This is not the first time that I’ve come across information such as this. According to a September 28, 2023 posting by Karl Bode for the TechDirt website, companies in Silicon Valley (California, US) are hiring poets (and other writers) to help train AI (artificial intelligence), Note: Links have been removed,
… however much AI hype-men would like to pretend AI makes human beings irrelevant, they remain essential for the underlying illusion and reality to function. As such, a growing number of Silicon Valley companies are increasingly hiring poets, English PHDs, and other writers to write short stories for LLMs [language learning models] to train on in a bid to improve the quality of their electro-mimics:
“A string of job postings from high-profile training data companies, such as Scale AI and Appen, are recruiting poets, novelists, playwrights, or writers with a PhD or master’s degree. Dozens more seek general annotators with humanities degrees, or years of work experience in literary fields. The listings aren’t limited to English: Some are looking specifically for poets and fiction writers in Hindi and Japanese, as well as writers in languages less represented on the internet.”
So it’s clear we still have a long way to go before these technologies actually get anywhere close to matching both the hype and employment apocalypse many predicted. LLMs are effectively mimics that create from what already exists. Since it’s not real artificial intelligence, it’s still not actually capable of true creativity:
“They are trained to reproduce. They are not designed to be great, they try to be as close as possible to what exists,” Fabricio Goes, who teaches informatics at the University of Leicester, told Rest of World, explaining a popular stance among AI researchers. “So, by design, many people argue that those systems are not creative.”
The problem remains that while the underlying technology will continuously improve, the folks rushing to implement it without thinking likely won’t. Most seem dead set on using AI primarily as a bludgeon against labor in the hopes the public won’t notice the drop in quality, and professional writers, editors, and creatives won’t mind increasingly lower pay and tenuous position in the food chain.
In the last paragraph, Bode appears to be alluding to the Writers Guild of America strike (known popularly as the Hollywood writers strike), which ended on September 26, 2023 (for more details, see this September 26, 2023 article by Samantha Delouya for CNN).
Four years ago, I used this head “Ghosts, mechanical turks, and pseudo-AI (artificial intelligence)—Is it all a con game?” for a more in depth look at how AI is overhyped; see my September 24, 2019 posting.
Be careful not to fall, is a familiar stricture when applied to ‘leaning out of windows’ supplying a frisson of danger to the ‘lean’ but in German, ‘aus dem Fenster lehnen’ or ‘lean out of the window’, is an expression for interdisciplinarity. It’s a nice touch for a book about an art/physics collaboration where it can feel ‘dangerous’ to move so far out of your comfort zone. The book is described this way in its Vancouver (Canada) Public Library catalogue entry,
Art and physics collide in this expansive exploration of how knowledge can be translated across disciplinary communities to activate new aesthetic and scientific perspectives.
Leaning Out of Windows shares findings from a six-year collaboration by a group of artists and physicists exploring the connections and differences between the language they use [emphasis mine], the means by which they develop knowledge, how that knowledge is visualized, and, ultimately, how they seek to understand the universe. Physicists from TRIUMF, Canada’s particle physics accelerator, presented key concepts in the physics of Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces to artists convened by Emily Carr University of Art + Design; the participants then generated conversations, process drawings, diagrams, field notes, and works of art. The “wondrous back-and-forth” of this process allowed both scientists and artists to, as Koenig [Ingrid Koenig] and Cutler [Randy Lee Cutler] describe, “lean out of our respective fields of inquiry and inhabit the infinite spaces of not knowing.”
From this leaning into uncertainty comes a rich array of work towards furthering the shared project of artists and scientists in shaping cultural understandings of the universe: Otoniya J. Okot Bitek reflects on the invisible forces of power; Jess H. Brewer contemplates emergence, free will, and magic; Mimi Gellman looks at the resonances between Indigenous Knowledge and physics; Jeff Derksen finds Hegelian dialectics within the matter-antimatter process; Sanem Güvenç considers the possibilities of the void; Nirmal Raj ponders the universe’s “special moment of light and visibility” we happen to inhabit; Sadira Rodrigues eschews the artificiality of the lab for a “boring berm of dirt”; and Marina Roy metaphorically turns beams of stable and radioactive gold particles into art of pigments, oils, liquid plastic, and wood. Combined with additional essays, diagrams, and artworks, these texts and artworks live in the intersection of disparate fields that nonetheless share a deep curiosity of the world and our place within it, and a dedication to building and sharing knowledges.
Self-published, “Leaning Out of Windows: An Art and Physics Collaboration” and edited by Ingrid Koenig & Randy Lee Cutler (who also wrote many of the essays) was produced through an entity known as Figure 1 (located in Vancouver). It can be purchased for $45 CAD here on the Figure 1 website or $41.71 (CAD?) on Amazon. (Weirdly, if you look at the back outside cover you’ll see a price of $45 USD.)
Kind of a book
“Leaning” functions as three kinds of books in one package. First, it is documentation for a six year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), second, a collection of essays, and, third, a catalogue for three inter-related exhibitions. (Aside: my focus is primarily on the text for an informal book review.)
Like an art exhibition catalogue, this book is printed in a large, awkward to hold format, with shiny (coated) pages. It makes reading the essays and documentation a little challenging but perfect for a picture book/coffee table book where the images are supposed to look good.
I particularly liked the maps for the various phases of the project and the images for phase 1 showing what happens when an image is passed from one artist to the next, without explanation, asking for a new image to be produced and passed on to yet another artist and so on. There is no discussion amongst the artists about the initial impetus (the first artist in the stream of four met with physicists at a science symposium to talk about antimatter).
Unexpectedly, the documentation proved to be a highlight for me. BTW, you can find out more about the Leaning Out of Windows (LOoW) project (e.g. participants, phases, and art/science resources) on its website.
Koenig should be congratulated for getting as much publicity for the book as possible, given the topic and that there are no celebrities involved. CBC gave it a mention (May 8, 2023) on its Books: Leaning Out of Windows webpage. It also got a mention by Dana Gee in a May 12, 2023 ‘Books brief‘ posting on the Vancouver Sun website.
Plus, there were a couple of articles in an art magazine highlighting the art/science project while it was in progress featuring the few images I was about to access online for this project.
A January 6, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig introduces the project (Note: I’ll revisit the “metaphor and analogy” mention in this article and throughout the LOoW book later in this post),
The disciplines of art and physics share certain critical perspectives: both deal with how metaphor and analogy inform creative processes. Additionally, artists and physicists address issues of the imagination, creative thinking and communication, and how meaning is made through theoretical research and process-based investigations. There are also important differences in these perspectives. Art brings an appreciation for abstract or non-representational practices. Physics research addresses complex problems relevant to understanding the study of matter and motion through space and time. Physicists also contribute knowledge about how the universe behaves. Together, the achievements of art and physics allow the possibility of a much richer understanding of the nature of reality than each field can contribute individually.
There’s a January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Perrin Grauer featuring Mimi Gellman, Note: A link has been removed,
Artwork by artist and ECU Associate Professor Mimi Gellman was selected to appear on the cover of the current issue of Canadian Art magazine.
The gleaming, otherworldly image graces the magazine’s issue on antimatter —a subject which “presents a mirror world of abstract phenomena: time reversals, mutual annihilation, cosmic rays, cloud chambers, an infinite sea of sub-atomic particles that parallels our ‘real’ world of matter,” according to the issue’s editors.
Mimi describes her work as approaching some of the affinities between the biological, the perceptual, the cultural and the astronomical.
“My drawings do not explore the exterior world we perceive but rather what I call the ‘architecture of consciousness’ which permits us to perceive it,” she says.
“Recalling astronomical diagrams and reflecting the mixture of hybrid cultural worldviews in my background, they reveal deep similarities between the dimension explored by sub-atomic physics and the implicit interiority of contemporary art.”
I’m sorry I never saw any announcements for the project exhibitions, all of which seemed to have taken place at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. There were three concepts each explored in three exhibitions, with different artists each time, titled: Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces, respectively.
A bouquet or two and a few nitpicks
Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig have a wonderful quote from Karen Barad, physicist and philosopher, in their essay titled, “Collaborative Research between Artists and Physicists,”
Barad introduces the concept of intra-action and the fluidity of materialization through our bodily entanglements—through intra-action our bodies remain entangled with those around us. “Not only subjects but also objects are permeated through and through with their entangled kin, the other is not just in one’s skin, but in one’s bones, in one’s belly in one’s heart, in one’s nucleus, in one’s past and future.This is a true for electrons as it is for brittlestars as it is for the differentially constituted human.” As Barad asks herself, “How do I know where my physics begins and ends?” … [p. 13]
To the left of the page is a black and white photograph of entangled cables captioned, “GRIFFIN (Gamma Ray Infrastructure for Fundamental Investigations of Nuclei- TRIUMF.” It’s a nice touch and points to the difficulty of ‘illustrating’ or producing visual art in response to physics ideas such as quantum entanglement, something Einstein called, ‘spooky action at a distance’. From the Quantum entanglement Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon that occurs when a group of particles are generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others [[emphasis mine], including when the particles are separated by a large distance [emphasis mine]. The topic of quantum entanglement is at the heart of the disparity between classical and quantum physics: entanglement is a primary feature of quantum mechanics not present in classical mechanics.
Some of the essays
One essay that stood out in LOoW, was “A Boring Berm of Dirt’ (pp. 141-7) by Sadira Rodrigues. She notes that dirt and soil are not the same; one is dead (dirt) and the other is living (soil) and that the berm has an important role at TRIUMF. If you want a more specific discussion of the difference between dirt and soil, see David Beaulieu’s February 23, 2023 essay (Soil vs. Dirt: What’s the Difference?) on The Spruce website.
Rodrigues’ essay (part of the Emergence concept) situates the work physically (word play alert: physics/physically) whereas all of the other work is based on ideas.
In “Boring Berm … ,” radioactivity is mentioned, a term which is largely taboo these days due its association with poisoning, bombs, and death. The eassy goes into fascinating detail about TRIUMF’s underground facility and how the facility deals with its nuclear waste and the role that the berm plays. (On a more fanciful note, the danger in the title of the book is given another dimension in this essay focused on nuclear topics.) Regardless, the essay was definitely an eye-opener.
Aside: The institution has been rebranded from: TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) to: TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre). You can find a reference to the ‘nuclear’ name in my October 2, 2018 posting although the name was already changed, probably in the early to mid-2010s. There is no mention of the ‘nuclear’ name in TRIUMF’s Wikipedia entry, accessed August 22, 2023.
Gellman and language
Mimi Gellman’s essay, “Crossing No Divide: Mapping Affinities in Art and Science” evokes unity, as can be seen in the title. She’s one of the more ‘lyrical’ writers,
There is a place in our imagination where east or west, or large or small, or any other opposites cease to be productive contradictions. As an artist and educator, I have become interested in the non-binary and resonance between Indigenous Knowledge and physics, between art and science, and between traditional ways of considering cognition and thinking with the hand. [p. 33]
This is how Gellman is described for the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine, which is archived on the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) website,
Mimi Gellman is an Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi (Ojibway-Jewish Métis) visual artist and educator with a multi-streamed practice in architectural glass and conceptual installation. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Culture + Community at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada, and is completing her research praxis PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University on the metaphysics of Indigenous mapping.
She highlights some interesting observations about language and thinking,
The Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin, like many Indigenous languages is verb-based in contrast with Western languages’ noun-based constructions and these have deep implications for the development of one’s worldview. …
I suspect anyone who speaks more than one language can testify to the observation that language affects one’s worldview. More academically, it’s called linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I find it hard to believe that it’s considered a controversial idea but here goes from the Linguistic relativity Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
The idea of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis /səˌpɪər ˈhwɔːrf/ sə-PEER WHORF, the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus individuals’ languages determine or shape their perceptions of the world.
The hypothesis has long been controversial, and many different, often contradictory variations have existed throughout its history. The strong hypothesis of linguistic relativity, now referred to as linguistic determinism, says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and restrict cognitive categories. This was held by some of the early linguists before World War II, but it is generally agreed to be false by modern linguists. Nevertheless, research has produced positive empirical evidence supporting a weaker version of linguistic relativity: that a language’s structures influence and shape a speaker’s perceptions, without strictly limiting or obstructing them.
Gettng back to Gellman, language, linguistic relativity, worldviews, and, adding physics/science, she quotes James (Sa’ke’j) Youngblood Henderson “a research fellow at the Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan College of Law. He was born to the Bear Clan of the Chickasaw Nation and Cheyenne Tribe in Oklahoma in 1944 and is married to Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaw educator. In 1974, he received a juris doctorate in law from Harvard Law School,”
[at a 1993 dialogue between Western and Indigenous scientists …]
[Youngblood Henderson] We don’t have one god. You need a noun-based language to have one god. We have forces. All forces are equal and you are just the amplifier of the forces. The way you conduct your life and the dignity you give to other things gives you access to other forces. Even trees are verbs instead of nouns. The Mi’kmaq named their trees for the sound the wind makes when it blows through the trees during the autumn about an hour after the sunset, when the wind usually comes from a certain direction. So one might be like a ‘shu-shu’ something and another more like a ‘tinka-tinka’ something. Although physics in the western world has been essentially the quest for the smallest noun (which used to be a-tom, ‘that which cannot be further divided’), as they were inside the atom things weren’t acting like nouns anymore. The physicists were intrigued with the possibilities inherent in a language that didn’t depend on nouns but could move right to verbs when the circumstances were appropriate.3
This work from Gellman is a favourite of mine, and is featured in the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine and you’ll find it in the book,
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Theodor W. Adorno, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were unexpected guest stars in Derksen’s essay, “From Two to Another: The Anti-Matter Series,” given that he is an award-winning poet. These days he has this on his profile page on the Department of English, Simon Fraser University website, “Dean and Associate Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are well known as materialists, having helped define a materialist view of history, of economics and of capitalism. And both Marx and Engels aimed to develop Marxism as a science rather than a model based on naturalizing capitalism and “man.” … [p. 89]
Derksen includes a diagram/poem, for which I can’t find a digitized copy, but here’s what he had to say about it,
My mode of looking at this [antimatter] is through poetic research —which itself does not aim to arrive at a synthesis but instead looks for relational moments. In this I also see a poetic language emerge from both discourses [artistic/scientific]—matter-antimatter thought and dialectical thinking. For my contribution to Leaning Out of Windows, I have tried to combine the scientific aspect of dialectical thinking with the poetic aspect of matter-antimatter thought and experimentation. To do this, I have taken the diagrammatic rendering of Carl Anderson’s experiment which resulted in his 1932 paper … as a model to relate the dialectical thinking at the heart of Marxism and matter-antimatter thought. …
Towards the end of his essay, Derksen notes that he’s working (on what I would call) a real poem. I sent an email to Derksen on August 21, 2023 asking,
Have you written the poem or is still in progress?
If you have written it, has it been published or is it being readied for publication? I would be happy to mention where.
If you do have it ready and would like to ‘soft launch’ the poem, could you send it to me for inclusion in the post?
No response at this time.
Flashback to Alan Storey
I think it was 2002 or 2003 when I first heard about an artist at TRIUMF, Alan Storey. The ‘residency’ was the product of a joint effort between the Canada Council for the Arts (Canada Council) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).
I spoke with Storey towards the end of his ;residency; and he was a little disappointed because nothing much had come of it. Nobody really seemed to know what to do with an artist at a nuclear facility and he didn’t really didn’t seem to know either. (Alan Storey’s work can be seen in the City of Vancouver’s collection of public art works here and on his website.)
My guess is that someone had a great idea but didn’t think past the ‘let’s give money to science institutions so they can host some artists who will magically produce wonderful things for us’ stage of thinking. While there is no longer a Canada Council/NSERC programme, it’s clear from LOoW (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC]) that lessons have been learned.
Kudos to David Morissey who acted as an interface and convenor for the artists and to Nigel Smith (Director 2021 – present) and Jonathan Bagger (Director 2014 – 2020) for supporting the project from the TRIUMF side and to Ingrid Koenig and Randy Lee Cutler who organized and facilitated LOoW from the artists’ side.
Now, for the nits
“Co-thought” is mentioned a number of times. What is it? According to my searches, it has something to do with gestures. Here’s one of the few reference I could find for co-thought,
Co-thought and co-speech gestures are generated by the same action generation process by Mingyuan Chu and Sotaro Kita. Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2016 Feb;42(2):257-70. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000168. Epub 2015 Aug 3.
People spontaneously gesture when they speak (co-speech gestures) and when they solve problems silently (co-thought gestures) [emphasis mine]. In this study, we first explored the relationship between these 2 types of gestures and found that individuals who produced co-thought gestures more frequently also produced co-speech gestures more frequently (Experiments 1 and 2). This suggests that the 2 types of gestures are generated from the same process. We then investigated whether both types of gestures can be generated from the representational use of the action generation process that also generates purposeful actions that have a direct physical impact on the world, such as manipulating an object or locomotion (the action generation hypothesis). To this end, we examined the effect of object affordances on the production of both types of gestures (Experiments 3 and 4). We found that individuals produced co-thought and co-speech gestures more often when the stimulus objects afforded action (objects with a smooth surface) than when they did not (objects with a spiky surface). These results support the action generation hypothesis for representational gestures. However, our findings are incompatible with the hypothesis that co-speech representational gestures are solely generated from the speech production process (the speech production hypothesis).
It would have been nice if Koenig and Cutler had noted they were borrowing a word ot coining a word and explaining how it was being used in the LOoW context.
Fruit, passports, and fishing trips
The editors/writers use the words or variants, metaphor, poetry, and analogy with great abandon.
“Fruitful bridge” (top of page) and “fruitful match-ups” (bottom of page) on p. 18 seemed a bit excessive as did the “metaphorical passport” on p. 5.
I choked a bit over this on p. 19, “… these artist/scientist interactions can be seen as ‘procedural metaphors’ that enact a thought experiment … .” Procedural metaphor? It seems a bit of a stretch.
A last example and it’s a pair: “metaphorical fishing trips whereby artist and scientists received whatever they might reel in …” on p. 42 (emphases mine). Fishing trips are mentioned in a later essay too, one of the few times there’s some sort of follow through on an analogy.
Maybe someone who wasn’t involved with the project should have taken a look at the text before it was sent to the printer.
Using the words, poetry, metaphor, and analogy can be tricky and, I want to emphasize that in my opinion, those words were not often put to good use in this book.
Moving on, arts and sciences together have a longstanding history.
*ETA October 3, 2023: Ooops! I had a comment about the use of the word ‘passports’ in the book but somewhere in all my edits, I cut it out. (huff)*
Poetry and physics
One of the giants of 19th century physics, James Clerk Maxwell was also known for his poetry. and some of the most evocative (poetic) text in the LOoW book can be found in the quotes from various physicists of the 20th century. The link between physicist and poetry is explicit in a September 17, 2018 posting (12 poignant poems (and one bizarre limerick) written by physicists about physics) by Colin Hunter for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.
Going back further, there’s De rerum natura, a poem in six books, by Lucretius ((c. 99 BCE– c. 55 BCE). Amongst many other philosophical concerns (e.g., the nature of mind and soul, etc.), Lucretius also discussed atomism (“… a natural philosophy proposing that the physical universe is composed of fundamental indivisible components known as atoms; from the Atomism Wikipedia entry). So, poetry and physics have a long history.
Leaving aside Derksen’s diagram/poem, there’s a dearth of poetry in the book except for a suite of seven poems from TRIUMF physicist and professor at UBC, Jess Brewer following his “Emergence, Free Will and Magic” essay,
Emergence / An extremely brief history of one universe, expressed as a series of science fiction poems by Jess H. Brewer, June 29, 2019
Inspired by Dyson Freeman’s delightful lecture series , “Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe,” Reviews of Modern Physics (51) 1979
1. Bang Why not? For reasons known only to itself, the universe begins The quantum foam of spacetime seethes with effortless energies, entering and exiting this continuum with a turbulent intensity transcending the superficially smooth expanding cosmos and yet it kens the glacial passage of “time”, because it waits. And kens the vast reaches of “space”, because it watches, Its own experiences has taught it that from each iteration of complexity, awareness will emerge.
… [p. 149]
My thanks to Brewer for the poetry and magic and my apologies for any mistakes I’ve introduced into his piece. I was trying to be especially careful with the punctuation as that can make quite a difference to how a piece is read.
While Muriel Rukeyser is not a physicist at TRIUMF or, indeed, alive, one of her poems leads the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,” by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig,
Time comes into it Say it. Say it. The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.. —Muriel Ruykeyser, Speed of Darkness, 1968
Muriel Rukeyser was a poet, playwright, biographer, children’s book author, and political activist. Indeed, for Rukeyser, these activities and forms of expression were linked. …
One of Rukeyser’s intentions behind writing biographies of nonliterary persons was to find a meeting place between science and poetry. [emphasis mine] In an analysis of Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, Virginia Terris argued that Rukeyser believed that in the West, poetry and science are wrongly considered to be in opposition to one another. Thus, writes Terris, “Rukeyser [set] forth her theoretical acceptance of science … [and pointed] out the many parallels between [poetry and science]—unity within themselves, symbolic language, selectivity, the use of the imagination in formulating concepts and in execution. [emphasis mine] Both, she believe[d], ultimately contribute to one another.”
Rokeyser’s poem raised a few questions. Is her poem a story? Or, is she using symbolic language, the poem, to poke fun at stories and atoms? Is she suggesting that atoms are really stories? I found the poem evocative especially with where it was placed in the book.
Morrissey takes a prosaic approach, from the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,”
… [in response to Rukeyser’s claim about stories] Morrissey responded stating that “scientific theories are stories—but how we evaluate stories is important—they need to be true, but they do probe, and some are more popular than others, especially theories that we can’t measure.” He surprised us further when he said that wrong stories can also be useful—they may have elements in them that turn out to be useful for future research. … [pp. 205-6]
In general and throughout this project, it seems as if they (artists and physicists) tried but, for the most part, were never quite able to articulate in poetic, metaphoric, and analogical forms. They tended to fall back onto their preferred modes of scientific notations, prosaic language, and artworks.
Both sides of the knife blade cut
Everybody does it. Poets, academics, artists, scientists, etc. we all appropriate ideas and language, sometimes without understanding them very well. Take this for example, from the Canadian Broadcasting’s (CBC) Books “Elementary Particles” August 16, 2023 webpage,
Elementary Particles by Sneha Madhavan-Reese
A poetry collection about family history and scientific exploration
Through keen, quiet observation, Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s evocative new collection takes us from the wide expanse of rural India to the minute map of Michigan we carry on the palms of our hands. These poems contemplate ancestral language, the wonder and uncertainty of scientific discovery, the resilience of a dung beetle, the fleeting existence of frost flowers on the Arctic Ocean.
The collection is full of familiar characters, from Rosa Parks to Seamus Heaney to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, anchoring it in specific moments in time and place, but has the universality that comes from exploring the complex relationship between a child and her immigrant parents, and in turn, a mother and her children. Elementary Particles examines the building blocks of a life — the personal, family, and planetary histories, transformations, and losses we all experience. (From Brick Books)
Sneha Madhavan-Reese is a writer currently based in Ottawa. In 2015 she received Arc Poetry Magazine’s Diana Brebner Prize and was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her previous poetry collection is called Observing the Moon
As you can see, there’s no substantive mention of physics in this book description—it’s just a title. Puzzling since there’s this about the author on Asian Heritage Canada’s Sneha Madhavan-Reese webpage
Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s award winning poetry has been widely published in literary magazines in North America and Australia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2000, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2002. Madhavan-Reese currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario. [emphases mine]
It seems the mechanical engineer did not write up her book blurb because even though the poet’s scientific specialty is not physics as such, I’d expect a better description.
In the end, it seems art and science or poetry and science (in this case, physics) sells.
Alchemy, beauty, and Marx’s surprise connection to atomism
It was unexpected to see a TRIUMF physicist reference alchemy. The physicists haven’t turned lead into gold but they have changed one element into another. If memory holds it was one metallic atom being changed into another type of metallic atom. (Having had to return the book to the library, memory has serve.)
The few references to alchemy that I’ve stumbled across elsewhere in my readings of assorted science topics are derogatory, hence the surprise. Things may be changing; Princeton University Press published a November 7, 2018 posting by author William R. Newman about Newton and alchemy. First, here’s a bit about William Newman,
William R. Newman is Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at Indiana University. His many books include Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution and Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
People often say that Isaac Newton was not only a great physicist, but also an alchemist. This seems astonishing, given his huge role in the development of science. Is it true, and if so, what is the evidence for it?
WN: The astonishment that Newton was an alchemist stems mostly from the derisive opinion that many moderns hold of alchemy [emphasis mine]. How could the man who discovered the law of universal gravitation, who co-invented calculus, and who was the first to realize the compound nature of white light also engage in the seeming pseudo-science of alchemy? There are many ways to answer this question, but the first thing is to consider the evidence of Newton’s alchemical undertaking. We now know that at least a million words in Newton’s hand survive in which he addresses alchemical themes. Much of this material has been edited in the last decade, and is available on the Chymistry of Isaac Newton site at www.chymistry.org. Newton wrote synopses of alchemical texts, analyzed their content in the form of reading notes and commentaries, composed florilegia or anthologies made up of snippets from his sources, kept experimental laboratory notebooks that recorded his alchemical research over a period of decades, and even put together a succession of concordances called the Index chemicus in which he compared the sayings of different authors to one another. The extent of his dedication to alchemy was almost unprecedented. Newton was not just an alchemist, he was an alchemist’s alchemist.
The ‘beauty’ essay by Ingrid Koenig was also a surprise. Beauty seems to be anathema to contemporary artists. I wrote this in an August 23, 2016 posting (Georgina Lohan, Bharti Kher, and Pablo Picasso: the beauty and the beastliness of art [in Vancouver]), “It seems when it comes to contemporary art, beauty is transgressive.”
Koenig describes it as irrelevant for contemporary artists and yet, beauty is an important attribute to physicists. Her thoughts on beauty in visual art and in physics were a welcome addition to the book.
Marx’s connection to atomism
This will take a minute.
De rerum natura, a six-volume poem by Lucretius (mentioned under the Poetry and physics subhead of this posting), helped to establish the concept of atomism. As it turns out, Lucretius got the idea from earlier thinkers, Epicurus and Democritus.
This chapter turns to Karl Marx’s treatment of Epicureanism and Lucretius [emphasis mine] in his doctoral dissertation, and argues that the questions raised by Marx may be brought to bear on our own understanding of Epicurean philosophy, particularly in respect of a tension between determinism and individual self-consciousness in a universe governed by material causation. Following the contours of Marx’s dissertation [emphasis mine], the chapter focusses on three key topics: the difference between Democritus’ and Epicurus’ methods of philosophy; the swerve of the atom; and the so-called ‘meteors’, or heavenly bodies [emphasis mine]. Marx sought to develop Hegel’s understanding of Epicurus, in particular by elevating the principle of autonomous action to a first form of self-consciousness – a consideration largely mediated by Lucretius’ theorization of the atomic swerve and his poem’s overarching framework of liberating humans from the oppression of the gods.
Fascinating, eh? The rest of this is behind a paywall. For the interested, here’s a citation and link for the book,
Approaches to Lucretius; Traditions and Innovations in Reading the De Rerum Natura Edited by Donncha O’Rourke, University of Edinburgh
Publisher: Cambridge University Press Online publication date: June 2020 Print publication year: 2020 Online ISBN: 9781108379854
It’s a little surprising Derksen doesn’t mention the connection in his essay.
It’s an interesting book if not an easy one. (By the way, I wish they’d included an index.) You can get a preview of some of the artwork in the January 6, 2020 article on the Canadian Art Magazine website.
I can’t rid myself of the feeling that LOoW (the book) is meant to function as a ‘proof of concept’ for someone wanting to start an art/science department or programme at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, perhaps jointly with the University of British Columbia. It is highly unusual to see this sort of material in anything other than a research journal or as a final summary to the granting agency.
Should starting an art/science programme be the intention, I hope they are successful in getting such it together and, in the meantime, thank you to the physicists and artists for their work.
We should all ‘lean out of windows’ on occasion and, if it means, falling or encountering ‘dangerous, uncomfortable ideas’ then, that’s alright too.
Some of those early scientists were pretty wild (e.g., they experimented on themselves). This March 23, 2023 essay on The Conversation by Alexis Wolf, Research Associate on the Davy Notebooks Project, Lancaster University, and Andrew Lacey, Senior Research Associate on the Davy Notebooks Project, Lancaster University, sheds some light on one of those ‘wild ones’, Note: Links have been removed,
Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829) is usually remembered as the inventor of a revolutionary miner’s safety lamp. But his wild popularity came as much from his influence on popular culture as it did from his contributions to chemistry and applied science.
In the first few years of the 19th century, there was no hotter spectacle in London than Davy’s lectures at the Royal Institution. The carriage traffic jams caused by his keen audience led to the introduction of London’s first one-way street.
Hundreds of members of the public, many of them women, crowded into the lecture theatre to hear the charismatic Davy speak about his cutting edge research. They would watch demonstrations of his work, which often included elaborate explosions and other breathtaking displays.
In more recent times, Davy’s star has waned. Through our work on the Davy Notebooks Project, we aim to change that. Thanks to the help of thousands of volunteers, we’re creating the first digital edition of Davy’s 83 manuscript notebooks, an exciting and important collection that we’ll soon be able to share with readers all over the world.
The first lecture Davy gave at the Royal Institution was on the subject of galvanism (the electricity generated by chemical actions). The force was thought at the time to be capable of animating matter – or of bringing something dead to life.
That last paragraph certainly suggests the Frankenstein story as the essayists expand upon later,
Davy’s famous lectures on the animating power of electricity at the Royal Institution may have inspired a young Mary Shelley as she came up with the idea for Frankenstein (1818), a novel that questioned the boundaries of creation using emerging scientific ideas.
Shelley may have even modelled aspects of the charming but reckless Victor Frankenstein on Davy himself. In fact, many of the things that Davy said in his lectures were borrowed word-for-word to craft the fictional scientist’s dangerous experiments.
But, as Mary Shelley probably would have known, Davy was also a writer himself with close ties to the leading authors of his day. [Mary Shelley wrote her book on a trip to Switzerland which included Lord Byron.]
He was friends with poets Lord Byron and Robert Southey and had a hand in the creation of some of the greatest works of the Romantic period. This included editing the second edition of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1800).
And he wrote his own poetry – lots of it. The pages of Davy’s dozens of surviving notebooks are crammed full of poems, both published and obscure, which share space with the complex records of his scientific experiments, alongside the notes for Davy’s jaw-dropping lectures.
The Davy Notebooks Project, part of the Zooniverse (a citizen science web portal), has this from a researcher on its homepage,
As we see in his notebooks, Davy didn’t see the arts and the sciences as ‘two cultures’. In these manuscripts, we see poetry and chemical enquiry combined: both offered, for Davy, important ways of exploring the mysteries of the world around him.
According to the statistics on the site, the project is 96% complete but they appear to be still accepting volunteers.
The rest of the press release (Note: A link has been removed),
The authors of the study explain that meditation allows researchers to train their body for data collection – improving their capacity to capture unexpected insights and deal with uncertainty and transformation as they incorporate novel interpretations into their research.
The skills enable researchers to understand novel cultural practices. Poetic meditations may prepare the researchers to see the world with different eyes.
Publishing their findings in Journal ofMarketing Management, researchers at the University of Birmingham and Kedge Business School, Bordeaux, France, outline a radical new process to help researchers to enhance their work.
Pilar Rojas-Gaviria, from the University of Birmingham, commented: “Scientific wonder prompts us to ask questions about the purpose of consumption, the way markets are created and extended, and how life and human experience are attached to both.
“Academics have always developed theses to resolve questions and explain events, but mindfulness practice can make our bodies an instrument of research – gathering data from different environmental sources. Poetry offers qualitative researchers a useful tool to refigure their surroundings and shed new light on the data they work with.”
Poetic meditation allows researchers to reveal unexpected or previously unnoticed features of market and consumption environments – rather than simply reproducing existing categories and theories.
By recording and presenting poetic meditations through audio media, the researchers demonstrate poetry’s potential to stimulate new ideas that can influence how academics approach data collection or analysis.
The researchers demonstrate the technique with two poetic meditations focusing on the colours green and red. These audio presentations settle the listener into a relaxed state, before taking the listener on an intellectual journey into poetry and philosophy, and ending with a period of meditation.
Robin Canniford, from Kedge Business School, commented: “We believe this technique can inspire researchers to include sound recordings and data presentations in their publications – creating a different approach to communicating and understandingtheir findings.
“Creating a poetic meditation might be a first step in a researcher’s journey that uncovers new sensations, interpretations, and questions – reaching towards unconventional and impactful responses in our research, even when answers seem to be far in the future.”
Poetry in marketing is already proven to be an effective research method to challenge conventional thinking in areas such as branding. It has helped marketers understand markets and consumers – engaging in conversations that capture how people consume products and services.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper (where you’ll find an audio file of this paper and supplementary audio files of poetry),
This paper is open access and because I quite like it, here’s the,
How does one use one’s body in qualitative research? Poetic meditation is a technique that offers to enhance researchers’ sensory capacities and embodied practices in research. By using mindfulness practice as a means to relax and focus on sensations, scholars can prepare to embody data collection so as to encounter multiple environmental features including, but not limited to the visual and textual. So too is poetic meditation intended as a tool to help researchers to encounter mysterious moments and to refigure their surroundings in ways that explicitly reframe sensemaking and representation. This companion essay to recorded poetic meditations encourages researchers to embrace mystery as a pathway to knowledge-making, and to build confidence to creatively step outside of common linguistic and theoretical modes.
Maxwell is James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish mathematician and scientist, considered a genius for his work on electromagnetism. His ‘demon’ is a thought experiment that has influenced research for over 150 years as this November 29, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily makes clear,
A team of quantum engineers at UNSW [University of New South Wales] Sydney has developed a method to reset a quantum computer — that is, to prepare a quantum bit in the ‘0’ state — with very high confidence, as needed for reliable quantum computations. The method is surprisingly simple: it is related to the old concept of ‘Maxwell’s demon’, an omniscient being that can separate a gas into hot and cold by watching the speed of the individual molecules.
“Here we used a much more modern ‘demon’ – a fast digital voltmeter – to watch the temperature of an electron drawn at random from a warm pool of electrons. In doing so, we made it much colder than the pool it came from, and this corresponds to a high certainty of it being in the ‘0’ computational state,” says Professor Andrea Morello of UNSW, who led the team.
“Quantum computers are only useful if they can reach the final result with very low probability of errors. And one can have near-perfect quantum operations, but if the calculation started from the wrong code, the final result will be wrong too. Our digital ‘Maxwell’s demon’ gives us a 20x improvement in how accurately we can set the start of the computation.”
The research was published in Physical Review X, a journal published by the American Physical Society.
Watching an electron to make it colder
Prof. Morello’s team has pioneered the use of electron spins in silicon to encode and manipulate quantum information, and demonstrated record-high fidelity – that is, very low probability of errors – in performing quantum operations. The last remaining hurdle for efficient quantum computations with electrons was the fidelity of preparing the electron in a known state as the starting point of the calculation.
“The normal way to prepare the quantum state of an electron is go to extremely low temperatures, close to absolute zero, and hope that the electrons all relax to the low-energy ‘0’ state,” explains Dr Mark Johnson, the lead experimental author on the paper. “Unfortunately, even using the most powerful refrigerators, we still had a 20 per cent chance of preparing the electron in the ‘1’ state by mistake. That was not acceptable, we had to do better than that.”
Dr Johnson, a UNSW graduate in Electrical Engineering, decided to use a very fast digital measurement instrument to ‘watch’ the state of the electron, and use real-time decision-making processor within the instrument to decide whether to keep that electron and use it for further computations. The effect of this process was to reduce the probability of error from 20 per cent to 1 per cent.
A new spin on an old idea
“When we started writing up our results and thought about how best to explain them, we realized that what we had done was a modern twist on the old idea of the ‘Maxwell’s demon’,” Prof. Morello says.
The concept of ‘Maxwell’s demon’ dates back to 1867, when James Clerk Maxwell imagined a creature with the capacity to know the velocity of each individual molecule in a gas. He would take a box full of gas, with a dividing wall in the middle, and a door that can be opened and closed quickly. With his knowledge of each molecule’s speed, the demon can open the door to let the slow (cold) molecules pile up on one side, and the fast (hot) ones on the other.
“The demon was a thought experiment, to debate the possibility of violating the second law of thermodynamics, but of course no such demon ever existed,” Prof. Morello says.
“Now, using fast digital electronics, we have in some sense created one. We tasked him with the job of watching just one electron, and making sure it’s as cold as it can be. Here, ‘cold’ translates directly in it being in the ‘0’ state of the quantum computer we want to build and operate.”
The implications of this result are very important for the viability of quantum computers. Such a machine can be built with the ability to tolerate some errors, but only if they are sufficiently rare. The typical threshold for error tolerance is around 1 per cent. This applies to all errors, including preparation, operation, and readout of the final result.
This electronic version of a ‘Maxwell’s demon’ allowed the UNSW team to reduce the preparation errors twenty-fold, from 20 per cent to 1 per cent.
“Just by using a modern electronic instrument, with no additional complexity in the quantum hardware layer, we’ve been able to prepare our electron quantum bits within good enough accuracy to permit a reliable subsequent computation,” Dr Johnson says.
“This is an important result for the future of quantum computing. And it’s quite peculiar that it also represents the embodiment of an idea from 150 years ago!”
Hat’s off to whoever prepared the opening sequences for this informative and entertaining video from UNSW,
For years, James Clerk Maxwell’s role as a poet has fascinated me. Yes, a physicist who wrote poetry about physics and other matters as noted in my April 24, 2019 (The poetry of physics from Canada’s Perimeter Institute) where you’ll find poems by various physicists including the aforementioned Maxwell, as well as, a link to the original Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) posting featuring the excerpted poems even more physics poems.
There is a lot of anxiety about artificial intelligence in the arts, which can only be exacerbated by a question such as this, from a December 2, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,
Can artificial intelligence write better poetry than humans?
The gap between human creativity and artificial intelligence seems to be narrowing. Previous studies have compared AI-generated versus human-written poems and whether people can distinguish between them.
Now, a study led by Yoshiyuki Ueda at Kyoto University Institute for the Future of Human and Society [Japan], has shown AI’s potential in creating literary art such as haiku — the shortest poetic form in the world — rivaling that of humans without human help.
Ueda’s team compared AI-generated haiku without human intervention, also known as human out of the loop, or HOTL, with a contrasting method known as human in the loop, or HITL.
The project involved 385 participants, each of whom evaluated 40 haiku poems — 20 each of HITL and HOTL — plus 40 composed entirely by professional haiku writers.
“It was interesting that the evaluators found it challenging to distinguish between the haiku penned by humans and those generated by AI,” remarks Ueda.
From the results, HITL haiku received the most praise for their poetic qualities, whereas HOTL and human-only verses had similar scores.
“In addition, a phenomenon called algorithm aversion was observed among our evaluators. They were supposed to be unbiased but instead became influenced by a kind of reverse psychology,” explains the author.
“In other words, they tended to unconsciously give lower scores to those they felt were AI-generated.”
Ueda points out that his research has put a spotlight on algorithm aversion as a new approach to AI art.
“Our results suggest that the ability of AI in the field of haiku creation has taken a leap forward, entering the realm of collaborating with humans to produce more creative works. Realizing the existence of algorithmic aversion will lead people to re-evaluate their appreciation of AI art.”
For those unfamiliar with Matsuo Bashō, he’s considered Japan’s most famous poet from the Edo period and Japan’s greatest master of haiku according to his Wikipedia entry. You can also find out more about Basho at the Poetry Foundation.
Is there some sort of misunderstanding between Toronto’s ArtSci Salon and the Onsite Gallery at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University)?
Previously, I featured a series organized around the ‘more-than’human’ exhibition at the Onsite Gallery which included events being held by the ArtSci Salon in my February 1, 2023 posting. This morning (April 3, 2023), I received, via email, an April 2, 2023 ArtSci Salon announcement about some upcoming events for the ‘Re-situating: more-than-human’ event series (sigh), Note 1: They’ve added a poet to the Poetry Night, added more detail to the May 2023 excursion, and added a call for projects; Note 2: The Onsite Gallery continues call to it the ‘more-than-human’ exhibition,
Poetry Night Wednesday, April 5  – 7:30-9:30
An immersive poetry performance that involves three poets reading poems and a site-specific live projection mapping response created by artist Ilze Briede (Kavi). Come to this in-depth and unique event of deep listening and embodied experience!
Dr. Madhur Anand, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph Dr. Karen Houle, College of arts, University of Guelph
Liz Howard, Department of English, Concordia University
Projection mapping by Ilze Briede (Kavi) PhD student, York University
Don’t forget next event of the Re-Situating series:
The rare Charitable Research Reserve is an urban land trust and environmental institute in Waterloo Region/Wellington, protecting over 1,200 acres of highly sensitive lands.
This event follows and concludes several interdisciplinary dialogues on ethics of care, ecology, symbiosis, and human-plant relations. We weave together embodied discovery and sensory experience ; listening and thinking about the ethical and material implications of recognizing non-human individuals as valuable ; as well as different disciplines, epistemologies, positionalities. Our goal is to acquire better awareness of the ecological community to which we belong, with the intention of rethinking and resituating the human within a diverse, complex, and multifaceted ecosystem of other-than-human lifeforms.
The day will begin with a panel between artists and scientists investigating the social, economic, and natural complexities affecting both human and plant-life. The afternoon events will include a 30-minute walk through the wetlands at rare (wetland as carbon sinks), a Master Class led by Dr. Alice Jarry (the design of plant-based air filtration), and a rare led walk following the ecological lichen monitoring.
IMPORTANT! Bus will leave for rare at 9 am and will return to Toronto at 5:30 pm.
Please, note: Tickets are limited. Should you not be able to attend, please let us know so we can free up the space for someone else.
We require a nominal registration fee of $5 which will be refunded on the day of the event.
Sunday, May 7  – 9:00 am – 5:30 pm
Meeting place: Onsite gallery, 199 Richmond Street West.
11:00 am-12:30 pm: Panel
Sumia Ali, McMaster University
Grace Grothaus, PhD candidate, York University
Dr. Alice Jarry, Speculative Life BioLab, Concordia University
Dr. Marissa Davis, University of Waterloo
12:30-1:30pm: lunch – catered
1:30-2:15 Wetlands walk
Dr. Alice Jarry, Speculative Life BioLab, Concordia University – Plant based filtration systems
4:30-5:15 The lichen monitoring walk. This program at rare is one of several long-term ecological monitoring programs yielding valuable baseline data and can help to identify critical changes in ecosystem dynamics.
5:30 – return to Toronto
For more information and for media inquiries please contact Roberta Buiani – ArtSci Salon, The Fields Institute email@example.com Jane Tingley – Slolab, York University firstname.lastname@example.org
From the April 2, 2023 ArtSci Salon announcement (received via email),
call for GLAM Incubator projects for 2023 – 2024
For more information about the Call for Projects please visit the GLAM Incubator’s website For specific questions about the Incubator or this year’s call, please email me directly at email@example.com. I am happy to answer any questions you or any potential partner organizations might have.
The GLAM Incubator is a research and support hub that connects galleries, libraries, archives, and museums with industry partners, researchers, and students to advance the development of seedling projects that benefit cultural institutions, industry, and the research and teaching goals of universities worldwide. The overarching goal of the Incubator is to provide support to experimental projects that benefit the GLAM industries and engages students. It provides the broader context and overarching structure for an ongoing series of responsive, finite, cross-sector action research collaborations. A collaboration between the Faculty of Information and the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto, the GLAM Incubator provides space, administrative assistance, research expertise, equipment, event facilitation, limited funding, and knowledge mobilization.
Each year, the GLAM Incubator puts out a Call for Projects from GLAM institutions for small-scale projects that experiment or incubate new programming, service models, interactive experiences, technical services, knowledge media, and user interfaces that will have an impact on GLAM institutions or professions more broadly. Please consult our Call for Projects page for more information.
The GLAM Incubator is a theory and innovation lab dedicated to launching and supporting small-scale projects focused on the development of cutting-edge programming, service models, interactive experiences, knowledge media, and user interfaces that address a specific issue or opportunity associated with emerging technologies within the GLAM sector. The themes and contents of the projects supported by the Incubator evolve in keeping with shifting technological developments and in response to the fluctuating needs and concerns of the various stakeholders involved in the cultural industry sectors (professionals, patrons, funders).
The Incubator will use its resources and infrastructure to run multiple projects concurrently. In addition to meeting the above criteria, projects will demonstrate a capacity to engage a diversity of stakeholders, as well as new and existing community partners. Projects will be “small-scale,” with a well-bounded research design (e.g. a study addressing a specific issue or timed opportunity faced by a community or industry partner) and short-term (1-3 years) duration. Active projects will be set up in a “doored lab,” either dedicated or shared. The Incubator will purchase or assist with the purchase of technological equipment and software required for the research. It will assist with administrative tasks and knowledge mobilization activities, as described in more detail below. It will provide in-kind support to help project leads secure external grants to fund other costs associated with the research (including research assistant salaries, conference travel, etc.). In exchange, project leads and their teams will ensure that a significant proportion of the research activities occur within that space.
Project teams must participate in an annual Symposium and engage their research and results in Incubator-supported knowledge mobilization activities, public or community outreach activities, and student engagement opportunities, where applicable.
Incubator projects will be selected through an application process.
Two-page description of the project that includes an explanation of the project’s purpose and impact on a GLAM industry or profession;
Resume(s) of the lead applicant(s);
A list of collaborators including brief biographies or descriptive information
Sustainability for continuing the project after incubation
A list of potential equipment, space, administrative, and funding needs.
We also welcome inquiries from potential applicants.
Enjoy the events and good luck with your submission to GLAM.
Should you be interested in an ArtSci Salon event (and part of whatever this series and exhibition is being called), titled ‘On Ethics of Care’, held in late March 2023, there’s an embedded two hour video on their ‘Re-situating: more-than-human’ webpage,
Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon’s January 30, 2023 announcement (received via email) lists information for two organizations, the Onsite Gallery’s events and the Salon’s own events.
This gallery is located in Toronto, Ontario at 199 Richmond St. W. From the homepage, “It is the flagship professional gallery of OCAD [Ontario College of Art and Design] University and an experimental curatorial platform for art, design and new media.”
From the Onsite Gallery ‘more-than-human‘ event page. First, there’s the exhibition (Note 1: I found the gallery’s event page I’m using here more informative than the email announcement; Note 2: I have not included the images featuring the artists and their work),
February 01 to May 13, 2023
Curated by Jane Tingley
Core exhibition of the CONTACT Photography Festival
more-than-human presents media artworks at the intersection of art, science, Indigenous worldviews, and technology that speculatively and poetically use multimodal storytelling as a vehicle for interpreting, mattering, and embodying more-than-human ecologies. The artworks in this exhibition aim to critically and emotionally engage with the important work of decentering the human and rethinking the perspective that sees nature as a lifeless resource for exploitation. Many of the artworks use technological and scientific tools as entry points for witnessing and interacting with these more-than-human worlds, as they help visualize phenomena beyond human sensory perception while nevertheless situating us within them. Combined, the artworks in the show weave a story that tells a tale of symbiosis, intersections, and more-than-human relationality. They incorporate scientific, philosophical, and Indigenous perspectives to create an experiential tapestry that asks the viewer to reconsider, reorient, and rethink relationships with the more-than-human.
Jane Tingley is an artist, curator, Director of the SLOlab: Sympoietic Living Ontologies Lab and Associate Professor at York University. Her studio work combines traditional studio practice with new media tools – and spans responsive/interactive installation, performative robotics, and telematically connected distributed sculptures/installations. Her works is interdisciplinary in nature and explores the creation of spaces and experiences that push the boundaries between science and magic, interactivity, and playfulness, and offer an experience to the viewer that is accessible both intellectually and technologically. Using distributed technologies, her current work investigates the hidden complexity found in the natural world and explores the deep interconnections between the human and non-human relationships. As a curator her interests lie at the intersection art, science, and technology with a special interest in collaborative creativity as impetus for innovation and discovery. Recent exhibitions include Hedonistika (2014) at the Musée d’art contemporain (Mtl, CA), INTERACTION (2016) and Agentsfor Change (2020) at THE MUSEUM (Kitchener, CA). As an artist she has participated in exhibitions and festivals in the Americas, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe – including translife -International Triennial of Media Art at the National Art Museum of China, Beijing, Elektra Festival in Montréal (CA) and the Künstlerhause in Vienna (AT). She received the Kenneth Finkelstein Prize in Sculpture (CA), the first prize in the iNTERFACES – Interactive Art Competition (PT).
Ursula Biemann is an artist, author and video essayist. Her artistic practice is research oriented and involves fieldwork from Greenland to Amazonia, where she investigates climate change and the ecologies of oil, ice, forests and water. In her multi-layered videos, she interweaves vast cinematic landscapes with documentary footage, science fiction poetry and academic findings to narrate a changing planetary reality. In 2018, Biemann was commissioned by Museo de Arte, Universidad Nacional de Colombia in the co-creation of a new Indigenous University in the South of Colombia led by the Inga people in which she contributes the online platform Devenir Universidad. Her recent video installation Forest Mind (2021) emerges from this long-term collaboration. She has published numerous books, including Forest Mind (2022) and the audiovisual online monograph Becoming Earth on her ecological video works between 2011-2021. Biemann has exhibited internationally with recent solo exhibitions at MAMAC, Nice and the Centre culturel suisse, Paris. She is appointed Doctor honoris causa in Humanities by the Swedish University Umea, and has received the 2009 Prix Meret Oppenheim, the Swiss Grand Award for Art, and the 2022 Zurich Art Award.
Lindsey french (she/they) is a settler artist, educator and writer whose work engages in multi- sensory signaling within ecological and technological systems. She has exhibited widely including at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), the International Museum of Surgical Science (Chicago), Pratt Manhattan Gallery (New York), the Miller Gallery for Contemporary Art (Pittsburgh), and SixtyEight Art Institute (Copenhagen). Recent publications include chapters for Ambiguous Territory: Architecture, Landscape, and the Postnatural (Actar, 2022), Olfactory Art and The Political in an Age of Resistance (Routledge, 2021), Why Look at Plants (Brill, 2019), and poetry for the journal Forty-Five. They earned an interdisciplinary BA in Environment, Interaction, and Design (Hampshire College), and an MFA in Art and Technology Studies (School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Newly based in the prairie landscape of Treaty 4 territory in Regina, Saskatchewan, french teaches as an Assistant Professor in Creative Technologies in the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance at the University of Regina.
Grace Grothaus Is a computational media artist whose research explores ecosystemic human and plant relationships in relation to the present global climate crisis and speculative futures. She is interested in art’s potential to foster empathy with more-than-human worlds. Frequently collaborative, Grace works with scientists, engineers, musicians and other visual and performing artists. Her research-creation is expressed as physical computing installations which take place both outdoors or in the gallery and often center around the sensing and visualization of invisible environmental phenomena. Her artworks have been exhibited widely including at the International Symposium of Electronic Art (Barcelona, ES & Durban, SA), Environmental Crisis: Art & Science (London, UK), Cité Internationale des Arts (Paris, FR), and the World Creativity Biennale (Rio de Janiero, BR). Grothaus has received numerous awards including from the United States National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. Currently she is working towards a PhD in Digital Media from York University where she has been named a VISTA scholar and a Graduate Fellow of Academic Distinction.
Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning is an interdisciplinary artist and Queen’s National Scholar in Anishinaabe Language, Knowledge, and Culture (ALKC) in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Queen’s University. Manning has expertise in Anishinaabe ontology, mnidoo interrelationality, phenomenology, and art. A member of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation, her primary philosophical influence and source of creativity is her early childhood grounding in Anishinaabe onto- epistemology. She is Principal Investigator of Earthdiver: Land-Based Worlding (MITACS), and Co-Investigator on Pluriversal Worlding with Extended Reality. Manning co-directs the cross- institutional Peripheral Visions Co-Lab (York and Queen’s). She is an affiliate of Revision Centre for Art and Social Justice, and Fellow of The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI).
Mary Bunch is a media artist, Canada Research Chair, and Associate Professor, Cinema and Media Arts at York University. Through theoretical inquiry and collaborative research creation, Bunch mobilizes queer, feminist, disability and decolonial frameworks to better understand peripheral worldmaking imaginaries in media arts and intermedial performance. She is co-editor of a special issue on Access Aesthetics in Public, Principal Investigator on the research creation project Pluriversal Worlding with Extended Reality (SSHRC Insight) and co-investigator on Earthdiver: Land- Based Worlding (MITACS). Dr Bunch is co-director of the Peripheral Visions Co- Lab, Executive Committee member of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, a core member of Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA), a Fellow at the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, and an Affiliate of Revision Centre for Art and Social Justice.
Suzanne Morrissette (she/her) (she/her) is an artist, curator, and scholar who is currently based out of Toronto. Her father’s parents were Michif- and Cree-speaking Metis with family histories tied to the Interlake and Red River regions and Scrip in the area now known as Manitoba. Her mother’s parents came from Canadian-born farming families descended from United Empire loyalists and Mennonites from Russia. Morrissette was born and raised in Winnipeg and is a citizen of the Manitoba Metis Federation. As an artistic researcher Suzanne’s interests include: family and community knowledge, methods of translation, the telling of in-between histories, and practices of making that support and sustain life. Her two recent solo exhibitions, What does good work look like? and translations recently opened in Toronto (Gallery 44) and Montreal (daphne art centre) respectively. Her work has appeared in numerous group exhibitions such as Lii Zoot Tayr (Other Worlds), an exhibition of Metis artists working with concepts of the unknowable, and the group exhibition of audio-based work about waterways called FLOW with imagineNATIVE Film + Media Art Festival. Morrissette holds a PhD from York University in Social and Political Thought. She currently holds the position of Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director for the Criticism and Curatorial Practices and Contemporary Art, Design, and New Media Histories Masters programs at OCAD University.
Joel Ong (PhD, MSc.Bioart) is a media artist whose works connect scientific and artistic approaches to the environment, developed from more than a decade of explorations in sound, installation and socially conscious art. His conceptual explorations revolve around metaphors of distance, connectivity, assiduously reworking this notion of the ‘environment’ – how different tools and scales of observation reveal diverse biotic and abiotic relationalities, and how these continually oscillate between natural and computational worlds. His works have been shown at internationally at the Currents New Media Festival, Nuit Blanche Toronto, Seattle Art Museum, the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, the Penny Stamps Gallery and the Ontario Science Centre etc. Joel is Associate Professor in Computational Arts and Director of Sensorium:The Centre for Digital Arts and Technology at York University, in Toronto, Canada. His research has been funded by such as SSHRC, eCampus Ontario, Women and Gender Equality Canada.
Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits are Riga and Karlsruhe based artists and co-founders of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga [Latvia], co-curators of RIXC Art and Science Festival, chief-editors of Acoustic Space, as well as co-chairs of recently founded NAIA – Naturally Artificial Intelligence Art association in Karlsruhe, Germany. Together they create visionary and networked artworks – from pioneering internet radio experiments in 1990s, to artistic investigations in electromagnetic spectrum and collaborations with radio astronomers, and more recent “techno-ecological” explorations. Their projects have been nominated (Purvitis Prize 2019, 2021, International Public Arts Award – Euroasia region 2021), awarded (Ars Electronica 1998, Falling Walls – Science Breakthrough 2021) and shown widely including at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Latvian National Museum of Arts, House of Electronic Arts in Basel, Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, and other venues, exhibitions and festivals in Europe, US, Canada and Asia. More recently they both also have been lecturers in MIT ACT – Art Culture Technology program (2018-2021), Boston.
Rasa Smite holds a PhD in sociology of media and culture; her thesis Creative Networks. In the Rear-View Mirror of Eastern European History (11) has been published by The Amsterdam Institute for Network Cultures. Currently she is a Professor of New Media Art at Liepaja University, and Senior Researcher at FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, Switzerland.
Raitis Smits holds his doctoral degree in arts, and he is a Professor at the Art Academy of Latvia. In 2017 Raitis was a Fulbright Researcher in the Graduate Center of NYC.
Artists Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits, Grace Grothaus, Suzanne Morrissette and Lindsey french introduce their works exhibited in more-than-human and engage in a discussion about their practice. Moderated by Jane Tingley.
Forest Mind (31 minutes) tackles the underlying concepts that distinguish the Indigenous knowledge systems from that of modern science, gauging the limits of rationalism which has dominated Western thinking for the last 200 years.
Artists Joel Ong, Jane Tingley, Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning and Mary Bunch introduce their artworks their works exhibited in more-than-human and engage in a discussion about their practice. Moderated by Lisa Deanne Smith.
I look forward to 2023 and hope it will be as stimulating as 2022 proved to be. Here’s an overview of the year that was on this blog:
Sounds of science
It seems 2022 was the year that science discovered the importance of sound and the possibilities of data sonification. Neither is new but this year seemed to signal a surge of interest or maybe I just happened to stumble onto more of the stories than usual.
This is not an exhaustive list, you can check out my ‘Music’ category for more here. I have tried to include audio files with the postings but it all depends on how accessible the researchers have made them.
Aliens on earth: machinic biology and/or biological machinery?
When I first started following stories in 2008 (?) about technology or machinery being integrated with the human body, it was mostly about assistive technologies such as neuroprosthetics. You’ll find most of this year’s material in the ‘Human Enhancement’ category or you can search the tag ‘machine/flesh’.
However, the line between biology and machine became a bit more blurry for me this year. You can see what’s happening in the titles listed below (you may recognize the zenobot story; there was an earlier version of xenobots featured here in 2021):
US National Academies Sept. 22-23, 2022 workshop on techno, legal & ethical issues of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) September 21, 2022 posting
I hope the US National Academies issues a report on their “Brain-Machine and Related Neural Interface Technologies: Scientific, Technical, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues – A Workshop” for 2023.
Meanwhile the race to create brainlike computers continues and I have a number of posts which can be found under the category of ‘neuromorphic engineering’ or you can use these search terms ‘brainlike computing’ and ‘memristors’.
On the artificial intelligence (AI) side of things, I finally broke down and added an ‘artificial intelligence (AI) category to this blog sometime between May and August 2021. Previously, I had used the ‘robots’ category as a catchall. There are other stories but these ones feature public engagement and policy (btw, it’s a Canadian Science Policy Centre event), respectively,
“How AI-designed fiction reading lists and self-publishing help nurture far-right and neo-Nazi novelists” December 6, 2022 posting
While there have been issues over AI, the arts, and creativity previously, this year they sprang into high relief. The list starts with my two-part review of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s AI show; I share most of my concerns in part two. The third post covers intellectual property issues (mostly visual arts but literary arts get a nod too). The fourth post upends the discussion,
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (1 of 2): The Objects” July 28, 2022 posting
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery (2 of 2): Meditations” July 28, 2022 posting
“AI (artificial intelligence) and art ethics: a debate + a Botto (AI artist) October 2022 exhibition in the Uk” October 24, 2022 posting
Should AI algorithms get patents for their inventions and is anyone talking about copyright for texts written by AI algorithms? August 30, 2022 posting
Interestingly, most of the concerns seem to be coming from the visual and literary arts communities; I haven’t come across major concerns from the music community. (The curious can check out Vancouver’s Metacreation Lab for Artificial Intelligence [located on a Simon Fraser University campus]. I haven’t seen any cautionary or warning essays there; it’s run by an AI and creativity enthusiast [professor Philippe Pasquier]. The dominant but not sole focus is art, i.e., music and AI.)
There is a ‘new kid on the block’ which has been attracting a lot of attention this month. If you’re curious about the latest and greatest AI anxiety,
Peter Csathy’s December 21, 2022 Yahoo News article (originally published in The WRAP) makes this proclamation in the headline “Chat GPT Proves That AI Could Be a Major Threat to Hollywood Creatives – and Not Just Below the Line | PRO Insight”
Mouhamad Rachini’s December 15, 2022 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news overs a more generalized overview of the ‘new kid’ along with an embedded CBC Radio file which runs approximately 19 mins. 30 secs. It’s titled “ChatGPT a ‘landmark event’ for AI, but what does it mean for the future of human labour and disinformation?” The chat bot’s developer, OpenAI, has been mentioned here many times including the previously listed July 28, 2022 posting (part two of the VAG review) and the October 24, 2022 posting.
Opposite world (quantum physics in Canada)
Quantum computing made more of an impact here (my blog) than usual. it started in 2021 with the announcement of a National Quantum Strategy in the Canadian federal government budget for that year and gained some momentum in 2022:
“Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more” July 26, 2022 posting Note: This turned into one of my ‘in depth’ pieces where I comment on the ‘Canadian quantum scene’ and highlight the appointment of an expert panel for the Council of Canada Academies’ report on Quantum Technologies.
“Bank of Canada and Multiverse Computing model complex networks & cryptocurrencies with quantum computing” July 25, 2022 posting
There’s a Vancouver area company, General Fusion, highlighted in both postings and the October posting includes an embedded video of Canadian-born rapper Baba Brinkman’s “You Must LENR” [L ow E nergy N uclear R eactions or sometimes L attice E nabled N anoscale R eactions or Cold Fusion or CANR (C hemically A ssisted N uclear R eactions)].
BTW, fusion energy can generate temperatures up to 150 million degrees Celsius.
Ukraine, science, war, and unintended consequences
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has reverberated through Europe and spread to other countries that have long been dependent on the region for natural gas. But while oil-producing countries and gas lobbyists are arguing for more drilling, global energy investments reflect a quickening transition to cleaner energy. [emphasis mine]
Call it the Putin effect – Russia’s war is speeding up the global shift away from fossil fuels.
In December [2022?], the International Energy Agency [IEA] published two important reports that point to the future of renewable energy.
First, the IEA revised its projection of renewable energy growth upward by 30%. It now expects the world to install as much solar and wind power in the next five years as it installed in the past 50 years.
The second report showed that energy use is becoming more efficient globally, with efficiency increasing by about 2% per year. As energy analyst Kingsmill Bond at the energy research group RMI noted, the two reports together suggest that fossil fuel demand may have peaked. While some low-income countries have been eager for deals to tap their fossil fuel resources, the IEA warns that new fossil fuel production risks becoming stranded, or uneconomic, in the next 20 years.
Kyte’s essay is not all ‘sweetness and light’ but it does provide a little optimism.
Kudos, nanotechnology, culture (pop & otherwise), fun, and a farewell in 2022
Sometimes I like to know where the money comes from and I was delighted to learn of the Ărramăt Project funded through the federal government’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF). Here’s more about the Ărramăt Project from the February 14, 2022 posting,
“The Ărramăt Project is about respecting the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of peoples and Mother Earth, life and livelihood, identity and expression, biodiversity and sustainability, and stewardship and well-being. Arramăt is a word from the Tamasheq language spoken by the Tuareg people of the Sahel and Sahara regions which reflects this holistic worldview.” (Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine)
Over 150 Indigenous organizations, universities, and other partners will work together to highlight the complex problems of biodiversity loss and its implications for health and well-being. The project Team will take a broad approach and be inclusive of many different worldviews and methods for research (i.e., intersectionality, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary). Activities will occur in 70 different kinds of ecosystems that are also spiritually, culturally, and economically important to Indigenous Peoples.
The project is led by Indigenous scholars and activists …
Kudos to the federal government and all those involved in the Salmon science camps, the Ărramăt Project, and other NFRF projects.
There are many other nanotechnology posts here but this appeals to my need for something lighter at this point,
“Say goodbye to crunchy (ice crystal-laden) in ice cream thanks to cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)” August 22, 2022 posting
The following posts tend to be culture-related, high and/or low but always with a science/nanotechnology edge,
Sadly, it looks like 2022 is the last year that Ada Lovelace Day is to be celebrated.
… this year’s Ada Lovelace Day is the final such event due to lack of financial backing. Suw Charman-Anderson told the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] the reason it was now coming to an end was:
A few things that didn’t fit under the previous heads but stood out for me this year. Science podcasts, which were a big feature in 2021, also proliferated in 2022. I think they might have peaked and now (in 2023) we’ll see what survives.
Nanotechnology, the main subject on this blog, continues to be investigated and increasingly integrated into products. You can search the ‘nanotechnology’ category here for posts of interest something I just tried. It surprises even me (I should know better) how broadly nanotechnology is researched and applied.
If you want a nice tidy list, Hamish Johnston in a December 29, 2022 posting on the Physics World Materials blog has this “Materials and nanotechnology: our favourite research in 2022,” Note: Links have been removed,
“Inherited nanobionics” makes its debut
The integration of nanomaterials with living organisms is a hot topic, which is why this research on “inherited nanobionics” is on our list. Ardemis Boghossian at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne] in Switzerland and colleagues have shown that certain bacteria will take up single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs). What is more, when the bacteria cells split, the SWCNTs are distributed amongst the daughter cells. The team also found that bacteria containing SWCNTs produce a significantly more electricity when illuminated with light than do bacteria without nanotubes. As a result, the technique could be used to grow living solar cells, which as well as generating clean energy, also have a negative carbon footprint when it comes to manufacturing.
Getting to back to Canada, I’m finding Saskatchewan featured more prominently here. They do a good job of promoting their science, especially the folks at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s synchrotron, in Saskatoon. Canadian live science outreach events seeming to be coming back (slowly). Cautious organizers (who have a few dollars to spare) are also enthusiastic about hybrid events which combine online and live outreach.
Hopefully this year I will catch up with the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) output and finally review a few of their 2021 reports such as Leaps and Boundaries; a report on artificial intelligence applied to science inquiry and, perhaps, Powering Discovery; a report on research funding and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Given what appears to a renewed campaign to have germline editing (gene editing which affects all of your descendants) approved in Canada, I might even reach back to a late 2020 CCA report, Research to Reality; somatic gene and engineered cell therapies. it’s not the same as germline editing but gene editing exists on a continuum.
For anyone who wants to see the CCA reports for themselves they can be found here (both in progress and completed).
I’m also going to be paying more attention to how public relations and special interests influence what science is covered and how it’s covered. In doing this 2022 roundup, I noticed that I featured an overview of fusion energy not long before the breakthrough. Indirect influence on this blog?
My post was precipitated by an article by Alex Pasternak in Fast Company. I’m wondering what precipitated Alex Pasternack’s interest in fusion energy since his self-description on the Huffington Post website states this “… focus on the intersections of science, technology, media, politics, and culture. My writing about those and other topics—transportation, design, media, architecture, environment, psychology, art, music … .”
He might simply have received a press release that stimulated his imagination and/or been approached by a communications specialist or publicists with an idea. There’s a reason for why there are so many public relations/media relations jobs and agencies.
Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be)
I can confidently predict that 2023 has some surprises in store. I can also confidently predict that the European Union’s big research projects (1B Euros each in funding for the Graphene Flagship and Human Brain Project over a ten year period) will sunset in 2023, ten years after they were first announced in 2013. Unless, the powers that be extend the funding past 2023.
I expect the Canadian quantum community to provide more fodder for me in the form of a 2023 report on Quantum Technologies from the Council of Canadian academies, if nothing else otherwise.
I’ve already featured these 2023 science events but just in case you missed them,
2023 Preview: Bill Nye the Science Guy’s live show and Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) coming to Vancouver (Canada) November 24, 2022 posting
September 2023: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand set to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) November 15, 2022 posting
Getting back to this blog, it may not seem like a new year during the first few weeks of 2023 as I have quite the stockpile of draft posts. At this point I have drafts that are dated from June 2022 and expect to be burning through them so as not to fall further behind but will be interspersing them, occasionally, with more current posts.
Most importantly: a big thank you to everyone who drops by and reads (and sometimes even comments) on my posts!!! it’s very much appreciated and on that note: I wish you all the best for 2023.
Who is an artist? What is an artist? Can everyone be an artist? These are the kinds of questions you can expect with the rise of artificially intelligent artists/collaborators. Of course, these same questions have been asked many times before the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) agents/programs in the field of visual art. Each time the questions are raised is an opportunity to examine our beliefs from a different perspective. And, not to be forgotten, there are questions about money.
First, the ‘art’,
Shanti Escalante-De Mattei’s September 1, 2022 article for ArtNews.com provides an overview of the latest AI art controversy (Note: A link has been removed),
The debate around AI art went viral once again when a man won first place at the Colorado State Fair’s art competition in the digital category with a work he made using text-to-image AI generator Midjourney.
Twitter user and digital artist Genel Jumalon tweeted out a screenshot from a Discord channel in which user Sincarnate, aka game designer Jason Allen, celebrated his win at the fair. Jumalon wrote, “Someone entered an art competition with an AI-generated piece and won the first prize. Yeah that’s pretty fucking shitty.”
The comments on the post range from despair and anger as artists, both digital and traditional, worry that their livelihoods might be at stake after years of believing that creative work would be safe from AI-driven automation. [emphasis mine]
Rachel Metz’s September 3, 2022 article for CNN provides more details about how the work was generated (Note: Links have been removed),
Jason M. Allen was almost too nervous to enter his first art competition. Now, his award-winning image is sparking controversy about whether art can be generated by a computer, and what, exactly, it means to be an artist.
In August , Allen, a game designer who lives in Pueblo West, Colorado, won first place in the emerging artist division’s “digital arts/digitally-manipulated photography” category at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition. His winning image, titled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” (French for “Space Opera Theater”), was made with Midjourney — an artificial intelligence system that can produce detailed images when fed written prompts. A $300 prize accompanied his win.
Allen’s winning image looks like a bright, surreal cross between a Renaissance and steampunk painting. It’s one of three such images he entered in the competition. In total, 11 people entered 18 pieces of art in the same category in the emerging artist division.
The definition for the category in which Allen competed states that digital art refers to works that use “digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process.” Allen stated that Midjourney was used to create his image when he entered the contest, he said.
The newness of these tools, how they’re used to produce images, and, in some cases, the gatekeeping for access to some of the most powerful ones has led to debates about whether they can truly make art or assist humans in making art.
This came into sharp focus for Allen not long after his win. Allen had posted excitedly about his win on Midjourney’s Discord server on August 25 , along with pictures of his three entries; it went viral on Twitter days later, with many artists angered by Allen’s win because of his use of AI to create the image, as a story by Vice’s Motherboard reported earlier this week.
“This sucks for the exact same reason we don’t let robots participate in the Olympics,” one Twitter user wrote.
“This is the literal definition of ‘pressed a few buttons to make a digital art piece’,” another Tweeted. “AI artwork is the ‘banana taped to the wall’ of the digital world now.”
Yet while Allen didn’t use a paintbrush to create his winning piece, there was plenty of work involved, he said.
“It’s not like you’re just smashing words together and winning competitions,” he said.
You can feed a phrase like “an oil painting of an angry strawberry” to Midjourney and receive several images from the AI system within seconds, but Allen’s process wasn’t that simple. To get the final three images he entered in the competition, he said, took more than 80 hours.
First, he said, he played around with phrasing that led Midjourney to generate images of women in frilly dresses and space helmets — he was trying to mash up Victorian-style costuming with space themes, he said. Over time, with many slight tweaks to his written prompt (such as to adjust lighting and color harmony), he created 900 iterations of what led to his final three images. He cleaned up those three images in Photoshop, such as by giving one of the female figures in his winning image a head with wavy, dark hair after Midjourney had rendered her headless. Then he ran the images through another software program called Gigapixel AI that can improve resolution and had the images printed on canvas at a local print shop.
Ars Technica has run a number of articles on the subject of Art and AI, Benj Edwards in an August 31, 2022 article seems to have been one of the first to comment on Jason Allen’s win (Note 1: Links have been removed; Note 2: Look at how Edwards identifies Jason Allen as an artist),
A synthetic media artist named Jason Allen entered AI-generated artwork into the Colorado State Fair fine arts competition and announced last week that he won first place in the Digital Arts/Digitally Manipulated Photography category, Vice reported Wednesday [August 31, 2022?] based on a viral tweet.
Allen’s victory prompted lively discussions on Twitter, Reddit, and the Midjourney Discord server about the nature of art and what it means to be an artist. Some commenters think human artistry is doomed thanks to AI and that all artists are destined to be replaced by machines. Others think art will evolve and adapt with new technologies that come along, citing synthesizers in music. It’s a hot debate that Wired covered in July .
It’s worth noting that the invention of the camera in the 1800s prompted similar criticism related to the medium of photography, since the camera seemingly did all the work compared to an artist that labored to craft an artwork by hand with a brush or pencil. Some feared that painters would forever become obsolete with the advent of color photography. In some applications, photography replaced more laborious illustration methods (such as engraving), but human fine art painters are still around today.
Benj Edwards in a September 12, 2022 article for Ars Technica examines how some art communities are responding (Note: Links have been removed),
Confronted with an overwhelming amount of artificial-intelligence-generated artwork flooding in, some online art communities have taken dramatic steps to ban or curb its presence on their sites, including Newgrounds, Inkblot Art, and Fur Affinity, according to Andy Baio of Waxy.org.
Baio, who has been following AI art ethics closely on his blog, first noticed the bans and reported about them on Friday [Sept. 9, 2022?]. …
The arrival of widely available image synthesis models such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion has provoked an intense online battle between artists who view AI-assisted artwork as a form of theft (more on that below) and artists who enthusiastically embrace the new creative tools.
… a quickly evolving debate about how art communities (and art professionals) can adapt to software that can potentially produce unlimited works of beautiful art at a rate that no human working without the tools could match.
A few weeks ago, some artists began discovering their artwork in the Stable Diffusion data set, and they weren’t happy about it. Charlie Warzel wrote a detailed report about these reactions for The Atlantic last week [September 7, 2022]. With battle lines being drawn firmly in the sand and new AI creativity tools coming out steadily, this debate will likely continue for some time to come.
Filthy lucre becomes more prominent in the conversation
Lizzie O’Leary in a September 12, 2022 article for Fast Company presents a transcript of an interview (from the TBD podcast) she conducted with Drew Harwell, tech reporter covering A.I. for Washington Post) about the ‘Jason Allen’ win,
I’m struck by how quickly these art A.I.s are advancing. DALL-E was released in January of last year and there were some pretty basic images. And then, a year later, DALL-E 2 is using complex, faster methods. Midjourney, the one Jason Allen used, has a feature that allows you to upscale and downscale images. Where is this sudden supply and demand for A.I. art coming from?
You could look back to five years ago when they had these text-to-image generators and the output would be really crude. You could sort of see what the A.I. was trying to get at, but we’ve only really been able to cross that photorealistic uncanny valley in the last year or so. And I think the things that have contributed to that are, one, better data. You’re seeing people invest a lot of money and brainpower and resources into adding more stuff into bigger data sets. We have whole groups that are taking every image they can get on the internet. Billions, billions of images from Pinterest and Amazon and Facebook. You have bigger data sets, so the A.I. is learning more. You also have better computing power, and those are the two ingredients to any good piece of A.I. So now you have A.I. that is not only trained to understand the world a little bit better, but it can now really quickly spit out a very finely detailed generated image.
Is there any way to know, when you look at a piece of A.I. art, what images it referenced to create what it’s doing? Or is it just so vast that you can’t kind of unspool it backward?
When you’re doing an image that’s totally generated out of nowhere, it’s taking bits of information from billions of images. It’s creating it in a much more sophisticated way so that it’s really hard to unspool.
Art generated by A.I. isn’t just a gee-whiz phenomenon, something that wins prizes, or even a fascinating subject for debate—it has valuable commercial uses, too. Some that are a little frightening if you’re, say, a graphic designer.
You’re already starting to see some of these images illustrating news articles, being used as logos for companies, being used in the form of stock art for small businesses and websites. Anything where somebody would’ve gone and paid an illustrator or graphic designer or artist to make something, they can now go to this A.I. and create something in a few seconds that is maybe not perfect, maybe would be beaten by a human in a head-to-head, but is good enough. From a commercial perspective, that’s scary, because we have an industry of people whose whole job is to create images, now running up against A.I.
And the A.I., again, in the last five years, the A.I. has gotten better and better. It’s still not perfect. I don’t think it’ll ever be perfect, whatever that looks like. It processes information in a different, maybe more literal, way than a human. I think human artists will still sort of have the upper hand in being able to imagine things a little more outside of the box. And yet, if you’re just looking for three people in a classroom or a pretty simple logo, you’re going to go to A.I. and you’re going to take potentially a job away from a freelancer whom you would’ve given it to 10 years ago.
I can see a use case here in marketing, in advertising. The A.I. doesn’t need health insurance, it doesn’t need paid vacation days, and I really do wonder about this idea that the A.I. could replace the jobs of visual artists. Do you think that is a legitimate fear, or is that overwrought at this moment?
I think it is a legitimate fear. When something can mirror your skill set, not 100 percent of the way, but enough of the way that it could replace you, that’s an issue. Do these A.I. creators have any kind of moral responsibility to not create it because it could put people out of jobs? I think that’s a debate, but I don’t think they see it that way. They see it like they’re just creating the new generation of digital camera, the new generation of Photoshop. But I think it is worth worrying about because even compared with cameras and Photoshop, the A.I. is a little bit more of the full package and it is so accessible and so hard to match in terms. It’s really going to be up to human artists to find some way to differentiate themselves from the A.I.
This is making me wonder about the humans underneath the data sets that the A.I. is trained on. The criticism is, of course, that these businesses are making money off thousands of artists’ work without their consent or knowledge and it undermines their work. Some people looked at the Stable Diffusion and they didn’t have access to its whole data set, but they found that Thomas Kinkade, the landscape painter, was the most referenced artist in the data set. Is the A.I. just piggybacking? And if it’s not Thomas Kinkade, if it’s someone who’s alive, are they piggybacking on that person’s work without that person getting paid?
Here’s a bit more on the topic of money and art in a September 19, 2022 article by John Herrman for New York Magazine. First, he starts with the literary arts, Note: Links have been removed,
Artificial-intelligence experts are excited about the progress of the past few years. You can tell! They’ve been telling reporters things like “Everything’s in bloom,” “Billions of lives will be affected,” and “I know a person when I talk to it — it doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head.”
We don’t have to take their word for it, though. Recently, AI-powered tools have been making themselves known directly to the public, flooding our social feeds with bizarre and shocking and often very funny machine-generated content. OpenAI’s GPT-3 took simple text prompts — to write a news article about AI or to imagine a rose ceremony from The Bachelor in Middle English — and produced convincing results.
Deepfakes graduated from a looming threat to something an enterprising teenager can put together for a TikTok, and chatbots are occasionally sending their creators into crisis.
More widespread, and probably most evocative of a creative artificial intelligence, is the new crop of image-creation tools, including DALL-E, Imagen, Craiyon, and Midjourney, which all do versions of the same thing. You ask them to render something. Then, with models trained on vast sets of images gathered from around the web and elsewhere, they try — “Bart Simpson in the style of Soviet statuary”; “goldendoodle megafauna in the streets of Chelsea”; “a spaghetti dinner in hell”; “a logo for a carpet-cleaning company, blue and red, round”; “the meaning of life.”
This flood of machine-generated media has already altered the discourse around AI for the better, probably, though it couldn’t have been much worse. In contrast with the glib intra-VC debate about avoiding human enslavement by a future superintelligence, discussions about image-generation technology have been driven by users and artists and focus on labor, intellectual property, AI bias, and the ethics of artistic borrowing and reproduction [emphasis mine]. Early controversies have cut to the chase: Is the guy who entered generated art into a fine-art contest in Colorado (and won!) an asshole? Artists and designers who already feel underappreciated or exploited in their industries — from concept artists in gaming and film and TV to freelance logo designers — are understandably concerned about automation. Some art communities and marketplaces have banned AI-generated images entirely.
Requests are effectively thrown into “a giant swirling whirlpool” of “10,000 graphics cards,” Holz [David Holz, Midjourney founder] said, after which users gradually watch them take shape, gaining sharpness but also changing form as Midjourney refines its work.
This hints at an externality beyond the worlds of art and design. “Almost all the money goes to paying for those machines,” Holz said. New users are given a small number of free image generations before they’re cut off and asked to pay; each request initiates a massive computational task, which means using a lot of electricity.
High compute costs [emphasis mine] — which are largely energy costs — are why other services have been cautious about adding new users. …
Another Midjourney user, Gila von Meissner, is a graphic designer and children’s-book author-illustrator from “the boondocks in north Germany.” Her agent is currently shopping around a book that combines generated images with her own art and characters. Like Pluckebaum [Brian Pluckebaum who works in automotive-semiconductor marketing and designs board games], she brought up the balance of power with publishers. “Picture books pay peanuts,” she said. “Most illustrators struggle financially.” Why not make the work easier and faster? “It’s my character, my edits on the AI backgrounds, my voice, and my story.” A process that took months now takes a week, she said. “Does that make it less original?”
User MoeHong, a graphic designer and typographer for the state of California, has been using Midjourney to make what he called generic illustrations (“backgrounds, people at work, kids at school, etc.”) for government websites, pamphlets, and literature: “I get some of the benefits of using custom art — not that we have a budget for commissions! — without the paying-an-artist part.” He said he has mostly replaced stock art, but he’s not entirely comfortable with the situation. “I have a number of friends who are commercial illustrators, and I’ve been very careful not to show them what I’ve made,” he said. He’s convinced that tools like this could eventually put people in his trade out of work. “But I’m already in my 50s,” he said, “and I hope I’ll be gone by the time that happens.”
The last article I’m featuring here is a September 15, 2021 piece by Agnieszka Cichocka for DailyArt, which provides good, brief descriptions of algorithms, generative creative networks, machine learning, artificial neural networks, and more. She is an enthusiast (Note: Links have been removed),
I keep wondering if Leonardo da Vinci, who, in my opinion, was the most forward thinking artist of all time, would have ever imagined that art would one day be created by AI. He worked on numerous ideas and was constantly experimenting, and, although some were failures, he persistently tried new products, helping to move our world forward. Without such people, progress would not be possible.
As humans, we learn by acquiring knowledge through observations, senses, experiences, etc. This is similar to computers. Machine learning is a process in which a computer system learns how to perform a task better in two ways—either through exposure to environments that provide punishments and rewards (reinforcement learning) or by training with specific data sets (the system learns automatically and improves from previous experiences). Both methods help the systems improve their accuracy. Machines then use patterns and attempt to make an accurate analysis of things they have not seen before. To give an example, let’s say we feed the computer with thousands of photos of a dog. Consequently, it can learn what a dog looks like based on those. Later, even when faced with a picture it has never seen before, it can tell that the photo shows a dog.
If you want to see some creative machine learning experiments in art, check out ML x ART. This is a website with hundreds of artworks created using AI tools.
As the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words” and, now, It seems that pictures will be made from words or so suggests the example of Jason M. Allen feeding prompts to the AI system Midjourney.
I suspect (as others have suggested) that in the end, artists who use AI systems will be absorbed into the art world in much the same way as artists who use photography, or are considered performance artists and/or conceptual artists, and/or use video have been absorbed. There will be some displacements and discomfort as the questions I opened this posting with (Who is an artist? What is an artist? Can everyone be an artist?) are passionately discussed and considered. Underlying many of these questions is the issue of money.
The impact on people’s livelihoods is cheering or concerning depending on how the AI system is being used. Herrman’s September 19, 2022 article highlights two examples that focus on graphic designers. Gila von Meissner, the illustrator and designer, who uses her own art to illustrate her children’s books in a faster, more cost effective way with an AI system and MoeHong, a graphic designer for the state of California, who uses an AI system to make ‘customized generic art’ for which the state government doesn’t have to pay.
So far, the focus has been on Midjourney and other AI agents that have been created by developers for use by visual artists and writers. What happens when the visual artist or the writer is the developer? A September 12, 2022 article by Brandon Scott Roye for Cool Hunting approaches the question (Note: Links have been removed),
Mario Klingemann and Sasha Stiles on Semi-Autonomous AI Artists
An artist and engineer at the forefront of generating AI artwork, Mario Klingemann and first-generation Kalmyk-American poet, artist and researcher Sasha Stiles both approach AI from a more human, personal angle. Creators of semi-autonomous systems, both Klingemann and Stiles are the minds behind Botto and Technelegy, respectively. They are both artists in their own right, but their creations are too. Within web3, the identity of the “artist” who creates with visuals and the “writer” who creates with words is enjoying a foundational shift and expansion. Many have fashioned themselves a new title as “engineer.”
Based on their primary identities as an artist and poet, Klingemann and Stiles face the conundrum of becoming engineers who design the tools, rather than artists responsible for the final piece. They now have the ability to remove themselves from influencing inputs and outputs.
If you have time, I suggest reading Roye’s September 12, 2022 article as it provides some very interesting ideas although I don’t necessarily agree with them, e.g., “They now have the ability to remove themselves from influencing inputs and outputs.” Anyone who’s following the ethics discussion around AI knows that biases are built into the algorithms whether we like it or not. As for artists and writers calling themselves ‘engineers’, they may get a little resistance from the engineering community.
As users of open source software, Klingemann and Stiles should not have to worry too much about intellectual property. However, it seems copyright for the actual works and patents for the software could raise some interesting issues especially since money is involved.
Who gets the patent and/or the copyright? Assuming you and I are employing machine learning to train our AI agents separately, could there be an argument that if my version of the AI is different than yours and proves more popular with other content creators/ artists that I should own/share the patent to the software and rights to whatever the software produces?
Getting back to Herrman’s comment about high compute costs and energy, we seem to have an insatiable appetite for energy and that is not only a high cost financially but also environmentally.
Here’s more about Klingemann’s artist exhibition by Botto (from an October 6, 2022 announcement received via email),
Mario Klingemann is a pioneering figurehead in the field of AI art, working deep in the field of Machine Learning. Governed by a community of 5,000 people, Klingemann developed Botto around an idea of creating an autonomous entity that is able to be creative and co-creative. Inspired by Goethe’s artificial man in Faust, Botto is a genderless AI entity that is guided by an international community and art historical trends. Botto creates 350 art pieces per week that are presented to its community. Members of the community give feedback on these art fragments by voting, expressing their individual preferences on what is aesthetically pleasing to them. Then collectively the votes are used as feedback for Botto’s generative algorithm, dictating what direction Botto should take in its next series of art pieces.
The creative capacity of its algorithm is far beyond the capacities of an individual to combine and find relationships within all the information available to the AI. Botto faces similar issues as a human artist, and it is programmed to self-reflect and ask, “I’ve created this type of work before. What can I show them that’s different this week?”
Once a week, Botto auctions the art fragment with the most votes on SuperRare. All proceeds from the auction go back to the community. The AI artist auctioned its first three pieces, Asymmetrical Liberation, Scene Precede, and Trickery Contagion for more than $900,000 dollars, the most successful AI artist premiere. Today, Botto has produced upwards of 22 artworks and current sales have generated over $2 million in total [emphasis mine].
From March 2022 when Botto had made $1M to October 2022 where it’s made over $2M. It seems Botto is a very financially successful artist.
This exhibition (October 26 – 30, 2022) is being held in London, England at this location:
The Department Store, Brixton 248 Ferndale Road London SW9 8FR United Kingdom