Secure Cloud Computing: Virtualizing the FreedomBox

by David Solomonoff

In 2010 I asked Professor Eben Moglen to speak to the Internet Society of New York about software freedom, privacy and security in the context of cloud computing and social media. In his Freedom in the Cloud talk, he proposed the FreedomBox as a solution: a small inexpensive computer which would provide secure encrypted communications in a decentralized way to defeat data mining and surveillance by governments and large corporations. Having physical control and isolating the hardware can be crucial to maintaining computer security which is why data centers are kept under lock and key. Each FreedomBox user would physically possess their own machine.

The U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing (PDF with full definition) as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Cloud computing, for all its advantages in terms of flexibility and scalability, has been fundamentally insecure. While the technology exists to secure information while it is being stored and while it is in transit, computers must process information in an unencrypted form. This means that a rogue systems administrator, malicious hacker or government can extract information from the system while it is being processed.

Adoption of cloud computing services by large enterprises has been hindered by this except when they maintain a private cloud in their own facilities.

Homomorphic encryption allows data to be processed in an encrypted form so that only the end user can access it in a readable form. So far it has been too demanding for normal computers to handle. In 2012 I invited Shai Halevi, a cryptography researcher at IBM, to discuss work he was doing in this area. He was able to execute some basic functions slowly with specialized hardware but the technology was not ready for general use.

Recently researchers at MIT have made breakthroughs that promise to bring homomorphic encryption to the mainstream, finally making secure cloud computing possible.

Mylar is a platform for building secure web applications.

Mylar stores only encrypted data on the server, and decrypts data only in users’ browsers. Beyond just encrypting each user’s data with a user key, Mylar addresses three other security issues:

  • It is a secure multi-user system – it can perform keyword search over encrypted documents, even if the documents are encrypted with different keys owned by different users

  • Mylar allows users to share keys and data securely in the presence of an active adversary

  • Mylar ensures that client-side application code is authentic, even if the server is malicious

Results with a prototype of Mylar built on top of the Meteor framework are promising: porting 6 applications required changing just 35 lines of code on average, and the performance overheads are modest, amounting to a 17% throughput loss and a 50 msec latency increase for sending a message in a chat application.

To further secure a web app in the cloud, an encrypted distributed filesystem such as Tahoe-LAFS can be used. It distributes data across multiple servers so that even if some of the servers fail or are taken over by an attacker, the entire filesystem continues to function correctly, preserving privacy and security.

By combining these two technologies, data can be encrypted at every point until it is accessed by its legitimate owner, combining privacy and security with the flexibility and scalability of cloud computing.

No longer confined behind a locked down private data center or hidden under the end user’s bed, a virtual FreedomBox can finally escape to the clouds.

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Heartbleed bug not a technical problem – it’s an awareness and support problem

by David Solomonoff

While free/open source software (FOSS) may be a better development model and Richard Stallman argues, an ethical one, it doesn’t guarantee good software by itself. Software development, like any other human endeavor, depends on the skills, resources and motivations of the people doing it.

FOSS advocates argue that the inner workings of technology should be open to inspection and modification by their users.

While the Heartbleed bug was a technical problem that is being fixed, the real problem is the lack of awareness or interest in of back-end technologies that we rely on.

Encryption used on the Internet is now critical infrastructure and unfortunately with OpenSSL, has not been allocated the needed resources. That two thirds of websites relied on security tools developed and maintained by four people, only one of them a paid full time employee, is clearly a formula for disaster.

However the prospect of having a government maintain this type of infrastructure in the wake of the NSA spying scandals (as well as allegations that they were aware of the bug and exploited it) is not likely to gain a lot of traction.

FOSS uses a variety of business models but the reliance on volunteers for critical infrastructure may have hit its limit.

In the end the solution to security problems like Heartbleed may be one of funding and awareness rather fixing a specific programming error.

All too often there has been confusion as to whether the “free” in FOSS refers to “free” speech or to “free beer”.

It looks like the bar tab has come due.

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Mail Art Confidential Part 2: Extreme Sports

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Seven contenders from 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art? Lightweight, heavyweight, and in my lady’s chamber. Spelunking with Mae West, swimming with sharks, maiden-form skiing and flying pink. BYO bra, Bro…


1) Hot dogging skier w. peaks. Park West Resort, Snyderville, Utah. (Thanks to pals in SoCal for the unaltered card.)



2) D.C. Stadium, Bird’s Eye View. “…the Washington Senators play home games here.”



3) Touch Football Heaven. President Kennedy’s summer home, Hyannisport, Massachusetts



4) Boozing! Swimming! Power Walking! Top athlete Ted Kennedy, Dyke Bridge, Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts



5) Swimmers in Great Salt Lake, Utah. (Another SoCal pal card.)



6) Flying Pink. December, 17, 1903: The Day Man First Flew, The Outer Banks of North Carolina



7) Scratch Match: Spelunking with Mae West. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico. Caves and stalactites boys, caves and stalactites…

The series so far:

Mail Art Confidential Part One

Five More for the Road

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art?

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Mail Art Confidential

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Mail Art Confidential; another handful of perps from the 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art? project. Served with a splash of vintage American Noir. Calendar girls, corruption, and epic political conspiracies. Hat tip to James Ellroy…


Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin ,Texas. Presidential limo, 1968. “The large soundproof passenger compartment provided ample space for discussion in transit.”


First Federal Savings and Loan Building, Jackson, Mississippi. Erected 1962. Ecstatically viewed from balcony of the Old Capital Museum.


Nixon in Tijuana w. buddy, 1972. Campaigning on the Avenida Revolucion, aka “Main Street”.


The Mystery of the Singing Tower, 1940 or thereabouts. Florida? Or Hoboken, New Jersey before real estate fever burned down the town?


After Dark, My Sweet. Contemporary. Jesus at the Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.,

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Five More for the Road

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Five more postcards hit the road– a moving part of the 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art? project.


Midwest Modern, Waterloo, Iowa, 1933:  “Our YMCA is the newest and most modern in the 5 state area in Midwest.”


Florida Pelican Boy


The Ghost of Radio City, New York


Million Dollar Aqua-Babe, St. Petersburg, Florida


Silver Springs Demi-God w. Maiden

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200 Postcards/Got Mail Art?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

I love the Post Office. Aka, the Church of Snail Mail. An institution reflecting the fading vision of democratic public services. Churls say the church should cease to exist. Their mantra? Privatize privatize privatize. Buttressed by claims that long distance communication by paper is doomed. So low tech don’cha know. To which I reply–

Got Mail Art?

A project to celebrate the Church of Snail Mail and its most devoted member, Mail Art. My mission: send 200 altered postcards to 200 artists, culling their names and addresses from a list of participants in a large-scale international Mail Art show held last year. I was among the participants and like everyone, received the list as documentation. To keep the postcards a surprise, I’m not identifying the show.

Each postcard bears the question “Got Mail Art?”

We’ll see what the answer will be…

The postcards range in age from vintage (such as linen-era) to more recent. Rest assured– no rare or unique postcards are being altered for this project. Only generic ones that can stand additions. Thrift stores and yard sales are the source. Pretty much 50 cents a dance. Cheaper by the handful.

Oh yeah– I also love postcards. Little worlds that travel the big one. No digital transmission has the romance. Here are my first 10 travelers:


1. Vicksburg National Military Park w. cupcake wrapper

2. The Hi Heel Hat Lady of Silver Springs, Florida

2. The Hi Heel Hat Lady of Silver Springs, Florida

3. Rainbow Bridge & Couch, Arizona/Utah border3. Rainbow Bridge & Couch, Arizona/Utah border

4. The Monster from Clarendon Gorge-- Clarendon, Vermont

4. The Monster from Clarendon Gorge– Clarendon, Vermont

5. Florida from the bottom of the sea5. Florida from the bottom of the sea

6. Viva Las Vegas Baby Red Hat

6. Viva Las Vegas Baby Red Hat

7. Reaper Room, Mark Twain Hotel, Elmira New York

7. Reaper Room, Mark Twain Hotel, Elmira New York

8. Hawaii International Market w. Blonde Bombshell

8. Hawaii International Market w. Blonde Bombshell
9. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California with cupcake wrapper & cross

9. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California with cupcake wrapper & cross

10. Angel at Holiday Inn, New Stanton, PA.

10. Angel at Holiday Inn, New Stanton, PA.

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The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Think totalitarians are dull boys (and girls) who wear matchey matchey duds, never quaff cocktails or croon torch tunes in the wee small hours? If so, you’re wrong. No need for shame though. I thought the same. Until I found a copy of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings! in a box of old records at a junk store.

At first I figured it was some sort of spoof production. Lenin sings? Yeah, right. Maybe in his shower after rolling out a little Red Terror. But no. Lenin did cut a record (actually, a wax cylinder) in 1922, around the time he became premiere of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union). After Lenin’s death in ’24, the album disappeared into a memory hole dug by his successor, Joseph Stalin.

Luckily for lovers of pop culture esoterica, the master somehow survived…

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually emerged as head of the single party USSR. In ’56, he delivered his famous Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, ripping Stalin and the personality cult that let Stalin be Stalin. Among other things, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for expanding the use of the term “enemy of the people” to include Party officials who disagreed with Stalin. Thereby putting them in the same non-human, expendable category as, say, kulaks– those Greedy Gus peasants who resisted having their farms collectivized.

Khrushchev also distributed copies of Lenin’s Testament at the Congress. Lenin wrote it in late 1922, after being been laid low by a stroke. Death was on the way. In the Testament, Lenin assessed various Party biggies with an eye to future leadership. No thumbs up for Stalin. Lenin dished “Comrade” Stalin’s “rudeness” and “capricious temper” and suggested he be booted from his position as Secretary-General of the Party’s Central Committee.

Until recently few knew Lenin’s Testament wasn’t the only thing Khrushchev distributed; he also passed out remastered vinyl copies of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

What motivated Khrushchev to include the record? Did he hope hearing Lenin sound so presciently Rat Pack would make rude boy Stalin seem totally yesterday?

Whatever. The album stands on its own as a pop music classic. Lenin delivers the goods from first cut to last, opening with a subversively scat-shattered version of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band and closing with a high octane, finger-snapping delivery of Cole Porter’s little known Ha, Ha, They Must Sail for Siberia. Twixt Berlin & Porter, Vlad turns sad. Waxing middle-of-the-night moody with lush ballads– including one written by himself titled What is to Be Done (When your Lover Leaves).

Though copyright laws make it impossible to include cuts from Swingin’ Totalitarian, I’ve reproduced the album’s cover, a gatefold hinged at Lenin’s waist with identical images front and back. The doubled Lenin is shown lounging at the type of bar typically found in suburban basement rec rooms. (Swingin’ was recorded at Lenin’s dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.) Those octopus-like suckers sprouting from his head? Symbolic. As said, the record was cut ’round the time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

Album Cover

Interestingly, the graphic from Lenin’s album surfaced in altered form during the late 1960′s as an advertisement for Romanov Vodka. Not to be confused with the Romanov Vodka currently being marketed by the India-based UB Group, the Romanov Vodka that featured Lenin in its ads was produced in Romania under the aegis of Nicolae Ceaușescu. A swingin’ totalitarian in his own right…

Romanov Vodka Ad


Next in the Swingin’ Totalitarian series: Mao Wow! The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Zedong



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The Soul of Shozo Shimamoto: Gutai, Mail Art, Collaboration with Nature

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

On January 25th, three days after his 85th birthday, legendary artist Shozo Shimamoto died of heart failure. A memorial event titled Shozo-ism was held  at Hotel Novotel Koshien, Osaka West in Japan on March 13th. Another memorial is ongoing. Quoting Shozo’s first son, Takashi Shimamoto “please visit Shozo’s soul, he would be so excited to see you.”

Artists from all over the world have been meeting Shozo’s soul for decades. Some two hundred mail artists from thirty countries are currently communing with Shozo at the San Francisco Art Institute exhibition Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun.The show runs until March 30th, and includes a room filled with works by mail artists honoring Shozo Shimamoto.

The exhibition at SFAI was curated by artist John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock, co-founder and publisher of the San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and was arranged well before Shozo Shimamoto’s death. John Held, Jr. has been meeting Shozo’s soul since the early 1980′s in various projects. Some in real time, others in mail art land. The latter is where I met Shozo, also in the early 80′s. At the time I had no idea he was a co-founder of one of the most significant avant-garde art movements in postwar Japan. That movement was/is Gutai.

Gutai is often translated as “concrete”. An alternate is “embodiment”. A group of young artists from the Kansai (Osaka-Kobe) region formed the Gutai group in 1954 under the guidance of older established artist Jiro Yoshihara. Yoshihiro was simultaneously CEO of Yoshihara Oil, a successful company which manufactured edible oils from soybeans and cottonseed.

Jiro Yoshihara was a self-taught artist. Pre WWII he painted in styles associated with modernism, including surrealism. During Japan’s descent into militarism, modernism was suppressed. Unlike some prominent artists working in the modernist vein Yoshihara didn’t switch to producing state-approved propaganda. He withdrew to a rural agricultural community where his work became private and inward.

Postwar, when much of the Japanese art world still considered European painting the vanguard, Yoshihara realized the importance of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s highly kinetic techniques made painting a gestural performance– a concept also present in traditional Japanese art forms such as calligraphy.

Jiro Yoshihara encouraged young artists to directly engage their bodies with their materials. He also told them to “challenge, not imitate”* and “not to fake, or not to follow any others”**.

Like many avant-gardists of the period, Yoshihara was attempting to forge a new and independent artistic identity in the shadow of Japan’s recent totalitarian past and the ensuing occupation by the U.S.

Shozo Shimamoto joined Yoshihara’s studio in 1947 at the age of nineteen. When the idea arose to create an art movement inspired by Yoshihara’s concepts, Shozo suggested the name “Gutai”. When the Gutai group published its first journal in 1955, it was printed at Shozo’s house. The official Gutai manifesto was written by Jiro Yoshihiro in 1956. Among other things, it contained these lines:

Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other.

One of the earliest Gutai exhibitions was held in the Ashiya pine wood in Osaka. At the First Open Air Exhibition of Modern Art: to Challenge the Mid-Summer Sun, the sculptures and paintings of the Gutai group were displayed in the open air, subject to weather. Shozo Shimamoto exhibited a perforated metal sheet painted white on one side, blue on the other. In the evening a lamp was lit behind the sheet; the effect echoing the starry sky above. The work was called Ana– the Kanji character for “hole”.

Shozo Shimamoto began working on his series Ana in the late 1940′s; an early piece apparently won him his place in Yoshihara’s studio. The Ana works employed various methods of surface erosion, a technique which began with an accident (an unintended tear) then blossomed into conscious exploration.

As well as producing works on canvas, paper, and less traditional surfaces Gutai artists utilized music, film and recorded sound. They also threw their bodies into their work, staging eye-popping art events such as Kazua Shirago’s Challenging Mud; in which the stripped-down Shirago dove into several tons of a wet mix of plaster and cement, twisting and flourishing his body like a paint brush.

Walk This Way

At a Gutai exhibition at the Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo, Shozo Shimamoto presented Please Walk on Here, a twisting path of wooden boards on a system of springs. It was very difficult to walk on. At the same space in October, 1956, he staged Bottle Crash Experiment. A canvas was placed on the floor with a rock in the middle. Bottles of pigment were flung at the rock, shattering color every which way.

Then there was Cannon. In which plastic bags of color were loaded into a five-meter cannon and shot onto a huge canvas…

The artists of Gutai, along with artists working in avant-garde groups and collectives in postwar Tokyo, expanded upon and in some cases anticipated such now-familiar art memes as conceptual art, action painting, installations, earthworks, happenings, and performance art.

Gutai, as well as Tokyo’s avant-garde movements, attracted international attention and strongly influenced experimental artists in the west. The influence flowed both ways in a snap, crackle, Pop of creative electricity.

Mail Art and Beyond

In 1972, Gutai founder Jiro Yoshihara died. During his final years he produced a series of paintings focused on circles, which have been described as “reminiscent of satori, the enlightenment of Zen”.

After Yoshihara’s death the Gutai group, which had become less active and prone to factionalism, broke up. Many of Japan’s postwar avant-garde groups came and went in the blink of an eye. The Gutai group lived far longer than most.

Shozo Shimamoto continued to be tremendously productive, his works and performances reaching audiences in many countries. The spirit of Gutai continued to inspire him, including its ethos of artists putting their bodies on the line. Example: Shozo invited other artists to draw, write, or place objects on his shaved head. Films were projected on it as well. The collaborations were photographed. Shozo also turned his dome project into mail art. Sending photo copy pictures of his head to mail artists, with invitations to decorate. He laughed when copies of his copies reached him with the same invitation.

A few words re mail art. Definitions are legion, as are mail artists. This is from a piece I wrote in 2002:

Mail art started simply, roughly five decades ago. A handful of artists, when sending each other mail, began making their envelopes and post cards an extension of their work. Not only did they trade art by mail but they played with the very process, adding fantasy postage stamps, sending serial image postcards and building elaborate visual jokes. Some projects were like chain letters, travelling from artist to artist– collaborations that crossed thousands of miles and took years to complete. Over time more and more artists joined in. By the early 80′s, mail artists numbered in the hundreds of thousands…

Mail art was a travelling show, visible to all along the way. It leaped out of the gallery and into everyday life. Though mail art sometimes appeared on gallery walls and enhanced artists’ careers, careerism was never its main point. Love moved mail art. It was fun. It was free. Motivations increasingly inexplicable in the culture at large.”

By the mid 1970′s, Shozo Shimamoto was secretary general of the Artists’ Union (AU) in Osaka. He was a chief representative for mail art, which he felt embodied the spirit of Gutai. He wrote the following about Gutai and mail art in a book of his work titled AH, published in 1981 by the Japan Art Press Center:

…I was determined to refuse or defy the expression of authority as seen in works of art not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. What inspired me and encourage me most in this effort was “GUTAI” (pronounced “gootie”), whose spirit is embodied in the activities of “mail art”, a form of expression campaigned for by the Artists Union today.

As said, I met Shozo via mail art in the early ’80′s. At that time almost anything could make it through the mail. No War on Terror raged; fear of odd objects had not yet infected the post office. I received many wonderful– and sometimes outrageous– things from mail artists around the world. And surprise surprise, most delicate non-enveloped pieces arrived in fine condition. Including a piece by Shozo Shimamoto from his series focused on the Japanese character for “A”.

While corresponding with Shozo, I was working on a series of copy-art portraits of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong). The portraits, retrospectively titled My Own Private Mao, were collaged from vintage propaganda from the Peoples Republic of China, plus various pop culture sources– including porn from American and Japanese mens’ magazines. I was struck by the similarities between propaganda and pornography, such as the use of rote images to stoke/stroke desire for a state of perfect satisfaction. Some of my pieces countered Warhol’s comment-free celebrity portraits of Mao (though China has recently detected some comment ), others riffed on abstraction by recombining Mao’s features (wart and all) ad infinitum. The latter involved extensive recombinations of photo copies. Think copies of copies of copies. A technique inspired by being broke; I wanted to use every copy I made, even the test ones.

In the mid 1980′s, Shozo Shimamoto arranged a show of my Mao series at the AU gallery. Afterwards he sent me a photo of the show with a letter commenting on its popularity and requesting that the works remain in the gallery’s archive. It was tremendously exciting to see the Maos displayed in a country so far away.

Over several years, Shozo Shimamoto sent me a number of things. Including AH, the book containing his thoughts on Gutai and mail art. In those days it was hard to find much information about Gutai in English.*** But Shozo’s work, as displayed in the book, conveyed much about its spirit. Though somewhat mysterious due to cultural differences, the book still spoke volumes. Often about beauty detected in, and added to, common and  damaged sources.

The gestural “hand” of Shozo, as displayed in reproductions of pieces he’d painted, or applied color to in some other fashion, was bold and generous. The colors themselves were dazzling. Pictured works included examples from his “A” series, and from a shorter series called Uzamaki (Whirlpool), which he made by pouring colors onto canvas and letting the colors separate according to their individual density.

Eventually I drifted out of mail art (though I still do an occasional piece) and concentrated on individual pieces and later, on writing about the gold dust twins of political corruption and real estate fraud. But I have a collection of works by the mail artists with whom I corresponded. Shozo Shimamoto’s book is a particularly treasured item. For the last 10 years I’ve kept my collection in archival boxes in a climate controlled storage unit. Safe as houses.

But as we all know post-housing bubble, houses aren’t safe…

A few years ago a storm caused a partial roof collapse at the storage facility. My unit wasn’t severely damaged but did get some flooding. Among the damaged items, Shozo Shimamoto’s book AH.

At first I thought it was a goner. But as I turned the book’s damp, water-stained pages I determined to save it. It was still a thing of beauty. Many of the pages were stuck together by rain water; I slid sheets of wax paper between ones that weren’t and waited till the book was totally dry. Even then some pages were still melded together and despite being handled delicately, tore when separated. Water damage was visible throughout. Yet the more I looked at the book the more the damages started seeming like additions, not ruination. As if a collaboration had taken place between nature and Shozo Shimamoto.

After the storm Shozo’s book lived on my desk. I often found myself looking at it.

Last Autumn I learned that an upcoming show in San Francisco would be honoring Shozo Shimamoto and Gutai. Curators John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock were inviting mail artists all over the world to contribute. This was good news; I was glad to get a chance to honor Shozo. Not only because he’d been so generous to me, but because he influenced me deeply in the past and thanks to his collaboration with nature, was doing so again. My contribution to the show included copies of the “damaged” pages from AH.

A few weeks after I sent my contribution off to San Francisco, I received a letter from John Held, Jr. telling me Shozo Shimamoto had died.

When researching this piece I learned that over his lifetime Shozo Shimamoto produced a huge body of work. Of which I’ve only referenced a tiny amount, mainly pre 1990. I also came across some of his writings, thankfully in English translation. Such as Art is Astonishment and Potatoes with Worms are Ticklish. Then there’s this exchange from an interview posted at the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto in Italy:

Interviewer: While reconstructing the Gutai years, you said that the driving force was the idea that art is supposed to be completely free. What meaning exactly does the word free hold in your concept of art?

Shozo: During the war, freedom did not exist for us. After the war we were given our freedom back and were initially taken aback by it, but we later learned, more than anything else, the extraordinary nature of freedom. Life is full of problems, but freedom is the key to happiness. It was a tremendous pleasure to express freedom through art.

In the same interview Shozo talks about his commitment to pacifism, which he expressed through many major art projects. In 1996 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by artist and publisher Bern Porter, who was also a committed pacifist. Before WWII, Porter worked as a physicist on cathrode ray tube technology. During the war he did uranium separation work on the Manhattan Project. He quit after Hiroshima was bombed.

As well as translations of Shozo’s writings, I came across excerpts from the Gutai manifesto written by Jiro Yoshihiro. Including these words about the beauty found in damaged things:

Yet what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life?

I’m very grateful to have met Shozo Shimamoto in the land of mail art and to have encountered him again through the pages of his collaboration with nature. I’ll continue to visit his soul. Which mingles with the spirit of Gutai forever and ever.


*Asia Art Archive Chair Jane DeBeoise in conversation with art historian Reiko Tomii, on the occasion of a historical investigation of Shiraga Kazuo’s work, Challenging Mud.

**Whitestone Gallery, Jiro Yoshihara  

***These days it’s much easier, thanks to burgeoning interest in Gutai and other avant-garde movements active in postwar Japan. Along with Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC just wrapped Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, and the Guggenheim Museum is currently presenting Gutai: Splendid Playground.




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#Biomimicry: Fish and foul find their way via magnetism, now you can too

by David Solomonoff

Recently sci-fi author Karl Schroeder speculated that advanced alien civilizations might be difficult to detect because their advanced technology had become indistinguishable from nature. Biomimicry is a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems — and may give us insight into how such an alien civilization could evolve.

One example of biomimicry is an an indoor navigation system (IPS) developed by researchers in Finland.

Many fish and migratory birds can detect differences in magnetic field strengths, which vary around the globe, allowing them to navigate over extremely long distances. For first time in any animal, scientists have isolated the individual magnetic cells in a rainbow trout that respond to these fields. The magnetism was tens to hundreds of times stronger than researchers expected, suggesting that the fish may be able to detect not only the direction of North based on magnetism, but small differences in magnetic field strength for detailed information about precise latitude and longitude.

Now researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland have created an indoor navigation system using the Earth’s innate magnetic field to ascertain your position to an accuracy of between 0.1 and 2 meters. Every square inch of Earth emits a magnetic field which is modulated by man-made concrete and steel structures. If you have a map of these magnetic fields, and a magnetometer (compass), accurate navigation is very simple indeed — all you need to make a magnetic field map, or to navigate one, is a modern smartphone.

Almost every smartphone has a built-in magnetometer, just so your phone knows which direction you’re facing in — but this sensor is apparently sensitive enough to create magnetic field maps that have an accuracy of 10 centimeters. IndoorAtlas, the company spun off by the university to market and sell the tech has an API so software developers can create apps that react to your movements. Uses could range from the banal — displaying targeted advertising on your smartphone when you enter a store — to artificial vision for the blind and for robots in low-light environments.

But ultimately the effect of such extensions to our senses will go beyond the immediate applications – they could create a radically different body image and sense of self.

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Space Race: Round the Moon in Recycled Rockets, Spotting Rogue Asteroids, Dodging Alien Malware

by David Solomonoff

Detail, Amazing Stories cover, Malcom H. Smith, 1948 reports “Space tourists may soon be able to pay their own way to the moon onboard old Russian spacecraft retrofitted by a company based in the British Isles.

“The spaceflight firm Excalibur Almaz estimates that it can sell about 30 seats between 2015 and 2025, for $150 million each, aboard moon-bound missions on a Salyut-class space station driven by electric hall-effect thrusters.

In another private spaceflight initiative, the nonprofit B612 Foundation announced a campaign to fund and launch a space telescope to hunt for potential killer asteroids — a campaign they portrayed as a cosmic civic improvement project.

Former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, the foundation’s chairman and CEO, estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be raised to fund the project, but said he was “confident we can do this.”

William S. Burroughs said that “language is a virus from outer space.” At io9, George Dvorsky speculates at another type of danger from space – malware from an ET civilization:

…We should probably be more than a little bit wary of receiving a signal from a civilization that’s radically more advanced than our own.

When we spoke to SETI-Berkeley’s Andrew Siemion, he admitted that SETI is aware of this particular risk, and that they’ve given the issue some thought. When we asked Siemion about the possibility of inadvertently receiving or downloading a virus, he stressed that the possibility is extraordinarily low, but not impossible.

“Our instruments are connected to computers, and like any computers, they can be reprogrammed,” he warned.

Like Siemion, Milan Cirkovic also believes that the risk of acquiring something nasty from an ETI is very real. But he’s a bit more worried. Alien invaders won’t attack us with their spaceships, he argues – instead, they’ll come in the form of pieces of information. And they may be capable of infiltrating and damaging or subverting our computing networks, in a manner that’s similar to the computer viruses we’re all too familiar with.

“If we discard anthropocentric malice, it seems that the most probable response is that they have evolved autonomously in a network of an advanced civilization – which may or may not persist to this day.” If this is the case, speculated Cirkovic, these extraterrestrial viruses would probably just replicate themselves and subvert our resources to further transmit themselves across the Galaxy. In other words, the virus may or may not be under the control of any extraterrestrial civilization – it could be an advanced AI that’s out of control and replicating itself by taking over the broadcast capabilities of each civilization it touches.

After the end of the Cold War it seemed like the Space Race was dead, replaced by a much more Earth-bound and risk-adverse attitude. Humanity’s first encounter with an ET could be the accidental introduction of a terrestrial biological virus into an alien biosphere via a contaminated unmanned probe – or even a human-generated computer virus. But the rewards always outweighed the risks – both in terms of knowledge and resources to be gained – and the self-actualization from taking on big challenges. The fact that space exploration is back in the news reflects a return to a heroic and transformative vision of humanity as much as it does technical accomplishment.


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