Category Archives: Vancouver

Autonopia will pilot automated window cleaning in Vancouver (Canada) in 2022

Construction worker working outdoors with the project. Courtesy: Autonopia

Kenneth Chan in a June 10, 2021 article for the Daily Hive describes a startup company in Vancouver (Canada), which hopes to run a pilot project in 2022 for its “HŌMĀN, a highly capable, fast and efficient autonomous machine, designed specifically for cleaning the glasses [windows] perfectly and quickly.” (The description is from Autonopia’s homepage.)

Chan’s June 10, 2021 article describe the new automated window washer as a roomba-like robot,

The business of washing windows on a tower with human labour is a dangerous, inefficient, and costly practice, but a Vancouver innovator’s robotic solution could potentially disrupt this service globally.

Researchers with robotic systems startup Autonopia have come up with a robot that can mimic the behaviour of human window washers, including getting into the nooks and crannies of all types of complicated building facades — any surface structure.

It is also far more efficient than humans, cleaning windows three to four times faster, and can withstand wind and cold temperatures. According to a [news?] release, the robot is described as a modular device with a plug-and-play design [emphasis mine] that allows it to work on any building without requiring any additional infrastructure to be installed.

While artificial intelligence and the robotic device replaces manual work, it still requires a skilled operator to oversee the cleaning.

“It’s intimidating, hard work that most workers don’t want to do, [emphasis mine]” said Autonopia co-founder Mohammad Dabiri, who came up with the idea after witnessing an accident in Southeast Asia [emphasis mine].

“There’s high overhead to manage the hiring, allocation and training of workers, and sometimes they quit as soon as it comes time to go on a high rise.”

“We realized this problem has existed for a while, and yet none of the available solutions has managed to scale,” said Kamali Hossein, the co-founder and CTO of Autonopia, and a Mitacs postdoctoral research [sic] in mechatronic systems engineering at Simon Fraser University.

To clarify, the company is Autonopia and the product the company is promoting is HŌMĀN, an automated or robotic window washer for tall buildings (towers).

HŌMĀN (as it’s written in the Encyclopedia Iranica) or Houmān, as it’s written in Wikipedia, seems to be a literary hero or, perhaps, superhero,

… is one of the most famous Turanian heroes in Shahnameh, the national epic of Greater Iran. Houmān is famous for his bravery, loyalty, and chivalry, such that even Iranians who are longtime enemies of Turanians admire his personality. He is a descendant of Tur, a son of Viseh and brother of Piran. Houmān is the highest ranking Turanian commander and after Piran, he is the second leading member of Viseh clan. Houman first appears in the story of Rostam and Sohrab, …

Autonopia’s website is very attractive and weirdly uninformative. I looked for a more in depth description of ‘plug and play’ and found this,

Modular and Maintainable

The design of simple, but highly capable and modular components, along with the overall simplicity of the robot structure allows for a shorter build time and maintenance turnover. …

Cleans any tower

The flexible and capable design of the robot allows it to adjust to the complexities of the structures and it can maneuver uneven surfaces of different buildings very quickly and safely. No tower is off-limits for HŌMĀN. It is designed to cater to the specific requirements of each high-rise

I wish there were more details about the hardware and the software, e.g., there’s no mention of artificial intelligence as mentioned in Chan’s article.

As for whether or not this is “intimidating, hard work that most workers don’t want to do,” I wonder how Mohammad Dabiri can be so certain. If this product is successful, it will have an impact on people who rely on this work for their livelihoods. Possibly adding some insult to injury, Dabiri and Hossein claim their product is better at the job than humans are.

Nobody can argue about making work safer but it would be nice if some of these eager, entrepreneurial types put some thought into the impact both positive and negative that their bright ideas can have on other people.

As for whether HŌMĀN can work on any tower, photographs like the one at the beginning of this posting, feature modern office buildings which look like glass sheets held together with steel and concrete. So, it doesn’t look likely to work (and it’s probably not feasible from a business perspective) on older buildings with fewer stories, stone ornamentation, and even more nooks and crannies. As for some of the newer buildings which feature odd shapes and are reintroducing ornamentation, I’d imagine that will be problematic. But perhaps the market is overseas where tall buildings can range from 65 stories to over 100 stories (Wikipedia ‘List of tallest buildings‘). After all the genesis for this project was an incident in Southeast Asia. Vancouver doesn’t have 65 story buildings—yet. But, I’m sure there’s a developer or two out there with some plans.

‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ at Vancouver’s (Canada) Belkin Art Gallery from 10 September – 05 December 2021

The drift in “Drift: Art and Dark Matter” (at the Belkin Art Gallery) comes from a mining term for an almost horizontal passageway or tunnel in a mine. (This makes sense when you realize SNOLAB is one of the partners for this show. For anyone unfamiliar with SNOLAB, there is more coming shortly.)

The show itself appears to be a suite of multimedia installations from four artists, which were first shown at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, Ontario.

Image: Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula, 2019, photomontage, mixed techniques. Collection of the artist [one of the Drift show artists]

For anyone who’s primarily interested in the show’s Belkin Gallery appearance, scroll down to the “Drift moves to the Belkin in British Columbia” subhead where you’ll find an invitation to the show’s opening and more about the BC collaboration. **As of Sept. 9, 2021, I have updated the ‘questions’ subsection (scroll down to ?) with newly arrived answers.**

Drift: the show and the art/science residencies at Queen’s University

This show, which ran from 20 February to 30 May 2021, had its start at Queen’s University (Ontario) where it featured astroparticle physics, art/science residencies, and artists Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley and Jol Thoms, (from the Drift: Art and Dark Matter exhibition webpage on the Agnes Queen’s University site; Note: The Agnes is also known as, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre), Note: A link has been removed,

Some kind of invisible matter is having a gravitational effect on everything. Without the gravity of this “dark” matter, galaxies would fly apart. Observational data in astroparticle physics indicate that it exists, but so far dark matter hasn’t been directly detected. Given the contours of such an unknown, artists Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley and Jol Thoms reflect on the “how” and “why” of physics and art as diverse and interrelating practices of knowledge. Through open exchange between disciplines, they have created works that are sensory agents between scientific ideas of dark matter and the exploration of that which has never been directly sensed.

Drift: Art and Dark Matter is a residency and exhibition project generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB. Four artists of national and international stature were invited to make new work while engaging with physicists, chemists and engineers contributing to the search for dark matter at SNOLAB’s facility in Sudbury, two kilometres below the surface of the Earth.

The title Drift draws from the mining term for a horizontal tunnel, in this case the hot underground passageway in the copper and nickel mine stretching between the elevator and the clean lab spaces of SNOLAB. The project thereby begins from a reflection on the forms and energies that connect physics to art, labour, landscapes, cultures and histories.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, City of Kingston Arts Fund through the Kingston Arts Council and the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund at Queen’s University.

Partners

The Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is the Canadian hub for astroparticle physics research, uniting researchers, theorists, and technical experts within one organization. Located at and led by Queen’s University, the McDonald Institute is proud to have thirteen partner universities and research institutes across the country, all of which are key players in Canada’s past and future innovation in astroparticle physics.

VISIT site >

SNOLAB is a world-class science facility located deep underground in the operational Vale Creighton nickel mine, near Sudbury, Ontario in Canada. The combination of great depth and cleanliness that SNOLAB affords allows extremely rare interactions and weak processes to be studied.  The science programme at SNOLAB is currently focussed on sub-atomic physics, largely neutrino and dark matter physics. SNOLAB seeks to enable, spearhead, catalyze and promote underground science, while inspiring both the public and future professionals in the field.

VISIT website >

SNO stands for Sudbury Neutrino Observatory according to the information in my June 6, 2019 posting about a then upcoming talk tiled, Whispering in the Dark: Updates from Underground Science. More recently, I noted that TRIUMF’s (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre) new Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Smith, was moving to Vancouver from Sudbury’s SNOLAB in my May 12, 2021 posting.

Drift’s online exhibition at the Agnes can still be accessed and there is lots to see.

There’s a little more to be had from the Drift: Art and Dark Matter exhibition webpage on the Agnes website,

Artist Biographies

Nadia Lichtig is an artist currently living in the South of France. In her multilayered work, voice is transposed into various media including painting, print, sculpture, photography, performance, soundscape and song—each medium approached not as a field to be mastered, but as a source of possibilities to question our ability to decipher the present. Visual and aural aspects entangle in her performances.

Lichtig studied linguistics at the LMU Munich in Germany and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris, France with Jean-Luc Vilmouth, where she graduated with honours in 2001, before assisting Mike Kelley in Los Angeles, USA the same year. She taught at the Shrishti School of Art and Technology, Bangalore, India as a visiting professor in 2006, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Valence in 2007, and is professor of Fine Arts at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-arts of Montpellier (MOCO-ESBA), France since 2009. She has collaborated with musicians who are also visual artists, such as Bertrand Georges (Audible), Christian Bouyjou (Popopfalse), Nicolu (La Chatte), Nina Canal (Ut) and Michael Moorley (The dead C). Nadia Lichtig worked and works under several group names and pseudonyms (until 2009: EchoparK, Falseparklocation, Skrietch, Ghosttrap and Nanana).

Josèfa Ntjam was born in 1992 in Metz (FR), and currently lives and works in Paris. Ntjam is part of a generation of artists who grew up with the internet, communicating and sending images by electromagnetic wave. Working with video, text, installation, performance and photomontage, Ntjam creates a story with every piece that acts as a reflection of the world around her. Drawing connections to science fiction and the cosmos, Ntjam has said of her work, “I sat there some time ago with Sun Ra in his Spaceship experimenting with a series of alternative stories. An exoteric syncretism with which I travel as a vessel in perpetual motion.”

Ntjam studied in Amiens and Dakar (Cheikh Anta Diop University) and graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Bourges (FR) and Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Paris-Cergy (FR). Her works and performance have been shown at numerous venues such as the 15th Biennial of Lyon, DOC! Paris, a la Zentral (CH), Palais de Tokyo, Beton Salon, La Cite internationale des arts, la Bienanale de Dakar (SN), Let Us Rflect Festival (FR), FRAC de Caen, and CAC Bretigny.

Anne Riley is a multidisciplinary artist living as an uninvited Slavey Dene/German guest from Fort Nelson First Nation on the unceded Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh Nations. Her work explores different ways of being and becoming, touch, and Indigeneity. Riley received her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. She has exhibited both in the United States and Canada. Currently she is working on a public art project commissioned by the City of Vancouver with her collaborator, T’uy’tanat Cease Wyss. Wyss and Riley’s project A Constellation of Remediation consists of Indigenous remediation gardens planted throughout the city, decolonizing and healing the dirt back to soil. The duo was longlisted for the 2021 Sobey Art Award.

Riley’s that brings the other nearly as close as oneself, included in the 2015 exhibition Every Little Bit Hurts at Western Front, foregrounded touch, impression and embodied experience. It featured a wall drawing created by the artist rubbing, dragging and moving her body across the gallery wall wearing raw-dyed denim. “I’m interested in queer touch as a radical act,” she says. “It’s not always possible because of fear. But I’m also investigating first touch between mother and child. I have the same hands as my mother and my great grandmother.”

Jol Thoms is a Canadian-born, European-based artist, author and sound designer. Both his written and moving-image work engage posthumanism, feminist science studies, general ecology and the environmental implications of pervasive technical/sensing devices. In the fields of neutrino and dark matter physics he collaborates with renowned physics institutes around the world. These “laboratory-landscapes” are the focus of his practice led PhD at the University of Westminster. In 2017 Thoms was a fellow of Schloss Solitude and resident artist at the Bosch Campus for Research and Advanced Engineering.

Thoms graduated with an Honors BA in Philosophy, Art History and Visual Studies from the University of Toronto (2009) and later studied under Prof. Simon Starling at the Städelschule in Frankfurt (2013). Between 2014 and 2016 he developed and taught an experimental creative-research program for architecture students at the University of Braunschweig with then interim director Tomás Saraceno. In 2016 Thoms won the MERU Art*Science Award for his film G24|0vßß, which was installed in the Blind Faith: Between the Cognitive and the Visceral in Contemporary Art group exhibition at Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Drift moves to the Belkin in British Columbia

An invitation (also received via email) to the show’s launch in BC is for the evening before the show officially opens,

Thursday 9 Sep 2021, 6 pm

Please join us for the opening of Drift: Art and Dark Matter  with a performance-conversation between artists Denise Ferreira da Silva and Jol Thoms. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited due to COVID-19 safety protocols. To ensure a spot, please RSVP to belkin.rsvp@ubc.ca.

Opening remarks will begin at 6 pm, followed by a conversation with Ferreira da Silva and Thoms who will touch on intersections between the films Soot Breath / Corpus Infinitum (2021) and n-Land (2021), both of which will play throughout the evening on the Belkin’s Outdoor Screen.

Soot Breath / Corpus Infinitum (2021) is a film collaboration between Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva. Moving across scales geologic, historic-cultural, quantum and cosmic, the work reimagines knowledge and existence without the limits of European and Colonial constructions of the human.

n-Land (2021) is an audio-visual composition by Jol Thoms. Examining context and agency through scales at once geologic, cosmic and human, the piece probes the ecological ethics of our time through a holographic, multi-dimensional view of the SNOLAB site.

The official dates for Drift are Friday, September 10, 2021to December 5, 2021.

As best as I can tell from the Morris & Helen Belkin Art Gallery (the Belkin) homepage description of ‘Drift’, the show will comprise the original series of installations from the four artists featured at the Agnes. The new work from art/science residencies at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where the Belkin is located will be featured in artist talks and in a symposium to be held in November 2021.

Here’s how the newest residencies are described and a list of the various supporting agencies in an undated announcement on the Galleries West website,

As a complement to the Drift exhibition, the Belkin is collaborating with the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UBC on Ars Scientia [emphasis mine], an interdisciplinary research project fusing the praxes of art and science that will include artist-scientist residencies and a research symposium.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, City of Kingston Arts Fund through the Kingston Arts Council and the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund at Queen’s University. The project is curated by Sunny Kerr, Curator of Contemporary Art at Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The Belkin gratefully acknowledges [emphasis mine] the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council, UBC Grants for Catalyzing Research Clusters, and our Belkin Curator’s Forum members.

Ars Scientia

There’s a brief description of Ars Scientia in the graduate school webspace located on the UBC website. Emily Wight’s March 22, 2021 article for the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) provides more detail about Ars Scientia (the first para. is the least interesting),

The Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (Blusson QMI) has partnered with the Morris & Helen Belkin Art Gallery (the Belkin) and UBC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy (UBC PHAS) in Ars Scientia, a new project that connects physicists and artists in an effort to find shared ways of communicating about science and explaining the world around us. The partnership was recently awarded two years of funding through the UBC Research Excellence Cluster program.

Though the project is in its early days, the team at Ars Scientia is already working quickly to partner scientists with artists who will conduct six-month residencies in order to explore the potential for academic art-science collaborations; much of the cluster’s early programming will be in support of DRIFT: Art and Dark Matter (DRIFT), an exhibit set to debut at the Belkin in September 2021. DRIFT is a collaborative exhibit that has linked artists and scientists in exploring ways of describing that which exists beyond the limits of our language and understanding; most recently, the exhibit connected the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, and SNOLAB.

This partnership is a promising early step in Blusson QMI’s mission to engage meaningfully with the art community and external audiences, and an opportunity for an enriching exchange of knowledge and perspective. Students in particular will benefit from this exchange; by inviting artists into labs and research spaces, trainee scientists will gain valuable insight into how someone with different expertise might interpret their work, and how to communicate more effectively about their research. New programs are under development and will be announced soon.

Ars Scientia is co-led by Andrea Damascelli, UBC PHAS [Dept. of Physics and Astronomy] Professor and Blusson QMI Scientific Director; Jeremy Heyl, UBC PHAS Professor; and Shelly Rosenblum, Curator of Academic Programs at the Belkin, and supported by a team of staff including Program Manager James Day.

Art/science residencies in BC

I found this undated announcement on the Belkin Art Gallery website,

Ars Scientia: Merging Artistic Practice with Scientific Research

The long search for dark matter has put the spotlight on the limitations of human knowledge and technological capability. Confronted with the shortcomings of our established modes of detecting, diagnosing and testing, the search beckons the creation of new ways of learning and knowing. Fusing the praxes of arts and science in the emergent fields of interdisciplinary research, Ars Scientia, a tripartite partnership between UBC’s Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI), the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Belkin, presents an opportunity to foster new modes of knowledge exchange across the arts, sciences and their pedagogies. Funded by UBC’s Research Excellence Cluster program, Ars Scientia will conduct rich programming and research to address this line of inquiry over the next two years beginning in 2021.

The Ars Scientia research cluster has begun this interdisciplinary work by partnering scientists with artists to conduct six-month residencies that explore the potential for academic art-science collaborations. [List is not complete] Artists Justine A. Chambers, Josephine Lee, Khan Lee and Kelly Lycan have partnered with physicists Rysa Greenwood, Alannah Hallas, Daniel Korchinski, Kirk Madison, Sarah Morris and Luke Reynolds to identify areas of collaborative research in pursuit of both scientific and artistic aims. The residencies will culminate in a research symposium where collaborative findings will be shared, set to take place in November 2021 [emphases mine].

Much of the early programming of Ars Scientia will be in support of Drift: Art and Dark Matter (7 September-5 December 2021) at the Belkin, a residency and exhibition project generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB.

There is what seems to be a more complete list of the participants in the Belkin/Blusson residency on the same webpage as the undated announcement of the above,

  • Justine A. Chambers
  • Andrea Damascelli
  • James Day
  • Rysa Greenwood
  • Jeremy Heyl
  • Daniel Korchinski
  • Josephine Lee
  • Khan Lee
  • Kelly Lycan
  • Kirk Madison
  • Susana Mendez Álcala
  • Sarah Morris
  • Marcus Prasad
  • Luke Reynolds
  • Shelly Rosenblum
  • Emily Wight

You’ll notice two things should you go to the undated announcement. First, some of the names are clickable; these are the artists’ biographies. Second, Emily Wight who wrote the March 22, 2021 article for the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) is also on the list. I also noticed that a couple of the names belong to people who are staff members, James Day (Ars Scientia Program Manager) and Marcus Prasad (from his personal website: Academic Programs Assistant at the Belkin Assistant Project Coordinator for Ars Scientia).

?

On Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, I emailed some followup questions for the folks at the Belkin. Sadly, I failed to take into account that long weekend, which gave them very little time to respond before I planned to post this. Should I receive any replies, I will update this posting.

*ETA September 9, 2021: Marcus Prasad, Academic Programs Assistant at the Belkin Assistant Project Coordinator for Ars Scientia, very kindly sent answers to the questions:

Here are the questions:

  • Would you have any details about the talks, projects, and/or symposium?

*One of Ars Scientia’s main projects is a residency program between UBC physicists and 4 artists who have been paired up or grouped together to think through an arts-science collaboration. As practicing professionals in their respective fields, they have been asked to think about points of intersection and difference in their disciplines, as well as to formulate new ways of knowing and learning from each other. The intent of this residency program is to provide time and space for these collaborations to unfold in whatever way the participants desire. We plan to have a symposium/gathering event at the end of November where findings from these collaborations can be presented in a large discussion. While this research cluster is topically related to the Drift exhibition at the Belkin, it is somewhat of a separate entity. Programming in the research cluster complements the Belkin’s exhibition, but will continue over the next couple of years after Drift has left the gallery. [emphases mine]

  • Will there be an online version of the BC work? (e.g., the Agnes had and still has an online version of the show.)

*I am unsure what kind of online presence the Belkin will have for the works in the exhibition specifically, but documentation of related events and programming is often made available on their website.

  • I noticed that Emily Wight who wrote the March 22, 2021 article about the show for the ‘Stewart Blusson’ is also listed as one of the participants. The only (more or less) relevant online reference I could find for Ms. Wight was at Carleton University for a student art show. Is this the same person? Is she an artist and/or writer who’s participating in the residency?

*Emily Wight is part of the steering committee for Ars Scientia, along with myself, James Day, and Susana Mendez Álcala. Shelly Rosenblum, Andrea Damascelli, and Jeremy Heyl are the cluster co-leads, and the rest of the listed names are either artists or physicists participating in the residency.

**Note: Susana Mendez Álcala is the Large Grants and Awards Officer at the SBQMI.

  • Will there be some talks that focus on astrophysics? e.g., Might someone from TRIUMF such as the new CEO, Nigel Smith who came here from the SNOLAB give a talk? [See my May 12, 2021 posting about TRIUMF’s new Chief Executive Office {CEO}]
  • Following on that thought, will there be any joint events with other organizations as there were with The Beautiful Brain show? [See my September 11, 2017 posting titled: “Art in the details: A look at the role of art in science—a Sept. 19, 2017 Café Scientifique event in Vancouver, Canada” for more about that exhibit and its associated events ?

*To my knowledge, we have not planned for a talk with TRIUMF as of yet. The QMI is working on programming with the H.R. MacMillan space centre for Dark Matter Days, however, and we do plan to expand our reach to other organizations in the second year of our cluster.

**Prasad also had this to say: “… we are in the midst of getting an Ars Scientia website up, so there’ll be more concrete information on there to come.”

**Thank you to Marcus Prasad for the answers and for clearing up a few matters that I had not thought to ask about.**

One comment: I have had difficulties accessing the Belkin Gallery website, e.g., most of Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 and on the morning of Friday, September 3, 2021. Hopefully, they’re experiencing just a few glitches and nothing more serious.

There you have it.

Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?

I started writing this in the aftermath of the 2021 Canadian federal budget when most of the action (so far) occurred but if you keep going to the end of this post you’ll find updates for Precision Nanosystems and AcCellera and a few extra bits. Also, you may want to check out my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan and some of the ‘rough and tumble’ of the biotechnology scene in BC/Canada. Now, onto my analysis of the life sciences public relations campaign in British Columbia.

Gordon Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article (also in print on May 8, 2021) about the British Columbia (mostly in Vancouver) biotechnology scene in the Vancouver Sun is the starting point for this story.

His entry (whether the reporter realizes it or not) into a communications (or public relations) campaign spanning federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdictions is well written and quite informative. While it’s tempting to attribute the whole thing to a single evil genius or mastermind in answer to the question posed in the head, the ‘campaign’ is likely a targeted effort by one or more groups and individuals enhanced with a little luck.

Federal and provincial money for life sciences and technology

The Business Council of British Columbia’s April 22, 2021 Federal & B.C. Budgets 2021 Analysis (PDF), notes this in its Highlights section,

•Another priority reflected in both budgets is boosting innovation and accelerating the growth of technology-producing companies. The federal budget [April 19, 2021] is spending billions more to support the life sciences and bio-manufacturing industry, clean technologies, the development of electric vehicles, the aerospace sector, quantum computing, AI, genomics, and digital technologies, among others.

•B.C.’s budget [April 20, 2021] also provides funding to spur innovation, support the technology sector and grow locally-based companies. In this area the main item is the new InBC Investment Corporation [emphasis mine], first announced last summer. Endowed with $500 million financed via an agency loan, the Corporation will establish a fund to invest in growing and “anchoring” high-growth [emphasis mine] B.C. businesses.

Their in-depth analysis does not provide more detail about the life sciences investments in the 2021 Canadian federal budget or the 2021 BC provincial budget.

My May 4, 2021 posting details many of the Canadian federal investments in life sciences and other technology areas of interest. The 2021 BC budget announcement is so vague, it didn’t merit much more than this mention until now.

InBC Investment Corporation (BC’s contribution)

InBC Investment Corporation was set up on or about April 27, 2021 as three news ‘references’ (brief summaries with a link) suggest: InBC Investment Corp. Act, InBC Announcement, $500-million investment fund paves way for StrongerBC.

While the corporation does not have a specific mandate to fund the biotechnology sector, given the current enthusiasm, it’s easy to believe they might be more inclined to fund them than not, regardless of any expertise they or may not have specifically in that field.

Of most interest to me was InBC’s Board of Directors, which I tracked down to a BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release,

InBC Investment Corp. now has a full board of directors with backgrounds in finance, economics, impact investing and business to provide strategic guidance and accountability for the new Crown corporation.

InBC will support startups [emphasis mine], help promising companies scale up and work with a “triple bottom line” mandate that considers people, the planet and profits, to position British Columbia as a front-runner in the post-pandemic economy.

Christine Bergeron, president and chief executive officer of Vancity, will serve as the new board chair of InBC Investment Corp. The nine-member board of directors is made up of both public and private sector members who are responsible for oversight of the corporation, including its mission, policies and goals.

The InBC board members were selected through a comprehensive process, guided by the principles of the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office. Candidates with a variety of relevant backgrounds were considered to form a strong board consisting of seven women and two men. The members appointed represent diversity as well as appropriate areas of expertise.

The following people were selected as members on the board of directors:

  • Christine Bergeron, president and CEO, Vancity
  • Kevin Campbell, managing director of investment banking, board of directors, Haywood Securities
  • Ingrid Leong, VP finance for JH Investments and chief investment officer, Houssian Foundation
  • Glen Lougheed, serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor
  • Suzanne Trottier, vice-president of Indigenous trust services, First Nations Bank Trust
  • Carole James, former minister of finance and deputy premier, Government of British Columbia
  • Iglika Ivanova, senior economist, public interest researcher, BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Bobbi Plecas, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation
  • Heather Wood, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Finance

Legislation to provide the governance framework for InBC was introduced by the legislative assembly on April 27, 2021.

Board experience at growing a startup?

This group of people doesn’t seem to have a shred of experience with startups. Glen Lougheed’s “serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor” description means nothing to me and the description he provides in his LinkedIn profile doesn’t clear up matters,

I am a product and business development professional with an entrepreneurial attitude and strong technical skills. I have been building companies both mine and others since I was a teenager.

Having looked up the two companies for which he is currently acting as Chief Executive Officer, Lougheed’s interest appears to be focused on the use of ‘big data’ in marketing and communications campaigns.

Perhaps startup experience isn’t necessary since the board has been appointed to do this (from the BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release; click on the Backgrounder),

Responsibilities of the InBC Investment Corp. board of directors

The board of directors will be responsible for oversight of the management of the affairs of the corporation. This includes:

  • selecting and approving the chief executive officer and chief innovation officer and monitoring performance and accountabilities;
  • reviewing and approving annual corporate financial statements;
  • oversight of policies that relate to InBC’s mandate and holding the executive to account for its accountabilities with respect to InBC’s mandate;
  • oversight of InBC’s operations; and
  • selection and appointment of InBC’s auditor.

Relationships

So, we have two government civil servants, Wood (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Finance) and Plecas (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation), and James, a BC Minister of Finance, who left the job several months ago. Then we have Lougheed, recently resigned (May 2021) as special advisor on innovation and technology to the BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

It would seem almost half of this new board is or has been affiliated with the government and, likely, know each other.

I expect there are more relationships to be found but my interest is in the overall picture as it pertains to the biotechnology scene. This board (except possibly for Lougheed) does not seem to have any experience in the biotechnology sector or growing any sort of startup business in any technology field.

Presumably, the new chief executive officer (CEO) and new chief innovation officer (CIO) will have some of the necessary experience. Still, biotechnology isn’t the same as digital technology, an area where the BC technology community is quite strong. (The Canadian federal government’s Digital Technology Supercluster is headquartered in BC.)

I imagine the politics around who gets hired as CEO and as CIO will be quite interesting.

See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more mention of this ‘secretive’ government corporation.

The BC biotech gorillas

AbCellera was BC’s biggest biotech story in 2020/21 (see my Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist post from December 30, 2020 for more. Do check out the subsection titled “Avo Media …” for a look at an unexpectedly interlaced relationship). Note: The AbCellera COVID-19 treatment is not a vaccine or a vaccine delivery system.

It was a bit surprising that Acuitas Therapeutics didn’t get more attention although Hoekstra seems to have addressed that shortcoming in his May 7, 2021 article by using Thomas Madden and Acuitas as the hook for the story,

By early 2020, concern was mounting about a new, deadly coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency just days before. There had been more than 400 deaths and more than 20,000 cases, most of those in China.

But the virus was spreading around the world. Deaths had occurred in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and the virus had been detected in the U.S. and Canada.

By early January of 2020, scientists in China had already sequenced the virus’s genome and made it public, allowing scientists to begin the research for a vaccine.

Scientists expected that could take years.

But, as a second case was confirmed in B.C. in early February, Thomas Madden, a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology who heads Vancouver-based biotech company Acuitas Therapeutics, flew to Germany. [emphases mine]

Acuitas was in the business of creating lipid nanoparticles, microscopic biological vehicles that could deliver drugs [emphasis mine] — for example, to specifically target cancers in the body.

Scientists are already beginning to say it’s likely that a booster vaccine will be needed [emphasis mine] next year to deal with the virus variants.

Madden, the head of Acuitas, says it makes absolute sense to use the new biotechnology, for example, the use of messenger RNA vaccines, to prepare and fight future pandemics.

Says Madden [emphasis mine]: “The technology in terms of what it’s able to do is absolutely phenomenal. It’s just taken us 40 years to get here.”

So, Hoekstra reminds us of the international nature and urgency of the crisis, then, introduces Acuitas as a vital and local player in solutions deployed internationally, and, finally, brings us back to Acuitas after providing an overview of the BC biotech scene and the federal and provincial government’s latest moves,

AbCellera Biologics is more of a supporting player, along with a number of other companies, in Hoekstra’s story,

Sandwiched in the middle, you’ll find what I think is the point of the story,

LifeSciences BC and the provincial government’s commitments

From Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article,

The importance of the biotech sector in providing protection against pandemics has caught the attention of the federal and B.C. governments. It has also been noticed by the private markets.

In its budget [April 19, 2021] earlier this month [sic], the federal government promised more than $2 billion in the next seven years to support “promising” life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms, research, training, education and vaccine candidates.

Some companies, including Precision NanoSystems, have already got federal funding. The Vancouver company received $18.2 million last year to help develop its self-replicating mRNA vaccine and another $25 million in early 2021 to assist building a $50-million facility to produce the vaccine.

Last fall, Symvivo received $2.8 million from the National Research Council to help develop its oral COVID-19 vaccine.

AbCellera has also received a pledge of $175.6 million to help build an accredited manufacturing facility in Vancouver [emphasis mine] to produce antibody treatments.

AbCellera expects to double its 230-person workforce over the next two years as it expands its Vancouver campus.

When AbCellera became a publicly traded company late last year, it raised more than $500 million and had a recent market capitalization, the value of its stock, of about $8.5 billion.

When the B.C. government delivered its throne speech recently, the contribution of the province’s life sciences sector in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted, with Precision NanoSystems, AbCellera and StarFish Medical getting mentions. “Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead,” said B.C.’s Lt. Gov. Jane Austen in delivering the throne speech.

When the budget was released the following week [April 20, 2021], B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said a new three-year, $500-million strategic investment fund would help support and scale up tech firms.

Despite their successes, B.C. biotech firms have faced challenges.

SaNOtize had to go to the U.K. to get support for clinical trials and AbCellera has been disappointed that despite Health Canada emergency approval of its COVID-19 treatment, provinces have been reluctant to use Bamlanivimab.

Hansen, AbCellera’s CEO and a former University of B.C. professor with a PhD in applied physics and biotechnology, said he believes that biotech is the most important frontier of technology.

In the past, while great science was launched from B.C.’s universities, not as great a job was done on turning that science into innovation, jobs [emphasis mine] and the capacity to bring new products to market, possibly because of a lack of entrepreneurship and polices to make it more attractive to companies to grow and thrive here and move here, notes Hansen.

Hurlburt [Wendy Hurlburt], the LifeSciences B.C. CEO, says that policies, including tax structure and patenting [emphasis mine], that encourages innovation companies are needed to support the biotech sector.

But, adds Hansen: “Here in Vancouver, I feel like we’re turning the corner. There’s probably never been a time when Vancouver’s biotech sector [emphasis mine] was stronger. And the future looks very good.”

Not only is the province involved but so is the City of Vancouver (more about that in a bit).

It’s not all about the cash

Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article helped answer a question I had in the title of another posting, January 22, 2021: Why is Precision Nanosystems Inc. in the local (Vancouver, Canada) newspaper? (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more to the answer.)

This campaign has been building for a while. In the “Is it magic or how does the federal budget get developed? subsection of my May 4, 2021 posting on the 2021 Canadian federal budget I speculated a little bit,

I believe most of the priorities are set by power players behind the scenes. We glimpsed some of the dynamics courtesy of the WE Charity scandal 2020/21 and the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019.

Access to special meetings and encounters are not likely to be given to any member of the ‘great unwashed’ but we do get to see the briefs that are submitted in anticipation of a new budget. These briefs and meetings with witnesses are available on the Parliament of Canada website (Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) webpage for pre-budget consultations.

AbCellera submitted a brief dated August 7, 2020 (PDF) detailing how they would like to see the Income Tax Act amended. It’s not always about getting cash, although that’s very important. In this brief, the company wants “… improved access to the enhanced Scientific Research & Experimental Development tax credit.”

There are many aspects to these campaigns including the federal Income Tax Act and, in this case, municipal involvement.

Vancouver (city government) and the biotech sector

About five weeks prior to the 2021 Canadian federal budget and BC provincial budget announcements, there was some news from the City of Vancouver (from a March 10, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan for dailyhive.com), Note: Links have been removed,

Major expansion plans are abound for AbCellera over the next few years to the extent that the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is now looking to build a massive purpose-built office and medical laboratory campus in Mount Pleasant (Vancouver neighbourhood).

It would be a redevelopment of the entire city block …

… earlier today, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a rezoning enquiry allowing city staff to work with the proponent and accept a formal application for review.

This special additional pre-application step is required due to the temporary ban [emphasis mine] on most types of rezonings within the Broadway Plan’s planning area, until the plan is finalized at the end of 2021.

But city staff are willing to make this a rare exception due to the economic opportunity [emphasis mine] presented by the proposal and the healthcare-related aspects.

“The reasons for advancing this quickly are they are rapidly growing and would like to stay in Vancouver, and we would like them to… We’re very glad to have this company in Vancouver and want to provide them with a permanent home, but in order to scale up, the timeframe to produce their therapy [for viruses] is really time sensitive,” Gil Kelley, the chief urban planner of the City of Vancouver, told city council during today’s [March 10, 2021] meeting.

….

Roughly 10 days after the 2021 budgets are announced, there’s this from Kenneth Chan’s April 29,2021 article on dailyhive.com,

Plans for AbCellera Biologics’ major footprint expansion in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Industrial Area are moving forward quickly.

Based on the application submitted this week, the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is proposing to redevelop 110 West 4th Avenue …

It will be designated as the rapidly growing company’s global headquarters.

… city staff are providing AbCellera with the highly rare, expedited stream of combining the rezoning and development application processes into one.

By the middle of this decade, AbCellera will have four locations in the area, including its current 21,000 sq ft office at 2215 Yukon Street and a new 44,000 sq ft office nearing completion at 2131 Manitoba Street, just south of its future main hub.

“We’re building state-of-the-art facilities in Vancouver to accelerate the development of new antibody therapies with biotech and pharma partners from around the world,” said Carl Hansen, CEO and president of AbCellera, in a statement.

AbCellera has gained significant international attention over the past year after it co-developed the first authorized COVID-19 antibody therapy for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO [initial public offering] by a Canadian biotech company.

“We see this new site as a creative hub for engineers, software developers, data scientists, biologists and bioinformaticians to collaborate, innovate, and push the frontiers of technology.” [said Veronique Lecault, the COO of AbCellera]

Additionally, AbCellera is also planning to build a clinical-grade, antibody manufacturing facility in Metro Vancouver, funded in part by the $176-million investment it received from the federal government in Spring 2020 [see May 3, 2020 AbCellera news release].

Not cash but AbCellera did get an expedited process for rezoning and I imagine there will be more special treatment as this progresses. (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for news about the expedited process.)

It’s likely there are other companies in the BC’s life science sector that are eyeing this development with great interest and high hopes for themselves.

What it takes

COVID-19 seems to have galvanized interest and support almost everywhere in the world for life sciences.

I don’t believe that anyone in the life sciences planned for or rejoiced at news of this pandemic. However, the Canadian biotech sector has been working for decades to establish itself as an important economic resource. and, sadly, COVID-19 has been a timely development.

All those years of lobbying, also known as, government relations, marketing, investor relations, public relations and more served as preparation for what looks like a concerted effort and it has paid off in BC at the federal level, provincial level, and municipal level (at least one).

The campaigns continue. Here’s Wendy Hurlburt, president and CEO of LifeSciences BC in a May 14, 2021 Conversations That Matter Vancouver Sun podcast with Stuart McNish. Note: Hurlburt makes an odd comment at about the 7 min. 30 secs. mark regarding insulin and patents.

Her dismay over lost opportunities regarding the insulin patent is right in line with Canada’s current patent mania. See my May 13, 2021 posting, Not a pretty picture: Canada and a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. As far as I’m aware, Canada’s stance has not changed. Interestingly, Hoekstra’s article doesn’t mention COVID-19 patent waivers.

By contrast, here’s what Frederick Banting (one of the discoverers) had to say about his patent, (from the Banting House Insulin Patents webpage),

About the sale of the patent of insulin for $1 Banting reportedly said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

… On January 23rd, 1923 Banting, [Charles] Best, and [James] Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin which they sold to the University of Toronto for $1.00 each.

Hurlburt goes on to express dismay over taxes and notes that some companies may leave for other jurisdictions, which means we will lose ‘innovation’. This is a very common ploy coming from any of the technology sectors and can be dated back at least 30 years.

Unmentioned is the dream/business model that so many Canadian tech entrepreneurs have: grow the company, sell it for a lot of money, and retire, preferably before the age of 40.

Getting back to my point, the current situation is not attributable to one individual or to one company’s efforts or to one life science nonprofit or to one federal Network Centre for Excellence (NanoMedicines Innovation Network [NMIN] located at the University of British Columbia).

Note: I have more about the NMIN and Acuitas Therapeutics in a November 12, 2021 posting and there’s more about NMIN’s 7th annual conference and a very high profile guest in a September 11, 2020 posting.

Strategy at the federal, provincial, and local governments, with an eye to the international scene, has been augmented by luck and opportunism.

Updates and extras

Where updates are concerned I have one for Precision Nanosystems and one for AbCellera. I have extras with regard to Moderna and Canada and, BC’s special fund, inBC Investment Corporation. For anyone who’s curious about Banting and the high cost of insulin, I have a couple of links to further reading.

Precision Nanosystems

From an August 11, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

A homegrown pharmaceutical company has announced plans to significantly scale its operations with the opening of a new production facility in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats.

The new Evolution Block building will contain PNI’s new global headquarters and a new genetic medicine Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) biomanufacturing centre, which would allow the company to expand its capabilities to include the clinical manufacturing of RNA vaccines and therapeutics.

Federal funding totalling $25.1 million for PNI was first announced in February 2021 towards covering part of the development costs of such a facility, as part of the federal government’s new strategy to better ensure Canada has the domestic capacity to secure its own COVID-19 vaccines and prepare the country for future pandemics. It is estimated the vaccine production capacity of the new facility will be 240 million doses annually.

PNI’s location in the False Creek Flats is strategic, given the close proximity to the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus and the growing concentration of tech and healthcare-based industrial businesses.

AbCellera

From a June 22, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

The rapidly growing Vancouver-based biotechnology company announced this morning their 130,000 sq ft Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility will be located on a two-acre site at the 900 block of Evans Avenue, replacing the Urban Beach volleyball courts just next to the City of Vancouver’s Evans maintenance centre and the Regional Recycling Vancouver Bottle Depot.

GMP is partially funded by the $175 million in federal funding received by the company last year to support research into coronavirus treatment.

GMP adds to AbCellera’s major plans to build a new headquarters in close proximity at 110-150 West 4th Avenue in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area — a city block-sized campus with a total of 380,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space for research and corporate uses.

Both campus buildings are being reviewed under the City of Vancouver’s rare streamlined, expedited process [emphasis mine] of combining the rezoning and development permit applications. AbCellera formally announced its campus plans in April 2021.

AbCellera gained significant international attention last year when it developed the world’s first monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19 to be authorized for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States. According to the company, over 400,000 doses of its bamlanivimab drug have been administered around the world, and it is estimated to have kept more than 22,000 people out of hospital — saving at least 11,000 lives.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO by a Canadian biotech company.

Moderna and Canada

It seems like yesterday that Derek Rossi (co-founder of Moderna) was talking about Canada’s need for a biotechnology hub. (see this June 17, 2021 article by Barbara Shecter for the Financial Post). Interestingly, there’s been an announcement of a memorandum of understanding (these things are announced all the time and don’t necessarily result in anything) between Moderna and the government of Canada according to an August 10, 2021 item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news website,

Massachusetts-based drug maker Moderna will build an mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant in Canada within the next two years, CEO Stephane Bancel said Tuesday [August 10, 2021; Note the timing, the writ for the next federal election was dropped on August 15, 2021].

The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government that will result in Canada becoming the home of Moderna’s first foreign operation. It’s not clear yet how much money Canada has offered to Moderna [emphasis mine] for the project.

Canada, whose life sciences industry has been decimated over the last three decades, wants in on the action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to rebuild the industry, and the recent budget included a $2.2 billion, seven-year investment to grow the life science and biotech sectors.

Almost half of that targets companies that want to expand or set up vaccine and drug production in Canada. None of the COVID-19 vaccines to date have been made in Canada, leaving the country entirely reliant on imports to fill vaccine orders. As a result, Canada was slower out of the gate on immunizations than some of its counterparts with domestic production, and likely had to pay more per dose for some vaccines as well.

The location of the new facility hasn’t been finalized, but Bancel said the availability of an educated workforce will be the main deciding factor. He said the design is done and they’ll need to start hiring very soon so training can begin.

it’s not exactly a hub but who knows what the future will bring? I imagine there’s going to be some serious wrangling behind the scenes as the provinces battle to be the location for the facility. Note that Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne who made the announcement with Bancel in Montréal represents a federal riding in Québec. (BTW, Bancel is from France and seems to have spent much of his adult life in the US.) Of course anything can happen and I’m sure the BC contingent will make themselves felt but it would seem that Quebec is the front runner for now, assuming this memorandum of understanding leads to a facility. Given that we are in the midst of a federal election, it seems more probable than it might otherwise.

inBC Investment Corporation

Bob Mackin’s August 13, 2021 article for theBreaker.news sheds some light on how that corporation was formed so very quickly and more,

The B.C. NDP government rejigged the B.C. Immigrant Investor Fund last year, but refused to release the business case when it was rebranded as inBC Investment Corp. in late April [2021].

theBreaker.news requested the business case for the $500 million fund, which is overseen by a board of NDP patronage appointees, on May 6 [2021].

The 123-page document below is heavily censored — meaning the NDP cabinet is refusing to tell British Columbians the projected operating costs (including board expenses, salary and benefits, office space, operating and administration), full-time equivalents, and cash flows for the newest Crown corporation. inBC bills itself as a triple-bottom line organization, meaning it intends to invest on the basis of social, environmental and economic values.

When its enabling legislation was tabled, the NDP took steps to exempt inBC from the freedom of information law.

Thank you, Mr. Mackin.

More on Banting, insulin and patents

Caitlyn McClure’s 2016 article (Insulin’s Inventor Sold the Patent for $1. Then Drug Companies Got Hold of It.) for other98.com is a brief and pithy explanation for why insulin costs so much. Alanna Mitchell’s August 13, 2019 article for Maclean’s magazine investigates ‘insulin tourism’ and offers more detail as to how this situation has come about.

One last reminder, my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan provides insight into how competitive and rough the bitotechnology scene can be here in BC/Canada.

Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story

Nathan Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article for Forbes magazine about Ian MacLachlan and the delivery system for mRNA vaccines tells a type of story I’ve more often seen in history books. It is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla story of electricity. One gets all the glory while the other is largely forgotten.

I’m especially interested as much of this concerns players in the local (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) biotechnology scene. Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article sets the scene,

“The whole mRNA platform is not how to build an mRNA molecule; that’s the easy thing,” Bourla [Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla] says. “It is how to make sure the mRNA molecule will go into your cells and give the instructions.” 

Yet the story of how Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer managed to create that vital delivery system has never been told. It’s a complicated saga involving 15 years of legal battles and accusations of betrayal and deceit. [emphases mine] What is clear is that when humanity needed a way to deliver mRNA to human cells to arrest the pandemic, there was only one reliable method available—and it wasn’t one originated in-house by Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech or any of the other major vaccine companies. 

A months-long investigation by Forbes reveals that the scientist most responsible for this critical delivery method is a little-known 57-year-old Canadian biochemist named Ian MacLachlan. As chief scientific officer of two small companies, Protiva Biotherapeutics and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, MacLachlan led the team that developed this crucial technology. Today, though, few people—and none of the big pharmaceutical companies—openly acknowledge his groundbreaking work, and MacLachlan earns nothing from the technology he pioneered. 

I have three stories (on this blog) mentioning Tekmira (all from 2014 or 2015) and none mentioning Protiva nor, for that matter, Ian MacLachlan.

Back to Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article,

Moderna Therapeutics vigorously disputes the idea that its mRNA vaccine uses MacLachlan’s delivery system, and BioNTech, the vaccine maker partnered with Pfizer, talks about it carefully. Legal proceedings are pending, and big money is at stake. 

Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer are on their way to selling $45 billion worth of vaccines in 2021. They don’t pay a dime to MacLachlan. Other coronavirus vaccine makers, such as Gritstone Oncology, have recently licensed MacLachlan’s Protiva-Tekmira delivery technology for between 5% and 15% of product sales. MacLachlan no longer has a financial stake in the technology, but a similar royalty on the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines could yield as much as $6.75 billion in 2021 alone. …

Vardi provides evidence (Note: A link has been removed from the August 17, 2021 article excerpt,

Despite their denials, scientific papers and regulatory documents filed with the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] show that both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines use a delivery system strikingly similar to what MacLachlan and his team created—a carefully formulated four-lipid component that encapsulates mRNA in a dense particle through a mixing process involving ethanol and a T-connector apparatus. 

For years, Moderna claimed it was using its own proprietary delivery system, but when it came time for the company to test its Covid-19 vaccine in mice, it used the same four kinds of lipids as MacLachlan’s technology, in identical ratios. 

According to Vardi’s LinkedIn profile: “I am a senior editor at Forbes, where I am responsible for the coverage of hedge funds, private equity, and other big investors. I lead investigative reporting efforts and have written 20 cover stories for Forbes Magazine,” he does not appear to have any medical or bioscience expertise (Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University [Canada] and Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University [US].) Presumably someone he consulted or someone on his team provided the skills necessary for analyzing the scientific papers and documents.

You may recognize this scientist (from the August 17, 2021 article),

Not everyone ignores MacLachlan. “A lot of credit goes to Ian MacLachlan for the LNP [lipid nanoparticle],” says Katalin Karikó, [emphasis mine] the scientist who laid the groundwork for mRNA therapies before joining BioNTech in 2013. But Karikó, now a frontrunner for a Nobel Prize, is angry that MacLachlan didn’t do more to help her use his delivery system to build her own mRNA company years ago. “[MacLachlan] might be a great scientist, but he lacked vision,” she says.

I have more about Karikó and her role in the mRNA vaccine story here in a March 5, 2021 posting.

As for MacLachlan’s start (from the August 17, 2021 article),

… With a Ph.D. in biochemistry, MacLachlan joined Inex in 1996, his first job after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in a gene lab at the University of Michigan. 

Inex was cofounded by its chief scientific officer, Pieter Cullis, now 75, a long-haired physicist who taught at the University of British Columbia. From his perch there Cullis started several biotechs, cultivating an elite community of scientists that made Vancouver a hotbed of lipid chemistry. 

As companies rise and fall with intellectual property being assigned to one company or other, legal brawls ensue. This was the time that Karikó came knocking on the door, from the August 17, 2021 article,

It was in the midst of all this furious legal fighting that Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó first showed up at MacLachlan’s door. Karikó was early to grasp that MacLachlan’s delivery system held the key to unlocking the potential of mRNA therapies. As early as 2006, she began sending letters to MacLachlan urging him to encase her groundbreaking chemically altered mRNA in his four-lipid delivery system. Embroiled in litigation, MacLachlan passed on her offer. 

Karikó didn’t give up easily. In 2013, she flew to meet with Tekmira’s executives, offering to relocate to Vancouver and work directly under MacLachlan. Tekmira passed. “Moderna, BioNTech and CureVac all wanted me to work for them, but my number one choice, Tekmira, didn’t,” says Karikó, who took a job at BioNTech in 2013. 

By this time, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel [emphasis mine] was also trying to solve the delivery puzzle. Bancel held discussions with Tekmira about collaborating, but talks stalled. At one point, Tekmira indicated it wanted at least $100 million up front, plus royalties, to strike a deal.

Instead, Moderna partnered with Madden [Thomas Madden], who was still working with Cullis at their drug delivery company, Acuitas Therapeutics.  …

I have been wondering why Acuitas Therapeutics hasn’t been getting all that much attention in the hyperbolic discussions about British Columbia’s (or Vancouver’s) thriving biotechnology scene. (I’ll have more about the ‘scene’ in a later posting.) Perhaps all this legal wrangling is not considered helpful when bragging. (I do have a November 12, 2020 post, which features Acuitas, an interview with its president and chief executive office Dr. Thomas Madden, and an explanation of their technology.)

As for Moderna, I have a special interest as the company has announced plans to open a production facility here in Canada and one of Moderna’s founders is Canadian, Derek Rossi. (He too is mentioned in the March 5, 2021 posting, scroll down to the ‘Entrepreneurs rush in’ subhead; he is not an altogether happy camper.)

Rossi has opinions on how we should be doing things here as noted in a June 17, 2021 article by Barbara Shecter for the Financial Post (Moderna founder says Canada needs to build a biotech hub to avoid ‘getting caught with its pants down next time’). Thank you, Mr. Rossi. (I’m more familiar with clusters than hubs [hubs were a popular topic of conversation about 20 years ago but in Canada we seem more interested in clusters; see John Newbigin’s “Hubs, clusters and regions” on britishcouncil.org for a description of the differences].)

As for Moderna’s response to all of the legal wrangling over mRNA delivery systems, from Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article,

Moderna pursued a different strategy. It filed lawsuits with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to nullify a series of patents related to MacLachlan’s delivery system, now controlled by Genevant. But in July 2020, as Moderna was pushing its vaccine through clinical trials, an adjudicative body largely upheld the most important patent claims. (Moderna is appealing.)

I highly recommend reading Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article as I have not done justice to all of the ‘ins and outs’ of the story.

You can see how thoroughly MacLachlan has been erased form the lipid nanoparticle delivery system/COVID-19 vaccine story in this May 24 ,2021 posting (Lipid nanoparticles: The underrated invention behind the vaccine revolution) by Nada Salem at the Science Borealis blog. It is largely a description of the technology and in the last two paragraphs a history of its development with no mention of MacLachlan or any of his companies.

One last thought, I wonder how Vardi found out about MacLachlan. Could someone have brought the story to his attention and who might that have been?

Interior Infinite: carnival & chaos, a June 26 – September 5, 2021 show at Polygon Art Gallery (North Vancouver, Canada)

This is a long read and covers a lot of ground including: a couple of highlights from the ‘Interior Infinite’ show, a reference to how modern galleries came to be what they are, the tension of hosting the unruly (carnivalesque) in a ‘white cube’ (art gallery), a brief history of Mikhail Bakhtin, and more.

If you’re looking for a succinct article about ‘Interior Infinite’, I highly recommend Dorothy Woodend’s June 30, 2020 article (‘Interior Infinite’: The Rich, Heady and Contentious World of Identity) for The Tyee. There’s also a July 12, 2021 review (“Interior Infinite: Costume, carnival and a celebration of reversal”) by Yani Kong for Galleries West. *I almost forgot Sheri Radford’s July 13, 2021 (“Timely new art exhibit explores self-expression“) for the Daily Hive.*

Interior Infinite

I had expectations based on the exhibit description offered by the Polygon Gallery (from the Interior Infinite webpage on the Polygon Gallery website),

Interior Infinite brings together an international group of artists whose works span photography, video, performance, and sculpture. Predominantly featuring portraiture, with an emphasis on self-portraiture, the exhibition focuses on costume and masquerade [emphasis mine] as strategies for revealing, rather than concealing, identities. Across these works, disguise functions as an unmasking [emphasis mine], as artists construct their own images through adornment in order to visually represent embodied experience, memory, and understanding.

Interior Infinite draws on the spirit of Carnival, a celebration of both radical togetherness and unique self-expression [emphasis mine]. The title is drawn from Rabelais and His World [emphasis mine], an influential text by Mikhail Bakhtin [emphasis mine], which extolled the potential for carnivalesque practices to overcome the limits of repressive conformity and expand our social imagination. The vibrant, fluid, and myriad expressions of identities seen in the exhibition become an act of resistance to erasure, pushing narrow definitions of normativity to include a broader range of lived realities. As Bakhtin writes [emphasis mine]: “The interior infinite could not have been found in a closed and finished world”.

Featuring [artists only; emphasis mine]: Lacie Burning, Claude Cahun, Nick Cave, Charles Campbell, Dana Claxton, Martine Gutierrez, Kris Lemsalu, Ursula Mayer, Meryl McMaster, Zanele Muholi, Aïda Muluneh, Zak Ové, Skeena Reece, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Sin Wai Kin, Carrie Mae Weems, Zadie Xa

Expectations met or exceeded

This is an exciting and stimulating show (running from June 26 – September 5, 2021). It was put together within one year, which is supersonic speed in the art gallery world. (It seems to be one of the features of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are seeing institutions respond in a much more timely fashion than we have learned to expect.)

Here’s curator Justin Ramsey describing the show, which was, in part, a response to the George Floyd murder, in this video produced by Nuvo Magazine (from Nuvo’s June 25, 2021 news item by Ayesha Habib),

Videography by Everett Bumstead.

As you can see in the video, there are some beautiful pieces along with a bit of grotesquerie (Greek goddess Baubo) for a more fully realized carnivalesque experience. (More about the carnivalesque later.)

Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu contributed the Baubo Dance installation consisting of the lower body with jeans, cowboy boots, a representation of the vulva, and a detached head/headdress.

Baubo Dance 2021. Ceramics, textile, concrete, metal. Photo: Stanislav Stepaško [downloaded from https://www.krislemsalu.com/]

It looks like teeth on the vulva’s opening. I wonder if the artist meant to refer to the vagina dentata in some way (from its Wikipedia entry), Note: Links have been removed,

Vagina dentata (Latin for toothed vagina) describes a folk tale in which a woman’s vagina is said to contain teeth, with the associated implication that sexual intercourse might result in injury, emasculation, or castration for the man involved.

This would make the Baubo figure a bit more edgy than might be expected from reading her Wikipedia entry,

Baubo (Ancient Greek: Βαυβώ) is an old woman in Greek mythology which appears particularly in the myths of the early Orphic religion. Known as the Goddess of Mirth, she was bawdy and sexually liberated, and is said to have jested with Demeter, when Demeter was mourning the loss of her daughter, Persephone. [emphases mine]

Figurines known as Baubos are found in a number of settings, usually with Greek connections. They were mass-produced in a number of styles, but the basic figure always exposes the vulva in some way: …

South African artist Zanele Muholi’s photographic work, also featured in the Ramsey video, is beautiful and subtly damning,

Olunye I, The Sails, Durban, 2019 Silver gelatin print 19 7/10 × 12 3/5 in 50 × 32 cm Edition of 8 + 2AP [downloaded from https://www.artsy.net/artwork/zanele-muholi-olunye-i-the-sails-durban]

(Not being a photographer or particularly conversant in the visual arts, the following description is in ‘plainish’ language.)

If you look closely, you’ll see the image is layered so you have a background and what looks like a traditional headcovering, tank top, and skin, all in tones of black. The ropes, particularly around the neck and down the chest, suggest (to me, if no one else) entrapment (being roped) and/or a noose. In any event, it’s a very rich image and it’s better seen in person.

If you can get there, know that Muholi has just had their first major survey (retrospective?) in the UK, which was at the Tate Modern (November 5, 2020 – May 31, 2021), Note: A link has been removed,

Zanele Muholi is one of the most acclaimed photographers working today, and their work has been exhibited all over the world. With over 260 photographs, this exhibition presents the full breadth of their career to date.

Muholi turns the camera on themself in the ongoing series Somnyama Ngonyama – translated as ‘Hail the Dark Lioness’ [emphasis mine]. These powerful and reflective images explore themes including labour [emphasis mine], racism, Eurocentrism and sexual politics.​

The four Muholi works in ‘Interior Infinite’ come from the Somnyama Ngonyama series (excerpted from the Tate Modern’s survey show Exhibition Guide; Room 8),

Somnyama Ngonyama (2012 – ongoing) is a series in which Muholi turns the camera on themself to explore the politics of race and representation. The portraits are photographed in different locations around the world. They are made using materials and objects that Muholi sources from their surroundings.The images refer to personal reflections, colonial and apartheid histories of exclusion and displacement, as well as ongoing racism. They question acts of violence and harmful representations of Black people. Muholi’s aim is to draw out these histories in order to educate people about them and to facilitate the processing of these traumas both personally and collectively.

Muholi considers how the gaze is constructed in their photographs. In some images they look away. In others they stare the camera down, asking what it means for ‘a Black person to look back’. When exhibited together the viewer is surrounded by a network of gazes. Muholi increases the contrast of the images in this series, which has the effect of darkening their skin tone.

I’m reclaiming my Blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other. [emphasis mine]

The titles of the works in the series remain in is iZulu, Muholi’s first language. This is part of their activism, taking ownership of and pride in their language and identity. It encourages a Western audience to understand and pronounce the names. This critiques what happened during colonialism and apartheid. Then, Black people were often given English names by their employers or teachers who refused to remember or pronounce their real names.

‘Interior Infinite’ is rich with possibility and you can explore and question various identities both within and without.

There is both an audio guide and an exhibition guide available on Polygon’s Interior Infinite audio guide webpage. (There are also tours of the show much of which is replicated in Justin Ramsey’s July 7, 2021 Curator’s Talk. The video run for over 1 hour.)

The challenge of a theme

“… the genesis of it [Interior Infinite] really was the murder of George Floyd, I thought where is art? How does art respond to a crisis, a catastrophe like this?” says exhibit curator Justin Ramsey in his Nuvo Magazine video interview (embedded earlier in this post).

First challenge: the impetus for the show was a murder

Ramsey’s choice to situate the show as a response to George Floyd’s 2020 murder leads to some interesting tensions within the exhibition (internal) and without (external).

How did Ramsey pick? Ultimately, the question is unlikely to be answered. Incidents which reach beyond the headlines to strike the soul and heart are not easily justifiable or explained to others.

As for Ramsey’s question in the video interview: “How does art respond to a crisis, … ?” The question seems fundamental not only to ‘Interior Infinite’ but more generally to 20th and 21st century art.

The response, in this case, was to pull Bakhtin’s concept of ‘carnival’ , also known as, ‘carnivalesque’ from “Rabelais and His World” allowing Ramsey to use it as a kind of banner under which a number of disparate pieces related to each other and the theme both harmoniously and disharmoniously could be gathered.

What is carnival/carnivalesque?

For a sense of what ‘carnival’ or carnivalesque’ means here’s a description from the Carnivalesque Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Carnivalesque is a literary mode [emphasis mine] that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humor and chaos. It originated as “carnival” in Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and was further developed in Rabelais and His World. For Bakhtin, “carnival” (the totality of popular festivities, rituals and other carnival forms) is deeply rooted in the human psyche on both the collective and individual level. Though historically complex and varied, it has over time worked out “an entire language of symbolic concretely sensuous forms” [emphasis mine] which express a unified “carnival sense of the world, permeating all its forms”. This language, Bakhtin argues, cannot be adequately verbalized or translated into abstract concepts, but it is amenable to a transposition into an artistic language that resonates with its essential qualities: it can, in other words, be “transposed into the language of literature”. Bakhtin calls this transposition the carnivalization of literature.[1] Although he considers a number of literary forms and individual writers [emphasis mine], it is Francois Rabelais, the French Renaissance author of Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the 19th century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, that he considers the primary exemplars of carnivalization in literature.

The carnival sense of the world “is opposed to that one-sided and gloomy official seriousness which is dogmatic and hostile to evolution and change, which seeks to absolutize a given condition of existence or a given social order [emphases mine].”[5] This is not to say that liberation from all authority and sacred symbols was desirable as an ideology. Because participation in Carnival extracts all individuals from non-carnival life, nihilistic and individualistic ideologies are just as impotent and just as subject to the radical humour of carnival [emphasis mine] as any form of official seriousness.[6] The spirit of carnival grows out of a “culture of laughter” [emphasis mine]. Because it is based in the physiological realities of the lower bodily stratum (birth, death, renewal, sexuality, ingestion, evacuation etc.) [emphasis mine], it is inherently anti-elitist: its objects and functions are necessarily common to all humans—”identical, involuntary and non-negotiable”.[7]

Bakhtin argues that we should not compare the “narrow theatrical pageantry” and “vulgar Bohemian understanding of carnival” characteristic of modern times [emphasis mine] with his Medieval Carnival.[8] Carnival was a powerful creative event, not merely a spectacle. Bakhtin suggests that the separation of participants and spectators has been detrimental [emphasis mine] to the potency of Carnival. Its power lay in there being no “outside”: everyone participated, and everyone was subject to its lived transcendence of social and individual norms [emphasis mine]: “carnival travesties: it crowns and uncrowns, inverts rank, exchanges roles, makes sense from nonsense and nonsense of sense.”[9]

So, the response to the murder of George Floyd is that art is opposition to the serious, to the dogmatic. and to resistance to change and evolution by means of the carnivalesque? I think that’s what this show is saying.

(For contrasting views, see Dorothy Woodend’s and Yani Kong’s pieces cited at the beginning of this post.)

2nd Challenge: The carnivalesque in the gallery

Bringing something that by its nature is rude, bawdy, chaotic, loud, smelly, high physical contact, participatory, etc. into an art gallery/museum, an institution not known for its tolerance of the unruly, has to be a fraught proposition.

A man, a cartoon penis, and his four year old daughter (unruliness)

Since 2017 when the Polygon Gallery opened (see a Nov. 18, 2017 article by Ben Bengtson for the North Shore News about the opening), it has had at least one incidence of unruliness (from a February 6, 2020 article by Brent Richter for the North Shore News),

Alex Goldkind was with his four-year-old daughter in Lower Lonsdale Feb. 1 [2020] when a gallery staffer invited them in for their monthly Kids First Saturday event on the upper floor.

On the main level, however, they were given a booklet that accompanies the current collage exhibition called I Spy, by Vancouver artist Elizabeth Zvonar, and were asked to circle images inside as they found them in the large collage on the wall. The first one Goldkind saw on the wall was an 18th century political cartoon depicting Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, with general Marquis de Lafayette, who is riding an ostrich shaped like male genitalia.

“Well, it’s a penis and balls. It’s pretty obvious, right? This is not rocket science here. I was just floored,” he said. “I just grabbed my daughter quickly before she saw it and I walked around the corner, just livid. I tore into all the staff there. I said ‘Are you guys insane? You’re inviting children into this?’”

Staff were so frightened by the outburst, they called the RCMP. [Royal Canadian Mounted Police; emphasis mine]

Here’s a photo of the angry parent,

A North Vancouver father says the Polygon Gallery has gone too far, hosting a children’s event when one of the exhibits inside features an illustrated penis. [downloaded from https://www.nsnews.com/local-news/art-and-morality-collide-at-the-north-vans-polygon-gallery-3116447]

Interestingly, there was an apology—for a lack of signage and clarity.

In addition to difficulty tolerating loud noises and angry people (or other unruliness?), there is at least one other aspect to the challenge of bringing the carnivalesque into an art gallery.

The ‘white cube’ aesthetic

White walls and an antiseptic environment are common in many art galleries built since the 1930s according to Dr. Elizabeth Rodini’s 2018(?) essay, A brief history of the art museum, for the Khan Academy,

… it was in the United States that some of the most influential trends in modern art museums also emerged. One of these is the “white cube” approach which, despite precedents in Europe, was most fully exploited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in the 1930s under the direction of Alfred H. Barr. By minimizing visual distractions, Barr hoped to direct viewers toward a pure experience of the art work. The bare spaces, white walls, and minimalist frames he used are now so common that we hardly notice them.

The “white cube” was rooted in a philosophy that aimed to liberate art and artists from the conservative forces of history. Ironically, this model has taken over, and art museums from Rio to Abu Dhabi to Shanghai draw on similar exhibition tactics. This has led some museum critics to wonder if the “white cube” has itself become a vehicle of cultural control [emphasis mine].

Rodini goes on to explain further in the comments,

… Its not the whiteness of the walls nor the spare furnishing that are at issue in most critiques of the white cube. Instead, it is the practice of isolating the image and not giving the viewer information [emphasis mine] that would provide details about the object’s origin and its journey from the artist to the museum.This is often done to ensure a “pure” visual experience but it also withholds historical context that can substantially enhance the meaning of a given work of art.

Here’s an image from the slideshow embedded in Ben Bengtson’s Nov. 18, 2017 article about the Polygon Gallery opening,

[ downloaded from https://www.nsnews.com/local-news/polygon-gallery-in-north-vancouver-is-officially-open-3062312]

Kudos to Ramsey and the Polygon Gallery folks for assembling a show with a broad range and providing a little context (take a tour or consult the guides provided online) in an environment that is, if not actively hostile, certainly difficult.

(clunk) The other shoe drops

Largely unmentioned during the tour, Bakhtin’s work, specifically the concept of the carnival/canivalesque, was relegated to a couple of mentions in the second paragraph describing the show and a Bakhtin quote from “Rabelais and His World” on a wall somewhere in the show:

“The interior infinite could not have been found in a closed and finished world, with its distinct fixed boundaries dividing all phenomena and values.” [I believe this alludes to Bakhtin’s notions of finalization and unfinalizability]

As it should be, the focus was on the artists. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to walk into a show where a literary theorist (Bakhtin) has supplied the theme and to hear only a single mention in the tour, which described him simply as a philosopher. (Ramsey gave the tour I attended.)

As for the Bakhtin quote, which is used a frame for this show, the tension between a show based on the unfinalizable, chaotic, rude world of the carnivalesque and the closed, finished (finalization) world of an art gallery in ‘Infinite Interior’ is never discussed.

(Segue) Bakhtin: protean thinker and one-legged man in Stalin’s world**

As far as I can tell, no one yet has been able to adequately summarize Bakhtin’s thinking (I’m not going to try), here’s an attempt from his entry on Wikipedia,

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (/bʌxˈtiːn/bukh-TEEN; Russian: Михаи́л Миха́йлович Бахти́н, IPA: [mʲɪxɐˈil mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪdʑ bɐxˈtʲin]; 16 November [O.S. 4 November] 1895 – 7 March[2] 1975) was a Russian philosopher, literary critic and scholar who worked on literary theory, ethics, and the philosophy of language [emphases mine]. His writings, on a variety of subjects, inspired scholars working in a number of different traditions (Marxism, semiotics, structuralism, religious criticism) and in disciplines as diverse as literary criticism, history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Although Bakhtin was active in the debates on aesthetics and literature that took place in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, his distinctive position did not become well known until he was rediscovered by Russian scholars in the 1960s.

With regard to his personal history, Bakhtin was born in 1895 into a family of nobility and then experienced the 1917 Russian revolution followed by a famine and civil war (1918-21). [As for how Russia fared in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic/epidemic, it was one of at least two others [cholera and typhus] suffered through. See history professor Joshua Sanborn’s March 19, 2020 posting on the Russian History blog for more.)

Bakhtin completed his studies (1918) and was diagnosed with a bone disease (osteomyelitis) in 1923. He was apprehended by Soviet secret police and eventually exiled for six years to Kazakhstan (starting in 1928). Four years after his exile ended, his health improved (1938) when part of his right leg was amputated.

World War II (1939 -45) intervened and despite completing his PhD dissertation (Rabelais and His World) he wasn’t able to defend it until after the war. He seems to have defended it twice, in 1946 and, again, in 1949. The work had proved divisive and he was not awarded a doctoral degree (Doctor of Sciences) but, instead, received a lesser degree, Candidate of Sciences (a research doctorate).

He worked in obscurity for the better part of his life, finally receiving some attention in the mid-1960s when he was about 70. He died in 1975.

For anyone who’s interested in more about Bakhtin, I suggest

And, for the truly dedicated,

His work, which largely centered on language, written and spoken, with implications that reach far beyond, seems remarkably à propos in this moment but, given his life circumstances, it’s perhaps not entirely a surprise. **Note: There’s more about the circumstances under which Bakhtin lived at the end of this posting.

Sadly, I didn’t learn much about Bakhtin’s work or life during my June 25, 2021 tour given by curator Justin Ramsey. Perhaps I missed it but I wasn’t able to find anything on the Polygon website either;I had to do a lot of subsequent digging to find out more.

Back to Interior Infinite and the dropped shoe

You go upstairs to see the show and at the beginning there’s a description on the wall with a list of all the artists whose work you will be viewing. Oddly, given that there are writers, activists, and philosophers whose work is quoted and can be seen on the walls throughout the show, they did not rate a list beside the artists, nor are they mentioned in any materials about the show. Moving on.

White Cube syndrome and Interior Infinite

I longed for more context, not just with regard to Bakhtin and the carnivalesque, but the artists and the writers too. The audio guide and exhibition guide available on Polygon’s Interior Infinite audio guide webpage are helpful (neither was posted until June 30, 2021 after my visit) and I recommend them as an entry point to the show. There are also tours.

However and this is a good problem to have, the show touches on so many issues of the moment that a general tour is going to be frustrating. I was surprised that there don’t seem to be any plans for themed tours that highlight particular aspects of the show.

During the tour and during his curator’s talk, Ramsey did mention that there will be a drag event later this summer but neither it nor any other future show-related events are listed on the website at this time.

For the curious, the drag event, which is still being organized (according to Ramsey during his curator’s talk), will hopefully feature Shay Dior and the House of Rice (for more about Dior and The House of Rice, there’s a Feb. 7, 2020 news item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) website, “Who run the world? Vancouver drag mother Shay Dior and her growing family of queer Asian kids” by Peter Knegt).

Bringing the ‘outside’ onto art tours

There’s a tendency to assume that people going on tours through an art exhibition are a ‘tabula rasa’, i.e., a blank slate. I’m guessing this is, at least in part, a legacy of education systems that still largely operate on that principle.

Note: I’ve taken more than one tour at various art gallery/museums in Vancouver and have found that the Rennie Museum is the best at including the tour members. Almost certainly the people guiding you through the exhibit will not only invite questions and comments but also allow time for you to respond. Even better, sometimes the guide will include something a tour member told them on a previous tour.

A complete list of the artists and the types of artwork featured

While I have found lists of the artists in the show, there’s only one place where I found a list of each of the types of artwork featured in the show along with the artist who produced them, from artdaily.com’s The Polygon Gallery presents Interior Infinite, a celebration of radical togetherness and unique self-expression webpage (Note: I have made a formatting change; it should be a bulleted list after “The exhibition features:”),

The exhibition features:

A new sculpture by 2020 Phillip B. Lind Emerging Artist Prize runner up Lacie Burning (b. 1992, Brampton, ON) in the Reflection Series, depicting a cloaked figure wearing a mask made of mosaicked mirror fragments

A series of self-portraits by French surrealist photographer Claude Cahun (b. 1894, Nantes, France), whose practice exploring gender and sexual identity was ahead of its time

An original sound piece consisting of birdsong cut into Morse code, as an expansion of Charles Campbell’s (b. 1970, Jamaica) Actor Boy performance series

A soundsuit and video from acclaimed sculptor, dancer, and performance artist Nick Cave (b. 1959, Fulton, Missouri)

A portrait by 2020 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts recipient Dana Claxton (b. 1959, Yorkton, SK), featuring the artist wearing her collection of handmade leather handbags created by Indigenous artisans

A selection of photographs from Martine Gutierrez’s (b. 1989, Berkeley, California) self-made satirical fashion magazine Indigenous Woman

The end

I both love and hate this show. It is rich with ideas and possibilities.

George Floyd

One of the reason this show is so difficult to embrace is that It’s hard to imagine someone like George Floyd (Wikipedia entry) who had a criminal record and was struggling at the time of his death would have felt welcome at Polygon’s ‘Interior Infinite’. BTW, my father would not have felt comfortable either. In his case, the issue would have been social class.

George Floyd mural Under the 496 Bridge in Lansing, Michigan.l Mural artist: Isiah Lattimore; Lettering by artist Erik Phelps [downloaded from https://lansingartgallery.org/artpath-2020-george-floyd/]

Given that his murder was the impetus for ‘Interior Infinite’, I expected to see some mention of him in the gallery or on the exhibition’s webpage.

Writers?

As a writer, I’m disappointed (but unsurprised) that the people who provided text for the quotes on the gallery walls were not listed on the wall beside the list of artists. It’s almost as if the quotes are wallpaper.

Identity confusion

As for the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival (Ramsey repeatedly refers to the Trinidad Carnival in his July 7, 2021 Curator’s Talk) that seems more egregious in a showcase for identity and given there’s a local version of the carnival, Caribbean Days Festival, held fairly close to the Polygon Gallery every July for over 30 years (the 2021 edition has been cancelled). And yes, it’s organized by the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Society of British Columbia.

More Bakhtin

Deeply thoughtful with regard to the artworks on display and social justice issues, It would have been helpful if Ramsey had shared more about how Bakhtin’s carnivalesque is invoked in this show. It’s as if the staff at the Polygon let me smell the baking but never offered me any cinnamon buns. How does the Bakhtin quote which alludes to his concepts of unfinalizability and finalization play a role in ‘Interior Infinite’?

Any Bakhtin scholars out there care to respond? Please do.

No mention of COVID-19 masks

In a show featuring masks, how do you not mention COVID-19 or any of the current discussion about masks? It’s one of the more curious omissions in the show.

A couple of thoughts

It seems to me that Ramsey let the show, the carnivalesque, and Bakhtin get away from him. The impulse towards finalization overcame him and so he presents the show, in his curator’s talk, as ‘art’s response’ to the murder of George Floyd and other instances of repression.

By contrast, Bakhtin’s carnivalesque in “Rabelais and His World” presents unfinalizability in the rude, bawdy, smelly, chaotic, loud, dangerous, grotesque place where identities are mocked, inverted, and made fun of.

Ultimately, Ramsey never grapples with (or even seems to acknowledge) the paradox at the heart of his project.

The failure doesn’t matter. Go see ‘Interior Infinite’ anyway. it’s worth the trip to the gallery. And, if you’re inclined, bring your carnivalesque spirit.

PS: If you see any mistakes or have any comments, please let me know via the commenting feature on this blog.

*Sheri Radford’s July 13, 2021 article for the Daily Hive added on July 26, 2021 at 13:40 PDT.

**July 28, 2021: The subhead “(Segue) Bakhtin: protean thinker and one-legged man in Stalin’s world” was corrected (‘and’ replaced ‘with’) and here’s more about the Bakhtin’s circumstances from Caryl Emerson’s “The First Hundred Years of Michail Bakhtin” 1997, Princeton University Press,

When Maxim Gorky laid down the Socialist Realist “rules” for creative literature in the Stalinist 1930s, and when Mikhail Bakhtin, then in political exile in Kazakhstan, wrote hundreds of pages that refuted those rules by invoking as exemplary ***different*** genres and different authors, both men were acting wholly within the tradition of Russian literary culture. For unlike America in much of its modern phase, literary accomplishment and criticism in Russia has mattered. You could get arrested and killed [emphasis mine] for it; thus educated society revered its poets and considered literary progress to be a bellwether of its own. (p. 10)

***July 29, 2021: ‘differed’ changed to ‘different

The Canada Council for the Arts, a digital strategy research report on blockchains and culture, and Vancouver (Canada)

Is the May 17, 2021 “Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks (BACP) Digital Strategy Research Report” discussing a hoped for future transformative experience? Given the report’s subtitle: “Towards a Digitally Cooperative Culture: Recommoning Land, Data and Objects,” and the various essays included in the 200 pp document, I say the answer is ‘yes’.

The report was launched by 221 A, a Vancouver (Canada)-based arts and culture organization and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts through their Digital Strategy Fund. Here’s more from the BACP report in the voice of its research leader, Jesse McKee,

… The blockchain is the openly readable and unalterable ledger technology, which is most broadly known for supporting such applications as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This report documents the first research phase in a three-phased approach to establishing our digital strategy [emphasis mine], as we [emphasis mine] learn from the blockchain development communities. This initiative’s approach is an institutional one, not one that is interpreting the technology for individuals, artists and designers alone. The central concept of the blockchain is that exchanges of value need not rely on centralized authentication from institutions such as banks, credit cards or the state, and that this exchange of value is better programmed and tracked with metadata to support the virtues, goals and values of a particular network. This concept relies on a shared, decentralized and trustless ledger. “Trustless” in the blockchain community is an evolution of the term trust, shifting its signification as a contract usually held between individuals, managed and upheld by a centralized social institution, and redistributing it amongst the actors in a blockchain network who uphold the platform’s technical operational codes and can access ledgers of exchange. All parties involved in the system are then able to reach a consensus on what the canonical truth is regarding the holding and exchange of value within the system.

… [from page 6 of the report]

McKee manages to keep the report from floating away in a sea of utopian bliss with some cautionary notes. Still, as a writer I’m surprised he didn’t notice that ‘blockchain‘ which (in English) is supposed to ‘unlock padlocks’ poses a linguistic conundrum if nothing else.

This looks like an interesting report but it’s helpful to have some ‘critical theory’ jargon. That said, the bulk of the report is relatively accessible reading although some of the essays (at the end) from the artist-researchers are tough going.

One more thought, the report does present many exciting and transformative possibilities and I would dearly love to see much of this come to pass. I am more hesitant than McKee and his colleagues and that hesitation is beautifully described in an essay (The Vampire Problem: Illustrating the Paradox of Transformative Experience) first published September 3, 2017 by Maria Popova (originally published on Brain Pickings),

To be human is to suffer from a peculiar congenital blindness: On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them. …

Arts and blockchain events in Vancouver

The 221 A launch event for the report kicked off a series of related events, here’s more from a 221 A May 17, 2021 news release (Note: the first and second events have already taken place),

Events Series

Please join us for a live stream events series bringing together key contributors of the Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Research Report alongside a host of leading figures across academic, urbanism, media and blockchain development communities.

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy Launch

May 25, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7 CEST

With Jesse McKee, BACP Lead Investigator and 221A Head of Strategy; Rosemary Heather, BACP Editorial Director and Principal Researcher; moderated by Svitlana Matviyenko, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Simon Fraser University’s Digital Democracies Institute.

The Valuation of Necessity: A Cosmological View of our Technologies and Culture

June 4, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With BACP researcher, artist and theorist Patricia Reed; critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia, and Wassim Alsindi of 0x Salon, Berlin, who conducts research on the legal and ecological externalities of blockchain networks.

Recommoning Territory: Diversifying Housing Tenure Through Platform Cooperatives

June 18, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With 221A Fellows Maksym Rokmaniko and Francis Tseng (DOMA [a nonprofit organization developing a distributed housing platform]); Andy Yan (Simon Fraser University); and BACP researcher and critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia.

Roundtable: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) & Social Tokens

Released June 25, Pre-recorded

Roundtable co-organized with Daniel Keller of newmodels.io, with participation from development teams and researchers from @albiverse, trust.support, Circles UBI, folia.app, SayDAO, and Blockchain@UBC

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks is supported by the Digital Strategy Fund of the Canada Council for the Arts.

For more, contact us hello@221a.ca

Coming up: Vancouver’s Voxel Bridge

The Vancouver Biennale folks first sent me information about Voxel Bridge in 2018 but this new material is the most substantive description yet, even without an opening date. From a June 6, 2021 article by Kevin Griffin for the Vancouver Sun (Note: Links have been removed),

The underside of the Cambie Bridge is about to be transformed into the unique digital world of Voxel Bridge. Part of the Vancouver Biennale, Voxel Bridge will exist both as a physical analogue art work and an online digital one.

The public art installation is by Jessica Angel. When it’s fully operational, Voxel Bridge will have several non-fungible tokens called NFTs that exist in an interactive 3-D world that uses blockchain technology. The intention is to create a fully immersive installation. Voxel Bridge is being described as the largest digital public art installation of its kind.

“To my knowledge, nothing has been done at this scale outdoors that’s fully interactive,” said Sammi Wei, the Vancouver Biennale‘s operations director. “Once the digital world is built in your phone, you’ll be able to walk around objects. When you touch one, it kind of vibrates.”

Just as a pixel refers to a point in a two-dimensional world, voxel refers to a similar unit in a 3-D world.

Voxel Bridge will be about itself: it will tell the story of what it means to use new decentralized technology called blockchain to create Voxel Bridge.

There are a few more Voxel Bridge details in a June 7, 2021 article by Vincent Plana for the Daily Hive,

Voxel Bridge draws parallels between blockchain technology and the structural integrity of the underpass itself. The installation will be created by using adhesive vinyl and augmented reality technology.

Gfiffin’s description in his June 6, 2021 article gives you a sense of what it will be like to become immersed in Voxel Bridge,

Starting Monday [June 14, 2021], a crew will begin installing a vinyl overlay directly on the architecture on the underside of the bridge deck, around the columns, and underfoot on the sidewalk from West 2nd to the parking-lot road. Enclosing a space of about 18,000 square feet, the vinyl layer will be visible without any digital enhancement. It will look like an off-kilter circuit board.

“It’ll be like you’re standing in the middle of a circuit board,” [emphasis mine] she said. “At the same time, the visual perception will be slightly off. It’s like an optical illusion. You feel the ground is not quite where it’s supposed to be.”

Griffin’s June 6, 2021 article offers good detail and a glossary.

So, Vancouver is offering more than one opportunity to learn about and/or experience blockchain.

Art, sound, AI, & the Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter

The Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter (received via email) features a number of events either currently taking place or about to take place.

2021 AI Song Contest

2021 marks the 2nd year for this international event, an artificial intelligence/AI Song Contest 2021. The folks at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Metacreation Lab have an entry for the 2021 event, A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want). Should you click on the song entry, you will find an audio file, a survey/vote consisting of four questions and, if you keep scrolling down, more information about the creative, team, the song and more,

Driven by collaborations involving scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, designers, and artists, the Metacreation Lab for Creative AI is at the forefront of the development of generative systems, whether these are embedded in interactive experiences or automating workflows integrated into cutting-edge creative software.

Team:

Cale Plut (Composer and musician) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation lab, researching AI music applications in video games.

Philippe Pasquier (Producer and supervisor) is an Associate Professor, and leads the Metacreation Lab. 

Jeff Ens (AI programmer) is a PhD Candidate in the Metacreation lab, researching AI models for music generation.

Renaud Tchemeube (Producer and interaction designer) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation Lab, researching interaction software design for creativity.

Tara Jadidi (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at FUM, Iran, working with the Metacreation lab.

Dimiter Zlatkov (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at UBC, working with the Metacreation lab.

ABOUT THE SONG

A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want) explores the relationships between AI, humans, labour, and creation in a lighthearted and fun song. It is co-created with the Multi-track Music Machine (MMM)

Through the history of automation and industrialization, the relationship between the labour magnification power of automation and the recipients of the benefits of that magnification have been in contention. While increasing levels of automation are often accompanied by promises of future leisure increases, this rarely materializes for the workers whose labour is multiplied. By primarily using automated methods to create a “fun” song about leisure, we highlight both the promise of AI-human cooperation as well as the disparities in its real-world deployment. 

As for the competition itself, here’s more from the FAQs (frequently asked questions),

What is the AI Song Contest?

AI Song Contest is an international creative AI contest. Teams from all over the world try to create a 4-minute pop song with the help of artificial intelligence.

When and where does it take place?

Between June 1, 2021 and July 1, 2021 voting is open for the international public. On July 6 there will be multiple online panel sessions, and the winner of the AI Song Contest 2021 will be announced in an online award ceremony. All sessions on July 6 are organised in collaboration with Wallifornia MusicTech.

How is the winner determined?

Each participating team will be awarded two sets of points: one a public vote by the contest’s international audience, the other the determination of an expert jury.

Anyone can evaluate as many songs as they like: from one, up to all thirty-eight. Every song can be evaluated only once. Even though it won’t count in the grand total, lyrics can be evaluated too; we do like to determine which team wrote the best accoring to the audience.

Can I vote multiple times for the same team?

No, votes are controlled by IP address. So only one of your votes will count.

Is this the first time the contest is organised?

This is the second time the AI Song Contest is organised. The contest was first initiated in 2020 by Dutch public broadcaster VPRO together with NPO Innovation and NPO 3FM. Teams from Europe and Australia tried to create a Eurovision kind of song with the help of AI. Team Uncanny Valley from Australia won the first edition with their song Beautiful the World. The 2021 edition is organised independently.

What is the definition of artificial intelligence in this contest?

Artificial intelligence is a very broad concept. For this contest it will mean that teams can use techniques such as -but not limited to- machine learning, such as deep learning, natural language processing, algorithmic composition or combining rule-based approaches with neural networks for the creation of their songs. Teams can create their own AI tools, or use existing models and algorithms.  

What are possible challenges?

Read here about the challenges teams from last year’s contest faced.

As an AI researcher, can I collaborate with musicians?

Yes – this is strongly encouraged!

For the 2020 edition, all songs had to be Eurovision-style. Is that also the intention for 2021 entries?

Last year, the first year the contest was organized, it was indeed all about Eurovision. For this year’s competition, we are trying to expand geographically, culturally, and musically. Teams from all over the world can compete, and songs in all genres can be submitted.

If you’re not familiar with Eurovision-style, you can find a compilation video with brief excerpts from the 26 finalists for Eurovision 2021 here (Bill Young’s May 23, 2021 posting on tellyspotting.kera.org; the video runs under 10 mins.). There’s also the “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” 2020 movie starring Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, and Dan Stevens. It’s intended as a gentle parody but the style is all there.

ART MACHINES 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning and Art 2021

The symposium, Art Machines 2, started yesterday (June 10, 2021 and runs to June 14, 2021) in Hong Kong and SFU’s Metacreation Lab will be represented (from the Spring 2021 newsletter received via email),

On Sunday, June 13 [2021] at 21:45 Hong Kong Standard Time (UTC +8) as part of the Sound Art Paper Session chaired by Ryo Ikeshiro, the Metacreation Lab’s Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier will present their paper, Exploiting Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art. We’ve included a more detailed preview of the paper in this newsletter below.

Concurrent with ART MACHINES 2 is the launch of two exhibitions – Constructing Contexts and System Dreams. Constructing Contexts, curated by Tobias Klein and Rodrigo Guzman-Serrano, will bring together 27 works with unique approaches to the question of contexts as applied by generative adversarial networks. System Dreams highlights work from the latest MFA talent from the School of Creative Media. While the exhibitions take place in Hong Kong, the participating artists and artwork are well documented online.

Liminal Tones: Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art

Applications of swarm aesthetics in music composition are not new and have already resulted in volumes of complex soundscapes and musical compositions. Using an experimental approach, Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier create a series of sound textures know as Liminal Tones (B/ Rain Dream) based on swarming behaviours

Findings of the Liminal Tones project will be presented in papers for the Art Machines 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning (June 10-14 [2021]) and the International Conference on Swarm Intelligence (July 17-21 [2021]).

Talk about Creative AI at the University of British Columbia

This is the last item I’m excerpting from the newsletter. (Should you be curious about what else is listed, you can go to the Metacreation Lab’s contact page and sign up for the newsletter there.) On June 22, 2021 at 2:00 PM PDT, there will be this event,

Creative AI: on the partial or complete automation of creative tasks @ CAIDA

Philippe Pasquier will be giving a talk on creative applications of AI at CAIDA: UBC ICICS Centre for Artificial Intelligence Decision-making and Action. Overviewing the state of the art of computer-assisted creativity and embedded systems and their various applications, the talk will survey the design, deployment, and evaluation of generative systems.

Free registration for the talk is available at the link below.

Register for Creative AI @ CAIDA

Remember, if you want to see the rest of the newsletter, you can sign up at the Metacreation Lab’s contact page.

Sublime—art or nature?

A March 17, 2021 PLOS [Public Library of Science] news release on EurekAlert announced research into people’s experiences of art and nature as represented in virtual reality and on video,

An immersive, 360° video of a painting versus a video of the actual location depicted in the painting elicit similar levels of “the sublime,” an experience closely associated with feelings of awe. Alice Chirico of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Italy, and colleagues present their findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on March 17, 2021.

For centuries, philosophers have debated the nature of the sublime, which can be thought of as an aesthetic experience evoked by stimuli that may be perceived as vast, powerful, or rare–such as a landscape or a storm. Psychologists often equate the sublime to awe, and to study it, many have used pictures or videos of natural scenes to induce the sublime in study participants.

Chirico and colleagues now report the first investigation into whether artistic and photorealistic representations of nature differ in evoking the sublime. They measured the emotional responses of 50 study participants before and after viewing immersive, 360° videos of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the natural location depicted in the painting.

Statistical analysis of the participants’ responses showed that both virtual-reality videos induced the sublime with similar intensity. However, they differed with regards to certain sub-dimensions of the sublime. For instance, the nature-based video evoked a greater sense of vastness and a greater perception of existential danger.

Moreover, while the videos elicited similar emotions, the nature-based video evoked feelings of fear and positive affect that were of significantly higher intensity than those elicited by the art-based video. Participants also reported a greater sense of being present in the nature-based video than in the art-based one.

These findings demonstrate the potential for virtual reality as a research tool to deepen understanding of the sublime and other complex phenomena. Because participants in this study were already familiar with The Starry Night, future work could explore how people’s prior acquaintance with stimuli might impact their experience of the sublime.

The authors add: “By using virtual reality, we provided the first empirical contribution to the enduring debate about whether nature or instead art is better at evoking the experience of the sublime. We found that both nature and art are effective elicitors, although they exhibit different nuances.”

Caption: Starry night Credit: Alice Chirico

Following on Starry night (the photo above), Vancouver’s Imagine Van Gogh opened on the weekend of March 20-21, 2021. Tickets have been selling quickly, they’ve attended hours and extended the show’s run to August 2021. You can find out more here in Vincent Plano’s March 17, 2021 article for the Daily Hive. His images are not particularly good but there are many of them, which gives you some idea about the show. Rebecca Bollwitt’s March 19, 2021 posting on Miss 604 offers fewer but better quality pictures.

Back to the sublime, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nature versus art as elicitors of the sublime: A virtual reality study by Alice Chirico, Robert R. Clewis, David B. Yaden, Andrea Gaggioli. PLOS [Public Library of Science] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0233628 Published: March 22, 2021

This is an open access paper.