Category Archives: poetry

ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) 2015 and the pronoun ‘I’

The 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Arts (or ISEA 2015) held  in Vancouver ended yesterday, Aug. 19, 2015. It was quite an experience both as a participant and as a presenter (mentioned in my Aug. 14, 2015 posting, Sneak peek: Steep (1): a digital poetry of gold nanoparticles). Both this ISEA and the one I attended previously in 2009 (Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland) were jampacked with sessions, keynote addresses, special events, and exhibitions of various artworks. Exhilarating and exhausting, that is the ISEA experience for me and just about anyone else I talked to here in Vancouver (Canada). In terms of organization, I have to give props to the Irish. Unfortunately, the Vancouver team didn’t seem to have given their volunteers any training and technical difficulties abounded. Basics such as having a poster outside a room noting what session was taking place, signage indicating which artist’s work was being featured, and good technical support (my guy managed to plug in a few things but seemed disinclined or perhaps didn’t have the technical expertise (?) to troubleshoot prior to the presentation) seemed elusive (a keynote presentation had to be moved due to technical requirements [!] plus no one told the volunteer staff who consequently misdirected people). Ooops.

Despite the difficulties, people remained enthusiastic and that’s a tribute to both the participants and, importantly, the organizers. The Vancouver ISEA was a huge undertaking with over 1000 presentation submissions made and over 1800 art work submissions. They had 900+ register and were the first ISEA able to offer payment to artists for their installations. Bravo to Philippe Pasquier, Thecla Schiphorst, Kate Armstrong, Malcolm Levy, and all the others who worked hard to pull this off.

Moving on to ‘I’, while the theme for ISEA 2015 was Disruption, I noticed a number of presentations focused on biology and on networks (in particular, generative networks). In some ways this parallels what’s happening in the sciences where more notice is being given to networks and network communications of all sorts.  For example, there’s an Aug. 19, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily suggesting that our use of the pronoun ‘I’ may become outdated.  What we consider to be an individual may be better understood as a host for a number of communities or networks,

Recent microbiological research has shown that thinking of plants and animals, including humans, as autonomous individuals is a serious over-simplification.

A series of groundbreaking studies have revealed that what we have always thought of as individuals are actually “biomolecular networks” that consist of visible hosts plus millions of invisible microbes that have a significant effect on how the host develops, the diseases it catches, how it behaves and possibly even its social interactions.

“It’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,” said Seth Bordenstein, associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, who has contributed to the body of scientific knowledge that is pointing to the conclusion that symbiotic microbes play a fundamental role in virtually all aspects of plant and animal biology, including the origin of new species.

In this case, the parts are the host and its genome plus the thousands of different species of bacteria living in or on the host, along with all their genomes, collectively known as the microbiome. (The host is something like the tip of the iceberg while the bacteria are like the part of the iceberg that is underwater: Nine out of every 10 cells in plant and animal bodies are bacterial. But bacterial cells are so much smaller than host cells that they have generally gone unnoticed.)

An Aug. 19, 2015 Vanderbilt University news release, which originated the news item, describes this provocative idea (no more ‘I’)  further,

Microbiologists have coined new terms for these collective entities — holobiont — and for their genomes — hologenome. “These terms are needed to define the assemblage of organisms that makes up the so-called individual,” said Bordenstein.

In the article “Host Biology in Light of the Microbiome: Ten Principles of Holobionts and Hologenomes” published online Aug. 18 [2015] in the open access journal PLOS Biology, Bordenstein and his colleague Kevin Theis from the University of Michigan take the general concepts involved in this new paradigm and break them down into underlying principles that apply to the entire field of biology.

They make specific and refutable predictions based on these principles and call for other biologists to test them theoretically and experimentally.

“One of the basic expectations from this conceptual framework is that animal and plant experiments that do not account for what is happening at the microbiological level will be incomplete and, in some cases, will be misleading as well,” said Bordenstein.

The first principle they advance is that holobionts and hologenomes are fundamental units of biological organization.

Another is that evolutionary forces such as natural selection and drift may act on the hologenome not just on the genome. So mutations in the microbiome that affect the fitness of a holobiont are just as important as mutations in the host’s genome. However, they argue that this does not change the basic rules of evolution but simply upgrades the types of biological units that the rules may act upon.

Although it does not change the basic rules of evolution, holobionts do have a way to respond to environmental challenges that is not available to individual organisms: They can alter the composition of their bacterial communities. For example, if a holobiont is attacked by a pathogen that the host cannot defend against, another symbiont may fulfill the job by manufacturing a toxin that can kill the invader. In this light, the microbes are as much part of the holobiont immune system as the host immune genes themselves.

According to Bordenstein, these ideas are gaining acceptance in the microbiology community. At the American Society of Microbiology General Meeting in June [2015], he convened the inaugural session on “Holobionts and Their Hologenomes” and ASM’s flagship journal mBio plans to publish a special issue on the topic in the coming year. [emphases are mine]

However, adoption of these ideas has been slower in other fields.

“Currently, the field of biology has reached an inflection point. The silos of microbiology, zoology and botany are breaking down and we hope that this framework will help further unify these fields,” said Bordenstein.

Not only will this powerful holistic approach affect the basic biological sciences but it also is likely to impact the practice of personalized medicine as well, Bordenstein said.

Take the missing heritability problem, for example. Although genome-wide studies have provided valuable insights into the genetic basis of a number of simple diseases, they have only found a small portion of the genetic causes of a number of more complex conditions such as autoimmune and metabolic diseases.

These may in part be “missing” because the genetic factors that cause them are in the microbiome, he pointed out.

“Instead of being so ‘germophobic,’ we need to accept the fact that we live in and benefit from a microbial world. We are as much an environment for microbes as microbes are for us,” said Bordenstein.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Host Biology in Light of the Microbiome: Ten Principles of Holobionts and Hologenomes by Seth R. Bordenstein and Kevin R. Theis. PLOS DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002226 Published: August 18, 2015

This is an open access paper.

It’s intriguing to see artists and scientists exploring ideas that resonate with each other. In fact, ISEA 2015 hosted a couple of sessions on BioArt, as well as, having sessions devoted to networks. While, I wasn’t thinking about networks or biological systems when I wrote my poem on gold nanoparticles, I did pose this possibility (how we become the sum of our parts) at the end:

Nature’s alchemy
breathing them
eating them
drinking them
we become gold
discovering what we are

As for how Raewyn handled the idea, words fail, please do go here to see the video here.

Three Vancouver (Canada) science events: Vancouver Public Library on April 27, 2015, Café Scientifique on April 28, 2015, and the Wall Exchange on May 26, 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm is a combined bee/poetry event at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. From the Vancouver Public Library “Honey, Hives, and Poetry in the City” event page,

Celebrate National Poetry Month by investigating food and poetry as a means of cultural and social activism and community building. Featured will be:

  • Rachel Rose, Poet Laureate of Vancouver
  • A collaborative reading by scientist and author Mark L. Winston (Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive) and award winning poet Renee Sarojini Saklikar (Children of Air India)
  • Readings from author and poet Elee Kraljii Gardiner and the Thursdays Writing Collective.
  • Presentation and honey tasting with Hives for Humanity.


Address: 350 West Georgia St.
VancouverV6B 6B1

  • Phone:

Location Details: Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level

[ETA April 21, 2015 at 1000 PST: I’ve just embedded a video which launches a new year of Science Rap Academy (Tom McFadden) in my April 21, 2015 post titled: Please, don’t kill my hive! (a Science Rap Academy production).]

*Change of Speaker for April 28, 2015  Café Scientifique, see Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) makes a ‘happy’ change: new speaker for April 28, 2015 posting.”*

The day after the bee/poetry event, Tuesday, April 28, 2015  Café Scientifique, held in the back room of The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], will be hosting a talk on pain (from the April 13, 2015 announcement,

Our speakers for the evening will be Dr. Matthew Ramer and Dr. John Kramer.  The title of their talk is:

Knowing Pains: How can we study pain to better treat it?

Pain is arguably the most useful of sensations.  It is nature’s way of telling us to stop doing whatever it is we are doing in order to prevent damage, and to protect injured body parts during the healing process.  In the absence of pain (in certain congenital conditions and in advanced diabetes, for example), the consequence can be loss of limbs and even of life.

There are circumstances, however, when pain serves no useful purpose:  it persists when the injury has healed or occurs in the absence of any frank tissue damage, and is inappropriate in context (previously innocuous stimuli become painful) and magnitude (mildly painful stimuli become excruciating).  This is called neuropathic pain and is incredibly difficult to treat because it is unresponsive to all of the drugs we use to treat normal, useful (“acute”) pain.

Ultimately, our research is aimed at finding new ways to minimise suffering from neuropathic pain.  Prerequisites to this goal include understanding how normal and neuropathic pain are encoded and perceived by the nervous system, and accurately measuring and quantifying pain so that we can draw reasonable conclusions about whether or not a particular treatment is effective.  We will discuss some historical and current ideas of how pain is transmitted from body to brain, and emphasize that the pain “channel” is not hard-wired, but like the process of learning, it is plastic, labile, and subject to “top-down” control.  We will also tackle the contentious issue of pain measurement in the clinic and laboratory.*

Both speakers are from iCORD (International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries), an interdisciplinary research centre focused on spinal cord injury located at Vancouver General Hospital. There’s more about Dr. Matt Ramer here and Dr. John Kramer here.

*Change of Speaker for April 28, 2015  Café Scientifique, see Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) makes a ‘happy’ change: new speaker for April 28, 2015 posting.”*

The Wall Institute for Advanced Studies is bringing Dr. Bonnie Bassler, the bacteria whisperer, to speak in Vancouver. From the Wall Exchange series event page,

Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Molecular Biology, Princeton University

The Secret Social Lives of Bacteria

May 26, 2015
7:30 pm. Doors open at 6:30 pm.
Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville Street, Vancouver

Tickets available online, 2015 or by calling the Vogue Theatre Box Office: 604-569-1144

Learn more:

Bacterial behaviour may hold key to combatting antibiotic resistance
The Wall Papers

Here are some more details about the tickets, the event, and the speaker from the Northern Tickets event page,

Bonnie Bassler
The Secret, Social Lives of Bacteria
Vogue Theatre
Tuesday May 26th, 2015
Doors 6:30PM, Begins 7:30PM
Free Entry
**Tickets must be redeemed by 7:15PM to be valid**

Dr. Bonnie Bassler is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Squibb Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. The research in Dr. Bassler’s laboratory focuses on the chemical signaling mechanisms that bacteria use to communicate with each other known as “quorum sensing.” Therapies that block quorum sensing activity may represent an important new strategy for combating bacterial infections. Her research reveals new insights into the basic biology and ecology of bacteria; findings that may have direct application in the future treatment of disease.

Vogue Theatre
918 Granville Street – Vancouver

Go forth and enjoy!

* Removed ‘,t’ at very end of Café Scientifique excerpt on April 24, 2015.

Interactive haiku from Canada’s National Film Board

This comes from an April 2, 2015 posting on Canada’s National Film Board blog,

Designed to surprise, move, and inspire thought, Interactive Haiku will be released throughout the month of April, with 4 stories launching today. The project will also be featured at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, as part of Tribeca Film Institute Interactive’s “Interactive Playground.”

Recently, the NFB and ARTE [France, interactive platform] asked creators to experiment a new kind of short interactive work: the very short form, or digital equivalent of the haiku. The 12 winning proposals come from 6 different countries and were selected out of 162 submissions from 20 nations.

The projects are accessible online or via tablets.

All of the interactive haiku follow 10 creative rules. These include: a 60-second time limit; being accessible to an international audience, and creating an experience that nudges us to see the world differently.

Discover the first 4 of these bite-sized, mind-jolting experiences below, along with some creative footnoting, courtesy of their vanguard creators.

Don’t want to miss a haiku? Subscribe to receive an e-mail notification (top left corner)! A new haiku will be released every Monday and Thursday of April (except for Easter Monday.)

Here’s a description of the four haiku pieces released in the first batch (from the April 2, 2015 NFB posting),

Cat’s Cradle

by Thibaut Duverneix, David Drury, Jean-Maxime Couillard, Gentilhomme (Canada)


A game of strings, frequencies, stars, and distances. Elegantly explore the theory of everything! (Experience Cat’s Cradle)

Who knew theoretical physics’ Superstring theory was such child’s play?!

“What is fascinating about [Superstring] theory is that it is extremely hard to prove – it forces mathematics and physics to work in an imaginary and deeply complex sandbox. The theory and its implications give rise to a wealth of poetic, even romantic, imagery, which is where our treatment begins.

In our interactive haiku, we propose a novel conception of this topic, treating it metaphorically with one of the most playful, simple and naive of childhood games: cat’s cradle.”


Speech Success

by Roc Albalat, Pau Artigas, Jorge Caballero and Marcel Pié (Spain)


The crowd is huge, tightly packed, and merciless. All eyes are on you. Will you be cheered… or will you flame out? (Experience Speech Success)

“If the haiku is based on the poet’s amazement at the sight of nature, here we look at certain attitudes toward technology – our present environment.

[Our haiku] gives a parodic representation of online social relationships. The Internet works as a public screen through which we try to break our isolation and be recognized. Often, our public shows of vanity don’t find targets: that’s why we have created a virtual public. We’ve programmed this audience to react to mood: the spectators’ reaction varies according to the speaker’s emotional intensity. The aim is to be ironic about our attempts to be heard on the network: finally you find somebody on the other side of the screen that listens and understands you –  for 60 full seconds.”


Life is Short

by Florian Veltman and Baptiste Portefaix (France)


From first to last words, everything goes by too fast. Relive the key moments of your life in a few seconds. (Experience Life is Short)

“As time goes by, our lives begin to appear shorter and shorter. And yet, we rarely take the time to stop and contemplate everything we’ve lived through and are still experiencing in the moment. Our haiku offers a quick opportunity to stop and reflect on time, memory, and our own inexorable demise. But pay attention! Life is Short can be only be enjoyed once – like life itself.”


Music is the Key of Life

by Theodor Twetman and Viktor Lanneld (Sweden)


Everyday objects possess an innate melody. Scan the barcodes of the objects around you and let the music play! (Experience Music is the Key of Life)

“Our haiku takes something ever-present but seldom noticed – the barcode – and makes it the star of the show. Relying on the camera, a tool seldom used in web applications, it brings interactivity beyond what’s on the screen, forcing the user to interact with physical objects that aren’t usually perceived as valuable or interesting.

In normal life, the barcode announces its presence with a simple beep noise when scanned at the supermarket. With our haiku, each code is given the opportunity to be noticed for its uniqueness, perhaps helping people notice and appreciate their beauty and the hard work they do.”


Poetry in Vancouver (Canada), Barcelona, and elsewhere; The Analysis of Beauty video documentation


Wednesday, March 18: Lunch Poems at SFU | Erín Moure and Andrew McEwan

Time: 12pm
Place: Teck Gallery, Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St.

Cost: Free. No registration required.

Erín Moure writes in English and Galician and translates poetry from French, Galician, Spanish and Portuguese into English by, among others, Nicole Brossard, Chus Pato and Fernando Pessoa. Her work also appears in short films, theatre, and musical compositions.

Andrew McEwan is the author of the book, Repeater, shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Award, which employs the ASCII binary code for letters to create poetry that has been described as “mesmerizingly lyrical and theoretically rigorous.”

You can find the webpage for this particular event here; it includes some additional biographical information.

Barcelona and more

I received poetry news from Zlata Kitowski of PoetryFilm back in February 2015. While some of the events have occurred there are still these to come,

March 2015

  • Two PoetryFilm presentations at CCCB Barcelona, 18-19 March 2015
  • Zata will present an academic talk, The PoetryFilm Archive 2002-2015, at the AHRC-funded Pararchive conference at Leeds University, 27-28 March 2015
  • Zata to judge the Read Our Lips poetry film competition organised by Apples and Snakes, 28 March 2015

April 2015

  • PoetryFilm at the Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival, Hawick, Scotland, 16-19 April 2015
  • PoetryFilm event at the sound acts festival in Athens, Greece, 24-26 April 2015
  • PoetryFilm event at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, UK, 24-26 April 2015

May 2015

  • PoetryFilm at Cannes Film Festival 2015, Cannes, France

June 2015

August 2015

  • Exhibition of artworks in Denmark, 9-21 August 2015

For anyone unfamiliar with Zlata Kitowski (from the PoetryFilm’s About page),

Zata Kitowski is the founder and director of PoetryFilm, an international research art project launched in 2002. The PoetryFilm project explores semiotics and meaning-making within the poetry film artform, celebrating experimental poetry films and other avant-garde text/image/sound screening and performance material. PoetryFilm was founded through Zata’s personal practice as a writer and as an artist, and through an interest in the creation and perception of emotion and meaning.

Since 2002, PoetryFilm has produced over 60 events at cinemas, galleries, literary festivals and academic institutions – including Tate Britain, The ICA, Southbank Centre, Cannes Film Festival, CCCB Barcelona, O Miami, and Curzon Cinemas (see Past Events page for more). Talks about PoetryFilm include sessions for MA Creative Writing at Warwick University, MA Filmmaking at The National Film & Television School, and MA Visual Communication at The Royal College of Art. Zata has also judged poetry film prizes at the Southbank Centre and Zebra Festival in Berlin.

PoetryFilm is supported by Arts Council England, who recently funded the cataloguing of the entire PoetryFilm Archive, which at present contains over 500 international artworks. In March 2015 Zata will contribute an academic  presentation about this archive to an AHRC-funded conference at Leeds University. PoetryFilm is an accredited member of Film Hub London, part of the BFI Audience Network, and holds a trademark awarded by the Intellectual Property Office.

There is more about the CCCB appearance in Barcelona on this webpage,

PoetryFilm will present two programmes at the Kosmopolis Amplified Literature Festival at CCCB Barcelona on 19 and 20 March 2015. 

Both programmes are listed below.

Programme 1:

Reversed Mirror Eduardo Kac / 1997, 7’, V.O.
Lunar Tides Susan Trangmar / Regne Unit, 2014, 9’, V.O.
Sandpiper John Scott / Canadà, 2014, 3’30’’, V.O.
Full Stop Zata Kitowski / Regne Unit, 2014, 4’30’’, V.O.
Turbines in January Kate Sweeney i Colette Bryce / Regne Unit, 2013, 2’, V.O.
Self-Evident Things Piotr Bosacki / Polònia, 2013, 10’, V.O.S.Anglès
Dream Poem Dann Casswell / Regne Unit, 2006, 1’30’’, V.O.
Afterlight Timothy David Orme / Estats Units, 2013, 3’, V.O.
The Portrait of Jean Genet Disinformation / Regne Unit, 2014, 3’, V.O.
Solstice Samuel Levack i Jennifer Lewandowski / Regne Unit, 2013, 3’, S.D.

Programme 2:

The Man With Wheels Poeta: Billy Childish; director: Eugene Doyen / Regne Unit, 1990, 7’, V.O.
Proem Poeta: Hart Crane; directora: Suzie Hanna / Regne Unit, 2013, 4’, V.O.
You Be Mother Sarah Pucill / Regne Unit, 1990, 7’, S.D.
About Owls Poeta: Geoffrey Grigson / Regne Unit, 1968-2014, 1’, V.O.
Cut-Up Experiment VIII: Timers Run On Poeta i directora: Zata Kitowski / Regne Unit, 2007, 7’, V.O.
The Analysis of Beauty Produït per Disinformation / Regne Unit, 2000, 4’, S.D.
Just Midnight Poeta: Robert Lax; animadora: Susanne Wiegner / Alemanya, 2013, 4’, V.O.

The latest Analysis of Beauty video documentation, as opposed to what’s being included in PoetryFilm’s programme 2 in Barcelona, is from 2014.  I mentioned the 2014 installation of the Analysis of Beauty at the festival of sonic art being held in Edinburgh at some length in my Nov. 13, 2014 posting. Accordingly, this excerpt from the event page on the website includes only information about the latest documentation,

Art in Scotland and Summerhall TV made this video about the “The Analysis of Beauty” sound and video installation (see earlier post) which ran for 2 weeks, up to 29 Nov 2014, in the Georgian Gallery at Talbot Rice in Edinburgh. The actual sound featured in “The Analysis of Beauty” exhibit focussed on sine-waves with a core frequency of 40Hz, with the effect that (inevitably) the in-situ audio proved almost impossible to record for this video. For the most accurate representation of the gallery sound, please play the MP3 file below, listening through good quality external hi-fi loudspeakers or headphones (not laptop speakers).

As for the influence of William Hogarth’s ideas about “The Analysis of Beauty” and “Serpentine Line” etc, the evolution of this exhibit, which premiered at Kettle’s Yard gallery in 2000, is described in the Summerhall TV video. …


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 (ETA Dec. 22, 2014: The deadline for long art or research papers, short art or research papers, art or research extended abstracts with demonstration or poster presentation, panels, workshops, tutorials and institutional presentations has been extended to Jan. 12, 2014; the deadline for artwork submissions remains 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 .

“I write in praise of air,” a catalytic poem absorbing air pollutants on a nanotechnology-enabled billboard

The poem ‘In Praise of Air’, which is on a billboard at the University of Sheffield (UK), is quite literally catalytic. From a May 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Simon [Armitage], Professor of Poetry at the University, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science Professor Tony Ryan, have collaborated to create a catalytic poem called In Praise of Air – printed on material containing a formula invented at the University which is capable of purifying its surroundings.

Here’s what the billboard looks like,

Courtesy of the University of Sheffield

Courtesy of the University of Sheffield

A May 14, 2014 University of Sheffield news release, which originated the news item, has more details about the project from the scientist’s perspective,

This cheap technology could also be applied to billboards and advertisements alongside congested roads to cut pollution.

Professor Ryan, who came up with the idea of using treated materials to cleanse the air, said: “This is a fun collaboration between science and the arts to highlight a very serious issue of poor air quality in our towns and cities.

“The science behind this is an additive which delivers a real environmental benefit that could actually help cut disease and save lives.

“This poem alone will eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day.”

He added: “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster and would turn advertisements into catalysts in more ways than one. The countless thousands of poster sites that are selling us cars beside our roads could be cleaning up emissions at the same time.”

The 10m x 20m piece of material which the poem is printed on is coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

Professor Ryan has been campaigning for some time to have his ingredient added to washing detergent in the UK as part of his Catalytic Clothing project. If manufacturers added it, the UK would meet one of its air quality targets in one step.

The news release also describes the arts component and poet’s perspective on this project,

The poem will be on display on the side of the University’s Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, for one year and its unveiling also marks the launch of this year’s Sheffield Lyric Festival which takes place between 14-17 May 2014 at the University’s Firth Hall.

At a special celebratory event on Thursday (May 15 2014), Simon will read In Praise of Air for the first time in public and Professor Ryan will explain the technology behind the catalytic poem. Volunteers will be wearing catalytic T-shirts.

Dr Joanna Gavins, from the University’s School of English, project manager for the catalytic poem collaboration, who also leads the Lyric Festival, said: “This highlights the innovation and creativity at the heart of the University and its research excellence.

“We are delighted that such a significant event will help launch this year’s Lyric Festival which also features poetry readings by students of the MA in Creative Writing, alongside internationally renowned writers such as Sinead Morrissey and Benjamin Zephaniah, and music from celebrated Sheffield songwriter, Nat Johnson.”

Simon added: “There’s a legacy of poems in public places in Sheffield and, on behalf of the University, I wanted to be part of that dialogue to show what we could do.

“I wanted to write a poem that was approachable, that might catch the attention of the passer-by and the wandering mind, and one that had some local relevance too. But I also hope it’s robust and intricate enough to sustain deeper enquiries – the School of English looks towards it for one thing, and I’d like to think it’s capable of getting the thumbs up or at least a nod from their direction, and from the big-brained students walking up and down Western Bank, and from discerning residents in the neighbourhood.”

He added: “I’ve enjoyed working with the scientists and the science, trying to weave the message into the words, wanting to collaborate both conceptually and with the physical manifestation of the work.

“Poetry often comes out with the intimate and the personal, so it’s strange to think of a piece in such an exposed place, written so large and so bold. I hope the spelling is right!

For the curious, here’s a link to the In Praise of Air project website where you’ll find the poem and much more,

I write in praise of air.  I was six or five
when a conjurer opened my knotted fist
and I held in my palm the whole of the sky.
I’ve carried it with me ever since.

Let air be a major god, its being
and touch, its breast-milk always tilted
to the lips.  Both dragonfly and Boeing
dangle in its see-through nothingness…

Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep
a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,
and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog
or civilization crosses the street

with a white handkerchief over its mouth
and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs
I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.
My first word, everyone’s  first word, was air.

I like this poem a lot and find it quite inspirational for one of my own projects.

Getting back to Tony Ryan, he and his Catalytic Clothing project have been mentioned here in a Feb. 24, 2012 posting (Catalytic Clothing debuts its kilts at Edinburgh International Science Festival) and in a July 8, 2011 posting featuring a collaboration between Ryan and Professor Helen Storey at the London College of Fashion (Nanotechnology-enabled Catalytic Clothes look good and clean the air). The 2012 posting has an image of two kilted gentlemen and the 2011 posting has a video highlighting one of the dresses, some music from Radiohead, and the ideas behind the project.

You can find out more about Catalytic Clothing and the Lyric Festival (from the news release),

Catalytic Clothing

To find out more about the catalytic clothing project visit

Lyric Festival

The Lyric Festival is the [University of Sheffield] Faculty of Arts and Humanities’ annual celebration of the written and spoken word. Each May the festival brings some of the UK’s most renowned and respected writers, broadcasters, academics, and performers to the University, as well as showcasing the talent of Faculty students and staff. For more information visit

One last note about the University of Sheffield, it’s the academic home for Professor Richard Jones who wrote one of my favourite books about nanotechnology, Soft Machines (featured in my earliest pieces here, a May 6, 2008 posting). He is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor – Research & Innovation at the university and a blogger on his Soft Machines blog where he writes about innovation and research in the UK and where you’ll also find a link to purchase his book.

ETA May 20, 2014: A May 19, 2014 article by JW Dowey for Earth Times offers more details about the technology,

Titanium dioxide coating on cars and aircraft have revolutionised protective nanotechnology. The University of Sheffield has set the target as absorbing the poisonous compounds from vehicle exhausts. Tony Ryan is the professor of physical chemistry in charge of adapting self-cleaning window technology to pollution solutions. The 10m x20m poster they now use on the Alfred Denny university building demonstrates how nitrogen oxides from 20 cars per day could be absorbed efficiently by roadside absorption.

There are more tidbits to be had in the article including the extra cost (£100) of adding the protective coating to the ‘poetic’ billboard (or hoarding as they say in the UK).