Peridot Green Q03, Fall 2015

A Gathering of Clouds

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To get ourselves acquainted with this quarter's theme, we wrote an applet to simulate a simplified version of cloud behavior. This is a flock of boids split into hot and cold fronts, which generate cloud particles upon collision. Next, we looked at cloud categories; these indexical photos come from our artists, and we assigned them the cloud types they captured best.

Cirrus ‐ the highest clouds formed entirely of ice crystals, feathery, heavenly brush strokes
Cirrostratus ‐ ice crystals thinly spread vastly, sometimes striped, fibrous or rainbow haloed
Cirrocumulus ‐ tiny crystal cloudlets, a finger at arms length, grainy wisps, high and fleeting
Altostratus ‐ the flatness and grey, that featureless overcast that drearily diffuses and drizzles
Altocumulus ‐ rolling clumps or tiny cotton ball chunks on a table, pizza cheese skies
Nimbostratus ‐ thick grey days, deliverer of rain and snow, dark heavy harbinger of dampness
Cumulus ‐ flat footed great puffs, bulging bellies floating lazily, reclining on blue sunny skies
Stratus ‐ cousin to fog and mist, lowly hangs and hides building, or mountain tops
Cumulonimbus ‐ cloud of Thor, storming massive anvil, rumbling and hail with darkness under
Stratocumulus ‐ giant clumpiness, fluffy mountain ranges spraying sun in varied beams

Clouds are boundary objects. They float between sky and earth, accidentally painting themselves into shapes for us. They have simple components — dust, water vapor, pressure fronts — in complex configurations. They can be as big as skyscrapers, fast as cars, beautiful and destructive. They return what we give them; when we pollute, they pollute.

As boundary objects, clouds are rich in artistic symbolism. Deities of many cultures are depicted perched on clouds, surveying their mortals. Clouds can separate foreground from background, real from unreal. They can represent danger or serenity or nothing at all. Sometimes their only job is to demonstrate the artist's artistic prowess, as they are quite difficult to capture.

Clouds are good painting teachers. They're made of layers rather than lines. That's how painters learn to see — blocks of color rather than discrete objects. The goal isn't to capture a particular cloud in a singular instance, but to capture the character of that type of cloud at that time of day. Painting a cloud requires looseness and control, knowledgable use of media, and subtle use of color.

For photographers, clouds are part of the medium. The same shapeshifting nature that makes clouds difficult to paint makes them a joy to photograph. They can serve as subject, backdrop, and light diffuser. Working outside with electronic equipment, photographers must also learn to read clouds for weather threats.

One of the most widely used models to represent the workings of the mind is an iceberg, suspended at the surface of a salty sea, bobbing above a limitless darkness. Only a small portion is exposed. One English word for informed thought, to "fathom," is derived from a "fathom" or unit for measuring the depth of oceans. Subconscious processing and memory storage are often referred to as "deep" and "murky." Extending this analogy upwards, cloud computing is the evaporation of millions of personal icebergs into the ether. When we pollute, they pollute.

Cloud computing provides an opportunity to shift this iceberg/ocean paradigm in two key ways: as a platform for distributed cognition and idea storage, and as a neatly suitable metaphor for conceptualizing the structure of thought. The taxonomy of clouds, categorized according to height and density, is particularly well‐suited to the task of conceptualizing distinct processes of short‐ and long‐term memory storage, and subconscious processing.

Cloud‐gazing, generally, is a more pleasant pastime than unstructured introspection. It can even provide a pleasant structure for introspection — nature's Rorschach. Returning to our metaphor, vaporizing thoughts from the iceberg to the ether can be a therapeutic experience as well. Digitization translates ideas and images from subconsciousness to consciousness to collective consciousness. Voicing your mind feels good, getting validation feels better. It's like watching your thoughts drift away as harmless cotton balls, adding to the charm of a sunny day.

Though a cloud's components are simple, its forces are complex. It's extremely hard to predict how these clouds and forces will interact with each other. Innocuous radar blips turn into lethal hurricanes, pollution spreads across continents. This is happens in the internet's metaphorical cloud kingdom as well; anger has been named the most viral emotion.

The brain stores sensory information in two successive stages: memories are first placed in short‐term storage, and then moved to long‐term storage later on. These storage functions take place, according to the results of the most up‐to‐date scientific imaging apparatus, in physically distinct areas of the brain. Information is moved from short‐term to long‐term banks overnight, during REM sleep cycles. These categories span, then, across multiple dimensions of measurement: cognitive information is moved quite literally across time, space, and metaphorical framing as our ideas of "today" are recategorized into "yesterday."

Extending this to our metaphor, we can think of low‐level clouds as vectors for our short‐term memory, mid‐level clouds as long‐term, and high‐level clouds as the invisible but impactful subconscious. The sky is the average of all the icebergs, inverted and dispersed. The internet's sky has little cumulus puffs of daily selfies, ominous stratus fogs of chronic hate speech, and utopic cirrus wisps of true social progress through interconnectivity.

"Magicked into being by the inscrutable laws of the atmosphere, clouds exist in a constant state of flux, shifting effortlessly from one form to another."

Gavin Pretor‐Pinney, The Cloud Collector's Handbook, 2009

"You cannot measure the sun, but you can measure a photograph of the sun with a ruler."

Bruno Latour, Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together, 1983

"And suddenly that tranquil world, the world of such simple harmony that you discover as you rise above the clouds, took on an unfamiliar quality in my eyes. … That viscous whiteness was turning before my eyes into the boundary between the real and the unreal, between the known and the unknowable."

Antoine de Saint‐Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939

"When I said the Cloud may be alive I meant that the material inside it may be organised in an intricate fashion, so that its behaviour and consequently the behaviour of the whole Cloud is far more complex than we previously supposed."

Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud, 1957

"On the descriptive level, an iconic sign acquires the value of an index: just as a painter has no way of representing the movements of the soul other than through their bodily manifestations, he will depict wind, or a storm and so on, by means of their visible effects. On the expressive level, a sign takes on the value of a symbol ('the air itself is terrible from the deep darkness caused by the dust and fog and heavy clouds')."

Hubert Damisch, A Theory of /Cloud/: Toward a History of Painting, 2002

Brian Addison (Cirrocumulus)

And when Hoh winked at the celestial crystals, they winked back in cirrocumulus ways above the hum of hive of honking cab calls and man circuit. Where is heaven's border in a towering reflection? Is it high in thought? As high as Hoh on this particular path that ought not on a sunny day meet with the madness of the city. Instead he hangs and watches the angular maze, checkered by the stackers in brick, steel and glass that clash and crash but in their classic housed chaos. This is their monument assuredly, Hoh thought. They feed the skies in their confluence, and I'm so shortly housed up here.

Beatrice Bring (Cirrostratus)

Hoh and his ilk then spread through the sky like silk or gossamer strands, a soft cirrostratus blanket on which to recline upon the lavender meadow of dawn. All attentions to the east, to that beloved horizon. Hoh and his fellows ripple with enthusiasm as the show begins, the electric glow that moves ever brighter through the arch and grows until the first rays burst forth in brilliance to the Ooos and Aaas of all. With the peaking of sun, that flowering bulb, comes the rush of the waves. Hoh and the others splash and ride the solar surf with rainbow wake and frother. Hoh melts in his play and sinks away waving to the all the rest. "I'll see you somewhere below," he bellows and falls through the cottony downs.

Louis Capwell (Altocumulus)

On his way Hoh caught hold of an altocumulus ripple and hung in amazement at what he saw below. Long and slithering through the hills, belching vapors in rhythmic gulps, a powerful serpent of steel went roaring over a gulch. The grasslands tremble at its throbbing pulse, this monster of the shrieking canyons, and Hoh got lost in the panting echoes reaching even into the skies. Riding the chant of western winds with more of his kind he dropped in for a closer look. The eye! Bright and beaming from that powerful front pulling the mass of its rickety tail as it burrows through mountains, leaps over lakes, a beauty! What loveliness fills the earth and sky, thought Hoh as he splashed past boxcars to the heat of a rock. He kissed his earth, and traveling his own track and rhythm, lifted back to hug the skies.

Nathan Catlin (Stratus)

As Hoh lifted the world became bathed in mystery. He mixed with the stratus mists while they tickled the treetops and valleys. The woods seemed to whisper songs about nymphs and otherworldly wonders and one wonders who or what hides in these hollows. Tales of witches or harrowing howls, lamps swinging shadows like dances round kettles or phantom glances through thickets and minds cower for what is just beyond beyond. If we could simply rise from our fogs and lay bare what we cannot see, but that is not the way of things here. Dampness breeds dampness. For that we would need to be bright. For that we must wait for some sun.

Laura Greig & Justin Cooper (Cumulus)

Looking for a moment's rest Hoh lay down on a cumulous pillow. He stretched out and watched others glide lazily by and found shapes in his fleet. All he had seen, everywhere he had been, moved like floats in his sky. The sun warmed reflections on travails and cycles and he thought, what a wheel am I! Round and round I go through life's levels, crystallized high to tear drop low and on every part of this journey I remain Hoh. How comforting, he thought as his cloud bed increased and swallowed up others involved in the feast.

Christina Van Der Merwe (Stratocumulus)

Upward Hoh moved in the alpine stratocumulous. Tiny mountaineer amongst the giants, as great bulges expanded in every direction. Darker the ranges, the gathering colossus, that engulfs the sky. A perfect ray of sunlight fires through here and there as always in murky moments. From a valley of cloud, Hoh was drawn to a tiny speck that soared ever higher. A lone bird riding the updrafts of forces unknown to it sailed dauntlessly toward him. How fiercely this creature taunts the elements, thought Hoh. How intrepidly does it trust it's wings, it's feathers, it's small form, doing what it knows it can do. Bravery on the wind. Keep going little bird! Find out how high you can go.

Midge Wattles (Cumulonimbus)

Higher and higher swept Hoh at incredible speeds, racing the zenith of this cumulonimbus. With ominous looks the dark mountain growled, rolled and rumbled. Hoh became icy and everyone crammed as the music began to thump. Boom! the electric song and flash as Hoh in the mob thrashed along, pushing, dancing in the crush. Strobe light crowds bounce on the bolts, and everyone cheers, an earsplitting tune. "I love this one!" yells Hoh. Crack! the energy blasts through their dance. Hoh throws himself up upon the crowd and surfs the slowly melting throng. He made it along for a moment, then fell at end with a group. Together they left and laughing hopped a ride way down the dark evening. Drop us at 73rd and West End, Hoh plummeting on the cities form. And someone said ducking for cover in the Upper West side, Oh how I love a good storm.

PGQ03: A Gathering of Clouds
Photos from the opening party, September 27th