• Works on Paper and Piano

Digital Panopticon

Arestor looked down at his newly born son with wonder and fatherly pride, for his newborn son was beyond the size of any human baby imaginable. Arestor wiped all the tears from his son’s crying eyes, all one hundred of them, and decreed to all, from here forth; my son will be called Argus Panoptes. Hear me now; he shall be the greatest watchman of all Argos and for all ages.

Panoptes comes from Greek mythology and translates to “all-seeing.” Argus Panoptes was born with not two eyes but a hundred eyes. Panoptes was a great watchman and observer of all things, as in that some of his eyes would close to sleep while the other eyes would always remain open, awake, watching, observing, and always seeing. He was the watchful brother of his sister, the nymph Io, and the servant of Hera, the wife of Zeus. In the end, he is a victim of Hermes’s deadly trickery. To commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had a hundred eyes of Argus Panoptes preserved forever in a peacock’s tail.

The English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham, in the late 18th century, conceived of an architectural design, Panopticon. The name of the architectural design is about Panoptes of Greek mythology. The design allows a single watchman to observe occupants of an institution without the occupants telling whether or not they are being watched. Although it is impossible for a single watchman to observe all the occupants at once, it did establish influential social behaviorism that all the occupants acted as they were being watched at all times. In essence, the occupants constantly controlled their behavior within the environment.

The symmetrical notion of the observer and the observed has long been an idea of antiquity but more ever so relevant in the digital age and modern life. Almost every human interaction with digital technology requires some level of authentication of either one’s surrogate identity or demographic identity. Whether billing accounts, social media, credit cards, or mobile devices, we live in a constant ebb and flow of “to authenticate” or “to be authorized.” Welcome to the Digital Panopticon, my friends; leave your libertarian credentials behind, your manila folders of John Q. PUBLIC and Jane Q. PUBLIC is now a binary data set.

The benefits and convenience of the Digital Panopticon are indeed addicting and necessary to participate in the modern digital world. Still, there is a price to be paid, which is the currency of your privacy. Never mind being worried about being physically chipped, a soft chip will do, and it is mostly under control with watchful eyes. Your surrogate information is tracked, and in some cases, your demographic identity will be stored in secured databases.

So, it should come as no surprise that mass-media analytics are the most successful purveyor of demographics and market data, first with the advent of newspapers, radio, television, the internet, and now the digital age. The old economy was ZIP code demographic analytics, but today it includes Nielsen digital-on-line analytics in defining who you are in demographic terms, real-time, GPS, and worldwide.

Perhaps the most intrusive but legitimate Panoptes of mass-privacy are Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the makers of smart devices. Every aspect of these Panoptes seek, observe, and measure who you are by your habitual online disposition. Although big social media are legitimate, they are prone to manipulation by third parties with nefarious intentions. Would you mind reading their privacy and data policies? Then, of course, there is the other kind of Panoptes to beware of, in that their nature can be illegitimate, cowardly, political, and socially nefarious. With a criminal disposition targeted towards disrupting the privacy and integrity of individuals’ ability to authenticate their true identity within the bureaucratic state, enterprises, and institutions, in other words, hacked.

Sometimes illegitimate and nefarious entities use hundreds of eyes or bots to see and crawl throughout the Web sphere to target their disruptive end to privacy and individual freedoms. Such is the hidden and veiled darkness of the worldwide web. Along with the cover of darkness, Tor ‘onion router’ networks are sometimes used by sophisticated intelligence, state, political, organized crime, and hackers to avoid electronic traffic fingerprinting and the transparency of their electronic identity.

It is also necessary for segments of the global populations living under repressive regimes to use Tor networks to conceal their web privacy from electronic surveillance, exposing internet content deemed social or politically subversive and hiding the locations of the hosts and nodes. Nonetheless, what is most important to all Panoptes of the world in the future to come.

Population Shifts:  
The world population by 2027 will reach eight billion. Currently, 54% of the world’s growth occurs mainly in urban areas. 66% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. By 2050, the urban population in the developing world will top five billion, with one billion of that will come from Africa, rising from 13% to 20% of the world’s population.

Digital Life:
Nearly three billion people are currently online, 40% of the world’s population. 80% of Twitter and Facebook activity is happening outside of the U.S. More than 1.35 billion people log into Facebook each month. Five hundred million tweets are sent per day. 71% of global consumers own a Smart Phone. 85% of U.S consumers use a mobile device while watching TV. The world’s largest mobile payment company processes over 45 million transactions daily.

Social Mobility:
By 2030, two billion people will join the middle class. In Africa and the Middle East, the middle class is projected to double, and in Asia rise to three billion. Women in the United States will control $28 trillion in annual consumer spending in the next four years.

The next phase of digital life will result in intuitive, creative, and carnivorous data processes, which are part of the fabric of change, as adaptation becomes the ways and means of both natural and disruptive selections. In a nutshell, digital life or the Digital Panopticon will be the catalyst for future social, political, and economic changes to come.

Essentially, the future of physical and digital communities will be more urbanized, more digitally connected, and synchronous, with segments of the population growth gaining middle-class affluence. But see through the digital midway distractions, the growing technological loss of our privacy is like the troublesome bite of the gadfly that we must not ignore.


All Rights Reserved, Digital Panopticon © Richard A. Peña 2015

Statistical Sources: Nielsen, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Twitter, UN and Facebook

The Rite of Spring 1913

The Adoration of the Earth:
Augurs of Spring
Ritual of Abduction
Spring Rounds
Ritual of the Rival Tribes
Procession of the Sage
Dance of the Earth

The Sacrifice:
Mystic Circles of the Young Girls
The glorification of the Chosen One
An evocation of the Ancestors
Ritual Action of the Ancestors
Sacrificial Dance

It was a cool Parisian evening walk down the Avenue Montaigne to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which only a Russian like Diaghilev could appreciate.  In 1913, the Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes Company gave birth to truly the modern.  It was a night that the world changed and never turned back.  The Rite of Spring not only changed the classical worlds of dance and music, but it was more than that.  It calls out the source of our anthropologic primitive heritage, our notions of why humans dance, along with the inner pulse of our basic communal instincts and rituals. Stravinsky and Nijinsky channeled the primitive impulses, then translated the code into new time and space signatures for the inhabitants of the modern world.

The conceptualization of the Rite of Spring was a journey that began in 1908 with Stravinsky setting to music two poems from Sergey Gorodetsky’s collection “Yar.”  Another poem by the name of “Yarila” in the anthology may have also influenced Stravinsky’s imagination.  Many of the elements in Yarila were similar to the Rite of Spring.  In his 1936 autobiography, Stravinsky described the origin of the work in 1910, “I had a fleeting vision that came to me as a complete surprise.  I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite with sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of Spring.  Such was the theme of the Sacre du Printemps“.  When Stravinsky collaborated with Nicholas Roerich, the foremost Russian expert on folk art and ancient rituals, the ideas for Rite of Spring started to solidify.  Roerich was known as an artist and mystic and provided the set and costume design for the Rite of Spring.

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Russia to ethnically Polish parents; both were dancers.  In 1900, Nijinsky joined the Imperial Ballet School, where he excelled and was recognized early on for his dancing abilities.  When Nijinsky joined the Ballets Russes, it proved to be a turning point in his career.  The Ballets Russes allowed him to use all of his creative ability as a dancer and his impact as a choreographer.  His ballets of notable accomplishments were L’après-midi d’un Faune (The Afternoon of a Faun), based on Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune (1912), Jeux (1913), Till Eulenspiegel (1916), and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky) (1913).

Igor Stravinsky was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was also of Polish lineage. His father was Fyodor Stravinsky, a bass singer at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.  Stravinsky studied piano and music theory as a young boy but was not considered an exceptional talent.  It was until he met and studied with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov later in life as an adult that his talent was developed.   Stravinsky continued lessons with Rimsky-Korsakov until 1908, the year of Rimsky-Korsakov’s death.  In 1909, Stravinsky received his first notable commission.  It was at this time Diaghilev was sufficiently impressed by Stravinsky’s work on Fireworks, which prompted Diaghilev to commission Stravinsky to perform some orchestrations that led to composing a full-length ballet score, The Firebird (1910), then followed by Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913).  These three ballet scores are perhaps Stravinsky’s most notable symphonic works.

Since that fateful evening of May 29th, 1913, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has now taken its place as a standard symphonic masterpiece that has never been rivaled.  As for Nijinsky, he leaves us with a legacy of a haunting and brilliant passage of the poetics of form and space in the art form we call dance. One can only imagine Nijinsky’s creative courage and grit to move forward with his vision to choreograph Stravinsky’s time signatures where there were no historical references, counts, or forms in ballet. The choreography Nijinsky developed in the Rite of Spring became the foundation of modern dance and gave birth to choreographers such as the likes of Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, and Crystal Pite.

Over a hundred and two years later, Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, Marie Rambert, and Nicholas Roerich are still triumphal in telling the story about our ancient pagan ancestors and their driven instinctive nature for social rituals. Solidifying the reflexive human belief is that nature’s terrible destructive and creative forces must renew themselves to create the fabric of change, beauty, and adaptation to life itself.  We cannot entirely escape or comprehend our demise’s exact timing in events such as death. Yet, at least scientifically and anthropologically, we know about our past and mortality in that human genetic markers can trace our existence and traits back thousands of years to haplogroups made up of ancient clans or tribes that gave birth to our ritual heritage. Such an indelible mark is the Rite of Spring.

All Rights Reserved, The Rite of Spring 1913 © Richard Anthony Peña 2015  (except embedded YouTube Video of Millicent Hodson 1987 reconstruction)

Elements of Innovation

In the thirteenth year of the twentieth century, technological innovations were like flower buds ready to blossom.  The Ford Motor Company introduced the first large-scale moving assembly line, the first successful recipe to make stainless steel came about in 1913, but there was another discovery that was so small, it could not be observed by the human eye but would indeed change our perception to come.  Danish physicist Niels Bohr introduced the Bohr model of atomic structures in 1913.  The science of atomic structures opened up the notion to the imagination that smaller, not bigger, was the gateway to industrial and commercial innovations; the perception that complete and efficient systems could involve on a much smaller scale or with a much leaner footprint.

Long before there were smaller digital devices like today’s digital cameras or mobile phones, there was the introduction of the Leica camera proto-types in 1913 by Oskar Barnack of Leitz.   Although Leica production models did not come to the market until 1924, nonetheless, the Leica camera introduction was an innovation that exemplified forward thinking about scale in such a way it that drove change in the commercialization of personal devices, like a smaller camera.

What are the elements of innovation?  One way to think about innovation is as an outcome of divergent thinking, the same sensibilities found in the creative processes in the visual arts, theater, dance, music, architecture, and literature.  Observational insights in life and the arts can be symbiotic with innovation; the distillation of scale, form, speed, and the complexity of random outcomes.

Take Oskar Barnack’s 1913 camera concept for example, and rethink innovation for the twenty-first century.  Such a camera innovation would have both macro and telescopic optical capabilities, with separate CCD layers of luminance, red, green and blue, gain amplifier with excellent noise to signal reduction, enhanced encoder, with an overall physical footprint 10X smaller in scale, refined as a wearable unit.  The remote control, viewfinder, and microphone in a separate and second unified wearable unit, which voice activated command execute shooting mode algorithms, output commands.  Integrate language translation capabilities coupled with GPS mappings.  Deliver all captured images and voice data to a removable medium or a secured cloud-based storage or satellite feed at will.  Rendering post-production software allows various output templates such as 2D, 3D, 3D-Printer, time, motion, language translations, and discrete secured metadata.

What was once a static twentieth-century camera apparatus now becomes a dynamic and fully integrated global networked remote device, allowing cross-cultural communication for business, commerce, education, and information gathering in the twenty-first century.  All based on the innovation of scale, form, and velocity of operation, with random outcomes to determine value, predictability, adaptation, and of course, the next steps.

#Elements of Innovation

All Rights Reserved, Elements of Innovation © Richard Anthony Peña 2014

Flora Nocturne – Still Lifes

Flora Nocturne is an analysis that compares and contrasts two visual constructs; Objective Poetic Transformation and Abstraction.  Objective poetic transformation is not a new idea and derives from photographic statements and criticism from the twentieth century.  Practitioners from Alfred Stieglitz to Edward Weston to Minor White were pursuant to purity, objective observations and gateways.  The visual construct of abstractions came from painting and influenced not only photography but the art world as a whole in the twentieth century.  The theme of this collection explores the tension between representation and abstraction, real and unreal, reality and imagination, leaving the viewers to question, reconcile, and manifest.

Flora Nocturne
Flora Nocturne
By RA Peña
Photo book

Who is enjoying the shadow of whom…

In the year 1889, Oscar Wilde looked out the window of his London flat, as the fog rolled in, pondered about the great discourse of human observations, the iconic values of civilizations, beauty, and truth. Wilde decided to take on the Aristotelian constructs, and challenging the status quo thinking about aesthetics and art, by firing a shot across the bows, warning all, that the rules are about to change with the assertion, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life” in his essay, The Decay of Lying.  What was unforeseen in the late eighteen hundreds, and about to unfold in the future were technological changes that would control how the subject matter will be imitated, rendered, and trend as social norms.

By 1889, photography was still in its infancy, although, the principles of optics were known as far back as to the fifth century, the camera obscura derived as an imaging appliance before 1839, the year photography announced to the world.  Photography as a technically advanced imaging process for the age was not recognized as an art form in the late eighteen hundreds and nor it would not be accepted as an art form until the twentieth century.  Nevertheless, the prospects of imaging technology were going to change not only human societies but to enable new industries to control the perception of reality on a mass wholesale level unparalleled to any other age.

The power and propagation of images have never been more prevalent, we are now experiencing the pixelization of the world, whether it’s Google maps or image capture via the mobile camera of information worthy events.  The rapid transformation of picture information now allows our perceptions of the world to be rendered, imitated, and manipulated as a historical record, brand or propaganda, all in real time. Most accept the notion that our contemporaneous lives evolve on some level of sophistication and artfulness, but as the lines between reality, and personal expression blend and smudge as soft delineations, sometimes with authenticity, sometimes with a sense of truth, and sometimes sublime, but often with a lie.

All Rights Reserved, Who is enjoying the shadow of whom… © Richard Anthony Peña 2013

Works on Paper: Disasters of War – Syria, Iraq, and Levant

Now in the twentieth-first century, the complex threads of Arab Nationalists, Socialists, Islamists, and their supporting allies have weaved a bloody tapestry in the Syrian civil war, where realities of death, torture, rape, cruelty, and inhumanity are beyond the Abrahamic code and human comprehension. The series of Five Variations on the Disasters of War is inspired by Franciso Jose de Goya y Lucientes. The series are a non-representational depiction of war; the abstractions make use of visual language such as the thickness of lines, shapes, color intensity to capture the spirit of the violence, and concepts central to the Syrian civil war, as the brutality of the past is no stranger to the future. The images are a combination of mixed-media of graphite, chalk, pastels, and appropriated cut-outs, on unexposed photographic paper.  The 20×24 originals destroyed by fire, however, the 35mm slides were digitized with the alteration of the image curve applied. Five Variations of the Disaster of War are printed with high-quality archival inks and presented on Hahnemuhle William Turner 310 GSM – Textured 100% Cotton substrate.

Variations on the Disasters of War: All Rights Reserved © 2019, Richard Anthony Peña

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