Category Archives: Technology

Animal technology: a touchscreen for your dog, sonar lunch orders for dolphins, and more

A rather unexpected (for ignorant folks like me) approach to animal technology has been taken by Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas in her June 17, 2016 piece on phys.org,

Imagine leaving your dog at home while it turns on the smart TV and chooses a programme to watch. Meanwhile you visit a zoo where you play interactive touchscreen games with the apes and watch the dolphins using sonar to order their lunch. In the field behind you, a farmer is stroking his flock of chickens virtually, leaving the drones to collect sheep while the cows milk themselves. Welcome to the unusual world of animal technology.

Hirskyj-Douglas’s piece was originally published as a June 15, 2016 essay  about animal-computer interaction (ACI) and some of the latest work being done in the field on The Conversation website (Note: Links have been removed),

Animals have interacted with technology for a long time, from tracking devices for conservation research to zoos with early touchscreen computers. But more recently, the field of animal-computer interaction (ACI) has begun to explore in more detail exactly how animals use technology like this. The hope is that better understanding animals’ relationship with technology will means we can use it to monitor and improve their welfare.

My own research involves building intelligent tracking devices for dogs that let them interact with media on a screen so we can study how dogs use TV and what they like to watch (if anything). Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve found that dogs like to watch videos of other dogs. This has led me to track dogs dogs’ gaze across individual and multiple screens and attempts to work out how best to make media just for dogs.

Eventually I hope to make an interactive system that allows a dog to pick what they want to watch and that evolves by learning what media they like. This isn’t to create a toy for indulgent pet owners. Dogs are often left at home alone during the day or isolated in kennels. So interactive media technology could improve the animals’ welfare by providing a stimulus and a source of entertainment. …

This 2014 video (embedded in Hirskyj-Douglas’s essay) illustrates how touchscreens are used by great apes,

It’s all quite intriguing and I encourage you to read the essay in it entirety.

If you find the great apes project interesting, you can find  out more about it (I believe it’s in the Primate Research category) and others at the Atlanta Zoo’s research webpage.

Rwanda hosts 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa and shows off its technology

Rwanda and its technological prowess is a story that has been emerging for some time. On the occasion of hosting the 2016 World Economic Forum on Africa, Milton Nkosi has written a May 13, 2016 article for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news online about Rwanda’s ‘technology revolution’,

The Rwandan capital Kigali was a hive of activity this week as the city hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa.

The land of a thousand hills is shaking off its negative image as a country forever linked with the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed.

It is breaking old stereotypes not just about itself but also as an African nation.

In the Kigali suburb of Gikondo, I caught the number 205 bus for the city centre, paying the fare with a quick tap of my pre-paid smart card.

Commuters along the route boarded the bus quickly and easily, taking advantage of the new cashless payment system.

There were no delays or arguments about change, the kind you are almost guaranteed to encounter when taking public transport in many other African cities.

The modern bus was fitted with a TV at the front, which played out music videos for those not already texting or making calls on their mobiles.

On the outskirts of Kigali, I visit the assembly plant for a Latin American computer company [Positivo GBH], another example of the country’s technological progress and attractiveness to foreign investors.

I ask the [sic] Juan Ignacio Ponelli, the Argentinean involved in the decision to establish the company’s first African office here: “Why Rwanda?”

“Why not?” he replies, with a confident smile.

“We had been talking to different African countries but I have to say Rwanda moved fast. They have a strong anti-corruption drive and the country has been growing at about 8% per annum for the last few years.”

If you have the time (it’s a quick read with an embedded video and images), I encourage you to read Nkosi’s piece in its entirety.

As for Rwanda’s technology presence as an emerging story, I did a little digging and found two pieces one for the UN (United Nations) and another for TIME magazine.

From Masimba Tafirenyika’s April 2011 report featuring the then new smart card ticketing system and much more for the UN’s Africa Renewal website,

A luxury commuter bus pulls up by the kerb to pick up passengers. A young woman quickly jumps in, retrieves a smart card from her wallet and swipes it against a machine next to the driver. A buzzer approves the swipe and the woman takes a seat by the window. Nothing unusual, something even routine in advanced economies. But this is tiny landlocked Rwanda, one of the world’s poorest countries, which was nearly brought to its knees by genocide in 1994.

The smart-card ticketing system is known as twende. Its introduction in the capital, Kigali, early this year by Kigali Bus Services is the latest in a string of technological advances that are unleashing rapid changes in the economy and transforming Rwanda into a regional hub for business communications and information technology. …

The rise of Rwanda’s economy is gradually getting investors’ attention. According to the World Bank, it is now easier, faster and less expensive to operate a business in Rwanda than in most other African countries. In this year’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings, by which the World Bank gauges the intricacies of running a company in different countries, Rwanda comes in at 58 out of 183 nations surveyed, up from 143 in 2009. In Africa only Mauritius, South Africa, Botswana and Tunisia fared better.

The World Bank says that a high ranking indicates that a country has adopted laws favourable to starting and operating a company, in areas such as accessing credit, registering property transfers, paying taxes and enforcing contracts. In 2005 an entrepreneur had to go through nine procedures to start a business in Rwanda, at a cost of 223 per cent of income per capita. Today, observes the Bank, it takes only two procedures in three days, at a cost of 8.9 per cent!

It is perhaps the government’s ambitious plans to transform Rwanda into a regional high-tech hub — or “Singapore of Africa” — that has most fascinated many people, including sceptics. With that goal the government initiated the five-year “National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Plans.” The first plan, from 2000 to 2005, focused on creating policies favourable to ICT initiatives. The second, from 2006 to 2010, concentrated on building the ICT backbone, including laying fibre-optic cables. The third, scheduled to run from 2011 to 2015, will speed up the introduction of services to exploit the new technology and, authorities are convinced, will push Rwanda ahead of regional rivals.

There’s also this more recent April 7, 2015 article by Jack Linshi for TIME magazine (Note: Links have been removed),

Under President Paul Kagame, who some credit for helping end the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has taken a number of steps to turn itself around. Provincial boundaries were redrawn, infrastructure was strengthened, a transitional justice system convicted the worst Génocidaires — even a new flag was unveiled to promote national unity and reconciliation. While some accuse Kagame of using his country’s history as a means of controlling its modern politics, there’s no doubting his country’s economic success.

But as Rwanda heals its past, the nation is also forging ahead — aggressively. A government initiative is underway to expand technology and connectivity, with the goal of transforming the agrarian economy into a highly digitized, middle-income country by 2020. With its population projected to reach 16 million by 2020, from 8 million in 2000, the country is looking beyond state funds and international aid to develop its economy: “While both of these must contribute, the backbone of the process should be a middle class of Rwandan entrepreneurs,” according the plan, called Vision 2020.

Vision 2020 is bold, but it’s working. And many outside Africa — and inside — are marveling at how an economy long-dominated by subsistence farming is becoming a high-tech hub — and one of the 20 fastest-growing countries in the world.

Both of these pieces help provide insight into Rwanda’s emergence. The 2011 piece offers more in depth analysis of the various government initiatives while the 2015 piece adds some details about the difficulties the country still faces.

Finally, you can find information about 2016 World Economic Forum held May 11 – 13, 2016 here where you will a find a programme, a list of speakers, and videos.

Will AI ‘artists’ be able to fool a panel judging entries the Neukom Institute Prizes in Computational Arts?

There’s an intriguing competition taking place at Dartmouth College (US) according to a May 2, 2016 piece on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

Algorithms help us to choose which films to watch, which music to stream and which literature to read. But what if algorithms went beyond their jobs as mediators of human culture and started to create culture themselves?

In 1950 English mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing published a paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which starts off by proposing a thought experiment that he called the “Imitation Game.” In one room is a human “interrogator” and in another room a man and a woman. The goal of the game is for the interrogator to figure out which of the unknown hidden interlocutors is the man and which is the woman. This is to be accomplished by asking a sequence of questions with responses communicated either by a third party or typed out and sent back. “Winning” the Imitation Game means getting the identification right on the first shot.

Turing then modifies the game by replacing one interlocutor with a computer, and asks whether a computer will be able to converse sufficiently well that the interrogator cannot tell the difference between it and the human. This version of the Imitation Game has come to be known as the “Turing Test.”

On May 18 [2016] at Dartmouth, we will explore a different area of intelligence, taking up the question of distinguishing machine-generated art. Specifically, in our “Turing Tests in the Creative Arts,” we ask if machines are capable of generating sonnets, short stories, or dance music that is indistinguishable from human-generated works, though perhaps not yet so advanced as Shakespeare, O. Henry or Daft Punk.

The piece on phys.org is a crossposting of a May 2, 2016 article by Michael Casey and Daniel N. Rockmore for The Conversation. The article goes on to describe the competitions,

The dance music competition (“Algorhythms”) requires participants to construct an enjoyable (fun, cool, rad, choose your favorite modifier for having an excellent time on the dance floor) dance set from a predefined library of dance music. In this case the initial random “seed” is a single track from the database. The software package should be able to use this as inspiration to create a 15-minute set, mixing and modifying choices from the library, which includes standard annotations of more than 20 features, such as genre, tempo (bpm), beat locations, chroma (pitch) and brightness (timbre).

In what might seem a stiffer challenge, the sonnet and short story competitions (“PoeTix” and “DigiLit,” respectively) require participants to submit self-contained software packages that upon the “seed” or input of a (common) noun phrase (such as “dog” or “cheese grater”) are able to generate the desired literary output. Moreover, the code should ideally be able to generate an infinite number of different works from a single given prompt.

To perform the test, we will screen the computer-made entries to eliminate obvious machine-made creations. We’ll mix human-generated work with the rest, and ask a panel of judges to say whether they think each entry is human- or machine-generated. For the dance music competition, scoring will be left to a group of students, dancing to both human- and machine-generated music sets. A “winning” entry will be one that is statistically indistinguishable from the human-generated work.

The competitions are open to any and all comers [competition is now closed; the deadline was April 15, 2016]. To date, entrants include academics as well as nonacademics. As best we can tell, no companies have officially thrown their hats into the ring. This is somewhat of a surprise to us, as in the literary realm companies are already springing up around machine generation of more formulaic kinds of “literature,” such as earnings reports and sports summaries, and there is of course a good deal of AI automation around streaming music playlists, most famously Pandora.

The authors discuss issues with judging the entries,

Evaluation of the entries will not be entirely straightforward. Even in the initial Imitation Game, the question was whether conversing with men and women over time would reveal their gender differences. (It’s striking that this question was posed by a closeted gay man [Alan Turing].) The Turing Test, similarly, asks whether the machine’s conversation reveals its lack of humanity not in any single interaction but in many over time.

It’s also worth considering the context of the test/game. Is the probability of winning the Imitation Game independent of time, culture and social class? Arguably, as we in the West approach a time of more fluid definitions of gender, that original Imitation Game would be more difficult to win. Similarly, what of the Turing Test? In the 21st century, our communications are increasingly with machines (whether we like it or not). Texting and messaging have dramatically changed the form and expectations of our communications. For example, abbreviations, misspellings and dropped words are now almost the norm. The same considerations apply to art forms as well.

The authors also pose the question: Who is the artist?

Thinking about art forms leads naturally to another question: who is the artist? Is the person who writes the computer code that creates sonnets a poet? Is the programmer of an algorithm to generate short stories a writer? Is the coder of a music-mixing machine a DJ?

Where is the divide between the artist and the computational assistant and how does the drawing of this line affect the classification of the output? The sonnet form was constructed as a high-level algorithm for creative work – though one that’s executed by humans. Today, when the Microsoft Office Assistant “corrects” your grammar or “questions” your word choice and you adapt to it (either happily or out of sheer laziness), is the creative work still “yours” or is it now a human-machine collaborative work?

That’s an interesting question and one I asked in the context of two ‘mashup’ art exhibitions in Vancouver (Canada) in my March 8, 2016 posting.

Getting back to back to Dartmouth College and its Neukom Institute Prizes in Computational Arts, here’s a list of the competition judges from the competition homepage,

David Cope (Composer, Algorithmic Music Pioneer, UCSC Music Professor)
David Krakauer (President, the Santa Fe Institute)
Louis Menand (Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor at Harvard University)
Ray Monk (Author, Biographer, Professor of Philosophy)
Lynn Neary (NPR: Correspondent, Arts Desk and Guest Host)
Joe Palca (NPR: Correspondent, Science Desk)
Robert Siegel (NPR: Senior Host, All Things Considered)

The announcements will be made Wednesday, May 18, 2016. I can hardly wait!

Addendum

Martin Robbins has written a rather amusing May 6, 2016 post for the Guardian science blogs on AI and art critics where he also notes that the question: What is art? is unanswerable (Note: Links have been removed),

Jonathan Jones is unhappy about artificial intelligence. It might be hard to tell from a casual glance at the art critic’s recent column, “The digital Rembrandt: a new way to mock art, made by fools,” but if you look carefully the subtle clues are there. His use of the adjectives “horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless” in a single sentence, for example.

The source of Jones’s ire is a new piece of software that puts… I’m so sorry… the ‘art’ into ‘artificial intelligence’. By analyzing a subset of Rembrandt paintings that featured ‘bearded white men in their 40s looking to the right’, its algorithms were able to extract the key features that defined the Dutchman’s style. …

Of course an artificial intelligence is the worst possible enemy of a critic, because it has no ego and literally does not give a crap what you think. An arts critic trying to deal with an AI is like an old school mechanic trying to replace the battery in an iPhone – lost, possessing all the wrong tools and ultimately irrelevant. I’m not surprised Jones is angry. If I were in his shoes, a computer painting a Rembrandt would bring me out in hives.
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Can a computer really produce art? We can’t answer that without dealing with another question: what exactly is art? …

I wonder what either Robbins or Jones will make of the Dartmouth competition?

A dress that lights up according to reactions on Twitter

I don’t usually have an opportunity to write about red carpet events but the recent Met Gala, also known as the Costume Institute Gala and the Met Ball, which took place on the evening of May 2, 2016 in New York, featured a ‘cognitive’ dress. Here’s more from a May 2, 2016 article by Emma Spedding for The Telegraph (UK),

“Tech white tie” was the dress code for last night’s Met Gala, inspired by the theme of this year’s Met fashion exhibition, ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology’. While many of the a-list attendees interpreted this to mean ‘silver sequins’, several rose to the challenge with beautiful, future-gazing gowns which give a glimpse of how our clothes might behave in the future.

Supermodel Karolina Kurkova wore a ‘cognitive’ Marchesa gown that was created in collaboration with technology company IBM. The two companies came together following a survey conducted by IBM which found that Marchesa was one of the favourite designers of its employees. The dress is created using a conductive fabric chosen from 40,000 options and embedded with 150 LED lights which change colour in reaction to the sentiments of Kurkova’s Twitter followers.

A May 2, 2016 article by Rose Pastore for Fast Company provides a little more technical detail and some insight into why Marchesa partnered with IBM,

At the Met Gala in Manhattan tonight [May 2, 2016], one model will be wearing a “cognitive dress”: A gown, designed by fashion house Marchesa, that will shift in color based on input from IBM’s Watson supercomputer. The dress features gauzy white roses, each embedded with an LED that will display different colors depending on the general sentiment of tweets about the Met Gala. The algorithm powering the dress relies on Watson Color Theory, which links emotions to colors, and on the Watson Tone Analyzer, a service that can detect emotion in text.

In addition to the color-changing cognitive dress, Marchesa designers are using Watson to get new color palette ideas. The designers choose from a list of emotions and concepts—things like romance, excitement, and power—and Watson recommends a palette of colors it associates with those sentiments.

An April 29, 2016 posting by Ann Rubin for IBM’s Think blog discusses the history of technology/art partnerships and provides more technical detail (yes!) about this one,

Throughout history, we’ve seen traces of technology enabling humans to create – from Da Vinci’s use of the camera obscura to Caravaggio’s work with mirrors and lenses. Today, cognitive systems like Watson are giving artists, designers and creative minds the tools to make sense of the world in ground-breaking ways, opening up new avenues for humans to approach creative thinking.

The dress’ cognitive creation relies on a mix of Watson APIs, cognitive tools from IBM Research, solutions from Watson developer partner Inno360 and the creative vision from the Marchesa design team. In advance of it making its exciting debut on the red carpet, we’d like to take you on the journey of how man and machine collaborated to create this special dress.

Rooted in the belief that color and images can indicate moods and send messages, Marchesa first selected five key human emotions – joy, passion, excitement, encouragement and curiosity – that they wanted the dress to convey. IBM Research then fed this data into the cognitive color design tool, a groundbreaking project out of IBM Research-Yorktown that understands the psychological effects of colors, the interrelationships between emotions, and image aesthetics.

This process also involved feeding Watson hundreds of images associated with Marchesa dresses in order to understand and learn the brand’s color palette. Ultimately, Watson was able to suggest color palettes that were in line with Marchesa’s brand and the identified emotions, which will come to life on the dress during the Met Gala.

Once the colors were finalized, Marchesa turned to IBM partner Inno360 to source a fabric for their creation. Using Inno360’s R&D platform – powered by a combination of seven Watson services – the team searched more than 40,000 sources for fabric information, narrowing down to 150 sources of the most useful options to consider for the dress.

From this selection, Inno360 worked in partnership with IBM Research-Almaden to identify printed and woven textiles that would respond well to the LED technology needed to execute the final part of the collaboration. Inno360 was then able to deliver 35 unique fabric recommendations based on a variety of criteria important to Marchesa, like weight, luminosity, and flexibility. From there, Marchesa weighed the benefits of different material compositions, weights and qualities to select the final fabric that suited the criteria for their dress and remained true to their brand.

Here’s what the dress looks like,

Courtesy of Marchesa Facebook page {https://www.facebook.com/MarchesaFashion/)

Courtesy of Marchesa Facebook page {https://www.facebook.com/MarchesaFashion/)

Watson is an artificial intelligence program,which I have written about a few times but I think this Feb. 28, 2011 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way), which mentions Watson, product placement, Jeopardy (tv quiz show), and medical diagnoses seems the most à propos given IBM’s latest product placement at the Met Gala.

Not the only ‘tech’ dress

There was at least one other ‘tech’ dress at the 2016 Met Gala, this one designed by Zac Posen and worn by Claire Danes. It did not receive a stellar review in a May 3, 2016 posting by Elaine Lui on Laineygossip.com,

People are losing their goddamn minds over this dress, by Zac Posen. Because it lights up.

It’s bullsh-t.

This is a BULLSH-T DRESS.

It’s Cinderella with a lamp shoved underneath her skirt.

Here’s a video of Danes and her dress at the Met Gala,

A Sept. 10, 2015 news item in People magazine indicates that Posen’s a different version of a ‘tech’ dress was a collaboration with Google (Note: Links have been removed),

Designer Zac Posen lit up his 2015 New York Fashion Week kickoff show on Tuesday by debuting a gorgeous and tech-savvy coded LED dress that blinked in different, dazzling pre-programmed patterns down the runway.

In coordination with Google’s non-profit organization, Made with Code, which inspires girls to pursue careers in tech coding, Posen teamed up with 30 girls (all between the ages of 13 and 18), who attended the show, to introduce the flashy dress — which was designed by Posen and coded by the young women.

“This is the future of the industry: mixing craft, fashion and technology,” the 34-year-old designer told PEOPLE. “There’s a discrepancy in the coding field, hardly any women are at the forefront, and that’s a real shame. If we can entice young women through the allure of fashion, to get them learning this language, why not?”

..

Through a micro controller, the gown displays coded patterns in 500 LED lights that are set to match the blues and yellows of Posen’s new collection. The circuit was designed and physically built into Posen’s dress fabric by 22-year-old up-and-coming fashion designer and computer science enthusiast, Maddy Maxey, who tells PEOPLE she was nervous watching Rocha [model Coco Rocha] make her way down the catwalk.

“It’s exactly as if she was carrying a microwave down the runway,” Maxey said. “It’s an entire circuit on a textile, so if one connection had come lose, the dress wouldn’t have worked. But, it did! And it was so deeply rewarding.”

Other ‘tech’ dresses

Back in 2009 I attended that year’s International Symposium on Electronic Arts and heard Clive van Heerden of Royal Philips Electronics talk about a number of innovative concepts including a ‘mood’ dress that would reveal the wearer’s emotions to whomever should glance their way. It was not a popular concept especially not in Japan where it was first tested.

The symposium also featured Maurits Waldemeyer who worked with fashion designer Chalayan Hussein and LED dresses and dresses that changed shape as the models went down the runway.

In 2010 there was a flurry of media interest in mood changing ‘smart’ clothes designed by researchers at Concordia University (Barbara Layne, Canada) and Goldsmiths College (Janis Jefferies, UK). Here’s more from a June 4, 2010 BBC news online item,

The clothes are connected to a database that analyses the data to work out a person’s emotional state.

Media, including songs, words and images, are then piped to the display and speakers in the clothes to calm a wearer or offer support.

Created as part of an artistic project called Wearable Absence the clothes are made from textiles woven with different sorts of wireless sensors. These can track a wide variety of tell-tale biological markers including temperature, heart rate, breathing and galvanic skin response.

Final comments

I don’t have anything grand to say. It is interesting to see the progression of ‘tech’ dresses from avant garde designers and academics to haute couture.

3D printed clothing

A seamless garment or article of footwear would minimize skin irritation for those of us not able to afford custom couture and an April 19, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily offers hope in an announcement of efforts by a team of UK scientists to change the textile industry’s approach to garment and footwear construction,

Loughborough University has teamed up with global textile and garment manufacturer the Yeh Group, to embark on landmark work in 3D textile printing that could revolutionise how clothes and footwear are made.

Personalised 3D printed fashion — manufactured within 24 hours — is the end goal of a new project led by Loughborough University that’s set to change the way we shop for clothes.

An April 18, 2016 Loughborough University press release, which originated the news item, describes the project (Note: Links have been removed),

Dr Guy Bingham, Senior Lecturer in Product and Industrial Design, has teamed up with global textile and garment manufacturer the Yeh Group, to embark on landmark work in 3D textile printing that could revolutionise how clothes and footwear are made.

The 18-month project[1], known as 3D Fashion, will see Dr Bingham – a world leader in his field – produce 3D wearable, full size, Additive Manufacturing (AM) textile garments and footwear – with design input from a major fashion house.

Advancements in AM textiles have made it possible to produce 3D printed garments directly from raw material, such as polymer, in a single manufacturing operation. This technology not only has the potential to reduce waste, labour costs and CO2e, but can modernise clothing production by encouraging localised manufacturing and production.

Currently, garment manufacture generates 1.8 million tonnes of waste material – equivalent to 70kg or 100 pairs of jeans per UK household, with 6.3 billion m³ of water used in the process – equivalent to 200,000 litres per year per household or 1,000 filled bathtubs[2].

Dr Bingham said: “With 3D printing there is no limit to what you can build and it is this design freedom which makes the technology so exciting by bringing to life what was previously considered to be impossible.

“This landmark technology allows us as designers to innovate faster and create personalised, ready-to-wear fashion in a digital world with no geometrical constraints and almost zero waste material. We envisage that with further development of the technology, we could 3D print a garment within 24 hours.

David Yeh, Managing Director, Tong Siang (Yeh Group), said: “3D Fashion supports the Yeh Group vision of direct polymer to garment manufacture. The Yeh Group is always striving to cut out unnecessary waste and resource use, and support the industries goals of faster to market, creating a manufacturing technology that brands and retailers can install closer to their customers. This is all with no compromise to performance.”

Loughborough University has produced a video about this project,

You can find out more about the Yeh Group on their website or on their Facebook page. I believe the company is headquartered in Thailand but I can’t tell if Tong Siang (the Yeh Group? on LinkedIn) is the corporate parent, the subsidiary, or an alternate company name.

YBC 7289: a 3,800-year-old mathematical text and 3D printing at Yale University

1,300 years before Pythagoras came up with the theorem associated with his name, a school kid in Babylon formed a disc out of clay and scratched out the theorem when the surface was drying.  According to an April 12, 2016 news item on phys.org the Bablyonians got to the theorem first, (Note: A link has been removed),

Thirty-eight hundred years ago, on the hot river plains of what is now southern Iraq, a Babylonian student did a bit of schoolwork that changed our understanding of ancient mathematics. The student scooped up a palm-sized clump of wet clay, formed a disc about the size and shape of a hamburger, and let it dry down a bit in the sun. On the surface of the moist clay the student drew a diagram that showed the people of the Old Babylonian Period (1,900–1,700 B.C.E.) fully understood the principles of the “Pythagorean Theorem” 1300 years before Greek geometer Pythagoras was born, and were also capable of calculating the square root of two to six decimal places.

Today, thanks to the Internet and new digital scanning methods being employed at Yale, this ancient geometry lesson continues to be used in modern classrooms around the world.

Just when you think it’s all about the theorem, the story which originated in an April 11, 2016 Yale University news release by Patrick Lynch takes a turn,

“This geometry tablet is one of the most-reproduced cultural objects that Yale owns — it’s published in mathematics textbooks the world over,” says Professor Benjamin Foster, curator of the Babylonian Collection, which includes the tablet. It’s also a popular teaching tool in Yale classes. “At the Babylonian Collection we have a very active teaching and learning function, and we regard education as one of the core parts of our mission,” says Foster. “We have graduate and undergraduate groups in our collection classroom every week.”

The tablet, formally known as YBC 7289, “Old Babylonian Period Mathematical Text,” came to Yale in 1909 as part of a much larger collection of cuneiform tablets assembled by J. Pierpont Morgan and donated to Yale. In the ancient Mideast cuneiform writing was created by using a sharp stylus pressed into the surface of a soft clay tablet to produce wedge-like impressions representing pictographic words and numbers. Morgan’s donation of tablets and other artifacts formed the nucleus of the Yale Babylonian Collection, which now incorporates 45,000 items from the ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms.

Discoverying [sic] the tablet’s mathematical significance

The importance of the geometry tablet was first recognized by science historians Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs in their 1945 book “Mathematical Cuneiform Texts.”

“Ironically, mathematicians today are much more fascinated with the Babylonians’ ability to accurately calculate irrational numbers like the square root of two than they are with the geometry demonstrations,” notes associate Babylonian Collection curator Agnete Lassen.

“The Old Babylonian Period produced many tablets that show complex mathematics, but it also produced things you might not expect from a culture this old, such as grammars, dictionaries, and word lists,” says Lassen “One of the two main languages spoken in early Babylonia  was dying out, and people were careful to document and save what they could on cuneiform tablets. It’s ironic that almost 4,000 years ago people were thinking about cultural preservation, [emphasis mine] and actively preserving their learning for future generations.”.

This business about ancient peoples trying to preserve culture and learning for future generations suggests that the efforts in Palmyra, Syria (my April 6, 2016 post about 3D printing parts of Palmyra) are born of an age-old impulse. And then the story takes another turn and becomes a 3D printing story (from the Yale University news release),

Today, however, the tablet is a fragile lump of clay that would not survive routine handling in a classroom. In looking for alternatives that might bring the highlights of the Babylonian Collection to a wider audience, the collection’s curators partnered with Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH) to bring the objects into the digital world.

Scanning at the IPCH

The IPCH Digitization Lab’s first step was to do reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) on each of fourteen Babylonian Collection objects. RTI is a photographic technique that enables a student or researcher to look at a subject with many different lighting angles. That’s particularly important for something like a cuneiform tablet, where there are complex 3D marks incised into the surface. With RTI you can freely manipulate the lighting, and see subtle surface variations that no ordinary photograph would reveal.

Chelsea Graham of the IPCH Digitization Lab and her colleague Yang Ying Yang of the Yale Computer Graphics Group then did laser scanning of the tablet to create a three-dimensional geometric model that can be freely rotated onscreen. The resulting 3D models can be combined with many other types of digital imaging to give researchers and students a virtual tablet onscreen, and the same data can be use to create a 3D printed facsimile that can be freely used in the classroom without risk to the delicate original.
3D printing digital materials

While virtual models on the computer screen have proved to be a valuable teaching and research resource, even the most accurate 3D model on a computer screen doesn’t convey the tactile  impact, and physicality of the real object. Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design has collaborated with the IPCH on a number of cultural heritage projects, and the center’s assistant director, Joseph Zinter, has used its 3D printing expertise on a wide range of engineering, basic science, and cultural heritage projects.

“Whether it’s a sculpture, a rare skull, or a microscopic neuron or molecule highly magnified, you can pick up a 3D printed model and hold it, and it’s a very different and important way to understand the data. Holding something in your hand is a distinctive learning experience,” notes Zinter.

Sharing cultural heritage projects in the digital world

Once a cultural artifact has entered the digital world there are practical problems with how to share the information with students and scholars. IPCH postdoctoral fellows Goze Akoglu and Eleni Kotoula are working with Yale computer science faculty member Holly Rushmeier to create an integrated collaborative software platform to support the research and sharing of cultural heritage artifacts like the Babylonian tablet.

“Right now cultural heritage professionals must juggle many kinds of software, running several types of specialized 2D and 3D media viewers as well as conventional word processing and graphics programs. Our vision is to create a single virtual environment that accommodates many kinds of media, as well as supporting communication and annotation within the project,” says Kotoula.

The wide sharing and disseminating of cultural artifacts is one advantage of digitizing objects, notes professor Rushmeier, “but the key thing about digital is the power to study large virtual collections. It’s not about scanning and modeling the individual object. When the scanned object becomes part of a large collection of digital data, then machine learning and search analysis tools can be run over the collection, allowing scholars to ask questions and make comparisons that aren’t possible by other means,” says Rushmeier.

Reflecting on the process that brings state-of-the-art digital tools to one of humanity’s oldest forms of writing, Graham said “It strikes me that this tablet has made a very long journey from classroom to classroom. People sometimes think the digital or 3D-printed models are just a novelty, or just for exhibitions, but you can engage and interact much more with the 3D printed object, or 3D model on the screen. I think the creators of this tablet would have appreciated the efforts to bring this fragile object back to the classroom.”

There is also a video highlighting the work,

Skin as a touchscreen (“smart” hands)

An April 11, 2016 news item on phys.org highlights some research presented at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Haptics (touch) Symposium 2016,

Using your skin as a touchscreen has been brought a step closer after UK scientists successfully created tactile sensations on the palm using ultrasound sent through the hand.

The University of Sussex-led study – funded by the Nokia Research Centre and the European Research Council – is the first to find a way for users to feel what they are doing when interacting with displays projected on their hand.

This solves one of the biggest challenges for technology companies who see the human body, particularly the hand, as the ideal display extension for the next generation of smartwatches and other smart devices.

Current ideas rely on vibrations or pins, which both need contact with the palm to work, interrupting the display.

However, this new innovation, called SkinHaptics, sends sensations to the palm from the other side of the hand, leaving the palm free to display the screen.

An April 11, 2016 University of Sussex press release (also on EurekAlert) by James Hakmer, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The device uses ‘time-reversal’ processing to send ultrasound waves through the hand. This technique is effectively like ripples in water but in reverse – the waves become more targeted as they travel through the hand, ending at a precise point on the palm.

It draws on a rapidly growing field of technology called haptics, which is the science of applying touch sensation and control to interaction with computers and technology.

Professor Sriram Subramanian, who leads the research team at the University of Sussex, says that technologies will inevitably need to engage other senses, such as touch, as we enter what designers are calling an ‘eye-free’ age of technology.

He says: “Wearables are already big business and will only get bigger. But as we wear technology more, it gets smaller and we look at it less, and therefore multisensory capabilities become much more important.

“If you imagine you are on your bike and want to change the volume control on your smartwatch, the interaction space on the watch is very small. So companies are looking at how to extend this space to the hand of the user.

“What we offer people is the ability to feel their actions when they are interacting with the hand.”

The findings were presented at the IEEE Haptics Symposium [April 8 – 11] 2016 in Philadelphia, USA, by the study’s co-author Dr Daniel Spelmezan, a research assistant in the Interact Lab.

There is a video of the work (I was not able to activate sound, if there is any accompanying this video),

The consequence of watching this silent video was that I found the whole thing somewhat mysterious.

3D print the city of Palmyra (Syria)?

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Palmyra dates back to Second Century BCE (before the common era) as UNESCO’s Site of Palmyra webpage indicates,

An oasis in the Syrian desert, north-east of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.

First mentioned in the archives of Mari in the 2nd millennium BC, Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria.  It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilisations in the ancient world. A grand, colonnaded street of 1100 metres’ length forms the monumental axis of the city, which together with secondary colonnaded cross streets links the major public monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, other temples and urban quarters. Architectural ornament including unique examples of funerary sculpture unites the forms of Greco-roman art with indigenous elements and Persian influences in a strongly original style. Outside the city’s walls are remains of a Roman aqueduct and immense necropolises.

Discovery of the ruined city by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in its subsequent influence on architectural styles.

Until recently Palmyra was occupied by ISIS or ISIL or IS (depending on what the group is being called today). A March 31, 2016 news item on phys.org presents a perspective on the city and cultural heritage in a time of strife,

The destruction at the ancient city of Palmyra symbolises the suffering of the Syrian people at the hands of the terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS). Palmyra was a largely Roman city located at a desert oasis on a vital crossroad, and “one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world”. Its remarkable preservation highlighted an intermingling of cultures that today, as then, came to stand for the tolerance and multiculturalism that pre-conflict Syria was renowned for -– tolerance that IS seeks to eradicate.

A March 31, 2016 essay by Emma Cunliffe (University of Oxford) for The Conversation, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Early in the conflict, the area was heavily fortified. Roads and embankments were dug through the necropolises and the Roman walls, and the historic citadel defences were upgraded. Yet the terrorists occupied and desecrated the city from May 2015, systematically destroying monuments such as the Temple of Baalshamin, the Temple of Bel, seven tower tombs, a large Lion goddess statue and two Islamic shrines. They ransacked the museum, tortured and executing the former site director Khaled al-Asaad in search of treasure to sell. According to satellite imagery analysis the site was heavily looted throughout it all.

Now the city has been recaptured, the first damage assessments are underway, and Syrian – and international – attention is already turning to restoration. This work will be greatly aided by the Syrians who risked their lives to transport the contents of the Palmyra museum to safety. The last truck pulled out as IS arrived, with bullets whizzing past.

There is a contrasting view as to how much destruction occurred from a March 29, 2016 essay by Paul Rogers (University of Bradford) for The Conversation,

Syrian Army units have taken back the ancient city of Palmyra from Islamic State. The units are now also trying to extend their control to include al-Qaryatain, to the south west of Palmyra, and Sukhnah, to the north east.

There are indications that the damage done to the ancient world heritage site which lies just outside Palmyra has been much less than feared. It may even have been limited to the destruction of two or three individual ruins – certainly important in their own right but just a small part of a huge complex that stretches over scores of hectares.

Written before some of the latest events, Rogers’ perspective is one of military tactics and strategy which contrasts with Cunliffe’s cultural heritage perspective. Like the answers to the classic question ‘Is the glass is half empty or is the glass is half full?’, both are correct, in their way.

Getting back to the cultural heritage aspect, Cunliffe outlines how Syrians and others in the international community are attempting to restore Palmyra, from her March 31, 2016 essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Even as they were displaced, Syrians have worked to keep a detailed memory of the city alive. Syrian artists created artworks depicting the destruction. In a Jordanian camp, refugees made miniature models of the city and other cultural sites, even measuring out the number and position of Palmyra’s columns from photographs.

The international community is also playing its part. Groups like UNOSAT [UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme], the UN’s satellite imagery analysts have used satellite imagery to monitor the damage. On the ground, Syrian-founded NGOs like APSA [Association for the Protection Syrian Archaeology] have linked with universities to assess the site. Groups such as NewPalmyra and Palmyra 3D Model are using the latest technology to create open-access 3D computer models from photographs.

Others have gone even further. The Million Image Database Project at the Oxford Institute for Digital Archaeology distributed cameras to volunteers across the Middle East to collect 3D photos of sites. As well as creating 3D models, they will recreate full-scale artefacts, sites, and architectural features using their own cement-based 3D printing techniques. This will start with a recreation of the arch from Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, due to be unveiled in London in April 2016.

Here’s an artistic representation of the destruction,

A depiction of the destruction. Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos

A depiction of the destruction. Humam Alsalim and Rami Bakhos

Of course, there are some ethical issues about the restoration being raised, from Cunliffe’s March 31, 2016 essay (Note: Links have been removed),

It wouldn’t be the first time such large-scale restoration has been undertaken. Historic central Warsaw, for example, was destroyed during World War II, and was almost completely reconstructed and is now a World Heritage site. Reconstruction is costly, but might be accomplished more quickly and cheaply using new digital techniques, showing the world that Syria values its cultural heritage.

But many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage. They also point out that the fighting is still ongoing: 370,000 Syrians are dead, millions are displaced, and perhaps 50%-70% of the nearby town has been destroyed. Given the pressing humanitarian needs, stabilisation alone should be the priority for now.

Rebuilding also fails to redress the loss caused by the extensive looting of the site, focusing only on the dramatically destroyed monuments. Perhaps most importantly, its worth asking whether returning Palmyra exactly to its pre-conflict state denies a major chapter of its history? There needs to be a wide-ranging discussion on the priorities for the immediate future and the nature of any future reconstruction.

While I grasp most of the arguments I’m not sure why 3D printing raises a greater ethical issue, “… many argue that 3D printing fails to capture the authenticity of the original structures, amounting to little more than the Disneyfication of heritage … .” Couldn’t you say that about any form of restoration? Certainly, I was disconcerted when I saw the Sphinx in Cairo in real life where the restoration is quite obvious from angles not usually seen in tourist pictures.

More tangentially, how big is the 3D printer? If memory serves, building materials from ancient times were often large blocks of stone.

Getting back to the point, both Cunliffe’s and Rogers’ essays are worth reading in their entirety if you have the time. And since those essays have been written there has been an update for Associated Press in an April 1, 2016 article by Albert Aji on phys.org. Apparently, the IS retreat included time to plant thousands of mines throughout Palmyra with trees, doors, animals and more being booby-trapped and, now, being detonated by the Syrian army.

One final comment, The booby-trapping reminded me of a scene in the English Patient (movie) when the allies have won the war, the Germans have withdrawn and British and Canadian soldiers have liberated a town in Italy. They celebrate that night and one exuberant Brit soldier climbs a flagpole (I think) and is killed because the Germans had booby-trapped the top of the flagpole. Some years ago, a friend of mine was peacekeeper in Croatia and he said that everything was booby-trapped, flagpoles, mailboxes, cemetery markers, etc. He never said anything much more about but I have the impression it was demoralizing and stressful. I think the discussion about restoration and the artwork produced by Syrians in response to the happenings in Palmyra are an important way to counteract demoralization and stress. Whether money should be spent on restoration or all of it dedicated to pressing humanitarian needs is a question for other people to answer but a society without art and culture is one that is dying so it is heartening to note the vibrancy in Syria.

ETA April 19, 2016: Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph has been successfully replicated and is standing in London, UK according to an April 19, 2016 news item on phys.org. The replica is about 2/3 the size of the original. No reason for the size change is given in the Associated Press article. The arch scheduled to remain in London for a few more days before moving to New York, Dubai, and other destinations before arriving in Palmyra.

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.

US Science and Technology Policy Office wants some nanotechnology commercialization success stories

The US Science and Technology Policy Office published a notice on Feb. 2, 2016 on the US Federal Register, ‘Requests for Information: Nanotechnology Commercialization Success’ (PDF request).

 

For anyone who’d like a little more information before clicking onto the PDF link, here’s more from the US Federal Register notice titled: Nanotechnology Commercialization Success Stories,

The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) is to seek examples of commercialization success stories stemming from U.S. Government-funded nanotechnology research and development (R&D) since the inception of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2001. The information gathered in response to this RFI may be used as examples to highlight the impact of the Initiative or to inform future activities to promote the commercialization of federally funded nanotechnology R&D. Depending on the nature of the feedback, responses may be used to shape the agenda for a workshop to share best practices and showcase commercial nanotechnology-enabled products and services. Commercial entities, academic institutions, government laboratories, and individuals who have participated in federally funded R&D; collaborated with Federal laboratories; utilized federally funded user facilities for nanoscale fabrication, characterization, and/or simulation; or have otherwise benefited from NNI agency resources are invited to respond.

The deadline is Feb. 29, 2016 and they would prefer contact via email,

 Email: NNISuccessStories@nnco.nano.gov. Include [NNI Success Story] in the subject line of the message.

Mail: Mike Kiley, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, ATTN: RFI0116, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Stafford II, Suite 405, Arlington, VA 22230. If submitting a response by mail, allow sufficient time for mail processing.

They also have guidelines for the submission,

Submissions are limited to five pages, one of which
we strongly recommend be an overview slide using the template provided at www.nano.gov/NNISuccessStories. Responses must be unclassified and should not contain any sensitive personally identifiable information (such as home address or social security number), or information that might be considered proprietary or confidential). Please include a contact name, e-mail address, and/or phone number in case clarification of details in your submission is required.

The PDF is five pages and you may wish to review the entire document before making your submission.