Posts Tagged ‘art’

What was “The Latitude”? Part Two

January 13th, 2016

In the previous entry I discussed The Latitude’s Book One experience. We’ve already met Professor Kinley, been scolded by Quas, and joined The Latitude Society. This post concerns the second and final experience in The Latitude before it closed.

Unlike the first part where your ascendant paid your way in, you had to buy Book Two on your own. When I went the cost was $35.

 

Book Two

When scheduling Book 2 you were told to ask a question, though it was noted that no answer would be provided. Mine was “How do I know this isn’t all a dream?” Once again you made an appointment at an address in the Mission District with a five minute window. You head to the address and once there, you text a certain phone number with the ID code on the back of your white invite card. Suddenly the door buzzes open and you enter.

From the entrance hall you head upstairs to find the suite number you’ve been provided via text message. Again, you find a door with a card key entry system. You swipe your card and push the door open.

Inside is a small room. On the floor there’s a big pedestal in the middle with a bust of Quas on top. A hidden projector above you is projecting a video of a mouth on the bust.

On the ground there’s two black orbs suspended on stilts in front of you, and on both sides there’s v-shaped boards on the floor holding back a thick layer of sand on either side.

Quas immediately starts talking to you. He mumbles a lot and you’re not quite sure what he’s saying except that he seems grumpy. He tells you to put your hands on the orbs so he can learn more about you.

As soon as you do that, the lighting gets brighter. Quas becomes very animated and tells you that he has some kind of adventure for you to complete. He stops talking and the lights fade out in the room. A sound effect plays as a small opening in the pedestal lights up. You walk up to it and see a small magic wand lying in black sand.

Instinctively you pick up the magic wand. It’s a plastic cylinder with an area carved out on one end with some symbols carved into it. The symbols seem to correspond with the logos for The Latitude’s “books.” One end is rounded and the other end is flat.

You leave the building and get another text message.

 

BART Ride

The text message indicates that in about 45 minutes you have an appointment downtown at something called the “Alluvium Chamber.” The instructions say to take BART and link you to a podcast called a “Mantis Track” which you should listen to on the way there.

The podcast is similar in format to an All Things Considered interview, and the subject of the episode is a woman who claims to perform some type of magic. She says she uses a device that sounds strangely familiar to your new magic wand. She refers to it as an “Abraxis Stone.”

She goes on to describe BART as a “third space” where it’s neither work nor home but something in between, a place anything can happen. Like a public park.

As the interview continues she describes what she calls the “shoe game.” The game works like this: as you’re in the train station and on the train, look at the shoes that other people are wearing. Those wearing formal, uncomfortable shoes are likely on the way to work and thus in a state she calls “Prime.”

After getting off BART and mulling around for a bit, you enter the building. It’s a historic downtown high rise with a small but beautiful lobby and rickety old elevators. As the text message suggests, you simply tell the doorman you have an appointment at a certain suite number.

 

Alluvium Chamber

The floor you end up on has a very film noir feel to it. You find the door, which is clearly labeled “The Latitude Society.” There’s a hexagon on the frosted glass door. You hold the curved end of your Abraxis Stone up to it, and the door clicks open.

Inside you step on to a small series of planks just inside the door, which are rested on a thick layer of sand which covers the floor of the entire room.

 

I want to step back for a minute here: this is the fourth commercial space that Nonchalance has rented for this incredible project. This one’s got to be expensive because it’s in such a nice location downtown, and they’ve covered the entire floor of an office in sand.

Bold? Crazy? Insane? It’s a difficult call.

 

Standing on the planks, on your left is a framed photo of a naked footprint in sand. On your right there’s a canvas sail functioning as a curtain, and a wood box with shoe prints painted inside.

So you abide the suggestion and take your shoes off and put them in the box.

You walk into the sand and take a look around. In the middle of the room is a hexagonal table with a sandbox built in to the top. Near the entrance is another set of doors that’s locked. On all other sides of the room there’s various toys and knick-knacks on various shelves. The lighting is very playful with different colors fading in and out.

But in the corner facing the entry is another book. You head to the book and open it.

First, the book tells you to take the hourglass in front of you and flip it over. You do that.

Then, the book tells you that you have the next 30 minutes or so to find items in the room and arrange them in the sandbox however you see fit. The book instructs you to come back and turn the page once you hear a foghorn.

You walk around the room, find some objects that you like, and arrange them in the sandbox. You may move the sand around here and there, and add and remove objects. Perhaps the plastic dinosaurs would look better than the LEGO bricks? Try whatever you like.

Finally the foghorn blows, and you head back to the book and turn the page.

Now it’s time to make some decisions, the book says, and you have a couple more minutes to arrange things how you like.

So you go back and move some things around. Maybe the crystal ball would make a good centerpiece? Or should you try to squeeze the plastic flowers in somehow? It’s up to you.

After another 10 minutes the foghorn goes off again and you check back in with the book, turning the page again.

Now the book tells you it’s time to put everything back where you found it like a responsible adult, and take the brush and make the sandbox nice and level again. So you heed the book, destroying your creation and setting everything up for the next person. On the way out you turn the book back to the first page, put your shoes back on, and leave the building.

 

When you get back to your “glowing boxes” you open The Latitude website. Now Professor Kinley had some updates for you on his sea voyage. He explains to you in an exposition-heavy monologue about the concepts of Flux, Flow, and Prime. According to him, Prime is the every day state we’re in for our job, taking care of our families, etc. Flow is the psychological concept of the same name, also known as being “in the zone.” Finally, Flux is the state that bridges the two. Presumably the “Flux chamber” back in Book One was intended to jar you into the state of Flux, although this is never explicitly stated.

 

Additionally, there’s a new symbol under your profile indicating that you’ve completed Book Two. Clicking it leads to a second recap page (link goes to the new public version) which mentions your question but doesn’t answer it.

Unbeknownst to you there were several hidden cameras in the Alluvium Chamber’s sandbox snapping random photos along the way. These images appeared on your private Book 2 recap page, which is no longer online. If you hadn’t saved these photos you’re out of luck.

I accidentally blocked the view of most of the cameras, but it managed to pick up two images of me playing in the sand. Click for larger versions of the images:

Next time: some thoughts on The Latitude, Nonchalance, and some inevitable comparisons to The Jejune Institute. I’ll also detail the “society” aspect of The Latitude Society and various other trivia that didn’t fit into the first two posts.

What was “The Latitude”? Part One

January 6th, 2016

Much has been written on the web about the closure of San Francisco’s The Latitude. But what was it, exactly?

Now that it’s over I’ll be posting a series on this blog that will include major spoilers for those who missed out. While I was sworn to secrecy at the time, I want to stress that these secrets had an expiration date. Yes, the website still claims that The Latitude is “temporarily closed,” but given the fact that they’ve posted an epilogue and started selling various pieces on eBay, the closure is clearly permanent.

Additionally, I recently confirmed with the creator of The Latitude via email that posting a walkthrough online would fine.

That said I’ve been informed that a third party now has a lease on some of the space(s?) and may be running The Latitude under another name and format. So if you want to avoid potential spoilers for this new endeavor, stop reading now.

For my part I was invited to The Latitude by a local artist — my “ascendant” in Latitude lingo — and I only experienced the final two and a half months of what was a multi-year endeavor. There were parts that I won’t cover because I never directly experienced them; some of this is documented in the official epilogue.

So, what exactly was The Latitude? Let’s start at the beginning of the experience.

 

The Invitation

A friend asks if you can keep a secret. You answer in the affirmative. They hand you a small black envelope with the words “Absolute Discretion” embossed in it. Inside is an all white credit card, the numbers printed on the front all zeros. On the back is a secret password just for you, along with instructions to visit thelatitude.com and enter your secret code.

Upon entering the website, you’re asked to schedule a visit to a certain Mission District address. You’re told that you only have a five minute window to enter after your scheduled time, and that your goal is to retrieve “the signal.”

 

Your Appointment

Eventually it’s time for your appointment. At that address is a door next to a small card swipe entry system. The card reader has The Latitude’s hexagonal logo printed on it so you know you’ve come to the right place. You swipe your card and push the door open.

Behind the door is a black curtain. After pulling back the black curtain, you’re greeted by this:

There’s a pleasant smell in the air. The two red lights on the walls are fading in and out, timed to a sound effect making a somewhat ominous “VOOM… VOOM…” sound effect.

Most curious is what’s inside the mantle in front of you. Where you might expect to find a fireplace is the entrance to wooden slide. It curves in the middle so you can’t see where it’s heading.

This is the entry to the “Flux Chamber.” Seeing no sense in turning back now, you decide to take the plunge and go down the slide.

 

Reality?

Let me stop for a moment and interject. Yes, everything I’m telling you really happened. In real life. It was part of a now-defunct project by a situational design studio called Nonchalance. If that name rings a bell it’s because it’s the same studio that was behind The Jejune Institute, which was also known as “Games of Nonchalance.”

At the end of The Institute, a pseudo-documentary film about The Jejune Institute, The Latitude’s URL and logo appear briefly on the screen.

I was one of the 250 or so attendees at the Socio-Rengineering Seminar in 2011, an event that officially marked the end of The Jejune Institute. After the seminar someone asked Nonchalance’s Jeff Hull the obvious question: what’s next? I don’t remember his exact words, but he sort of hesitated before answering that he was working on an “automated house.”

Back to that slide.

 

Down The Rabbit Hole

The slide curves down and around slowly taking you to a small basement room. On the right is a ticket window with frosted glass with a mannequin behind it. On the left there’s three doors, each with a small tablet computer next to it. And directly in front of you is another tablet, making a pinging sound and flashing a red oval.

Next to the tablet is a ticket sticking out of a slot. You take the claim ticket, which tells you to open the cabinet next to you. Inside the cabinet is a set of instructions: take your purse, backpack, and everything in your pockets and place them in the box inside the cabinet. A strange request (what is this, the TSA?) but as you’ll see next it’s for your own safety.

Now one of the tablets next to the three doors starts pinging and flashing. Sure enough, the door is unlocked. You open it and walk in, only to find (what else?) another curtain. So you close the door, walk behind the curtain and discover infinite blackness.

It’s completely dark.

 

You start patting the walls, feeling your way around. Everything is covered in a thick layer of carpet. As you move around through the darkness, the passageway gets smaller and smaller. You hear faint music playing. The tunnel becomes so small that you’re crawling around on your hands and knees, having flashbacks to your elementary school trip to the Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium.

Eventually you see a light at the end of the tunnel, obscured by another black curtain. Upon crawling inside this new space is a library of sorts, a small room where the walls are lined with books.

You sit down on the single cushion in the middle of the room and face a small podium. On the podium is a large book. You open it, flip through a couple of pages, and suddenly the book starts “reading itself” to you.

A hidden projector above displays an animation on the book and a woman’s voice reads you a story called “The Fable”. The story concerns a city that decided to fence itself off from the outside world, and a group of twelve citizens who made a tunnel through the wall for themselves.

After the fable you crawl out another opening opposite from where you came in. Now you’re in a lounge area with black leather sofas. Across from the sofas is a bar with several glasses along with a pitcher of water. You might chose to help yourself to a sip of water. But before doing so, you look at your ticket which instructs you to make a phone call.

The lounge — you’ll later come to find it’s known as the Rathskeller Lounge — has what looks like a typical 1980′s office phone but it only has one button where the keypad should be. You pick up the handset and push the button. A voice tells you what to do next. So you walk over to the cubbies next to the bar and open the one corresponding to the number on your claim ticket. Inside your belongings are there as promised. You take them and walk upstairs and exit the building.

There’s a small metal plaque embedded in the sidewalk just outside the front gate. It has four numbers on it. They’re the last four digits of a phone number written on the back of the claim ticket. You call the number and get instructions on where to go next, which is a couple blocks away. Once you’re there you find another hexagonal plaque in the sidewalk. You call the number from earlier with a new code and another recording tells you where to go once again.

Depending on the time of day you’ll either be sent to one of two bars, The Sycamore or Gestalt. Either way you give your claim ticket to the bartender who then hands you a special coin. You’ll later come to find that this coin is pronounced “kwan.” A text message tells you to head to another address in The Mission.

After walking a couple blocks you find the address, enter the door code (provided by another text message) and walk up a flight of stairs to find a second key card entry sporting The Latitude’s logo.

 

Den Arcadia

You swipe your card and walk into a small room with trippy lighting and beautiful murals on the walls. In the middle of the room there’s four old school arcade games. This room is known as “Den Arcadia.” One of the arcade machines — Atari’s Tempest — has an unusual looking coin slot which accepts your special coin.

You put in the coin and start playing the game. The game of Tempest plays normally at first, but after a moment the game glitches out and a mysterious blue face appears.

This figure is named Quas (also spelled Kwas or many other variations) a human mouth with rabbit-like ears, who speaks in a gruff robotic voice. He offers some vaguely scolding words before telling you the signal, then warns you to leave and go home to your “glowing boxes” to enter the code.

 

Glowing Boxes

Once you’re home at your computer you visit the website, enter the code (and have to wait 90 minutes for some reason) before you’re presented with a video from Professor Walter Kinley. In the video Kinley welcomes you as a “compeer” into The Latitude Society. Then in a montage he leaves his room at the Hyatt Regency, gets on a boat, and sails away.

From there you’re asked to come up with a moniker (or username) for yourself before entering a social network of sorts. The website had a dizzying array of options, including an online forum, a store where you could purchase merchandise, a calendar with meetings you could attend, and various small activities called “Jaunts.”

More photos and the video mentioned above can bee seen on the now publicly available Book One recap page.
 

Stay tuned for next time, where I’ll discuss “Book Two” of The Latitude.

Black rectangle to be removed from Moscone West

September 26th, 2014

"Facsimile" at Moscone West

Since it opening day Moscone West at 4th and Howard has been adorned by a large black rectangle on the side of the building. Careful observers might notice that this rectangle is attached to a somewhat rusty track that goes around the entire building. Soon, this rectangle will be removed.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

When the building was first proposed in the early 2000s art firm Diller and Scofidio (now Diller Scofidio + Renfro) was hired to develop a public art element. And design they did. Their piece is called Facsimile. It was intended to show images of inside the conference center intermixed with playful videos of life in the surrounding hotels, while the screen moved back and forth across the track. While it’s certainly an interesting design, that design never quite translated to the real world.

Despite spending hours scouring the internet for evidence of the piece working as intended, I was only able to find conceptual renderings of what the piece was intended to look like. In practice, on the rare occasions it was switched on the screen didn’t move and only displayed occasional flashes of light.

SF Arts Commission voted to remove Facsimile on September 8th partly due to ongoing maintenance costs associated with preserving the non-functioning art. But if the Bay Area can’t get a piece of technology to work, it’s probably broken beyond repair.

 
UPDATE: Walked by Moscone West the other day, and it appears they finally got around to removing the black rectangle.

Newspaper box recieves rad makeover

August 29th, 2014

image

The above photo is a newspaper box at the 16th Mission BART plaza, which recently received a makeover. Who needs a boring black box when it can have a painting of what appears to be a girl on Mars pulling constellations out of the sky? More newspaper boxes should be this rad.

(Note: If you know who painted this, please do get in touch so I can update with proper credit.)

Perplexing wood box installed on utility pole

April 1st, 2014

Wood box thing

Sometimes in life there’s questions that don’t seem to have concrete answers, like who shot JFK or the career of Shia LaBeouf. Today another such question popped into existence in the form of a perplexing wood box installed on a utility pole at 16th and Guerrero. It’s the kind of thing one wouldn’t notice easily, like a slightly misplaced item you only catch out of the corner of your eye.

Some of the questions I’ve been able to come up with:

  • Who made this?
  • Why?
  • Is it art?
  • Why wood?
  • What does the pattern mean?
  • Why on this pole, of all places?
  • WTF?

If any answers are provided I’ll post updates. Until then, I’ll be scratching my head.

YOU ROCK

January 17th, 2013

YOU ROCK

“YOU ROCK” proclaims a cardboard sign at 15th and Minna.

But that’s not any old piece of cardboard, no sir. It’s an album cover from a record; the soundtrack to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrenece, composed and performed by Yellow Magic Orchestra keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto.

I mean, like, duh.

The URL on the bottom of the sign takes you to LoveYou2.org, a blog about a project to spread positive messages to the world in an endless variety of mediums and formats.

The piece I found is part of a series documented in this blog post. Looks like there’s a few others around the neighborhood I have yet to locate.

If I find any more of this series I’ll update this post with locations.

UPDATE Jan 17: This one featuring The Best of Édith Piaf is on Capp and 16th on the fence outside the Walgreens parking lot.
YOU ROCK #2

Trapped in a Box ($50)

May 10th, 2012

Trapped in a box

Is it an art installation? A light switch box? Or perhaps it’s a satirical jab at Marcel Duchamp?

Regardless, that seems a bit pricey for a light switch. Particularly a used one.

Spotted at Pauline’s Pizza.

My paper airplane

May 2nd, 2012

Paper airplane

If you attended Obscura Day 2012 in San Francisco, you may have seen my paper airplane. What was it doing there?

It’s a long story, but here’s the short version.

The Elsewhere Philatelic Society (a bunch of odd stamp collectors, it’s a long story) at some point asked everyone to send “talismans.” These objects had to be sent through the mail bare — without box packaging of any kind.

I immediately recalled a book I read as a child: Kid’s Shenanigans from Klutz Books. In the book, they mention that you can send any object through the mail as long as it wouldn’t come apart or endanger anyone. They cite a shoe (sans shoelaces) as something that could be safely mailed.

Around that same time, Origami had become a fad, and by extension paper airplanes. I’d gotten pretty good at folding paper, and after reading the Klutz book I’d started to wonder what would happen if I sent a paper airplane through the mail.

To me it seemed like the basic paper airplane was the best shape for mailing purposes. You could tape it in only one spot and it could not come unfolded. Unfastened folded paper, I posited, had the risk of unfolding during the mailing process and stood the risk of damage or being delivered back to the return address.

For a while, I wondered what would happen if I mailed a paper airplane to a friend. But everyone I knew as a kid had the same dude as their postal carrier. I worried that if I sent a paper airplane, the cool gray haired guy who delivered our mail would just carry my paper airplane directly, skipping USPS. I felt like that was cheating, and I still feel like I was justified. A system is more than the sum of it’s parts and I aimed to test the policies of USPS as a whole rather than the generosity of a single employee.

After a while I forgot about the experiment. Other things came up in my life, like girls, college, etc. But then one day it all came back to me: I had to send a talisman to the Elsewhere Philatelic Society. From their ad, it seemed like they’d notify me in some way if I sent something in. Exactly what I’d wanted! So, why not? I made a paper airplane and sent it on its way.

For a while it seemed like nothing had happened. I worried my poor little airplane had gotten destroyed by USPS’ industrial equipment somewhere along the way.

Then, out of the blue, it happened. My paper airplane appeared on this Flickr page, relatively unscathed by USPS. Thus proving my childhood hypothesis: one can send paper airplanes through the mail!

That was a couple of years ago. Now at the little “exhibit” on Potrero Hill the other day, my airplane seems surprisingly still intact despite both USPS and the Elsewhere Philatelic Society’s storage over the past couple years. Victory!

While it’s by far the least cool talisman in their collection, that little paper airplane is important to me as it satisfies a long-held curiosity with USPS and folded paper objects.

When artists cater

April 29th, 2012

When artists cater

Text reads:

CHEESE CUBES
Unspecified number of cows (2011; casein)
This dynamic piece helps us recontextualize the disparity between the troubling mouth/non-mouth dichotomy in an ersatz form readily apparent to the non-casual observer (not shown).

Spotted at Obscura Day SF 2012.

Cyclecide’s Heavy Pedal Crank Art Exhibition

April 3rd, 2012

Bike drum Bike art Smoking bike baby Beer cans. Face punching bike Dragon bike Golden Gate Bridge bike Golden Gate Bridge bike

Nothing says “look what I made for Burning Man” quite like a mutant bicycle. The Heavy Pedal Crank Art Exhibition last weekend was a tribute to such vehicles.

Above are the crappy iPhone photos I took during my visit; click any image for the full-size.