Category Archives: Visual Art

An algorithm for modern quilting

Caption: Each of the blocks in this quilt were designed using an algorithm-based tool developed by Stanford researchers. Credit: Mackenzie Leake

I love the colours. This research into quilting and artificial intelligence (AI) was presented at SIGGRAPH 2021 in August. (SIGGRAPH is, also known as, ACM SIGGRAPH or ‘Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques’.)

A June 3, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announced the presentation,

Stanford University computer science graduate student Mackenzie Leake has been quilting since age 10, but she never imagined the craft would be the focus of her doctoral dissertation. Included in that work is new prototype software that can facilitate pattern-making for a form of quilting called foundation paper piecing, which involves using a backing made of foundation paper to lay out and sew a quilted design.

Developing a foundation paper piece quilt pattern — which looks similar to a paint-by-numbers outline — is often non-intuitive. There are few formal guidelines for patterning and those that do exist are insufficient to assure a successful result.

“Quilting has this rich tradition and people make these very personal, cherished heirlooms but paper piece quilting often requires that people work from patterns that other people designed,” said Leake, who is a member of the lab of Maneesh Agrawala, the Forest Baskett Professor of Computer Science and director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford. “So, we wanted to produce a digital tool that lets people design the patterns that they want to design without having to think through all of the geometry, ordering and constraints.”

A paper describing this work is published and will be presented at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2021 in August.

A June 2, 2021 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Respecting the craft

In describing the allure of paper piece quilts, Leake cites the modern aesthetic and high level of control and precision. The seams of the quilt are sewn through the paper pattern and, as the seaming process proceeds, the individual pieces of fabric are flipped over to form the final design. All of this “sew and flip” action means the pattern must be produced in a careful order.

Poorly executed patterns can lead to loose pieces, holes, misplaced seams and designs that are simply impossible to complete. When quilters create their own paper piecing designs, figuring out the order of the seams can take considerable time – and still lead to unsatisfactory results.

“The biggest challenge that we’re tackling is letting people focus on the creative part and offload the mental energy of figuring out whether they can use this technique or not,” said Leake, who is lead author of the SIGGRAPH paper. “It’s important to me that we’re really aware and respectful of the way that people like to create and that we aren’t over-automating that process.”

This isn’t Leake’s first foray into computer-aided quilting. She previously designed a tool for improvisational quilting, which she presented [PatchProv: Supporting Improvistiional Design Practices for Modern Quilting by Mackenzie Leake, Frances Lai, Tovi Grossman, Daniel Wigdor, and Ben Lafreniere] at the human-computer interaction conference CHI in May [2021]. [Note: Links to the May 2021 conference and paper added by me.]

Quilting theory

Developing the algorithm at the heart of this latest quilting software required a substantial theoretical foundation. With few existing guidelines to go on, the researchers had to first gain a more formal understanding of what makes a quilt paper piece-able, and then represent that mathematically.

They eventually found what they needed in a particular graph structure, called a hypergraph. While so-called “simple” graphs can only connect data points by lines, a hypergraph can accommodate overlapping relationships between many data points. (A Venn diagram is a type of hypergraph.) The researchers found that a pattern will be paper piece-able if it can be depicted by a hypergraph whose edges can be removed one at a time in a specific order – which would correspond to how the seams are sewn in the pattern.

The prototype software allows users to sketch out a design and the underlying hypergraph-based algorithm determines what paper foundation patterns could make it possible – if any. Many designs result in multiple pattern options and users can adjust their sketch until they get a pattern they like. The researchers hope to make a version of their software publicly available this summer.

“I didn’t expect to be writing my computer science dissertation on quilting when I started,” said Leake. “But I found this really rich space of problems involving design and computation and traditional crafts, so there have been lots of different pieces we’ve been able to pull off and examine in that space.”

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Researchers from University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University are co-authors of this paper. Agrawala is also an affiliate of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).

An abstract for the paper “A Mathematical Foundation for Foundation Paper Pieceable Quilts” by Mackenzie Leake, Gilbert Bernstein, Abe Davis and Maneesh Agrawala can be found here along with links to a PDF of the full paper and video on YouTube.

Afterthought: I noticed that all of the co-authors for the May 2021 paper are from the University of Toronto and most of them including Mackenzie Leake are associated with that university’s Chatham Labs.

Toronto’s (Canada) ArtSci Salon offers: Naturalized Encounters (a series of international, networked meals known as “Follow the Spread” starting Sunday, October 3, 2021

My September 26, 2021 Art/Sci Salon notice (received via email) provides these details,

Naturalization = The ecological phenomenon in which a species, taxon, or population of exotic (as opposed to native) origin integrates into a given ecosystem, becoming capable of reproducing and growing in it, and proceeds to disseminate spontaneously. In some instances, the presence of a species in a given ecosystem is so ancient that it cannot be presupposed whether it is native or introduced
How does adaptation through naturalization occur? What happens to the native population? How does coexistence happen?

Our first event will revolve around the Solanum Melongena, a plant species in the nightshade family Solanaceae commonly known as the eggplant. This plant (and the many different names it goes by Aubergine, Melanzana, Brinjal, Berenjena, باذنجان, vânătă, 茄子,بادمجان) uncertain origins, grown worldwide for its edible fruit. Eggplants exist in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Our event will be a harvest potluck, with dialogues, storytelling, and exchanges about and beyond food. Our guests will engage in creative interventions to reflect on the many ways food, and food mobility affects all sentient beings, both humans and non-humans; peoples and civilizations; individuals’ health and collective traditions. Food is nourishment, care, medicine, and art. Food is political. Food is ultimately about our survival.

This is the first of a series of networked meals titled “FOLLOW THE SPREAD,” which will be staged around the world and across time zones throughout Fall 2021-Spring 2022 in Canada (October 3, Spring 2022), Norway (October 7), the Netherlands and Taiwan (Spring 2022).

Join us online to meet 10 Canadian artists and scholars as they launch the series in Toronto and engage in a nourishing and inspiring feast

Amira Alamary
TBA

Antje Budde
Antje Budde is a conceptual, queer-feminist, interdisciplinary experimental scholar-artist and an Associate Professor of Theatre Studies, Cultural Communication and Modern Chinese Studies at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Toronto. Antje has created multi-disciplinary artistic works in Germany, China and Canada and works tri-lingually in German, English and Mandarin. She is the founder of a number of queerly feminist performing art projects including most recently the (DDL)2 or (Digital Dramaturgy Lab)Squared – a platform for experimental explorations of digital culture, creative labor, integration of arts and science, and technology in performance. She is interested in the intersections of natural sciences, the arts, engineering and computer science.

Charmaine Lurch
Charmaine Lurch is a multidisciplinary artist whose painting, sculpture, and social engagement reveal the intricacies and complexities of the relationships between us and our environments. Her sculptures, installations, and interventions produce enchantment as she skillfully contends with what is visible and present in conjunction with what remains unsaid or unnoticed. Lurch applies her experience in community arts and education to create inviting entry points into overwhelmingly complex and urgent racial, ecological, and historical reckonings.

Lurch’s work contends with both spatiality and temporality, enchanting her subject matter with multiple possibilities for engagement. This can be seen in the interplay between light, wire, and space in her intricate wire sculptures of bees and pollen grains, and in what scholar Tiffany Lethabo King refers to as the “open edgelessness” of Sycorax. A sensuous dynamism belies the everyday tasks reflected in her charcoal-on-parchment series Being, Belonging and Grace. Lurch’s particular evocations and explorations of space and time invite an analysis of their own, and her work has been engaged with by academics. These include King, who chose Sycorax Gesture, a charcoal illustration for the cover of her book The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies, in which King discusses Lurch’s work in depth. Scholar Katherine McKittrick both inserted and engaged with Lurch’s work in her latest notable book, Dear Science & Other Stories.

Dave Kemp
Dave Kemp is a visual artist whose practice looks at the intersections and interactions between art, science and technology: particularly at how these fields shape our perception and understanding of the world. His artworks have been exhibited widely at venues such as at the McIntosh Gallery, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Mississauga, The Ontario Science Centre, York Quay Gallery, Interaccess, Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, and as part of the Switch video festival in Nenagh, Ireland. His works are also included in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Canada Council Art Bank.

Dolores Steinman
Dolores Steinman is a trained pediatrician who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is very active in several Art/Science communities locally and internationally.

Elaine Whittaker
Elaine Whittaker is a Canadian visual artist working at the intersection of art, science, medicine, and ecology. She considers biology as contemporary art practice and as the basis for her installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and digital images. Whittaker has exhibited in art and science galleries and museums in Canada, France, Italy, UK, Ireland, Latvia, China, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, and the U.S. Artwork created as Artist-in-Residence with the Pelling Laboratory for Augmented Biology (University of Ottawa) was exhibited in La Fabrique du Vivant at the Pompidou Centre, Paris  in 2019.  She was one of the first Artists-in-Residence with the Ontario Science Centre in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto. Her work has also been featured in art, literary, and medical magazines, and books, including Bio Art: Altered Realities by William Myers (2015).

Elizabeth Littlejohn
Elizabeth Littlejohn is a communications professor, human rights activist, photojournalist, and documentary film-maker. She has written for Rabble.ca for the past thirteen years on social movements, sustainable urban planning, and climate change. As a running gun social movement videographer, she has filmed internationally. Her articles, photojournalism, and videos have documented Occupy, Idle No More, and climate change movements, and her photographs have been printed in NOW Magazine, the Toronto Star, and Our Times.

Recently Elizabeth Littlejohn has completed ‘The City Island’, a feature-length documentary she directed about the razing of homes on the Toronto Islands and the islanders’ stewardship of the park system, with the support of the Canada Council. Currently, Elizabeth is developing the Toronto Island Puzzle Tour, an augmented-reality smartphone application with five locales depicting hidden history of the Toronto Island, and funded by the City of Toronto’s Artworx Grant.

Gita Hashemi
Gita Hashemi works in visual and performance art, digital and net art, and language-based art including live embodied writing, and in publishing. Her transdisciplinary, multi-platform and often site-responsive projects explore historical, trans-border and marginalized narratives and their traces in contemporary contexts. She has received numerous project grants from Canadian arts councils, and won awards from Toronto Community Foundation, Baddeck International New Media Festival, American Ad Federation, and Ontario Association of Art Galleries among others. Hashemi is an Ontario Heritage Trust’s Doris McCarthy Artist in Residence in 2021 with a land-based project. Her work has been exhibited at many international venues including SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles; Center for Book Arts, New York; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Plug-In, Basel; Casoria Museum of Contemporary Art, Naples; Al Kahf Art Gallery, Bethlehem; Red House Centre for Culture, Sofia; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Yucatan, Merida; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest; Worth Ryder Gallery, Berkeley; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Santa Fe, Argentina; Museum of Movements, Malmo; and JolibaZWO, Berlin among others. In Canada her work has been presented at A Space Gallery, York Quay Gallery, YYZ, MAI, and Carlton University Art Gallery. She has exhibited in numerous festivals including Electroshock, France; VI Salon y coloquio internacional de art digital, Havana; New Media Art Festival, Bangkok; Biennale of Electronic Art, Perth; and New Music and Art Festival, Bowling Green and others.

Nina Czegledy
Toronto based artist, curator, educator, works internationally on collaborative art, science & technology projects. The changing perception of the human body and its environment, as well as paradigm shifts in the arts, inform her projects. She has exhibited and published widely, won awards for her artwork and has initiated, led and participated in workshops, forums and festivals worldwide at international events.

Roberta Buiani
Artistic Director of the ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (Toronto). Her artistic work has travelled to art festivals (Transmediale; Hemispheric Institute Encuentro; Brazil), community centers and galleries (the Free Gallery Toronto; Immigrant Movement International, Queens, Museum of Toronto), and scientific institutions (RPI; the Fields Institute). She is a research associate at the Centre for Feminist Research and a Scholar in Residence at Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology, at York University.

Tune in on Oct 3 [2021] at 10:30 AM EDT; 4:30 PM CET; 10:30 PM CST [Note: For those of us on the West Coast, that will 7:30 am PDT]

To view the video on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, just go to the ‘Naturalized Encounters’ webpage on the ArtSci Salon website and scroll down.

The power of art and science policy

For Berta (They Fear Us Because We Are Fearless) Materials: [detail] Shell casings, shale, smalti, stained glass Size: 16″h x 16″w Year: 2019 [Artist: Julie Sperling]

At first glance I thought those were coins—they’re bullet casings. Science policy isn’t always a boring meeting or report.

Here’s a little more about the artist Julie Sperling, from the About page on her website,

I am a Canadian mosaic artist based in Kitchener, Ontario. My studio practice finds me camped out at the intersection of art, environment, science, and policy. I firmly believe in the important role that artists play as advocates, activists, and change-makers.

When I’m not wearing my work overalls I am a policy analyst with Environment and Climate Change Canada. [emphasis mine] But really, I’m happiest when I have a rock in one hand and my hammer in the other.

Getting back to ‘Berta‘, which is part of a series “By Our Own Hands.” Spence tells the story of how the mosaic was inspired (Note: Links have been removed),

Every week, about 4 people are killed for standing up to those (predominantly industry of various stripes) who are encroaching on their traditional lands and resources, threatening the environment and their very survival. That adds up to hundreds of lives each year. More often than not, their killers go unpunished as land grabs and environmental exploitation advance, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

I’ve been waiting three years to make this mosaic. The issue planted itself firmly in my brain in 2016 with the assassination of Berta Cáceres, one of Honduras’ most prominent environmental activists and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Cáceres co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and before her murder had been working with the Lenca people to stop the Agua Zarca dam, which would have affected the Gualcarque River, a sacred river for the Lenca people. The dam would have diverted 3 kilometres of river, displacing communities and jeopardizing their water resources and livelihoods. COPINH employed many tactics to stop the construction of the dam, most notably a blockade that lasted over a year. In the end, Cáceres, who had been receiving death threats for years, was shot and killed in her home. In November 2018, seven men were convicted of her murder. Among those convicted were two employees of the construction company, DESA (one of whom was, ironically enough, the company’s “community and environmental affairs manager”), a retired military officer turned DESA employee, and an active military officer. DESA’s then-CEO is being tried separately this year [2019].

Science policy and real life consequences.

Because it’s Friday (September 24, 2021) I wanted to end on a more hopeful note,

Bioswale (Slow It Down, Soak It Up) [detail] Materials: Asphalt, limestone, sandstone, marble, litovi, smalti Size: 18″h x 20″w (approximately) Year: 2017 [Artist: Julie Sperling]

From the Bioswale webpage,

This mosaic is all about using nature (specifically, rain gardens) to slow down and soak up the rain as extreme precipitation increases with climate change. …

‘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.

Proximal Fields from September 8 – 12, 2021 and a peek into the international art/sci/tech scene

Toronto’s (Canada) Art/Sci Salon (also known as, Art Science Salon) sent me an August 26, 2021 announcement (received via email) of an online show with a limited viewing period (BTW, nice play on words with the title echoing the name of the institution mentioned in the first sentence),

PROXIMAL FIELDS

The Fields Institute was closed to the public for a long time. Yet, it
has not been empty. Peculiar sounds and intriguing silences, the flows
of the few individuals and the janitors occasional visiting the building
made it surprisingly alive. Microorganisms, dust specs and other
invisible guests populated undisturbed the space while the humans were
away. The building is alive. We created site specific installations
reflecting this condition: Elaine Whittaker and her poet collaborators
take us to a journey of the microbes living in our proximal spaces. Joel
Ong and his collaborators have recorded space data in the building: the
result is an emergent digital organism. Roberta Buiani and Kavi
interpret the venue as an organism which can be taken outside on a
mobile gallery.

PROXIMAL FIELDS will be visible  September 8-12 2021 at

https://ars.electronica.art/newdigitaldeal/en/proximal-fields/

it [sic] is part of Ars Electronica Garden LEONARDO LASER [Anti]disciplinary Topographies

https://ars.electronica.art/newdigitaldeal/en/antidisciplinary-topographies/

see [sic] a teaser here:

https://youtu.be/AYxlvLnYSdE

With: Elaine Whittaker, Joel Ong, Nina Czegledy, Roberta Buiani, Sachin
Karghie, Ryan Martin, Racelar Ho, Kavi.
Poetry: Maureen Hynes, Sheila Stewart

Video: Natalie Plociennik

This event is one of many such events being held for Ars Electronica 2021 festival.

For anyone who remembers back to my May 3, 2021 posting (scroll down to the relevant subhead; a number of events were mentioned), I featured a show from the ArtSci Salon community called ‘Proximal Spaces’, a combined poetry reading and bioart experience.

Many of the same artists and poets seem to have continued working together to develop more work based on the ‘proximal’ for a larger international audience.

International and local scene details (e.g., same show? what is Ars Electronica? etc.)

As you may have noticed from the announcement, there are a lot of different institutions involved.

Local: Fields Institute and ArtSci Salon

The Fields Institute is properly known as The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and is located at the University of Toronto. Here’s more from their About Us webpage,

Founded in 1992, the Fields Institute was initially located at the University of Waterloo. Since 1995, it has occupied a purpose-built building on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto.

The Institute is internationally renowned for strengthening collaboration, innovation, and learning in mathematics and across a broad range of disciplines. …

The Fields Institute is named after the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields (1863-1932). Fields was a pioneer and visionary who recognized the scientific, educational, and economic value of research in the mathematical sciences. Fields spent many of his early years in Berlin and, to a lesser extent, in Paris and Göttingen, the principal mathematical centres of Europe of that time. These experiences led him, after his return to Canada, to work for the public support of university research, which he did very successfully. He also organized and presided over the 1924 meeting of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto. This quadrennial meeting was, and still is, the major meeting of the mathematics world.

There is no Nobel Prize in mathematics, and Fields felt strongly that there should be a comparable award to recognize the most outstanding current research in mathematics. With this in mind, he established the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, which, contrary to his personal directive, is now known as the Fields Medal. Information on Fields Medal winners can be found through the International Mathematical Union, which chooses the quadrennial recipients of the prize.

Fields’ name was given to the Institute in recognition of his seminal contributions to world mathematics and his work on behalf of high level mathematical scholarship in Canada. The Institute aims to carry on the work of Fields and to promote the wider use and understanding of mathematics in Canada.

The relationship between the Fields Institute and the ArtSci Salon is unclear to me. This can be found under Programs and Activities on the Fields Institute website,

2020-2021 ArtSci Salon

Description

ArtSci Salon consists of a series of semi-informal gatherings facilitating discussion and cross-pollination between science, technology, and the arts. ArtSci Salon started in 2010 as a spin-off of Subtle Technologies Festival to satisfy increasing demands by the audience attending the Festival to have a more frequent (monthly or bi-monthly) outlet for debate and information sharing across disciplines. In addition, it responds to the recent expansion in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] area of a community of scientists and artists increasingly seeking collaborations across disciplines to successfully accomplish their research projects and questions.

For more details, visit our blog.

Sign up to our mailing list here.

For more information please contact:

Stephen Morris: smorris@physics.utoronto.ca

Roberta Buiani: rbuiani@gmail.com

We are pleased to announce our upcoming March 2021 events (more details are in the schedule below):

Ars Electronica

It started life as a Festival for Art, Technology and Society in 1979 in Linz, Austria. Here’s a little more from their About webpage,

… Since September 18, 1979, our world has changed radically, and digitization has covered almost all areas of our lives. Ars Electronica’s philosophy has remained the same over the years. Our activities are always guided by the question of what new technologies mean for our lives. Together with artists, scientists, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and activists, we shed light on current developments in our digital society and speculate about their manifestations in the future. We never ask what technology can or will be able to do, but always what it should do for us. And we don’t try to adapt to technology, but we want the development of technology to be oriented towards us. Therefore, our artistic research always focuses on ourselves, our needs, our desires, our feelings.

They have a number of initiatives in addition to the festival. The next festival, A New Digital Deal, runs from September 8 – 12, 2021 (Ars Electronica 2021). Here’s a little more from the festival webpage,

Ars Electronica 2021, the festival for art, technology and society, will take place from September 8 to 12. For the second time since 1979, it will be a hybrid event that includes exhibitions, concerts, talks, conferences, workshops and guided tours in Linz, Austria, and more than 80 other locations around the globe.

Leonardo; The International Society for Arts, Sciences and Technology

Ars Electronica and Leonardo; The International Society for Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST) cooperate on projects but they are two different entities. Here’s more from the About LEONARDO webpage,

Fearlessly pioneering since 1968, Leonardo serves as THE community forging a transdisciplinary network to convene, research, collaborate, and disseminate best practices at the nexus of arts, science and technology worldwide. Leonardo’ serves a network of transdisciplinary scholars, artists, scientists, technologists and thinkers, who experiment with cutting-edge, new approaches, practices, systems and solutions to tackle the most complex challenges facing humanity today.

As a not-for-profit 501(c)3 enterprising think tank, Leonardo offers a global platform for creative exploration and collaboration reaching tens of thousands of people across 135 countries. Our flagship publication, Leonardo, the world’s leading scholarly journal on transdisciplinary art, anchors a robust publishing partnership with MIT Press; our partnership with ASU [Arizona State University] infuses educational innovation with digital art and media for lifelong learning; our creative programs span thought-provoking events, exhibits, residencies and fellowships, scholarship and social enterprise ventures.

I have a description of Leonardo’s LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous), from my March 22, 2021 posting (the Garden comes up next),

Here’s a description of the LASER talks from the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

“… a program of international gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with the wider public. The mission of LASER is to encourage contribution to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and opportunities for community building.”

To be specific it’s Ars Electronica Garden LEONARDO LASER and this is one of the series being held as part of the festival (A Digital New Deal). Here’s more from the [Anti]disciplinary Topographies ‘garden’ webpage,

Culturing transnational dialogue for creative hybridity

Leonardo LASER Garden gathers our global network of artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together in a series of hybrid formats addressing the world’s most pressing issues. Animated by the theme of a “new digital deal” and grounded in the UN Sustainability Goals, Leonardo LASER Garden cultivates our values of equity and inclusion by elevating underrepresented voices in a wide-ranging exploration of global challenges, digital communities and placemaking, space, networks and systems, the digital divide – and the impact of interdisciplinary art, science and technology discourse and collaboration.

Dovetailing with the launch of LASER Linz, this asynchronous multi-platform garden will highlight the best of the Leonardo Network (spanning 47 cities worldwide) and our transdisciplinary community. In “Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Vision: Humanizing Digital Culture with the New Creativity Agenda & the UNSDGs [United Nations Sustainable Development Goals],” Leonardo/ISAST CEO Diana Ayton-Shenker presents our vision for shaping our global future. This will be followed by a Leonardo Community Lounge open to the general public, with the goal of encouraging contributions to the cultural environments of different regions through transnational exchange and community building.

Getting back to the beginning you can view Proximal Fields from September 8 – 12, 2021 as part of the Ars Electonica 2021 festival, specifically, the ‘garden’ series.

ETA September 8, 2021: There’s a newly posted (on the Fields Institute webspace) and undated notice/article “ArtSci Salon’s Proximal Fields debuts at the Ars Electronica Festival,” which includes an interview with members of the Proximal Fields team.

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

2021 Visualizing Science contest

The Canadian Science Publishing contest: Visualizing SCIENCE 2021 edition opened on July 20, 2021 with a deadline of August 17, 2021 at 23:59 (ET).

Fame, glory, and a couple of bucks could be yours should your image find favour with the judges.

Here’s more about the contest from the Visualizing SCIENCE webpage,

An image can capture a moment, communicate a message, and evoke emotion. From selfies and sketches to micrographs and modelling outputs, the Visualizing SCIENCE contest celebrates all images that visualize all facets of scientific research.

Whether you’re at the lab, in the field, or online at home, it’s time to start creating images for your chance to win cash prizes.

….

Grand Prize of $400 CAD
People’s Choice prize of $250 CAD
From the Lab category prize of $200 CAD
From the Machine category prize of $200 CAD
From the Field category prize of $200 CAD

I have more details from the Contest Rules (PDF),

In 2016, Canadian Science Publishing organized the Visualizing SCIENCE image contest. The contest seeks images that visualize scientific research. The contest is open to all members of the international research community.

Contest Participants can submit a maximum of five (5) images to each of the three (3) categories.

FROM THE LAB

This category includes all images taken within the lab including micrographs and photographs.

FROM THE MACHINE

This category includes all images created in silico (i.e., by computer) including data visualization, modelling, digital art, and infographic representations.

FROM THE FIELD

This category includes all images taken of and during field work including field sketches and photographs.

Please check out the Contest Rules (PDF) for more details such as Image requirements and Submission requirements.

You’ll find the submission form on the Visualizing SCIENCE webpage.

Finally, you might find interviews (written by Sydney Currier for Canadian Science Publishing) with some of this year’s contest judges helpful,

Good luck!

Israel’s Fetter Museum of Nanoscience & Art opens on Thursday, July 8, 2021

According to a July 5, 2021 news article by Maya Margit in the Jerusalem Post (originally published by The Media Line) The Fetter Museum of Nanoscience & Art will be opening at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA)* this Thursday, July 8, 2021 (Note: Links have been removed),

A new museum set to open in Israel this week combines the cutting-edge field of nanotechnology with the world of contemporary art to create a uniquely mind-bending experience.

The Fetter Nanoscience and Art Museum located at Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA), pushes the limits of creative expression with a series of artworks that are exhibited throughout the institute’s seven floors.

This museum seems to be conceptual as it is ‘found’ in spaces within BINA rather than having its own designated space within BINA or its own ‘brick and mortar’ structure.

For the curious, there is a Fetter Museum of Nanoscience & Art website where some sections still seem to be under construction.

Back to Margit’s July 5, 2021 news article,

Slated to open to the public on Thursday [July 8, 2021], the museum is the brainchild of acclaimed physics professor Yuval Garini, former director of BINA.

As he was wandering down the spacious halls of the institute one day, Garini realized that much could be done to make better use of the expansive central rooms and meeting areas at BINA.

“Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary field so you really have to have the scientists from different disciplines working together to get something really novel,” Garini told The Media Line, adding that one of the primary purposes of the museum is to attract youngsters to join the burgeoning field of nanotechnology.

The museum has taken years to launch as evidenced by a November 2018 BINA newsletter issue 9 announcement,

Joseph Fetter Museum of Nanotechnology

The Nano-Art Museum will showcase breakthrough research conducted at the Institute, fusing art and science to create an interactive thought-provoking experience.

Art that speaks science

“It started several years ago as a dream to establish a nanotechnology museum through a collaborative process of scientists and artists,” said Prof. Yuval Garini, the visionary and driving force behind the project. “We wanted to dazzle visitors with magnificent experiences, exposing them to scientific principles and to the vast research possibilities in the natural sciences. I am deeply grateful to the Fetter family, whom, without their gracious help our vision would not have been realized”, he said.

The Nano-Art museum is scheduled to open in the summer of 2019, offering visitors a wondrous celebration of the senses. …

Bravo to professor Garini and the others whose continued determination has resulted in the museum.

Back again to Margit’s July 5, 2021 news article,

The launch show, Titled “New Languages,” features collaborations between artists and scientists from a wide variety of nanotechnology-related disciplines, including biology, computer science, engineering and chemistry.

New works will be added as time goes by and as these dialogues continue, she said. Unlike traditional white cube museums, the art at the Fetter Museum is exhibited in the institute’s main halls and in between its research labs, making for a one-of-a-kind museum experience in Israel.

Artist Vardi Bobrow, for instance, created an imposing large-scale sculptural installation called “Stretching the Limits” in BINA’s main hall that consists of a staggering 15,000 rubber bands. The rubber bands are intended to illustrate how damaged neurons recover by stretching and growing, an area of research that was explored by Prof. Orit Shefi. 

It’s not clear if they will be hosting an event of some kind; I was not able to find any press releases.

*ETA July 6.21 0840 PDT: Bar-Ilan University is in the city of Ramat Gan in the Tel Aviv District.

Future of Being Human: a call for proposals

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is investigating the ‘Future of Being Human’ and has instituted a global call for proposals but there is one catch, your team has to have one person (with or without citizenship) who’s living and working in Canada. (Note: I am available.)

Here’s more about the call (from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage),

New program proposals should explore the long term intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet. 

We invite bold proposals from researchers at universities or research institutions that ask new questions about our complex emerging world. We are confronting challenging problems that require a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences [emphasis mine]) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity.

CIFAR is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. We welcome proposals that include individuals from countries and institutions that are not yet represented in our research community.

Here’s a description, albeit, a little repetitive, of what CIFAR is asking researchers to do (from the Program Guide [PDF]),

For CIFAR’s next Global Call for Ideas, we are soliciting proposals related to The Future of Being Human, exploring in the long term the intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the natural world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet. We invite bold proposals that ask new questions about our complex emerging world, where the issues under study are entangled and dynamic. We are confronting challenging problems that necessitate a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity. [p. 2 print; p. 4 PDF]

There is an upcoming information webinar (from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage),

Monday, June 28, 2021 – 1:00pm – 1:45pm EDT

Webinar Sign-Up

Also from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage, here are the various deadlines and additional sources of information,

August 17, 2021

Registration deadline

January 26, 2022

LOI [Letter of Intent] deadline

Spring 2022

LOIs invited to Full Proposal

Fall 2022

Full proposals due

March 2023

New program announcement and celebration

Resources

Program Guide [PDF]

Frequently Asked Questions

Good luck!

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.