Category Archives: Vancouver

Beating tactical experts in combat simulation—AI with the processing power of a Raspberry Pi

It looks like one day combat may come down to who has the best artificial intelligence (AI) if a June 27, 2016 University of Cincinnati news release (also on EurekAlert) by M. B. Reilly is to be believed (Note: Links have been removed),

Artificial intelligence (AI) developed by a University of Cincinnati doctoral graduate was recently assessed by subject-matter expert and retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee — who holds extensive aerial combat experience as an instructor and Air Battle Manager with considerable fighter aircraft expertise — in a high-fidelity air combat simulator.

The artificial intelligence, dubbed ALPHA, was the victor in that simulated scenario, and according to Lee, is “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date.”

Details on ALPHA – a significant breakthrough in the application of what’s called genetic-fuzzy systems are published in the most-recent issue of the Journal of Defense Management, as this application is specifically designed for use with Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) in simulated air-combat missions for research purposes.

The tools used to create ALPHA as well as the ALPHA project have been developed by Psibernetix, Inc., recently founded by UC College of Engineering and Applied Science 2015 doctoral graduate Nick Ernest, now president and CEO of the firm; as well as David Carroll, programming lead, Psibernetix, Inc.; with supporting technologies and research from Gene Lee; Kelly Cohen, UC aerospace professor; Tim Arnett, UC aerospace doctoral student; and Air Force Research Laboratory sponsors.

The news release goes on to provide a overview of ALPHA’s air combat fighting and strategy skills,

ALPHA is currently viewed as a research tool for manned and unmanned teaming in a simulation environment. In its earliest iterations, ALPHA consistently outperformed a baseline computer program previously used by the Air Force Research Lab for research.  In other words, it defeated other AI opponents.

In fact, it was only after early iterations of ALPHA bested other computer program opponents that Lee then took to manual controls against a more mature version of ALPHA last October. Not only was Lee not able to score a kill against ALPHA after repeated attempts, he was shot out of the air every time during protracted engagements in the simulator.

Since that first human vs. ALPHA encounter in the simulator, this AI has repeatedly bested other experts as well, and is even able to win out against these human experts when its (the ALPHA-controlled) aircraft are deliberately handicapped in terms of speed, turning, missile capability and sensors.

Lee, who has been flying in simulators against AI opponents since the early 1980s, said of that first encounter against ALPHA, “I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.”

He added that with most AIs, “an experienced pilot can beat up on it (the AI) if you know what you’re doing. Sure, you might have gotten shot down once in a while by an AI program when you, as a pilot, were trying something new, but, until now, an AI opponent simply could not keep up with anything like the real pressure and pace of combat-like scenarios.”

But, now, it’s been Lee, who has trained with thousands of U.S. Air Force pilots, flown in several fighter aircraft and graduated from the U.S. Fighter Weapons School (the equivalent of earning an advanced degree in air combat tactics and strategy), as well as other pilots who have been feeling pressured by ALPHA.

And, anymore [sic], when Lee flies against ALPHA in hours-long sessions that mimic real missions, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”

New goals have been set for ALPHA according to the news release,

Explained Ernest, “ALPHA is already a deadly opponent to face in these simulated environments. The goal is to continue developing ALPHA, to push and extend its capabilities, and perform additional testing against other trained pilots. Fidelity also needs to be increased, which will come in the form of even more realistic aerodynamic and sensor models. ALPHA is fully able to accommodate these additions, and we at Psibernetix look forward to continuing development.”

In the long term, teaming artificial intelligence with U.S. air capabilities will represent a revolutionary leap. Air combat as it is performed today by human pilots is a highly dynamic application of aerospace physics, skill, art, and intuition to maneuver a fighter aircraft and missiles against adversaries, all moving at very high speeds. After all, today’s fighters close in on each other at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles per hour while flying at altitudes above 40,000 feet. Microseconds matter, and the cost for a mistake is very high.

Eventually, ALPHA aims to lessen the likelihood of mistakes since its operations already occur significantly faster than do those of other language-based consumer product programming. In fact, ALPHA can take in the entirety of sensor data, organize it, create a complete mapping of a combat scenario and make or change combat decisions for a flight of four fighter aircraft in less than a millisecond. Basically, the AI is so fast that it could consider and coordinate the best tactical plan and precise responses, within a dynamic environment, over 250 times faster than ALPHA’s human opponents could blink.

So it’s likely that future air combat, requiring reaction times that surpass human capabilities, will integrate AI wingmen – Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) – capable of performing air combat and teamed with manned aircraft wherein an onboard battle management system would be able to process situational awareness, determine reactions, select tactics, manage weapons use and more. So, AI like ALPHA could simultaneously evade dozens of hostile missiles, take accurate shots at multiple targets, coordinate actions of squad mates, and record and learn from observations of enemy tactics and capabilities.

UC’s Cohen added, “ALPHA would be an extremely easy AI to cooperate with and have as a teammate. ALPHA could continuously determine the optimal ways to perform tasks commanded by its manned wingman, as well as provide tactical and situational advice to the rest of its flight.”

Happily, insight is provided into the technical aspects (from the news release),

It would normally be expected that an artificial intelligence with the learning and performance capabilities of ALPHA, applicable to incredibly complex problems, would require a super computer in order to operate.

However, ALPHA and its algorithms require no more than the computing power available in a low-budget PC in order to run in real time and quickly react and respond to uncertainty and random events or scenarios.

According to a lead engineer for autonomy at AFRL, “ALPHA shows incredible potential, with a combination of high performance and low computational cost that is a critical enabling capability for complex coordinated operations by teams of unmanned aircraft.”

Ernest began working with UC engineering faculty member Cohen to resolve that computing-power challenge about three years ago while a doctoral student. (Ernest also earned his UC undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in 2011 and his UC master’s, also in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, in 2012.)

They tackled the problem using language-based control (vs. numeric based) and using what’s called a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” (GFT) system, a subtype of what’s known as fuzzy logic algorithms.

States UC’s Cohen, “Genetic fuzzy systems have been shown to have high performance, and a problem with four or five inputs can be solved handily. However, boost that to a hundred inputs, and no computing system on planet Earth could currently solve the processing challenge involved – unless that challenge and all those inputs are broken down into a cascade of sub decisions.”

That’s where the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system and Cohen and Ernest’s years’ worth of work come in.

According to Ernest, “The easiest way I can describe the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system is that it’s more like how humans approach problems.  Take for example a football receiver evaluating how to adjust what he does based upon the cornerback covering him. The receiver doesn’t think to himself: ‘During this season, this cornerback covering me has had three interceptions, 12 average return yards after interceptions, two forced fumbles, a 4.35 second 40-yard dash, 73 tackles, 14 assisted tackles, only one pass interference, and five passes defended, is 28 years old, and it’s currently 12 minutes into the third quarter, and he has seen exactly 8 minutes and 25.3 seconds of playtime.’”

That receiver – rather than standing still on the line of scrimmage before the play trying to remember all of the different specific statistics and what they mean individually and combined to how he should change his performance – would just consider the cornerback as ‘really good.’

The cornerback’s historic capability wouldn’t be the only variable. Specifically, his relative height and relative speed should likely be considered as well. So, the receiver’s control decision might be as fast and simple as: ‘This cornerback is really good, a lot taller than me, but I am faster.’

At the very basic level, that’s the concept involved in terms of the distributed computing power that’s the foundation of a Genetic Fuzzy Tree system wherein, otherwise, scenarios/decision making would require too high a number of rules if done by a single controller.

Added Ernest, “Only considering the relevant variables for each sub-decision is key for us to complete complex tasks as humans. So, it makes sense to have the AI do the same thing.”

In this case, the programming involved breaking up the complex challenges and problems represented in aerial fighter deployment into many sub-decisions, thereby significantly reducing the required “space” or burden for good solutions. The branches or sub divisions of this decision-making tree consists of high-level tactics, firing, evasion and defensiveness.

That’s the “tree” part of the term “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Programming that’s language based, genetic and generational

Most AI programming uses numeric-based control and provides very precise parameters for operations. In other words, there’s not a lot of leeway for any improvement or contextual decision making on the part of the programming.

The AI algorithms that Ernest and his team ultimately developed are language based, with if/then scenarios and rules able to encompass hundreds to thousands of variables. This language-based control or fuzzy logic, while much less about complex mathematics, can be verified and validated.

Another benefit of this linguistic control is the ease in which expert knowledge can be imparted to the system. For instance, Lee worked with Psibernetix to provide tactical and maneuverability advice which was directly plugged in to ALPHA. (That “plugging in” occurs via inputs into a fuzzy logic controller. Those inputs consist of defined terms, e.g., close vs. far in distance to a target; if/then rules related to the terms; and inputs of other rules or specifications.)

Finally, the ALPHA programming is generational. It can be improved from one generation to the next, from one version to the next. In fact, the current version of ALPHA is only that – the current version. Subsequent versions are expected to perform significantly better.

Again, from UC’s Cohen, “In a lot of ways, it’s no different than when air combat began in W.W. I. At first, there were a whole bunch of pilots. Those who survived to the end of the war were the aces. Only in this case, we’re talking about code.”

To reach its current performance level, ALPHA’s training has occurred on a $500 consumer-grade PC. This training process started with numerous and random versions of ALPHA. These automatically generated versions of ALPHA proved themselves against a manually tuned version of ALPHA. The successful strings of code are then “bred” with each other, favoring the stronger, or highest performance versions. In other words, only the best-performing code is used in subsequent generations. Eventually, one version of ALPHA rises to the top in terms of performance, and that’s the one that is utilized.

This is the “genetic” part of the “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Said Cohen, “All of these aspects are combined, the tree cascade, the language-based programming and the generations. In terms of emulating human reasoning, I feel this is to unmanned aerial vehicles what the IBM/Deep Blue vs. Kasparov was to chess.”

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

Genetic Fuzzy based Artificial Intelligence for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Control in Simulated Air Combat Missions by Nicholas Ernest, David Carroll, Corey Schumacher, Matthew Clark, Kelly Cohen, and Gene Lee. J Def Manag [Journal of Defense Management]  6:144. doi:10.4172/2167-0374.1000144 Published: March 22, 2016

This is an open access paper.

Segue

The University of Cincinnati’s president, Santa Ono, recently accepted a job as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), which is located in the region where I live. Nassif Ghoussoub, professor of mathematics at UBC, writes about Ono and his new appointment in a June 13, 2016 posting on his blog (Note: A link has been removed),

By the time you read this, UBC communications will already have issued the mandatory press release [the official announcement was made June 13, 2016] describing Santa Ono’s numerous qualifications for the job, including that he is a Canuck in the US, born in Vancouver, McGill PhD, a highly accomplished medical researcher, who is the President of the University of Cincinnati.

So, I shall focus here on what UBC communications may not be enclined [sic] to tell you, yet may be quite consequential for UBC’s future direction. After all, life experiences, gender, race, class, and character are what shape leadership.

President Ono seems to have had battles with mental illness, and have been courageous enough to deal with it and to publicly disclose it –as recently as May 24 [2016]– so as to destigmatize struggles that many people go through. It is interesting to note the two events that led the president to have suicidal thoughts: …

The post is well worth reading if you have any interest in Ono, UBC, and/or insight into some of the struggles even some of the most accomplished academics can encounter.

Prosthetics in North Carolina and in Vancouver, Canada

North Carolina

This is the first time I’ve seen any kind of hand prosthestic offering finger control. From a May 31, 2016 OrthoCarolina news release (received via email),

Two OrthoCarolina hand surgeons have successfully completed the first surgery to allow for a prosthetic hand with individual finger control on an amputee patient. Partnering with OrthoCarolina Research Institute (OCRI) in pursuit of medical breakthroughs through orthopedic research, Drs. Glenn Gaston and Bryan Loeffler conceptualized and performed the procedure involving transferring existing muscle from the fingers to the back of the hand and wrist without damaging the nerves and blood vessels to the muscles. The patient who underwent the test surgery is now able to control individual prosthetic fingers using the same muscles that controlled his fingers pre-amputation, making him the first person in the world to have individual digit control in a functioning myoelectric prosthesis.

“Patients who have sustained full or partial hand amputations obviously have significant morbidity and limited function, which is a challenge. Because of the limited number of muscles available after a hand amputation, prostheses have previously allowed only control of the thumb and fingers as a group and single finger control was never possible,” said Dr. Glenn Gaston.  “The severity of this patient’s injury was so great that replanting the lost fingers was not possible, so we collaborated on a new surgery that would allow him to have individual digital control.”

Hypothesizing that existing muscle in the back of human fingers could be transferred to the back of the hand and wrist without damaging the nerves and blood vessels to those muscles, Drs. Gaston and Loeffler first performed cadaveric testing to ensure feasibility. The goal of the initial project was for the small muscles that control individual fingers to regain control of prosthetic fingers by maintaining enough blood and nerve supply to allow the prosthetic limb to recognize individual digits.

With successful research completed, they collaborated with the Hanger Clinic to determine how much bone would be required to be removed from the hand, allowing the prosthetic componentry enough space to maintain a normal hand length.

The two surgeons jointly performed the surgery as a pilot case on a partial hand amputee, moving the muscles while still allowing the prosthesis to detect signals from the transferred muscles; a procedure never before reported in orthopedic literature.

“Imagine the limitations you would have if all of your fingers had to move as one unit, and then suddenly you were able to move individual fingers to perform specific actions,” said Dr. Bryan Loeffler. “This muscle transfer is a breakthrough that could impact how upper extremity amputees are managed and specific amputations are done in the future.”

Drs. Loeffler and Gaston have completed a cadaver model demonstrating the capability of the same type of surgery for a more proximal level total hand amputation. They presented their research at a podium presentation to the First International Symposium on Innovations in Amputation Surgery and Prosthetic Technologies (IASPT) May 12-13, 2016 in Chicago.

OrthoCarolina Research Institute is an independent non-profit committed to the advancement of orthopedic practice through clinical research. OCRI will continue to support this ground-breaking research and the manufacturing of this cutting edge prosthesis. “This is a tremendous example of the life-changing impact that orthopedic research plays in advancing patient outcomes,” said Christi Cadd, Executive Director of OCRI.

You can find out more about OrthoCarolina here.

Vancouver, Canada

While they celebrate exciting prosthetic news in North Carolina, those of us in Vancouver have been given the opportunity to view an unusual display of vintage artificial limbs (prosthetics) in an exhibition, All Together Now, featuring a number of rarely seen private collections including corsets, Chinese restaurant menus, and pinball machines. From a June 22, 2016 article by Janet Smith for the Georgia Straight, here’s more about the prosthetic collection,

For those unfamiliar, the lifelike artificial legs and arms that hang on the Museum of Vancouver’s wall might seem like medical oddities from a less advanced era.

But for collector David Moe, a certified prosthetist, they are integral, inspiring pieces for his career, his teaching, and his workspace.

“I love them all,” he says with enthusiasm, standing in the museum’s giant new exhibit All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their World, in a corner of an expansive, cabinet-of-curiosities-styled room that houses everything from scores of local Chinese-restaurant menus to rows of 19th-century corsets and a glass case full of hundreds of action figures. “It’s very strange because they have been all around me for so long and they have sat in predominant spaces at work—they sit on the top of a shelf. So when I walk back in there right now there are these kinds of empty holes.

“But I’m happy to have them on display and to let people think about what they see and have the opportunity to have them think about prosthetics. Because nobody ever thinks about them until they need one.”

Moe began collecting almost from his start, at the age of 14, when he worked sweeping floors and pouring plaster at Northern Alberta Prosthetic & Orthotic Services, his family’s business in Edmonton. One of his first big finds was a leg that sits in the exhibit today—a meticulously carved wooden limb covered in smooth skin-tone leather, dating back to the 1930s. At the time, he recognized the craftsmanship and tucked it away where it wouldn’t disappear; today he still marvels at the anatomical design, with a hinged knee that bends with the use of straps.

“… . The math is the math. But we’ve moved so far. I really love where we’ve come from,” says Moe, gesturing to the vintage pieces he uses regularly to teach students at BCIT [British Columbia Institute of Technology]. He says he can appreciate the human touch and deep care that went into each one, then adds: “All of these were used by people, so the energy of these people is in these. I feel that responsibility of these people in here.”

To show how far his specialty has come, though, Moe has juxtaposed the historic limbs with modern-day advances—decorative limb coverings with fashionable latticework, or a kids’ shin piece that’s been emblazoned with a comic-book image of Superman. Now, instead of trying to just mimic natural limbs, some people are opting for statement pieces that actually draw attention to their prosthetic. “This empowers them in this powerless situation where someone has amputated your leg,” he notes.

As with other exhibits in All Together Now, there are audiovisuals that accompany his collection—in this case showing people using the advanced limbs of today, from a female triathlete carrying her baby to another client playing competitive volleyball.

“When someone does the Grouse Grind or, hell, just walks their child down the street, that’s when they come alive. We’re rebuilding lives, not pieces,” Moe says.

You can find out more about All Together Now here,

All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds features 20 beautiful, rare, and unconventional collections, with something for everyone including corsets, prosthetics, pinball machines, taxidermy, toys, and much more. In this exhibition both collector and collected are objects of study, interaction, and delight.

The exhibition runs until January 8, 2017. The last Thursday of the month is by donation from 5 pm to 8 pm. More information about admission can be found here and you might also want to check out the exhibition’s Events page.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) June 28, 2016 talk: Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique seems to be roaming around;  Shebeen Whiskey House (212 Carrall St) is hosting the next Café Scientifique talk. From the June 6, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday June 28th [2016], 7:30pm at the Shebeen Whiskey House (212 Carrall St). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Martin Graff, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Wales, UK. The title of his talk is:

Why Online Dating Doesn’t Work

There is much evidence that being in a good relationship can be beneficial to our health, happiness and general well-being.  However, should we resort to online dating in the pursuit of a happy relationship?  Psychological research would seem to suggest that online dating may not be the easy answer.

This talk focuses on the reasons why we should be cautious in our online dating pursuits.  For example, people make bad decisions in online dating.  Furthermore, those we contact are often not what they appear to be.  Additionally, there is no evidence that the algorithms employed by dating sites and which purport to match us with a desirable partner actually work in reality.

Finally, this talk will also give some tips on how to at least maximize our chances in an online dating environment.

Dr. Martin Graff is Reader and Head of Research in Psychology at the University of South Wales, UK, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Chartered Psychologist.  He has researched cognitive processes in web-based learning, the formation and dissolution of romantic relationships online and offline, online persuasion and disinhibition. He has written over 50 scientific articles, published widely in the field of Internet behaviour, and presented his work at numerous International Conferences. He writes for Psychology Today magazine and regularly speaks at events in the UK and Internationally.

Happy dating!

Two May 31, 2016 talks (Why nuclear power is necessary and DNA is not destiny) in Vancouver, Canada

Both the upcoming science talks in Vancouver are scheduled for May 31, 2016. Isn’t that always the way?

Why nuclear power is necessary

This talk is being held by ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada). From the ARPICO event page,

Why Nuclear Power is Necessary

Presenter

Patrick Walden graduated with a B.Sc. in Physics from UBC and a Ph.D in Particle Physics from Caltech. His Post Doctoral research was done at the Stanford University Linear Accelerator (SLAC), and since 1974 he has been at TRIUMF here in Vancouver. Patrick has been active in the fields of pion photo-production, meson spectroscopy, the dynamics of pion production from nuclei, and nuclear astrophysics.

Abstract

Nuclear power is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions-free energy in the world. It supplies approximately 5% of the world’s total energy demand. Presently, human activity is on the brink of initiating a global greenhouse climate catastrophe unless we can limit our greenhouse gas emissions.

In this talk, Dr. Patrick Walden will examine the concerns about nuclear power and the reasons why, contrary to public perception, nuclear power is one of the safest, most economical, plentiful, and greenest sources of energy available.

Logistics

  • May 31, 2016 – 7:00pm
  • Roundhouse Community Centre – Room B – (181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver BC V6Z2W3)
  • Underground pay parking is available, access off Drake St. south of Pacific Blvd.
    Admission by donation. Q&A and complimentary refreshments follow. Registration is highly recommended as seating is limited. RSVP at info@arpico.ca or at EventBrite by May 28th, 2016.

A map for the location can be found here.

There is a Skytrain station nearbyYaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station

DNA is not destiny

This month’s Café Scientifique talk is being held in downtown Vancouver at Yaggers (433 W. Pender St.). Details of the talk are (from the May 13, 2016 email announcement,

… Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Steven Heine, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC [University of British Columbia]. The title of his talk is:

DNA is Not Destiny: How Essences Distort how we Think about Genes

People the world over are essentialist thinkers – they are attracted to the idea that hidden essences make things as they are. And because genetic concepts remind people of essences, they tend to think of genes in ways similar to essences. That is, people tend to think about genetic causes as immutable, deterministic, homogenous, discrete, and natural.  Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialist biases lead people to think differently about sex, race, crime, eugenics, and disease whenever these are described in genetic terms. Moreover, Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialistic biases make people vulnerable to the sensationalist hype that has emerged with the genomic revolution and access to direct-to-consumer genotyping services.

Logistics

Tuesday May 31st, 7:30pm at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender).

I have found a little more information about Dr. Steven Heine and his work (from his University of British Columbia webpage),

Our lab is currently working on three distinct research programs, which we refer to as Cultural Psychology, Meaning Maintenance, and Genetic Essentialism.

Our third research program on genetic esssentialism considers how people understand essences and genetic foundations for human behavior. We propose that encounters with genetic explanations for human outcomes prompts people to think of those outcomes in essentiialized ways, by viewing those outcomes as more deterministic, immutable, and fatalistic. For example, we find that women are more vulnerable to stereotype threat when they hear of genetic reasons for why men outperform women in math than when they hear of environmental reasons for this difference. We also find that men are more tolerant of sex crimes when they learn of genetic basis for sexual motivations than when they hear of social-constructivist accounts. We are conducting several studies to explore the ways that people respond to genetic accounts for human conditions.

Have fun whichever one you choose to attend.

Curiosity Collider event on May 4, 2016 (Vancouver, Canada)

The latest Curiosity Collider event in Vancouver, Canada is being billed as “Untold Stories of Collisions … between Art + Science Vol II. From an April 28, 2016 notice (received via email),

From Star Wars and blown glass, to knots and scents, join Curiosity Collider on May the 4th [2016] to celebrate collisions between art and science.

When: 8:00pm on Wednesday, May 4th, 2016. Doors open at 7:30pm.

Where: Café Deux Soleils. 2096 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC (Google Map).

Cost: $5.00 cover (sliding scale) at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events.

With Fascinating Stories by

Holman Wang (@JackandHolman) | Co-author of Star Wars Epic Yarns | Star Wars in Felt
Kelly Ablard (@kellyablard) | Biologist (olfactory communication) | Order Through Odour
Larissa Blokhuis (@LarissaBlokhuis) | Glass Artist | Nature in Blown Glass
Rob Scharein | Scientist, Digital Artist of LocoMoto Art Collective | Why Knots? A Tangled Tale…

Art & Science Open Mic

And back by popular demand, we are having another art-science open mic. 90 seconds to share your ideas, look for art-science collaborators, or showcase your own project!

Follow updates on twitter via @ccollider or #ArtSciStories2

You can find more information about the individual speakers here and I encourage you to do so if you have the time. There’s also a Facebook page where you can sign up for the event.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) April 26, 2016 talk about why food security is contentious and TEDx East Van has some science speakers for April 23, 2016

Café Scientifique

It seems Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique has found a new venue after having to cancel last month’s (March 2016) talk when their previous venue, The Railway Club, abruptly closed its doors after some 80 years. The Big Rock Urban Brewery (310 West Fourth Avenue, just east of Cambie St.) is hosting the next Café Scientifique talk, from the April 6, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday April 26th, 7:30pm at Big Rock Urban Brewery. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Navin Ramankutty, a Professor of Global Food Security and Sustainability at UBC [University of British Columbia]. The title of his talk is:

A Framework for Understanding Why Food Security Discussions are Contentious

There is a contentious debate regarding the best approach to achieving food security in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner. Some advocate for new technological systems, such as genetic modification or vertical farming, while others argue for organic agricuture or local food systems. Still others argue that agriculture does not need a revolution and that we simply need to improve current farming practices. Even the overall objectives are unclear, with some arguing that we need to double food production by 2050 while others suggest that we already have enough food on this planet to feed 10 billion. In this talk, I will use an assessment framework to explore the available evidence supporting or opposing the various claims about the most sustainable way to farm on our planet. The broad assessment offers some insights on why we argue about food security.

You can find out more about Dr. Ramankutty here,

Navin Ramankutty is Professor in Global Food Security and Sustainability, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus. His research addresses the overarching question of how to improve food security for 9-10 billion people while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.  To address this challenge, he develops global data sets of agricultural land use practices, conducts global analysis of the environmental outcomes of agriculture (using statistical analysis and agroecosystem models), and identifies solutions and leverage points.

There is more about Raminkutty on his UBC Liu Institute profile page,

Navin Ramankutty is Professor in Global Food Security and Sustainability, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus. His research addresses the overarching question of how to improve food security for 9-10 billion people while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.  To address this challenge, he develops global data sets of agricultural land use practices, conducts global analysis of the environmental outcomes of agriculture (using statistical analysis and agroecosystem models), and identifies solutions and leverage points.

TEDxEastVan 2016

This event is taking place Sunday, April 23, 2016 at the York Theatre from 9 am to 4:30 pm with an after party at the Big Rock Urban Brewery. For science types, two speakers are of particular interest, assuming they will be talking about science and not their personal life journeys From the TEDxEastVan 2016 Speakers page,

Dr. Sam Wadsworth

Sam is a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur. He completed his Ph.D. in respiratory cell biology in the UK before relocating to Vancouver in 2007 to work as an academic researcher at St. Paul’s Hospital. In 2013, Sam co-founded a biotechnology company that uses a unique bioprinting technology that has the potential to revolutionise how we treat disease and the ageing process. He sees a future where human tissues can be provided on demand, where donor organs are built, not harvested, and where drugs are tested on bioprinted artificial tissues, not animals.

Dominic Walliman

Dominic Walliman is a physicist, and award-winning science writer. He received his PhD in quantum device physics from the University of Birmingham and currently works at D-Wave Systems Inc., a quantum computing company in Vancouver. Dominic grew up reading science books and remembers vividly the excitement of discovering the mind-boggling explanations that science gives us about the Universe. If he can pass on this wonder and enjoyment to the next generation, he will consider it a job well done.

There are 12 speakers in total and they are hoping for 250 audience members. The TEDxEastVan 2016 ticket page notes this,

TEDxEastVan is a day-long event that brings together creators, catalysts, designers, and thinkers to share their ideas on the TEDx stage. A day of listening that invites thought, discussion, and play — the TEDx talks are interspersed with activities, performances, and food worth eating. Our theme this year is “MOVE.”

TEDxEastVan is dedicated to discovering great ideas and sharing them with the rest of the world. Acting as a hub of energy and inspiration, the TEDxEastVan stage will bring unique thinkers together in a platform for sharing wisdom and experiences. It is a chance to welcome interesting people into the community and to showcase and celebrate the dynamic ideas which exist in East Vancouver.

WHAT’S INCLUDED IN YOUR TICKET?

  • Morning coffee/tea and light snack at the York Theatre during registration
  • SESSION ONE Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre
  • Lunchtime meal and drink at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • Lunchtime activities at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • SESSION TWO Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre
  • Afternoon break with coffee/tea and light snack at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • SESSION THREE Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre

Your ticket will also include a free ticket to the Taste of East Van TEDxEastVan exclusive AFTER-PARTY at Big Rock Urban Brewery ( 310 W 4th Ave.). Ticket includes beer tastings from 13 East Van breweries that have partnered with the event, live musical and dance performances and plenty of snacks! Keep the conversation going with a chance to mingle directly with speakers, brewers, partners and the conference organizers.

We’re so looking forward to meeting you all! 🙂

ALL TICKET SALES END APRIL 15, 2016 AT 11:30PM PST.  << Updated
ALL TICKET SALES ARE FINAL. NO REFUNDS AT ANYTIME.

Tickets are $67.88 (student) and $83.40, respectively. I imagine taxes will be added.

Hopefully one or other of these events will appeal.

Meet a Scientist – Experiment with an Artist at Vancouver’s (Canada) Science World and Curiosity Collider’s joint event

An April 4, 2016 Curiosity Collider announcement, received via email, highlights an upcoming art/science weekend event,

9 artists. 9 scientists.

Participate in their experiment!   Join Curiosity Collider and Science World BC on April 9/10 for the special “Meet a Scientist – Experiment with an Artist” weekend! Participate in hands-on activities with scientists, and interact with on-site artists while they experiment with their art in collaboration with the scientists.Date & Time: April 9 and 10, from 10am to 4pmLocation: TELUS World of Science (1455 Quebec Street, Vancouver)

Admission: General Science World admission is required to attend this event. Visit our Facebook event page (http://bit.ly/ArtSciExperiment) to let us know you are coming. Plus, we will be giving out some free Science World passes on the page!

Participating artists and scientists:

Saturday

Char Hoyt (2/d drawing/oil painting) & Stefanie Vogt (microbiology)

Dzee Louise (2/d drawing/watercolor/acrylic painting) & Amy Smith (neuroscience)

Laura Lee Coles (digital arts/installations, found objects) & Rosa An (geo-technical engineering)

Sammy Chien (interdisciplinary media arts) & Jacqueline Wong (audiologist)Willa Downing (2/d mixed media collage/drawing) & Antonya Gonzalez (developmental psychology)

Sunday

Christopher Rodrigues (2/d & 3/d – painting / digital) & Philip LeSueur (geological engineering)

Michelle Weinstein (3/d drawing/experimental animation) & Samuel Brenner(civil engineering

Robi Smith (2/d acrylic painting/mixed media) & Kelly Ablard (biology)

Rob Scharein (digital art, 3/d graphics) & Regan Zhang (medical genetics)

This is a pilot project – let us know your experience so that we can create more events like this in the future. We will also showcase our new and awesome Curiosity Collider T-shirts at the event – ask us how you can get one.

Enjoy!

Should you be curious about Curiosity Collider, you can find out more here. One last comment, an adult ticket for Science World costs $23.25 (not cheap).

Two tales of mashup visual art shows in Vancouver (Canada): part 1 of 2

I’ve been to two new exhibitions in Vancouver (Canada) and while both could be described as mashups, only one uses the word in its title. Before getting to the shows, here’s a little bit about mashups for anyone who’s not familiar with word.

A mashup definition

Generally speaking a mashup is when you bring together multiple source materials to create something new. Here’s a list of different types of mashups, from the Mashup Wikipedia entry,

Mashup may refer to:

  • Mashup (music), the musical genre encompassing songs which consist entirely of parts of other songs
  • Mashup (video), a video that is edited from more than one source to appear as one
  • Mashup (book), a book which combines a pre-existing text, often a classic work of fiction, with a certain popular genre such as vampire or zombie narratives
  • Mashup (web application hybrid), a web application that combines data and/or functionality from more than one source
  • Mash-Up (Glee), a musical theater performance composed of integrated segments from other performances as popularized by the American television series Glee
  • Mash Up (TV series), a television show on Comedy Central starring T.J. Miller.
  • Lotus Mashups, a Business Mashups editor developed and distributed by IBM as part of the IBM Mashup Center system
  • Band Mashups, the former name of the video game Battle of the Bands

While the book mashup seems relatively new, there have been other older literary mashups such as cut-up technique (Note: Links have been removed),

The cut-up technique (or découpé in French) is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept can be traced to at least the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts.

Arguably although problematically, the exquisite corpse could be included as a literary mashup (Note: Links have been removed),

Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis) or rotating corpse, is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. “The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun”, as in “The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge”) or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed.

The technique was invented by surrealists and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. Breton said the diversion started about 1925, but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918.

In any event, music mashups (also called remix amongst other things) seem to have predated any other mashups, from the Mashup (music) Wikipedia entry,

A mashup (also mesh, mash up, mash-up, blend, bootleg[1] and bastard pop/rock) is a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another.[2] …

The practice of assembling new songs from purloined elements of other tracks stretches back to the beginnings of recorded music [emphasis mine]. If one extends the definition beyond the realm of pop, precursors can be found in musique concrète, as well as the classical practice of (re-)arranging traditional folk material and the jazz tradition of reinterpreting standards. In addition, many elements of mashup culture have antecedents in hip hop and the DIY ethic of punk as well as overlap with the free culture movement.

Recorded music seems to have started sometime in the 1870’s, from the History of Sound Recording Wikipedia entry,

The history of sound recording – which has progressed in waves, driven by the invention and commercial introduction of new technologies – can be roughly divided into four main periods:

  • the “Acoustic” era, 1877 to 1925
  • the “Electrical” era, 1925 to 1945 (including sound on film)
  • the “Magnetic” era, 1945 to 1975
  • the “Digital” Era, 1975 to the present day.

It seems the musicians got there first. That settled, it’s time for the visual art exhibition that’s a mashup in principle if not in name. (Although Robin Laurence in part 2 makes a compelling case for the 18th century visual artist, Mary Delany and her ‘paper-mosaiks’ (scroll down about 75% of the way; it’s in the subsection titled ‘Reviews and commentaries from elsewhere’).

Rennie Collection

While he’s made his money as a Vancouver real estate marketer, Bob Rennie is better known internationally as someone who is passionately committed to the visual arts. Crowned as one of the top 200 art collectors in the world by ArtNews, Rennie rated  both a profile in ArtNews and a mention in the ArtNet News April 30, 2015 article, Top 200 Art Collectors Worldwide for 2015, Part Two. According to his entry on Wikipedia, there’s also this (Note: Links have been removed),

Rennie chairs the North America Acquisitions Committee (NAAC) at Tate Museum in London,[5]is a member of the Tate International Council and sits on the Dean’s Advisory Board to the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia (since 2006). In recognition of his dedication to the arts and the arts community, he received an honorary doctorate of letters from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2008, and was appointed to the university’s Board of Governors in 2009.

Rennie joined the Board of Trustees at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2015.[6]

The current exhibition at the Rennie Collection (where pieces from his extensive art collection are displayed) is untitled and unique. The show was curated by Rennie himself (from the Rennie Collection Jan. ??, 2016 news release),

Rennie Collection is proud to present a major group exhibition featuring 41 prominent and emerging artists. Bringing together a variety of practices and media, this survey aims to reveal the chaos of the world by addressing enduringly pertinent issues, from migratory displacement to an in-depth examination of identity and history. The exhibition runs from January 23 to April 23, 2016 [ETA April 4, 2016: The show has been extended to Friday, May 20, 2016.].

“This is our twelfth exhibition at the Rennie Museum, with works from the collection. Although we never burden our shows with a formal title, the working title for this install− which mines 41 artists from the collection − is ‘chaos’. Given the chaos of the world, I wanted to bring tough topics into conversations.

From the first work that ever entered the collection, Norman Rockwells On Top of The World (1933) – a utopian world that I thought actually existed outside my childhood home in Vancouver’s eastside – through to Bob Beck’s Thirteen Shooters (2001) showcasing the Columbine killers – the world stopped sixteen years ago hearing the news of a school massacre – my concern today, and a focus of the exhibition, is on elevating the topics in the show. We just don’t stop anymore upon hearing the news.

For anyone familiar with the Rennie Collection, it is in a heritage building in one of the oldest parts of Vancouver. The building houses both the ‘gallery’ and Rennie’s real estate marketing business. Visits (tours) to see an exhibition must be booked; there is no ‘dropping in’.

When I attended, over 15 of us were booked for a visit, we were introduced to the exhibit by Whitney (a student from the University of British Columbia art history programme). Usually you get an introduction to every single piece in the exhibit but with over 41 artists represented and, I believe, 53 pieces being shown that proved to be impossible. That said, there is one piece which is likely to be everyone’s starting part and that is the camel or more precisely, John Baldessari’s 2013 Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large) on the ground floor by picture window where passersby can look in from the street.

The piece looks like a giant lump of camel-shaped plastic, smooth and white. The artist has coloured in the eyes which from most angles seem to be gazing not at the needle before it but heavenward. It is as you’ve likely guessed a reference to the saying about rich men having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. Whitney informed us that the saying can, more or less, be associated with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (If you look on Wikipedia (Eye of a needle) entry, you’ll find it can also be associated with the Bahá’í faith.) By the way, the saying is written on the gallery wall in Arabic.

It seems telling that the first piece is about rich men and their difficulty getting to heaven in a show curated by a rich man (Rennie’s stated intention seen later in this post does not resemble my response to the piece). Then, further into the gallery’s first floor, there are pieces by Jota Castro titled ‘Motherfuckers never die’. One of the pieces features a list of art collectors, both individual and corporate (not including Rennie), with the title prominently featured as the headline. It suggests a highly self-critical view both personally and socially, which is borne out through the rest of the exhibition.

Upstairs, the second floor is an overwhelming experience given that its three galleries are loaded with the bulk of the items. One of the more engaging pieces for me was ‘Animal Farm ’92 (after George Orwell)’, 1992 by Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ has been ripped apart so the pages could be glued to a huge canvas or some other surface. Over top of the book’s pages, artists have rendered political figures of the period as animals. The usual suspects are present: the US president, China’s president, France’s president, Japan’s prime minister and, more excitingly, leaders who are largely unknown outside their own countries. It was fascinatingly comprehensive.

The Tate (UK art gallery) has an image which shows you what I’m trying to describe but in no way conveys the scale,

Animal Farm - G7 1989-92 Tim Rollins born 1955 Lent from a private collection 2000 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L02312

Animal Farm – G7 1989-92 Tim Rollins born 1955 Lent from a private collection 2000 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L02312

You could spend hours contemplating the geopolitical and social implications both then and now. As well, the piece has an interesting story of its own as can be seen on the Tim Rollins and K.O.S webpage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press website,

In August 1981, artist and activist Tim Rollins was recruited by the principal of Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx to develop a curriculum that combined art-making with lessons in reading and writing for students classified as “at risk.” On the first day of school, Rollins told his students, “Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history.” This book unfolds that history, offering the first comprehensive catalog of work created collaboratively by Rollins and several generations of students, now known as the “Kids of Survival.”

Rollins and his students developed a way of working that combined art-making with reading literature and writing personal narratives: Rollins or a student would read aloud from classic literary texts by such authors as Shakespeare and Orwell while the rest of the class drew or wrote on the pages being read, connecting the stories to their own experiences. Often, Rollins and his students (who later named themselves “Kids of Survival” or K.O.S.) cut out book pages and laid them on a grid on canvas before undertaking their graphic interventions. This process developed into the group’s signature style, which they applied to literary texts, musical scores, and other printed matter. This book and the accompanying major museum retrospective document the history of the groundbreaking practice of Tim Rollins and K.O.S., with full color images of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints. These include a caricature of Jesse Helms with an animal body drawn on the pages of Animal Farm; graffiti-like images painted in acrylic on the pages of Frankenstein; a gleaming pattern of fantastical golden horns on Kafka’s Amerika; and a series of red letter A’s on The Scarlet Letter.

As promised, social issues dominate this Rennie Collection show throughout. Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Coloured Vases’ (2009) with industrial paint covering and cheapening seven Han era dynasty vases, Brian Jungen’s mishapened and blackened Ku Klux Hood (‘Untitled’, 2015), and Judy Chartrand’s ‘If this is what you call “Being Civilized” I’d rather go back to “Being Savage …”‘ hotel bowls (2003) which ahs drawings of cockroaches included with the decorative imagery, call viewers to take into account their own biases. Wei Wei’s vases are cheap and garish, it’s on learning that Han era vases are beneath the paint that the viewer is forced to reevaluate the piece and his or her own judgment. Chartrand’s cockroaches blend in with the decor and it takes a minute or two to recognize them for what they are and recoil. The experience is a bit shocking and for locals who recognize the names of the three hotel bowls represented, the link to the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is searing. Jungen’s second piece (Untitled) in this show is on the floor, the shape not readily seen, and the colour black. Once Whitney told us it was meant to represent a Ku Klux Klan hood, we were presented with a problem. When something as iconic as a white, cloth, KKK hood is represented by a misshapen lump of solid black plastic and is on the floor unrecognizable as a hood, one has to resolve cognitive dissonance.

The show ends on the third floor where the Norman Rockwell print ‘On Top of the World’ (1933) mentioned in the news release is bracketed by two pieces by Anton Kannemeyer ‘W is for White’ (2007)  on the left (once also known as the ‘sinister’ side) & ‘B is for Black’ (2007) on the right. Rennie’s first art purchase representing an idealized world he (and many others) have aspired to is bracketed by Kannemeyer’s pieces, which feature definitions for white and black found in the Oxford English Dictionary and are illustrated with crude racist images. The effect is of one more disturbance added to a series experienced in this show. One final discombobulating experience (I’m not sure if it’s intentional *ETA March 8, 2016 1720 hours: Yes, it is according to Wendy Chang of the Rennie Collection*) is due to a permanent installation seen from the rooftop, Martin Creed’s strangely reassuring neon words ‘EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT’. All you have to do is go to the door which opens onto the roof and turn your head to the left and you can either view the Creed piece through the glass door or step out onto the roof.

If there’s any doubt that Rennie intends to disconcert and disturb the viewer, a January ??, 2016 Rennie Collection news release clarifies the matter,

Social commentary and artist’s approach to reporting the news has always interested me – Gilbert and George’s Bomb from 2006, or the questioning of commerce in the backroom photos of Amazon by Hugh Scott-Douglas, John Baldessari’s albino camel bringing ancient proverbs into question [my response was not that as noted earlier], and Glenn Ligon’s ‘fallen America’. I felt it was time to stop looking at the world’s chaos in isolation and let you see into the world in accumulation. If you leave sad, tense or somewhat suffocated, then I have… you know, I don’t know really what I have done, other than reminded us that when one of us has a problem, we all have a problem. [emphasis mine]

Thank you so much for questioning the world with me…”
Bob Rennie

Here’s an image of Rennie with the Martin Creed piece visible behind him,

[downloaded from http://www.artnews.com/top200/bob-rennie/]

[downloaded from http://www.artnews.com/top200/bob-rennie/]

Finally, Rennie’s comment that one of us having a problem means we all do brought to mind this,

Part 2 covers the mashup at the Vancouver Art Gallery and more.

Two tales of mashup visual art shows in Vancouver (Canada): part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this piece featured definitions for the word mashup and a commentary on the current (Jan. 23 – April 23, 2016 [ETA April 4, 2016: The show has been extended to Friday, May 20, 2016.]) Rennie Collection show which is a mashup in all but name. This part is going to focus on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s show ‘Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture’ (Feb. 20 – June 12, 2016). There will also be mention of a couple of precursor mashup shows and there will be a few comments about artists, mashups, and curators.

Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture

Immediately, you hear the sounds of the show bleeding into the Vancouver Art Gallery’s (VAG) lobby. With 371 works representing 156 artists, it is the largest and most ambitious show in the gallery’s  85-year (founded in 1931) history. (20% of the works are from the VAG’s collection and the other 80% are from elsewhere.)

The first mashup experience is a wall of screens (reminding me of a movie ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ starring David Bowie as an alien who like to watch multiple television sets arranged as a wall of screens) where pieces in the show flash on in a mesmerizing fashion. If you stay long enough in front of the bank of screens, you will see the entire show cycle through. It’s an appropriate beginning for a show that overwhelms the senses and in many ways reflects modern culture.

Each floor hosts a different ‘age’ with the first floor representing ‘The Digital Age: Hacking, Remix and the Archive in the Age of Post-Production’, the second floor the ‘Late Twentieth Century: Splicing, Sampling and the Street in the Age of Appropriation’, the third floor the ‘Post-War: Cut, Copy and Quotation in the Age of Mass Media, and the fourth floor the ‘Early Twentieth Century: Collage, Montage and Readymade at the Birth of Modern Culture. Somewhat counterintuitively you go backward in time.

The press tour I attended was trotted through the not quite ready for prime time show pretty briskly two days before the opening so your experience may vary from what I am about to describe. In fact, it’s a certainty it will, given the wealth of works shown.

By contrast with the Rennie Collection show which focused on social issues, this show is focused, although some of the artists do address social issues, on the art history of the last hundred years or so.

In a sense, Marcel Duchamp provides the through-line for the show. Sherrie Levine’s ‘urinal’ (cast in bronze with a gold patina) evokes the ‘original’ version in a fashion I read as teasing,

Sherrie Levine's Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp).

Sherrie Levine’s Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), 1991, cast bronze and artist’s wooden base,Glenstone Photo: Tim Nightswander/Imaging4Art.com

Here’s an image of the original,

The original Fountain by Marcel Duchamp photographed by Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 (Art Gallery) after the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit. Stieglitz used a backdrop of The Warriors by Marsden Hartley to photograph the urinal. The entry tag is clearly visible. [downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29]

The original Fountain by Marcel Duchamp photographed by Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 (Art Gallery) after the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit. Stieglitz used a backdrop of The Warriors by Marsden Hartley to photograph the urinal. The entry tag is clearly visible. [downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_%28Duchamp%29]

Here’s a description of the ‘fountain’ and its place in contemporary art history, from the Fountain (Duchamp) entry in Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

Fountain is a 1917 work produced by Marcel Duchamp. The piece was a porcelain urinal, which was signed “R.Mutt” and titled Fountain. Submitted for the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, in 1917, the first annual exhibition by the Society to be staged at The Grand Central Palace in New York, Fountain was rejected by the committee, even though the rules stated that all works would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Fountain was displayed and photographed at Alfred Stieglitz’s studio, and the photo published in The Blind Man, but the original has been lost. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde, such as Peter Bürger, as a major landmark in 20th-century art. 17 replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s now exist.[2]

Mashup has a Marcel Duchamp ‘fountain’ on the VAG’s fourth floor. Levine’s piece can be found on the second floor. So, this Duchamp ‘throughline’ takes us almost from the present into the past.

One installation that seemed interesting but wasn’t ready at the preview was a music room (on the second floor) featuring David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s album, ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’. The album’s Wikipedia entry has this (Note: Links have been removed),

Recorded by Eno and Byrne in between their work on Talking Heads projects, the album combines sampled vocals, African rhythms, found sounds, and electronic music,[6] and has been called a “pioneering work for countless styles connected to electronics, ambience, and Third World music”.[2] The extensive use of sampling on the album is widely considered ground-breaking and innovative, though its actual influence on the sample-based music genres that later emerged continues to be debated.[7][8]

Also on the second floor is a roomlet of bookcases (floor to ceiling) featuring copies of a 1376-page book titled ‘S, M, L, XL’.  by Rem Koolhaus (internationally renowned Dutch architect) and Bruce Mau, a Canadian graphic designer. It made a bit of a splash when it was published in 1995 but its Wikipedia entry is somewhat muted. Perhaps its prominence in Mashup is in part due to Mau’s Massive Change show which was premiered at the Vancouver Art Gallery in October 2004.

One of my favourite pieces (due to its bright colours and movement) was by Robert Rauschenberg, [Revolver II] on the third floor,

Rauschenberg – Revolver II – Silk screen on plexiglass – 1967 Courtesy: fibonaccisusan

Rauschenberg – Revolver II – Silk screen on plexiglass – 1967 Courtesy: fibonaccisusan

This piece has an interesting history as described in a Jan. 25, 2014 (?) post by Susan Happersett on her fibonaccisusan website concerning Math Art,

E.A.T Experiments in Art and Technology 1960 – 2014 is the current exhibition on display at the Payne Gallery at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This small show documents the collaborations of artists with scientists and engineers from Bell Labs in NJ. Two Bell Labs engineers, Billy Kluver and Fred Waldhauer, started working with artists, providing them access to the newest technology. In 1966 they helped bring together 30 scientists and engineers with 11 artists to produce a cutting edge performance art series called 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering in NYC. Through these partnerships, the engineers were trying to do two things. They wanted to address the effects of technology on society, and they were looking for new ways to explore this technology. Not all of the work was performance art, it also included  sculpture, drawing and architecture.

What does this have to with Math Art? If you look at the time line for these collaborations you see that in 1966 computers were the new technology. Some of the art work done in these experiments was based on Mathematical algorithms.

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg was one of the artists closely involved with E.A.T. One of his projects was a series of six “Revolvers”. “Revolver II” from 1967 is on display in the center of the gallery. It consists of 5 plexiglass circles that have been printed with silk screen. They rotate independently when one of five buttons is pushed. Because the circles are transparent, the different rotations (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 circles at a time) create interesting geometric patterns.

‘Revolver II’ has a control box so you can push a switch and make things happen.

While it’s not stated explicitly, technology is an important motif in this show as the technologies of different periods make some of these art pieces and installations possible.

While the infamous (in some circles) Duchamp ‘Fountain’ can be found on the fourth floor, it was another of Duchamp’s pieces there which caught my attention. ‘La boîte-en-valise’ largely because it reminded me of a dollhouse. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) devotes a webpage to the ‘boîte’,

Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, or box in a suitcase, is a portable miniature monograph including sixty-nine reproductions of the artist’s own work. Between 1935 and 1940, he created a deluxe edition of twenty boxes, each in a brown leather carrying case but with slight variations in design and content. A later edition consisting of six different series was created during the 1950s and 1960s; these eliminated the suitcase, used different colored fabrics for the cover, and altered the number of items inside. Each box unfolds to reveal pull-out standing frames displaying Nude Descending a Staircase and other works, diminutive Readymades hung in a vertical “gallery,” and loose prints mounted on paper. Duchamp included in each deluxe box one “original.” In The Museum of Modern Art’s Boîte-en-valise, this is a hand-colored print depicting the upper half of The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, or Large Glass (1915-23). Among the reproductions found in the box is L.H.O.O.Q., a rectified Readymade created by taking a cheap print of the Mona Lisa and adding a moustache, goatee, and lascivious pun (understood when the letters L-H-O-O-Q are pronounced rapidly in French to mean “she’s got a hot ass”). Duchamp’s boxes, along with his altered Mona Lisa, address museums’ ever-increasing traffic in reproductions and question the relative importance of the “original” work of art.

Here’s an image of one of the many ‘boxes’ appearing in an April 20, 2012 article by Brady Carlson for New Hampshire Public Radio,

Marcel Duchamp, Box in a Valise (Boîte-en-valise, Series F), 1966, mixed-media assemblage. Courtesy Hood Museum of Art

Marcel Duchamp, Box in a Valise (Boîte-en-valise, Series F), 1966, mixed-media assemblage.
Courtesy Hood Museum of Art

The ‘boîte’ in the VAG’s Mashup came from the Art Gallery of Ontario and according to the show’s lead curator, Bruce Grenville, this is the last time, due to fragility, the piece will be loaned out.

Commentary

Both the Rennie Collection’s ‘untitled’ mashup and the VAG’s ‘Birth of Modern Culture’ mashup are overwhelming experiences. The issues raised in Rennie’s curatorial outing (it took him five years and it’s his first attempt) are difficult, complex, and, at times, quite confronting. And while art history might seem like a more sedate topic, the VAG’s mashup (10 years from when Grenville first had the idea including three years to execute the plan) reflects the frenetic, frantic pace and noise (both literally and informationwise) of contemporary life. Both shows do beg repeat viewings.

These shows also pose a question about the role of artists and the role of curators. If a mashup, as I noted in part one, “… is when you bring together multiple source materials to create something new” and curators are bringing these pieces together to create something new, then is the curator also the artist?

Rennie could argue that he has brought pieces together in a way which reflects each artist’s concerns and demonstrates how different artists approach the same social issues. So, he’s less an artist and more a curator who has found a way to highlight each artist while reflecting contemporary concerns.

By contrast, the curators at the VAG (Bruce Grenville, Daina Augaitis, and Stephanie Rebick took a creator’s approach to their show and in some ways could be viewed as subverting the artists.

Rennie and the VAG curators have facilitated their own subversion as viewers mentally construct their own show from the works on display. While, it could be said that viewers always construct their own shows, the sheer number of pieces in the VAG’s Mashup and Rennie’s ‘untitled chaos’ demand it.

Previous Vancouver art gallery/museum mashups

Surrey Art Gallery (Surrey is in the Vancouver metropolitan area) had a mashup in 2007, Cultural Mashups, Bhangra, Bollywood + Beyond (PDF). Plus the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology had a mashup show sometime in the mid-1980s that was a revelation to me. Objects were brought together in completely unexpected ways to showcase similarities of disparate cultures across time. Sadly, I don’t recall the title of the show.

Going to the Rennie Collection and VAG shows

As noted in part one, you have to book a tour for the Rennie Collection but the show is free. Scheduled tours are given on Saturdays, Sundays, and Thursdays.

The VAG show costs $24 for adults and $55 for families. Seniors and students do get a break, it’s $18 for them. In addition seniors (65+) can pay by donation from 10 am to 1 pm on Mondays: March 7, 2016, April 4, 2016, May 2, 2016, and June 6, 2016. There are no show passes but you can purchase a membership which if you go often enough to the VAG can be a good deal. Tuesday nights used to feature a donation entry fee after 5 pm but that seems to have been eliminated.

Reviews and commentaries from elsewhere

Robin Laurence who writes about visual art for the Georgia Straight newspaper and many other publications has two pieces, a Feb. 10, 2016 preview of the show (MashUp charts modern culture’s mad mixing; The Vancouver Art Gallery’s monumental new show links everyone from Picasso to Basquiat and Tarantino) and a Feb. 23, 2015 review (MashUp reveals the pivotal role of women in pioneering of modern art methods). I particularly appreciated this bit in her review,

Despite the large number of women among the show’s 28 collaborating curators, female artists are dramatically underrepresented in MashUp. By my count, they number 36 out of the 156 listed in the show’s media kit. Nonetheless, an interesting subtheme emerges here: the important, if not always acknowledged, role women played in pioneering collage and photomontage techniques.

On the VAG’s fourth floor, where the early-modernist works are installed, a couple of didactic panels alert us to the photo-collages that were produced by aristocratic English women during the Victorian era. “Decades before the collage experiments of…the 20th century European avant-garde,” the text tells us, “the manipulation of photographs had already become a popular technique.”

The greatly enlarged example of a genteel-pastime precursor to photomontage is a late-1870s work by Kate Edith Gough. Her homely watercolour scene of a pond is given a surreal twist by cut-out photos of women’s heads mounted onto the necks of painted ducks. The effect is unsettling–a precursor to surrealism.

The show doesn’t allude at all to Mary Delany, the 18th-century “gentlewoman” credited with inventing mixed-media collage, an art form she described as “paper-mosaicks”. An accomplished amateur artist, Delany created, in her 70s and 80s, an extraordinary series of botanical drawings using cut paper and watercolour mounted on a black ground. (Not only are they extremely beautiful and dazzlingly detailed, they are also scientifically accurate.) But perhaps she was too botanically inclined and too far in advance of the modern era to be considered here—more’s the pity.

Point taken Ms. Laurence and just in time for International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016.

Kevin Griffin of the Vancouver Sun chimes in with a Feb. 23, 2016 review on his blog where he provides more information about the Sherrie Levine piece mentioned earlier in this part,

An example of how the idea of the readymade has changed over time is Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp) by Sherrie Levine. Unlike Duchamp’s urinal, Levine’s wasn’t bought in a store but is a copy cast in bronze, a traditional sculptural material. By 1991 when she made the work, Levine appropriated Duchamp’s original but made it out a material that suggests that what was once a radical art gesture has now become tamed by art history.

While the VAG show received extensive coverage internationally prior to its opening, as of this day, March 8, 2016, I haven’t found many reviews other than a few local ones and one in the national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, by Marsha Lederman in a March 4, 2016 article,

During a period of intense experimentation between 1912 and 1914, Picasso and Georges Braque began to incorporate non-traditional materials in their compositions – wallpaper, newspapers, musical scores and other found materials – essentially inventing collage. This launches an entirely new mode of representation, something that will take on many forms and terms – assemblage, collage, détournement, appropriation, sampling, ripping and hacking (to name a few).

The impact of this radical move was tremendous and the VAG show demonstrates that it has reached far beyond visual art. You see it in architecture and design, in film; you hear it in music – an interconnectedness that links artists, eras, genres and mediums.

“Everything you see around you is really based in a kind of mashup, remix, sampling kind of sensibility,” says Grenville, who conceived the exhibition.

“We do like to encompass the historical but to see it from the contemporary perspective. And so trying to make sense out of mashup culture, we had to go back in time to see it and to understand: Where does this originate? How is it connected?”

The impact of this radical move was tremendous and the VAG show demonstrates that it has reached far beyond visual art. You see it in architecture and design, in film; you hear it in music – an interconnectedness that links artists, eras, genres and mediums.

“Everything you see around you is really based in a kind of mashup, remix, sampling kind of sensibility,” says Grenville, who conceived the exhibition.

“We do like to encompass the historical but to see it from the contemporary perspective. And so trying to make sense out of mashup culture, we had to go back in time to see it and to understand: Where does this originate? How is it connected?”

The exhibition is organized chronologically in four sections, each with its own floor. On the first floor, the contemporary – the digital age. Here you can lie back on blue pillows in German filmmaker Hito Steyerl’s video installation Liquidity Inc. (2014) and let the story of economic loss, mixed martial arts – and water – wash over you; blue judo mats act as sound buffers, also part of the installation.

You can watch an armed Ronald McDonald take Big Boy hostage in French graphics and animation studio H5’s animated short Logorama (2009) – which uses more than 2,500 logos.

While there are a few others, the last review I’m including here is Helen Wong’s March 2, 2016 article for Sad Mag (Note: I found her article on March 7, 2016 after I finished my set of impressions and found she and I shared more than one; we have not communicated with each other),

In the exhibition preview Grenville stated their goal was to ensure their visitors would return again and again. By creating such a massive and comprehensive show, there is no choice but to return. Frankly, going and seeing the exhibition in one go is overwhelming and exhausting. [emphasis mine] There is so much work to see that by the time you finish, your thoughts resemble the mashup of the exhibition. In a way, the design of the exhibition presents a mashup in itself where hundreds of works are presented to the viewer, giving you the responsibility of picking out what’s important. I found that this also mirrors modern day society as information and images are given to us at a speed quicker than ever. We are prone to distraction as our attention spans decline.

What follows is a segue of sorts into the New York art scene which disconcertingly brings to mind the current situation with the VAG’s interest in moving to a purpose-built space and its current show.

Contemporary art museum scene

For anyone who’s interested in the Vancouver art scene, it’s hard to miss the Vancouver Art Gallery’s current drive to raise $350M for a new space. This desire for a newer, bigger box is not confined to Vancouver as Jerry Saltz points out in his April 19, 2015 piece for the Vulture where he explores the drive for bigger and better in New York City’s art scene (Note: Links have been removed),

… museums have changed — a lot. Slowly over the past quarter-century, then quickly in the past decade. These changes have been complicated, piecemeal, and sometimes contradictory, with different museums embracing them in different ways. But the transformation is visible everywhere. Put simply, it is this: The museum used to be a storehouse for the art of the past, the display of supposed masterpieces, the insightful exploration of the present in the context of the long or compressed histories that preceded it. Now — especially as embodied by the Tate Modern [Note: The Swiss architects responsibe for the Tate Modern have been retained for the proposed new VAG space], Guggenheim Bilbao, and our beloved MoMA — the museum is a revved-up showcase of the new, the now, the next, an always-activated market of events and experiences, many of which lack any reason to exist other than to occupy the museum industry — an industry that critic Matthew Collings has called “bloated and foolish, corporatist, ghastly and death-ridden.”

The list of fun-house attractions is long. At MoMA, we’ve had overhyped, badly done shows of Björk and Tim Burton, the Rain Room selfie trap, and the daylong spectacle of Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass case. This summer in London you can ride Carsten Höller’s building-high slides at the Hayward Gallery — there, the fun house is literal. Elsewhere, it is a little more “adult”: In 2011, L.A.’s MoCA staged Marina Abramovic’s Survival MoCA Dinner, a piece of megakitsch that included naked women with skeletons atop them on dinner tables where attendees ate. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art paid $70,000 for a 21-foot-tall, 340-ton boulder by artist Michael Heizer and installed it over a cement trench in front of the museum, paying $10 million for what is essentially a photo op. Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted a tepid David Bowie show, which nevertheless broke records for attendance and sales of catalogues, “limited-edition prints,” and T-shirts. Among the many unfocused recent spectacles at the Guggenheim were Cai Guo-Qiang’s nine cars suspended in the rotunda with lights shooting out of them. The irony of these massively expensive endeavors is that the works and shows are supposedly “radical” and “interdisciplinary,” but the experiences they generate are closer, really, to a visit to Graceland — “Shut up, take a selfie, keep moving.”

In this way, an old museum model has been replaced by another one. Museums that were roughly bookish, slow, a bit hoity-toity, not risk-averse but careful, oddly other, and devoted to reflection, connoisseurship, cultivation, and preservation (mostly of the past but also of new great works) — these museums have transformed into institutions that feel faster, indifferent to existing collections, and at all times intensely in pursuit of new work, new crowds, and new money. We used to look at these places as something like embodiments and explorations of the canon — or canons, since some (MoMA’s and Guggenheim’s modernism collections) were narrower and more specialized than others (the Met’s, the Louvre’s). But whatever long-view curating and collecting museums do now — and many of them still do it well — the institutions that are sucking up the most energy are the ones that have made themselves into platforms for spectacle, as though the party-driven global-art-fair feeding frenzy had taken up residence in one place, and one building, permanently. Plus, accessibility has become everything. More museums are making collections available online — sad to say, art is sometimes better viewed there than in the flesh, thanks to so much bad museum architecture and so little actual space to display permanent collections. Acousti­guides have become more and more common, and while there’s much good they can do, it often seems their most important function is crowd control — moving visitors through quickly to make room for the next million.

The museums of New York can already feel alien with this new model taking over. And we’re really at the beginning rather than the end of the transformation. All four of Manhattan’s big museums — the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim — have undertaken or are involved in massive expansion, renovation, and rebuilding. …

It’s a fascinating read for its perspective on the New York art and international art scenes. Well worth reading.

Final words

After reading Saltz’s piece and recalling the VAG’s expansionist plans, I am beginning to wonder if their Mashup spectacle is a precursor for their future contributions to Vancouver’s art scene. Is quiet contemplation going to disappear from our public galleries and museums?

Part 1 which includes definitions for mashups and a review of the Jan. 23 – April 23, 2016 [ETA April 4, 2016: The show has been extended to Friday, May 20, 2016.] is here.