Golan Levin and Collaborators

Flong Blog + News

Sight and Insight

28 May 2014 / reflection

Written for the inaugural issue of HOLO magazine, August 2013.

Somewhere in an airport, a machine vends a free cup of coffee when it sees someone yawn. Two hundred astonished people get a hot drink! – and a quarter million more watch the perky video online. I suppose I’m a little surprised at their surprise. It’s advertising, but it could be a lot of other things, too. A debug screen flashing at 1’04” reveals the telltale wireframe of a familiar éminence grise: Jason Saraghi’s military-grade face tracker – the intelligence behind a thousand art-school projects, and (we might reasonably surmise) a piece of the FBI’s new NGI “Next Generation Identification” database as well. Use it to collect some portraits, and it might just get your laptop confiscated by the Secret Service, as happened to artist Kyle McDonald.

It is the summer of 2013 and my Umwelt is now reeling from the Snowden Effect. For many, this cascade of dystopic revelations about our privacy (and lack thereof) has instilled a vexing mixture of rage, disbelief and nonchalance. Hey, you remember that whacked-out, paranoiac conspiracy theory we scoffed at? – well, *cough* obviously, we always knew that stuff was true all along. Maybe. To make sense of our situation, we ascribe to the NSA and kindred organizations the metaphors of a sensate body: it “slurps and burps” our emails and Skype calls; it sniffs our communication packets like a “Carnivore” (an NSA surveillance system). It even gets some “backdoor action” (although the big companies, blushingly, deny it). But the overweening preoccupation of the surveillance state, predictably, is its sense of sight. The NSA is looking at us. It’s been revealed that it uses a “PRISM”, and a “Magic Lantern”, and has (we are told) a “Fairview”. So what is the nature of this gaze?

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault describes how, in the evolution from the medieval era to the Enlightenment, observation became co-extensive with control. This was epitomized in Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 Panopticon, a (prison) architecture optimized for the one-way surveillance of its occupants. Well, the panopticon is here again, and it’s a family affair. Big Brother is hovering at 18000 feet, in an ARGUS-IS drone that records 1.8-gigapixel video at 12 frames per second (that’s all?), and can tell what I’m eating. Little Sister is lurking just behind my iPhone camera, peer-pressuring me to gossip about annotate our junk shots and selfies and Instagrams and… well, she knows what we just ate, too. If Edward Snowden revealed anything genuinely new, it was that these nosy siblings are sharing their observations behind our backs.

Snowden refreshed an old lesson as well, one that has never been truer than in our current era of asymmetrical conflict: the power of a single individual to change the world. Like Saraghi’s ubiquitous face tracker, the same tools available to governments and corporations are now in the hands of individuals as well. Those with courage can conduct remarkably effective redress with surprisingly economical means.

As artists and designers, we know something about the language and idioms of seeing. Now, because of networked systems and ubiquitous capture, perception and representation are changing faster than ever before. For the artists, designers, and culture operators who work with technology – especially imaging and information technologies – our job, or jobs, are clear.

We may work to predict the cultural consequences of new technologies, warning us of dangerous futures, or speculating about interesting ones.

We may author whimsical, provocative and illogical tools that liberate minds, connect hearts, creatively invert authority, and empower skeptical thought.

Using artistic techniques like defamiliarization, we may awaken others from their slumber to see common things in an unfamiliar way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar.

Using the artistic techniques of visualization, we can delineate the unseen forces that shape our lives, in order to reveal the invisible.

Above all, we are obliged to take a “seat at the table” to help set – and not simply be victim to – technological agendas.

We will go crazy if we dwell, without relief, on injustice and impending disaster. As artists have always done, they also concoct poetry and magic, transport us to different realms of experience and imagination, remind us about what is really worth living for, and, perhaps, just a little, relieve our suffering.


  1. Microsoft Denies Windows 7 Has NSA Backdoor
  2. Douwe Egberts, “Bye Bye Red Eye
  3. Spy Drone Can See What You are Wearing From 17,500 Feet
  4. When Art, Apple and the Secret Service Collide: ‘People Staring at Computers’

Malofiej Presentation: Graffiti+Infovis

6 April 2014 / infovis, lecture, pedagogy, reference

I delivered this presentation at the Malofiej #22 Infographics World Summit, Pamplona, Spain, 27 March 2014. The subject of my talk was the possibility of combining the visual language of information graphics, with the communication strategies of graffiti and urban markup. Thanks to the Malofiej organizers for their hospitality and the honor of addressing this audience, and to Alberto Cairo for a rousing discussion, afterwards, about its possibly troubling implications for propaganda.

Golan Levin presentation from Malofiej 22 (2014)

3D Printing Workshop

29 March 2014 / pedagogy

 A Family Workshop in Critical 3D Printing:
Concepts, Techniques, and Workflows

Developed by Golan Levin and Gustavo Valera
Originally commissioned by Alhondiga de Bilbao, July 2013
as an activity accompanying the exhibition Artists as Catalysts.
Presented in another iteration at FutureEverything, Manchester, March 2014

The rapidly decreasing cost and widespread adoption of 3D printers has been aided and accompanied by new software applications that make 3D modeling simpler for everyday people. This workshop is an introduction to 3D modeling and 3D printing for families and educators. Participants will learn the use of several free 3D modeling applications (including the Autodesk 123D suite, TinkerCAD, Sculptris, and Skanect) — as well as the use of the Makerbot Replicator, an inexpensive 3D printer widely used in schools and hackerspaces. The workshop will also present the many different ways in which people around the world are using 3D printing to create useful, expressive, and critical objects.

This workshop is designed for 8-12 participants. The recommended format is: one workshop leader, one technical assistant, 8-12 participants (or participating families), in a room with a video projection, worktables and comfortable chairs, and readily available WiFi and electric power. The workshop may last as little as 3 hours, or (for more advanced participants) two days.

This workshop is suitable for families. It is recommended that kids should be older than 7 or 8 years, and have basic skills in reading and computer-mousing. Participants are expected to bring their own laptops and (if possible) an iPhone or iPad.

Basic workshop equipment assumptions.

  • The host organization and/or workshop leader should have available:
  • Mac OSX laptop with OSX 10.8+ and Google Chrome browser installed
  • Makerbot Replicator or similar consumer 3D printer (ideally, 2 printers)
  • Internet connection and video projector

Optional additional equipment provided by the host/leader:

  • Microsoft Kinect sensor (preferably model 1414)
  • Apple iPad running recent iOS
  • Calipers and/or Micrometer
  • Playdoh (for capture with 123D Catch)
  • Pre-made examples of 3D printed objects, for discussion
  • Scraper tools, scissors, sandpaper, acetone
  • Superglue

Workshop Software

Primary Workshop Software:

  • Makerbot Makerware. Converts STL CAD models into printfiles for Makerbots.
  • TinkerCAD. Simple 3D modeling in the browser, produces downloadable STL files.
  • 3DTin. Simple 3D modeling in the browser, even more lightweight.
  • Sculptris. Freeform modeling in a clay-like process.

Additional/Optional Software:

  • Blender. Powerful free modeling software.
  • Sketchup. Quick and easy modeling, especially of architectural forms. Huge 3D library.
  • 123D DesignEasy yet powerful modeler for 3D printing (desktop & browser).
  • Leopoly. Easy freeform modeling, good for the kids.
  • Netfabb. Repairs STL models with errors (for example, if they’re not “watertight”).
  • MeshLab. For previewing STL models, and some kinds of editing/repair.
  • Kinect to STL. Captures a 3D portrait with a Kinect, ready-to-print.
  • OpenSCAD. A programming language for creating 3D objects.

Optional iOS App Software from Autodesk:

  • 123D Creature. Manipulate an underlying “skeleton” in order to design a 3D printable creature.
  • 123D Catch. Use your camera to capture the things around you as sharable, printable 3D models.
  • 123D Sculpt. General sculpture for the iPad.

A quick overview of 3D printing

Common Workflows.
Nowadays, people:

  • Design objects using CAD software
  • Print them out using 3D printers
  • Share them freely on websites like Thingiverse
  • Download other people’s designs, then modify/customize/improve them
  • Share the modified designs back with the community
  • Buy or sell 3D prints through Shapeways or other service bureaus

3D Printing Technologies.

  • There are now many kinds of 3D printers. They build up objects additively. They cost from $500 to more than $500,000. The Makerbots we’re using today cost about $2000.
  • Machines like Makerbot, Ultimaker, RepRap, Cubify print plastic (generally ABS or biodegradable PLA) in a process called FDM (fused deposition modeling) or FFF (fused filament fabrication).
  • Formlabs and Objet Connex printers, among others, use cured liquid plastic, with a much higher resolution, in a process called SLA (stereolithography).
  • Other machines can melt metal and ceramic powders, in a process called SLS (selective laser sintering) or SLM (selective laser melting).

Access to 3D Printing Equipment.
You can get access to 3D printers:

Where do 3D models come from?

Some other ways of making things.

Remember, 3D printing is just one part of the modern fabrication shop, which also includes:

  • Laser cutters
  • CNC routers, lathes, and mills
  • Vinyl cutters
  • CNC embroidery machines
  • Vacuum forming machines
  • Water-jet cutters and plasma cutters
  • And good old machine tools and hand tools!

Don’t forget Hand-Shaping!
There are some new Maker materials for hand-shaping that complement 3D printing very well. These are very useful for making custom grips, etc:

  • ShapeLock, a low-temperature thermoplastic
  • Sugru, a self-setting rubber

Computational Form Generation
Some designers and artists are writing software that generates 3D models:

What do people do with 3D printing?

Is 3D printing just for toys and useless knick-knacks?
At first blush, it could seem that way. 

Well, people make useful items:

Expressive work.
People make art, architecture and design, often experimental. 

Medical Assistance.
3D printing can be used to help people overcome medical needs and disabilities.

Helping Animals.

  • Beauty, a bald eagle given a 3D printed beak.
  • Buttercup, a duck given a 3D printed foot.
  • Homes for hermit crabs

Dangerous Things.
3D printing is also becoming controversial, and has some dangerous implications.

  • DefCAD “Liberator” gun (article)
  • Handcuff keys (article)

Critical Making.
Various artists are now using 3D printing to create “critical objects”. These objects offer a critical perspective on privacy, politics, consumer culture, and commercial media.

Workshop Exercises

Introductory Exercises. (Day One)

Discover. (15 minutes)
Browse Thingiverse.com and find:

  • Something “useful” that you might even use yourself
  • Something expressive or artistic that you find interesting, beautiful or funny

Make I. (15 minutes)
Using 3DTin, make a flat “medallion” of your initial. Export an STL and print it out.

Make II. (30 minutes)
Using the Kinect, scan a person to make a 3D portrait, and print it out. [Alternate: use 123DCatch to scan a person using a collection of photos, iPhone or iPad. Further editing may be necessary.]

Make III. (45 minutes)
Using Sculptris make a character or animal figurine. Export the model as an OBJ file. Convert the OBJ to an STL using Meshlab or the Autodesk 3D Print Utility, and print it out. Make an account on Thingiverse and share your figurine.

Advanced Exercises. (Day Two)

These are suitable for a second session with adults, but may be outside the scope of a workshop for children.

We will use Tinkercad to modify objects made by others.

  • Download an STL file from Thingiverse (or paste its URL into TinkerCad); using TinkerCad, customize or personalize it. Note that there is a 25MB limitation to the size of uploaded files.
  • Download two STL files from Thingiverse; using TinkerCad, stick them together to create a mashup.

Using calipers or a micrometer, measure something in the environment and make a clamp, handle, adapter, or fixturing point for it. Try to use widespread, standard physical protocols. (Consider the ingenuity of the Bottle Cap Tripod, http://photojojo.com/store/awesomeness/bottle-cap-tripod/). Common adaptions might be:

  • Adapt to support a 1/4″-20 bolt (for mounting a camera),
  • Allow to connect Lego/Duplo bricks, so that it’s easy to mount Lego there
  • Add a holder for iPhone, coffee cup, pens, etc.

Look around and solve a problem with a simple design. Consider the “useful items” listed above.

Fix something broken that you bring from home.

Use OpenSCAD, or Processing and the ToxicLibs library, to generate a parametric STL file.

Fabrication Concerns

Some things to keep in mind. 

Here’s a quick list of some things to keep in mind when modeling & printing, especially for mechanical parts:

  • Material cost
  • Undercuts and support material
  • Print orientation
  • Infill
  • Minimum thickness (wall thickness)
  • Accuracy, precision, and deviation
  • Clearance
  • Loose pieces

Undercuts and support material. Printers like the Makerbot can’t easily print objects with undercuts (e.g. like a standing ‘T’) because there’s nothing to support the upper material. Fancier printers use a dissolvable support material. FDM/FFF machines like the Makerbot can, however, print a lightweight scaffolding that can easily be snipped off.


Print orientation. The orientation with which something is printed can make a big difference for how much support material must be printed. Consider the difference between printing T and ⊥. Furthermore, the print orientation can also affect how the part behaves under physical stress.

Infill. 3D printing a lot of material can get expensive, whether because of the cost of the material itself, or because of the time necessary to print it. Makerware solves this by allowing you to specify the density of an interior honeycomb.




Response to an Invitation

12 February 2014 / general, life, reflection

Hello ████████████████,

Thank you for this kind invitation to present at ████████████████.

I looked at your 2013 web site, and I counted 8 women out of 60 speakers, or 13%.

I regret to say that I no longer speak at events with such a poor ratio of female:male presenters. Of course it’s your business how you want to run your conference, and it is your choice about how you decide to present the world of multimedia design to your students at the University of ████████████████. But I personally don’t enjoy such events, I don’t want to endorse them, and I don’t want their endorsements. Having participated in conferences like the Eyeo Festival, I know that another way is possible in the fields of new-media art and design.

Best wishes,
Golan Levin


On Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 6:02 AM, ████████████████ wrote:
Hi Golan,

I am ████████████████, lecturer at the University of ████████████████. Apart from teaching I am also coordinating the the conference ████████████████. ████████████████ is a conference about new media, art, design, development, 3d, game design, and audio/video in the city of ████████████████.

The reason I am mailing you as that I want you to speak at our conference ;-)

This year is the ██th edition and last year we had around 2000 people attending.
We have 4 tracks during 2 days. This year the event takes place on ████████████████ 2014.
The audience consists of +- 40% students and 60% industry folks.

If you want to have an idea of the sessions of last year, please take a look at last years schedule:

As a speaker we can offer you a very warm treatment, a cool VIP dinner and a fantastic 45 min slot on our main stage with a nice audience. We will take care of travel costs and accommodation. You will see, we will do anything to make you want to come back for another edition. The one thing we can’t give is a speaking fee. ████████████████ is a free conference and we simply need our sponsor money for logistics.

I would be so thrilled to have you at ████████████████!
Let me know what you think and if you have questions, shoot!

Take care,

Coordinator ████████████████ 2014
University of ████████████████

// I’m reminded of this, “Female Conference Speaker Bingo”, from Feministe:

Female Conference Speaker Bingo (via @evacide)

Female Conference Speaker Bingo (From Feministe, via @evacide)

Happy New Year 2014!

26 December 2013 / announcement, general


Warm new year’s wishes from Golan, Andrea, Zen & Roxy!
Animated GIF built with Processing.