Category Archives: Visual Art

Not enough talk about nano risks?

It’s not often that a controversy amongst visual artists intersects with a story about carbon nanotubes, risk, and the roles that  scientists play in public discourse.

Nano risks

Dr. Andrew Maynard, Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, opens the discussion in a March 29, 2016 article for the appropriately named website, The Conversation (Note: Links have been removed),

Back in 2008, carbon nanotubes – exceptionally fine tubes made up of carbon atoms – were making headlines. A new study from the U.K. had just shown that, under some conditions, these long, slender fiber-like tubes could cause harm in mice in the same way that some asbestos fibers do.

As a collaborator in that study, I was at the time heavily involved in exploring the risks and benefits of novel nanoscale materials. Back then, there was intense interest in understanding how materials like this could be dangerous, and how they might be made safer.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when carbon nanotubes were in the news again, but for a very different reason. This time, there was outrage not over potential risks, but because the artist Anish Kapoor had been given exclusive rights to a carbon nanotube-based pigment – claimed to be one of the blackest pigments ever made.

The worries that even nanotech proponents had in the early 2000s about possible health and environmental risks – and their impact on investor and consumer confidence – seem to have evaporated.

I had covered the carbon nanotube-based coating in a March 14, 2016 posting here,

Surrey NanoSystems (UK) is billing their Vantablack as the world’s blackest coating and they now have a new product in that line according to a March 10, 2016 company press release (received via email),

A whole range of products can now take advantage of Vantablack’s astonishing characteristics, thanks to the development of a new spray version of the world’s blackest coating material. The new substance, Vantablack S-VIS, is easily applied at large scale to virtually any surface, whilst still delivering the proven performance of Vantablack.

Oddly, the company news release notes Vantablack S-VIS could be used in consumer products while including the recommendation that it not be used in products where physical contact or abrasion is possible,

… Its ability to deceive the eye also opens up a range of design possibilities to enhance styling and appearance in luxury goods and jewellery [emphasis mine].

… “We are continuing to develop the technology, and the new sprayable version really does open up the possibility of applying super-black coatings in many more types of airborne or terrestrial applications. Possibilities include commercial products such as cameras, [emphasis mine] equipment requiring improved performance in a smaller form factor, as well as differentiating the look of products by means of the coating’s unique aesthetic appearance. It’s a major step forward compared with today’s commercial absorber coatings.”

The structured surface of Vantablack S-VIS means that it is not recommended for applications where it is subject to physical contact or abrasion. [emphasis mine] Ideally, it should be applied to surfaces that are protected, either within a packaged product, or behind a glass or other protective layer.

Presumably Surrey NanoSystems is looking at ways to make its Vantablack S-VIS capable of being used in products such as jewellery, cameras, and other consumers products where physical contact and abrasions are a strong possibility.

Andrew has pointed questions about using Vantablack S-VIS in new applications (from his March 29, 2016 article; Note: Links have been removed),

The original Vantablack was a specialty carbon nanotube coating designed for use in space, to reduce the amount of stray light entering space-based optical instruments. It was this far remove from any people that made Vantablack seem pretty safe. Whatever its toxicity, the chances of it getting into someone’s body were vanishingly small. It wasn’t nontoxic, but the risk of exposure was minuscule.

In contrast, Vantablack S-VIS is designed to be used where people might touch it, inhale it, or even (unintentionally) ingest it.

To be clear, Vantablack S-VIS is not comparable to asbestos – the carbon nanotubes it relies on are too short, and too tightly bound together to behave like needle-like asbestos fibers. Yet its combination of novelty, low density and high surface area, together with the possibility of human exposure, still raise serious risk questions.

For instance, as an expert in nanomaterial safety, I would want to know how readily the spray – or bits of material dislodged from surfaces – can be inhaled or otherwise get into the body; what these particles look like; what is known about how their size, shape, surface area, porosity and chemistry affect their ability to damage cells; whether they can act as “Trojan horses” and carry more toxic materials into the body; and what is known about what happens when they get out into the environment.

Risk and the roles that scientists play

Andrew makes his point and holds various groups to account (from his March 29, 2016 article; Note: Links have been removed),

… in the case of Vantablack S-VIS, there’s been a conspicuous absence of such nanotechnology safety experts in media coverage.

This lack of engagement isn’t too surprising – publicly commenting on emerging topics is something we rarely train, or even encourage, our scientists to do.

And yet, where technologies are being commercialized at the same time their safety is being researched, there’s a need for clear lines of communication between scientists, users, journalists and other influencers. Otherwise, how else are people to know what questions they should be asking, and where the answers might lie?

In 2008, initiatives existed such as those at the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (where I served as science advisor) that took this role seriously. These and similar programs worked closely with journalists and others to ensure an informed public dialogue around the safe, responsible and beneficial uses of nanotechnology.

In 2016, there are no comparable programs, to my knowledge – both CBEN and PEN came to the end of their funding some years ago.

Some of the onus here lies with scientists themselves to make appropriate connections with developers, consumers and others. But to do this, they need the support of the institutions they work in, as well as the organizations who fund them. This is not a new idea – there is of course a long and ongoing debate about how to ensure academic research can benefit ordinary people.

Media and risk

As mainstream media such as newspapers and broadcast news continue to suffer losses in audience numbers, the situation vis à vis science journalism has changed considerably since 2008. Finding information is more of a challenge even for the interested.

As for those who might be interested, the chances of catching their attention are considerably more challenging. For example, some years ago scientists claimed to have achieved ‘cold fusion’ and there were television interviews (on the 60 minutes tv programme, amongst others) and cover stories in Time magazine and Newsweek magazine, which you could find in the grocery checkout line. You didn’t have to look for it. In fact, it was difficult to avoid the story. Sadly, the scientists had oversold and misrepresented their findings and that too was extensively covered in mainstream media. The news cycle went on for months. Something similar happened in 2010 with ‘arsenic life’. There was much excitement and then it became clear that scientists had overstated and misrepresented their findings. That news cycle was completed within three or fewer weeks and most members of the public were unaware. Media saturation is no longer what it used to be.

Innovative outreach needs to be part of the discussion and perhaps the Vantablack S-VIS controversy amongst artists can be viewed through that lens.

Anish Kapoor and his exclusive rights to Vantablack

According to a Feb. 29, 2016 article by Henri Neuendorf for artnet news, there is some consternation regarding internationally known artist, Anish Kapoor and a deal he has made with Surrey Nanosystems, the makers of Vantablack in all its iterations (Note: Links have been removed),

Anish Kapoor provoked the fury of fellow artists by acquiring the exclusive rights to the blackest black in the world.

The Indian-born British artist has been working and experimenting with the “super black” paint since 2014 and has recently acquired exclusive rights to the pigment according to reports by the Daily Mail.

The artist clearly knows the value of this innovation for his work. “I’ve been working in this area for the last 30 years or so with all kinds of materials but conventional materials, and here’s one that does something completely different,” he said, adding “I’ve always been drawn to rather exotic materials.”

This description from his Wikipedia entry gives some idea of Kapoor’s stature (Note: Links have been removed),

Sir Anish Kapoor, CBE RA (Hindi: अनीश कपूर, Punjabi: ਅਨੀਸ਼ ਕਪੂਰ), (born 12 March 1954) is a British-Indian sculptor. Born in Bombay,[1][2] Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he moved to study art, first at the Hornsey College of Art and later at the Chelsea School of Art and Design.

He represented Britain in the XLIV Venice Biennale in 1990, when he was awarded the Premio Duemila Prize. In 1991 he received the Turner Prize and in 2002 received the Unilever Commission for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Notable public sculptures include Cloud Gate (colloquially known as “the Bean”) in Chicago’s Millennium Park; Sky Mirror, exhibited at the Rockefeller Center in New York City in 2006 and Kensington Gardens in London in 2010;[3] Temenos, at Middlehaven, Middlesbrough; Leviathan,[4] at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2011; and ArcelorMittal Orbit, commissioned as a permanent artwork for London’s Olympic Park and completed in 2012.[5]

Kapoor received a Knighthood in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to visual arts. He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Oxford in 2014.[6] [7] In 2012 he was awarded Padma Bhushan by Congress led Indian government which is India’s 3rd highest civilian award.[8]

Artists can be cutthroat but they can also be prankish. Take a look at this image of Kapoor and note the blue background,

Artist Anish Kapoor is known for the rich pigments he uses in his work. (Image: Andrew Winning/Reuters)

Artist Anish Kapoor is known for the rich pigments he uses in his work. (Image: Andrew Winning/Reuters)

I don’t know why or when this image (used to illustrate Andrew’s essay) was taken so it may be coincidental but the background for the image brings to mind, Yves Klein and his International Klein Blue (IKB) pigment. From the IKB Wikipedia entry,

L'accord bleu (RE 10), 1960, mixed media piece by Yves Klein featuring IKB pigment on canvas and sponges Jaredzimmerman (WMF) - Foundation Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Collection

L’accord bleu (RE 10), 1960, mixed media piece by Yves Klein featuring IKB pigment on canvas and sponges Jaredzimmerman (WMF) – Foundation Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Collection

Here’s more from the IKB Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

International Klein Blue (IKB) was developed by Yves Klein in collaboration with Edouard Adam, a Parisian art paint supplier whose shop is still in business on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet in Montparnasse.[1] The uniqueness of IKB does not derive from the ultramarine pigment, but rather from the matte, synthetic resin binder in which the color is suspended, and which allows the pigment to maintain as much of its original qualities and intensity of color as possible.[citation needed] The synthetic resin used in the binder is a polyvinyl acetate developed and marketed at the time under the name Rhodopas M or M60A by the French pharmaceutical company Rhône-Poulenc.[2] Adam still sells the binder under the name “Médium Adam 25.”[1]

In May 1960, Klein deposited a Soleau envelope, registering the paint formula under the name International Klein Blue (IKB) at the Institut national de la propriété industrielle (INPI),[3] but he never patented IKB. Only valid under French law, a soleau enveloppe registers the date of invention, according to the depositor, prior to any legal patent application. The copy held by the INPI was destroyed in 1965. Klein’s own copy, which the INPI returned to him duly stamped is still extant.[4]

In short, it’s not the first time an artist has ‘owned’ a colour. Kapoor is not a performance artist as was Klein but his sculptural work lends itself to spectacle and to stimulating public discourse. As to whether or not, this is a prank, I cannot say but it has stimulated a discourse which ranges from intellectual property and artists to the risks of carbon nanotubes and the role scientists could play in the discourse about the risks associated with emerging technologies.

Regardless of how is was intended, bravo to Kapoor.

More reading

Andrew’s March 29, 2016 article has also been reproduced on Nanowerk and Slate.

Johathan Jones has written about Kapoor and the Vantablack  controversy in a Feb. 29, 2016 article for The Guardian titled: Can an artist ever really own a colour?

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.

When based on plastic materials, contemporary art can degrade quickly

There’s an intriguing April 1, 2016 article by Josh Fischman for Scientific American about a problem with artworks from the 20th century and later—plastic-based materials (Note: A link has been removed),

Conservators at museums and art galleries have a big worry. They believe there is a good chance the art they showcase now will not be fit to be seen in one hundred years, according to researchers in a project  called Nanorestart. Why? After 1940, artists began using plastic-based material that was a far cry from the oil-based paints used by classical painters. Plastic is also far more fragile, it turns out. Its chemical bonds readily break. And they cannot be restored using techniques historically relied upon by conservators.

So art conservation scientists have turned to nanotechnology for help.

Sadly, there isn’t any detail in Fischman’s article about how nanotechnology is playing or might play a role in this conservation effort. Further investigation into the two projects (NanoRestART and POPART) mentioned by Fischman didn’t provide much more detail about NanoRestART’s science aspect but POPART does provide some details.

NanoRestART

It’s probably too soon (this project isn’t even a year-old) to be getting much in the way of the nanoscience details but NanoRestART has big plans according to its website homepage,

The conservation of this diverse cultural heritage requires advanced solutions at the cutting edge of modern chemistry and material science in an entirely new scientific framework that will be developed within NANORESTART project.

The NANORESTART project will focus on the synthesis of novel poly-functional nanomaterials and on the development of highly innovative restoration techniques to address the conservation of a wide variety of materials mainly used by modern and contemporary artists.

In NANORESTART, enterprises and academic centers of excellence in the field of synthesis and characterization of nano- and advanced materials have joined forces with complementary conservation institutions and freelance restorers. This multidisciplinary approach will cover the development of different materials in response to real conservation needs, the testing of such materials, the assessment of their environmental impact, and their industrial scalability.

NanoRestART’s (NANOmaterials for the REStoration of works of ART) project page spells out their goals in the order in which they are being approached,

The ground-breaking nature of our research can be more easily outlined by focussing on specific issues. The main conservation challenges that will be addressed in the project are:

 

Conservation challenge 1Cleaning of contemporary painted and plastic surfaces (CC1)

Conservation challenge 2Stabilization of canvases and painted layers in contemporary art (CC2)

Conservation challenge 3Removal of unwanted modern materials (CC3)

Conservation challenge 4Enhanced protection of artworks in museums and outdoors (CC4)

The European Commission provides more information about the project on its CORDIS website’s NanoRestART webpage including the start and end dates for the project and the consortium members,

From 2015-06-01 to 2018-12-01, ongoing project

CHALMERS TEKNISKA HOEGSKOLA AB
Sweden
MIRABILE ANTONIO
France
NATIONALMUSEET
Denmark
CONSIGLIO NAZIONALE DELLE RICERCHE
Italy
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND, CORK
Ireland
MBN NANOMATERIALIA SPA
Italy
KEMIJSKI INSTITUT
Slovenia
CHEVALIER AURELIA
France
UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO GRANDE DO SUL
Brazil
UNIVERSITA CA’ FOSCARI VENEZIA
Italy
AKZO NOBEL PULP AND PERFORMANCE CHEMICALS AB
Sweden
COMMISSARIAT A L ENERGIE ATOMIQUE ET AUX ENERGIES ALTERNATIVES
France
ARKEMA FRANCE SA
France
UNIVERSIDAD DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Spain
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON
United Kingdom
ZFB ZENTRUM FUR BUCHERHALTUNG GMBH
Germany
UNIVERSITAT DE BARCELONA
Spain
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE TATE GALLERY
United Kingdom
ASSOCIAZIONE ITALIANA PER LA RICERCA INDUSTRIALE – AIRI
Italy
THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
United States
MINISTERIO DE EDUCACION, CULTURA Y DEPORTE
Spain
STICHTING HET RIJKSMUSEUM
Netherlands
UNIVERSITEIT VAN AMSTERDAM
Netherlands
UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO DE JANEIRO
Brazil
ACCADEMIA DI BELLE ARTI DI BRERA
Italy

It was a bit surprising to see Brazil and the US as participants but The Art Institute of Chicago has done nanotechnology-enabled conservation in the past as per my March 24, 2014 posting about a Renoir painting. I’m not familiar with the Brazilian organization.

POPART

POPART (Preservation of Plastic Artefacts in museum collections) mentioned by Fischman was a European Commission project which ran from 2008 – 2012. Reports can be found on the CORDIS Popart webpage. The final report has some interesting bits (Note: I have added subheads in the [] square brackets),

To achieve a valid comparison of the various invasive and non-invasive techniques proposed for the identification and characterisation of plastics, a sample collection (SamCo) of plastics artefacts of about 100 standard and reference plastic objects was gathered. SamCo was made up of two kinds of reference materials: standards and objects. Each standard represents the reference material of a ‘pure’ plastic; while each object represents the reference of the same plastic as in the standards, but compounded with pigments, dyestuffs, fillers, anti oxidants, plasticizers etc.  Three partners ICN [Instituut Collectie Nederland], V&A [Victoria and Albert Museum] and Natmus [National Museet] collected different natural and synthetic plastics from the ICN reference collections of plastic objects, from flea markets, antique shops and from private collections and from their own collection to contribute to SamCo, the sample collection for identification by POPART partners. …

As a successive step, the collections of the following museums were surveyed:

-Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), London, U.K.
-Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
-Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporaine (MAMAC) Nice, France
-Musée d’Art moderne, St. Etienne, France
-Musée Galliera, Paris, France

At the V&A approximately 200 objects were surveyed. Good or fair conservation conditions were found for about 85% of the objects, whereas the remaining 15% was in poor or even in unacceptable (3%) conditions. In particular, crazing and delamination of polyurethane faux leather and surface stickiness and darkening of plasticized PVC were observed. The situation at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam was particularly favourable because a previous survey had been done in 1995 so that it was possible to make a comparison with the Popart survey in 2010. A total number of 40 objects, which comprised plastics early dating from the 1930’s until the newer plastics from the 1980’s, were considered and their actual conservation state compared with the 1995 records. Of the objects surveyed in 2010, it can be concluded that 21 remained in the same condition. 13 objects containing PA, PUR, PVC, PP or natural rubber changed due to chemical and physical degradation while works of art containing either PMMA or PS changed due to mechanical damages and incorrect artist’s technique (inappropriate adhesive) into a lesser condition. 6 works of art (containing either PA or PMMA or both) changed into a better condition due to restoration or replacements.  More than 230 objects have been examined in the 3 museums in France. A particular effort was devoted to the identification of the constituting plastics materials. Surveys have been undertaken without any sophisticated equipment, in order to work in museums everyday conditions. Plastics hidden by other materials or by paint layers were not or hardly accessible, it is why the final count of some plastics may be under estimated in the final results. Another outcome is that plastic identification has been made at a general level only, by trying to identify the polymer family each plastic belongs to. Lastly, evidence of chemical degradation processes that do not cause visible or perceptible damage have not been detected and could not be taken in account in the final results.

… The most damaged artefacts resulted constituted by cellulose acetate, cellulose nitrate and PVC.

[Polly (the doll)]

One of the main issues that is of interest for conservators and curators is to assess which kinds of plastics are most vulnerable to deterioration and to what extent they can deteriorate under the environmental conditions normally encountered in museums. Although one might expect that real time deterioration could be ascertained by a careful investigation of museum objects on display or in storage, real objects or artworks may not sampled due to ethical considerations. Therefore, reference objects were prepared by Natmus in the form of a doll (Polly) for simultaneous exposures in different environmental conditions. The doll comprised of 11 different plastics representative of types typically found in modern museum collections. The 16 identical dolls realized were exposed in different places, not only in normal exhibit conditions, but also in some selected extreme conditions to ascertain possible acceleration of the deterioration process. In most cases the environmental parameters were also measured. The dolls were periodically evaluated by visual inspection and in selected cases by instrumental analyses. 

In conclusion the experimental campaign carried out with Polly dolls can be viewed as a pilot study aimed at tackling the practical issues related to the monitoring of real three dimensional plastic artworks and the surrounding environment.

The overall exposure period (one year and half) was sufficient to observe initial changes in the more susceptible polymers, such as polyurethane ethers and esters, and polyamide, with detectable chromatic changes and surface effects. Conversely the other polymers were shown to be stable in the same conditions over this time period.

[Polly as an awareness raising tool]

Last but not least, the educational and communication benefits of an object like Polly facilitated the dissemination of the Popart Project to the public, and increased the awareness of issues associated with plastics in museum collections.

[Cleaning issues]

Mechanical cleaning has long been perceived as the least damaging technique to remove soiling from plastics. The results obtained from POPART suggest that the risks of introducing scratches or residues by mechanical cleaning are measurable. Some plastics were clearly more sensitive to mechanical damage than others. From the model plastics evaluated, HIPS was the most sensitive followed by HDPE, PVC, PMMA and CA. Scratches could not be measured on XPS due to its inhomogeneous surfaces. Plasticised PVC scratched easily, but appeared to repair itself because plasticiser migrated to surfaces and filled scratches.

Photo micrographs revealed that although all 22 cleaning materials evaluated in POPART scratched test plastics, some scratches were sufficiently shallow to be invisible to the naked eye. Duzzit and Scotch Brite sponges as well as all paper based products caused more scratching of surfaces than brushes and cloths. Some cleaning materials, notably Akapad yellow and white sponges, compressed air, latex and synthetic rubber sponges and goat hair brushes left residues on surfaces. These residues were only visible on glass-clear, transparent test plastics such as PMMA. HDPE and HIPS surfaces both had matte and roughened appearances after cleaning with dry-ice. XPS was completely destroyed by the treatment. No visible changes were present on PMMA and PVC.

Of the cleaning methods evaluated, only canned air, natural and synthetic feather duster left surfaces unchanged. Natural and synthetic feather duster, microfiber-, spectacle – and cotton cloths, cotton bud, sable hair brush and leather chamois showed good results when applied to clean model plastics.

Most mechanical cleaning materials induced static electricity after cleaning, causing immediate attraction of dust. It was also noticed that generally when adding an aqueous cleaning agent to a cleaning material, the area scratched was reduced. This implied that cleaning agents also functioned as lubricants. A similar effect was exhibited by white spirit and isopropanol.
Based on cleaning vectors, Judith Hofenk de Graaff detergent, distilled water and Dehypon LS45 were the least damaging cleaning agents for all model plastics evaluated. None of the aqueous cleaning agents caused visible changes when used in combination with the least damaging cleaning materials. Sable hair brush, synthetic feather duster and yellow Akapad sponge were unsuitable for applying aqueous cleaning agents. Polyvinyl acetate sponge swelled in contact with solvents and was only suitable for aqueous cleaning processes.

Based on cleaning vectors, white spirit was the least damaging solvent. Acetone and Surfynol 61 were the most damaging for all model plastics and cannot be recommended for cleaning plastics. Surfynol 61 dissolved polyvinyl acetate sponge and left a milky residue on surfaces, which was particularly apparent on clear PMMA surfaces. Surfynol 61 left residues on surfaces on evaporating and acetone evaporated too rapidly to lubricate cleaning materials thereby increasing scratching of surfaces.

Supercritical carbon dioxide induced discolouration and mechanical damage to the model plastics, particularly to XPS, CA and PMMA and should not be used for conservation cleaning of plastics.

Potential Impact:
Cultural heritage is recognised as an economical factor, the cost of decay of cultural heritage and the risk associated to some material in collection may be high. It is generally estimated that plastics, developed at great numbers since the 20th century’s interbellum, will not survive that long. This means that fewer generations will have access to lasting plastic art for study, contemplation and enjoyment. On the other hand will it normally be easier to reveal a contemporary object’s technological secrets because of better documentation and easier access to artists’ working methods, ideas and intentions. A first more or less world encompassing recognition of the problems involved with museum objects made wholly or in part of plastics was through the conference ‘Saving the twentieth century” held in Ottawa, Canada in 1991. This was followed later by ‘Modern Art, who cares’ in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1997, ‘Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of Modern Art’ in Los Angeles, USA in 1998 and, for example much more recent, ‘Plastics –Looking at the future and learning from the Past’ in London, UK in 2007. A growing professional interest in the care of plastics was clearly reflected in the creation of an ICOM-CC working group dedicated to modern materials in 1996, its name change to Modern Materials and Contemporary Art in 2002, and its growing membership from 60 at inception to over 200 at the 16th triennial conference in Lisbon, Portugal in 2011 and tentatively to over 300 as one of the aims put forward in the 2011-2014 programme of that ICOM-CC working group. …

[Intellectual property]

Another element pertaining to conservation of modern art is the copyright of artists that extends at least 50 years beyond their death. Both, damage, value and copyright may influence the way by which damage is measured through scientific analysis, more specifically through the application of invasive or non invasive techniques. Any selection of those will not only have an influence on the extent of observable damage, but also on the detail of information gathered and necessary to explain damage and to suggest conservation measures.

[How much is deteriorating?]

… it is obvious from surveys carried out in several museums in France, the UK and The Netherlands that from 15 to 35 % of what I would then call an average plastic material based collection is in a poor to unacceptable condition. However, some 75 % would require cleaning,

I hope to find out more about how nanotechnology is expected to be implemented in the conservation and preservation of plastic-based art. The NanoRestART project started in June 2015 and hopefully more information will be disseminated in the next year or so.

While it’s not directly related, there was some work with conservation of daguerreotypes (19th century photographic technique) and nanotechnology mentioned in my Nov. 17, 2015 posting which was a followup to my Jan. 10, 2015 posting about the project and the crisis precipitating it.

Islamic art inspires stretchy metamaterials

A March 16, 2016 article by Jonathan Webb for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News Online describes research on metamaterials from McGill University (Montréal, Canada),

Metamaterials are engineered to have properties that don’t occur naturally, such as getting wider when stretched instead of just longer and thinner.

These perforated rubber sheets made by a Canadian team do just that – and then remain stable in their expanded state until they are squeezed back again.

Such designs could help make expandable stents or spacecraft components.

“In conventional materials, when you pull in one direction it will contract in other directions,” said Dr Ahmad Rafsanjani, from McGill University in Montreal.

“But with ‘auxetic’ materials, due to their internal architecture, when you pull in one direction they expand in the lateral direction.”

A March 16, 2016 article by Shannon Hall in the New Scientist provides more details,

This property comes from their geometric substructure, which when stationary looks like a series of connected squares. When the squares turn relative to each other, however, the material’s density lowers but its thickness increases, allowing it to grow when stretched.

But this twisting means that the materials lose their original shape as they expand. So Ahmad Rafsanjani and Damiano Pasini of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, set out to create a material that would grow when stretched yet keep its form.

To do this, they turned to a beautiful kind of geometry.

“There is a huge library of geometries when you look at Islamic architectures,” says Rafsanjani. The team picked their design from the walls of the Kharraqan towers, two mausoleums built in 1067 and 1093 in the plains in northern Iran.

Both Webb’s and Hall’s articles are embedded with images of the architecture. There’s also a New Scientist video demonstrating stretchability,

The researchers discussed this work in a presentation titled:  Multistable Compliant Auxetic Metamaterials Inspired by Geometric Patterns in Islamic Arts at the American Physical Society’s March 2016 meeting (March 14 – 18, 2016).

Protecting Disney’s art with an artificial nose

Curators and conservators are acutely aware of how fragile artworks (see my Jan. 10, 2013 posting about a show where curators watched helplessly as daguerreotypes deteriorated) can be so this new technology from Disney is likely to excite a lot of interest. From a March 14, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Original drawings and sketches from Walt Disney Animation Studio’s more than 90-year history—from Steamboat Willie through Frozen—traveled internationally for the first time this summer. This gave conservators the rare opportunity to monitor the artwork with a new state-of-the-art sensor. A team of researchers report today that they developed and used a super-sensitive artificial “nose,” customized specifically to detect pollutants before they could irreversibly damage the artwork.

Here’s a sample of the art work,

Caption: To protect works of art, including this image of Disney's Steamboat Willie, scientists developed an optoelectronic "nose" to sniff out potentially damaging compounds in pollution. Credit: Steamboat Willie, 1928 Animation cel and background © Disney Enterprises, Inc. Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Research Library

Caption: To protect works of art, including this image of Disney’s Steamboat Willie, scientists developed an optoelectronic “nose” to sniff out potentially damaging compounds in pollution. Credit: Steamboat Willie, 1928 Animation cel and background © Disney Enterprises, Inc. Courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Research Library

A March 14, 2016 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), provides more detail,

The researchers report on their preservation efforts at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 12,500 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“Many pollutants that are problematic for human beings are also problematic for works of art,” says Kenneth Suslick, Ph.D. For example, pollutants can spur oxidative damage and acid degradation that, in prints or canvases, lead to color changes or decomposition. “The ability to monitor how much pollution a drawing or painting is exposed to is an important element of art preservation,” he says.

However, works of art are susceptible to damage at far lower pollutant levels than what’s considered acceptable for humans. “The high sensitivity of artists’ materials makes a lot of sense for two reasons,” explains Suslick, who is at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Human beings are capable of healing, which, of course, works of art cannot do. Moreover, human beings have finite lifetimes, whereas ideally works of art should last for future generations.”

To protect valuable works of art from these effects, conservators enclose vulnerable pieces in sealed display cases. But even then, some artists’ materials may “exhale” reactive compounds that accumulate in the cases and damage the art. To counter the accumulation of pollutants, conservators often hide sorbent materials inside display cases that scrub potentially damaging compounds from the enclosed environment. But it is difficult to know precisely when to replace the sorbents.

Suslick, a self-proclaimed “museum hound,” figured he might have an answer. He had already invented an optoelectronic nose — an array of dyes that change color when exposed to various compounds. But it is used largely for biomedical purposes, and it can’t sniff out the low concentrations of pollutants that damage works of art. To redesign the nose with the aim of protecting artwork, he approached scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), a private non-profit institution in Los Angeles that works internationally to advance art conservation practice. He proposed that his team devise a sensor several hundred times more sensitive than existing devices used for cultural heritage research. The collaboration took off, and the scientists built a keener nose.

At the time, GCI was involved in a research project with the Walt Disney Animation Research Library to investigate the impact of storage environment on their animation cels, which are transparent sheets that artists drew or painted on before computer animation was developed. Such research ultimately could help extend the life of this important collection. The new sensors would monitor levels of acetic acid and other compounds that emanate from these sheets.

Before the exhibit, “Drawn from Life: The Art of Disney Animation Studios,” hit the road on tour, Suslick recommended placing the sensors in discrete places to monitor the pollution levels both inside and outside of the sealed and framed artworks. If the sensors indicated pollution levels inside the sealed frames were rising, conservators traveling with the Disney exhibit would know to replace the sorbents. An initial analysis of sensor data showed that the sorbents were effective. Suslick says he expects to continue expanding the sensors’ applications in the field of cultural heritage.

Collaborators in the project include Maria LaGasse, a graduate student in Suslick’s lab; Kristen McCormick, art exhibitions and conservation manager at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library; Herant Khanjian, assistant scientist; and Michael Schilling, senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute.

I was able to find one museum exhibiting “Drawn from Life: The Art of Disney Animation Studios”; it was the Museum of China which hosted the show from June 30 – August 18, 2015. There are pictures of the exhibit at the Museum of China posted by Leon Ingram here on Behance.

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

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

A mashup definition

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

Mashup may refer to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rennie Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mashup: The Birth of Modern Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherrie Levine's Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp).

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

Here’s an image of the original,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Rauschenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Vancouver art gallery/museum mashups

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

Going to the Rennie Collection and VAG shows

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

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

Reviews and commentaries from elsewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary art museum scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final words

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

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

Banksy and the mathematicians

Assuming you’ve heard of Banksy (if not, he’s an internationally known graffiti artist), then you understand that no one knows his real name for certain although there are strong suspicions, as of 2008, that he is Robin Gunningham. It seems the puzzle has aroused scientific curiosity according to a March 4, 2016 article by Jill Lawless on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) News online,

Elusive street artist Banksy may have been unmasked — by mathematics.

Scientists have applied a type of modelling used to track down criminals and map disease outbreaks to identify the graffiti artist, whose real name has never been confirmed.

The technique, known as geographic profiling, is used by police forces to narrow down lists of suspects by calculating from multiple crime sites where the offender most likely lives.

The March 3, 2016 article in The Economist about the Banksy project describes the model used to derive his identity in more detail,

Their system, Dirichlet process mixture modelling, is more sophisticated than the criminal geographic targeting (CGT) currently favoured by crime-fighters. CGT is based on a simple assumption: that crimes happen near to where those responsible reside. Plot out an incident map and the points should surround the criminal like a doughnut (malefactors tend not to offend on their own doorsteps, but nor do they stray too far). The Dirichlet model allows for more than one “source”—a place relevant to a suspect such as home, work or a frequent pit stop on a commute—but makes no assumptions about their number; it automatically parses the mess of crime sites into clusters of activity.

Then, for each site, it calculates the probability that the given array of activity, and the way it is clustered, would result from any given source. Through a monumental summing of probabilities across each and every possible combination of sources, the model spits out the most likely ones, with considerable precision—down to 50 metres or so in some cases.

While this seems like harmless mathematical modeling, Banksy lawyers were sufficiently concerned over how this work would be promoted that they contacted the publisher according to Jonathan Webb’s March 3, 2016 article for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) News online,

A study that tests the method of geographical profiling on Banksy has appeared, after a delay caused by an intervention from the artist’s lawyers.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London found that the distribution of Banksy’s famous graffiti supported a previously suggested real identity.

The study was due to appear in the Journal of Spatial Science a week ago.

The BBC understands that Banksy’s legal team contacted QMUL staff with concerns about how the study was to be promoted.

Those concerns apparently centred on the wording of a press release, which has now been withdrawn.

Taylor and Francis, which publishes the journal, said that the research paper itself had not been questioned. It appeared online on Thursday [March 3, 2016] unchanged, after being placed “on hold” while conversations between lawyers took place.

The scientists conducted the study to demonstrate the wide applicability of geoprofiling – but also out of interest, said biologist Steve Le Comber, “to see whether it would work”.

The criminologist and former detective who pioneered geoprofiling, Canadian Dr Kim Rossmo [emphasis mine] – now at Texas State University in the US – is a co-author on the paper.

The researchers say their findings support the use of such profiling in counter-terrorism, based on the idea that minor “terrorism-related acts” – like graffiti – could help locate bases before more serious incidents unfold.

I believe the biologist Steve Le Comber is interested in applying the technique to epidemiology (study of patterns in health and disease in various populations). As for Dr. Rossmo, he featured in one of the more bizarre incidents in Vancouver Police Department (VPD) history as described in the Kim Rossmo entry on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

D. Kim Rossmo is a Canadian criminologist specializing in geographic profiling. He joined the Vancouver Police Department as a civilian employee in 1978 and became a sworn officer in 1980. In 1987 he received a master’s degree in criminology from Simon Fraser University and in 1995 became the first police officer in Canada to obtain a doctorate in criminology.[1] His dissertation research resulted in a new criminal investigative methodology called geographic profiling, based on Rossmo’s formula. This technology was integrated into a specialized crime analysis software product called Rigel. The Rigel product is developed by the software company Environmental Criminology Research Inc. (ECRI), which Rossmo co-founded.[2]

In 1995, he was promoted to detective inspector and founded a geographic profiling section within the Vancouver Police Department. In 1998, his analysis of cases of missing sex trade workers determined that a serial killer was at work, a conclusion ultimately vindicated by the arrest and conviction of Robert Pickton in 2002. A retired Vancouver police staff sergeant has claimed that animosity toward Rossmo delayed the arrest of Pickton, leaving him free to carry out additional murders.[3] His analytic results were not accepted at the time and after a dispute with senior members of the department he left in 2001. His unsuccessful lawsuit against the Vancouver Police Board for wrongful dismissal exposed considerable apparent dysfunction within that department.[1]

It’s still boggles my mind and the reporters covering story that the VPD would dismiss someone who was being lauded internationally for his work and had helped the department solve a very nasty case. In any event, Dr. Rossmo is now at Texas State University.

Getting back to Banksy and geographic profiling, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Tagging Banksy: using geographic profiling to investigate a modern art mystery by Michelle V. Hauge, Mark D. Stevenson, D. Kim Rossmo & Steven C. Le Comber. Journal of Spatial Science DOI:  10.1080/14498596.2016.1138246 Published online: 03 Mar 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone curious about Banksy’s work, here’s an image from this Wikipedia entry,

Stencil on the waterline of The Thekla, an entertainment boat in central Bristol – (wider view). The section of the hull with this picture has now been removed and is on display at the M Shed museum. The image of Death is based on a nineteenth-century etching illustrating the pestilence of The Great Stink.[19] Artist: Banksy - Photographed by Adrian Pingstone

Stencil on the waterline of The Thekla, an entertainment boat in central Bristol – (wider view). The section of the hull with this picture has now been removed and is on display at the M Shed museum. The image of Death is based on a nineteenth-century etching illustrating the pestilence of The Great Stink.[19] Artist: Banksy – Photographed by Adrian Pingstone

You say SciArt, I say art/sci (tomayta/tomahtoe)

Whether it’s called SciArt or art/sci, it’s a thrill to be exposed to the broad range of pieces being shared in #SciArt, the Science Art Tweetstorm. Here’s more from Kimberly Moynahan’s March 2, 2016 posting on her Endless Forms Most Beautiful blog (Note Links have been removed),

Here, for the 2nd year in a row, is #SCIART, the Science Art Tweetstorm organized by the Symbiartic crew at Scientific American Blogs.

Now, if you imagine that “science art” means only scientific/medical illustration, infographics and notebook sketches, then you are in for a treat!

A quick scan of the #sciart hashtag shows works spanning every imaginable medium and genre — science-themed jewelry and clothing, 3-d renderings, sculptures and models, sketches and paintings, murals, tattoos, cartoons, photographs, videos and well ..

Her post has many examples copied from the feed. Do enjoy!

You can find #sciart here and there’s more about this twitterstorm in a March 1, 2016 post by Glendon Mellow for the Symbiartic blog,

Last year [2015], during the 1st week of March, the Symbiartic crew asked artists who create work inspired by science to follow 3 simple rules, and tweet every day:

  1. Tweet 3 pieces of your own #SciArt
  2. Retweet 5 pieces of #SciArt by other people
  3. Make sure to hashtag them with #SciArt

Katie, Kalliopi, and I were hoping to see a few thousand tweets by the end of the week, and instead we saw almost 29,000 tweets. More importantly, scientists, science communicators and science fans got to see the incredible amount of artwork that we here on Symbiartic know is out there.

The event was reported on by Nature, Gizmodo, and a number of artists’ own blogs. More importantly was how happy it made everyone: thought-provoking art about science made by varied skill sets took over Twitter and proved the platform isn’t just an outrage machine.

So we’re doing it again. And we’re hoping it will lead to bigger and better events that we, along with other #SciArt bloggers, have been working on. You can sign-up for our newsletter if you want to be the first to find out more.

A few more tips:

  • Go bananas: You can go ahead and post more than 3 pieces of your own work each day.
  • The field is open: last year we saw works-in-progress, sketches, finished paintings, sculptures, glassworks, fabric-art, bioart, and so much more. Science encompasses all the coolest subjects in the universe so jump in there and share.
  • Credit artists: If you’re from a school, museum or institution and want to show off that amazing sciart installation in your foyer, just make sure you tag the tweet or somehow credit the artist.
  • Keep it simple: A tweet with the the title of the work, the image, and a link to your online store or a blog post is fantastic. Don’t forget the hashtag #SciArt!
  • Reporters can join in: If you’re a writer or site that interviews and shows #SciArt, go ahead and post those links!
  • Dig into your back-catalogue: works being shared don’t have to be new. Even if you shared them last year, chances are they’re new to someone!
  • Repeat tweet: the audience on Tuesday morning isn’t the same as on Saturday afternoon. Go ahead and tweet your work a second time.

Here are a few pieces I saw on the feed today (March 3, 2016),

This is a fast moving feed.

ETA March 4, 2016: For anyone interested in the Canadian SciArt and the March 2016 twitterstorm, there’s a March 4, 2016 posting by Liz Martin-Silverstone featuring a number of Canadian contributions to the #SciArt Tweet Storm.

NASA calling for submissions (poetry, video, art, music, etc.) for space travel

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has made an open call for art works that could be part of the the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft mission bound for Bennu (an asteroid). From a Feb. 23, 2016 NASA news release on EurekAlert,

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and travel to the asteroid Bennu. The #WeTheExplorers campaign invites the public to take part in this mission by expressing, through art, how the mission’s spirit of exploration is reflected in their own lives. Submitted works of art will be saved on a chip on the spacecraft. The spacecraft already carries a chip with more than 442,000 names submitted through the 2014 “Messages to Bennu” campaign.

“The development of the spacecraft and instruments has been a hugely creative process, where ultimately the canvas is the machined metal and composites preparing for launch in September,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space.”

A submission may take the form of a sketch, photograph, graphic, poem, song, short video or other creative or artistic expression that reflects what it means to be an explorer. Submissions will be accepted via Twitter and Instagram until March 20, 2016. For details on how to include your submission on the mission to Bennu, go to:

http://www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers

“Space exploration is an inherently creative activity,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “We are inviting the world to join us on this great adventure by placing their art work on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, where it will stay in space for millennia.”

The spacecraft will voyage to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and return it to Earth for study. Scientists expect Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of the water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona, Tucson leads the science team and observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

I wonder why the Egyptian mythology as in Osiris and Bennu. For those who need a refresher on the topic, here’s more from the Osiris entry on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

Osiris (/oʊˈsaɪərᵻs/, alternatively Ausir, Asiri or Ausar, among other spellings), was an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead, but more appropriately as the god of transition, resurrection, and regeneration.

Then there’s this from the Bennu entry on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

The Bennu is an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth. It may have been the inspiration for the phoenix in Greek mythology.

You can find out more about Bennu, the asteriod, on its webpage, The long Strange Trip of Bennu on the NASA website (which also features a video animation), Note: A link has been removed,

… Born from the rubble of a violent collision, hurled through space for millions of years and dismembered by the gravity of planets, asteroid Bennu had a tough life in a rough neighborhood: the early solar system. …

“We are going to Bennu because we want to know what it has witnessed over the course of its evolution,” said Edward Beshore of the University of Arizona, Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s asteroid-sample-return mission OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer). The mission will be launched toward Bennu in late 2016, arrive at the asteroid in 2018, and return a sample of Bennu’s surface to Earth in 2023.

“Bennu’s experiences will tell us more about where our solar system came from and how it evolved. Like the detectives in a crime show episode, we’ll examine bits of evidence from Bennu to understand more completely the story of the solar system, which is ultimately the story of our origin.”

As for the spacecraft, you can find out more about OSIRIS-REx here.

Getting back to the artwork, Sarah Cascone has written a Feb. 22, 2016 posting for artnet news, which features the call for submissions and some work which already been submitted (Note: Links have been removed),

The near-Earth asteroid Bennu will become the first extra-terrestrial art gallery, with the space agency inviting the public to contribute works of art that are inspired by the spirit of exploration.

The project will follow other important moments in space art history, which include work by Invader traveling aboard the International Space Station, conceptual artwork on the UKube-1 satellite, and even a bonsai tree launched into space.

Here’s a selection of the artworks being embedded in Cascone’s posting,

Daughter’s is spacebound! Fitting tribute to a pioneering, star-loving musician @OSIRISREx

For more inspiration, check out Cascone’s Feb. 22, 2016 posting.

Good luck!