AdaptiFont has recently been presented at CHI, the leading Conference on Human Factors in Computing.
Language is without doubt the most pervasive medium for exchanging knowledge between humans. However, spoken language or abstract text need to be made visible in order to be read, be it in print or on screen.
How does the way a text looks affect its readability, that is, how it is being read, processed, and understood? A team at TU Darmstadt’s Centre for Cognitive Science investigated this question at the intersection of perceptual science, cognitive science, and linguistics. Electronic text is even more complex. Texts are read on different devices under different external conditions. And although any digital text is formatted initially, users might resize it on screen, change brightness and contrast of the display, or even select a different font when reading text on the web.
The team of researchers from TU Darmstadt now developed a system that leaves font design to the user’s visual system. First, they needed to come up with a way of synthesizing new fonts. This was achieved by using a machine learning algorithm, which learned the structure of fonts analysing 25 popular and classic typefaces. The system is capable of creating an infinite number of new fonts that are any intermediate form of others – for example, visually halfway between Helvetica and Times New Roman.
Since some fonts may make it more difficult to read the text, they may slow the reader down. Other fonts may help the user read more fluently. Measuring reading speed, a second algorithm can now generate more typefaces that increase the reading speed.
In a laboratory experiment, in which users read texts over one hour, the research team showed that their algorithm indeed generates new fonts that increase individual user’s reading speed. Interestingly all readers had their own personalized font that made reading especially easy for them. However: This individual favorite typeface does not necessarily fit in all situations. “AdaptiFont therefore can be understood as a system which creates fonts for an individual dynamically and continuously while reading, which maximizes the reading speed at the time of use. This may depend on the content of the text, whether you are tired, or perhaps are using different display devices,” explains Professor Constantin A. Rothkopf, Centre for Cognitive Science und head of the institute of Psychology of Information Processing at TU Darmstadt.
The AdaptiFont system was recently presented to the scientific community at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). A patent application has been filed. Future possible applications are with all electronic devices on which text is read.
There’s a 5 minute video featuring the work and narration for a researcher who speaks very quickly,
This guy (Angus Fletcher) is a little too much the evangelist for my taste but the ideas supporting the book he has authored and is promoting in this video are in line with a lot of thinking about vision and memory both of which can be described acts of creativity. In this case, Fletcher is applying these ideas to literature, which he describes as an act of co-creation,
If you really want to understand literature, don’t start with the words on a page—start with how it affects your brain.
That’s the message from Angus Fletcher, an English professor with degrees in both literature and neuroscience, who outlines in a new book a different way to read and think about stories, from classic literature to pulp fiction to movies and TV shows.
Literature wasn’t invented just as entertainment or a way to deliver messages to readers, said Fletcher, who is a professor at The Ohio State University.
“Stories are actually a form of technology. [emphasis mine] They are tools that were designed by our ancestors to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety, kindle creativity, spark courage and meet a variety of other psychological challenges of being human,” Fletcher said.
“And even though we aren’t taught this in literature classes today, we can still find and use these emotional tools in the stories we read today.”
Fletcher explains these concepts in his book Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.
For example, in a chapter about fighting loneliness, he discusses how reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo may help. A chapter on feeding creativity talks about the virtues of Alice in Wonderland and Winnie-the-Pooh. Looking for the best way to make your dreams come true? For that, Fletcher proposes the TV show 30 Rock.
Wonderworks doesn’t ignore the classics: The book discusses how reading Shakespeare can help us heal from grief, Virginia Woolf can assist readers in finding peace of mind, and Homer can support those needing courage.
Fletcher said his neuroscience background very much influences the approach to literature he takes in Wonderworks.
“When you read a favorite poem or story, you may feel joy, you feel a sense of empathy or connection. One of the things I do in the book is provide the scientific validation for the things we’ve long felt when we’ve read favorite books or watched movies or TV shows that we loved,” he said.
“From my neuroscience background and studies that I’ve done, I can see how literature’s inventions plug into different regions of our brain, to make us less lonely or help us build up our courage or do a variety of other things to help us. Every story is different and is, in effect, a different tool.”
Fletcher said to truly understand the power of literature requires a different way of approaching stories from what is offered by most traditional literature courses.
The usual method of teaching literature focuses on the words, asking students to look for themes, to consider what the author intended to say and mean.
But that’s not the focus at Project Narrative, an Ohio State program of which Fletcher is a member.
“At Project Narrative, we reverse the process. Instead of looking at the words first, we look first at what is going on in your mind. How does this story make you feel? We look at how people are responding to the characters, the plot, the world that the author created,” Fletcher said.
After examining how the story makes you feel, the second part of the process is to trace that feeling back to some invention of the story, whether it is the plot, a character, the narrator, or the world of the story.
The themes of the story, or what the author means to say, are less important in this approach to literature.
That means when you are looking for a book to stimulate your courage, you don’t have to look for a book that has “courage” in the title or even as one of its themes according to traditional literature analysis, Fletcher said.
“Courage comes from reading a work of literature that makes us feel like we’re participating in something bigger than ourselves. It doesn’t have to mention courage or have courage be one of its themes,” he said. “That’s not relevant.”
For example, you wouldn’t think of reading The Godfather to ward off loneliness. But Fletcher said it can have this effect, partly through its use of a specific operatic technique. In Wonderworks, Fletcher explains how some operas feature a period of dissonant and turbulent music that is eventually resolved by a sweet harmony.
“The clashing and discordant music is upsetting, but then the sweet relief of harmony comes and releases dopamine in our brain, bonding us to the music,” he said.
“Puzo does the same thing in The Godfather, by creating chaos and tension in a chapter and then just partly resolving it at the end, giving us this partial dopamine rush that bonds us to the characters and to the story and makes us feel like they are friends.”
And even though it may not be good to be friends with gangsters in real life, the dopamine rush that we get from befriending the Corleone family can help ward off loneliness, he said.
If you’re reading stories like The Godfather while isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may even help ease the transition back to normal life when the world opens back up.
Neuroscientists have discovered that a part of the brain, called the dorsal raphe nucleus, helps us make friends, Fletcher said. It contains a cluster of dopamine neurons that are primed for short periods of loneliness and stand ready to encourage us to be sociable when we again meet people.
But if our isolation lasts weeks or months, like during the pandemic, that priming fades and our brain hunkers down in isolation – making it harder to re-connect with people.
“So what The Godfather and other stories can do is wake up the dorsal raphe nucleus and make it easier to rejoin society when the pandemic is over,” he explained.
Fletcher said the use of operatic techniques in The Godfather is just one example of how literature can be a form of technology.
And he hopes more people will want to figure out how these technological tools in literature really work in our brains.
“The idea behind the book is to give you a different way of reading, one that unlocks the extraordinary power of literature to heal your brain, give you more joy, more courage, whatever you need in your life.”
A brilliant examination of literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante, that shows how writers have created technical breakthroughs—rivaling any scientific inventions—and engineering enhancements to the human heart and mind.
Literature is a technology like any other. And the writers we revere—from Homer, Shakespeare, Austen, and others—each made a unique technical breakthrough that can be viewed as both a narrative and neuroscientific advancement. Literature’s great invention was to address problems we could not solve: not how to start a fire or build a boat, but how to live and love; how to maintain courage in the face of death; how to account for the fact that we exist at all.
Wonderworks reviews the blueprints for twenty-five of the most powerful developments in the history of literature. These inventions can be scientifically shown to alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui—all while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change. They can be found all throughout literature—from ancient Chinese lyrics to Shakespeare’s plays, poetry to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and crime novels to slave narratives.
An easy-to-understand exploration of the new literary field of story science, Wonderworks teaches you everything you wish you learned in your English class. Based on author Angus Fletcher’s own research, it is an eye-opening and thought-provoking work that offers us a new understanding of the power of literature.
Should you be interested in Project Narrative, it can be found here.
This is a long read and covers a lot of ground including: a couple of highlights from the ‘Interior Infinite’ show, a reference to how modern galleries came to be what they are, the tension of hosting the unruly (carnivalesque) in a ‘white cube’ (art gallery), a brief history of Mikhail Bakhtin, and more.
I had expectations based on the exhibit description offered by the Polygon Gallery (from the Interior Infinite webpage on the Polygon Gallery website),
Interior Infinite brings together an international group of artists whose works span photography, video, performance, and sculpture. Predominantly featuring portraiture, with an emphasis on self-portraiture, the exhibition focuses on costume and masquerade [emphasis mine] as strategies for revealing, rather than concealing, identities. Across these works, disguise functions as an unmasking [emphasis mine], as artists construct their own images through adornment in order to visually represent embodied experience, memory, and understanding.
Interior Infinite draws on the spirit of Carnival, a celebration of both radical togetherness and unique self-expression [emphasis mine]. The title is drawn from Rabelais and His World [emphasis mine], an influential text by Mikhail Bakhtin [emphasis mine], which extolled the potential for carnivalesque practices to overcome the limits of repressive conformity and expand our social imagination. The vibrant, fluid, and myriad expressions of identities seen in the exhibition become an act of resistance to erasure, pushing narrow definitions of normativity to include a broader range of lived realities. As Bakhtin writes [emphasis mine]: “The interior infinite could not have been found in a closed and finished world”.
Featuring [artists only; emphasis mine]: Lacie Burning, Claude Cahun, Nick Cave, Charles Campbell, Dana Claxton, Martine Gutierrez, Kris Lemsalu, Ursula Mayer, Meryl McMaster, Zanele Muholi, Aïda Muluneh, Zak Ové, Skeena Reece, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Sin Wai Kin, Carrie Mae Weems, Zadie Xa
Expectations met or exceeded
This is an exciting and stimulating show (running from June 26 – September 5, 2021). It was put together within one year, which is supersonic speed in the art gallery world. (It seems to be one of the features of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are seeing institutions respond in a much more timely fashion than we have learned to expect.)
As you can see in the video, there are some beautiful pieces along with a bit of grotesquerie (Greek goddess Baubo) for a more fully realized carnivalesque experience. (More about the carnivalesque later.)
Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu contributed the Baubo Dance installation consisting of the lower body with jeans, cowboy boots, a representation of the vulva, and a detached head/headdress.
It looks like teeth on the vulva’s opening. I wonder if the artist meant to refer to the vagina dentata in some way (from its Wikipedia entry), Note: Links have been removed,
Vagina dentata (Latin for toothed vagina) describes a folk tale in which a woman’s vagina is said to contain teeth, with the associated implication that sexual intercourse might result in injury, emasculation, or castration for the man involved.
This would make the Baubo figure a bit more edgy than might be expected from reading her Wikipedia entry,
Baubo (Ancient Greek: Βαυβώ) is an old woman in Greek mythology which appears particularly in the myths of the early Orphic religion. Known as the Goddess of Mirth, she was bawdy and sexually liberated, and is said to have jested with Demeter, when Demeter was mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone. [emphases mine]
Figurines known as Baubos are found in a number of settings, usually with Greek connections. They were mass-produced in a number of styles, but the basic figure always exposes the vulva in some way: …
South African artist Zanele Muholi’s photographic work, also featured in the Ramsey video, is beautiful and subtly damning,
(Not being a photographer or particularly conversant in the visual arts, the following description is in ‘plainish’ language.)
If you look closely, you’ll see the image is layered so you have a background and what looks like a traditional headcovering, tank top, and skin, all in tones of black. The ropes, particularly around the neck and down the chest, suggest (to me, if no one else) entrapment (being roped) and/or a noose. In any event, it’s a very rich image and it’s better seen in person.
Zanele Muholi is one of the most acclaimed photographers working today, and their work has been exhibited all over the world. With over 260 photographs, this exhibition presents the full breadth of their career to date.
Muholi turns the camera on themself in the ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama – translated as ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ [emphasis mine]. These powerful and reflective images explore themes including labour [emphasis mine], racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics.
The four Muholi works in ‘Interior Infinite’ come from the Somnyama Ngonyama series (excerpted from the Tate Modern’s survey show Exhibition Guide; Room 8),
Somnyama Ngonyama (2012 – ongoing) is a series in which Muholi turns the camera on themself to explore the politics of race and representation. The portraits are photographed in different locations around the world. They are made using materials and objects that Muholi sources from their surroundings.The images refer to personal reflections, colonial and apartheid histories of exclusion and displacement, as well as ongoing racism. They question acts of violence and harmful representations of Black people. Muholi’s aim is to draw out these histories in order to educate people about them and to facilitate the processing of these traumas both personally and collectively.
Muholi considers how the gaze is constructed in their photographs. In some images they look away. In others they stare the camera down, asking what it means for ‘a Black person to look back’. When exhibited together the viewer is surrounded by a network of gazes. Muholi increases the contrast of the images in this series, which has the effect of darkening their skin tone.
I’m reclaiming my Blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. [emphasis mine]
The titles of the works in the series remain in is iZulu, Muholi’s first language. This is part of their activism, taking ownership of and pride in their language and identity. It encourages a Western audience to understand and pronounce the names. This critiques what happened during colonialism and apartheid. Then, Black people were often given English names by their employers or teachers who refused to remember or pronounce their real names.
‘Interior Infinite’ is rich with possibility and you can explore and question various identities both within and without.
“… the genesis of it [Interior Infinite] really was the murder of George Floyd, I thought where is art? How does art respond to a crisis, a catastrophe like this?” says exhibit curator Justin Ramsey in his Nuvo Magazine video interview (embedded earlier in this post).
First challenge: the impetus for the show was a murder
Ramsey’s choice to situate the show as a response to George Floyd’s 2020 murder leads to some interesting tensions within the exhibition (internal) and without (external).
How did Ramsey pick? Ultimately, the question is unlikely to be answered. Incidents which reach beyond the headlines to strike the soul and heart are not easily justifiable or explained to others.
As for Ramsey’s question in the video interview: “How does art respond to a crisis, … ?” The question seems fundamental not only to ‘Interior Infinite’ but more generally to 20th and 21st century art.
The response, in this case, was to pull Bakhtin’s concept of ‘carnival’ , also known as, ‘carnivalesque’ from “Rabelais and His World” allowing Ramsey to use it as a kind of banner under which a number of disparate pieces related to each other and the theme both harmoniously and disharmoniously could be gathered.
What is carnival/carnivalesque?
For a sense of what ‘carnival’ or carnivalesque’ means here’s a description from the Carnivalesque Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Carnivalesque is a literary mode [emphasis mine] that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humor and chaos. It originated as “carnival” in Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and was further developed in Rabelais and His World. For Bakhtin, “carnival” (the totality of popular festivities, rituals and other carnival forms) is deeply rooted in the human psyche on both the collective and individual level. Though historically complex and varied, it has over time worked out “an entire language of symbolic concretely sensuous forms” [emphasis mine] which express a unified “carnival sense of the world, permeating all its forms”. This language, Bakhtin argues, cannot be adequately verbalized or translated into abstract concepts, but it is amenable to a transposition into an artistic language that resonates with its essential qualities: it can, in other words, be “transposed into the language of literature”. Bakhtin calls this transposition the carnivalization of literature. Although he considers a number of literary forms and individual writers [emphasis mine], it is Francois Rabelais, the French Renaissance author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, that he considers the primary exemplars of carnivalization in literature.
The carnival sense of the world “is opposed to that one-sided and gloomy official seriousness which is dogmatic and hostile to evolution and change, which seeks to absolutize a given condition of existence or a given social order [emphases mine].” This is not to say that liberation from all authority and sacred symbols was desirable as an ideology. Because participation in Carnival extracts all individuals from non-carnival life, nihilistic and individualistic ideologies are just as impotent and just as subject to the radical humour of carnival [emphasis mine] as any form of official seriousness. The spirit of carnival grows out of a “culture of laughter” [emphasis mine]. Because it is based in the physiological realities of the lower bodily stratum (birth, death, renewal, sexuality, ingestion, evacuation etc.) [emphasis mine], it is inherently anti-elitist: its objects and functions are necessarily common to all humans—”identical, involuntary and non-negotiable”.
Bakhtin argues that we should not compare the “narrow theatrical pageantry” and “vulgar Bohemian understanding of carnival” characteristic of modern times [emphasis mine] with his Medieval Carnival. Carnival was a powerful creative event, not merely a spectacle. Bakhtin suggests that the separation of participants and spectators has been detrimental [emphasis mine] to the potency of Carnival. Its power lay in there being no “outside”: everyone participated, and everyone was subject to its lived transcendence of social and individual norms [emphasis mine]: “carnival travesties: it crowns and uncrowns, inverts rank, exchanges roles, makes sense from nonsense and nonsense of sense.”
So, the response to the murder of George Floyd is that art is opposition to the serious, to the dogmatic. and to resistance to change and evolution by means of the carnivalesque? I think that’s what this show is saying.
(For contrasting views, see Dorothy Woodend’s and Yani Kong’s pieces cited at the beginning of this post.)
2nd Challenge: The carnivalesque in the gallery
Bringing something that by its nature is rude, bawdy, chaotic, loud, smelly, high physical contact, participatory, etc. into an art gallery/museum, an institution not known for its tolerance of the unruly, has to be a fraught proposition.
A man, a cartoon penis, and his four year old daughter (unruliness)
Since 2017 when the Polygon Gallery opened (see a Nov. 18, 2017 article by Ben Bengtson for the North Shore News about the opening), it has had at least one incidence of unruliness (from a February 6, 2020 article by Brent Richter for the North Shore News),
Alex Goldkind was with his four-year-old daughter in Lower Lonsdale Feb. 1  when a gallery staffer invited them in for their monthly Kids First Saturday event on the upper floor.
On the main level, however, they were given a booklet that accompanies the current collage exhibition called I Spy, by Vancouver artist Elizabeth Zvonar, and were asked to circle images inside as they found them in the large collage on the wall. The first one Goldkind saw on the wall was an 18th century political cartoon depicting Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, with general Marquis de Lafayette, who is riding an ostrich shaped like male genitalia.
“Well, it’s a penis and balls. It’s pretty obvious, right? This is not rocket science here. I was just floored,” he said. “I just grabbed my daughter quickly before she saw it and I walked around the corner, just livid. I tore into all the staff there. I said ‘Are you guys insane? You’re inviting children into this?’”
Staff were so frightened by the outburst, they called the RCMP. [Royal Canadian Mounted Police; emphasis mine]
Here’s a photo of the angry parent,
Interestingly, there was an apology—for a lack of signage and clarity.
In addition to difficulty tolerating loud noises and angry people (or other unruliness?), there is at least one other aspect to the challenge of bringing the carnivalesque into an art gallery.
The ‘white cube’ aesthetic
White walls and an antiseptic environment are common in many art galleries built since the 1930s according to Dr. Elizabeth Rodini’s 2018(?) essay, A brief history of the art museum, for the Khan Academy,
… it was in the United States that some of the most influential trends in modern art museums also emerged. One of these is the “white cube” approach which, despite precedents in Europe, was most fully exploited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the 1930s under the direction of Alfred H. Barr. By minimizing visual distractions, Barr hoped to direct viewers toward a pure experience of the art work. The bare spaces, white walls, and minimalist frames he used are now so common that we hardly notice them.
The “white cube” was rooted in a philosophy that aimed to liberate art and artists from the conservative forces of history. Ironically, this model has taken over, and art museums from Rio to Abu Dhabi to Shanghai draw on similar exhibition tactics. This has led some museum critics to wonder if the “white cube” has itself become a vehicle of cultural control [emphasis mine].
Rodini goes on to explain further in the comments,
… Its not the whiteness of the walls nor the spare furnishing that are at issue in most critiques of the white cube. Instead, it is the practice of isolating the image and not giving the viewer information [emphasis mine] that would provide details about the object’s origin and its journey from the artist to the museum.This is often done to ensure a “pure” visual experience but it also withholds historical context that can substantially enhance the meaning of a given work of art.
Here’s an image from the slideshow embedded in Ben Bengtson’s Nov. 18, 2017 article about the Polygon Gallery opening,
Kudos to Ramsey and the Polygon Gallery folks for assembling a show with a broad range and providing a little context (take a tour or consult the guides provided online) in an environment that is, if not actively hostile, certainly difficult.
(clunk) The other shoe drops
Largely unmentioned during the tour, Bakhtin’s work, specifically the concept of the carnival/canivalesque, was relegated to a couple of mentions in the second paragraph describing the show and a Bakhtin quote from “Rabelais and His World” on a wall somewhere in the show:
“The interior infinite could not have been found in a closed and finished world, with its distinct fixed boundaries dividing all phenomena and values.” [I believe this alludes to Bakhtin’s notions of finalization and unfinalizability]
As it should be, the focus was on the artists. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to walk into a show where a literary theorist (Bakhtin) has supplied the theme and to hear only a single mention in the tour, which described him simply as a philosopher. (Ramsey gave the tour I attended.)
As for the Bakhtin quote, which is used a frame for this show, the tension between a show based on the unfinalizable, chaotic, rude world of the carnivalesque and the closed, finished (finalization) world of an art gallery in ‘Infinite Interior’ is never discussed.
(Segue) Bakhtin: protean thinker and one-legged man in Stalin’s world**
As far as I can tell, no one yet has been able to adequately summarize Bakhtin’s thinking (I’m not going to try), here’s an attempt from his entry on Wikipedia,
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (/bʌxˈtiːn/bukh-TEEN; Russian: Михаи́л Миха́йлович Бахти́н, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪdʑ bɐxˈtʲin]; 16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1895 – 7 March 1975) was a Russian philosopher, literary critic and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language [emphases mine]. His writings, on a variety of subjects, inspired scholars working in a number of different traditions (Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, religious criticism) and in disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Although Bakhtin was active in the debates on aesthetics and literature that took place in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, his distinctive position did not become well known until he was rediscovered by Russian scholars in the 1960s.
With regard to his personal history, Bakhtin was born in 1895 into a family of nobility and then experienced the 1917 Russian revolution followed by a famine and civil war (1918-21). [As for how Russia fared in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic/epidemic, it was one of at least two others [cholera and typhus] suffered through. See history professor Joshua Sanborn’s March 19, 2020 posting on the Russian History blog for more.)
Bakhtin completed his studies (1918) and was diagnosed with a bone disease (osteomyelitis) in 1923. He was apprehended by Soviet secret police and eventually exiled for six years to Kazakhstan (starting in 1928). Four years after his exile ended, his health improved (1938) when part of his right leg was amputated.
World War II (1939 -45) intervened and despite completing his PhD dissertation (Rabelais and His World) he wasn’t able to defend it until after the war. He seems to have defended it twice, in 1946 and, again, in 1949. The work had proved divisive and he was not awarded a doctoral degree (Doctor of Sciences) but, instead, received a lesser degree, Candidate of Sciences (a research doctorate).
He worked in obscurity for the better part of his life, finally receiving some attention in the mid-1960s when he was about 70. He died in 1975.
For anyone who’s interested in more about Bakhtin, I suggest
His work, which largely centered on language, written and spoken, with implications that reach far beyond, seems remarkably à propos in this moment but, given his life circumstances, it’s perhaps not entirely a surprise. **Note: There’s more about the circumstances under which Bakhtin lived at the end of this posting.
Sadly, I didn’t learn much about Bakhtin’s work or life during my June 25, 2021 tour given by curator Justin Ramsey. Perhaps I missed it but I wasn’t able to find anything on the Polygon website either;I had to do a lot of subsequent digging to find out more.
Back to Interior Infinite and the dropped shoe
You go upstairs to see the show and at the beginning there’s a description on the wall with a list of all the artists whose work you will be viewing. Oddly, given that there are writers, activists, and philosophers whose work is quoted and can be seen on the walls throughout the show, they did not rate a list beside the artists, nor are they mentioned in any materials about the show. Moving on.
White Cube syndrome and Interior Infinite
I longed for more context, not just with regard to Bakhtin and the carnivalesque, but the artists and the writers too. The audio guide and exhibition guide available on Polygon’s Interior Infinite audio guide webpage are helpful (neither was posted until June 30, 2021 after my visit) and I recommend them as an entry point to the show. There are also tours.
However and this is a good problem to have, the show touches on so many issues of the moment that a general tour is going to be frustrating. I was surprised that there don’t seem to be any plans for themed tours that highlight particular aspects of the show.
During the tour and during his curator’s talk, Ramsey did mention that there will be a drag event later this summer but neither it nor any other future show-related events are listed on the website at this time.
There’s a tendency to assume that people going on tours through an art exhibition are a ‘tabula rasa’, i.e., a blank slate. I’m guessing this is, at least in part, a legacy of education systems that still largely operate on that principle.
Note: I’ve taken more than one tour at various art gallery/museums in Vancouver and have found that the Rennie Museum is the best at including the tour members. Almost certainly the people guiding you through the exhibit will not only invite questions and comments but also allow time for you to respond. Even better, sometimes the guide will include something a tour member told them on a previous tour.
A complete list of the artists and the types of artwork featured
A new sculpture by 2020 Phillip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize runner up Lacie Burning (b. 1992, Brampton, ON) in the Reflection Series, depicting a cloaked figure wearing a mask made of mosaicked mirror fragments
A series of self-portraits by French surrealist photographer Claude Cahun (b. 1894, Nantes, France), whose practice exploring gender and sexual identity was ahead of its time
An original sound piece consisting of birdsong cut into Morse code, as an expansion of Charles Campbell’s (b. 1970, Jamaica) Actor Boy performance series
A soundsuit and video from acclaimed sculptor, dancer, and performance artist Nick Cave (b. 1959, Fulton, Missouri)
A portrait by 2020 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts recipient Dana Claxton (b. 1959, Yorkton, SK), featuring the artist wearing her collection of handmade leather handbags created by Indigenous artisans
A selection of photographs from Martine Gutierrez’s (b. 1989, Berkeley, California) self-made satirical fashion magazine Indigenous Woman
I both love and hate this show. It is rich with ideas and possibilities.
One of the reason this show is so difficult to embrace is that It’s hard to imagine someone like George Floyd (Wikipedia entry) who had a criminal record and was struggling at the time of his death would have felt welcome at Polygon’s ‘Interior Infinite’. BTW, my father would not have felt comfortable either. In his case, the issue would have been social class.
Given that his murder was the impetus for ‘Interior Infinite’, I expected to see some mention of him in the gallery or on the exhibition’s webpage.
As a writer, I’m disappointed (but unsurprised) that the people who provided text for the quotes on the gallery walls were not listed on the wall beside the list of artists. It’s almost as if the quotes are wallpaper.
Deeply thoughtful with regard to the artworks on display and social justice issues, It would have been helpful if Ramsey had shared more about how Bakhtin’s carnivalesque is invoked in this show. It’s as if the staff at the Polygon let me smell the baking but never offered me any cinnamon buns. How does the Bakhtin quote which alludes to his concepts of unfinalizability and finalization play a role in ‘Interior Infinite’?
Any Bakhtin scholars out there care to respond? Please do.
No mention of COVID-19 masks
In a show featuring masks, how do you not mention COVID-19 or any of the current discussion about masks? It’s one of the more curious omissions in the show.
A couple of thoughts
It seems to me that Ramsey let the show, the carnivalesque, and Bakhtin get away from him. The impulse towards finalization overcame him and so he presents the show, in his curator’s talk, as ‘art’s response’ to the murder of George Floyd and other instances of repression.
By contrast, Bakhtin’s carnivalesque in “Rabelais and His World” presents unfinalizability in the rude, bawdy, smelly, chaotic, loud, dangerous, grotesque place where identities are mocked, inverted, and made fun of.
Ultimately, Ramsey never grapples with (or even seems to acknowledge) the paradox at the heart of his project.
The failure doesn’t matter. Go see ‘Interior Infinite’ anyway. it’s worth the trip to the gallery. And, if you’re inclined, bring your carnivalesque spirit.
PS: If you see any mistakes or have any comments, please let me know via the commenting feature on this blog.
*Sheri Radford’s July 13, 2021 article for the Daily Hive added on July 26, 2021 at 13:40 PDT.
**July 28, 2021: The subhead “(Segue) Bakhtin: protean thinker and one-legged man in Stalin’s world” was corrected (‘and’ replaced ‘with’) and here’s more about the Bakhtin’s circumstances from Caryl Emerson’s “The First Hundred Years of Michail Bakhtin” 1997, Princeton University Press,
When Maxim Gorky laid down the Socialist Realist “rules” for creative literature in the Stalinist 1930s, and when Mikhail Bakhtin, then in political exile in Kazakhstan, wrote hundreds of pages that refuted those rules by invoking as exemplary ***different*** genres and different authors, both men were acting wholly within the tradition of Russian literary culture. For unlike America in much of its modern phase, literary accomplishment and criticism in Russia has mattered. You could get arrested and killed [emphasis mine] for it; thus educated society revered its poets and considered literary progress to be a bellwether of its own. (p. 10)
***July 29, 2021: ‘differed’ changed to ‘different
Interactive data visualization for children who want to learn about the universe in the form of a book was published by Penguin Books as “I am a book. I am a portal to the universe.” was first published in 2020. As of April 2021, it has crossed the Atlantic Ocean occasioning an April 16, 2021 article by Mark Wilson for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),
… A collaboration between data-centric designer Stefanie Posavec and data journalist Miriam Quick, …
“The pared-back aesthetic is due to the book’s core concept. The whole book, even the endnotes and acknowledgements, is written in the first person, in the book’s own voice. [emphasis mine] It developed its own rather theatrical character as we worked on it,” says Posavec. “The book speaks directly to the reader using whatever materials it has at its disposal to communicate the wonders of our universe. In the purest sense, that means the book’s paper and binding, its typeface and its CMYK [cyan, magenta, yellow, black] ink, or, as the book would call them, its ‘superpowers.’” [emphases mine]
It’s hard to explain without actually experiencing it. Which is exactly why it’s so much fun. For instance, at one moment, the book asks you to put it on your head [emphasis mine] and take it off. That difference in weight you feel? That’s how much lighter you are on the top of a mountain than at sea level, the book explains, because of the difference in gravity at different altitudes. …
I recommend reading Wilson’s April 16, 2021 article in its entirety if you have the time as it is peppered with images, GIFs, and illustrative stories.
“Typography and design combine thrillingly to form something that is
— Financial Times
Hello. I am a book. But I’m also a portal to the universe.
I have 112 pages, measuring 20cm high and wide. I weigh 450g. And I have the power to show you the wonders of the world.
I’m different to any other book around today. I am not a book of infographics. I’m an informative, interactive experience, in which the data can be touched, felt and understood, with every measurement represented on a 1:1 scale. How long is an anteater’s tongue? How tiny is the DNA in your cells? How fast is gold mined? How loud is the sun? And how many stars have been born and exploded in the time you’ve taken to read this sentence?
There is a September 2020 Conversations with Data podcast: Episode 13 (hosted by Tara Kelly on Spotify) featuring Stefanie Posavec (data-centric designer) and Miriam Quick (data journalist) discussing their book.
The ‘Inventive Podcast’ features the superstar engineers and fantastic fiction writers of the headline. The University of Salford (UK) launched the series on Wednesday, June 23, 2021or International Women in Engineering Day. Here’s more about the series from a June 21, 2021 University of Salford press release (Note: I liked the title so much I ‘borrowed’ it),
Superstar engineers and fantastic fiction writers collaborate on the brand-new Inventive Podcast
The University of Salford has announced the launch of the brand-new Inventive Podcast featuring the incredible stories of engineers whose innovative work is transforming the world we live in.
Professor Trevor Cox, Inventive Host and an Acoustical Engineer from the University of Salford said: “Engineering is so central to our lives, and yet as a subject it’s strangely hidden in plain sight. I came up with idea of Inventive to explore new ways of telling the story of engineering by mixing fact and fiction.” He went on to comment, “Given the vast number of podcasts out there, it’s surprising how few shows focus on engineering (beyond tech).”
The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences [Research] Council (EPSRC) and brings together two Schools at the University: Science, Engineering and Environment & Arts, Media and Creative Technology. The series will debut on Wednesday 23 June , International Women in Engineering Day, with a further with 6 new episodes dropping across the summer.
Over the course of the eleven-episode series, Professor Cox meets incredible Inventive engineers. In the first episode he interviews: electronics engineer, Shrouk el Attar, a refugee and campaigner for LGBT rights, recently awarded the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Prize for her work in femtech, smart tech that improves the lives of cis women and trans men, at the Institution of Engineering and Technology Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards 2021; structural engineer Roma Agrawal designed the foundation and spire of London’s The Shard; and chemical engineer Askwar Hilonga who didn’t have access to clean water growing up in his village in Tanzania, but has gone on to win the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for his water purification nano filter.
This podcast is not just for engineers and techies! Engineering is typically represented in the media by historical narratives or ‘boy’s toys’ approach – biggest, longest, tallest. We know that has limited appeal, so we set ourselves a challenge to reach a wider audience. Engineering needs to tell better stories with people at the centre. So, we’ve interwoven factual interviews with stories commissioned from fantastic writers: C M Taylor’s piece The Night Builder, is inspired by structural engineer Roma Agrawal and includes a Banksy-like figure who works with concrete. Science Fiction writer Emma Newman’s Healing the Fractured is inspired by engineer Greg Bowie who makes trauma plates to treat broke bones and is set in a dystopian future, reminiscent of Handmaid’s Tale, with the engineer as an unexpected hero.
I listened to Trevor Cox’s interview for the first and, so far, only Inventive episode, with engineer, Shrouk El-Attar, which includes award-winning writer and poet, Tania Hershman, performing her piece ‘Human Being As Circuit Board, Human Being as Dictionary‘ combining fiction, poetry and non-fiction based on El-Attar’s story. (Check out Shrouk El-Attar’s eponymous website here.)
I recognized one of the upcoming interview subjects, Askwar Hilonga, as his work with water filters in Tanzania has been featured here twice, notably in this June 16, 2015 posting.
The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is investigating the ‘Future of Being Human’ and has instituted a global call for proposals but there is one catch, your team has to have one person (with or without citizenship) who’s living and working in Canada. (Note: I am available.)
New program proposals should explore the long term intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet.
We invite bold proposals from researchers at universities or research institutions that ask new questions about our complex emerging world. We are confronting challenging problems that require a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences [emphasis mine]) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity.
CIFAR is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. We welcome proposals that include individuals from countries and institutions that are not yet represented in our research community.
Here’s a description, albeit, a little repetitive, of what CIFAR is asking researchers to do (from the Program Guide [PDF]),
For CIFAR’s next Global Call for Ideas, we are soliciting proposals related to The Future of Being Human, exploring in the long term the intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the natural world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet. We invite bold proposals that ask new questions about our complex emerging world, where the issues under study are entangled and dynamic. We are confronting challenging problems that necessitate a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity. [p. 2 print; p. 4 PDF]
The topics of human enhancement and human augmentation have been featured here a number of times from a number of vantage points, including that of a video game seires with some thoughtful story lines known under the Deus Ex banner. (My August 18, 2011 posting, . August 30, 2011 posting, and Sept. 1, 2016 posting are three, which mention Deus Ex in the title but there may be others where the game is noted in the posting.)
A March 19, 2021 posting by Timothy Geigner for Techdirt offers a more fulsome but still brief description of the games along with a surprising declaration (it’s too real) by the game’s creator (Note: Links have been removed),
The Deus Ex franchise has found its way onto Techdirt’s pages a couple of times in the past. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a cyberpunk-ish take on the near future with broad themes around human augmentation, and the weaving of broad and famous conspiracy theories. That perhaps makes it somewhat ironic that several of our posts dealing with the franchise have to do with mass media outlets getting confused into thinking its augmentation stories were real life, or the conspiracy theories that centered around leaks for the original game’s sequel were true. The conspiracy theories woven into the original Deus Ex storyline were of the grand variety: takeover of government by biomedical companies pushing a vaccine for a sickness it created, the illuminati, FEMA [US Federal Emergency Management Agency] takeovers, AI-driven surveillance of the public, etc.
And it’s the fact that such conspiracy-driven thinking today led Warren Spector, the creator of the series, to recently state that he probably wouldn’t have created the game today if given the chance. [See pull quote below]
… I’d like to focus on how clearly this illustrates the artistic nature of video games. The desire, or not, to create certain kinds of art due to the reflection such art receives from the broader society is exactly the kind of thing artists operating in other artforms have to deal with. Art imitates life, yes, but in the case of speculative fiction like this, it appears that life can also imitate art. Spector notes that seeing what has happened in the world since Deus Ex was first released in 2000 has had a profound effect on him as an artist. [See pull quote below]
It was possible for Geigner even back to an Oct. 18, 2013 posting to write about a UK newspaper that confused Deus Ex with reality,
… I bring you the British tabloid, The Sun, and their amazing story about an augmented mechanical eyeball that, if associated material is to be believed, allows you to see through walls, color-codes friends and enemies, and permits telescopic zoom. Here’s the reference from The Sun.
Oops. See, part of the reason that Sarif Industries’ cybernetic implants are still in their infancy is that the company doesn’t exist. Sarif Industries is a fictitious company from a cyberpunk video game, Deus Ex, set in a future Detroit. …
There’s more about Spector’s latest comments at a 2021 Game Developers Conference in a March 15, 2021 article by Riley MacLeod for Kotaku. There’s more about Warren Spector here. I always thought Deus Ex was developed by Canadian company, Eidos Montréal and, fter reading the company’s Wikipedia entry, it seems I may have been only partially correct.
Getting back to Deus Ex being ‘too real’, it seems to me that the line between science fiction and reality is increasingly frayed.
Both organizations are covering many of the same topics but they’ve adopted different tones for approaching them as evidenced in the titles. While I’ve characterized the congrès programme as lively, I’d characterize this conference programme as earnest.
Lucinda McKnight, lecturer at Deakin University, Australia, has a February 9, 2021 essay about literacy in the coming age of artificial intelligence (AI) for The Conversation (Note 1: You can also find this essay as a February 10, 2021 news item on phys.org; Note 2: Links have been removed),
Students across Australia have started the new school year using pencils, pens and keyboards to learn to write.
In workplaces, machines are also learning to write, so effectively that within a few years they may write better than humans.
Sometimes they already do, as apps like Grammarly demonstrate. Certainly, much everyday writing humans now do may soon be done by machines with artificial intelligence (AI).
The predictive text commonly used by phone and email software is a form of AI writing that countless humans use every day.
According to an industry research organisation Gartner, AI and related technology will automate production of 30% of all content found on the internet by 2022.
Some prose, poetry, reports, newsletters, opinion articles, reviews, slogans and scripts are already being written by artificial intelligence.
Literacy increasingly means and includes interacting with and critically evaluating AI.
This means our children should no longer be taught just formulaic writing. [emphasis mine] Instead, writing education should encompass skills that go beyond the capacities of artificial intelligence.
McKnight’s focus is on how Australian education should approach the coming AI writer ‘supremacy’, from her February 9, 2021 essay (Note: Links have been removed),
In 2019, the New Yorker magazine did an experiment to see if IT company OpenAI’s natural language generator GPT-2 could write an entire article in the magazine’s distinctive style. This attempt had limited success, with the generator making many errors.
But by 2020, GPT-3, the new version of the machine, trained on even more data, wrote an article for The Guardian newspaper with the headline “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?”
This latest much improved generator has implications for the future of journalism, as the Elon Musk-funded OpenAI invests ever more in research and development.
AI writing is said to have voice but no soul. Human writers, as the New Yorker’s John Seabrook says, give “color, personality and emotion to writing by bending the rules”. Students, therefore, need to learn the rules and be encouraged to break them.
Creativity and co-creativity (with machines) should be fostered. Machines are trained on a finite amount of data, to predict and replicate, not to innovate in meaningful and deliberate ways.
AI cannot yet plan and does not have a purpose. Students need to hone skills in purposeful writing that achieves their communication goals.
AI is not yet as complex as the human brain. Humans detect humor and satire. They know words can have multiple and subtle meanings. Humans are capable of perception and insight; they can make advanced evaluative judgements about good and bad writing.
There are calls for humans to become expert in sophisticated forms of writing and in editing writing created by robots as vital future skills.
… OpenAI’s managers originally refused to release GPT-3, ostensibly because they were concerned about the generator being used to create fake material, such as reviews of products or election-related commentary.
AI writing bots have no conscience and may need to be eliminated by humans, as with Microsoft’s racist Twitter prototype, Tay.
Critical, compassionate and nuanced assessment of what AI produces, management and monitoring of content, and decision-making and empathy with readers are all part of the “writing” roles of a democratic future.
It’s an interesting line of thought and McKnight’s ideas about writing education could be applicable beyond Australia., assuming you accept her basic premise.
I have a few other postings here about AI and writing:
“Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World” is being released on March 16, 2021.
The day before the book’s release date, March 15, 2021 at 12 pm, author Cade Metz will be having a ‘fireside chat’ with Graham Taylor, associate professor at the University of Guelph and Canada CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) AI (artificial intelligence) chair and Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence at the University of Toronto faculty member, (Preregistration for the event will make you eligible for a prize draw, if you’re a Canadian resident.)
Join author and New York Times technology writer Cade Metz and Canada CIFAR AI chair and Vector Institute faculty member Graham Taylor for a dynamic ‘virtual fireside’ discussion that explores the past, present and future of AI.
Vector Institute is proud to host this special event marking the launch of Metz’s new book, GENIUS MAKERS, which traces the thrilling history of artificial intelligence – including the mavericks who brought AI to leading companies and the world. Together, Metz and Taylor will explore the inspiration for writing the book, the experience of interviewing the trailblazers who have shaped the thrilling and still-unfolding evolution of AI and the challenges and opportunities ahead in Canada and beyond.
AI innovators, researchers, business leaders, policymakers and enthusiasts alike will benefit from new perspectives on unlocking the transformative potential of AI while balancing issues of national interests, shareholder value, commercialization, the pursuit of scientific knowledge and concerns about privacy and bias – and more.
An audience Q&A session will follow the discussion.
12 noon: Welcome and opening
12:05-12:40: Discussion, Cade Metz & Graham Taylor
12:40-12:55: Q&A Session
REGISTER EARLY FOR A CHANCE TO WIN
Those who pre-register by Sunday, March 14, 2021, 11:59pmET are eligible to be entered in a draw for one of two complimentary copies of Genius Makers by Cade Metz. Draw to be held by 6pm ET on March 15; winners will be notified by email. Open to Canadian residents only.
What does it mean to be smart? To be human? What do we really want from life and the intelligence we have, or might create?
With deep and exclusive reporting, across hundreds of interviews, New York Times Silicon Valley journalist Cade Metz brings you into the rooms where these questions are being answered. Where an extraordinarily powerful new artificial intelligence has been built into our biggest companies, our social discourse, and our daily lives, with few of us even noticing.
Long dismissed as a technology of the distant future, artificial intelligence was a project consigned to the fringes of the scientific community. Then two researchers changed everything. One was a sixty-four-year-old computer science professor who didn’t drive and didn’t fly because he could no longer sit down—but still made his way across North America for the moment that would define a new age of technology. The other was a thirty-six-year-old neuroscientist and chess prodigy who laid claim to being the greatest game player of all time before vowing to build a machine that could do anything the human brain could do.
They took two very different paths to that lofty goal, and they disagreed on how quickly it would arrive. But both were soon drawn into the heart of the tech industry. Their ideas drove a new kind of arms race, spanning Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and OpenAI, a new lab founded by Silicon Valley kingpin Elon Musk. But some believed that China would beat them all to the finish line.
Genius Makers dramatically presents the fierce conflict between national interests, shareholder value, the pursuit of scientific knowledge, and the very human concerns about privacy, security, bias, and prejudice. Like a great Victorian novel, this world of eccentric, brilliant, often unimaginably yet suddenly wealthy characters draws you into the most profound moral questions we can ask. And like a great mystery, it presents the story and facts that lead to a core, vital question:
How far will we let it go?
Let me understand this: two men will be discussing how two men developed the current artificial intelligence scene and the titanic struggle taking place. Between US companies and between the US and China. (pause)
That’s certainly one way to look at it.
It seems odd that there’d be a ‘Canadian’ book launch, unless you consider this from my March 31, 2017 posting about the Vector Institute,
… Geoffrey Hinton, considered the “godfather” of deep learning for the breakthroughs he made while a professor at U of T, has worked for Google since 2013 in California and Toronto
I’m guessing Hinton might be one of Metz’s ‘genius makers’.
By the way, Hinton’s longest running academic association is with the University of Toronto (professor from 1987 – 98, 2001 – present).