Meet TED 2014 Fellow Ziyah Gafic, an award-winning photojournalist from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose work includes intimate portraits of people determined to carry on with their lives in the face of fraternal war.
Ziyah was born in Sarajevo, where he graduated in comparative literature. Since 1999 he has been traveling extensively and covering major events in more than forty countries. Today, you can follow him on the TED Fellows Instagram account, where he is sharing his travels through Mecca for GEO Magazine.
Here’s a selection of Ziyah images from Instagram:
Makkah,a view from above.
Cranes looming over Ka’aba.
In front of the Holy mosque in Makkah.
Royal Hotel Clock Tower. Third tallest building in the world.
Artisphere curators Ryan Holladay and Cynthia Connolly, with artist Alicia Eggert, center. Photo: Artisphere
Just a week before TED2013, Alicia Eggert — who makes kinetic sculptures investigating the nature of language and time — and musical artist Ryan Holladay made contact for the first time. They had never met, and neither of them knew they had each been selected as Fellows. Now, Holladay is co-curating Eggert’s largest solo exhibition of kinetic sculptural art at Artisphere — a 52,000 square foot arts space located just outside Washington DC. Here, Holladay and Eggert chat with each other about their work, their process, collaboration, and life. For more on Eggert and her work, visit her Fellows Friday interview.
When I’m not working on my own work with my brother, Hays, making sound-specific installations and GPS compositions with BLUEBRAIN, I have a wonderful job working as the curator of new media at Artisphere. I was sitting in the Artispace office with my co-curator, Cynthia Connolly, when an inquiry came in from an artist named Alicia Eggert. She lived in Maine, taught at Bowdoin College and had won numerous awards and grants. But this had me pinching myself: like me, Alicia was a 2013 TED Fellow and she, too, would be speaking at the conference the following week in Long Beach.
As it turns out, Alicia is one of the most talented and inventive artists I’ve come across in some time. With a diverse body of work that ranges from simple modifications of household items to highly complex interactive sculptures, this is an artist with a highly developed vision. Alicia and I quickly struck up a friendship at TED and began dreaming about what we could do together.
After TED, Cynthia and I began discussing the best way to bring Alicia’s work to Artisphere. As curators at a sizable arts facility, we have the privilege of programming a number of spaces of varying sizes throughout the building, but it quickly became clear to us that this was an artist that was ready for something big. And so, after many months of preparation, we are excited to present Alicia’s largest solo exhibition ever in our flagship space, the Terrace Gallery.
Ryan: So you’ve just finished a marathon of an install. Is that a process you enjoy?
Alicia: I have a love/hate relationship with the installation process. In some ways, it stresses me out, because so much of my work is kinetic, and I’m always afraid it’s not going to work properly. And there’s always the chance a neon letter will break if you just look at it the wrong way. But I really enjoyed the installation at Artisphere. First of all, nothing broke or went wrong. But more importantly, it was fun to work with you and Cynthia, and to engage in a dialogue with the two of you about the work and where it should be placed in the gallery. It gave me a new perspective of my work.
R: I can imagine with so many moving parts there’d be a level of anxiety — the feeling of anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But now that it’s all up, it must be a relief.
Installation view of Alicia’s work in the Terrace Gallery at Artisphere. Photo: Artisphere
Everything You Are Looking For (2012). A neon sign whose jumbled letters slowly reveals the phrase “Everything you are looking for is invisible.” Made in collaboration with Amy Jorgensen. Photo: Alicia Eggert
A: Is your working relationship with each artist completely different?
R: Every artist is different for sure. And with new media work, it gets a bit tricky sometimes. There are artists who have all their ducks in a row. Then there are others who may be experimenting with some new technology for the first time, and it doesn’t work exactly how they planned and we find ourselves in triage mode hours before an opening. I once had to do a Skype session with an artist in Japan as he walked me through taking apart and reassembling his work.
A: That sounds incredibly stressful. But it’s great that Artisphere is willing to work with artists who are taking risks and exploring unfamiliar territories.
R: I liked walking into the gallery and hearing you listening to that Haim record! Do you usually listen to music when you work?
A: It depends. If it’s a familiar, repetitive task, I love listening to music or even watching a television show. For example, when I was working on the wiring all of the “Lost Gloves” in my recent artist residency at Sculpture Space in Utica, NY, I watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad. But when I’m doing work that requires any kind of problem solving, I prefer to work in silence.
R: One of the things about making music is that you can’t listen to music while you’re working! I get jealous of painters or architects who can get to work and go through the entire Kate Bush catalogue on Spotify. Sometimes when I want to listen to NPR or a new record or something I’ll play Super Mario 3. I’ve played that game so many times, it kind of puts me in a trance where I can focus all my attention on what I’m hearing.
A: I can totally relate. I can get into a similar trance-like headspace when I’m driving. I get some of my best ideas on long-distance road trips.
R: Language seems to play a big role in many of your pieces. You seem to play with our notions of how language is used and often overlooked, for instance, drawing attention to how removing one word from a simple sentence can change its meaning significantly (‘You Are (On) An Island). Do you ever think about how your work might effect someone who isn’t a native English speaker? And have you ever considered working with other languages?
A: I feel lucky that my native language is one that has become so universal. I often wonder how my work would be different if English wasn’t as widely spoken as it is, because it’s always been very important to me that my work is accessible to as many people as possible — something from my Evangelical Christian upbringing that I’ve carried over to my practice as an artist. I would love to be given the opportunity to work sculpturally with another language, especially one that’s completely different from English visually, like Arabic. But I don’t think that’s something I would pursue on my own without a specific reason, like a commission.
R: Well, as the saying goes: “سيحدث ذلك عندما يكون من المفترض أن يحدث.”
Detail view of AHA (2013) installed in the Terrace Gallery at Artisphere. Photo: Artisphere
Present Perfect (2013). A rock sits on the keyboard of an open laptop, typing the letter Y into in infinity in Microsoft Word. Photo: Alicia Eggert
A: I’m really curious about your collaborative process. I love collaborating with other artists on visual projects, but I wonder how the process is different with sound.
R: Hays and I are sharing ideas all the time. Now that we’re living in different cities, everything has to be done remotely. So whether that’s some conceptual art project or an actual melody, we generally have these open lines of communication over the phone, text, email and Skype where we bounce ideas off of one another. I think we look for a reaction from the other to see which ideas might have, legs and that’s usually how we start. But, you know, we’ve worked together since we were, kids so I don’t really know any other way of doing it, honestly. It’s fantastic in some ways because you can move really quickly and it’s kind of like having two brains working at once. But on the flip side, if a disagreement turns into an argument, it goes nuclear very quickly. Siblings know exactly what buttons to press. How does it work with Mike [Fleming, Eggert’s partner] when you two collaborate?
A: For Mike and me, every project seems to evolve out of a conversation. Eternity started with a car ride. We drove past a church that had a big sign out front saying something about spending eternity in heaven, so we started to talked about that word and what it actually meant. We decided it would be a fun word to mine for an art project. Then we just started brainstorming, bouncing ideas back and forth about it. I forget who came up with the idea to use clocks to spell it, but I remember us both saying, “YES! That’s it!” And then it took months to figure out how to actually do that.
R: Isn’t that the best, when you can’t remember who actually came up with an idea? I feel that’s a sign of a healthy collaboration, where your brain has sort of relinquished the need for ownership or something and who initially birthed the concept or a part of it seems unimportant.
A: I totally agree. You have to totally let go of your ideas, and completely give them to the other person to see where they can take them. But having a collaborative working relationship with someone you love can be challenging. It’s important for Mike and me to maintain a part of our relationship that doesn’t have to do with our work, so it doesn’t feel like we’re just business partners, so we can salvage some romance. Do you and Hays have to worry about similar things, or no?
R: Well the romance died years ago with Hays and me. No, but to be serious, I think there was a period of time when I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to work together in the future. We were always able to get down in the dirt and argue about ideas and have that be separate from our friendship. But there came a point where that seemed more and more difficult, and the distinction between our personal and working relationship became less clear. And I felt like, as much as I loved working with him, it wasn’t worth damaging what had always been a really close relationship.
What changed, I think, was when we started working on these location-aware compositions because we were starting from scratch and creating something completely new that neither of us knew anything about. We were learning about software development, about landscape architecture, about interface design and so on. And so it became this feeling of discovery that I think had gotten lost somewhere along the way.
Ryan and his brother Hays performing at the Sweetlife Festival wearing masks of one another’s faces, designed by Kashuo Bennett. Photo by Margot MacDonald.
A: You were in new territory together. I can see how that would change the rules. I think that’s when collaborations work best. Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re working on right now?
R: Well, as a curator at Artisphere, I’m working on a number of projects, including putting together a sound exhibition in the Terrace Gallery for next summer. I’m trying to bring TED Fellow Christine Sun Kim down for that one! As for Hays and me, we have about 10 projects we’re working on together right now, little ones and big ones. We’re finishing up a new record — a traditional, start-to-finish linear album — that I’m really excited about. But we’ve been talking about releasing it in a different way than we’ve done before. I feel like it’s a bit early to explain much more, but I’m really excited about it. We’re also starting to transition into a slightly different way of doing these location-aware composition apps, doing them as commissions for spaces and museums, which has been fun. Hopefully we’ll have three of those done in the next two years.
A: Wow, and I thought I was busy! It sounds like you have your hands full. I can’t wait to hear your new album.
R: Considering how carefully you chose words and how prominent they are in so many of your pieces, the pressure to pick a great baby name must be high.
A: You would think so, right? But I’ve been so busy working on this show at Artisphere that I regret to say I haven’t had much time to think about what’s coming next. I still can’t believe I’m having a baby! But it will certainly be my most exciting collaborative project with Mike to date.
R: My money’s on Eternity Eggert. Has a nice ring to it.
Everything You Are Looking For will run until February 2nd, with an opening reception on Thursday, December 5th. Artisphere is located at 1101 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA 22209.
Meet TED 2014 Fellow Shohini Ghose, a theoretical physicist who examines how the laws of quantum mechanics may be harnessed to develop next-generation computers and novel protocols like teleportation.
Shohini is currently an associate physics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University where she is also the Director of the Centre for Women in Science. The center’s mission is to build a strong community for women in science as well as the mathematical social sciences through research, action and communication. It provides grants to female scientists and to scholars studying the role of women in the sciences. In addition, the center organizes seminars, workshops and conferences, developes partnerships with other educational institutions and with industry, facilitates networking and mentoring opportunities for female scientists, and supports community outreach to female youth considering careers in science.
Learn more about the mission of the Center for Women in Science at Wilfrid Laurier University:
Meet TED2014 Fellow Shubhendu Sharma, a reforestation expert and Indian industrial engineer restoring natural forests with his company, Afforestt, which offers a way to plant maintenance-free, wild and highly biodiverse forests using specialized afforestation methodology, research and cutting-edge technologies.
Afforestt is an end-to-end service provider for creating a natural, wild, maintenance free, native forests. They are able to grow forests ten times faster than trees planted conventionally, giving you the equivalent of a 100-year old natural forest in just ten years.
Meet TED 2014 Fellow Shih Chieh Huang, a Taiwanese-American artist who dissects and disassembles the mundane detritus of our lives – household appliances, lights, computer parts, toys, plastic objects – transforming them into surreal, animated “living” organisms. Huang’s work explores bioluminescence — the emission of light by living organisms such as fireflies and deep-sea fishes — making for a spectacular, mesmerizing array of color.
Meet TED 2014 Fellow Will Potter, an American journalist who covers the animal rights movement, environmental movements and post-9/11 civil liberties. Currently he is examining how whistleblowers and nonviolent protesters are being treated as “terrorists.”
Will received a master’s degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism.
Above: Reggie Watts demonstrates the littleBits SynthKit
For the last week or so, the internet has been grooving to the video of Reggie Watts making some funky noise with the newly launched SynthKit — the latest offering from TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits electronic building block company, and the product of a three-way partnership between littleBits, Watts and world-renowned synthmasters KORG. The SynthKit allows users to snap together a modular synth from 12 easy pieces – or as Watts himself tells us, “Each bit is a creature unto itself that connects to others of its kin to create strange and wondrous sounds.” The Synth Kit can be connected to headphones, computers, and speakers and other external devices, as well as to other littleBits kits to add music to all manner of inventions.
If you haven’t yet seen the video (in addition to littleBits and his extraordinary talent, Watts used an EHX 45000), check it out above. Meanwhile, Bdeir tells the TED Blog the story of how the SynthKit came to be.
Where did the idea for the SynthKit come from, and how did Reggie Watts and KORG get involved?
Our product development manager Paul Rothman, who was the first person to join littleBits, has always wanted to make a synth kit since the day he started. The project was on our long list of to-dos. Then at TED 2012, I met Reggie Watts in the hallway and introduced myself. He recognized the littleBits that were in the gift bag, and I asked him if he would be interested in modules that made music. He was so excited by it, it motivated us to move it up in the plan. Then in early 2013, KORG also wrote to us to say they loved what we did and wanted to make a kit together — so we jumped on the opportunity and made this beautiful trio partnership that we’re so excited about.
Who is its intended audience?
The SynthKit is mostly for amateur and professional musicians, or aspiring music fans. But since the modules are really easy to get started with, and work with all our other modules, the target audience is really anyone: designers, artists, engineers, kids.
You really sent it to Brian Eno?
Yes! Reggie said he thought he would like it and proposed we send him some. He loved them and has been giving us feedback. His actual words were: “”This will be the birth of a new kind of music.”
Tell us a bit more about the partnership with KORG.
KORG is an incredible partner and a global leader in music technology. We collaborated by taking their designs and translating them to the littleBits system to make this kit. Tadahiko and Tatsuya, who led the project on KORG’s team, are very talented product managers and engineers. They are behind KORG’s Monotron, Monotribe, Volca, and MicroKorg synths, and it was a great collaboration. If you want to see them in action, Tadahiko and Tatsuya performed live on the SynthKit at the launch party, as did Reggie!
Upset over the state of online surveillance in America — from Wikileaks documents to the Snowden revelations — Peter Haas has set out to write a near-future novella exploring a new world order, one where friend and foe are blurred, and cyber war is the new battleground. You can help support him by giving to his Kickstarter campaign.
What sparked your desire to write this novella?
Our lives leave a large digital footprint these days, including every place you’ve ever been, through cell phone metadata and tower tracking, and almost every correspondence you have ever had, through email and social media. This data is being collected and stored for extended periods of time on a scale unprecedented a decade ago. The type of surveillance that used to require individual wiretaps and warrants can now technically be done on the scale of hundreds of millions of people. My concern is that, in extremes, this data can be used to identify, segment and persecute members of society who are engaged in disagreement with the state.
I don’t believe the state is perfect. I believe there are large social injustices still facing us that need remediation, from environmental stewardship to the vanishing middle class, from treatment of prisoners to gender equality and civil rights issues. Society strives towards making itself better, but if we don’t consider the 4th Amendment and permit blanket surveillance, we are stacking the odds against activists who disagree with the position of the state.
We have been through this before. Surveillance was of large concern in the 1970s, and many of the laws and institutions we have now, such as the FISA courts were established then. It was the view of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in the 1970s when ruling on state electronic surveillance that:
History abundantly documents the tendency of Government – however benevolent and benign its motives – to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect “domestic security.” Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.
We need to be careful of what we authorize in the name of domestic security, and after 9-11 we were very open in our authorizations. Where surveillance could take the state could undermine some core principles of our democracy.
What do you hope to accomplish by writing it?
Panopticon Down is meant as an alarm bell. It uses some examples drawn from real life and some theoretical considerations to illustrate the steps the state can legally take to quell dissent. These steps, both real and imagined, while legal are definitely questionable when viewed within a constitutional or moral framework.
My hope is that Panopticon Down will raise awareness that many of the issues we wish to fight for in the future will be tied to this issue of surveillance and chilling dissent, that in unproven statements about safety and reduction of terrorism*, we are sacrificing significant freedoms and capabilities within our democracy.
In addition I hope to give people some tools to “go dark” to the NSA. To make it so fewer of their communications can be monitored. I hope to show that it is still possible to technologically “opt out” of some of the surveillance apparatus.
I have done fiction before for personal projects. Just not in any published work. I wrote a 25,000 word personal piece that I might release some day.
For those interested in my writing style, my first chapter and some special content will be available on the Bit Torrent Artist’s Bundle page: http://content.bittorrent.com/ . I will be announcing when this goes live on Twitter @peter_haas.
Why chose fiction?
Fiction presents a more accessible path to the theoretical implications of the security state. It can spell out stronger warnings. In fiction there is liberty for me to get much darker in my considerations than I believe would be trusted in non-fiction. In fiction I can do this and be labeled dystopian, in non-fiction I would simply be called alarmist.
Can you give a prediction for the state of US surveillance in the next 50 years?
Right now we are at an inflection point; it could get better or it could get worse. I’ll consider the future where it gets worse. In the near term of that 50-year spectrum, we have some new technologies coming on the horizon that could significantly change surveillance.
Drones are being approved for use over US skies in the near future. The Gorgon Stare imaging system combined with cell phone tracking means it is unlikely people will stop being tracked when they turn off their phones. Facial recognition combined with Google Glass type platforms will become a powerful tool for identifying and singling out individuals at mass gatherings. The biggest threat though is unified data. Other agencies are clambering for the data being collected by the NSA. If this is opened to larger DHS, FBI and local police operations, it could change policing as we know it with deleterious effects.
In the far term of that 50 years, perhaps closer to 75 years, is where technology could push us into the realm of the truly sci-fi. There is the question of what does surveillance mean in the post Singularity era. People are already working on computer brain interfaces, and we are making advances with nanotechnology. The concept that your visual or auditory cortex may someday be hooked up directly to the net leads to a new level of security and privacy considerations. What does it mean if the government can not just hear what you hear or see what you see (that could be possible in a world of Google Glass in just a few years), but they can make you hear or see things. I am actually hoping to address some of these issues in some sci-fi sequels to Panopticon Down. One short story based on this idea will be released for free as part of the Bit Torrent bundle program.
Do you think people should be more outraged about the current level of government surveillance? If so, why don’t you think they are?
There is growing outrage; the anger is palpable in some circles, and yes on a constitutional basis alone I believe people should be more outraged.
Unfortunately, this is not a pressing issue for the majority of the population. I think largely people are afraid or indifferent. The indifference comes from the misconception that because one chooses to post portions of one’s life on social media, privacy is dead. I think this underestimates the value of choice in this process. I get to chose what views and communications I make public on Twitter. Unless I take technical measures I do not get to chose what foreign bound or encrypted data the government looks at.
As for the fear, I was talking with a friend in Boston about this and her concern was safety of her family after the terrible bombings there. She was vehement that she would gladly give up any privacy to gain more security and safety from future attacks. There is fear on the part of the government as well. Fear that they will be the ones who let another attack come through. We have a dichotomy set up that we must chose either privacy or security.
But this dichotomy is panning out to be false. There has been little public evidence shown of terrorist attacks being prevented by this extended surveillance. In the mean time, things like stopping the Times Square Bomber or finding the Boston Marathon bombing suspects have relied on the public coming forward and notifying authorities.
To quote Bill Clinton on this issue “we are on the verge of having the worst of all worlds: We’ll have no security and no privacy” (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/18/bill-clinton-says-the-next-american-president-should-be-a-woman/) We jumped into this after 9-11 when anything was permissible to stop another attack, but now, I believe, the time has come for government to re-examine. When the author of the Patriot Act comes forward with questions about the use of the Patriot Act as justification for these programs I’d say that re-examination is starting.
Are there precautions people can take without withdrawing from the hyper-social reality we live in today?
The primary tool to turn to in increasing privacy is using encryption. Scrambling your data so it can’t be read. The idea is that if everybody uses encryption for their communications it will be too expensive to monitor everybody. Surveillance will be more like it was back in the past, when you had to chose who you wanted to tap. Now encryption is something that everybody uses already in their day to day lives when they are doing banking online or buying groceries online. But it is amazing how many day to day activities are not encrypted.
Email is a good example. People think of email as a letter, sealed in an envelope. A better analogy would be a post card. Anybody can read your email at the different stops it makes along the internet between you and your destination. This is true even if you are using something like SSL encryption to talk with your email provider.
Other actions like avoiding device fingerprinting, using open source software and building your own trusted networks are useful as well in going dark. As a starting point I’d recommend the following:
If you want to go further research device fingerprinting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Device_fingerprint) and turn off cookies, change your MAC address, turn on ad blockers, and use a VPN or TOR. Start to make your device less fingerprintable.
These are good things for everybody to do to make themselves more secure not just from government intrusion, but also from theft and hackers. If everybody took these steps we’d be living in a different world when it comes to surveillance.
For those interested in more information, there is a good guide to increasing security and privacy on the Internet here at Cryptoparty: https://www.cryptoparty.in/brief
Meet 2014 TED Fellow Erine Gray, who has been working on business and technology consulting projects for more than 12 years. His current company (Aunt Bertha) is making it easy for people to find food, health, housing and education programs. Aunt Bertha’s mission is to make human service program information more accessible to both people and programs. You can think of AuntBertha.com as the Wikipedia of social services.
Erine grew up in a small town in Western New York, and went to college at Indiana University where he studied Economics (and took several computer science classes). He became interested in public policy shortly after he became his disabled mother’s guardian in 2002. When that happened, he quit his job as a programmer and went back to grad school to get a Master’s in Public Affairs from the University of Texas. He then spent the next six years helping governments better deliver on public services.
Meet Sergi Lupashini, a Russian born systems engineer with a PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He may be best known for being part of The Flying Machine Arena, whose autonomous quadrocopters were featured at TEDGlobal 2013. Since then, Sergi has started a new venture, Fotokite, a quadrocopter on a string that lets anyone reach 5-100m altitudes. It uses sophisticated math to track where it is relative to the user with just simple sensors. It works anywhere and takes moments to launch, and perhaps most notably, it has the capability to capture photo or videos from above.
Who would use this technology? Sergi images “one customer wants to use it to spot baby deer in high-grass fields so that they may be rescued from gruesome deaths by industrial farming equipment. Another customer wants to use the Fotokite in journalism, to quickly get an overhead perspective on a developing situation without exposing the journalists to unnecessary danger. Yet another wants to use the Fotokite as a quick airborne recording device to prevent or document cases of poaching in African parks.”