A brief history of almost everything in five minutes

5 minutes

Mercury in transit

1 minute

Romanticism: poetry and philosophy

20 minutes

Forms (process)

2 minutes

Men

17 minutes

What do the terms ‘life’, ‘love’, ‘art’ and ‘god’ look like to an algorithm?

An unusually inventive instance of digital art, A Brief History of Almost Everything in Five Minutes is a sped-up excerpt from the hour-long multichannel video installation Deep Meditations. The London-based, Turkish-born visual artist Memo Akten created the piece by entering broad and abstract search terms such as ‘everything’, ‘life’, ‘love’, ‘art’, ‘god’ and ‘nature’ into the popular photo-sharing website Flickr. He then filtered the dataset through a deep-neural network, which used the inputs to summon what it understood to be visual expressions of these subjective human concepts, resulting in otherworldly and uncanny evolving images. The visuals were then paired with audio generated by another algorithm that absorbed the sounds of spiritual rituals from across the world. According to Akten, the piece ‘is intended for both introspection and self-reflection, as a mirror to ourselves, our own mind and how we make sense of what we see; and also as a window into the mind of the machine, as it tries to make sense of its observations and memories’. For more digital wizardry from Akten, watch Gloomy Sunday.

Video by Memo Akten

Watch the rare, awesome spectacle as Mercury passes between the Earth and Sun

Although Mercury orbits the Sun once every 88 Earth days, the three bodies align only about 13 times a century due to the planets’ relative orbital planes. One such ‘Mercury transit’ occurred on 11 November 2019. This short video highlights the rare event as recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in a variety of ultraviolet light wavelengths. The resulting celestial spectacle demonstrates the vast size differences between the Sun and its nearest-orbiting planet to awesome effect. For NASA, however, the observation is more than just public outreach eye candy: scientists use these events to help understand the gravitational interactions of planets and stars in hopes of discovering planets outside our solar system.

Video by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Producer: Genna Duberstein

What can the Romantics teach us about confronting modern problems?

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
From ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ (1798) by William Wordsworth

The Romantic thinkers, poets, composers and artists valued emotion over reason. Reacting to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationalism, they embraced Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dim view of modernity, expressed in The Social Contract (1762), that ‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ This analysis from the UK video essayist Lewis Waller uses three poems to trace Romanticism across three key movements – the writings of Francophone thinkers including Rousseau, the work of English poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and the ideas of German philosophers, including F W J von Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel. In examining this artistic and intellectual history, Walker draws out several ways in which Romanticism offers a valuable humanistic perspective on urgent contemporary questions, including the climate crisis and poverty. Read more on the need for a new Romanticism in the face of scientism here.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

Behold the invisible swoosh and swirl of athletic movement in digital art

Forms is a collaboration between the London-based visual artists Memo Akten and Davide Quayolas, and it generates dynamic digital art from the bodies of world-class athletes at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Inspired by modernist and early photographic interrogations of bodies in motion, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 (1912), the project, in Akten’s words, plays with ‘abstract forms, visualising unseen relationships – power, balance, grace and conflict – between the body and its surroundings’. Forms (Process) demonstrates the relationship between the source video imagery and the project’s resulting animations. Watch an excerpt from the final version of Forms here, and learn more about the inspiration behind the piece in this Twitter thread from Akten.

Video by Memo Akten, Quayola

As a debauched weekend comes to its end, a strange grace settles over these young men

A group of young men head out to the woods. They dance around a fire. They ingest mind-altering substances. They shoot sparks into the night sky. They commune with each other. With his documentary Men, the US filmmaker Dane Mainella drops us into the midst of a ritual that is as ancient as it is banal – 20something-year-old male friends having fun. Mainella traces the hours with a suitably dizzying approach, using loose vérité camerawork and abrupt, time-jumping edits to careen through the revelry – or periodically pause on moments of fumbling towards expressions of friendship. The result is an immersive and unvarnished invitation to a party that is both an awkward American show of immature masculinity as it is a timeless tradition of bonding between men.

Director: Dane Mainella

What do the terms ‘life’, ‘love’, ‘art’ and ‘god’ look like to an algorithm?

An unusually inventive instance of digital art, A Brief History of Almost Everything in Five Minutes is a sped-up excerpt from the hour-long multichannel video installation Deep Meditations. The London-based, Turkish-born visual artist Memo Akten created the piece by entering broad and abstract search terms such as ‘everything’, ‘life’, ‘love’, ‘art’, ‘god’ and ‘nature’ into the popular photo-sharing website Flickr. He then filtered the dataset through a deep-neural network, which used the inputs to summon what it understood to be visual expressions of these subjective human concepts, resulting in otherworldly and uncanny evolving images. The visuals were then paired with audio generated by another algorithm that absorbed the sounds of spiritual rituals from across the world. According to Akten, the piece ‘is intended for both introspection and self-reflection, as a mirror to ourselves, our own mind and how we make sense of what we see; and also as a window into the mind of the machine, as it tries to make sense of its observations and memories’. For more digital wizardry from Akten, watch Gloomy Sunday.

Video by Memo Akten

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