Category Archives: Visual Art

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s more from the Theme page,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authenticating ancient Mesoamerican artifacts with nanoSEM

A Nov. 12, 2014 news item on Azonano describes an upcoming Nov. 14, 2014 presentation from researchers at the Smithsonian Institute about authenticating artifacts at the 61st annual AVS symposium being held in Maryland (US) from Nov. 9 – 14 , 2014,

Geologist Timothy Rose of the Smithsonian Institution’s Analytical Laboratories is accustomed to putting his lab’s high-tech nanoscale scanning electron microscope (nanoSEM) to work evaluating the mineral composition of rocks and meteorites. Lately, though, the nanoSEM has been enlisted for a different kind of task: determining the authenticity of ancient Mesoamerican artifacts.

In ongoing studies, Rose and his colleague Jane Walsh have now analyzed hundreds of artifacts, including carved stone figurines and masks and ceramic pieces from the ancient Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan and Mezcala civilizations dating from 1500 B.C. to A.D. 600. “With our modern imaging and analytical tools we can look at objects at very high magnification, which can reveal new details about how, and sometimes when, objects were created,” he said.

A Nov. 12, 2014 AVS news release, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The nanoSEM used by Rose and his colleagues has the ability to function over a range of pressures. “Being able to work in the low-vacuum mode allows us to put samples into the microscope au naturel without coating them with an electrically conductive material such as carbon, which would be almost impossible to remove from a specimen,” he said.

In one study, Rose and colleagues used the nanoSEM to study stone masks from Teotihuacan, a pre-Columbian site located 30 miles northwest of Mexico City. The masks, about the size of a human face, were too big to be put into the device (and, more importantly, could not be removed from their respective museums or drilled or otherwise altered to obtain samples for analysis). However, silicone molds that were made of the objects to study tool marks with an optical microscope did remove tiny mineral grains from deep within cracks and drill holes. Chemical evaluation of these grains using the nanoSEM’s X-ray spectrographic analysis system showed that some were diatoms—common single-celled algae with cell walls made of silica. Diatomaceous earth is “a very fine powdery siliceous rock comprised entirely of diatoms that would make very nice polish for the stone of these specific masks,” Rose said. “We believe we found abrasive grains and polish that was used in the manufacturing process.”

In a separate study of artifacts confiscated by the federal government, the researchers found some pieces to be partially coated with a layer of what looked to be modern gypsum plaster. In other words, the pieces were fakes. However, Rose noted, a surprisingly small percentage of the objects evaluated to date have shown modern tools marks or other evidence of recent origins. One unique ceramic handled pot analyzed in detail, for example, had five chemically distinct layers that appeared to be original Olmec fresco paint—a level of craftsmanship that, he said, is unlikely to have been the work of modern artisans.

Presentation #CS-FrM3, “Faces from the Past: Microbeam Imaging and Analysis of Artifacts from Ancient Mesoamerica,” is at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014.

AVS provides a symposium introduction page explaining the purpose of these meetings,

The AVS International Symposium and Exhibition addresses cutting-edge issues associated with materials, processing, and interfaces in both the research and manufacturing communities. The weeklong Symposium fosters a multidisciplinary environment that cuts across traditional boundaries between disciplines, featuring papers from AVS technical divisions, technology groups, and focus topics on emerging technologies. The equipment exhibition is one of the largest in the world and provides an excellent opportunity to view the latest products and services offered by over 200 participating companies. More than 2,000 scientists and engineers gather from around the world to attend.

At one time, AVS stood for American Vacuum Society but over time things change and while I imagine they didn’t want to lose their branding as AVS, they also didn’t want to constrain themselves with the word ‘vacuum’, hence the change to AVS as a ‘word’ much like IBM doesn’t refer to itself by its original name, International Business Machines.

The Analysis of Beauty; an email from William Hogarth

Given that William Hogarth has been dead for 250 years (1697 – 1764), it was bit startling to receive an email from him. For the record, he was announcing a sound installation that’s part of the ‘gap in the air; a festival of sonic art’ being held in Edinburgh (Nov. 15, 2014 – Feb. 14, 2015).

Hogarth’s (or the artists’ group known as ‘Disinformation’) installation is presenting (from the Feb. 6, 2014 email announcement),

“The Analysis of Beauty” by Disinformation
 

Talbot Rice Gallery
The University of Edinburgh
Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh EH8 9YL
[email protected]
0131 650 2210

Reception + preview 12.30 (lunch-time) 15 Nov 2014
Sound installation 15 to 29 Nov 2014

http://rorschachaudio.com/2014/11/04/talbot-rice-edinburgh-disinformation/

http://www.facebook.com/events/1548961118673406/

#theanalysisofbeauty @talbotrice75

“The eye hath this sort of enjoyment in winding walks, and serpentine rivers, and all sorts of objects, whose forms, as we shall see hereafter, are composed principally of what I call the waving and serpentine lines. Intricacy in form, therefore, I shall define to be that peculiarity in the lines, which compose it, that leads the eye a wanton kind of chace, and from the pleasure that gives the mind, intitles it to the name of beautiful…” William Hogarth “The Analysis of Beauty” 1753

In 1753 the Georgian artist William Hogarth self-published his magnum-opus, “The Analysis of Beauty” – the book in which Hogarth expounded an aesthetic system based on analysing the virtues of the Serpentine, S-shaped, waving and snake-like lines. The Serpentine Line that William Hogarth discussed is identical to what modern nomenclature refers to as the sine-wave – the mathematical function whose geometry finds physical expression in oscillatory motion of musical strings, in pure musical notes, and in many phenomena of engineering, physics and communications science, signal processing and information technology.

In context of the architect William Playfair’s design for the Georgian Gallery at Talbot Rice, sonic and visual arts project Disinformation presents a minutely-tuned assemblage of pure musical sine-waves, which extend and extrapolate the visual aesthetics of Hogarth’s analyses, manifesting throughout the Georgian Gallery as a gently-hypnotic, immersive and dream-like sound-world. The installation is created using signals from laboratory oscillators, which manifest in-situ as standing-waves (the audio equivalent of stationary pond-ripples), through which visitors move as they explore and interact with the architectural acoustics of the exhibition space.

Here’s a video featuring a version of Disinformation’s ‘Analysis of Beauty’,

The Nov. 6, 2014 email announcement describes some of what you may have seen (if you’ve watched the video) and gives a summarized history for this installation,

“The Analysis of Beauty” sound installation is accompanied at Talbot Rice by the video of the same name, in which musical sine-waves are fed into and displayed on the screen of a laboratory oscilloscope. These signals visually manifest as a slowly rotating rope-like pattern of phosphorescent green lines, strongly reminiscent of the geometry of DNA. This earliest version of “The Analysis of Beauty” installation was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge, in 2000, where the Disinformation exhibit was set-up alongside works by Umberto Eco, Marc Quinn and the artist project Art & Language, and directly alongside one of Francis Crick & James Watson’s earliest working-models of DNA.

Joe Banks offers a more comprehensive history in a post titled “Disinformation and “The Analysis of Beauty” A Project History“on the slashseconds.org website,

“The Analysis of Beauty” is an optokinetic sound and light installation, created by the art project Disinformation1 , which takes its title from the book of the same name written by the painter, engraver and satyrist William Hogarth in 1753. The installation was conceived in December 1999 and first exhibited in January 2000, in the “Noise” exhibition at Kettle’s Yard gallery (curated by Adam Lowe and by the Cambridge historian of science Professor Simon Schaffer)2 . “The Analysis of Beauty” was exhibited alongside work by artists Marc Quinn and Art and Language, semiotician and author Umberto Eco, and the Elizabethan polymath (mathematician, astronomer, geographer and occultist) John Dee. On account of the (subjective, but strong) similarity between the imagery produced by this installation and DNA, this work was (recent controversies notwithstanding) exhibited at Kettle’s Yard directly opposite one of Francis Crick and James Watson’s original models of DNA.

The entry does not appear to have been updated since 2007 at the latest.

Coincidentally or not, I received a Nov. 8, 2014 email announcement about an installation in Rennes (France) by an artist who seems to be associated with the ‘Disinformation’ group,

 “Babylone Electrifiée” Joshua Bonnetta + Disinformation

Exhibition continues until 22 Nov 2014

Le Bon Accueil – Lieu d’Art Contemporain
74 Canal Saint-Martin
35700 Rennes
France

The “Babylone Electrifiée” exhibition (image below) features “The Analysis of Beauty”, “National Grid” and “Blackout” (Sound Mirrors) by Disinformation, plus “Strange Lines & Distances” by Joshua Bonnetta

Here’ s the image,

[downloaded from http://bon-accueil.org/]

[downloaded from http://bon-accueil.org/]

You can find out more about

the ‘gap in the air: a festival of sonic art’ here

University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery exhibitions here

Le Bon Accuei exhibitions here

Joshua Bonnetta here

Happy Listening! And, to whomever came up with the idea of emails from William Hogarth, Bravo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best from the religious fringe,

Baba

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

A science movie and a science play

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

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

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

David features some trailers for both movies and additional information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemistry and authentication of a Lawren Harris painting

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

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

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

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

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

Have a very nice weekend!

I know something about your mummy or an ion beam microscope analyses a sarcophagus scrap

“Bearded Man, 170-180 A.D.” from the Walters Art Museum collection, object #32.6

“Bearded Man, 170-180 A.D.” from the Walters Art Museum collection, object #32.6

An Aug. 14, 2014 news item on Azonano describing this image sparks the imagination,

He looks almost Byzantine or Greek, gazing doe-eyed over the viewer’s left shoulder, his mouth forming a slight pout, like a star-struck lover or perhaps a fan of the races witnessing his favorite charioteer losing control of his horses.

In reality, he’s the “Bearded Man, 170-180 A.D.,” a Roman-Egyptian whose portrait adorned the sarcophagus sheltering his mummified remains. But the details of who he was and what he was thinking have been lost to time.

But perhaps not for much longer. A microscopic sliver of painted wood could hold the keys to unraveling the first part of this centuries-old mystery. Figuring out what kind of pigment was used (whether it was a natural matter or a synthetic pigment mixed to custom specifications), and the exact materials used to create it, could help scientists unlock his identity.

Kathleen Tuck’s Aug. 13 (?), 2014 Boise State University (Idaho, US) news release, which originated the news item, describes the nature of the research and the difficulties associated with it,

“Understanding the pigment means better understanding of the provenance of the individual” said Darryl Butt, a Boise State distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and associate director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). “Where the pigment came from may connect it to a specific area and maybe even a family.”

For years, researchers were limited by the lack of samples large enough to be properly analyzed. But advances in the field of nanotechnology mean scientists now can work with fragments tinier than the eye can even register. Using a $1.5 million ion beam microscope at CAES, Butt — along with CAES colleagues Yaqaio Wu and Jatu Burns, and Boise State student researchers Gordon Alanko and Jennifer Watkins — is working with a sliver of the wood portrait smaller than a human hair.

The team transferred the fragment to a sample holder using a tiny deer hair called an “eyelash.” Their biggest challenge was to move it to the equipment without losing it.

So far they have extracted five needle-tip sized fragments 20 nanometers wide (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter), as well as two thin foils. From that, they have been able to analyze and map out the chemistry of the material in three dimensions.

Butt and his team are analyzing a speck of purple paint, which is significant because the blue used to blend the purple hue was a precious pigment back in the day, signaling a prominent individual.

This research is part of a larger project (from the news release),

Their data is being analyzed by researchers from the Detroit Museum of Art, where a companion to the “Bearded Man” mummy resides. It’s part of a project, titled APPEAR (Ancient Panel Paintings-Examination, Analysis, Research), a collaboration between 12 museums, including the British Museum in London and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the news release there’s a personal aspect to Butt’s interest in this research, which may eventually have implications for Boise State University’s programmes,

“So far we’ve learned that the paint is a synthetic pigment,” said Butt, who as an artist in his own right often mixes his own pigments for his paintings. “These are very vibrant pigments, possibly heated in a lead crucible. People thought that process had been developed in the 1800s or so. This could prove it happened a lot earlier.

Butt got into solving art mysteries when he met Glenn Gates, a conservation scientist at the Walters Art Museum [Baltimore, Maryland] at a conference at Stanford University [California]. Both are officers of a new section of the American Ceramic Society — the Art, Archaeology and Conservation Science division.

“This research was a gamble that we [materials scientists] could do some really cool stuff,” Butt said, noting that he would love to branch out into analyzing pottery and other ancient artifacts.

While studying the provenance of Roman-Egyptian mummies is something new at Boise State, many researchers in the art, geology, history, anthropology and even English departments are involved in what Butt likes to call ‘reverse engineering’ of objects of cultural heritage.

“This particular problem, that is of understanding a particle of pigment from a 2,000-year-old sarcophagus, is a bit unique in that it highlights some of the amazing tools that we have at Boise State and at CAES that could shed new light on problems associated with understanding human history,” he said.

Butt hopes that these and similar transdisciplinary projects will open up external research opportunities for students, including creation of a “pipeline” of students who travel to various user facilities or museums to carry out interdisciplinary research.

“Envision, for example, art students studying works of art using synchrotron radiation and bright x-rays at a national laboratory, while science and engineering students use their technical skills to unravel mysteries of materials used by ancient societies in the field or held by museums,” he said.

The idea can sound far-fetched even for those who are participating in the research, although there is a certain, sound logic to transdisciplinary work between the arts and the sciences.

I was not able to find any reference to Butt’s art work online, find a published research paper or more information (website) featuring APPEAR ((Ancient Panel Paintings-Examination, Analysis, Research); admittedly, it was a brief search.

There are many techniques used to examine works of art and/or heritage. For a description of another technique, Raman spectroscopy, and its use in examining art pigments there’s my June 27, 2014 posting titled: Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 2 of 4). Should you be interested in the entire series, additional links can be found in that posting.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

I recently wrote an exhaustive four-part series (links at the end of this posting) featuring Raman spectroscopy testing of an authenticated (Hurdy Gurdy) and a purported (Autumn Harbour) Lawren Harris paintings. During the course of my research, I sent a query to the Canadian Conservation Institute to disprove or confirm my statements regarding Canada and its database of art pigments,

.. According to some informal sources, Canada has a very small (almost nonexistent) data bank of information about pigments used in its important paintings. For example, the federal government’s Canadian Conservation Institute has a very small database of pigments and nothing from Lawren Harris paintings [unconfirmed at time of publication; June 18, 2014 query outstanding] …

Marie-Claude Corbeil, Ph.D. Gestionnaire de la Division de la science de la conservation | Manager of Conservation Science Division, very kindly replied to my query with this on July 10, 2014 (I believe she was on holidays [en vacances] when my query was received in June),

The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has been conducting research into the materials and techniques of Canadian artists (mainly 20th-century artists) since the early 1990s. Databases were created for each artists. At the moment CCI has no such database on Harris.

The CCI is the only institution in Canada carrying out this kind of research. I would add that European conservation institutes or laboratories have a long tradition of conducting this type of research focusing mainly on European art, basically because many were created long before North-American conservation institutes or laboratories were established.

… An important point to make is that scientific investigation is only one part of an authentication study. Authentication should start with stylistic study and research into the provenance of the artwork which are carried out by curators and art historians.

Regarding your question about Raman spectroscopy, I would say that Raman spectroscopy is only one of many techniques that can be used to analyse paint or any other material. At CCI we often use up to six techniques to analyse paint to obtain the full makeup of the sample including pigments, fillers and binding media. I should also add that analysis of material is carried out at CCI to answer questions related to a number of issues, including but not limited to authentication. Analysis is often carried out to understand the degradation of museum objects and works of art, or to provide information required during the course of a conservation treatment.

Thank you for this excellent explanation and for your time.

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1305 PDT: For those who want more information, Ms. Corbeil has provided some articles about the CCI and its Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project:

The Canadian Artists’ Painting Materials Project, 1992, J. M. Taylor. (PDF)

CCI 1992 Taylor

Detecting Art Fraud: Sometimes Scientific Examination Can Help, 1993. J. M. Taylor (PDF)

CCI 1993 Taylor
The Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project, 1995, Marie-Claude Corbeil (PDF)

CCI 1995 Corbeil

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 3 of 4)

Dramatic headlines (again)

Ignoring the results entirely, Metro News Vancouver, which favours the use of the word ‘fraud’, featured it in the headline of a second article about the testing, “Alleged Group of Seven work a fraud: VAG curator” by Thandi Fletcher (June 5, 2014 print issue); happily the online version of Fletcher’s story has had its headline changed to the more accurate: “Alleged Group of Seven painting not an authentic Lawren Harris, says Vancouver Art Gallery curator.” Fletcher’s article was updated after its initial publication with some additional text (it is worth checking out the online version even if you’re already seen the print version). There had been a second Vancouver Metro article on the testing of the authenticated painting by Nick Wells but that in common, with his June 4, 2014 article about the first test, “A fraud or a find?” is no longer available online. Note: Standard mainstream media practice is that the writer with the byline for the article is not usually the author of the article’s headline.

There are two points to be made here. First, Robertson has not attempted to represent ‘Autumn Harbour’ as an authentic Lawren Harris painting other than in a misguided headline for his 2011 news release.  From Robertson’s July 26, 2011 news release (published by Reuters and published by Market Wired) where he crossed a line by stating that Autumn Harbour is a Harris in his headline (to my knowledge the only time he’s done so),

Lost Lawren Harris Found in Bala, Ontario

Unknown 24×36 in. Canvas Piques a Storm of Controversy

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–(Marketwire – July 26, 2011) –
Was Autumn Harbour painted by Lawren Harris in the fall of 1912? That summer Lawren Harris was 26 years old and had proven himself as an accomplished and professional painter. He had met J.E.H. MacDonald in November of 1911. They became fast friends and would go on to form the Group of Seven in 1920 but now in the summer of 1912 they were off on a sketching expedition to Mattawa and Temiscaming along the Quebec-Ontario border. Harris had seen the wilderness of the northern United States and Europe but this was potentially his first trip outside the confines of an urban Toronto environment into the Canadian wilderness.

By all accounts he was overwhelmed by what he saw and struggled to find new meaning in his talents that would capture these scenes in oil and canvas. There are only two small works credited to this period, archived in the McMichael gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario. Dennis Reid, Assistant Curator of the National Gallery of Canada stated in 1970 about this period: “Both Harris and (J.E.H.) MacDonald explored new approaches to handling of colour and overall design in these canvases. Harris in particular was experimenting with new methods of paint handling, and Jackson pointed out the interest of the other painters in these efforts, referring to the technique affectionately as ‘Tomato Soup’.” For most authorities the summer and fall of 1912 are simply called his ‘lost period’ because it was common for Harris to destroy, abandon or give away works that did not meet his standards. The other trait common to Harris works, is the lack of a signature and some that are signed were signed on his behalf. The most common proxy signatory was Betsy Harris, his second wife who signed canvases on his behalf when he could no longer do so.

So the question remains. Can an unsigned 24×36 in. canvas dated to 1900-1920 that was found in a curio shop in Bala, Ontario be a long lost Lawren Harris? When pictures were shown to Charles C. Hill, Curator of Canadian Art, National Gallery of Canada, he replied: “The canvas looks like no Harris I have ever seen…” A similar reply also came from Ian Thom, Head Curator for the Vancouver Art Gallery: “I do not believe that your work can be connected with Harris in any way.” [emphases mine] Yet the evidence still persists. The best example resides within the National Art Gallery. A 1919, 50.5 X 42.5 in. oil on rough canvas shows Harris’s style of under painting, broad brush strokes and stilled composition. Shacks, painted in 1919 and acquired the Gallery in 1920 is an exact technique clone of Autumn Harbour. For a list of comparisons styles with known Harris works and a full list of the collected evidence please consult www.1912lawrenharris.ca/ and see for yourself.

If Robertson was intent on perpetrating a fraud, why would he include the negative opinions from the curators or attempt to authenticate his purported Harris? The 2011 website is no longer available but Robertson has established another website, http://autumnharbour.ca/.

It’s not a crime (fraud) to have strong or fervent beliefs. After all, Robertson was the person who contacted ProSpect* Scientific to arrange for a test.

Second, Ian Thom, the VAG curator did not call ‘Autumn Harbour’ or David Robertson, a fraud. From the updated  June 5, 2014 article sporting a new headline by Thandi Fletcher,

“I do not believe that the painting … is in fact a Lawren Harris,” said Ian Thom, senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “It’s that simple.”

It seems Thom feels as strongly as Robertson does; it’s just that Thom holds an opposing opinion.

Monetary value was mentioned earlier as an incentive for Robertson’s drive to prove the authenticity of his painting, from the updated June 5, 2014 article with the new headline by Thandi Fletcher,

Still, Robertson, who has carried out his own research on the painting, said he is convinced the piece is an authentic Harris. If it were, he said it would be worth at least $3 million. [emphasis mine]

“You don’t have to have a signature on the canvas to recognize brushstroke style,” he said.

Note: In a June 13, 2014 telephone conversation, Robertson used the figure of $1M to denote his valuation of Autumn Harbour and claimed a degree in Geography with a minor in Fine Arts from the University of Waterloo. He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to be a* Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.

As for the owner of Hurdy Gurdy and the drama that preceded its test on June 4, 2014, Fletcher had this in her updated and newly titled article,

Robertson said the painting’s owner, local Vancouver businessman Tony Ma, had promised to bring the Harris original to the chemistry conference but pulled out after art curator Thom told him not to participate.

While Thom acknowledged that Ma did ask for his advice, he said he didn’t tell him to pull out of the conference.

“It was more along the lines of, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t do it, because I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything,’” said Thom, adding that the final decision is up to Ma. [emphasis mine]

A request for comment from Ma was not returned Wednesday [June 5, 2014].

Thom, who already examined Robertson’s painting a year ago [in 2013? then, how is he quoted in a 2011 news release?], said he has no doubt Harris did not paint it.

“The subject matter is wrong, the handling of the paint is wrong, and the type of canvas is wrong,” he said, adding that many other art experts agree with him.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014. Minor grammatical change made to sentence: ‘He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to a be of Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.’ to ‘He also expressed the hope that Autumn Harbour would prove to be a* Rosetta Stone of sorts for art pigments used in the early part of the 20th century.’ on July 2, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)

Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (part 2 of 4)

Testing the sample and Raman fingerprints

The first stage of the June 3, 2010 test of David Robertson’s Autumn Harbour, required taking a tiny sample from the painting,. These samples are usually a fleck of a few microns (millionths of an inch), which can then be tested to ensure the lasers are set at the correct level assuring no danger of damage to the painting. (Robertson extracted the sample himself prior to arriving at the conference. He did not allow anyone else to touch his purported Harris before, during, or after the test.)

Here’s how ProSpect* Scientific describes the ‘rehearsal’ test on the paint chip,

Tests on this chip were done simply to ensure we knew what power levels were safe for use on the painting.  While David R stated he believed the painting was oil on canvas without lacquer, we were not entirely certain of that.  Lacquer tends to be easier to burn than oil pigments and so we wanted to work with this chip just to be entirely certain there was no risk to the painting itself.

The preliminary (rehearsal) test resulted in a line graph that showed the frequencies of the various pigments in the test sample. Titanium dioxide, for example, was detected and its frequency (spectra) reflected on the graph.

I found this example of a line graph representing the spectra (fingerprint) for a molecule of an ultramarine (blue) pigment along with a general explanation of a Raman ‘fingerprint’. There is no indication as to where the ultramarine pigment was obtained. From the  WebExhibits.org website featuring a section on Pigments through the Ages and a webpage on Spectroscopy,

raman-ArtPigment

Ultramarine [downloaded from http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/intro/spectroscopy.html]

Raman spectra consist of sharp bands whose position and height are characteristic of the specific molecule in the sample. Each line of the spectrum corresponds to a specific vibrational mode of the chemical bonds in the molecule. Since each type of molecule has its own Raman spectrum, this can be used to characterize molecular structure and identify chemical compounds.

Most people don’t realize that the chemical signature (spectra) for pigment can change over time with new pigments being introduced. Finding a pigment that was on the market from 1970 onwards in a painting by Jackson Pollock who died in 1956 suggests strongly that the painting couldn’t have come from Pollock’s hand. (See Michael Shnayerson’s May 2012 article, A Question of Provenance, in Vanity Fair for more about the Pollock painting. The article details the fall of a fabled New York art gallery that had been in business prior to the US Civil War.)

The ability to identify a pigment’s molecular fingerprint means that an examination by Raman spectroscopy can be part of an authentication, a restoration, or a conservation process. Here is how a representative from ProSpect Scientific describes the process,

Raman spectroscopy is non-destructive (when conducted at the proper power levels) and identifies the molecular components in the pigments, allowing characterization of the pigments for proper restoration or validation by comparison with other pigments of the same place/time. It is valuable to art institutions and conservators because it can do this.  In most cases of authentication Raman spectroscopy is one of many tools used and not the first in line. A painting would be first viewed by art experts for technique, format etc, then most often analysed with IR or X-Ray, then perhaps Raman spectroscopy. It is impossible to use Raman spectroscopy to prove authenticity as paint pigments are usually not unique to any particular painter.  Most often Raman spectroscopy is used by conservators to determine proper pigments for appropriate restoration.  Sometimes Raman will tell us that the pigment isn’t from the time/era the painting is purported to be from (anachronisms).

Autumn Harbour test

Getting back to the June 3, 2014 tests, once the levels were set then it was time to examine Autumn Harbour itself to determine the spectra for the various pigments.  ProSpect Scientific has provided an explanation of the process,

This spectrometer was equipped with an extension that allowed delivery of the laser and collection of the scattered light at a point other than directly under the microscope. We could also have used a flexible fibre optic probe for this, but this device is slightly more efficient. This allowed us to position the delivery/collection point for the light just above the painting at the spot we wished to test. For this test, we don’t sweep across the surface, we test a small pinpoint that we feel is a pigment of the target colour.

We only use one laser at a time. The system is built so we can easily select one laser or another, depending on what we wish to look at. Some researchers have 3 or 4 lasers in their system because different lasers provide a better/worse raman spectrum depending on the nature of the sample. In this case we principally used the 785nm laser as it is better for samples that exhibit fluorescence at visible wavelengths. 532nm is a visible wavelength.  For samples that didn’t produce good signal we tried the 532nm laser as it produces better signal to noise than 785nm, generally speaking. I believe the usable results in our case were obtained with the 785nm laser.

The graphed Raman spectra shows peaks for the frequency of scattered light that we collect from the laser-illuminated sample (when shining a laser on a sample the vast majority of light is scattered in the same frequency of the laser, but a very small amount is scattered at different frequencies unique to the molecules in the sample). Those frequencies correspond to and identify molecules in the sample. We use a database (on the computer attached to the spectrometer) to pattern match the spectra to identify the constituents.

One would have thought ‘game over’ at this point. According to some informal sources, Canada has a very small (almost nonexistent) data bank of information about pigments used in its important paintings. For example, the federal government’s Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has a very small database of pigments and nothing from Lawren Harris paintings [See the CCI’s response in this addendum], so the chances that David Robertson would have been able to find a record of pigments used by Lawren Harris roughly in the same time period that Autumn Harbour seems to have been painted are not good.

Everything changes

In a stunning turn of events and despite the lack of enthusiasm from Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) curator, Ian Thom, on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 the owner of the authenticated Harris, Hurdy Gurdy, relented and brought the painting in for tests.

Here’s what the folks from ProSpect Scientific had to say about the comparison,

Many pigments were evaluated. Good spectra were obtained for blue and white. The blue pigment matched on both paintings, the white didn’t match. We didn’t get useful Raman spectra from other pigments. We had limited time, with more time we might fine tune and get more data.

One might be tempted to say that the results were 50/50 with one matching and the other not, The response from the representative of ProSpect Scientific is more measured,

We noted that the mineral used in the pigment was the same.  Beyond that is interpretation:  Richard offered the view that lapis-lazuli was a typical and characteristic component for blue in that time period (early 1900’s).   We saw different molecules in the whites used in the two paintings, and Richard offered that both were characteristic of the early 1900’s.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

* ‘ProsPect’ changed to ‘ProSpect’ on June 30, 2014.

ETA July 14, 2014 at 1300 hours PDT: There is now an addendum to this series, which features a reply from the Canadian Conservation Institute to a query about art pigments used by Canadian artists and access to a database of information about them.

Lawren Harris (Group of Seven), art authentication, and the Canadian Conservation Insitute (addendum to four-part series)