Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power Reviewed by Amy Ione

Book cover. Soul of a NationReview:
Mark Godfrey, Zoé Whitley, Curators

de Young Museum, San Francisco, 9 Nov. 2019-8 Mar. 2020
Exhibition organized by Tate Modern
Catalog by D.A.P./Tate; 2017, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1942884170.

In balancing a range of art practices with socio-political realities, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 effectively demonstrates that there isn’t a Black art per se but rather a Black experience that informs what, how, and where Black artists present and re-present. The project also superbly presents the rich contributions of African American artists are an important and integral part of American Art, despite their often being underrepresented in art histories. While the catalog expands one’s understanding of the exhibition immeasurably, I was glad to have the opportunity to engage with the actual size works so as to optimally experience the interweaving of artistic insights and materials with concepts like Black Power, Black Pride and the array of social realities that informed the work (e.g., the Watts riots) [1]. Still, the catalog is invaluable. Reading curator Mark Godfrey’s essay on Black abstraction in the publication before visiting the exhibition primed me to see the socio-political elements through the eyes of individual artists musing about material objects and black identify in tandem. In essence, his essay, co-curator Zoé Whitley’s essay, and the recollections from a number of people associated with this art in the documentation, all of whom were black participants, further underscored that there is a black American culture to celebrate, one that has thrived despite its peripheral place within institutions. Furthermore, the written material demonstrate the value of critically engaging with objects on a number of levels.

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Book Review: Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life by Phillip Thurtle

Reviewed by Amy Ione

As I began Phillip Thurtle’s well-researched Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life, I wondered how his “envisioning of life” would intersect with the abundant evidence that a complex array of grids have served as a foundational element in art, architecture, and design production throughout history. A few examples that quickly come to mind include those used to construct perfectly proportioned Egyptian and Aztec temples, Islamic and Buddhist art, Chuck Close’s stylized portraits, and the layout of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Rosalind Krauss’ 1978 statement that the surfacing of the grid in early twentieth century modernist art was an announcement of “modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse” [1] is also a part of the grid litany, although one that gives a negative cast to how we use grids to engage with objects in our world.

As it turns out, Biology in the Grid moves along a markedly different track. Despite his integration of graphic design, the entertainment industry, advertising, and cultural theory, the book is largely orthogonal to the long art and design trajectory. Thurtle sees grids as a framework within a biopolitical circumstance and makes the point that “living in the grid’ does not equalize us because all lives are not treated similarly despite the seeming uniformity of the form. In his words: Continue reading “Book Review: Biology in the Grid: Graphic Design and the Envisioning of Life by Phillip Thurtle”

Now Online: Was Leonardo da Vinci’s World Map the First to Name America?

Was Leonardo da Vinci’s World Map the First to Name America? A Quincentennial Reappraisal

Leonardo da Vinci’s World Map, image

Abstract
In addition to his better known artistic, scientific and engineering talents, Leonardo da Vinci has an extensive reputation as a cartographer, drawing maps for a wide range of hydro-engineering projects for the rulers of Florence, Milan, Arezzo and the Vatican, amongst others. However, he is not generally acknowledged as authoring a world map (or mappamundi) spanning the globe, which was the domain of a few specialized cartographers of the era. Nevertheless, there is a world map among his papers in the Royal Library, Windsor, which has the correct overall configuration of the continents, including an ocean at the north pole and a continent at the south pole. Moreover, it has a unique cartographic projection onto eight spherical-geometry triangles that provide close to isometric projection throughout the globe.

This quincentennial anniversary year of his death in 1519 is an appropriate moment for a reappraisal of this contribution to global cartography. Although the authenticity of this world map has been questioned, there is an obscure page of his notebooks in the Codex Atlanticus containing a sketch of this precise form of global projection, tying him securely to its genesis. Moreover, the same notebook page contains sketches of eight other global projections known at that time (early C16th), from the Roman Ptolomaic conic section projection to Rossellli’s (1508) oval planispheric projection. This paper reassesses the dating of Da Vinci’s unique mappamundi to suggest that it predates that of Waldseemüller (1507), and may thus have been the first map to name both America and Florida.

Citation:
Tyler, CW. 2019. “Was Leonardo da Vinci’s World Map the First to Name America? A Quincentennial Reappraisal,” Calafia Journal, 2:7-12. PDF

EXHIBITION: The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity (February 23–July 8, 2018)

Bard Graduate Center, February 23 – July 8, 2018

The transition from roll to codex as the standard format for the book is one of the most culturally significant innovations of late antiquity, the period between the third and eighth centuries AD.

This exhibition offers a concise history of the first steps of the codex book format from a technical and technological point of view. Specifically it focuses on the different techniques used to turn leaves of papyrus or parchment into a functional book that could be safely used and preserved.

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EXHIBITION: Anti-Confucian Propaganda in Mao’s China

Anti-Confucian Propaganda in Mao’s China is a compelling exhibition installed in Geisel West, 2nd Floor near Special Collections & Archives on the University of California, San Diego campus. Collected by Matthew Wills, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History, the materials in the exhibition reflect a 1970s campaign to reinforce the power of political elites and affirm the absolute correctness of Maoist socialism. Some of these materials are no longer available in China.

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Review of A Different Kind of Animal: How Culture Transformed Our Species

Reviewed by Amy Ione, March 2019
Published: Leonardo Reviews

A Different Kind of Animal is based on two lectures Robert Boyd delivered in 2016 at Princeton University as a part of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values series. In these lectures Boyd introduces his theory that biology and culture are both evolutionary, a topic he’s been working on with Peter Richerson for three decades. Needless to say, this is a broad topic, a point brought home by the four Responses to the lectures also included in the volume. All four commentators endorse the contours of Boyd’s theory and their critiques also raise valid questions: Is Boyd too reductive? Does Boyd’s view of social learning and cooperation rely too much on copying others? Does he adequately define the ways that norms arise and change? Is he ignoring how individuals manipulate norms?

At the beginning of the book Boyd points out that his lectures are about human uniqueness and cumulative cultural adaptation, not the inventive capacities of individuals. He writes:

“We are much better at learning from others than other species are, and equally important, we are motivated to learn from others even when we do not understand why our models are doing what they are doing. This psychology allows human populations to accumulate pools of adaptive information that greatly exceed the inventive capacities of individuals. Cumulative cultural evolution is critical for human adaptation.” (p. 16)

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Book Review of William Kentridge: Process as Metaphor and Other Doubtful Enterprises

In my 2007 Leonardo review of Rosalind Krauss’ book Perpetual Inventory I characterized her essay on William Kentridge as the most compelling in the book [1]. Krauss introduced him as a South African artist whose animated films pursue the problems of apartheid and spoke about how he creatively mixed film, drawing, and erasure with highly charged ideas. She also spoke about how his peripatetic approach, improvisational process (fortuna), and his use of erasure spoke of a creative practice that combines drawing and seeing with making and assessing. Krauss concluded that regardless of whether Kentridge’s drawings for projection come together in a series that examines apartheid, capitalist greed, eros, memory, or whatever, his process is not based primarily on the theme of the series. Rather, in her view, and I share her view to some degree, the works result through the dictates of his creative process. William Kentridge: Process as Metaphor and Other Doubtful Enterprises by Leora Maltz-Leca sees his philosophical relationship to the work as more important than his creative practice per se. Therefore, one intriguing question on my mind as I wrote this review is why Maltz-Leca, and indeed Kentridge himself as relayed in this book through a number of interviews, did not change my mind.

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Book Review by Amy Ione: The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World

Reviewed by Amy Ione, January 2018

Although creating a mess is not qualitatively the same as creating an original mathematical equation, what the word ‘creating’ denotes in each case is nonetheless clear. I cannot answer why we easily comprehend the meaning in both instances, but I do know that creativity’s amorphous and multidimensional reality is tantalizing even if our use of the word spans a spectrum of activities. In terms of discovery and human psychology, a good touchstone is a graphic that the creativity researcher Robert Sternberg put together titled “Cognitive Characteristic of Creative Persons” [1]. In it he summarizes the views of 16 authors who contributed to an anthology he edited on this subject in 1988. One striking feature of the chart is that each author stressed multiple traits and yet no single trait was postulated by every one of the renowned contributors. Among them were Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Howard Gardner, Howard Gruber, and Dean Simonton. Equally striking 30 years later is that the distribution of the 20 relevant characteristics they identified seems dated now. Nine of the experts, the second highest number for any trait, argued for specialization (or creativity in a particular domain) in 1988. Given the emphasis on transdisciplinary work in the 21st century, I would guess that this factor would not rank as high today. By contrast, the top characteristic, stressed by 11 of the 16 authors, seems to still hold. This is the use of existing knowledge as a basis for new ideas. Even so, at under 70% it was nonetheless not universally chosen.
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Book Review by Amy Ione: Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists

Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists
edited by Gary Marcus and Jeremy Freeman

Review by Amy Ione
Posted: Leonardo Reviews, May 2017
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One of the Times Higher Education’s Best Books of 2015, Future of the Brain offers a compilation of original essays by leading brain researchers. Divided into seven sections, the range and disparities of the authors’ views underscore the dearth of an overarching theory researchers apply to studies in this area. Cross-references among chapters do, however, remind us that science itself succeeds through communication among scientists about what their data says. Also noteworthy is that, even given the spectrum of views, most of the authors share a “we can do this” attitude: They are confident we can and will eventually understand the brain. Suffice it to say, as Gary Marcus, one of the book’s two editors notes: “Neuroscience today is a collection of facts, rather than ideas; what is missing is connective tissue. We know (or think we know) roughly what neurons do, and that they communicate with one another, but not what they are communicating” (p. 205).

The first section, mapping the brain, presents connectome projects. This idea (with computation) is the primary research paradigm presented in the book. Essays by Mike Hawrylycz, Misha Ahrens, Christof Koch, Anthony Zador, and George Church set the stage for this book’s survey of current efforts to understand brain connectivity through mapping and imaging neural activities of mice, strategies for reverse engineering and so forth. Computation, the subject of the second section, includes essays by May-Britt and Edvard Moser, Krishna Shenoy, Olaf Sporns, and Jeremy Freeman. Together the two sections argue that the brain is an organ of computation and scientists need to figure out what the brain is computing. Continue reading “Book Review by Amy Ione: Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists”

Book Review: Amy Ione reviews A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

Review of  A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman

Reviewed by Amy Ione, posted in Leonardo Reviews,August 2017
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As a fan of biographies, I was excited to learn about A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. Not only is it a timely biography, this well researched and easy to read book also captures the imagination. Because Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman take care to situate Shannon’s contributions in their cultural context the volume encourages the reader to explore their broader implications. Claude Shannon’s legacy is no doubt of particular interest to Leonardo readers due to the range of his work. If Shannon’s training and conception of Information Theory brings the current elevation of STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to mind, many of his lesser known projects clearly align with projects associated with the STE(A)M (the inclusion of Art) community, although the authors never speak of STEAM per se. These include the playful spirit evident in his ongoing tinkering with electronic toys, his multi-faceted studies of juggling, and his unicycle experiments.

So, who was Claude Shannon? Born in 1916 in Michigan, by all accounts Shannon had an ordinary childhood. Noteworthy traits included a love of math and science, a dislike of facts, and mechanical inclinations. These proclivities led him to purse a dual degree in mathematics and engineering at the University of Michigan. After Michigan, Shannon was hired by the well-connected Vannevar Bush, then at MIT and later founder of the National Science Foundation (NSF), to help with his differential analyzer. This was a mechanical analog computer that depended on combinations of equivalent equations, using a wheel-and-disc mechanism for computation. A major problem was that the equations needed to be reconstructed for every problem, in effect annihilating the very efficiency the machine was intending to add to problem solving. The resounding question was how could it reassemble itself on the fly? Shannon, who was conversant with both symbolic logic and electrical circuitry, produced a landmark master’s thesis with an innovative solution. Titled “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits,” the young Shannon tied Boolean logic and circuitry together, conceptualizing a path where 1’s and 0’s could represent logical operators of Boole’s (AND, OR, NOT) system, with an on switch standing for “true” and an off switch for “false.”

After a brief stint at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, New Jersey) Shannon joined Bell Labs to work on World War II projects. Here he found an environment that fostered cutting-edge discovery and even met a visiting Alan Turing, another key figure of the Information Age. The sections discussing the shared interests of Shannon and Turing are among the book’s high points, particularly in light of the role of computers in contemporary life. Both probed machine intelligence, feedback and programming commands, and cryptology. The authors tell us that, according to Shannon, much was also left unsaid between them. He did discuss his notions about Information Theory with Turing, but they needed to avoid cryptography because of security concerns.

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