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A walk in his shoes: Japanese man caps off years-long walk around world in Tuktoyaktuk

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Aman Haj-Touama and Masahito Yoshida

Masahito Yoshida has been walking around the world since 2009. He ended his 77,500- kilometre journey at Canada’s Arctic coast.

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jchalifour
28 days ago
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Mad or Bad? Magritte’s Artistic Rebellion

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René Magritte, La moisson (The Harvest), 1943.

 

Long considered aberrations in his artistic career, René Magritte’s sunlit surrealist and vache pictures have recently been reassessed by art historians and critics not only on their own terms but also in relation to the notion of “bad painting.” The two bodies of work have often been discussed separately, since they are stylistically dissimilar and the latter was produced specifically for Magritte’s first solo exhibition in Paris, in 1948. Nevertheless, there is good reason to think of them as related. Both series are almost unrecognizable as “Magrittes,” and one followed directly after the other, together spanning World War II and the immediate postwar period. Far more than a neutral background, historical events may have helped shape, if not determine, the nature and terms of these works more than has until now been presumed.

These paintings are deeply, thoroughly weird, not only in their iconography but also in their departure from Magritte’s long-established style, palette, and facture. Whereas previously Magritte acknowledged only the artistic influence of the Italian Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, the sunlit surrealist works refer—sometimes quite directly—to late paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. But examples such as La moisson, with its harlequinesque, multicolored limbs, torso, and head are far closer to parody than pastiche. Certain vache works evoke other artists: the sinuous contours of several female nudes recall those of Henri Matisse, and the intense hues and crude brushwork in other pictures have invited comparison to German Expressionism. With their penis-nosed grotesques, lurid colors, and bodily eruptions, the vache paintings have been described as “look[ing] like nothing so much as the missing link between James Ensor and Zap Comix.”

 

Le lyrisme (Lyricism), 1947.

 

The subject matter of both series is as striking as the radically different styles in which they are rendered. A prime example of sunlit surrealism is La bonne fortune. Rippled brushstrokes describe sky and ground, while an obelisk headstone dominates the background. The cemetery setting, the (arguably) phallic monument, and the floral wreath of the kind placed on soldiers’ graves are perhaps not incidental to the postwar context of the work’s creation. The principal subject, however, is a pig, its head and one tiny, beady eye turned toward the viewer. Unlike Magritte’s more familiar depictions of figures or objects, this canvas makes no attempt to evoke the actual animal: it stands upright, it wears a dark and thickly painted jacket, and the shape of its head is more human than piglike. Despite the Impressionistic brushstrokes and colors—dominated by sugary pinks, corals, and oranges—whatever this is, like La moisson, it certainly is not Impressionism, a style grounded in ideas of visual and perceptual truth that Magritte’s work systematically repudiated. Another strange element in several sunlit surrealist scenes is the substitution of objects for suns, radiating cursory beams. Perhaps the most delirious of these proxies appears in Le lyrisme, where the sun has become the pear head invented by the satirists Honoré Daumier, Charles Philipon, and J. J. Grandville as stand-ins for Louis Philippe I, the constitutional monarch installed after the French Revolution of 1830. But why would Magritte have reprised these caricatures? Was this choice determined by Louis Philippe’s identification with and enrichment of the powerful bourgeoisie—nemesis of all Surrealists—and the belief that such images fostered the 1848 uprising that led to his overthrow?

 

La famine (Famine), 1949.

 

Among the vache works, consider, for example, La famine, which shows a loosely painted chain of heads apparently eating one another. Their features are cursorily indicated, obscuring distinctions between mouths, tongues, and phallic noses or beaks. Is a literal interpretation of this picture—an acknowledgment that in famine, people may be reduced to cannibalism—possible or even appropriate? The cartoonish style neutralizes any impulse to link the image to its title—as is the case with Le stropiat. Here, an equally crudely rendered man is frontally positioned against an undefined background. Sporting a Phrygian cap and spectacles, with eight pipes sprouting from his beard, mouth, eye, and forehead, is this figure to be understood as a self-reflexive reference to Magritte’s famous pipe motif? Should Le stropiat or La famine be seen as comical or vicious? Is the language of art criticism or art history suitable or useful to make sense of such works, or should they be disregarded as aberrations or jokes?

Le stropiat (detail), 1948.

That the vache paintings and gouaches, rapidly made over five or six weeks in 1948, were intended as provocations to the French art world is a necessary but insufficient explanation for their perversity and insistent “badness.” Certainly there was more than a whiff of conspiratorial glee surrounding their production and exhibition. Unsurprisingly, not a single picture in the show sold; Magritte’s Brussels and London dealers, P.G. Van Hecke and E. L. T. Mesens, were appalled, and for the most part, the French press found the compositions unfathomable and easily dismissed. That is to say, bad. Still, there are reasons to reckon with them seriously—the form, facture, and subject matter are so defiantly non-Magrittian as to suggest calculation and raise questions of interpretation that exceed their deliberate provocation. The same can be said of the sunlit surrealist series: if any artist was temperamentally (and aesthetically) averse to apparent spontaneity or expressionist indulgence, it was Magritte. If these works look spontaneous, that was a no less strategic decision.

One way to consider both series might be in relation to madness, not in the sense of mental disorder but in terms of the range of emotions from rage and anger to irritation and frustration. This anger may have had wellsprings other than the Surrealists’ principled loathing of capitalism, militarism, religion, and the bourgeoisie. One should at least entertain the possibility that the war and occupation contributed, even subliminally, to the outrageousness of both bodies of work.

Germany’s invasion and occupation of Belgium began in May 1940. Initially Magritte and several Surrealist friends, including Louis Scutenaire, Irène Hamoir, and Raoul Ubac, fled to France, where Magritte stayed until August. Once back in Brussels, judging from his correspondence, it is as though normal life was restored. Yet by December, all Jews holding official positions were fired; in 1941, the word Jew was added to Belgian identifying documents, and Jewish children were expelled from the schools. By 1942, the occupation had become yet more oppressive and food shortages were endemic—especially in cities, where all food was rationed. Even bread was sometimes unavailable. A thriving black market emerged, some of it run by Germans, some by enterprising Belgians. Citizens were taxed to pay for their own occupation and military operations elsewhere. Censorship was imposed on all news media. Almost two hundred thousand Belgians were conscripted and sent to Germany as forced labor. By the war’s end, more than forty thousand Belgians, over half of them Jews, had been killed. Allied bombings were themselves responsible for many deaths.

But throughout the occupation, the art market continued to function. Paintings were bought and sold, galleries opened and closed, and exhibitions took place, if sometimes semi-clandestinely. Most of the Belgian Surrealists retained their day jobs; continued to publish tracts, journals, pamphlets, and manifestos; and exchanged witty and apparently carefree letters. Magritte and his friends met almost weekly and went to the coast on their holidays. Besides Paul Nougé, who was conscripted into the French army and demobilized after two months, only Marcel Mariën, the youngest of the Belgian group, was called up, subsequently spending three months in German camps. Only the Jewish Fernand Demoustier—better known by his pseudonym, Fernand Dumont—lost his life; he died either en route to or in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

 

Mal de mer (Seasickness), 1948.

 

The photographs and short films Magritte produced in these years are antic and playful, and he rarely linked his art to external circumstances. In a 1944 letter to Mariën he wrote: “So I’m taking refuge in the ideal world of art. An idealist position, you’ll tell me. Well—all right. But it’s only a way of amusing myself, after all, and that’s the main thing. And the noisier reality becomes, the less reluctant I am to escape from it as much as possible.” Another letter notes, “The German occupation marked the turning point in my art. Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the experiences of war have taught me that what matters in art is to express charm. I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive.” These are uncharacteristically tepid remarks given the horrors of the period, but they have generally been taken at face value, possibly because the war barely features at all in Magritte’s correspondence and other writings. Nevertheless, his statements need not mean that the war and occupation did not produce cultural or psychic symptoms in his oeuvre. His assertion that “what matters in art is to express charm” is, as we have seen, belied by the manifest charmlessness of the works themselves.

At least two vache canvases feature hams, perhaps alluding to wartime food shortages, but it is not subject matter as such in Magritte’s paintings of this period that link them to their time and place. Far more suggestive is their blatant cynicism: the parodic qualities of the sunlit surrealist compositions and the violence and disgust of the vache pictures, which are dense with fetishistic references and a manic deployment of fecal, phallic, and castration imagery. To be sure, these motifs can be identified throughout Magritte’s career; despite his frequent denunciation of psychoanalytic readings of his work, no one was more adept at translating Freudian concepts into iconography. But a distinction can be drawn between his canny exploitation of psychologically charged themes—think here of the still-shocking Le viol, reprised in a sunlit surrealist version—and what might be identified as a form of unarticulated or repressed rage at being subject to fascism, one of the threats that the Surrealists had sought to resist throughout the 1930s.

Magritte joined the Belgian Communist Party in 1945 and had contributed graphics and posters to it before the war. But during the occupation, though he fully identified with the revolutionary aspirations of Surrealism, Magritte, like most of his cohort, had no known contact with the Belgian resistance. The weirdness of his sunlit surrealist style and the brutality of his vache works may be symptomatic of the contradictions of his position as a putatively subversive artist and the acquiescent circumstances of his daily existence. At a time when the guise of the respectable bourgeois incarnated by Magritte’s man, often construed as a kind of alter ego, could not fully contain these inconsistencies, the series can perhaps be seen as means of rebellion, conscious or not: forms of protest against the status quo—be it the German occupation or merely business as usual. The perversity of these bodies of work suggests that Magritte’s statements about his intentions were either a kind of camouflage or part of a more general repression.

After the 1948 Paris exhibition closed, Magritte acknowledged that the vache paintings were a form of “slow suicide,” referring specifically to their lack of buyers. By 1949, he had returned to his signature style; his economic situation progressively improved, and the sunlit surrealist and vache works were effectively marginalized as short-term aberrations in an otherwise coherent oeuvre. They did not figure in his most important international exhibitions of the 1950s. Suggestively, his next extended series featured a wooden coffin as its central motif—a fitting coda for the war and occupation whereby its horrors could be more safely and profitably sublimated into the language of art.

 

La Bonne fortune (detail), 1945.

 

Abigail Solomon-Godeau is a professor emerita of art history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author, most recently, of Photography after Photography: Gender, Genre, History (2017). Her essays on photography, art, and feminism have been widely anthologized and translated. She lives and works in Paris. 

“Mad or Bad? Magritte’s Artistic Rebellion,” by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, was published in Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season, in 2018 by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., New York, in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title at SFMOMA, on view May 19 through October 28, 2018.

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jchalifour
33 days ago
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A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity

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In 1920, the night before Easter Sunday, Otto Loewi woke up, seemingly possessed of an important idea. He wrote it down on a piece of paper and promptly returned to sleep. When he reawakened, he found that his scribbles were illegible. But fortunately, the next night, the idea returned. It was the design of a simple experiment that eventually proved something Loewi had long hypothesized: Nerve cells communicate by exchanging chemicals, or neurotransmitters. The confirmation of that idea earned him a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1936.

Almost a century later after Loewi’s fateful snoozes, many experiments have shown that sleep promotes creative problem-solving. Now, Penny Lewis from Cardiff University and two of her colleagues have collated and combined those discoveries into a new theory that explains why sleep and creativity are linked. Specifically, their idea explains how the two main phases of sleep—REM and non-REM—work together to help us find unrecognized links between what we already know, and discover out-of-the-box solutions to vexing problems.

As you start to fall asleep, you enter non-REM sleep. That includes a light phase that takes up most of the night, and a period of much heavier slumber called slow-wave sleep, or SWS, when millions of neurons fire simultaneously and strongly, like a cellular Greek chorus. “It’s something you don’t see in a wakeful state at all,” says Lewis. “You’re in a deep physiological state and you’d be unhappy if you were woken up.”

During that state, the brain replays memories. For example, the same neurons that fired when a rat ran through a maze during the day will spontaneously fire while it sleeps at night, in roughly the same order. These reruns help to consolidate and strengthen newly formed memories, integrating them into existing knowledge. But Lewis explains that they also help the brain extract generalities from specifics—an idea that others have also proposed.

“Let’s say you replay memories of birthday parties,” she says. “They all involve presents, cake, and maybe balloons. The areas of the brain that represent those things will be more strongly activated than areas that represent who was at each party, or other idiosyncrasies.” Over time, the details may fade from memory, while the gist remains. “That’s how you might form your representation of what a birthday party is.” (Some scientists have argued that dreaming is the conscious manifestation of this process; it’s effectively your brain watching itself replaying and transforming its own memories.)

This process happens all the time, but Lewis argues that it’s especially strong during SWS because of a tight connection between two parts of the brain. The first—the hippocampus—is a seahorse-shaped region in the middle of the brain that captures memories of events and places. The second—the neocortex—is the outer layer of the brain and, among other things, it’s where memories of facts, ideas, and concepts are stored. Lewis’s idea is that the hippocampus nudges the neocortex into replaying memories that are thematically related—that occur in the same place, or share some other detail. That makes it much easier for the neocortex to pull out common themes.

The other phase of sleep—REM, which stands for rapid eye movement—is very different. That Greek chorus of neurons that sang so synchronously during non-REM sleep descends into a cacophonous din, as various parts of the neocortex become activated, seemingly at random. Meanwhile, a chemical called acetylcholine—the same one that Loewi identified in his sleep-inspired work—floods the brain, disrupting the connection between the hippocampus and the neocortex, and placing both in an especially flexible state, where connections between neurons can be more easily formed, strengthened, or weakened.

These traits, Lewis suggests, allows the neocortex to unconsciously search for similarities between seemingly unrelated concepts like, say, the way the planets revolve around the sun and the way electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom. “Suppose you’re working on a problem and you’re stuck,” she says. In REM sleep, “the neocortex will replay abstracted, simplified elements [of that problem], but also other things that are randomly activated. It’ll then strengthen the commonalities between those things. When you wake up the next day, that slight strengthening might allow you to see what you were working on in a slightly different way. That might just allow you to crack the problem.”

“Many of these ideas have been out there,” says Lewis. “Some people argued that slow wave sleep is important for creativity and others argued that it’s REM. We’re saying it’s both.” Essentially, non-REM sleep extracts concepts, and REM sleep connects them.

Crucially, they build on one another. The sleeping brain goes through one cycle of non-REM and REM sleep every 90 minutes or so. Over the course of a night—or several nights—the hippocampus and neocortex repeatedly sync up and decouple, and the sequence of abstraction and connection repeats itself. “An analogy would be two researchers who initially work on the same problem together, then go away and each think about it separately, then come back together to work on it further,” Lewis writes.

“The obvious implication is that if you’re working on a difficult problem, allow yourself enough nights of sleep,” she adds. “Particularly if you’re trying to work on something that requires thinking outside the box, maybe don’t do it in too much of a rush.”

Parts of this framework are based on strong data, but others are still conjectures that need to be tested. For example, there isn’t much evidence to support Lewis’s hunch that the hippocampus prods the neocortex into replaying related memories during non-REM sleep. “I realize it’s a little bit of a stretch,” she admits, but she notes that in several studies, slow-wave improves the ability to identify common concepts. In one widely used task, people have to learn a word list—night, dark, coal—that revolves around an unseen theme. If they sleep afterwards, they’re more likely to (falsely) remember that they also learned the theme word—in this case, “black.” However, Jessica Payne from the University of Notre Dame notes that in one of her experiments, SWS had the opposite effect.

Still, that “small disagreement” aside, Payne feels that Lewis is mostly on the right track, especially when it comes to the role of REM sleep in combining conceptual knowledge “in ways that can be preposterous and creative,” she says. “I think the general idea is going to be right.”

There’s another weakness to Lewis’s framework that she finds more troubling: People can be totally deprived of REM sleep without suffering from any obvious mental problems. One Israeli man, for example, lost REM sleep after a brain injury; “he’s a high-functioning lawyer and he writes puzzles for his local newspaper,” Lewis says. “That is definitely a problem for us.”

“I’m sure [the theory] isn’t 100 percent right,” she adds, laughing, “but we just got back a set of results that really strongly support it.” Her team tried to get sleeping volunteers to replay memories during slow wave sleep and REM sleep, and found different effects in each. Those results should be published in the near-future. In the meantime, the team is also developing ways of boosting or suppressing the two sleep stages to see how that affects people’s problem-solving skills. This is all part of a five-year project, and they’re just in their first year.

Lewis is also working with Mark van Rossum from the University of Nottingham to create an artificial intelligence that learns in the way she thinks the sleeping brain does, with “a stage for abstraction and a stage for linking things together,” she says.

“So you’re building an AI that sleeps?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she says.

I wonder if it will dream of electric sheep.

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jchalifour
33 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Candyland

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
There is no chess, my friends. We are all in Candyland.

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jchalifour
46 days ago
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Colin Raff: Torpid Slivers #11-14

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by Colin Raff

Of the hoofed filter feeders that roam the shores of the Black Sea, none has greater majesty than the Baleen Gazelle (G. gazella edentulata). Neither a denizen of the air nor of the waves that crash against the reefs, its dominion is over the jagged rocks of the Euxinovan coast, where it deploys its absolute sureness of foot, assuming the aspect of a magnificent sculpture while grazing.

While the term “air plankton” is a loose one, it helpfully comprises those species inhabiting the airborne pelagic vapors in turbulent reef areas. Many pass into new stages of their life cycles by means of release from a wave’s spume. None can survive further inland. A meticulous herbivore, the baleen gazelle selects only the flora, or phytoplankton, for ingestion, expelling all fauna (zooplankton) — many of which can live through the ordeal.

To graze effectively, a baleen gazelle finds a place on the rocks not far above the surging tide, becomes very still as though frozen (a curious sight in itself), then simultaneously widens its throat and parts its mandibles. The large and intricately furrowed tongue caresses the mouth-plates of the upper jaw, extracting the desired nourishment from the thread-like fringes. The residue departs with the next exhalation.

Whenever possible, they graze in pairs, feeding in turns. Should a threat appear — such as an increased violence in the waves, or an eagle hungry enough to bother with larger prey — the one not feeding locks horns with its companion, initiating a swift retreat. From this, naturalists infer an impairment of a baleen gazelle’s senses for the duration of its repast. Likely its mental faculties give way to sheer instinct as the mouthparts perform the complicated siftings.

*       The broad concrete balconies are connected externally by a lattice of steel ramps and occasional ladders. Cracks remain minimal.

 

†       The makeshift market area of Tower 2, floor 75 (“Midplaza”) continues to grow, with reports of bolted stalls and small motorized vehicles.

 

‡       Anonymous welders have converted the protruding beam on Rooftop C into a functioning sundial.

 

•      Near the former homes of some dead residents, certain clumps of verdure show traces of stealth cultivation.

 

Upon reaching the foot of a rocky cliff, a travelling hare saw that a goat was readying to climb up its face, and said to him: “O goat, I see how your long horns, that curve and point forwards, steady you in the rock like a third pair of legs, and thus you can reach the grassy slope above us with extraordinary ease. As I weigh so little, it would be a painless yet kind act for you to take me as a passenger with my paws around your neck.”

“Perhaps,” said the goat. “Although what good would it do me?”

The hare thought for a moment, then said, “On the other hand, it is likely much more difficult than it appears. Yes, I can see that you are not as strong or talented as you seem, so that even I would be a burden to you.”

Before the goat could respond, a very loud third voice surprised them both. “Stop the conversation — now! And ease away slowly from each other.” The intruder was another mammal, perhaps an otter. A hood of black silk with two eye-holes covered his head. He held a pistol in his right paw. “I am here to deprive your encounter of any meaningful conclusion, for such is my sworn purpose. No maxim shall be recorded on this day. Take care: my weapon is loaded and very deadly.”

Reader! If the shape of the goat’s horns did not already draw us out of a purely fabular realm (as they could only be the horns of a Euxinovan clambering goat (Capra aegagrus solifuga), a species whose spidery limbs and pointed, chisel-like hooves are a common sight in the province of Haemusmont but nowhere else) — then the appearance of this weapon surely localizes the story beyond hope of return. For the stable flintlock mechanism places it no earlier than the 18th century. And that gaudy portion of the stained beech handle, directly above the bronze butt cap, that is carved into the visage of the Roman god Mercury? It associates the firearm (past all doubt) with the bandit clan that dominated the aforementioned province before the close of the 19th.

This would assign the “grassy slope” to the west end of Haemusmont, where the Balkans begin. And now we can depict with precision, if we wish, the hue of that grass, and the incline of the slope.

Series originally published at Queen Mob’s Teahouse.

 

The post Colin Raff: Torpid Slivers #11-14 appeared first on Berfrois.

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CFLA-FCAB’s Statement Against the FairPlay Canada Application to Disable On-line Access to Piracy Sites

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In response to the recent website blocking proposal submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the Canadian Federation of Library Associations/Fédération canadienne des associations de bibliothèques (CFLA-FCAB) is hereby submitting its response, and expressing concern, over the proposed, online anti-piracy blockers being requested by the FairPlay Canada Coalition. CFLA-FCAB has grave concerns that […]
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jchalifour
55 days ago
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