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Monday, September 29, 2014

Material Ecologist Neri Oxman to Give UVM Aiken Lecture

Posted By on Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 11:28 AM

Pneuma 1, by Neri Oxman | 3D printed models produced by Stratasys - YORAM RESHEF
  • Yoram Reshef
  • Pneuma 1, by Neri Oxman | 3D printed models produced by Stratasys
Neri Oxman’s creations look like they’ve emerged from a 1950s science-fiction film. Multicolored, alien crenellations bend into weird but oddly recognizable shapes; weird textures evoke deep-sea creatures or weird insects. They’re extremely difficult to figure out.

But that inscrutable nature is by design. Just as Oxman’s projects look both bizarre and familiar, she resists easy categorization herself. Part artist, part scientist and part designer, Oxman works in a field that’s she’s dubbed “material ecology,” the goal of which is to study how new techniques of design and fabrication can transform the creation of everyday objects and structures. As she put it on her blog, her overall project is to investigate the ways that design intersects with “architecture, enginerring, computation, and ecology.”

Many of Oxman’s most striking designs draw their inspiration from natural materials: internal organs, insect carapaces, seashells. Oxman, a professor at MIT, is at the cutting edge of the 3-D printing revolution, and has used the technology to design and build everything from bike helmets to high-fashion dresses to carpal-tunnel wristguards.

Neri Oxman will visit the University of Vermont this Thursday to deliver the George D. Aiken Lecture, “Material Ecology: A New Approach to Nature-Inspired Design and Engineering.” By email, she answered some questions for Seven Days in advance of her talk.

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In a New Film, Freeskiers Work It '5 to 9'

Posted By on Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 8:35 AM

You probably shouldn't try this kind of thing. - COURTESY HG SKIS / CHARLES STEMEN
  • Courtesy HG Skis / Charles Stemen
  • You probably shouldn't try this kind of thing.

UPDATE (October 7, 2014):
5 to 9 has just been made freely available online by its makers, and you can watch it in full below. That means that you can now vicariously experience some seriously hardcore winter-sports acrobatics. Gear up for winter without leaving the comfort of your own computer desk!

HG Skis Presents: 5 to 9 FULL MOVIE from HG Skis on Vimeo.

In high school, my friend Chris used to work in our town's skate shop. He worked the counter, selling "trucks" and wheels and other stuff that skateboarders understood. I never 'boarded but had several friends who did, and we all used to hang around at the store when Chris was working. On the wall behind the counter, the store owners had mounted a TV with a VCR and, when we weren't watching The Song Remains the Same or Pink Floyd: The Wall, we watched skate videos.

These were unencumbered by narratives, composed of shot after shot of incredible skateboard stunts (and plenty of wipeouts — the funnest parts). They were usually set to thrash music, which is how I got my taste for Suicidal Tendencies. As a budding film enthusiast, I was interested in these videos. Now I see that they're actually pretty close to avant-garde film in their rejection of story and emphasis on astonishing visuals. 

Screening this week for the first time in Vermont is the new film 5 to 9, directed by Charles Stemen and Sam Rogers. Produced by the Burlington-based freestyle ski company HG Skis, the film isn't exactly avant-garde. But viewing it brought me back to the days of watching all those VHS tapes of skateboarders riding and crashing spectacularly.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

What I'm Watching: RoboCop

Posted By on Sat, Sep 27, 2014 at 8:43 AM

  • MGM Pictures
One of the reasons I return again and again to Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi satire RoboCop is that the film masterfully balances bleak satire, ultraviolence and goofball humor — three flavors that, if mixed by less talented hands, might not have combined quite so well. I've seen this movie (the 1987 original; I have little truck with its sequels, and have not seen the 2014 remake) many times, but that's never stopped me from revisiting it, which I did last week.

RoboCop just looks more and more prescient every year: Its bitter commentary on the militarization of urban police forces couldn't help but evoke recent events in Ferguson, Mo. Good satire endures, and RoboCop, to my eyes, remains entirely fresh. I didn't understand in 1987, and don't understand now, how some viewers can fail to take note of the film's social satire, but evidently this misapprehension persists. It's not hard to track down reviewers who take high-and-mighty moral stances about the film's famously over-the-top violence, and therefore condemn the film as a whole. Context, people. Context.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: The Rover

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 1:26 PM

click image "No more 'Twilight' sequels, do you hear me? NO MORE." - A24
  • A24
  • "No more 'Twilight' sequels, do you hear me? NO MORE."
This week in movies you missed: Robert Pattinson sports bad teeth and a bizarre Southern accent in a bleak futuristic Western from director David Michôd (Animal Kingdom).

What You Missed
A title card tells us 10 years have passed since the global "collapse." In the sparsely populated Australian outback, Eric (Guy Pearce) is minding his own business when three punks fleeing a robbery happen along, crash their car and steal his.

That was a mistake. Because Eric will do whatever it takes to reclaim his unprepossessing vehicle, and he has no qualms about killing those who stand in his way.

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Hello, Ello: Seven Things to Know About the Burlington-based 'Anti-Facebook'

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 12:24 PM

  • Screenshot courtesy
If you frequent Twitter or Facebook, chances are the catchy name of a new website — Ello — flitted across your screen recently. The social media website toggled from stealth mode to widespread sensation over the course of just a few days this week: For a time yesterday, the currently invite-only website shut down the ability for existing users to send out invitation codes. The explanation: "Ello has gone viral." 

But Ello has been brewing for months — in Vermont, of all places. The company is based in Burlington and funded by Vermont venture capital. 

If you're still scratching your head about what the hell-o is Ello, don't worry; we've got you covered. 

1. This is social media with a manifesto.

The site's motto is "Beautiful, Simple and Ad-Free" — and Ello, at first glance, delivers on the promise. The site is clean and spare, with plenty of white space — think a sort of Facebook/Tumblr hybrid, redesigned by (and populated with, if the user profile photos are any hint) hipsters. You can post messages, add photos, reply "@" ("at") your fellow-Ello-ers and invite friends to join — fueling the site's exponential growth. 

Ello promises to do more than look good. The site's manifesto declares, "Your social network" — read: Facebook — "is owned by advertisers ... You are the product that's bought and sold." Ello sets itself up as the alternative: 

We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.

We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.
Given the site's explosion in popularity and hype in recent days, the message is striking a deep chord. 

2. Yes, you heard right: Ello is based in Vermont.

Cofounder Paul Budnitz, who teamed up with Colorado-based design firm Berger & Föhr and hacker collective Mode Set, lives in Shelburne, and splits his time between New York and the Green Mountain State. Budnitz is one of seven cofounders, who collectively own a majority share in the company. According to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Ello shares the same address — 47 Maple Street, the home of the Karma Bird House and a number of start-up companies — as Budnitz's high-end bicycle company, Budnitz Bicycles. 

3. Cofounder Budnitz is a serial entrepreneur — and a successful one at that.

As Sarah Tuff wrote last year for Seven Days, Budnitz is no stranger to good design. Before Budnitz Bicycles (the self-proclaimed maker of the "lightest, fastest, and most elegant city bikes in the world"), he started KidRobot, a creator of art toys, fashion apparel and accessories. Several of KidRobot's creations are in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

4. Vermont venture capital funding played a big part in launching the site. And that's provoking some consternation in the peanut gallery.

Shelburne-based FreshTracks Capital invested $435,000 in seed funding in Ello in January. When that news broke yesterday in a post on the new website itself, critics immediately alleged Ello had made a pact with the devil. How could the site, they wondered, maintain its ad-free promises with a venture capital firm looking for a return on its investment?

According to a story at, a site devoted to news about emerging technologies, FreshTracks partner Cairn Cross met Budnitz about a year ago in Vermont. "Budnitz pitched FreshTracks on his ad-free social network concept, monetized with a freemium plan where users would pay for added features, and Cross was intrigued," according to the tech site.

According to Gigaom, Cross wasn't concerned about allegations that big VC would push Ello to the dark side.

“We practice venture capital in a way that very few people practice it. We’re really small-town venture. We’re patient, we have long exit horizons, we’ve had some successes, we’ve been around for awhile,” Cross told the website.

FreshTracks partners declined to speak with Seven Days for this story, instead directing us to Budnitz himself, who was unavailable for an interview today. 

5. The site's timing is great.

Part of the buzz surrounding Ello has to do with the most recent backlash against Facebook, this one having to do with the so-called "real name" policy. Facebook insists that users set up profiles under their legal names — the one that appears on a passport or credit card. The site is cracking down on users who don't comply. It's riled members who use pseudonyms on the site for a variety of reasons; think drag performers, queer or trans individuals, musicians, roller derby competitors or professionals who want to keep their professional and private lives separate. 

Ello doesn't have the same requirement. 

6. In particular, the site is said to appeal to gay and lesbian users "fleeing" Facebook.

"Is Ello the Anti-Facebook ... We've All Been Waiting For?" asked the site in one headline. Over on the Daily Dot, a similar headline reads: "The Great Gay Facebook Exodus Begins." When Daily Dot writer Taylor Hatmaker asked Budnitz about the so-called exodus, Budnitz confirmed that Ello has seen an uptick in interest from LGBTQ users.

"Yes, we’ve been hearing about the Facebook drama too over the last few days," Budnitz said. "Ello welcomes the LGBTQ community and we’re very excited to see so many people moving over! "

After a group of Radical Faeries signed up a couple of days ago, Budnitz has been watching an uptick in queer users joining Ello—"which makes us very happy," he notes. "There does seem to be a bit of an avalanche since then."

7. That said, not everyone is convinced that Ello is a be-all, end-all solution to the perennial hand-wringing over Facebook. 

There are plenty of doubts already brewing about Ello — including the aforementioned uneasiness around the site's funding. The site's in beta mode, which means while Ello is promising more features as the site expands, there's still limited functionality right now. As Tech Crunch reported yesterday, the site lacks privacy controls, or the ability to block abusive users. 

And users and pundits alike say it's too soon to know if Ello can last. Ello isn't the first upstart to take on Facebook: "We’ve seen Facebook alternatives, like Diaspora, come and go. Or ones like Google+ come then fall flat," wrote Tech Crunch. "Ello might be onto something more organic. Diaspora was certainly too geeky and probably way too early. Perhaps it’s Ello’s time?"

Only time will tell. 

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Kate Gridley's Emerging Adults Portraits Inspire Events

Posted By on Fri, Sep 26, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Kate Gridley surrounded by her portraits - COURTESY OF THE JACKSON GALLERY
  • Courtesy of the Jackson Gallery
  • Kate Gridley surrounded by her portraits
"Passing Through,"  Kate Gridley's traveling exhibit of life-size portraits of "emerging" adults, recently returned home to Middlebury after a year of touring museums and galleries throughout New England. Now hanging in the Jackson Gallery in Town Hall Theater through October, the paintings and their accompanying audio components capture 17 young people in the fluid stage of life in between adolescence and adulthood. 

Today, September 26, a series of events inspired by Gridley's exhibit will be held throughout Middlebury. In the morning, 40 professionals who work with emerging adults in the mental health and education fields gather for "Shhh ... Just Listen." The workshop is led by Michelle Kaczynski, a 25-year-old clinician who specializes in that demographic in her work with the Counseling Service of Addison County. 

At 12:30 p.m., Jeffrey Jension Arnett, the Clark University researcher who first coined the term "emerging adult," gives a public lecture in Middlebury College's Dana Auditorium. Arnett's widely cited 2002 article was the first to posit that young people in industrialized societies spend their "late teens through their mid-twenties in self-focused exploration as they try out different possibilities in love and work."

Following Arnett's talk, from 2 to 5 p.m., Gridley leads free public tours of the gallery exhibit in the Jackson Gallery. At 5 p.m., she'll be joined by Middlebury College professor Dana Yeaton and his Playwriting I students, who give a reading of monologues developed using Gridley's portraits as a visual point of inspiration. 

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

BCA Grant Helps Plan BTV-South End Stay Arty

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 3:07 PM

The rhino at Conant Metal & Light - COURTESY OF NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy of Natalie Williams
  • The rhino at Conant Metal & Light
If you want to share civic-planning information with artists, designers, craftspeople and other creative-economy types, posting dense consultants’ reports or the minutes of snooze-worthy public meetings on a website just won’t cut it.

Sometimes, a more effective way to engage the public is through artsier media — sketches, paintings, sculptures, even plays and spoken-word performances.

At least, that’s the hope of planners in the City of Burlington’s Planning and Zoning Office, who’ve been afforded a rare opportunity to communicate with South End residents and business owners in unique and creative ways.

Recently, Burlington City Arts was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to encourage an “artist-led information engagement and visioning process” for the future of the South End. The goal of that effort, which is part of the city’s larger visioning process, Plan BTV, is to create a master plan for the city’s burgeoning arts district along Pine Street.

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Michael Jager Turns JDK 'Inside Out'

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 2:07 PM

  • Courtesy of Solidarity of Unbridled Labour
When Seven Days wrote about JDK's "redesign" last year, the Burlington design firm — a powerhouse that has helped shape the brands of Seventh Generation, Burton, Nike, Pepsi and more — stood at a crucial turning point. David Kemp — the "K" in JDK — had left the company. The 47 Maple Street headquarters housed just 30 employees, down from a high of 125. JDK faced the same questions beleaguering other large design firms across the country: Was it time to ditch their high overhead in favor of more flexibility?

Michael Jager, JDK's longtime creative director, wouldn't say much at the time about what was next for the company. "The plan is about focus, and intelligent focus," he told Seven Days in November. 

That plan came into focus publicly on September 1, when Jager unveiled JDK's new identity. The new firm — called Solidarity of Unbridled Labour — is tucked in the basement of the converted warehouse JDK long called home. But a peek inside the office this week revealed a shop radically different, in many ways, than the JDK of yore. 

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seven Questions for Mime Artist Rob Mermin

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 at 8:00 AM

Marcel Marceau and Rob Mermin in 1999 - COURTESY OF ROB MERMIN
  • Courtesy of Rob Mermin
  • Marcel Marceau and Rob Mermin in 1999
How do you talk about, much less demonstrate, silence? This Sunday, September 28, Vermont's most famous clown will do just that in "Adventures in Mime and Space With Rob Mermin: The Legacy of Marcel Marceau" at North End Studios. Presented by Theatre Kavanah, Temple Sinai and Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, the presentation is part of Kavanah's ongoing performances dedicated "to staging the Jewish experience."

What's mime got to do with being Jewish? Nothing, particularly. Except that legendary mime artist Marceau (1923-2007), a longtime mentor and friend to Mermin, was active in the French Resistance during World War II, helping to save Jewish children. For that, he was rightly respected as a humanitarian, as well as an unparalleled performance artist.

After growing up in Connecticut with two sisters and a brother, Mermin headed to Europe to study with circuses in England, Sweden and Denmark. In addition to training with mime masters Marceau and Etienne Decroux, he earned a degree in drama and literature from Lake Forest College, near Chicago, Ill. Mermin says he had been coming to Vermont since the early ’70s, and moved here around 1980. In 1987, he founded Circus Smirkus. One of the highlights of his career, Mermin says, is when Marceau came to Vermont to perform a benefit for, and actually talk out loud to, the Circus Smirkus crowd.

Seven Days chatted with Mermin by phone in advance of his presentation — and silent demo — this Sunday.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

What I'm Watching: Don't Look Now

Posted By on Mon, Sep 22, 2014 at 12:03 PM

The answers aren't up there. - PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures
  • The answers aren't up there.
My wife had never seen Nicolas Roeg's wonderful, unsettling 1973 film Don't Look Now, so we watched it recently — she for the first time, me for the 10th or so, though it had been several years since I'd last seen it. It impressed me as much as, or more than, it ever has. It's such a sinister, unpredictable, downright strange film, and it still manages to instill in me a sense of foreboding and mystery. Nothing will ever convince me of the existence of extrasensory phenomena like ESP and clairvoyance — the latter of which is a central theme of the film — but Don't Look Now comes closer than anything else, so compelling is its vision of otherworldliness.

As odd as Don't Look Now is — and if you haven't seen it, I urge you to check it out (it's streaming on Netflix) before continuing, as here there be spoilers — it stars major actors of the time (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), and was released on a wide scale by a major studio, Paramount Pictures. It still sometimes astonishes me that 1970s cinema audiences could see such challenging fare as Don't Look Now simply by going to their local theater. It's been said many times, but the 1970s really was a remarkable time for filmmaking. 

This time around, I really focused on the ways that the title creates and emphasizes various meanings in the film. As someone who has trouble coming up with headlines for his articles, I'm impressed at titles that perfectly, and complexly, inform the cinematic experience. I would argue that Don't Look Now has such a title.

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