. But entries dealing with more philosophical subject matter, mental "daily doings," will be our focus when something we're reading about, seeing in the media, or thinking about inspires comment. We're living at a pivotal point in history when the survival of the human race depends on a major change in our collective belief system. We at Mindport are acutely aware of this, and much of what we create reflects, directly or indirectly, a response to what we see going on around us, filtered through through our personal histories and a shared world view.

Mindport is about ideas, Writing about these ideas is useful to us because the process of writing has the effect of clarifying in our own minds what's important to us and suggests future directions for our work. What we write also provides past and prospective visitors hints about the thought behind what they see exhibited on our floor.

Kevin Jones

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Personal History and the High Tech Path

"Home Brew" Radio Transmitter
I've been involved with science and technology since about age 7. At age 14 I earned my amateur radio license, and at age 19 started my first paid job in the field of electronics, which was serving for 15 months as electronics tech on an oceanographic ship in the Indian Ocean. After that, I spent a couple more years in electrical engineering school, then worked for the University of Colorado in two different branches of the physics department, involving research satellites and radio astronomy respectively. Upon moving to Lummi Island in 1977, I started my own business, initially repairing TVs, radios, ship radars, etc. As consumer electronics became less economical to repair, I found myself designing various electronic gadgets, which I sold via mail order, or which I supplied to others who commissioned me to build them. In 1995 Joe Edwards and Robin Burnett, and I, started Mindport. Several of the exhibits I've built for Mindport incorporate electronic circuitry, and, in a couple cases, microprocessors.

Over the last ten years, or so, I've become increasingly interested in the ways that electronic technology (and other sorts as well) impacts our lives, particularly the downside. Having spent so much time working in technological fields, I'm well-aware of the upside, since that's what drove my youthful passion to become involved there in the first place. From early on, I was intrigued with the idea of automating things, a fascination that bloomed with the advent of microprocessors and computers. It was after an extended involvement with the development of a microprocessor-controlled espresso machine that it became clear to me that technology, especially electronic technology and electronic "information technology", are not just neutral tools, but ones with often unrecognized and undesirable social and economic implications.

The development of the electronically-controlled espresso machine demanded that I become more deeply involved with computers and microprocessors than I'd been previously. In those days, we were still mainly using DOS (the early computer Disk Operating System). Windows had not yet come on the scene, or was still in a rudimentary form, as was true of the Internet. My early computer involvement gave me a first taste of high-tech rage, an emotion that has only become more severe and prominent over the years, not only with me, but just about everyone I know who suffers any involvement with computers and related equipment. It's difficult to find anyone who isn't.

It's an odd feeling for me to realize that there are young adults all around me who have never lived in a world without personal computers. Cell phones came along a little later than the early PCs, so they're only slightly less internalized in the lives of a twenty-year-old than the computers are. I compare the perspective of today's youths to my own, when I was twenty, employed as an electronics tech. I worked with people in their sixties who had been young in a world where the "personal motor vehicle" was a rarity, and rudimentary, at that. Same with broadcast radio. TV, of course, was barely conceived possible when those people were young. Experiments in sending pictures had been tried, but no commercial application (mercifully) had appeared. I, on the other hand, had known radios and automobiles all my life, and took them for granted, just as today's twenty-year-old does computers and the Internet.

I was 7 years old when I saw a TV for the first time, and was completely enchanted. My parents refused to have one in the house until well after I'd left home, at age 17. Correction: someone did give us a junker TV, when I was 13. It received one channel poorly, lasted a year, and my brother and I watched the Micky Mouse Club on it. Nowadays, I'm grateful that my parents eschewed TV, because I would have spent a lot of time in front of it, instead of tinkering with radios and electronic gear, which activities eventually culminated in an effective means to earn a living.

I've written this post as a prelude to others I doubtless will write in the future about technological impact, especially of the electronic variety, on our lives. It's a subject that comes up for me more frequently than any other, so, to avoid repetition, I've summarized experience that I hope will lend credence to future critiques of technology coming from my keyboard. I don't want anyone labeling me an uninformed Luddite, in other words. We're heading toward a likely comeuppance if we don't start paying attention to the road we're apparently taking, technologically speaking. Electronic technology is SO seductive, and nobody is more aware of this than I am. Because I become increasingly uneasy about its impositions on my life, and on the lives of everyone around me, particularly the very young, I find ideas about it creeping into my daily awareness, and into much of what I write. There's a message there that I won't ignore.

My grandson is almost four, and technology asserts a pressure on his life, and therefore the lives of his parents, that concerns me. It brings up questions about the world he and his cohorts will be creating for themselves when he's become a young adult himself. We do have the option to make choices about what technology we adopt and how we adopt it, but powerful forces militate against our making those choices, including the very seductiveness of the technology itself and the pressure exerted by its purveyors to keep us hooked on it. We must also consider the possibility that high tech may disappear, since it does require large amounts of energy to sustain its associated infrastructure, and future energy resources are uncertain. You may be tempted to scoff at this possibility, but, on the chance we must revert to more rudimentary technology, what will be the price we pay for having allowed ourselves to become absolutely dependent on the level of technology we presently enjoy?

Reading suggestions:

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr
Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen Talbott

Kevin Jones

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Closing for week of February 4th

Mindport will be closed to the public from February 4th thru February 12th, reopening for our normal hours on February 13th.

After over ten years in this location, it's time for some painting, sprucing up, and reshuffling of exhibits. Please forgive us if we're upsetting your plans for a visit, and give us another try when you can.

Kevin Jones

Friday, January 4, 2013

Farewell John Ito

Snapshot of the mind of John Ito
John Ito, who has been with us for the past two years, and has built a number of finely-crafted exhibits for Mindport, including the Allella, Bella Stella, Diaballique,  and others, has, to our regret, moved on to larger pastures. He's now Director of Education and Exhibits at KidsQuest Children's Museum in Bellevue, WA. We'll greatly miss his creative energy, sense of humor, and ability to get along amicably with just about anyone. We wish John the best of luck in his future endeavors.
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