Category Archives: performing arts

Disrupting the arts scene around the world and in Vancouver (Canada)

I have two news bits of news for this post. First, the theme for the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) to be held in Vancouver, Canada from Aug. 14 – 18, 2015 is Disruption and the deadline for submitting proposals for research papers and art installations is Dec. 20, 2014. Here’s more about the symposium from the About page,

ISEA is one of the world’s most prominent international arts and technology events, bringing  together scholarly, artistic, and scientific domains in an interdisciplinary discussion and showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in art, interactivity, and electronic and digital media. The event annually brings together artists, designers, academics, technologists, scientists, and general audience in the thousands. The symposium consists of a peer reviewed conference, a series of exhibitions, and various partner events—from large scale interactive artwork in public space to cutting edge electronic music performance.

In the last four years ISEA has been hosted in Istanbul (2011), Albuquerque, New Mexico (2012), and Sydney, Australia (2013), and Dubai (2014). ISEA2015 in Vancouver marks its return to Canada, 20 years since the groundbreaking first Canadian ISEA1995 in Montréal. The Symposium will be held at the Woodward’s campus of Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver with exhibitions and events taking place at Emily Carr University of Art + Design and many other sites and venues throughout the city.

The series of ISEA symposia is coordinated by ISEA International. Founded in the Netherlands in 1990, ISEA International (formerly Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts) is an international non-profit organization fostering interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organizations and individuals working with art, science and technology. ISEA International Headquarters is supported by the University of Brighton (UK).

Here’s more from the Theme page,

ISEA2015’s theme of DISRUPTION invites a conversation about the aesthetics of change, renewal, and game-changing paradigms. We look to raw bursts of energy, reconciliation, error, and the destructive and creative forces of the new. Disruption contains both blue sky and black smoke. When we speak of radical emergence we must also address things left behind. Disruption is both incremental and monumental.

In practices ranging from hacking and detournement to inversions of place, time, and intention, creative work across disciplines constantly finds ways to rethink or reconsider form, function, context, body, network, and culture. Artists push, shape, break; designers reinvent and overturn; scientists challenge, disprove and re-state; technologists hack and subvert to rebuild.

Disruption and rupture are fundamental to digital aesthetics. Instantiations of the digital realm continue to proliferate in contemporary culture, allowing us to observe ever-broader consequences of these effects and the aesthetic, functional, social and political possibilities that arise from them.

Within this theme, we want to investigate trends in digital and internet aesthetics and revive exchange across disciplines. We hope to broaden the spheres in which disruptive aesthetics can be explored, crossing into the worlds of science, technology, design, visual art, contemporary and media art, innovation, performance, and sound.

I encourage you to read the whole Theme page if you’re interested in making a proposal as the organizers have outlined many approaches to the main theme. Good luck to everyone making a submission (and that includes me). I will be submitting a proposal  with my co-author, Raewyn Turner, an artist from New Zealand, for Steep (I): a digital poetry of gold nanoparticles. (I’ll be writing more about our Steep project soon (hopefully next week Dec. 22 – 25, 2014.)

For the second bit of news, Emily Carr University of Art + Design received grants for two Canada Research Chairs in Oct. 2014. Here’s more from the Recipients List (Note: I have made some changes to the formatting),

Frid-Jimenez, Amber     Emily Carr University of Art + Design     Canada Research Chair in Art and Design Technology     SSHRC [funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council]     [Tier] 2     New [position]
Hertz, Garnet     Emily Carr University of Art + Design     Canada Research Chair in Design and Media Arts     SSHRC     2     New

A Nov. 22, 2014 blog post on Emily Carr University’s The Big Idea blog provides more detail about the appointments,

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is honoured to announce the appointment of Associate Professors Amber Frid-Jimenez and Dr. Garnet Hertz to Canada Research Chairs recently published by the Government of Canada. This historic milestone marks the first Canada Research Chair appointments for Emily Carr University of Art + Design recognizing the institution’s capacity, faculty and contributions-to-date in the fields of art, media and design research. …

… “We are honoured that our University and the work of Dr. Garnet Hertz and Amber Frid-Jimenez are being recognized by the Government of Canada,” said David Bogen, Vice President Academic + Provost, Emily Carr University of Art + Design. “The appointment of our first Canada Research Chairs is significant at every level – for our institution’s culture of research, for our academic programs, and for our students who will work directly with some of today’s greatest artists, designers, and scholars in their prospective fields.” … Associate Professor Amber Frid-Jimenez is an awarding-winning interaction and print designer who has taught design studios and seminars at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Visual Arts Program, the National Arts Academy (KHiB) in Bergen, Norway, and most recently at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She holds a Masters in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab where she studied with John Maeda. Associate Professor Dr. Garnet Hertz’s work explores themes of DIY culture and interdisciplinary art/design practices. His work has been shown at several notable international venues including SIGGRAPH, Arts Electronica, and DEAF, and he was awarded the 2008 Oscar Signorini Award in robotic art. He is the founder and director of Dorkbot SoCal, a monthly Los Angeles-based lecture series, has taught at the Art Center College of Design, the University of California, Irvine, and is now Associate Professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

You can find out more about Amber Frid-Jiminez here and about Garnet Hertz here .

Quantum; the dance performance about physics in Vancouver, Canada (2 of 2)

Gilles Jobin kindly made time to talk about his arts residency at CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) prior to the performances of Quantum (a dance piece resulting from the residency) from Oct. 16 -18, 2014 at Vancouver’s Dance Centre.

Jobin was the first individual to be selected as an artist-in-residence for three months in the CERN/Geneva programme (there is another artist-in-residence programme at the laboratory which is the CERN/Ars Electronica programme). Both these artist-in-residence programmes were announced in the same year, 2011. (You can find out more about the CERN artist-in-residence programmes on the Collide@CERN webpage,

As a main strategy of CERN’s Cultural Policy for Engaging with the Arts, Collide@CERN is a 3-year artist’s residency programme initiated by Arts@CERN in 2011.

By bringing world-class artists and scientists together in a free exchange of ideas, the Collide@CERN residency programme explores elements even more elusive than the Higgs boson: human ingenuity, creativity and imagination.

See below for more information about the Collide@CERN artist residency programmes:

Collide@CERN Geneva Residency

Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN Residency

The Collide@CERN prize – an open call to artists working in different art forms to win a fully funded residency – will be awarded annually in two strands (Collide@CERN Geneva and Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN) until 2013. It comprises prize money and a residency grant for up to 3 months at CERN.

The winning artists will interact and engage with CERN scientists in order to take their artistic work to new creative dimensions.

The awards are made following two annual international open calls and the jury comprises the cultural partners as well as representatives from Arts@CERN, including scientists.

Planned engagement with artists at CERN is a relatively new concept according to an August 4, 2011 CERN press release,

Today CERN1 launches its cultural policy for engaging with the arts. Called ‘Great Arts for Great Science’, this new cultural policy has a central strategy – a selection process for arts engagement at the level of one of the world’s leading research organizations.

“This puts CERN’s engagement with the arts on a similar level as the excellence of its science,” said Ariane Koek, CERN’s cultural specialist.

CERN’s newly appointed Cultural Board for the Arts will be the advisers and guardians of quality. It is made up of renowned cultural leaders in the arts from CERN’s host-state countries: Beatrix Ruf, Director of the Kunsthalle Zurich; Serge Dorny, Director General of the Lyon Opera House; Franck Madlener, Director of the music institute IRCAM in Paris. Geneva and CERN are represented by Christoph Bollman of ArtbyGenève and Michael Doser, an antimatter scientist. Membership of the board is an honorary position that will change every three years.

The Cultural Board will select one or two art projects a year to receive a CERN letter of approval, enabling these projects to seek external funding for their particle-physics inspired work. This will also build up an international portfolio of CERN-inspired work over the years to come, in conjunction with the Collide@CERN (link sends e-mail) Artists Residency Programme, details of which will be announced in the coming month.

To date, Jobin is the only choreographer to become, so to speak, a member of the CERN community. It was a position that was treated like a job. Jobin went to his office at CERN every day for three months to research particle physics. He had two science advisors, Nicholas Chanon and Michael Doser to help him gain an understanding of the physics being studied in the facility. Here’s Jobin describing his first experiences at CERN (from Jobin’s Collide Nov. 13, 2012 posting),

When I first arrived at Cern, I was captivated by the place and overwhelmed by the hugeness of the subject: Partical [sic] physics… And I had some serious catch up to do… Impressed by the two introduction days in which I had the opportunity to meet many different scientists, Ariane Koeck told me “not to panic” and “to spend my first month following my instinct and not my head…”. …

I found out about the 4 fundamental forces and the fact that gravity was the weakest of all the forces. For a contemporary dancer formed basically around the question of gravity and “groundness” that came as a total shock! I was not a “pile of stuff”, but particles bound together by the strong force and “floating” on the surface of the earth… Me, the earth, you readers, the LHC flying at incredible speed through space, without any of us, (including the physicists!) noticing anything…  Stardust flying into space… I was baffled…

Jobin was required deliver two public lectures, one at the beginning of his residency and the other at the end, as well as, a series of ‘interventions’. He instituted four ‘interventions’, one each in CERN’s library, data centre, anti-matter hall, and cafeteria. Here’s an image and a description of what Jobin was attempting with his library intervention (from his Nov. 13, 2012 posting),

CERN library dance intervention Credit: Gilles Jobin

CERN library dance intervention Credit: Gilles Jobin

 My idea was to “melt” our bodies into the timeline of the library. Like time chameleons, we were to adapt our movements and presence to the quiet and studious atmosphere of the library and be practically unnoticed. My postulate was to imagine that the perception of time is relative; there was a special texture to “time” inside the library. How long is an afternoon in a library? Never ending or passing by too quickly? It is a shared space, with the unique density you can feel in studious atmosphere and its user’s different virtual timelines. We melted into the element of the library and as we guessed, our “unusual” presence and actions did not create conflicts with our surroundings and the students at work. It was a bit like entering slowly into water and becoming part of the element without disturbing its balance. The time hypothesis worked… I wanted to do more site specific interventions in Cern because I was learning things differently. Some understanding was going through my body. Being in action into the labs…

It was only after the residency was completed that he started work on Quantum (producing a dance piece was not a requirement of the residency). After the residency, he did bring his science advisors, Chanon and Doser to his studio and brought his studio to CERN. Jobin managed to get rehearsal time in one of the halls that is 100 metres directly above the large hadron collider (LHC) during the time period when scientists were working to confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson). There were a number of announcements ‘confirming’ the Higgs. They started in July 2012 and continued, as scientists refined their tests, to March 2013 (Wikipedia entry)  when a definitive statement was issued. The definitive statement was recently followed with more confirmation as a June, 25, 2014 article by Amir Aczel for Discover declares Confirmed: That Was Definitely the Higgs Boson Found at LHC [large hadron collider].

As scientists continue to check and doublecheck, Jobin presented Quantum in October 2013 for the first time in public, fittingly, at CERN (from Jobin’s Oct. 3, 2013 blog posting),

QUANTUM @ CERN OPEN DAYS CMS-POINT5-CESSY. Credit: Gilles Jobin

QUANTUM @ CERN OPEN DAYS CMS-POINT5-CESSY. Credit: Gilles Jobin

Jobin was greatly influenced by encounters at CERN with Julius von Bismarck who won the 2012 Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN Residency and with his science advisors, Dosen and Chanon. Surprisingly, Jobin was also deeply influenced by Richard Feynman (American physicist; 1918 – 1988). “I loved his approach and his humour,” says Jobin while referring to a book Feynman wrote, then adding,  “I used Feynman diagrams, learning to draw them for my research and for my choreographic work on Quantum.”

For those unfamiliar with Feynman diagrams, from the Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

In theoretical physics, Feynman diagrams are pictorial representations of the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles. The scheme is named for its inventor, American physicist Richard Feynman, and was first introduced in 1948. The interaction of sub-atomic particles can be complex and difficult to understand intuitively, and the Feynman diagrams allow for a simple visualization of what would otherwise be a rather arcane and abstract formula.

There’s also an engaging Feb. 14, 2010 post by Flip Tanedo on Quantum Diaries with this title, Let’s draw Feynman diagrams! and there’s this paper, by David Kaiser on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams; In the hands of a postwar generation, a tool intended to lead quantum electrodynamics out of a decades-long morass helped transform physics. In the spirit of Richard Feynman, both the Tanedo post and Kaiser paper are quite readable. Also, here’s an example (simplified) of what a diagram (from the Quantum Diaries website) can look like,

[downloaded from http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2010/02/14/lets-draw-feynman-diagams/]

[downloaded from http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2010/02/14/lets-draw-feynman-diagams/]

Getting back to Quantum (dance), Jobin describes this choreography as a type of collaboration where the dancers have responsibility for the overall look and feel of the piece. (For more details, Jobin describes his ‘momement generators’ in the radio interview embedded in part 1 of this piece on Quantum.)

In common with most contemporary dance pieces, there is no narrative structure or narrative element to the piece although Jobin does note that there is one bit that could be described as a ‘Higgs moment’ where a dancer is held still by his or her feet, signifying the Higgs boson giving mass to the universe.

As to why Vancouver, Canada is being treated to a performance of Quantum, Jobin has this to say, “When I knew the company was traveling to New York City and then San Francisco, I contacted my friend and colleague, Mirna Zagar, who I met at a Croatian Dance Week Festival that she founded and produces every year.”  She’s also the executive director for Vancouver’s Dance Centre. “After that it was easy.”

Performances are Oct. 16 – 18, 2014 at 8 pm with a Post-show artist talkback on October 17, 2014.

Compagnie Gilles Jobin

$30/$22 students, seniors, CADA members/$20 Dance Centre members
Buy tickets online or call Tickets Tonight: 604.684.2787 (service charges apply to telephone bookings)

You can find part 1 of this piece about Quantum in my Oct. 15, 2014 posting. which includes a video, a listing of the rest of the 2014 tour stops, a link to an interview featuring Jobin and his science advisor, Michael Doser, on a US radio show, and more.

Finally, company dancers are posting video interviews (the What’s Up project mentioned in part 1) with dancers they meet in the cities where the tour is stopping will be looking for someone or multiple someones in Vancouver. These are random acts of interviewing within the context of the city’s dance community.

Vancouver’s Georgia Straight has featured an Oct. 15, 2014 article by Janet Smith about Jobin and his particle physics inspiration for Quantum.

The Higgs boson on its own has inspired other creativity as noted in my Aug. 1, 2012 posting (Playing and singing the Higgs Boson).

As noted in my Oct. 8, 2013 post, Peter Higgs (UK) after whom the particle was named  and François Englert (Belgium) were both awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the theory of the Higgs boson and its role in the universe.

Quantum; an upcoming dance performance in Vancouver, Canada (1 of 2)

Oct. 16 – 18, 2014 are the Vancouver (Canada) dates when you can catch Compagnie Gilles Jobin performing its piece, Quantum, based on choreographer Gilles Jobin’s residency CERN (Europe’s particle physics laboratory). The Vancouver stop is part of a world tour which seems to have started in New York City (US) and San Francisco (US).

News flash: There is a special lecture by Gilles Jobin at TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics at 11 am on Oct. 15, 2014 in the auditorium. Instructions for getting to TRIUMF can be found here.

Back to the tour, here’s what the dance company has planned for the rest of October and November (Chile is Chili, Brazil is Brésil, Switzerland is Suisse and Peru is Pérou in French), from the gillesjobin.com Tour webpage,

- 21 octobre
QUANTUM
Festival Danzalborde – Centro Cultural Matucana 100 – Santiago de Chile – Chili

– 23 octobre
QUANTUM
Festival Danzalborde – Parque Cultural de Valparaiso, Valparaiso – Chili

– 26 octobre
QUANTUM
Bienal Internacional de dança do Ceará – Fortaleza – Brésil

– 29 et 30 octobre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Forum Internacional de dança FID, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil – Belo Horizonte – Brésil

– 2 novembre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Festival Panorama, Teatro Carlos Gomes – Rio de Janeiro – Brésil

– Du 6 au 9 novembre
QUANTUM
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– Du 13 au 15 novembre
A+B=X
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– 21 et 22 novembre
QUANTUM
Festival de Artes Escenicas de Lima FAEL – Teatro Municipal, Lima – Pérou

As ambitious as this touring programme seems, it can’t be any more ambitious than trying to represent modern physics in dance. Here’s more about Quantum from the (Vancouver) Dance Centre’s events page,

Art and science collide in QUANTUM, the result of Gilles Jobin’s artistic residency at the largest particle physics laboratory in the world – CERN in Geneva, where he worked with scientists to investigate principles of matter, gravity, time and space in relation to the body. Six dancers power through densely textured, sculptural choreography, to evoke the subtle balance of forces that shape our world. Illuminated by Julius von Bismarck’s light-activated kinetic installation built from industrial lamps, and accompanied by an electronic score by Carla Scaletti which incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, QUANTUM epitomizes the adventurous, searching spirit of artistic and scientific inquiry.

Response to the performances in New York City were interesting, that is to say, not rapturous but intriguing nonetheless. From an Oct. 3, 2014 review by Gia Kourlas for the New York Times,

Performed Thursday night [Oct. 2, 2014] at the Fishman Space at BAM Fisher — and included in the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line festival — this spare 45-minute work is a duet of movement and light. Instead of dramaturges, there are scientific advisers. Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s jumpsuits reimagine particles as a densely patterned uniform of green, purple and white. (They’re cute in a space-camp kind of way.) Carla Scaletti’s crackling, shimmering score incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s powerful particle accelerator.

But in “Quantum,” translating scientific ideas, however loosely, into dance vocabulary is where the trouble starts. A lunge is still a lunge.

Robert P Crease in an Oct. 7, 2014 posting (for Physics World on the Institute of Physics website) about one of the performances in New York City revealed something about his relationship to art/science and about Gilles Jobin’s work,

I’m fascinated by the interactions between science and culture, which is what led me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was hosting the US première of a dance piece called Quantum that had previously debuted where it had been created, at CERN. …

I ran into Gilles Jobin, who had choreographed Quantum during an artist’s residency at CERN. I asked him the following question: “If a fellow choreographer who knew nothing about the piece were to watch it, is there anything in the movement or structure of the work that might cause that person to say ‘That choreographer must have spent several months at a physics lab!’?” Gilles paused, then said “No.” The influence of the laboratory environment, he said, was in inspiring him to come up with certain kinds of what he called “movement generators”, or inspirations for the dancers to create their own movements. “For instance, all those symmetries – like ghost symmetries – that I didn’t even know existed!” he said. I asked him why he had chosen the work’s title. “I considered other names,” he said. “Basically, Quantum was just a convenient tag that referred to the context – the CERN laboratory environment – in which I had created the work.”

Jobin and Michael Doser (Senior research physicist at CERN) talked to Ira Flatow host of US National Public Radio’s (NPR) Science Friday programme in an Oct. 3, 2014 broadcast which is available as a podcast on the Dance and Physics Collide in ‘Quantum’ webpage. It’s fascinating to hear both the choreographer and one of the CERN scientists discussing Jobin’s arts residency and how they had to learn to talk to each other.

NPR also produced a short video highlighting moments from one of the performances and showcasing Jobin’s commentary,

Produced by Alexa Lim, Associate Producer (NPR, Science Friday)

The Dance Centre (Vancouver) has an Oct. 7, 2014 post featuring Jobin on its blog,

How did you get involved with dance?

I wanted to be an actor and thought it was a good idea to take dance classes. Later, back at acting classes I realized how comfortable I was with movement and uncomfortable with words. I must admit that I was a teenager at the time and the large majority of girls in the dance classes was also a great motivation…

Have you always been interested in science?

I was an arty kid that did not have any interest in science. I was raised in an artistic family – my father was a geometrical painter – I thought science was not for me. Art, literature, “soft” science, theatre, that was my thing. It was only at the age of 48, in one of the greatest laboratories there is, that I started to see that I could become “science able”. I realized that particle physics was not only about math, but also had great philosophical questions: that I could get the general sense of what was going down there and follow with passion the discovery. Science is like contemporary art, you need to find the door, but when you get in you can take everything on and make up your own mind about it without being a specialist or a geek.

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?

Ski instructor!

Adding their own measure of excitement to this world tour of Quantum, the company’s dancers are producing videos of interviews with choreographers and dancers local to the city the company is visiting (from the What’s Up project page or the gillesjobin.com website),

WHAT’S UP est un projet des danseurs de la Cie Gilles Jobin : Catarina Barbosa, Ruth Childs, Susana Panadés Díaz, Bruno Cezario, Stanislas Charré et Denis Terrasse .

Dans chaque ville visitée pendant la tournée mondiale de QUANTUM, ils partent à la rencontre des danseurs/chorégraphes pour connaître le contexte de la danse contemporaine locale et partager leurs différentes réalités.

Retrouvez ici toutes les interviews

The latest interview is an Oct. 10, 2014 video (approximate 2 mins.) focusing on Katherine Hawthorne who in addition to being a dancer trained as a physicist.

Part 2 is based on an interview I had with Gilles Jobin on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 an hour or so after his and his company’s flight landed in Vancouver.

Fun Palaces for artists, scientists, and everyone in the UK, Oct. 4 – 5, 2014

The Fun Palace project is a celebration of UK theatre visionary and director, Joan Littlewood’s centenary in Oct. 2014. Stella Duffy, one of the project organizer’s provides some  insight into why Littlewood is considered an important influence, the origin of the ‘Fun Palace’, and the genesis of the upcoming celebration in a Sept. 18, 2013 posting on the Guardian newspaper website (Note: Links have been removed),,

In January, at Improbable’s annual Devoted and Disgruntled event, I called one session: “Who wants to do something for Joan Littlewood’s centenary in October 2014, that isn’t another revival of Oh! What a Lovely War?”

Oh! What a Lovely War, which Joan developed, is brilliant, but with the first world war anniversary next year, there will be many revivals and Joan was more than a director. She was one of the few British directors (before or since) to work fully with an ensemble, from training to performance. She made “immersive” theatre long before immersive was cool. She kick-started improvisation in the UK. She was political, formidable, inspiring, and far ahead of her time.

In 1961, Joan and the architect Cedric Price came up with the idea of the fun palace. Their blueprint says:

“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

An idea descended from pleasure gardens, the fun palace was designed to link arts and sciences, entertainment and education, in a space welcoming to all – especially children and young people.

A year later, the idea has not only taken root, it has grown. Here’s more about Fun Palaces from co-organizers Stella Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings in a Sept. 25, 2014 interview with Eleanor Turney of The Space (a digital arts museum in the UK ).

At Devoted&Disgruntled in 2013, Stella Duffy called a session asking if anyone wanted to do “a thing” to celebrate Joan Littlewood’s centenary. It quickly became apparent that the “thing” was going to be reviving Littlewood’s idea of a ‘Fun Palace’, a community-run, free space for people to explore the arts and sciences. Several people responded, a small GfA grant followed and Fun Palaces snowballed, as more and more people got involved, and Duffy and Sarah-Jane Rawlings started to articulate exactly what they wanted the project to be. This was followed by an Arts Council England Exceptional Award – which Duffy describes as “astonishing… It’s all becoming real now, but it’s still astonishing to me that they gave us this grant. I’m not the kind of person who always gets funding, but this is too fucking good an idea. Also, it’s not about us. It’s about the whole thing, which they [ACE] quite bravely saw.”

Rawlings continues: “The idea has developed so much, it’s always changing, we’re learning all the time. Our relationship with the site that The Space is making has changed – it’s now really key to how all of this develops. If we don’t get any money next year, [Fun Palaces] can still can go forward, because at the centre of it is this communication tool. It’s about people talking to each other, about showing their art on it, being able to say ‘I am making a Fun Palace,’ being able to access other avenues. It’s absolutely huge.”

“My favourite new phrase is ‘equality of online presence’,’ says Duffy, ‘and the point is that everyone has the same platform. It’s got nothing to do with what an organisation’s own resources are; on this site, everyone’s got the same profile, the same start, which is amazing.” The site, which The Space has commissioned, offers a page to each of the participating Fun Palaces: “You can put photos on it, videos, art work, links etc.,’ explains Rawlings. Over the weekend and in the run-up to it, says Duffy, “there’ll be a scrolling banner which has the Instagram and Twitter feeds. It’s not just about the weekend itself, it’s about the process. Some of the organisations that have never shown their process before have started sharing photos, writing blogs, talking about their process. The idea is, during the weekend when lots of people are sharing, that the scrolling banner will pull through the Instragram feed and it’ll look ‘live’ with stuff happening all the time. And afterwards, it’s not getting archived and put away – we’ll make a collage of the photos, and an infographic of stats from the weekend, which will ‘hold’ 2014, but it’s also all ready for people to sign up for 2015.”

The emphasis in this interview is on the project’s digital presence which is understandable given that the interview is being conducted by someone associated with a digital arts museum but there are many real life ‘Fun Palaces’ designed for this coming weekend, Oct. 4 – 5, 2014.

You can find the Fun Palace website here and if you should choose to create a Fun Palace, the organizers have provided this nugget of information/inspiration on the FAQs (frequently asked questions) page amongst many other nuggets on the website,

How do I find people in arts and science to make a Fun Palace with me?

Go beyond the usual suspects: the people who make school dinners know about the science of cooking, the person who mends your car knows a lot about the science of mechanics; your local librarian knows about arts and sciences and where to find out more.

Think about where you might be able to approach people in your locality: makerspaces, tech meet-ups, universities, schools, children’s centres, theatres, arts spaces, galleries, museums, music venues, community centres, co-working spaces. Places where people are meeting and sharing regularly, or where there’s a strong grassroots support network.

Also, you can talk to other members of the Fun Palace community on our Discussion Boards. If you’re stuck for ideas, then contact our Digital Champion Hannah on [email protected] (she works part time).  

Remember that even if there isn’t a Fun Palace near you in real life, there will be an online version.

For anyone interested in The Space, it was first featured here in a June 16, 2014 posting.

Science and the arts: a science rap promotes civil discussion about science and religion; a science movie and a play; and a chemistry article about authenticating a Lawren Harris painting

Canadian-born rapper of science and many other topics, Baba Brinkman sent me an update about his current doings (first mentioned in an Aug. 1, 2014 posting featuring his appearances at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his Rap Guide to Religion being debuted at the Fringe, and his Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the creation of an animated rap album of his news Rap Guide to Religion), Note: Links have been removed,

Greetings from Edinburgh! In the past two and half weeks I’ve done fifteen performances of The Rap Guide to Religion for a steadily building audience here at the Fringe, and we recently had a whole pile of awesome reviews published, which I will excerpt below, but first a funny story.

Yesterday [August 14, 2014] BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Sunday Morning TV was in to film my performance. They had a scheme to send a right wing conservative Christian to the show and then film us having an argument afterwards. The man they sent certainly has the credentials. Reverend George Hargreaves is a Pentecostal Minister and former leader of the UK Christian Party, as well as a young earth creationist and strong opponent of abortion and homosexuality. He led the protests that got “Jerry Springer the Opera” shut down in London a few years back, and is on record as saying that religion is not an appropriate subject for comedy. Before he converted to Christianity, the man was also a DJ and producer of pop music for the London gay scene, interesting background.

So after an hour of cracking jokes at religion’s expense, declaring myself an unapologetic atheist, and explaining why evolutionary science gives a perfectly satisfying naturalistic account of where religion comes from, I sat down with Reverend George and was gobsmacked when he started the interview with: “I don’t know if we’re going to have anything to debate about… I LOVED your show!” We talked for half an hour with the cameras rolling and at one point George said “I don’t know what we disagree about,” so I asked him: “Do you think one of your ancestors was a fish?” He declared that statement a fishy story and denied it, and then we found much to disagree about.

I honestly thought I had written a hard-hitting, provocative and controversial show, but it turns out the religious are loving it as much as the nonbelievers – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I asked Reverend George why he wasn’t offended, even though he’s officially against comedy that targets religion, and he told me it’s because I take the religious worldview seriously, instead of lazily dismissing it as delusional. The key word here is “lazily” rather than “delusional” because I don’t pull punches about religion being a series of delusions, but I don’t think those delusions are pointless. I think they have evolved (culturally and genetically) to solve adaptive problems in the past, and for religious people accustomed to atheists being derisive and dismissive that’s a (semi) validating perspective.

To listen to songs from The Rap Guide to Religion, you need to back my Kickstarter campaign so I can raise the money to produce a proper record. To check out what the critics here in Edinburgh have to say about my take on religion, read on. And if you want to help organize a gig somewhere, just let me know. The show is open for bookings.

On Sunday Morning [August 17, 2014 GMT] my segment with Reverend George will air on BBC One, so we’ll see what a million British people think of the debate.

All the best from the religious fringe,

Baba

Here’s a link to the BBC One Sunday Morning Live show, where hopefully you’ll be able to catch the segment featuring Baba and Reverend George Hargreaves either livestreamed or shortly thereafter.

A science movie and a science play

Onto the science movie and the play: David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog writes about two upcoming movie biopics featuring Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively, in an Aug. 8, 2014 posting. Having covered the Turing movie here (at length) in a July 22, 2014 posting here’s the new information about the Hawking movie from David’s Aug, 8, 2014 posting,

Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking are noted British scientists, well recognized for their work and for having faced significant challenges in their lives.  While they were in different fields and productive in different parts of the 20th century (Hawking is still with us), their stories will compete in movieplexes (at least in the U.S.) this November.

The Theory of Everything is scheduled for release on November 7 and focuses on the early career and life of Hawking.  He’s portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, and the film is directed by James Marsh.  Marsh has several documentaries to his credit, including the Oscar-winning Man on Wire.  Theory is the third film project on Hawking since 2004, but the first to get much attention outside of the United Kingdom (this might explain why it won’t debut in the U.K. until New Year’s Day).  It premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival next month [Sept. 2014].

David features some trailers for both movies and additional information.

Interestingly the science play focuses on the friendship between a female UK scientist and her former student, Margaret Thatcher (a UK Prime Minister). From an Aug. 13, 2014 Alice Bell posting on the Guardian science blog network (Note: Links have been removed),

Adam Ganz’s new play – The Chemistry Between Them, to be broadcast on Radio 4 this month – explores one of the most intriguing friendships in the history of science and politics: Margaret Thatcher and Dorothy Hodgkin.

As well as winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her pioneering scientific work on the structures of proteins, Hodgkin was a left-wing peace campaigner who was awarded the Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Order of Lenin. Hardly Thatcher’s type, you might think. But Hodgkin was Thatcher’s tutor at university, and the relationships between science, politics and women in high office are anything but straightforward.

I spoke to Ganz about his interest in the subject, and started by asking him to tell us more about the play.

… they stayed friends throughout Dorothy’s life. Margaret Thatcher apparently had a photo of Dorothy Hodgkin in Downing Street, and they maintained a kind of warm relationship. The play happens in two timescales – one is a meeting in 1983 in Chequers where Dorothy came to plead with Margaret to take nuclear disarmament more seriously at a time when Cruise missiles and SS20s were being stationed in Europe. In fact I’ve set it – I’m not sure of the exact date – shortly after the Korean airliner was shot down, when the Russians feared Nato were possibly planning a first strike. And that is intercut with the time when Margaret is studying chemistry and looking at her journey; what she learned at Somerville, but especially what she learned from Dorothy.

Here’s a link to the BBC 4 webpage for The Chemistry Between Them. I gather the broadcast will be Weds., Aug. 20, 2014 at 1415 hours GMT.

Chemistry and authentication of a Lawren Harris painting

The final item for this posting concerns Canadian art, chemistry, and the quest to prove the authenticity of a painting. Roberta Staley, editor of Canadian Chemical News (ACCN), has written a concise technical story about David Robertson’s quest to authenticate a painting he purchased some years ago,

Fourteen years ago, David Robertson of Delta, British Columbia was holidaying in Ontario when he stopped at a small antique shop in the community of Bala, two hours north of Toronto in cottage country. An unsigned 1912 oil painting caught his attention. Thinking it evocative of a Group of Seven painting, Robertson paid the asking price of $280 and took it home to hang above his fireplace.

Roberta has very kindly made it available as a PDF: ChemistryNews_Art.Mystery.Group.7. It will also be available online at the Canadian Chemical News website soon. (It’s not in the July/August 2014 issue.)

For anyone who might recognize the topic, I wrote a sprawling five-part series (over 5000 words) on the story starting with part one. Roberta’s piece is 800 words and offers her  account of the tests for both Autumn Harbour and the authentic Harris painting, Hurdy Gurdy. I was able to attend only one of them (Autumn Harbour).

David William Robertson, Autumn Harbour’s owner has recently (I received a notice on Aug. 13, 2014) updated his website with all of the scientific material and points of authentication that he feels prove his case.

Have a very nice weekend!

BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (part two of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience*, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

Before further discussing the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues ‘brain’ meetings mentioned in part one, I have some background information.

The US launched its self-explanatory BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative (originally called BAM; Brain Activity Map) in 2013. (You can find more about the history and details in this Wikipedia entry.)

From the beginning there has been discussion about how nanotechnology will be of fundamental use in the US BRAIN initiative and the European Union’s 10 year Human Brain Project (there’s more about that in my Jan. 28, 2013 posting). There’s also a 2013 book (Nanotechnology, the Brain, and the Future) from Springer, which, according to the table of contents, presents an exciting (to me) range of ideas about nanotechnology and brain research,

I. Introduction and key resources

1. Nanotechnology, the brain, and the future: Anticipatory governance via end-to-end real-time technology assessment by Jason Scott Robert, Ira Bennett, and Clark A. Miller
2. The complex cognitive systems manifesto by Richard P. W. Loosemore
3. Analysis of bibliometric data for research at the intersection of nanotechnology and neuroscience by Christina Nulle, Clark A. Miller, Harmeet Singh, and Alan Porter
4. Public attitudes toward nanotechnology-enabled human enhancement in the United States by Sean Hays, Michael Cobb, and Clark A. Miller
5. U.S. news coverage of neuroscience nanotechnology: How U.S. newspapers have covered neuroscience nanotechnology during the last decade by Doo-Hun Choi, Anthony Dudo, and Dietram Scheufele
6. Nanoethics and the brain by Valerye Milleson
7. Nanotechnology and religion: A dialogue by Tobie Milford

II. Brain repair

8. The age of neuroelectronics by Adam Keiper
9. Cochlear implants and Deaf culture by Derrick Anderson
10. Healing the blind: Attitudes of blind people toward technologies to cure blindness by Arielle Silverman
11. Ethical, legal and social aspects of brain-implants using nano-scale materials and techniques by Francois Berger et al.
12. Nanotechnology, the brain, and personal identity by Stephanie Naufel

III. Brain enhancement

13. Narratives of intelligence: the sociotechnical context of cognitive enhancement by Sean Hays
14. Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy by Henry T. Greeley et al.
15. The opposite of human enhancement: Nanotechnology and the blind chicken debate by Paul B. Thompson
16. Anticipatory governance of human enhancement: The National Citizens’ Technology Forum by Patrick Hamlett, Michael Cobb, and David Guston
a. Arizona site report
b. California site report
c. Colorado site reportd. Georgia site report
e. New Hampshire site report
f. Wisconsin site report

IV. Brain damage

17. A review of nanoparticle functionality and toxicity on the central nervous system by Yang et al.
18. Recommendations for a municipal health and safety policy for nanomaterials: A Report to the City of Cambridge City Manager by Sam Lipson
19. Museum of Science Nanotechnology Forum lets participants be the judge by Mark Griffin
20. Nanotechnology policy and citizen engagement in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Local reflexive governance by Shannon Conley

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s May 13, 2014 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog, I stumbled across both a future meeting notice and documentation of the  Feb. 2014 meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Note: Links have been removed),

Continuing from its last meeting (in February 2014), the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will continue working on the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative in its June 9-10 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  An agenda is still forthcoming, …

In other developments, Commission staff are apparently going to examine some efforts to engage bioethical issues through plays.  I’d be very excited to see some of this happen during a Commission meeting, but any little bit is interesting.  The authors of these plays, Karen H. Rothenburg and Lynn W. Bush, have published excerpts in their book The Drama of DNA: Narrative Genomics.  …

The Commission also has a YouTube channel …

Integrating a theatrical experience into the reams of public engagement exercises that technologies such as stem cell, GMO (genetically modified organisms), nanotechnology, etc. tend to spawn seems a delightful idea.

Interestingly, the meeting in June 2014 will coincide with the book’s release date. I dug further and found these snippets of information. The book is being published by Oxford University Press and is available in both paperback and e-book formats. The authors are not playwrights, as one might assume. From the Author Information page,

Lynn Bush, PhD, MS, MA is on the faculty of Pediatric Clinical Genetics at Columbia University Medical Center, a faculty associate at their Center for Bioethics, and serves as an ethicist on pediatric and genomic advisory committees for numerous academic medical centers and professional organizations. Dr. Bush has an interdisciplinary graduate background in clinical and developmental psychology, bioethics, genomics, public health, and neuroscience that informs her research, writing, and teaching on the ethical, psychological, and policy challenges of genomic medicine and clinical research with children, and prenatal-newborn screening and sequencing.

Karen H. Rothenberg, JD, MPA serves as Senior Advisor on Genomics and Society to the Director, National Human Genome Research Institute and Visiting Scholar, Department of Bioethics, Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health. She is the Marjorie Cook Professor of Law, Founding Director, Law & Health Care Program and former Dean at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Visiting Professor, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Professor Rothenberg has served as Chair of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Commission, President of the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics, and has been on many NIH expert committees, including the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee.

It is possible to get a table of contents for the book but I notice not a single playwright is mentioned in any of the promotional material for the book. While I like the idea in principle, it seems a bit odd and suggests that these are purpose-written plays. I have not had good experiences with purpose-written plays which tend to be didactic and dull, especially when they’re not devised by a professional storyteller.

You can find out more about the upcoming ‘bioethics’ June 9 – 10, 2014 meeting here.  As for the Feb. 10 – 11, 2014 meeting, the Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post featured Barbara Herr Harthorn’s (director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California at Santa Barbara) participation only.

It turns out, there are some Canadian tidbits. From the Meeting Sixteen: Feb. 10-11, 2014 webcasts page, (each presenter is featured in their own webcast of approximately 11 mins.)

Timothy Caulfield, LL.M., F.R.S.C., F.C.A.H.S.

Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy
Professor in the Faculty of Law
and the School of Public Health
University of Alberta

Eric Racine, Ph.D.

Director, Neuroethics Research Unit
Associate Research Professor
Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal
Associate Research Professor,
Department of Medicine
Université de Montréal
Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery,
McGill University

It was a surprise to see a couple of Canucks listed as presenters and I’m grateful that the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is so generous with information. in addition to the webcasts, there is the Federal Register Notice of the meeting, an agenda, transcripts, and presentation materials. By the way, Caulfield discussed hype and Racine discussed public understanding of science with regard to neuroscience both fitting into the overall theme of communication. I’ll have to look more thoroughly but it seems to me there’s no mention of pop culture as a means of communicating about science and technology.

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series:

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part three: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (May 20, 2014)

Part four: Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

* ‘neursocience’ corrected to ‘neuroscience’ on May 20, 2014.

1st code poetry slam at Stanford University

It’s code as in computer code and slam as in performance competition which when added to the word poetry takes most of us into uncharted territory. Here’s a video clip featuring the winning entry, Say 23 by Leslie Wu, competing in Stanford University’s (located in California) 1st code poetry slam,


If you listen closely (this clip does not have the best sound quality), you can hear the words to Psalm 23 (from the bible).

Thanks to this Dec. 29, 2013 news item on phys.org for bringing this code poetry slam to my attention (Note: Links have been removed),

Leslie Wu, a doctoral student in computer science at Stanford, took an appropriately high-tech approach to presenting her poem “Say 23″ at the first Stanford Code Poetry Slam.

Wu wore Google Glass as she typed 16 lines of computer code that were projected onto a screen while she simultaneously recited the code aloud. She then stopped speaking and ran the script, which prompted the computer program to read a stream of words from Psalm 23 out loud three times, each one in a different pre-recorded-computer voice.

Wu, whose multimedia presentation earned her first place, was one of eight finalists to present at the Code Poetry Slam. Organized by Melissa Kagen, a graduate student in German studies, and Kurt James Werner, a graduate student in computer-based music theory and acoustics, the event was designed to explore the creative aspects of computer programming.

The Dec. 27, 2013 Stanford University news release by Mariana Lage, which originated the news item, goes on to describe the concept. the competition, and the organizers’ aims,

With presentations that ranged from poems written in a computer language format to those that incorporated digital media, the slam demonstrated the entrants’ broad interpretation of the definition of “code poetry.”

Kagen and Werner developed the code poetry slam as a means of investigating the poetic potentials of computer-programming languages.

“Code poetry has been around a while, at least in programming circles, but the conjunction of oral presentation and performance sounded really interesting to us,” said Werner. Added Kagen, “What we are interested is in the poetic aspect of code used as language to program a computer.”

Sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, the slam drew online submissions from Stanford and beyond.

High school students and professors, graduate students and undergraduates from engineering, computer science, music, language and literature incorporated programming concepts into poem-like forms. Some of the works were written entirely in executable code, such as Ruby and C++ languages, while others were presented in multimedia formats. The works of all eight finalists can be viewed on the Code Poetry Slam website.

Kagen, Werner and Wu agree that code poetry requires some knowledge of programming from the spectators.

“I feel it’s like trying to read a poem in a language with which you are not comfortable. You get the basics, but to really get into the intricacies you really need to know that language,” said Kagen, who studies the traversal of musical space in Wagner and Schoenberg.

Wu noted that when she was typing the code most people didn’t know what she was doing. “They were probably confused and curious. But when I executed the poem, the program interpreted the code and they could hear words,” she said, adding that her presentation “gave voice to the code.”

“The code itself had its own synthesized voice, and its own poetics of computer code and singsong spoken word,” Wu said.

One of the contenders showed a poem that was “misread” by the computer.

“There was a bug in his poem, but more interestingly, there was the notion of a correct interpretation which is somewhat unique to computer code. Compared to human language, code generally has few interpretations or, in most cases, just one,” Wu said.

So what exactly is code poetry? According to Kagen, “Code poetry can mean a lot of different things depending on whom you ask.

“It can be a piece of text that can be read as code and run as program, but also read as poetry. It can mean a human language poetry that has mathematical elements and codes in it, or even code that aims for elegant expression within severe constraints, like a haiku or a sonnet, or code that generates automatic poetry. Poems that are readable to humans and readable to computers perform a kind of cyborg double coding.”

Werner noted that “Wu’s poem incorporated a lot of different concepts, languages and tools. It had Ruby language, Japanese and English, was short, compact and elegant. It did a lot for a little code.” Werner served as one of the four judges along with Kagen; Caroline Egan, a doctoral student in comparative literature; and Mayank Sanganeria, a master’s student at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Kagen and Werner got some expert advice on judging from Michael Widner, the academic technology specialist for the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages.

Widner, who reviewed all of the submissions, noted that the slam allowed scholars and the public to “probe the connections between the act of writing poetry and the act of writing code, which as anyone who has done both can tell you are oddly similar enterprises.”

A scholar who specializes in the study of both medieval and machine languages, Widner said that “when we realize that coding is a creative act, we not only value that part of the coder’s labor, but we also realize that the technologies in which we swim have assumptions and ideologies behind them that, perhaps, we should challenge.”

I first encountered code poetry in 2006 and I don’t think it was new at that time but this is the first time I’ve encountered a code poetry slam. For the curious, here’s more about code poetry from the Digital poetry essay in Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

… There are many types of ‘digital poetry’ such as hypertext, kinetic poetry, computer generated animation, digital visual poetry, interactive poetry, code poetry, holographic poetry (holopoetry), experimental video poetry, and poetries that take advantage of the programmable nature of the computer to create works that are interactive, or use generative or combinatorial approach to create text (or one of its states), or involve sound poetry, or take advantage of things like listservs, blogs, and other forms of network communication to create communities of collaborative writing and publication (as in poetical wikis).

The Stanford organizers have been sufficiently delighted with the response to their 1st code poetry slam that they are organizing a 2nd slam (from the Code Poetry Slam 1.1. homepage),

Call for Works 1.1

Submissions for the second Slam are now open! Submit your code/poetry to the Stanford Code Poetry Slam, sponsored by the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages! Submissions due February 12th, finalists invited to present their work at a poetry slam (place and time TBA). Cash prizes and free pizza!

Stanford University’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL) sponsors a series of Code Poetry Slams. Code Poetry Slam 1.0 was held on November 20th, 2013, and Code Poetry Slam 1.1 will be held Winter quarter 2014.

According to Lage’s news release you don’t have to be associated with Stanford University to be a competitor but, given that you will be performing your poetry there, you will likely have to live in some proximity to the university.

[The Picture of] Dorian Gray opera premiered as part of World New Music Days festival held in Slovakia & Austria: *Kate Pullinger interview

I’m delighted to be publishing an interview with Kate Pullinger a well known Canadian-born writer, resident for many years in the UK, about her opera project. (For her sins, she supervised my De Montfort University’s [UK] master’s project. There were times when I wasn’t sure either of us was going to survive largely [but not solely] due to my computer’s meltdown at the worst possible moment.)

Here’s a bit more about Kate from the About page on her eponymous website,

Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms.  In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes.  Her prize-winning digital fiction projects Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel have reached audiences around the world.

Kate Pullinger gives talks and readings frequently (look at the Events page for future events); she also offers private 1-1 mentoring for emerging writers in both print and new media.  She is Professor of Creative Writing and New Media at Bath Spa University.

As well as The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger’s books include A Little StrangerWeird Sister, The Last Time I Saw Jane, Where Does Kissing End?, and When the Monster Dies, as well as the short story collections, My Life as a Girl in a Men’s Prison and Tiny Lies.  She co-wrote the novel of the film The Piano with director Jane Campion. In 2011, A Curious Dream: Collected Works, a selection of Pullinger’s short stories, was published in Canada.

Kate Pullinger is currently working on a new novel and an associated digital fiction that build on themes developed in her collaborative digital fiction project, Flight Paths:  A Networked Novel.

Other current projects include a libretto based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, commissioned by the Slovak National Theatre in collaboration with the composer Lubica Cekovska.  This work will be premiered in Bratislava in 2013.  Recent projects include working with digital artist James Coupe on Surveillance Suite, a project that generates stories using facial recognition software.

Kate Pullinger was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and went to high school on Vancouver Island. She dropped out of McGill University, Montreal, after a year and a half of not studying philosophy and literature, then spent a year working in a copper mine in the Yukon, northern Canada, where she crushed rocks and saved money. She spent that money travelling and ended up in London, England, where she has been ever since.  She is married and has two children.

You can read more about Kate and her academic work here on her faculty page on the Bath Spa University website.

As for Kate’s work as a librettist on the opera, Dorian Gray, based on the Oscar Wilde novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, she worked with composer, Ľubica Čekovská for the opera, which was debuted on Nov. 8, 2013 in Bratislava, Slovakia as part of the World New Music Days festival, founded in 1922 and *held in Slovakia and Austria in 2013..

Here’s Kate’s interview:

  •  I am assuming you went to the premiere? How was it? And, if you didn’t attend, what do you imagine (or what were you told) happened?

I saw the last two full rehearsals, and then the first two performances.  There are two casts in the Slovakian production – two of all the main roles – I’m not entirely sure why! It was so much fun, to hear the orchestra, and to see the production, and to hear the singers sing our work. Lubica had played me the opera many times using Sibelius, the software composers use, but that sounds like tinny computer music, so it was so pleasurable to hear her score played. And her score is really a wonderful work, very dense, clever, amusing, and tuneful.

  • Can you tell me a little bit about the story and which elements you chose to emphasize and which elements you chose to de-emphasize or eliminate altogether? How does your Dorian Gray differ from the other Dorian Gray opera by American composer Lowell Liebermann,?

I guess the main difference between my adaptation and most others is that I decided to make Dorian and his journey to hell central to the work and to not focus on his relationship with Lord Henry. Adaptations of the novel often make it a kind of two-hander between Dorian and Lord Henry, but we felt that there wasn’t room for that in what we were doing.

I don’t know the Liebermann adaptation at all.

  •  I looked up definitions for librettist and it seems the word means whatever the librettist and the composer decide. Could you describe your role as librettist for this opera?

I structured the story by creating three acts and the scenes therein, and then wrote the text for the singers. Lubica and I had a lot of discussion before I created the structure, and then on-going discussions as I worked on the libretto and she embarked on the score. I finished the libretto, but then continued to make changes as Lubica found issues with it, or we had new ideas. It was a lot of fun and we would like to work together again.

  • How did you two end up collaborating with each other? And what was the process like? e.g. It took about four years to bring this opera to life, yes? So, did the process change as the years moved on and as you got closer to the premiere? Did you learn any Slovak (language)?

The writing process, in total, took about 2.5 years really, the bulk of that Lubica’s time, as creating and scoring an entire opera for a full orchestra is an enormous task. After that, there is a lengthy publishing process, and then the production time. So for the last 1.5 years I did very little except wait for the occasional update.  Lubica was much more involved with the opera house in finding the director, conductor, and casting – and then once rehearsals started she was very involved in that process. Both the director, Nicola Raab, and the conductor, Christopher Ward, said how unusual it was to work with a living composer and librettist!

  • Did anything surprise you as you worked with the story or with the composer (Ľubica Čekovská)?

I learned a lot and there were many surprises.

At this point I’m interrupting the interview to excerpt part of a review in the New York Times, which I ask about in a question that follows the excerpt from A Music Festival Features Premiere of the Opera ‘Dorian Gray’ By GEORGE LOOMIS Published: November 13, 2013 in the New York Times,

The World New Music Days festival was first held in Salzburg in 1922 — around the time Arnold Schoenberg was perfecting his 12-note compositional system — and it remains a robust champion of new music. This year the 11-day program, sponsored by the International Society of Contemporary Music, was spread over three cities — Kosice and Bratislava in Slovakia, and Vienna — and included some 25 concerts, which were supplemented by many others thanks to partnerships with local organizations. A new opera was among the many works to receive their world premieres.

….

But the opera, as seen in Nicola Raab’s generally persuasive staging with sets by Anne Marie Legenstein and Alix Burgstaller that decadently depict Victorian drawing rooms, is marred by the decision to have the picture consist simply of an empty frame, an idea that perhaps seemed bold in concept but misfires in execution. [emphasis mine] Ms. Cekovska interestingly conveys the picture’s disfiguration musically through wordless boy-soprano melodies that recur increasingly distorted. [emphasis mine] But the melodies, to say nothing of the drama itself, need a visual analogue.

Now back to the interview,

  •  The one reviewer I’ve read, from the NY Times, expressed some disappointment with the choice to have an empty picture frame represent the ‘picture of Dorian Gray’ around which the entire story revolves. What was the thinking behind the decision and is there a chance that future productions (my understanding is that one isn’t permitted to make any substantive changes to a production once it has started its run) will feature a picture?

Well, that’s one critic’s opinion, and not one we agree with. Very early on in the process Lubica had the idea, which I think is genius, of representing the picture chorally – in early drafts there was a chorus on stage, and then this shifted to an electronic recorded chorus, where the music becomes gradually more and more distorted as the picture changes. With adaptations of Dorian Gray there is always a huge problem with how to represent the picture, which is so vivid and clear in our mind’s eye when we read Wilde’s original. Having an oil painting that gets older often just looks cheesy – it doesn’t look how you think it should look. So the empty picture frame, and the disintegrating chorus, in my opinion, is wonderful.

  • Given that I write mostly about science and technology, are there any opera technology tidbits about this production that you can offer?

Ha!  It was one of the most analogue experiences of my entire life!

  • How was your recent trip to China? Was it related to the opera project or an entirely new one and what might that be?

I went to China as part of a UK university exchange programme, looking at setting up collaborations with Chinese universities. It was a very interesting trip, though somewhat dominated by the appalling air quality in all three of the cities we visited.

  • Is there anything you’d like to add? (e.g. plans to bring the opera to Vancouver, Canada)

Opera productions don’t travel, so any future productions will have to be new productions, if you see what I mean – or co-productions. This is what the opera house hopes will happen. Ľubica Čekovská is a young composer with a steadily rising reputation, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are future productions of it. I think it is a wonderful piece of work, but I’m biased.

Thank you, Kate for your time and for illuminating a topic of some interest to me. I’ve wondered about opera and librettists especially since many well known writers like you and Margaret Atwood are now working in this media. (Margaret Atwood is librettist for the opera ‘Pauline’ [about poet Pauline Johnson] which will have its world première on May 23, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada.)

For the curious, there’s another interview with Kate (she discusses the then upcoming opera and other work)  written up by Jeremy Hight in a Feb. 2011 article for the Leonardo Almanac and Ľubica Čekovská’s website is here. One final note, World New Music Days festival will be held in Vancouver, Canada in 2017, according to New York Times writer, George Loomis.

* I posted a little sooner that I should have. As of 10:30 am PST, I have added Kate Pullinger’s name to the heading, and added Austria and Slovakia as the sites for the 2013 World New Music Days festival.

ETA Dec. 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm PST: The opera, Dorian Gray, will be performed again in Bratislava at the National Slovak Theatre on 20 February, 5 April and 5 June 2014. More here.

Art and nanotechnology at Cornell University’s (US) 2014 Biennial/Biennale

The 2014 Cornell [University located in New York State, US] Council for the Arts (CCA) Biennial, “Intimate Cosmologies: The Aesthetics of Scale in an Age of Nanotechnology” was announced in a Dec. 5, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

A campuswide exhibition next fall will explore the cultural and human consequences of seeing the world at the micro and macro levels, through nanoscience and networked communications.

From Sept. 15 to Dec. 22, the 2014 Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) Biennial, “Intimate Cosmologies: The Aesthetics of Scale in an Age of Nanotechnology”, will feature several events and principal projects by faculty and student investigators and guest artists – artist-in-residence kimsooja, Trevor Paglen and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – working in collaboration with Cornell scientists and researchers.

The Dec.5, 2013 Cornell University news release written by Daniel Aloi, which originated the news item, describes the plans for and events leading to the biennale in Fall 2014,

The inaugural biennial theme was chosen to frame dynamic changes in 21st-century culture and art practice, and in nanoscale technology. The multidisciplinary initiative intends to engage students, faculty and the community in demonstrations of how radical shifts in scale have become commonplace, and how artists address realms of human experience lying beyond immediate sensory perception.

“Participating in the biennial is very exciting. We’re engaging the idea of nano and investigating scale as part of the value of art in performance,” said Beth Milles ’88, associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, who is collaborating on a project with students and with artist Lynn Tomlinson ’88.

A series of events and curricula this fall and spring are preceding the main Biennial exhibition. Joe Davis and Nathaniel Stern ’99 presented talks this semester, and CCA will bring Paul Thomas, Stephanie Rothenberg, Ana Viseu and others to campus in the coming months.

kimsooja, an acclaimed multimedia artist in performance, video and installation, addresses issues of the displaced self and recently represented Korea in the 55th Venice Biennale. She visited the campus Nov. 22-23 to meet with Uli Weisner and students from his research group, who will work with her to realize her large-scale installation here next fall.

Lozano-Hemmer has worked on both ends of the scale spectrum, from laser-etched poetry on human hairs to an interactive light sculpture over Mexico City, Toronto and Yamaguchi, Japan. Paglen’s researched-based work blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism and other disciplines.

The Biennial focus brings together artists and scientists who share a common curiosity regarding the position of the individual within the larger world, CCA Director Stephanie Owens said.

“Scientists are suddenly designers creating new forms,” she said. “And artists are increasingly interested in how things are structured, down to the biological level. Both are designing and discovering new ways of synthesizing natural properties of the material world with the fabricated experiences that extend and express the impact of these properties on our lives.”

Here’s a sample of the work that will be featured at the Biennale,

A prototype image of architecture professor Jenny Sabin's "eSkin" CCA Biennial project, an interactive simulation of a building façade that behaves like a living organism. Credit: Jenny Sabin Courtesy: Cornell University

A prototype image of architecture professor Jenny Sabin’s “eSkin” CCA Biennial project, an interactive simulation of a building façade that behaves like a living organism. Credit: Jenny Sabin Courtesy: Cornell University

Aloi includes a description of some of the exhibits and shows to be featured,

 The principal projects to be presented are:

  • “eSkin” – Architecture professor Jenny Sabin addresses ecology and sustainability issues with buildings that behave like organisms. Her project is an interactive simulation of a façade material incorporating nano- and microscale substrates plated with human cells.
  • “Nano Performance: In 13 Boxes” – Performing and media arts professor Beth Milles ‘88, animator/visual artist Lynn Tomlinson ‘88 and students from different majors will collaborate on 13 media installations and live performances situated across campus. Computer mapping and clues linking the project’s components will assist in “synthesizing the 13 events as a whole experience – it has a lot to do with discovering the performance,” Mills said.
  • “Nano Where: Gas In, Light Out” – Juan Hinestroza, fiber science, and So-Yeon Yoon, design and environmental analysis, will demonstrate the potential of molecular-level metal-organic frameworks as wearable sensors to detect methane and poisonous gases, using a sealed gas chamber and 3-D visual art.
  • “Paperscapes” – Three architecture students – teaching associate Caio Barboza ’13; Joseph Kennedy ’15 and Sonny Xu ’13 – will render the microscopic textures of a sheet of paper as a 3-D inhabitable landscape.
  • “When Art Exceeds Perception” – Ph.D. student in applied physics Robert Hovden will explore replication and plagiarism in nanoscale reproductions, 1,000 times smaller than the naked eye can see, of famous works of art inscribed onto a silicon crystal.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) has more information about their 2014 ‘nano Biennale’ here. This looks very exciting and I wish I could be there.

One final note, I’ve used the Biennale rather than Biennial as I associate Biennial and the US with the dates of 1776 and 1976 when the country celebrated its 200th anniversary.

Interview with Baba Brinkman on the occasion of his Rap Guide to Evolution performance in Vancouver, November 2013 edition

Baba Brinkman is in the words of his eponymous website’s homepage,

Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist, writer, actor, and tree planter. He is best known for his award-winning hip-hop theatre shows, including The Rap Guide to Evolution and The Canterbury Tales Remixed, which interpret the works of Darwin and Chaucer for a modern audience.

Originally from British Columbia and now living in New York City, he has brought his Rap Guide to Evolution which has been an off-Broadway show, a festival performance, and a DVD project to Vancouver. The last time he performed this show, which morphs as new information is received and as it is adapted for different media and performance types, to Vancouver was in 2011 (my Feb. 17, 2011 posting features a pre-show interview he gave),. This time he’s at Vancouver’s East Cultural Centre, (The Cultch) from Oct. 29, – November 10, 2013 (tickets here).

Baba has very kindly (especially since the show just opened a few days ago) given me a second interview. Without more ado, here’s the interview,

  • Could you describe the full theatrical version of the Rap Guide to Evolution that played in New York? And is this what you’ve brought to Vancouver or has it been adapted either due to cost and/or venue and/or geographic location?

The show running in Vancouver is the full off-Broadway production, which includes music and live turntablism by Jamie Simmonds, visual projections by Wendall Harrington and lighting design by Jason Boyd. All of these production elements were added in 2011 specifically for the New York run, and they create a full immersion experience with lights and sounds and visuals and words all weaving together to tell the story of Darwin’s intellectual impact on the modern world.

  • In Adrian Mack’s Oct. 23, 2013 piece in the Georgia Straight) newspaper, you talked about karma, Vancouverites’ belief in it, and the science of it. How did you come to a scientific understanding of karma and could you explain what you mean by ‘cheater detection’ and ‘evolved deterrents to free-riding behaviour’?

Karma is *often summarized as “what goes around comes around” and for most people it’s a belief that the universe is somehow keeping score, rewarding goodness and punishing badness. The dark side of the widespread belief in karma, in Vancouver and elsewhere, is that it could just as accurately be summarized as “whatever happens to you, good or bad, you deserve it” which doesn’t sit right with most people when they think it through. We constantly see people around us being unjustly rewarded for bad behaviour and punished for good behaviour, and we see a lot of randomness too. Not many of us would tell a pedestrian who was hit by a drunk driver: “that’s karma”, but if you give a homeless person a dollar and later find out that you’ve won a big prize in a raffle draw *you might think it’s karma. Hence, we usually only invoke the concept of karma when we encounter seemingly random events that appear to repay like with like.

The scientific view is that our minds misattribute causality to these kinds of random events, but we do it for a good reason. Humans are social primates, and social groups share the mutual benefits of cooperative efforts, but those benefits are constantly undermined by individuals who claim the rewards without paying the cooperative costs, ie cheaters and free-riders. Evolution will favour free-riding behaviour unless there are mechanisms to punish or suppress it, but punishment itself is costly, so there are a whole series of obstacles to evolving cooperation. One way to overcome these obstacles is with psychological mechanisms for “cheater detection” (seeking and identifying non-cooperators) and “altruistic punishment” (enforcing costs on them through reputation-damage, ostracism, loss of liberty, etc), both of which humans have been experimentally shown to have in spades. We care about who’s a fraud, a thief, and a cheater, and we want to see them pay for it. Denouncing and locking up Bernie Madoff feels good.

Hence, the concept of karma can be redeemed as a social as opposed to metaphysical phenomenon. The reason we feel like the universe adheres to the principle of “what goes around comes around” is because we are evolved to pursue that model through our social interactions, so we project it onto the physical world. The universe doesn’t enforce good behaviour, but your peers certainly do. If you doubt it, try ripping them off and see what happens.

  • I see you were an artist-in-residence at the US National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) which is located at the University of Tennessee. Could you describe the experience especially in light of the fact that Tennessee is the state where the Scopes trial took place? (The trial is famous for bringing two of the US’s best known lawyers of the 1920s [William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow] to argue whether or not evolution was scientific and should be taught in schools.)

I was expecting the Tennessee residency to be a lot more controversial, but in fact most of it was spent interacting with post-docs and grad students, learning about their research, going to lectures, and going to live music events at local bars. Major evolution vs creationism showdowns reminiscent of Scopes did not feature prominently in my time there, but in retrospect that isn’t surprising since I was a guest of a national scientific research centre and was situated on a university campus. The one exception to this general tranquility was my performance at Union County High School, which generated some controversy, summarized in my “Tennessee Monkey Trials” blog. I thought I was there to fight a culture war, but mostly I just drank local craft beer (and moonshine) and listened to live bluegrass music. *The end result was The Infomatic EP  produced by Jamie Simmonds, who was in Tennessee with me for most of the residency.”*

  • How have you and/or your work changed since you embarked on rapping science?

The biggest change is that I have come to identify as a skeptic, atheist, and philosophical naturalist, whereas before I would have called myself agnostic or spiritual. I was never religious before, but I was sympathetic to the idea of a nebulous spiritual “force” at work in the world. However, the more I read about evolution and psychology and the scientific method, the less seriously I was able to take supernatural or miraculous explanations for anything at all. Now I write rationalist anthems like “Naturalizm” and “Off That“, which are very different in tone than the music I was making six years ago.

  • Where are you off to after this?

My next tour is the Norway Hip-hop Festival in February, and then a big tour of Australia in May/June, including the Sydney Opera House. In the meantime, my wife is pregnant with our first baby, due in late November, so I’m going to spend the winter learning to be a father, which is pretty exciting. Darwin would be proud.

  • Is there anything you’d like to add?

I hope your readers will come to the show, if they are able. It runs until November 10th in Vancouver. Or, if they can’t make it, download the album and bump it in your headphones. Scientific literacy never sounded so good!

Baba, I very much appreciate the interview and the gift of your precious time writing this up just after you’ve opened your show here in Vancouver. As well, congratulations to you and your wife!

Also, thank you for that explanation of karma and science and, especially, for this bit, “The dark side of the widespread belief in karma, in Vancouver and elsewhere, is that it could just as accurately be summarized as “whatever happens to you, good or bad, you deserve it” which doesn’t sit right with most people when they think it through. We constantly see people around us being unjustly rewarded for bad behaviour and punished for good behaviour, and we see a lot of randomness too. …” Many times I’ve lovely well-meaning individuals do damage with advice that includes blame via ‘karma’. Thank you for being much more articulate about it than I’ve been.

As for anyone who likes to see reviews, the only one I could find is from Colin Thomas who in an Oct. 30, 2013 review for the Georgia Straight which was further elucidated in a Nov. 1, 2013 posting on his eponymous blog, had issues not with the performance (“Smart writer. Handsome production. But no. Just no. ” [from the Oct. 30, 2012 review]) but the content and the politics regarding rap and gender, in particular. I gather Thomas found the show thought-provoking.

* Two corrections made: ‘ofter’ to ‘often’ and ‘raffle and you might’ to ‘raffle you might’ in the response to the Karma question and one sentence added to the end of the Tennessee question on Nov.4, 2013.