Tag Archives: sci-art

Vancouver’s (Canada) Fringe Festival (Sept. 7 – 17, 2017) and science

A lot of writers feel the need to comment when art and science are brought together in various artistic/scientific works. Here’s Janet Smith in a Sept. 6, 2017 article about science at Vancouver’s 2017 Fringe Festival for the Georgia Straight,

Science and art are often seen as opposites [emphasis mine], but they seem to be intermingling like never before at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Experimental cancer treatments, zoology lectures, cryogenically frozen heads: they’re just some of the topics inspiring theatrical outings.

Smith is right and wrong. She’s right if your perspective ranges from the mid-20th century to the present day. “The Two Cultures” a 1959 lecture (and later a book) by C.P. Snow discusses a divide between two cultures: science and the humanities and he includes the arts in with the humanities. However, if you dive deeper into the past, you’ll find that humanities/arts and sciences have been more closely linked. Science sprang from ‘Natural Philosophy’ and faculties of arts and sciences are still found in universities.

Returning to the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival, I found some 17 shows that are science-inflected or using the mention of science as a marketing tool. Here they are:

Distractingly Sexy: Join real life scientist (and writer) Molly Mumford for an interactive, ultra-funny quite wild, pretty-durn-sexy history of how women in science have been f*S%ed over for centuries.

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:35 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 2:45 pm

Shadowlands: Cells in a petrii dish. A scientist. A ghost. A laboratory mouse. We are on a journey to see what can’t be seen. We are on a quest to find truth in the dark. …

No more showtimes

Interstellar Elder: Meet Kitt, age 96, fierce lone astronaut protecting the last of humankind. Images Ridley Scott’s ‘Aliens’ meets ‘Golden Girls’.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 5:00 pm
Friday September 16, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 12:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 5:15 pm

Let Me Freeze Your Head: Why leave the futture to your children when you can have it for yourself? Attend our short sales presentation to learn how you preserve your brain to live again! This one-person show takes you on a deeply personal journey into the world of human cryonic preservation.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 p.m

The Immaculate Big Bang: Sparked by the death of his father birth of his daughter; comedian Bill Santiago goes in search of answers and laughs at the border of science religion exploring the comic nature of the cosmic quest for understanding existence, life, and death (not necessarily in the order).

Tuesday September 12, 2017 9:30 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 10:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:30 pm

Field Zoology, 101: From the untamed wilds of the Vancouver Landfill in the loading bay behind the Burger Kin, Field Zoologist Brad GooseBerry has seen it all. In this introductory course, he shares a lifetime of “knowledge” and “experience” teaching you to thrive and survive in the harrowing world of field zoology.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:20 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:10 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 3:50 pm

Scientist Turned Comedian: “Lee, who got his PhD before realizing where his true talents lay, blends science talk (complete with PowerPoint presentations) with comedy. The hilarious result is like what would happen if you crossed your high-school chem teacher with George Carlin.”

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 5:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:45 pm

Acceleration: It’s 2012. The world’s top physicists are searching for the elusive Higgs boson particle and it’s been a year since Elise’s sister disappeared. Desperate to forget, Elise wraps herself up in the search for the Higgs. But what we’re looking for isn’t always what we find. A moving exploration of how we cope with a world that doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 10:15 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 2:15 pm

Two series (five shows in total) about climate change: Generation Hot Waterborne

O Sandada 150M: 150 million years later … the world stops—and out of the basic elements sand and water, comes … life. Under the sun, Sandadians build beautiful castles, sing the National Sandthem, and glorify the Sandadian flag. Meanwhile under the stars, Wateries plan their attack. On the natural/industrial stage of the grassy knoll on Granville Island, two culture try to make peace. Fantastical Apocalyptic Puppets.

Twenty Feet Away: A site-specific theatrical adventure based on the bank of Vancouver’s False Creek. Two entrepreneurs daringly attempt to bottle themselves a new life while facing difficult ethical questions.

Brothers: Bonds are tested, sides taken, and loyalty is questioned. Two brothers come to terms with progress and preservation while on a fishing trip.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 pm

WYSPA: A group of youth stranded on an urchin-infested island guide the audience through a magic-infused ceremony and explore their world views that have turned them into survivors. Part documentary verbatim script drive by your aged 5-16.

Citlali: A fantastic tale about water by a Mexican poet: A mythological tale about the origins of Mexico and the journey of a demigoddess on a search for water.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 8:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 8:00 pm

Go, no go: .. the story of 13 barrier-breaking pilots who in 1961 petitioned NASA {US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to be become the first femal astronatus. And it’s about why you don’t know their names. Welcome to the space race.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 1:30 pm

Kurt Vonnegut’s the Euphio Question: A new adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1951 short story. A young physicist discovers radio waves from outer space that mage anyone withing earshot completely and utterly euphoric. The Euphio Question asks audiences what the true cost of happiness is when it comes at the mere flick of a switch.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 7:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 3:45 pm

Gutenberg: The Musical: In this whirlwind 90-minute musical comedy, Chris Adams and Erik Gow play over 30 characters in two-man spoof . A pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for this new project—a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann [Johannes] Gutenberg. Too bad their musical is terrible.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 10:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 7:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:00 pm

Brain machine: Award-wining monologist Andrew Bailey (The Adversary, Phantom Signal) proudly premieres: “Brain Machine.” Generations of scientists create the web to bring “harmony and understanding” to humanity. Chaos ensues. Bailey attempts to escape technology by moving to a cabin in the woods. While there he accidentally creates a viral video Chaos ensues.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:15 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 9:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:15 pm

Admittedly the science or technology element is quite tangential is some of these shows but I think it’s interesting that there’s any mention of science in 17 (16%) of 104 shows at this year’s Fringe. If memory serves, there have been man years where no mention of any kind has been made of science or technology, let alone 1q6% of the programme.

Women in science is a thread linking a number of the shows in this year’s Fringe Festival as Janet Smith notes in her Sept. 6, 2017 article (Women get their science on at the Vancouver Fringe Festival) for the Georgia Straight.

One final comment, I’ve done my best but I was copying the information out of the programme and have likely made errors, as well, schedules can change so do check the festival website or at the Fringe Festival’s updated schedule boards on Granville Island.

A question of consciousness: Facebotlish (a new language); a July 5, 2017 rap guide performance in Vancouver, Canada; Tom Stoppard’s play; and a little more

This would usually be a simple event announcement but with the advent of a new, related (in my mind if no one else’s) development on Facebook, this has become a roundup of sorts.

Facebotlish (Facebook’s chatbots create their own language)

The language created by Facebook’s chatbots, Facebotlish, was an unintended consequence—that’s right Facebook’s developers did not design a language for the chatbots or anticipate its independent development, apparently.  Adrienne LaFrance’s June 20, 2017 article for theatlantic.com explores the development and the question further,

Something unexpected happened recently at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab. Researchers who had been training bots to negotiate with one another realized that the bots, left to their own devices, started communicating in a non-human language.

In order to actually follow what the bots were saying, the researchers had to tweak their model, limiting the machines to a conversation humans could understand. (They want bots to stick to human languages because eventually they want those bots to be able to converse with human Facebook users.) …

Here’s what the language looks like (from LaFrance article),

Here’s an example of one of the bot negotiations that Facebook observed:Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me
Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me
Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i i i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have 0 to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

It is incomprehensible to humans even after being tweaked, even so, some successful negotiations can ensue.

Facebook’s researchers aren’t the only one to come across the phenomenon (from LaFrance’s article; Note: Links have been removed),

Other AI researchers, too, say they’ve observed machines that can develop their own languages, including languages with a coherent structure, and defined vocabulary and syntax—though not always actual meaningful, by human standards.

In one preprint paper added earlier this year [2017] to the research repository arXiv, a pair of computer scientists from the non-profit AI research firm OpenAI wrote about how bots learned to communicate in an abstract language—and how those bots turned to non-verbal communication, the equivalent of human gesturing or pointing, when language communication was unavailable. (Bots don’t need to have corporeal form to engage in non-verbal communication; they just engage with what’s called a visual sensory modality.) Another recent preprint paper, from researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Tech, describes an experiment in which two bots invent their own communication protocol by discussing and assigning values to colors and shapes—in other words, the researchers write, they witnessed the “automatic emergence of grounded language and communication … no human supervision!”

The implications of this kind of work are dizzying. Not only are researchers beginning to see how bots could communicate with one another, they may be scratching the surface of how syntax and compositional structure emerged among humans in the first place.

LaFrance’s article is well worth reading in its entirety especially since the speculation is focused on whether or not the chatbots’ creation is in fact language. There is no mention of consciousness and perhaps this is just a crazy idea but is it possible that these chatbots have consciousness? The question is particularly intriguing in light of some of philosopher David Chalmers’ work (see his 2014 TED talk in Vancouver, Canada: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness/transcript?language=en runs roughly 18 mins.); a text transcript is also featured. There’s a condensed version of Chalmers’ TED talk offered in a roughly 9 minute NPR (US National Public Radio) interview by Gus Raz. Here are some highlights from the text transcript,

So we’ve been hearing from brain scientists who are asking how a bunch of neurons and synaptic connections in the brain add up to us, to who we are. But it’s consciousness, the subjective experience of the mind, that allows us to ask the question in the first place. And where consciousness comes from – that is an entirely separate question.

DAVID CHALMERS: Well, I like to distinguish between the easy problems of consciousness and the hard problem.

RAZ: This is David Chalmers. He’s a philosopher who coined this term, the hard problem of consciousness.

CHALMERS: Well, the easy problems are ultimately a matter of explaining behavior – things we do. And I think brain science is great at problems like that. It can isolate a neural circuit and show how it enables you to see a red object, to respondent and say, that’s red. But the hard problem of consciousness is subjective experience. Why, when all that happens in this circuit, does it feel like something? How does a bunch of – 86 billion neurons interacting inside the brain, coming together – how does that produce the subjective experience of a mind and of the world?

RAZ: Here’s how David Chalmers begins his TED Talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

CHALMERS: Right now, you have a movie playing inside your head. It has 3-D vision and surround sound for what you’re seeing and hearing right now. Your movie has smell and taste and touch. It has a sense of your body, pain, hunger, orgasms. It has emotions, anger and happiness. It has memories, like scenes from your childhood, playing before you. This movie is your stream of consciousness. If we weren’t conscious, nothing in our lives would have meaning or value. But at the same time, it’s the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe. Why are we conscious?

RAZ: Why is consciousness more than just the sum of the brain’s parts?

CHALMERS: Well, the question is, you know, what is the brain? It’s this giant complex computer, a bunch of interacting parts with great complexity. What does all that explain? That explains objective mechanism. Consciousness is subjective by its nature. It’s a matter of subjective experience. And it seems that we can imagine all of that stuff going on in the brain without consciousness. And the question is, where is the consciousness from there? It’s like, if someone could do that, they’d get a Nobel Prize, you know?

RAZ: Right.

CHALMERS: So here’s the mapping from this circuit to this state of consciousness. But underneath that is always going be the question, why and how does the brain give you consciousness in the first place?

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

CHALMERS: Right now, nobody knows the answers to those questions. So we may need one or two ideas that initially seem crazy before we can come to grips with consciousness, scientifically. The first crazy idea is that consciousness is fundamental. Physicists sometimes take some aspects of the universe as fundamental building blocks – space and time and mass – and you build up the world from there. Well, I think that’s the situation we’re in. If you can’t explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals – space, time – the natural thing to do is to postulate consciousness itself as something fundamental – a fundamental building block of nature. The second crazy idea is that consciousness might be universal. This view is sometimes called panpsychism – pan, for all – psych, for mind. Every system is conscious. Not just humans, dogs, mice, flies, but even microbes. Even a photon has some degree of consciousness. The idea is not that photons are intelligent or thinking. You know, it’s not that a photon is wracked with angst because it’s thinking, oh, I’m always buzzing around near the speed of light. I never get to slow down and smell the roses. No, not like that. But the thought is, maybe photons might have some element of raw subjective feeling, some primitive precursor to consciousness.

RAZ: So this is a pretty big idea – right? – like, that not just flies, but microbes or photons all have consciousness. And I mean we, like, as humans, we want to believe that our consciousness is what makes us special, right – like, different from anything else.

CHALMERS: Well, I would say yes and no. I’d say the fact of consciousness does not make us special. But maybe we’ve a special type of consciousness ’cause you know, consciousness is not on and off. It comes in all these rich and amazing varieties. There’s vision. There’s hearing. There’s thinking. There’s emotion and so on. So our consciousness is far richer, I think, than the consciousness, say, of a mouse or a fly. But if you want to look for what makes us distinct, don’t look for just our being conscious, look for the kind of consciousness we have. …

Intriguing, non?

Vancouver premiere of Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness

Baba Brinkman, former Vancouverite and current denizen of New York City, is back in town offering a new performance at the Rio Theatre (1680 E. Broadway, near Commercial Drive). From a July 5, 2017 Rio Theatre event page and ticket portal,

Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness

Wednesday, July 5 [2017] at 6:30pm PDT

Baba Brinkman’s new hip-hop theatre show “Rap Guide to Consciousness” is all about the neuroscience of consciousness. See it in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre before it goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August [2017].

This event also features a performance of “Off the Top” with Dr. Heather Berlin (cognitive neuroscientist, TV host, and Baba’s wife), which is also going to Edinburgh.

Wednesday, July 5
Doors 6:00 pm | Show 6:30 pm

Advance tickets $12 | $15 at the door

*All ages welcome!
*Sorry, Groupons and passes not accepted for this event.

“Utterly unique… both brilliantly entertaining and hugely informative” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Broadway Baby

“An education, inspiring, and wonderfully entertaining show from beginning to end” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Mumble Comedy

There’s quite the poster for this rap guide performance,

In addition to  the Vancouver and Edinburgh performance (the show was premiered at the Brighton Fringe Festival in May 2017; see Simon Topping’s very brief review in this May 10, 2017 posting on the reviewshub.com), Brinkman is raising money (goal is $12,000US; he has raised a little over $3,000 with approximately one month before the deadline) to produce a CD. Here’s more from the Rap Guide to Consciousness campaign page on Indiegogo,

Brinkman has been working with neuroscientists, Dr. Anil Seth (professor and co-director of Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science) and Dr. Heather Berlin (Brinkman’s wife as noted earlier; see her Wikipedia entry or her website).

There’s a bit more information about the rap project and Anil Seth in a May 3, 2017 news item by James Hakner for the University of Sussex,

The research frontiers of consciousness science find an unusual outlet in an exciting new Rap Guide to Consciousness, premiering at this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival.

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, has teamed up with New York-based ‘peer-reviewed rapper’ Baba Brinkman, to explore the latest findings from the neuroscience and cognitive psychology of subjective experience.

What is it like to be a baby? We might have to take LSD to find out. What is it like to be an octopus? Imagine most of your brain was actually built into your fingertips. What is it like to be a rapper kicking some of the world’s most complex lyrics for amused fringe audiences? Surreal.

In this new production, Baba brings his signature mix of rap comedy storytelling to the how and why behind your thoughts and perceptions. Mixing cutting-edge research with lyrical performance and projected visuals, Baba takes you through the twists and turns of the only organ it’s better to donate than receive: the human brain. Discover how the various subsystems of your brain come together to create your own rich experience of the world, including the sights and sounds of a scientifically peer-reviewed rapper dropping knowledge.

The result is a truly mind-blowing multimedia hip-hop theatre performance – the perfect meta-medium through which to communicate the dazzling science of consciousness.

Baba comments: “This topic is endlessly fascinating because it underlies everything we do pretty much all the time, which is probably why it remains one of the toughest ideas to get your head around. The first challenge with this show is just to get people to accept the (scientifically uncontroversial) idea that their brains and minds are actually the same thing viewed from different angles. But that’s just the starting point, after that the details get truly amazing.”

Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist and award-winning playwright, best known for his “Rap Guide” series of plays and albums. Baba has toured the world and enjoyed successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and off-Broadway in New York. The Rap Guide to Religion was nominated for a 2015 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience” and The Rap Guide to Evolution (“Astonishing and brilliant” NY Times), won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination for “Outstanding Solo Performance”. The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos premiered in Edinburgh in 2015, followed by a six-month off-Broadway run in 2016.

Baba is also a pioneer in the genre of “lit-hop” or literary hip-hop, known for his adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh. He is a recent recipient of the National Center for Science Education’s “Friend of Darwin Award” for his efforts to improve the public understanding of evolutionary biology.

Anil Seth is an internationally renowned researcher into the biological basis of consciousness, with more than 100 (peer-reviewed!) academic journal papers on the subject. Alongside science he is equally committed to innovative public communication. A Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow (from 2016) and the 2017 British Science Association President (Psychology), Professor Seth has co-conceived and consulted on many science-art projects including drama (Donmar Warehouse), dance (Siobhan Davies dance company), and the visual arts (with artist Lindsay Seers). He has also given popular public talks on consciousness at the Royal Institution (Friday Discourse) and at the main TED conference in Vancouver. He is a regular presence in print and on the radio and is the recipient of awards including the BBC Audio Award for Best Single Drama (for ‘The Sky is Wider’) and the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize (for EyeBenders). This is his first venture into rap.

Professor Seth said: “There is nothing more familiar, and at the same time more mysterious than consciousness, but research is finally starting to shed light on this most central aspect of human existence. Modern neuroscience can be incredibly arcane and complex, posing challenges to us as public communicators.

“It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work with Baba on this project over the last year. I never thought I’d get involved with a rap artist – but hearing Baba perform his ‘peer reviewed’ breakdowns of other scientific topics I realized here was an opportunity not to be missed.”

Interestingly, Seth has another Canadian connection; he’s a Senior Fellow of the Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR; Wikipedia entry). By the way, the institute  was promised $93.7M in the 2017 Canadian federal government budget for the establishment of a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy (see my March 24, 2017 posting; scroll down about 25% of the way and look for the highlighted dollar amount). You can find out more about the Azrieli programme here and about CIFAR on its website.

The Hard Problem (a Tom Stoppard play)

Brinkman isn’t the only performance-based artist to be querying the concept of consciousness, Tom Stoppard has written a play about consciousness titled ‘The Hard Problem’, which debuted at the National Theatre (UK) in January 2015 (see BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] news online’s Jan. 29, 2015 roundup of reviews). A May 25, 2017 commentary by Andrew Brown for the Guardian offers some insight into the play and the issues (Note: Links have been removed),

There is a lovely exchange in Tom Stoppard’s play about consciousness, The Hard Problem, when an atheist has been sneering at his girlfriend for praying. It is, he says, an utterly meaningless activity. Right, she says, then do one thing for me: pray! I can’t do that, he replies. It would betray all I believe in.

So prayer can have meanings, and enormously important ones, even for people who are certain that it doesn’t have the meaning it is meant to have. In that sense, your really convinced atheist is much more religious than someone who goes along with all the prayers just because that’s what everyone does, without for a moment supposing the action means anything more than asking about the weather.

The Hard Problem of the play’s title is a phrase coined by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers to describe the way in which consciousness arises from a physical world. What makes it hard is that we don’t understand it. What makes it a problem is slightly different. It isn’t the fact of consciousness, but our representations of consciousness, that give rise to most of the difficulties. We don’t know how to fit the first-person perspective into the third-person world that science describes and explores. But this isn’t because they don’t fit: it’s because we don’t understand how they fit. For some people, this becomes a question of consuming interest.

There are also a couple of video of Tom Stoppard, the playwright, discussing his play with various interested parties, the first being the director at the National Theatre who tackled the debut run, Nicolas Hytner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7J8rWu6HJg (it runs approximately 40 mins.). Then, there’s the chat Stoppard has with previously mentioned philosopher, David Chalmers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BPY2c_CiwA (this runs approximately 1 hr. 32 mins.).

I gather ‘consciousness’ is a hot topic these days and, in the venacular of the 1960s, I guess you could describe all of this as ‘expanding our consciousness’. Have a nice weekend!

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

After receiving an ‘invitation’ from the Canadian Science Policy Centre, I wrote an opinion piece, drawing on my submission for the public consultation on Canada’s fundamental science research. It seems the invitation was more of a ‘call’ for submissions and my piece did not end up being selected for inclusion on the website. So rather than waste the piece, here it is,

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

At a time when we are dealing with the consequences of our sins and virtues, fundamental science, at heart, an exercise in imagination, can seem a waste of precious time. Pollution and climate change (sins: ill-considered uses of technology) and food security and water requirements (virtues: efforts to improve health and save more lives) would seem to demand solutions not the flights of fancy associated with basic science. After all, what does the ‘big bang’ have to do with potable water?

It’s not an unfair question despite the impatience some might feel when answering it by citing a number of practical applications which are the result of all that ‘fanciful’ or ‘blue sky’ science. The beauty and importance of the question is that it will always be asked and can never be definitively answered, rendering it a near constant goad or insurance against complacency.

In many ways Canada’s review of fundamental science (deadline for comments was Sept. 30, 2016) is not just an examination of the current funding schemes but an opportunity to introduce more ‘goads’ or ‘anti-complacency’ measures into Canada’s fundamental science efforts for a kind of ‘creative destruction’.

Introduced by economist Joseph Schumpeter, the concept is derived from Karl Marx’s work but these days is associated with disruptive, painful, and regenerative innovation of all kinds and Canadian fundamental science needs more ‘creative destruction’. There’s at least one movement in this direction (found both in Canada and internationally) which takes us beyond uncomfortable, confrontative questions and occasional funding reviews—the integration of arts and humanities as an attempt at ‘creative destruction’ of the science endeavour.

At one point in the early 2000s, Canada developed a programme where the National Research Council could get joint funding with the Canada Council for the Arts for artists to work with their scientists. It was abandoned a few years later, as a failure. But, since then, several informal attempts at combining arts, sciences, and humanities have sprung up.

For example, Curiosity Collider (founded in 2015) hosts artists and scientists presenting their art/science pieces at various events in Vancouver. Beakerhead has mashed up science, engineering, arts, and entertainment in a festival founded and held in Calgary since 2013. Toronto’s ArtSci Salon hosts events and installations for local, national, and international collaborations of artists and scientists. And, getting back to Vancouver, Anecdotal Evidence is a science storytelling series which has been appearing sporadically since 2015.

There is a tendency to dismiss these types of collaboration as a form of science outreach designed to amuse or entertain but they can be much more than that. Illustrators have taught botanists a thing or two about plants. Markus Buehler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used his understanding of music to explore material science (spider’s webs). Domenico Vicinanza has sonified data from space vehicle, Voyager 1, to produce a symphony, which is also a highly compressed means of communicating data.

C. P. Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’ (lecture and book) covered much of the same territory in 1959 noting the idea that the arts and sciences (and humanities) can and should be linked in some fashion was not new. For centuries the sciences were referred to as Natural Philosophy (humanities), albeit only chemistry and physics were considered sciences, and many universities have or had faculties of arts and sciences or colleges of arts and science (e.g., the University of Saskatchewan still has such a college).

The current art/sci or sci-art movement can be seen as more than an attempt to resuscitate a ‘golden’ period from the past. It could be a means of embedding a continuous state of regeneration or ‘creative destruction’ for fundamental science in Canada.

Curiosity Collider Café: Nov. 16, 2016 in Vancouver (Canada)

It’s time for another Curiosity Collider art/science event.  to get you excited (from a Nov. 8, 2016 announcement received via email),

Dance. Genetics. Digital Media. Photography. Science Illustration. Join us to create new ways to experience science.

Our #ColliderCafe is a space for artists, scientists, makers, and anyone interested in art+science. Meet, discover, connect, create. Where will your curiosity for science take you? How will you express science through art?

From the Curiosity Collider events page,

Collider Cafe: Scientific. Expression.

When
8:00pm on Wednesday, November 16th, 2016. Door opens at 7:30pm.

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

Cost
$5.00 cover at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events. Curiosity Collider is a registered BC non-profit organization.

***

Where would your curiosity for science take you? How would you express science through art? Join our upcoming “Collider Cafe: Scientific. Expression.” to hear from these speakers about their ideas and to chat with them about collaborations.

 

Julie-anne Saroyan (artistic producer | project manager, Small Stage)

Alina Sotskova (dancer | photographer | psychologist)

Armin Mortazavi (cartoonist | scientist)

Jen Burgess (natural science illustrator)

Karissa Milbury (scientist – genetics | public scholar)

You can find individual websites by clicking on each presenter’s name (if you have the time, it’s worth it for the most part). Milbury’s, unfortunately, is simply a LinkedIn page although you do find out she’s a PhD candidate who’s working at Telus World of Science. As for Saroyan, I found a biography for her on the Small Stage website,

Julie-anne loves sharing dance with everyone.

She co-founded the company and kicked off the series Dances for a Small Stage in Vancouver.  Since then, Julie-anne has she has produced many dance events- including all installments of the MovEnt series Dances for a Small Stage in Vancouver, at the Canada Dance Festival (2006), BC Scene (2009) and Magnetic North Theatre Festival + Canada Dance Festival (2015) at The National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Saroyan has established herself in dance industry as a skilled and dedicated professional in identifying, developing, and mentoring emerging dance artists.  She has successfully developed Dances for a Small Stage as a breeding ground for new choreographic talent and as a stable, sustainable artistic venture.

They don’t seem to be holding their ‘open mic/request for collaborator’ subevent where they invite members of the audience to stand up and talk for 60 secs. about a proposed project and put in a request for a collaborator. Perhaps next time, eh?

The Cabinet Project: a call for proposals from Canada’s ArtSci Salon

Thanks to my colleague, Raewyn Turner (artist, New Zealand) for information about this call for proposals. BTW, she and I are talking about putting our own proposal forward but the deadline is Sept. 30, 2016, which isn’t all that far away.

The ArtSci Salon; A Hub for the Arts & Science communities in Toronto and Beyond is soliciting proposals for ‘The Cabinet Project; An artsci exhibition about cabinets‘ to be held *March 30 – May 1* 2017 at the University of Toronto in a series of ‘science cabinets’ found around campus,

Despite being in full sight, many cabinets and showcases at universities and scientific institutions lie empty or underutilized. Located at the entrance of science departments, in proximity of laboratories, or in busy areas of transition, some contain outdated posters, or dusty scientific objects that have been forgotten there for years. Others lie empty, like old furniture on the curb after a move, waiting for a lucky passer-by in need. The ceaseless flow of bodies walking past these cabinets – some running to meetings, some checking their schedule, some immersed in their thoughts – rarely pay attention to them.

The neglect of these cabinets seems to confirm well-established ideas about science institutions as recluse spaces where secrecy reigns, and communication with the outside world is either underappreciated or prohibited. But at a closer look, this is not the case: those seemingly ignored and neglected cabinets have fascinating and compelling stories that speak to their mobility, their past uses and their owners; laboratories in their proximity burst of excitement and boredom, frustration and euphoria, their machineries being constantly fabricated, rethought, dismantled or replaced; in these laboratories, individuals, objects and instruments come to life in complicated ways. These objects, human relations and stories are forming complex ecologies that are very much alive.

Here are the objectives (from the Project page),

The Cabinet project seeks to explore and to bring to life historical, anecdotal and imagined stories evoked by scientific objects, their surrounding space and the individuals that inhabit them. The goal is to reflect on, and reverse the stereotypical assumptions about science as inaccessible and secretive, to make the intense creativity existing inside science laboratories visible, and to suggest potential interactions between the sciences and the arts.

We invite artists, scientists and other creative individuals to turn a select number of cabinets across the University of Toronto into small-scale installations. Interventions can use a variety of media and material and engage with a number of disciplines.

The resulting distributed exhibition ( March 2017) will feature dialogues between art and science that engage with objects and instruments created in nearby science labs.

Before you send your proposal, make sure to check the location/size of the cabinets, as well as the UTSIC collection.
Please come back often as more cabinets are added

There’s also the Call for Proposals (from the Project page),

Artists are invited to populate a variety of cabinets around the St. George Campus at the University of Toronto with artworks that

  • interact with objects and instruments that have been fabricated or used in the labs nearby;
  • engage with the history of the cabinets (how they got there, who donated them, what was their initial purpose etc..);
  • narrate imaginary or science fictional stories about the cabinets, the labs in their proximity and the mysterious objects they have produced in the past or are currently producing.

Of course, these are only suggested scenarios. Please, contact us if you have a particular request or idea.

We request that you fill in the online proposal below with a 250 words MAX description, accompanied by 3-4 images that meaningfully describe your work. Please, specify your goals, how you plan to interact with certain objects or a particular environment, and how you plan to install your work, using which media etc..  This project assumes that a meaningful interaction with the surrounding context is established.

The application form is here. Don’t forget to go to the Project page for a list of cabinets and the deadline is Sept. 30, 2016. Good luck to us all!

*’March’ replaced by ‘March 30 – May 1’ on S.1.16 at 1420 PDT.

Online art/science exhibit on stem cells and Canadians, Dr. Jim Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch

Before getting to the exhibit, here’s some background information from Stacey Johnson’s July 22, 2016 posting on the Signals blog (Note: Links have been removed),

You would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian stem cell scientist who doesn’t know that Drs. Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch advanced medical research across the globe with their discovery, in 1961, of blood stem cells at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, today the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Recently, a group of artists, doctors, scientists and educators launched an art exhibit based on Till and McCulloch. The group, NASCENT Art Science Collective, created portraits of the two men, produced drawings and designed banners to honour these pioneers and their ground-breaking work.

You can find the show, The Protean SELF here. Before clicking on the link I encourage you to read Johnson’s piece in its entirety. Whether you choose to read it further or not, I highly (!) recommend that you scroll down the exhibit page or click on Interpretive Guide for Museum of Health Care before when viewing the images and text otherwise it will seem a hodgepodge. The guide was for the real life exhibit, which is over.

The guide won’t answer all your questions but will help greatly to contextualize the images and the text. For example,

Hanging in the main windows are two banners by Elizabeth Greisman. Elizabeth has been extending her work on stem cells, their discovery by Dr. James Till and the importance of “ah hah’ moments to the field of dance. Elizabeth has worked with the National Ballet – cross fertilization through this work has expanded her understanding of the two defining features of stem cells – the ability to regenerate and the ability to differentiate.

That description applies to this image (I believe),

Artist: Elizabeth Greisman

Artist: Elizabeth Greisman

It’s also very helpful for understanding why there’s a fair chunk text devoted to open access,

On entering the museum, you will find a banner with an original written piece by Dr. James Till, produced for this show. Dr. Till has become a tireless advocate for Open Access. His words speak for themselves.

Artist: Dr. James Till. Formatted by Wendy Wobeser

Artist: Dr. James Till. Formatted by Wendy Wobeser

Enjoy!

Curiosity Collider (Vancouver, Canada) presents Neural Constellations: Exploring Connectivity

I think of Curiosity Collider as an informal art/science  presenter but I gather the organizers’ ambitions are more grand. From the Curiosity Collider’s About Us page,

Curiosity Collider provides an inclusive community [emphasis mine] hub for curious innovators from any discipline. Our non-profit foundation, based in Vancouver, Canada, fosters participatory partnerships between science & technology, art & culture, business communities, and educational foundations to inspire new ways to experience science. The Collider’s growing community supports and promotes the daily relevance of science with our events and projects. Curiosity Collider is a catalyst for collaborations that seed and grow engaging science communication projects.

Be inspired by the curiosity of others. Our Curiosity Collider events cross disciplinary lines to promote creative inspiration. Meet scientists, visual and performing artists, culinary perfectionists, passionate educators, and entrepreneurs who share a curiosity for science.

Help us create curiosity for science. Spark curiosity in others with your own ideas and projects. Get in touch with us and use our curiosity events to showcase how your work creates innovative new ways to experience science.

I wish they hadn’t described themselves as an “inclusive community.” This often means exactly the opposite.

Take for example the website. The background is in black, the heads are white, and the text is grey. This is a website for people under the age of 40. If you want to be inclusive, you make your website legible for everyone.

That said, there’s an upcoming Curiosity Collider event which looks promising (from a July 20, 2016 email notice),

Neural Constellations: Exploring Connectivity

An Evening of Art, Science and Performance under the Dome

“We are made of star stuff,” Carl Sagan once said. From constellations to our nervous system, from stars to our neurons. We’re colliding neuroscience and astronomy with performance art, sound, dance, and animation for one amazing evening under the planetarium dome. Together, let’s explore similar patterns at the macro (astronomy) and micro (neurobiology) scale by taking a tour through both outer and inner space.

This show is curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, along with Special Guest Curator Naila Kuhlmann, and developed in collaboration with the MacMillan Space Centre. There will also be an Art-Science silent auction to raise funding for future Curiosity Collider activities.

Participating performers include:

The July 20, 2016 notice also provides information about date, time, location, and cost,

When
7:30pm on Thursday, August 18th 2016. Join us for drinks and snacks when doors open at 6:30pm.

Where
H. R. MacMillan Space Centre (1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver, BC)

Cost
$20.00 sliding scale. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events. Curiosity Collider is a registered BC non-profit organization. Purchase tickets on our Eventbrite page.

Head to the Facebook event page: Let us know you are coming and share this event with others! We will also share event updates and performer profiles on the Facebook page.

There is a pretty poster,

CuriostiytCollider_AugEvent_NeuralConstellations

[downloaded from http://www.curiositycollider.org/events/]

Enjoy!

Beatrix Potter and her science on her 150th birthday

July 28, 2016 was the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter‘s birthday. Known by many through her children’s books, she has left an indelible mark on many of us. Hop-skip-jump.com has a description of an extraordinary woman, from their Beatrix Potter 150 years page,

An artist, storyteller, botanist, environmentalist, farmer and impeccable businesswoman, Potter was a visionary and a trailblazer. Single-mindedly determined and ambitious she overcame professional rejection, academic humiliation, and personal heartbreak, going on to earn her fortune and a formidable reputation.

A July 27, 2016 posting by Alex Jackson on the Guardian science blogs provides more information about Potter’s science (Note: Links have been removed),

Influenced by family holidays in Scotland, Potter was fascinated by the natural world from a young age. Encouraged to follow her interests, she explored the outdoors with sketchbook and camera, honing her skills as an artist, by drawing and sketching her school room pets: mice, rabbits and hedgehogs. Led first by her imagination, she developed a broad interest in the natural sciences: particularly archaeology, entomology and mycology, producing accurate watercolour drawings of unusual fossils, fungi, and archaeological artefacts.

Potter’s uncle, Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe FRS, an eminent nineteenth-century chemist, recognised her artistic talent and encouraged her scientific interests. By the 1890s, Potter’s skills in mycology drew Roscoe’s attention when he learned she had successfully germinated spores of a class of fungi, and had ideas on how they reproduced. He used his scientific connections with botanists at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens to gain a student card for his niece and to introduce her to Kew botanists interested in mycology.

Although Potter had good reason to think that her success might break some new ground, the botanists at Kew were sceptical. One Kew scientist, George Massee, however, was sufficiently interested in Potter’s drawings, encouraging her to continue experimenting. Although the director of Kew, William Thistleton-Dyer refused to give Potter’s theories or her drawings much attention both because she was an amateur and a female, Roscoe encouraged his niece to write up her investigations and offer her drawings in a paper to the Linnean Society.

In 1897, Potter put forward her paper, which Massee presented to the Linnean Society, since women could not be members or attend a meeting. Her paper, On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, was not given much notice and she quickly withdrew it, recognising that her samples were likely contaminated. Sadly, her paper has since been lost, so we can only speculate on what Potter actually concluded.

Until quite recently, Potter’s accomplishments and her experiments in natural science went unrecognised. Upon her death in 1943, Potter left hundreds of her mycological drawings and paintings to the Armitt Museum and Library in Ambleside, where she and her husband had been active members. Today, they are valued not only for their beauty and precision, but also for the assistance they provide modern mycologists in identifying a variety of fungi.

In 1997, the Linnean Society issued a posthumous apology to Potter, noting the sexism displayed in the handling of her research and its policy toward the contributions of women.

A rarely seen very early Beatrix Potter drawing, A Dream of Toasted Cheese was drawn to celebrate the publication of Henry Roscoe’s chemistry textbook in 1899. Illustration: Beatrix Potter/reproduced courtesy of the Lord Clwyd collection (image by way of The Guardian newspaper)

A rarely seen very early Beatrix Potter drawing, A Dream of Toasted Cheese was drawn to celebrate the publication of Henry Roscoe’s chemistry textbook in 1899. Illustration: Beatrix Potter/reproduced courtesy of the Lord Clwyd collection (image by way of The Guardian newspaper)

I’m sure you recognized the bunsen burner. From the James posting (Note: A link has been removed),

London-born, Henry Roscoe, whose family roots were in Liverpool, studied at University College London, before moving to Heidelberg, Germany, where he worked under Robert Bunsen, inventor of the new-fangled apparatus that inspired Potter’s drawing. Together, using magnesium as a light source, Roscoe and Bunsen reputedly carried out the first flashlight photography in 1864. Their research laid the foundations of comparative photochemistry.

These excerpts do not give full justice to James’ piece which I encourage you to read in its entirety.

Should you be going to the UK and inclined to follow up further, there’s a listing of 2016 events being held to honour Potter on the UK National Trust’s Celebrating Beatrix Potter’s anniversary in the Lake District webpage.