• And, with their 119th update, Valve helpfully included the list of all their previous patches, as well. Just look at the amount that's changed – and how swiftly. A proper, living game (unlike the stillborn 360 version). Can't wait to play it on the Mac; it's almost like a different game to the one I played at the beginning.
  • "Ben Gimpert is a friend of the Open Library. He and I got together over lunch a few months ago to talk about big data, statistical natural language processing, and extracting meaning from Open Library programmatically. His efforts are beginning to bear some really interesting fruit, and while we work out how we might be able to present it online, we thought you might be interested to hear what he’s been up to." Answer: good things. Ben is awesome, and this work sounds great. (I can't quote a suitable passage, so George's intro will have to do).
  • A few short tips on find; one of the bash tools I use least, and should probably use more.
  • "Diller, Brill, and Murdoch seem be stating a simple fact—we will have to pay them—but this fact is not in fact a fact. Instead, it is a choice, one its proponents often decline to spell out in full, because, spelled out in full, it would read something like this: “Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”"

Bigger Trees

26 April 2010

Several weekends ago now, I went to the Tate Britain to see the Chris Ofili and Henry Moore exhibitions. Both were good. I find sculpture difficult to “read”, as it were, although I found Moore’s stringed work very beautiful; the real highlight of his exhibition for me, though, was the central room of his sketches from the Blitz and from coalmines. The Ofili, similarly, wasn’t initially to my taste, but grew into a rather nice body of work, and the room of his blue paintings was wonderful; I enjoyed the catalogue of the Blue works I read later, although was disappointed to see how many of the Blue paintings hadn’t been selected for display.

But the best thing I saw in the gallery that weekend was a total surprise.

That surprise was David Hockney’s Bigger Trees Near Warter.

I glimpsed the painting through a doorway, not in its entirety, just part of it, already filling the doorframe and enticing me in. What greeted me on the other side was, in every sense, stunning.

Bigger Trees Near Warter is a huge painting, made of 50 canvases – 10 wide by 5 high – and, in this showing, duplicated on two adjacent walls of the gallery in scale replicas constructed out of fifty photographic prints. It dominates the room, filling your peripheral vision as well as your forward gaze.

(I enjoyed Hockney’s rational for making the painting so big – he didn’t want the Royal Academy to try to hang anything next to it, and so he ensured it would fill the wall it was intended for)

And, as the explanatory documentary running on a small television on the fourth wall explains, the artwork was only really possible because of modern technology.

Hockney’s a very technically savvy artist – something that often surprises people – and it was fascinating to watch him at work. The computer’s role in Bigger Trees was very specific – it enabled pre-visualisation of the larger work, showing how the initial sketches would be divide across fifty paintings, and by stitching together photographs of work in progress, hinting at how the artwork was developing. After all, there wasn’t nearly enough room in Hockney’s UK studio to hang all the canvasses.

But that was it: each canvas was still very much painted in the field, and the stitched image helped plan which canvasses to take out each day. It’s still very much a landscape painting made on location. I admired both the necessity of technology to the painting, and yet a lack of complete reliance on it.

Enough of the method, though, because even if you didn’t know that, it’s still a phenomenal work: subtle use of colour that’s unmistakably English countryside, detail in the tree branches that’s visible at a distance, but recedes as you get closer; a painting on such a large scale it never escapes your eye. It dominates you, keeps you in place, and then the shapes form into detail and draw your eye in.

I looked at this one image for a good while – longer than I’ve looked at any single painting for a long while. My eyes occasionally darted right and left to check that the facsimiles really were identical, and not variants; quiet and still in one of the gallery’s larger single rooms, awed, and glad to have followed my nose – or rather, my eyes – through that doorway. I’ve been a fan of Hockney for a while, but this was just magnificent; if you’re passing Tate Britain in the near future, it’s worth the detour to find. Words and photographs can hardly do it justice.

  • Joe Moran on Daniel Miller's "The Comfort Of Things", which has gone straight onto my wishlist.
  • "For instance, when a film critic with a Twitter account says that video games are not art, the natural followup becomes, "Well then… what is art?" And suddenly we're in some goddamn flourescent-lit student lounge, sitting on a nine-dollar couch across from a dude whose shirt is self-consciously spattered with daubs of encaustic, hip-to-hip with the girl who stamped each page of a copy of The Feminine Mystique with an ink print of her own labia, hearing the guy over our shoulder mention Duchamp for the sixth time this week, and it all just needs to stop right now." Well said, Steve.
  • Another Flixel tutorial, this time updated for version 2.
  • "Just for fun, I shoot one of [the hostages] in the pillow case. The head area immediately becomes a blur of pixels, just like you'd see if you were watching some graphic amateur camerawork on the news.<br />
    <br />
    The effect is unnerving. It's somehow more realistic and more disturbing than the cartoon splatter of bright red blood and bits of brain you see in most games. It taps into that part of the psyche which knows that if something's too horrible to be shown, it must be really horrible. Or is this just IO's attempt to get the game awarded a lower age rating?<br />
    <br />
    "No, not at all," says Lund. "This was an idea the team came up with – wouldn't it be fun to mimic that thing about something being too graphic, that documentary style? It's a good way of showing you got that headshot in a new way."<br />
    <br />
    That's marvellous (as is, from the sound of it, K&L2's take on "realism" – namely, that Police Camera Action is a more realistic aesthetic that 24).
  • "My main point brings me back to Pretending Apps. Because there are lots of other things you can steal from games, many other aspects of gaming that people find appealing and some of them might be more easily and usefully extracted." Yup. This was one of my main beefs with the whole "let's make everything playful/gamey!" trend that kicked off a few years ago: "game-y" was associated with "having points", and really, that's not what makes a game at all. (Other things that make a game: pretending, as Russell mentions, and visible mechanics, as I think I have to write about soon).
  • "There seems to be some sort of consensus that the highest form of play is fully immersive, interactive live theatre. Well not for me. The rhetoric of these things is often about people making their own choices, being free to act, creating their own narrative, etc, etc. And I always end up feeling like a piece, a pawn." Totally; not for me, either, though I'm not totally into "Social Toys" either – but Russell's points are perfectly valid and sensible. (I do like theatre, though). Probably ought to write more than a few hundred characters on this.
  • Solid illustration comedy gold, mainly from the 70s and 80s.