Creative Genius: We Feel Fine with Jonathan Harris.
Jonathan Harris is an artist and storyteller working primarily on the Internet. His work involves the exploration and understanding of human beings, on a global scale, through the artifacts they leave behind on the Web- PICNIC
Jonathan Harris is an artist and storyteller working primarily on the Internet. One part computer science, one part anthropology, and one part visual art, his work seeks to explore and understand the human world through the artifacts people leave behind on the Web.
He has made projects about human emotion (wefeelfine.org), human desire (love-lines.org), modern mythology (universe.daylife.com), science (phylotaxis.com), news (tenbyten.org), and language (wordcount.org), and created the world's largest time capsule (timecapsule.yahoo.com). He studied computer science at Princeton University, and was awarded a 2004 Fabrica fellowship (fabrica.it). The winner of two 2005 Webby Awards, Harris' work has also been recognized by AIGA, Ars Electronica, ID Magazine, and the State of Vermont. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and his website is number27.org.
We Feel Fine. Please welcome story teller and artist Jonathan Harris.Hello, thank you for hosting me here in your lovely water filled city. So today I am going to talk to youa little bit about how my work has evolved over the last six or seven years and than at the end I amactually going to be sharing with you a new project that I haven't shown anybody yet and hasn'tlaunched yet, so little surprise. So I started in a very traditional way, I used to keep these sketch bookswhich I still keep today, this is a page from one of them and they would be filled with records of mylife as I was living at everything from dead insects to pasted flowers to ticket stuffs, water coloredpaintings drawings and as I was traveling in living life I would try to keep these pages everydayserving as a record of what what I was doing and I became very interested in this this process ofdocumenting life as I was living at, but you know I also began to feel limited by the fact that this thiswas only my view of the world, my view of the experience and I was looking for something a little bit more broad.So around this time I became interested in collecting not only my own artifacts but also the artifacts ofother people. So I started collecting found objects and these were often photographs and notes andletters that I would find lying on the street corners, this is a photograph I found in a street in in NewYork city about seven years ago and it's a torn photograph and on the back it says "To Judy, the girlwith the Balbeli voice, have fun in whatever you do" and then you can't see the rest. And I - there wassomething that I found really moving about having this partial glimpse into somebody's private life andI actually find it more moving than a fore glimpse into somebody's private life and I think there issome thing very tantalizing about that partial view of things - you know it's it's that idea of goingdown a city street at night and peering into lit windows or you know in a horror movie that the killersare always far scarier before he actually reveals himself than after he reveals himself you know awoman in Lingerie is far sexier that a woman with no clothes on. So you know all of these things Ithink are testament to the the tantalizing power of the partial glimpse and that's something plays a bigrole in a lot of the work that I doSo also around this time I began studying computer science, I was studying at Princeton University inin the States and I began to notice that a lot of people's artifacts, the kinds that used to get left in streetcorners were now getting posted to websites and this was happening in a in a very large scale as wesaw a moment ago through the photo sense demonstrations and I became very interested in instudying these footprints that people were living behind that told stories of their human lives but did soin the secondary way, that involved surveillance and and artifacts of expression so I started to writecomputer programs that study very large sets of these online foot prints to try to understand thingsabout the people that left those footprints.So one example of that is a project called "we feel fine" which is about a year old now and this is aproject that scans the worlds newly posted Blog entries every two or three minutes searching foroccurrences of the phrases "I feel" or "I am feeling" and one - one of those phrases is found, the fullsentences collected up to the sentence boundary so that might be something like you know "I feel coldbecause it's rainy in Amsterdam" or "I feel tired because I didn't get much sleep on the flight over"and if any time if somebody posts the sentence like one of these that sentence would get collectedand added in to this growing database and this database grows at the rate of about 20,000 new feelingsper day and in all it's collected over nine million feelings now since it beganThis is then how the feelings are presented as a swarming mass of individual particles, each of theseparticles represents a sentence posted by somebody on a Blog in the last few hours, the color of eachdot corresponds to the type of feelings in sides of the bright colored dots are happy feelings and thedark colored dots are are more sad negative feelings. The diameter of each dot corresponds to thelength of the sentence inside so I don't want him to feel he has to answer. I feel that some of myreaders who don't know me personally in real life may be interested in finding out more about me andmostly wanted to know where this Blog is headed so these are all statements that people have writtenon their Blogs. I can tease you like hell and then please tell the feels in heaven yeah exactly so so yousee that these dots start to exhibit human qualities, they exhibit things like curiosity, right now some ofthem are clustering around the cursor, they also exhibit things like fear so if I click the background theones will will run away from the cursor and this is very important to me in the work that I producethat the way something is expressed visually corresponds to the nature of the thing being expressed. Soin this case, since these dots represents human lives, they have to posses these human qualities but thatwill be in a very abstract formSo there is a few different movements of this piece, this one is called madness, the next one is calledmurmurs which causes all of the dots to rise to the ceiling and then one by one they join this scrollinglist. I feel like he appreciates my love more than anyone else in the world, I feel like I will die if I hadto go a day without seeing you - it was someone in the UK few hours ago, so any of these can beclicked and you can go out and connect with Blog post from which these sentences were taken. Thenext movement is called montage which causes all of the feelings that contain photographs to form agrid. So in this case, if a blog post contains the phrase "I feel" and also contains a photograph, they willbe connected together and then this photograph would be set to represent one person who feels thatway and any of these can be can be opened up - I think part of it is she likes to embarrass people andmake them feel uneasy - I woke up feeling sick and weak, any of these can be saved, when thathappens they join a collaboratively edited gallery on the website that the viewers of this piece evolveover time, so there have been thousands of these montages that have been saved and emailed on tofriends and when that happens, they automatically join this gallery.So in some sense the viewers of the peace can also become the curators of the piece. The nextmovement is called mobs which provide various statistical looks into the population this one on feelingshows you the feeling break down of the population in the last several hours. So the most commonfeeling right now is better, it turns out that better is usually the most common feeling followed by goodand bad, guilty, comfortable and so on, you can also see a gender breakdown and it's about equal rightnow, women are slightly more prolific than man blogging. In an age break down, it's really dominatedby people that are in their twenties followed by teenagers and it peters off from there. The next oneshows you the weather conditions of the time each sentence was written, so the sunny ones scrollaround as if they are part of a sunset, the cloudy ones float along as if they are on a breeze, the rainyones fall down like outside right now and the snowy ones flutter to the ground and again you can stopany of these rain drops and and open it and see what's - what the person has written and then lastlylocation shows you the positions on a world map from which these feelings were found giving you asense of the geographical breakdown, matrix provides a slightly more statistical look at things and youcan see that the world is feeling confused right now, it's 7.3 times the normal level and we get 4.9times the normal level and so on and the final movement is called mounts which visualizes the mostcommon feelings overall as large gelatinous blogs. It's just kind of a playful thing and if you hold onthe cursor, the blogs will do a little dance and you can see that this is actually about four or fivethousand feelings that are tracked by "we feel fine" and they descend frequency as this list scrolls youcan see the little pink square running along the bottom there representing our position in all of thefeelings. So if we stop, we can see the 552 people who feel paranoid or the people that feel simple.There is also a way to search for a specific population, so if you are interested in looking at - lets saywomen who feel lazy in their twenties when it's raining, you know in the Netherlands - you know amaybe somewhere in this room now and you can also select for a specific date to see for example whatpeople are feeling on valentines daySo what I am going to show you now are some of my favorites montages that has been collected by"we feel fine" "I feel so much of my dad alive in me that there isn't even room for me", "I feel verylonely, I need to be in some backwards redneck town so that I can feel beautiful", "I feel skinny but Iam not", "I don't know I feel like there have already been a few red flags", "I feel like I am losing thebattle today - I feel like I am losing the battle", "I cant wait to see them rising for the first time atDaytona next month because I feel the need for speed", "I feel invisible to you", "I feel some artcoming on", "I feel sexy", "I feel so white trash right now", "I have been feeling bored and desperatefor attention", "I have kissed numerous other boys and it hasn't felt good, the kiss felt messy andwrong but kissing Lukas feels beautiful and almost spiritual", "I wouldn't hide that the society didn'tmake me feel like I needed to", "I feel in love with Caroline", "I feel sort of naughty", "I feel theseweirdoes are actually an asset to college life", "I love how I feel today"So "we feel fine" uses something that I often call passive observation and what I mean by that is that itpassively observes the people that are covered by this project as they are living their lives and this is inopposition to asking people directly and the reason that I like passive observation is because I think itleads to very honest candid findings because people don't know that they are being watched, they arejust they are just going about their lives as usual, so that's the technique that I like to use a lot but youknow it can also be useful to ask people directly sometimes and that's a a different approach which Iexplored in a project that came right after we feel fine called the time capsule which was commissionedby Yahoo and the time capsule was designed to take the fingerprint of the world in 2006 and we didthat by selecting ten very simply universal themes and affiliating with each of those themes a simpleopen ended question, so things like "what you love?", "what make you angry?", "what makes yousad?" - This was all translated into ten languages and then posted to the world for one month inOctober of 2006 and people could then respond to those questions using one of five simple techniqueswords, pictures, sound, videos and drawingsAnd people people submitted some amazing stuff into the time capsule and it came from all over theworld in many different languages and then the contents were sealed up and donated to theSmithsonian museum in in Washington where that will be unveiled again in 2020. And this event waspunctuated by a really amazing three day extravaganza really done in the desert outside of theAlbuquerque, New Mexico which is in the south west of the United States and for a three straightnights, the contents of the time capsule were projected onto the ancient red rock canyon walls of theJemez Pueblo which is a sacred site and and the contents were also translated into binary code andbeamed into outer space using a laser which is that green line that you can see rising from the desertfloor and then bouncing back off of a mirror and then you see this amazing pyramid of light that wascreated overhead using thirty laser beams in a one mile diameter and you know I was out here in thedesert, it was it was very cold and you could see millions of stars, the sky was so dark and I was upon this distant hill taking this photograph and I I thought there was something really amazing aboutall of these human stories being projected up into the night sky and when I was looking at that, Istarted to think about the night sky and think about how humans have actually always projected theirgreat stories into the night sky and you know famously the Greeks created a lot of constellations thatwe are aware of still today like this one Orion the hunter which you can always identify by thestar belt and I started thinking a lot about this process of constellation making and and whether if wecould make new constellations today in today's night sky, what would those be and and how wouldwe go about deciding, would we establish some international panel of experts who would then vote,would it be put to the masses in a in a truly populous referendum or whether there be some othertechnique and you know based on what I do I was interested in trying to look to the data to toanswer this question, so I worked with a company in New York called day life which I was workingwith at that time to use their global news data - day life tracks about ten thousand new sources in theEnglish language all around the world and using the news data collected from day life, try tounderstand what are the what are the things that are getting the most coverage internationally in theworld and therefore using that as a proxy for understanding the things that are most important to thelargest number of the people in the world and that all led to this project called "Universe" which is allabout trying to understand whether is a mythology that exist today that's a global mythology and thisis in opposition to "we feel fine" which very much focuses on the small scale stories of individualpeople living their individual livesUniverse on the other hand is much more concerned with whether there might be some set of globalstories that are affecting all of our lives and so Universe presents a an interactive night sky, thebackground of which is shifting color filled reminiscent of an aroraborialis and the color of that -shifting color filled can be controlled just by touching the single line of of color down here at thebottom and and then these stars that move across the sky are not just arbitrary points of light but theyactually connect to specific things that have happened in the real world. And so as I moved my mousearound, you can start to see that some of these stars begin to connect to one another, you can see thatthe outline of a human head here and and the beginnings of a word over here and and another'sanother head but smaller, so I can turn all of those on and those would represent the constellations of today.Now what I have done for this talk is I have I have restricted this Universe to the Universe of ofBurma, some of you might have been watching the news and seeing the amazing demonstrations oftens of thousands of monks marching through the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay over the last sixdays and I traveled to Burma about five years ago and actually some of those sketches I showed at thebeginning were from there and I have been following this this story very closely because I had Ihad loved to see some change happen there so anyway it's also possible so see universe of the wholeworld but I have restricted this one to the Universe of Burma over the past weekSo we can isolate just the words and in this restricted universe of Burma, you can see things like"Monks", "Myanmar", "Military" "Government", "Protests", "People", "Yangon", "Buddhists" - theseare these are the things that are shaping life right now on the ground in Burma. And now the conceptbehind universe is to think about a new metaphor for organizing information other than the web pageand the web page is a metaphor we have lived with for a long time on the internet and I would Iwould believe that it's a broken metaphor and I believe that there is there exists better ways tostructure information and mainly I think that relies on relationshipsSo in Universe anything can be selected and when it's selected, it becomes the center of the universeand everything that relates to it enters into its orbit. So this is a system where any node in this massiveconnected graph can become the first order node and all of the other related nodes will will repositionthemselves based on proximity to the center. So again you can click on anything, it can be a quote, itcan be story, it can be a word like protest and then within protests we can isolate the photographs thatinvolved protests, we can open up one of these photographs and now you can see this this image ofmonks marching through the rain covered streets, you can isolate out things like the quotes which I callstatements and the snapshots photographs than the superstars which would be the the people and theplaces and the companies that are shaping this universe, in this case it's Aung Sang Suchi, Rangoon,George Bush and so on. Also the settings giving you a sense of which places around the world arecovering this most closely and finally time give you a sense of the magnitude of of importance ofthe mythology of this place if you will over timeSo on the last week, Tuesday was the day where they had the largest marches, so that got a lot ofcoverage. So anyway universe can be used to to view any type of news, you could look at theuniverse of love, the universe of war or the universe of Iraq or the universe of everything, the universeof Amsterdam and this this project is public and online so you can all go in and and look through it.So as you have probably noticed, a lot of my work involves setting up very simple rules and instructingcomputer programs to follow those rules and then instructing those computer programs to iterateovertime doing these rules over and over again. So "we feel fine" for example takes the rule - look forthe phrase "I feel" and do it insistently all the time and it's been doing this for over a year now and alot of the other work that I have done that I am not showing today also involves writing rules and thisspring I become interested in trying to reach some degree of empathy with the computer which is thisconstant thankless helper in most of the work that I do.So I wondered what it would be like to subject myself to own - to the same sorts of rules that Itypically write computer programs to follow and that led to a new project called the "Whale hunt". TheWhale hunt has been coming together over the last several months, it started in May when I spent ninedays Barrow Alaska which is the northern most settlement in the United States living with the familyof Inupiat Eskimos as they conducted there annual spring Whale hunt on the artic ocean and I went upthere and I set up the rule for myself that I would photograph the entire experience beginning with thetaxi ride in new York city and ending whenever it ended - I would photograph the entire experienceat five minute intervals even when I was sleeping, I would use a timer to take pictures and further morewhen exciting things were happening I would quicken the pace of photography too much more thanone photo every five minutes so what this would produce eventually is a sequence of images thatwould match the changing pace of my own heart beat as it speeds up and slows downSo this led to 3214 pictures documenting this seven day experience starting with the taxi ride endingwith the butchering of the second whale - we saw two whales cut harpooned and pulled up on to theice and butchered. This is what our our camp looked like and this is the cast of people that wereinvolved, this is basically one family of Inupiat Eskimos called the [0:22:20] ____ family. The captainwho is kind of the patriarch is Simon he is the guy in the bottom row second from the right. He is 83years old I believe and his adopted son Crawford is two people above him with the sunglasses onlooking left. The harpooners Abe in the top left corner, he is the one that actually threw the harpoonthat got the whale.So what I am going to show is what I have done with all of this material. So this is the whale huntinterface for viewing this timeline of images. The graph that you see at the bottom is reminiscing of amedical heart beat graph and this shows the excitement level and you know deduced from thephotographic frequency at each point over the seven day period. So you can see spikes in the graph,first right here this is when I was getting dressed to go out on to the artic ocean for the first time thendown here when whales were being harpooned and butchered which happened at the very end. Downhere, these are things like the flight leaving new York and going up to Alaska and and this is touringaround Barrow which is the the town where these people live and so you can step through theseimages one by one, this is the initial letter of intend that I send up to Barrow whaling captainsassociation. This is some of the the permits and things that we had to apply for so really everymoment is documented and you can - you can you know click on any position in this in thisexperience, this is me reading Mobydick on the airplane there are some more Mobydick on theairplane, there is the seat, this is the airport in anchorage, our flight got delayed and we waited there fora while. This is the room I was sleeping in in the basement of the [0:24:11] ____ family's house forthe first few days before we set out to the ocean. This is one of the local restaurants, that's me sleepingso there is whole sequences of eight hours of me sleeping which isn't very exciting to watch and thenfinally we made it out on to the ice and this is kind of what camp looked like, this is Ron one of theguys form behind. He was looking out for whales. Basically this this water that you see there is calledthe lead and this opens up in the spring when the ice flow and through this lead the whales migratenorth toward - to the artic circle where they spend the summer time and then you know here is a coupleof the guys talking, there is Ron again from the front this time, cutting up a whale. This is the whale onthe ice going after a whale, there is there is many moments obviously I am not going to go throughall of them but what I want to show you now is the second objective of this project, the first was tosubject myself to these rules like computer programs usually do and the second was to experiment witha new interface for human story telling and the way I went about doing that was to to take a veryepic real world experience like this whale hunt documented insistently - apply a lot of metadata to eachpiece of documentation so each photograph and then create a framework to on earth patterns and substories that are happening within the larger stories. So if you think about story telling and most of themediums that we have for story telling, things like movies, books, songs, verbal stories they are usuallyfocused around a narrator figure or a camera position and you watch this one account of the story andthat's kind of how you how you take itPhotographs I think are a little bit different because they allow a little bit more ambiguity in terms ofwhat you look at but you know really if you think about life, life isn't that way at all I mean in lifethere you have - there is always some meta story going on like right now may be the meta story is thatwe are all here at PICNIC but there is all of these sub stories, there is probably you know business dealshappening and somebody that just left to have a pie and you know other people that may be met andwill fall in love some day and you know all of this stuff is always happening around us and those arethe sub stories that happen, that don't often get surfaced so I was interested in creating ways to start tosurface those sub stories. So there is a whole bunch of ways that you can take the story and filter it. Soyou could for example look at the story of Howard and Simon involving the concept of blood on theartic ocean, with acutance of fast, this is the heart beat level and now that we - now we riddle down thethe story to 34 matching photographs and you see the timeline has changed or reflected and then onceyou have done that you can you can browse the sub stories, so now this - this is the [0:27:14] ____family standing with their whale, this is them celebrating, this represents their food source for about ayear, for the whole community not just this familyThis is them pulling the the blubber away. So there there is infinite ways to slice and dice this thisexperience using using these these lenses and and so every experience with that is a little bitdifferent based on based on what you are what you are interested in saying so this project isn'tlive yet. It will be live in may be a couple of months so at that point, you can look it out - look for it butthat's I think I am out of time so I will I will stop there but thanks very much for your attention.