Monday, April 28, 2014

New Exhibit-"Road Blocks"

For a long time I’ve been contemplating how I might build a sort-of modular do-it-yourself art exhibit, involve a matrix of squares designed to fit together visually in such a way as to generate interesting compositions no matter how they were arranged.

Recently it came to me to start creating squares whose common design element would be a road or path running from the center of each side of a square, then connecting diagonally to the center of an adjacent side. That way the paths in each square would always connect in random configurations if the squares were arranged side-by-side and top to bottom to make larger square or rectangular arrays.

I made a first prototype, pictured to the left. The elemental squares were all different, but too uniformly alike in color and design to quite accomplish the end I’d envisioned. For a “beta” version, I increased the size of the squares to 2", widened, simplified the “paths” so it was easier to see them as a basic element of the design, and used more varied color and visual graphic elements in the areas outside the paths. I also scanned the 12 basic “tile” designs and printed copies in both forward and reversed directions, so they can be arranged in quads to make mandala type designs, as below, that can stand alone or be included as part of larger arrangements.

At this point my wife, an avid quilter, accused me of “quilter envy.” So be it, I said. It suggested a possible name for the exhibit: Quilt Blocks. However, upon further thought, I settled on a double entendre, “Road Blocks,” referring to the fact that the element common to all the squares is paths or roads.

This exhibit can be quite hypnotizing if you tinker with it for awhile. The figure/ground relationships that come up have a way of training your eyes to see whole patterns at once instead of only individual squares. I notice that my tendency is to start out by attempting to arrange similar corner colors adjacent to each other, while letting the yellow paths fall as they may. It can end up so that there’s the yellow paths serving as a foreground and other paths, formed from the different colored corner areas, serving as irregularly-formed background paths. The eye tends to flip back and forth between seeing the paths or seeing the background colors and symbols as other paths and designs. After a spell of practice with this, any need to indulge in newly legalized recreational substances is eliminated.

The square designs are drawn with India Ink pen, colored with aqua color pencil, scanned, printed on Canson water color ink jet paper, coated with a UV-filtered spray fixative, then glued to wood blocks with PVA glue.

I suspect that after I’ve taken more time to experiment with this set of squares that other design possibilities will suggest themselves. Stay tuned for updates.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Summer Writing Workshop at Mindport!

We are excited to announce a new addition to our summertime educational offerings: a week-long writing intensive with New York-based journalist and writer Whitney Wimbish.

This workshop is a chance for six women to practice the kind of work done in creative writing MFA programs in an encouraging and safe environment. Each student will write and polish a work of original prose and help their fellow writers to do the same. The class will include writing-workshop-style critiques in which students give and receive feedback – a component of virtually all creative writing academic programs across the country.

The class will be held at Mindport July 7 – July 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. Writers will present their projects at a public reading on Saturday, July 12, which will be followed by a reception.  Cost is $15-$60, sliding scale.  

To apply, please respond briefly to the following by June 15.  E-mail responses to workshop leader Whitney Wimbish at  

-Why would you benefit from a writing workshop? 
-What would you contribute to a writing workshop group? 
-Please briefly describe the piece you plan to work on.  The piece could be a first-person essay, fictional short story, a chapter of a novel in progress, a critical essay, or an experimental work that combines many genres, to a name a few possibilities.  
-Please briefly include any additional thoughts you'd like to share. 
-Please state if you need financial assistance.

Applicants will be notified of placement by June 18th. 

Friday, April 4, 2014


One of Mindport’s least-noticed exhibits, but one with perhaps the strongest metaphoric message is the one pictured to the left, “Interdependence.”

It’s never surprised me that this exhibit doesn’t get much attention. For one thing its interactive aspects are subtle, and for another its metaphoric significance refers to a phenomenon which, in this country predominantly occurs below the level of awareness, namely interdependence. Simply put, this is the dependence of everything under the sun on everything else. This obliviousness might be expected in a culture that apparently reveres (its opposite) independence, and whose technology is based on a form of scientific study in which every object or phenomenon is typically studied independently of the context in which it occurs. It’s ironic to note, however, that truly independent non-conformists have a hard time in this country unless they invent new technology and make pots of money. Unfortunately such people end up with a lot of power and apparently little insight regarding the true effects of their innovations.

“Interdependence,” the exhibit, consists of a group of tiny magnets suspended on wires in such a way that they repel their neighbors, holding a separation from one-another of a little over an inch. A spotlight in the top of the pyramidal case casts shadows of the magnets on a sheet of ground glass, and a window in the bottom of the exhibits makes it possible to observe the magnets’ shadow movements when a visitor blows air against them by squeezing a rubber bulb. Even if the air strikes only one or two of the suspended magnets, their motion propagates through the whole group, setting them into an oscillatory jiggle that persists for several seconds.

A second feature of this exhibit, which a few people discover, is a means to move all the magnets at once by means of an external magnetic field. There’s a large coil of wire hidden in the base of the pyramid. A current flow can be directed through this coil by applying a finger to a small black sensor on the front of the Exhibit’s case. This causes the magnets to draw together just slightly, an effect that can be amplified by noting the natural frequency of their oscillation, then timing sensor touches to match it.

There’s a third feature that is sometimes difficult to bring into effect because it involves jogging the magnets with the exhibit’s rubber bulb until one of them hovers over a “Hall Effect” magnetic sensor near the back of the flock of magnets. If the switch marked “Feedback” is turned on, then it’s sometime possible to get the magnets to move continuously, triggered by the motion of one magnet over the Hall Effect sensor. The magnetic field of that magnet turns the sensor on and off, which flashes a red LED on the case, and simultaneously triggers the large coil whose fluctuating field in turn moves the magnets in a continuous rhythm.

The point of this exhibit is just what its name indicates, to demonstrate the principle of interdependence. This is to say, if you disturb one element of any system it disturbs all the rest. The implication is that everything around us affects everything else, and the effects are not always predictable.

A “system” can be almost any grouping of living things or dynamically related non-living things, such as machinery or electronic devices. Computers are a case in point. Anyone who has done troubleshooting on a car, a computer, or other mechanical system, if s/he’s at all successful, understands interdependence on that level. One malfunctioning component can undermine or affect the workings of the whole, often in unexpected ways.

Our most important blind spot regarding interdependence revolves around the ecology of the biological systems that support life on this planet, and around the social ecology of our human society. For example, past misguided wisdom has lead us to believe that when pests attack our crops, then spraying poison on the pest in question is an effective way of rectifying the problem. For a while, it works. Eventually, however, we discover that the pesticide is not only killing the pest in question, but is also wiping out organisms that live in the soil that may be beneficial to the crops we’re growing. It also might be wiping out the birds that prey on the problem pest and other pests that are, unbeknownst to us, controlled by the same birds. Sometimes the elimination of one organism that’s perceived to be a pest can lead to an infestation of other organisms kept in check by the one we’ve wiped out. All these organisms live in an interdependent web of associations, or an ecology.

It’s in the area of social systems that we most exhibit our obliviousness regarding the principle of interdependency. Having worked with various sorts of electronic technology most of my life, this is the area where, on a macro scale, I’m most conscious of that particular blind spot. It’s true that it can be nearly impossible to fully anticipate the social consequences of introducing a new technology, but the blind spot is demonstrated by the fact that there’s often very little serious discussion about it when such technology comes along. More often than not, promoters fill our ears with glowing promises regarding how the technology in question will cure all the world’s ills. Later it turns out that it brings a unique new set of ills with it, which cry for yet more technological solutions.

A new technology shakes up everything, just as a puff of air against one magnet in the Interdependence exhibit sets all the rest a-jiggling. Under some circumstances, when repairs on the Interdependence exhibit are being accomplished, the magnets can be stirred so much that they go nuts and start sticking to one-another willy-nilly. In the same way, new technologies can radically derange our whole social system. Consider how computers and automation have affected the job market and everything else in our lives, including enabling government and private corporations to spy on us to and extent and in ways we never dreamed possible.

While it can be difficult to fully anticipate how changes to systems will affect them, denying or not understanding the principle of interdependence vastly undermines our ability to cope with change. When new technologies come along, a rush to profit from them usually trumps any discussion about whether the technology might have undesirable side-effects, hence we’re woefully unprepared to deal with them in any rational manner when they occur. Ironically, one good place to look for thoughtful ideas about how new technologies might affect our future lives is in the field of science fiction writing.

When smaller-scale systems are considered, many people are only marginally conscious of interdependency effects. Where I’ve noticed this phenomenon most obviously is right here at Mindport. We’ve been in existence for nearly 19 years, and quite a number of employees have come and gone. Over that time those of us who have endured over long periods have become increasingly aware of how the problems of individual employees or the introduction of a new employee radically affects the culture of the whole group. After all this time, we’ve come to expect it. We can’t necessarily anticipate what effect the arrival or departure of a group member will have, but at least we’re prepared that there will be emotional consequences, often positive, but sometimes confusing, accruing from such changes of personnel. These fluctuation of emotional tides have taught all of us who work at Mindport a great deal about our own interdependence with our fellow workers and with our visitors as well.

Kevin Jones

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