Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery

I'm delighted that Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic will finally be getting its North American debut as part of the exhibition Public Notice at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.

The exhibition is thoughtfully timed for the centenary of the 1918 "Spanish flu" epidemic (which, if not for wartime media censorship in countries other than Spain, could just as easily have been dubbed the "Kansas flu").

If you're in the Toronto area this fall, please come play the game!

Public Notice 

September 15, 2018 - January 13, 2019

Alison Humphrey, Ruth Cuthand, Elaine Whittaker, Ho Tam, Stephen Andrews, Abraham Anghik Ruben, Kim Morgan

Elaine Whittaker, I Caught it at The Movies (detail), 2013, Petri dishes, digital images, mylar, gouache, agar, Halobacterium sp. NRC-1
Exhibition description:

"A hundred years ago, when World War I was winding down and peace was right around the corner, a new strain of influenza swept the world, killing more people than the war. The 1918 Spanish Influenza is considered the deadliest outbreak of infectious disease in recorded history.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fantasists and Sociologists

I love Ursula Le Guin.
"At this point, realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence. A scientist who creates a monster in the laboratory; a librarian in the library of Babel; a wizard unable to cast a spell; a space ship having trouble in getting to Alpha Centauri: all these may be precise and profound metaphors of the human condition. 
"Fantasists, whether they use the ancient archetypes of myth and legend or the younger ones of science and technology, may be talking as seriously as any sociologist – and a good deal more directly – about human life as it is lived, and as it might be lived, and as it ought to be lived. 
"For after all, as great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope."
1972 National Book Award acceptance speech. From The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

World Building, Wicked Problems, and the Civic Imagination

Just listened to "Ann Pendleton-Jullian on World Building, Architecture, and Wicked Problems," an episode of the podcast How Do You Like It So Far? with Colin Maclay and Henry Jenkins. I found this interview so resonant for my research that I needed it in text form, so after some YouTube auto-transcription and a whole lot of cleanup, I'm posting it here in the hopes it will be useful to others too.

Here's the audio:

Here's the blurb:
Ann Pendleton-Jullian is an architect by training but increasingly she is being hired as a world-builder, someone who can put into process a collaborative, multidisciplinary mode of thinking which approaches complex problems in a systemic way. Her professional and civic practice has been informed by ideas from speculative fiction and production design, including by Alex McDowell, who we featured on our program last week. As we explore some of the implications of Ready Player One, we decided to dedicate these two programs to the ways world building has evolved from as a way of developing on-screen fictional worlds to a way of confronting challenging problems in our own world. 
Alex and Ann teamed up for the RiLAo project, where students and experts around the world collaborated to imagine and document an imaginary floating city which contained aspects of Los Angeles and Rio De Janeiro. Ann has also developed a forthcoming book, Design Unbound, with John Seely Brown (formerly of Xerox PARC) which releases this fall. I had previously conducted an expansive interview with Ann for this blog about one segment from the book which introduced their concept of the Pragmatic Imagination
This discussion is high flying and rapid-fire: she was racing to the airport and we were happy to grab a few minutes with her. Afterwards, Colin and I discuss world-building more generally and explore some of our own thoughts on Ready Player One.
And here's the transcript:

Ann Pendleton-Jullian on World Building, Architecture, and Wicked Problems

[Intro excerpt] Ann Pendleton-Jullian: ...And world building isn't just saying, "Okay, now I'll entertain them, what a great idea!” It's to say, “What are the repercussions? What would it mean for this? What would it mean for that? Who would be involved? How would they be involved?" And when you can actually begin to allow yourself to play it out, only then can you go, "Oh, maybe that's okay. Maybe that would work." There's this way we stop ourselves at the barrier of constraints, and not see all the other things we could be doing.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Cultures of Participation: Arts, Digital Media and Politics

I'm looking forward to presenting this week at a conference titled Cultures of Participation – Arts, Digital Media and Politics at Aarhus University in Denmark. Here's the conference blurb:
Over the last decade cultural participation and cultures of participation have received increased (and renewed) attention within different academic disciplines, cultural institutions and societal sectors – and over time also more critical reflection. On policy levels, citizen participation and engagement are emphasized as key components of democratic societies and these policies are currently being practiced and put to work at cultural institutions and cultural houses, in artistic production, in architectural and urban ‘smart city’ designs and various digital media spaces. But what are the characteristics of cultural participation and how do these manifest themselves in cultures of participation?
There are some intriguing-sounding presentations listed, including keynotes by Lisanne Gibson on "Museums and Participation – Who Goes (and Who Doesn’t)?," Shannon Jackson on "Civic Re-Enactment and Public Re-Assembly," and Zizi Papacharissi on "Affective Publics: News Storytelling, Sentiment and Twitter."

Here's the abstract for my talk, part of the session "Body, Health Technologies and Participation." 

Imagination, Inoculation and the Cosmopolitics of Co-immunity 

Shadowpox is a research-creation doctoral dissertation testing a science fiction fantasy framework for young adults' imaginative civic engagement and public health problem-solving. Its participatory storyworld posits a new disease, a virus composed of living shadow. Augmented-reality technology projection-maps the fictional pathogen onto the actor’s body using live-animated digital effects, and an online video portal, the International Shadowpox Research Network, chronicles the testing of a new vaccine at the height of a pandemic, through the eyes of laboratory trial volunteers whose stories are co-created by drama students in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The Shadowpox project explores co-immunity (also called community or herd immunity), a participatory biomedical effect created when enough individuals in a community are vaccinated to make it difficult for a disease to travel from person to person. This population-level protection is achieved not by the actions of a single hero, but by the dragon-slaying courage of hundreds of thousands. Yet public participation in co-immunity has been undermined in recent years by a polarized social media debate over the validity of the scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, rooted in a complex mix of ancient fears and modern anxieties.

The first half of this talk critically reflects on the procedural rhetoric of phase one of the project, Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic, a full-body video game exhibited during the 2017 World Health Assembly in Geneva. Then, moving from the casual participation of gallery game-play into the more complex augmented reality role-play of the current second phase, Shadowpox: The Cytokine Storm, the presentation will interrogate the superhero genre as a storytelling and narrative analysis framework for young adults’ exploration of affect, belonging, and the cosmopolitics of voluntary participation in the collective good.

For more information please visit: www.shadowpox.org.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Art and Science of Immunization

The Art and Science of Immunization” is a University of Toronto Jackman Humanities Institute working group I've been part of for the past year and a half. In an interview this week, co-lead Katherine Shwetz says:
"Vaccine hesitance is one of the most perplexing (and urgent) phenomena in contemporary health... [It] has profound implications for public health, medicine, social work, and also the issue of narrative competence—how do vaccine-hesitant parents parse health information to inform their decisions, and how can healthcare professionals effectively respond to false narratives about vaccines and health?  
"Our group demonstrates that an interdisciplinary approach to these questions leads to an understanding of vaccine hesitancy that is theoretically nuanced, scientifically accurate, and grounded in the lived experience of vaccine hesitant people and the healthcare providers who are responding to this problem." 
In addition to a mind-expanding reading list, the best thing about being a part of this group is the chance to have a long-running conversation with fellow PhD students working in very unfamiliar languages and cultures: epidemiology, immunology and public health. It’s made me realize that immunization, at its core, is a deliberate action to get acquainted with "foreigners"!

Presenters at "The Art and Science of Immunization: A Symposium" this spring, where Shadowpox had its Canadian premiere

Image: Shadowpox at RADA: Abraham Popoola (photo: Simon Eves)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Playing Shadowpox

Some of my favourite photos from the Shadowpox installation at <Immune Nations> in Geneva this summer:

Monica Geignos, First Lady of Namibia, starts the game by selecting a region from the world map

Steven Hoffman, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health, chooses a country 

An inventive player finds a workaround for an oversight in our user interface, and...

...his little brother chooses the vaccine to protect a community of sprites not much shorter than him. 

Lab coats aren't chic, but they do show the pox!

Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Minister of Health for Ghana, stands in front of the Shadowpox tent
to host the farewell for outgoing WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, and then...

...goes inside to rack up an impressive Protection Score!

Not to be outdone, Jane Philpott, Canada's Minister of Health, takes a turn
with the expert guidance of York Augmented Reality Lab Director Caitlin Fisher

A wide-angle shot showing both screens. The projection is identical, but flipped
on the player's side, so it can be viewed right-way around outside the tent.
(Check out the Kinect sensor on the shelf at the top left.)

Huge thanks to all the players who enjoyed the game at UNAIDS. Next stop: Canada!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Breakout Shakespeare

After seeing the Donmar Warehouse's intriguing verbatim musical The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall's Relationship with Kids Company (check out this musically-informed review by one of its MP subjects), I got a second dose of Josie Rourke's Donmar with their cinema broadcast of Phyllida Lloyd's Julius Caesar this week.

Thrillingly, the whole cast is female, with the framing device that the show is being staged by a drama group in a women's prison. The Donmar collaborated with arts charity Clean Break, which also contributed two graduates to the company.

This is the first of a "Shakespeare Trilogy" with the same concept – I managed to see the second, Henry IV, on stage in 2015 – and when The Guardian calls it "one of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years," I thoroughly agree. It fruitfully disrespects not only the gender line, but the colour bar, and class and regional-accent silos as well. What if this weren't a one-off, but part of a sea change in how brave we're willing to be in our make-believe?

All three productions will be broadcast, but no dates are listed yet for Canada. (Get a move on, Cineplex!)

In New York earlier this year, the cast recorded videos to give more voice to their prison characters:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Performance Capture in Live Theatre

I spent last night in an alternate future. The RSC's Tempest had its press night at the Barbican Theatre, and I finally had the chance to see the show in the flesh after following its development online for ages.

This is the kind of mainstream breakthrough for performance-capture theatre that I've been waiting for for half a decade, from our 2013 mocap Midsummer Night's Dream at Theatre@York, through subsequent live-animated collaborations Faster than Night and The Augmentalist with innovator Pascal Langdale, and now the forthcoming Shadowpox. I was mesmerized.

I don't regret being out of town for the Tempest's cinema broadcast in March. It's an odd irony that as much as theatre almost always loses something indefinable by being filmed, theatre with projected effects (screen-on-stage-on-screen) loses double:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Shadowpox reviews in The Lancet and Canadian Art

An article today in the UK medical journal The Lancet reviews Shadowpox and the <Immune Nations> exhibition at UNAIDS for the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

James Smith writes that "the eight artworks in this exhibition demonstrate how to engage productively and provocatively with policy makers and the public." After describing Jesper Alvær's Upstream the Cold Chain, Kaisu Koski's Conversations with Vaccine-Critical Parents, and Sean Caulfield's Anatomy Table, Smith continues:

"...Of the remaining contributions, one of the most engaging is Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic, developed by Alison Humphrey, Caitlin Fisher, Steven J Hoffman, and Lalaine Destajo. This interactive installation quite literally renders visible the invisible, as participants must choose whether or not to be vaccinated against the 'shadowpox' pathogen, before having the opportunity to trace the impact of their decision as an animated population is exposed to the threat of infection. On completion, participants are able to view their 'infection collection' or 'protection collection', as the population is transformed from an aggregate statistic with a series of detailed individual stories. This is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and playful ways to illustrate both the individual and population-level implications of community immunity...."

(Click to enlarge)

The journal Canadian Art also reviewed the exhibition:
Another unique artistic take on the global vaccination issue is Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic by a Canadian team: media artist Alison Humphrey, digital storyteller Caitlin Fisher and interaction designer LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, as well as [Steven] Hoffman himself. This “gamification of an epidemic,” as Hoffman puts it, invites visitors to try to wipe projections of various 'pox' off of their bodies. The number of pox to eliminate is scaled for whatever country the visitor has chosen, and thus underlines the way that resourcing affects “risk around the world,” says Hoffman." ...
Emotion certainly is something that runs high around vaccination debates, and one aim of <Immune Nations> is to find other ways of working with and through those emotions rather than just allowing the debate to become polarized.... 
'It is particularly timely now, given that we see around the world people questioning the role of science and alternative facts,' says Hoffman. 'It’s really important to us that we engage across sectors and find a new language in which to ensure people can be as healthy as possible.'
Shadowpox at RADA, video stills, 2016, “Immune Nations” at Galleri KiT, Trondheim, Norway. Photo: Natalie Loveless. Left to right: Skye Hallam, Fehinti Balogun, Tom Martin, Sayre Fox, Maisie Robinson, Natasha Cowley, Abraham Popoola, Jamael Westman and Polly Misch.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shadowpox in Geneva

This week I've had the huge pleasure of working alongside Caitlin Fisher, Steven Hoffman and Susan Rogers Van Katwyk in person, and LaLaine Ulit-Destajo and Sean Sollé in cyber, to install Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic at UNAIDS in Geneva, during the 70th World Health Assembly.

Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia and UNAIDS Special Advocate,
playing Shadowpox at the <Immune Nations> opening
<Immune Nations>, an evidence-based art exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in global political discourse around life-saving vaccines, opened yesterday and will run till the end of June 2017.

Check it out in this Storify:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Shadowpox in Toronto

Technical director LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, Theatre@York technician James McQuay and I brought the Shadowpox project to its North American debut this week at a symposium hosted by the Art and Science of Immunization working group at the University of Toronto's Jackman Humanities Institute.

#ArtSciImmunize conference – photo by Natasha Crowcroft

Working group lead Andrea Charise assembled this Storify:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shadowpox in Trondheim

Check out the Shadowpox debut in Trondheim, Norway, at <Immune Nations>, an evidence-based art exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in global political discourse around life-saving vaccines.

Annemarie Hou gets a 100 protection score!

Check out the Storify:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Shadowpox in the Lab

Shadowpox at RADA: Abraham Popoola, video still, 2016
LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, Caitlin Fisher, Steven HoffmanSusan Rogers Van Katwyk and I are in the final weeks of preparation for a gallery installation incarnation of Shadowpox as part of the <Immune Nations> exhibition in Trondheim, Norway, and Geneva, Switzerland.

<Immune Nations>
 is an experimental evidence-based artistic-research exhibition emerging from the three-year Vaccine Project, part of the International Collaboration for Capitalizing on Cost-Effective and Life-Saving Commodities (i4C) funded through the Research Council of Norway's GLOBVAC Programme.

The exhibition will kick off at Gallery KiT on March 13, as the official opening of the 10th Conference on Global Health and Vaccination Research. From Trondheim it travels to UNAIDS in Geneva on May 23 for the 70th World Health Assembly

Here are a few work-in-progress photos from the Alice Lab for Computational Worldmaking and the Augmented Reality Lab at York University:

Using Rulr to calibrate the Kinect and projector
LaLaine's motion-capture stick-figure animation in development (Bézier curves are on the way!)
LaLaine's openFrameworks Shadowpox code

LaLaine infects the lab with sprites
Title animator Jos Humphrey gives a peek behind the curtain in After Effects
Jos's title sequence on the big screen

Alison and Maggie the Mannequin model the latest in VR headsets, but not because they're part of the project.
They just make us look suave.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mo' Better Mocap Shakespeare

The Royal Shakespeare Company's performance-capture production of The Tempestin collaboration with The Imaginarium and Intel, is running a series of talks including one this weekend that I would sorely like to see: Creating The Tempest: Brave New Digital World.

The strapline reads, "What does the future hold for digital storytelling in theatre?" and the speakers include the visionary Sarah Ellis, RSC Head of Digital Development. I had a chance to talk with Sarah this summer about the breathtakingly ambitious production, and all the brain-bending, tech-twisting challenges that go into animating in real time, live on stage.

Mark Quartley as Ariel and Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (photo: Topher McGrillis)

I'm hoping I'll also have a chance to see the final show in person, even if the cinema broadcast makes it to Toronto, because one of those many vexed questions is what surfaces and substances to project the avatar onto once you've cooked it up in the computer.

Judging by the production photos, it looks like the RSC's answer is: "Everything that's nailed down, and maybe a few people who aren't." So it would be a shame to have to squint at that 360-degree experience through the keyhole of a movie screen.

The Company of The Tempest (photo: Topher McGrillis)
But in a way, watching a theatre actor... tracked by infrared motion-capture cameras and inertial sensors... driving real-time digital animation... projected onto a cylindrical scrim and a thrust stage... all recaptured on HD cameras... and broadcast into cinemas around the world? That's no more meta than watching a male actor play the female Rosalind pretending to be the male Ganymede role-playing "Rosalind" so that Orlando can hone his wooing chops.

Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and Mark Quartley as Ariel (photo: Topher McGrillis)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Viral Vanier

So on the very same day the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships are announced, I learn that not one but two of my PhD classmates in Cinema and Media Studies at York are through to the next round for next year. Go, Claudia and David!

And congratulations, Zachary, Jesse and Syrus Marcus!! Reading about their work, and the research abstracts for the 162 other new Vanier Scholars, feels like looking at one of those gorgeous rainbow MRI scans of Canada's brain...

 Henrietta Howells, NatBrainLab, Wellcome Images (Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Live Cello Mocap and Projection Mapping

59 Productions have some wicked plans in store for projection mapping in live performance, but here's Sol Gabetta performing Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor at the BBC Proms, as an example of what they can already do:

(h/t to Liz Barber)

The video below shows the how. It highlights four key challenges with motion capture and projection mapping in live performance.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Prospero meets Ariel at the Imaginarium

More fascinating glimpses behind the scenes on preparations for the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of The Tempest: "Simon Russell Beale, playing Prospero, and Mark Quartley, playing Ariel, meet for the first time, coming together with Imaginarium crew and Intel technology to explore how Ariel's avatar will work."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Performance Capture for Stage, Film and Games

A round-up of links for further exploration of performance capture, offered with respect and gratitude to the massively talented graduating RADA actors who participated in the first-ever Shadowpox workshop – Fehinti Balogun, Natasha Cowley, Sayre Fox, Skye Hallam, Tom MartinPolly MischAbraham PopoolaMaisie Robinson and Jamael Westman.