Saturday, August 4, 2018

Shadowmapping

You know that feeling when... you suddenly realize your doctoral research may have been influenced by a comic book you read when you were sixteen?

(This post is a not-yet-coherent collection of thoughts and extended quotes bouncing between a 34-year-old superhero storyline and a raw, recent theatre controversy, by way of the design of the Shadowpox virus. One day it may yield a succinct essay, but for the moment I'm ruminating out loud as an academic experiment.) 

Artist Bill Sienkiewicz's brief but legendary run collaborating with writer Chris Claremont on the X-Men spinoff comic book The New Mutants (issues #18-31) had two highlights. The second was the introduction of the character Legion, who is currently enjoying a mindbending television adaptation by Noah Hawley.

The first was the 1984 Demon Bear Saga (currently in production as a feature film). In these three issues (#18-20), according to Jay Edidin and Miles Stokes of the podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, "you’re watching the definition and scope of superhero comics change and stretch. We are – literally and figuratively – off the map."

It’s worth remembering, as you flip through these, that you’re watching the definition and scope of superhero comics change and stretch. We are–literally and figuratively–off the map. (New Mutants 


That's the "literal" map, up there in the left-hand corner. (New Mutants #20) 
New Mutants #20, "Badlands", brought our heroes to a climactic battle on an astral-Plains. The shadowy Demon Bear, which the team originally believed was a figment of their leader Danielle Moonstar's nightmares, had attacked her and left her in hospital fighting for life.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Maker Culture and Youth

One of the most enjoyable essays I've ever put together was for Jennifer Jenson's Cultural Studies of Educational Technology course. From the syllabus:
This course will approach technologies both old and new through a mostly asynchronous online course. The premise of this course is that media have never been separable from what we purport to teach (i.e. curriculum “content”). 
As a way to demonstrate this, we will trace a path through the history of pedagogy via the educational “technologies” or “media” deployed at various times and for various purposes: from orality to recitation to literacy to online courses, cultural conceptions of the relative value of “knowledge” have found very different shapes in school curriculum and practices.

This course will pay particular attention to the educative possibilities for new and emergent digital media, asking whether and how “content” reshaped, re-mediated and invariably altered by these technological affordances, enacting shifts in not only how we learn and teach, but what counts as “knowledge”
The course, then, will be an exercise in the very thing it proposes to study: how a shift in media (this time to largely screen-based course delivery) will necessarily change what it is we come to know and how we know it as part of our learning together at distances. 
We will primarily focus on the design, development and practical implementation of digital technologies for education. In doing so, we will more fully explore the notion of “techne”, that is technologies as fundamentally constructive rather than receptive media for consumption.
The week's activity asked us to think about the assigned readings on "Maker Culture and Youth" through the medium of comics (arranging images in multi-panel form, with text in word balloons, using the app Comic Life). This was the result (and yes, that's me in full mullet)...




(Click on to read the rest of the comic...)

The Remedy

Lyric poetry, sez Wikipedia,
is a formal type of poetry which expresses personal emotions or feelings, typically spoken in the first person. The term derives from a form of Ancient Greek literature, the lyric, which was defined by its musical accompaniment, usually on a stringed instrument known as a lyre. The term owes its importance in literary theory to the division developed by Aristotle between three broad categories of poetry: lyrical, dramatic, and epic.
As much of a sucker as I am for the latter two, sometimes the lyre can strike a chord.

Out at my local for Sunday brunch, I heard Jason Mraz's "The Remedy" come over the Spotify. 
...We will cure this dirty old disease
Well, if you've got the poison, I've got the remedy
The remedy is the experience
This is a dangerous liaison
I say the comedy is that it's serious
This is a strange enough new play on words
I say the tragedy is how you're gonna spend
The rest of your nights with the light on
So shine the light on all of your friends
Well, it all amounts to nothing in the end
I won't worry my life away....
"The remedy is the experience" – vaccination in a nutshell.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Story of the Great Hunger

"In the storytelling tradition of my people, stories were not told only once, but were repeated often. New details emerged with each telling, and listeners caught different insights as they met old stories as different selves." – Tererai Trent
I just finished reading a book that fulfils the printed word's ancient dream of carrying voices to ears that need to hear them.

Tererai Trent's is a warm and resounding voice for women’s empowerment and quality education. Due to colonial priorities and traditional women’s roles in rural Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Tererai did not have the chance to go to school as a child. Undeterred, she taught herself to read and write from her brother’s schoolbooks while herding cattle. Despite being married young and bearing four children by the time she was eighteen, her determination took her all the way to earning a PhD from the College of Public Health at Western Michigan University, on HIV prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa with a special focus on women and girls.

Dr. Trent's book The Awakened Woman—Remembering & Reigniting Our Sacred Dreams won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Instructional. She is invited all over the world to share her story (including a keynote speech at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit), and to lead the global charge for quality education for all children and women’s rights.

Listen to her storytelling in her own voice (the printed word below begins around the two-minute mark).



"But now the sun has set, and I am warm from the food and fire with the moon rising high in the vast night sky.

Tonight there are no sounds of gunfire from those who are fighting for our independence, or from the white minority who have ruled since the late nineteenth century. And so we women and girls sit, muscles and tongues loose in the comfort of our togetherness, and, as my people have done for generations, we sing songs and tell stories, As the stories warm our hearts we momentarily forget our pain, our struggles, and the impending danger of war. We are enshrined in a circle of healing.

"On this night, my grandmother tells a story that was to become part of my psyche even then as a young girl, binding itself to me at the deepest cellular and spiritual level of my being. 'The indigenous hunter-gatherer people of Southern Africa from the Kalahari Desert,' my grandmother begins, and I nestle the weight of my hips and thighs down deeper into the earth and lean closer to her in anticipation of her tale. 'They believe that there is more to life than the material world,' she continues. 'The men and women there describe two kinds of hunger: the Little Hunger and the Great Hunger.'

Love this painting wherein you see me smear'd

The Stratford Festival and Ex Machina's technical pros get a CrossFit workout with Robert Lepage's Coriolanus

A behind-the-scenes on the show's infrared-tracking, projection-mapped "video sandwich":



And here's a reminder that you've got to have atoms to pixel on:

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.

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.




Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fantasists and Sociologists

"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." 
– Ursula Le Guin, National Book Award acceptance speech (1972), in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
A fire has gone out.

But then again...
"It's nothing to do with eternity," said Shevek, grinning, a thin shaggy man of silver and shadow. "All you have to do to see life as a whole is to see it as mortal. I'll die, you'll die; how could we love each other otherwise? The sun's going to burn out, what else keeps it shining?" 
The Dispossessed (1974)

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. (See this post for more, including Shadowpox's Canadian debut!)

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)