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Friday 25th March 2016Verona Heist Suspects Arrested

In a result that's at best only halfway to the goal line for police, 12 arrests have been made in one of the largest outstanding art thefts of the last decade. This all sounds like good news, of course, with the exception that none of the missing paintings have been found, and so far none of the suspects are talking.

The robbery took place last year on November 19th, as the armed thieves entered the Castelvecchio museum in Verona, Italy, and made off with 15 paintings from major names. According to the museum, the works were valued at over 15 million euros, and included works by a number of high profile artists including Portrait of a Lady by Peter Paul Rubens, Male Portrait by Tinteretto, and other less well-known works by Hans de Jode, Pisanello, Giovanni Francesco Caroto and Jacopo Bellini. A total of 11 of the stolen works are considered masterpieces by their creators.

The museum's working theory at the time was that the gang had been sent by a private collector to acquire the pieces, and that has yet to be proven or disproven, but it has since transpired that one of the guards who was on duty at the museum at the time was arrested among the suspects in the theft.

“It’s as if you broke into the Uffizi Galleries and stole a Botticelli. You couldn’t sell it on the open market. It’s certainly the most serious theft in the history of Italian art,” said art historian Tomaso Montanari.

Speaking right after the theft, the mayor of Verona summed up the theft: “Someone told them exactly what to steal and given that they are very well-known paintings, I imagine they will end up in a private collection."

“They were real professionals. They didn’t say a word to each other and they struck at exactly the right moment – after the museum had closed to the public but before the alarms had been activated.

“They tied up the guard and the cashier and grabbed the paintings. It was very targeted and deliberate. They went from room to room, knowing what to take.”

Telephone calls between the thieves right after the brazen theft were intercepted, as they were discussing the fact that they would have to wait several months to try to sell the paintings, but as of yet, almost 6 months later, the paintings still have yet to be recovered, and authorities have yet to discuss whether or not they have any active leads on the location of the missing works.

Posted on March 25th 2016 on 07:57pm

Wednesday 23rd March 2016Springspiration

After an interminably temperamental Winter, Spring has finally sprung! This past weekend marked the passing of the vernal equinox, and the days are finally longer than the nights in the Northern hemisphere. All across the north, artists are emerging from their studios, blinking in the dazzling bright sunlight and wondering if they really shouldn't just go back inside and get a few more hours of sleep because last night's gallery opening went very late.

Really, what we all should be doing is taking stock of all our outstanding and unfinished work, and trying to finish up any pieces that we've been putting off for a while now. Not only is it good practice to keep your current creative work fresh, it always seems like having too many unfinished projects in the background interferes with new creative energies.

It's also a great time to start preparing for a (relatively) new concept that has been catching on in the art and design worlds over the last five years: the May 1st reboot. This is a movement that has been growing amongst creatives around the world as a rallying day for that most neglected of all artistic chores: the updating of the portfolio and/or website.

Now, before you groan out loud at your computer screen in trepidation, it's actually quite a good idea. Blah blah blah best practices and all that, but it's actually good for you to have an annual day that you stop and take stock of where your portfolio is at, and what should be included in it that hasn't yet been. But most importantly, the idea of a global May 1st reboot is to provide us with that all-important motivational tool: a deadline. Nothing quite lights a creative fire like the requirement of meeting a deadline, even if there is a delicious luxury in missing it and getting things done a day or even a week late.

(Remember the immortal words of the famous yet sadly departed Douglas Adams: "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.")

This whole idea ties in perfectly with the annual encouragement we provide every spring to clear your head of all the creative cobwebs that have built up over the past year, but this early warning system gives you a chance to start working on anything that you've been neglecting. So don't think about the portfolio itself - think about the work, and the joy of it will (hopefully) come rushing back to you!

Posted on March 23rd 2016 on 06:47pm

Friday 18th March 2016CERN Residencies

The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or CERN as it is more popularly known, is hardly something that most people associate with the art world. Despite being in the news quite a bit recently thanks to their apparent discovery of the Higgs Boson subatomic particle, the so-called 'God particle' (though only named so because publishers didn't want to call it the 'Goddamn particle', as Higgs originally intended), they actually have an unexpected connection to the arts and artists that has been far less publicised.

Under the auspices of the aptly-named COLLIDE International Award, the organisation pairs together a scientist from the CERN project with an active artist from somewhere in world to work on a project showcasing the interconnections between science and art. The winner receives a $15,000 cash prize and a three-month long residence split between the CERN labs that host the Large Hadron Collider and the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (aka FACT), which is based in Liverpool.

"Our desire is to connect the worlds of leading scientists with international artists through 'creative collisions', encouraging both fields to inspire and challenge each other, and pushing the boundaries of their traditional roles and methodologies," explained Monica Bello, the director of the Arts@CERN program.

Typically, artists tend to regard scientists as overly literally-minded, and scientists are perceived to regard artists as directionless and frivolous, but there is much, much more to the story.

“If I was forced to say something about how I imagined a lot of artists were, I would’ve said something to the effect that they are creators, they make things,” said Subodh Patil, a theoretical physicist who was paired with Bill Fontana, a sound artist, in 2013. “Bill had an almost explorer-like streak about him, which would have qualified him to be a scientist as well in another life."

For those of you who may be interested in applying for this year's award, the application process is open until May 23, and the lucky and dedicated recipient will be announced sometime in June. Interested applicants must speak English well enough to communicate at CERN, where it is the chosen common language, and be interested in pushing the boundaries of the traditionally understood intersections of art and science.

Posted on March 18th 2016 on 06:29pm
Labels: art, award, cern, residency

Wednesday 16th March 2016Deep Dream's Art Show

No, it's not a long-lost H.R. Giger work - it's a piece created using Deep Dream by artist Memo Atken titled "GCHQ'.

Last year we wrote about Google's Deep Dream project, a project where they took one of the vast neural networks - essentially a digital attempt to create a learning 'brain' - that was typically used to do image recognition and inverted its processes, where instead of identifying the content of images, it generated them. The result was something out a hallucinogenic drug trip gone wrong, and so quite naturally it took the internet by storm.

The appealingly viral nature of the project went into overdrive when Google allowed the algorithms to be used by the general public, who could upload their own images and photos and have the neural network "enhance" them by mapping its vaguest of suppositions of the content into the photos and reinforcing them until the final result was wildly different than the original.

In the original blog post Google published unveiling the system, they explain in more detail. "This creates a feedback loop: if a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. This in turn will make the network recognize the bird even more strongly on the next pass and so forth, until a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere."

But once it was open to the internet, artists grabbed hold and began pushing the limits of it. Sure it was fun to see your cat with a snail growing out of its head because a computer thought its ears were curly, but the really interesting results started happening when the neural networks were fed pictures of completely randomised noise (like you used to see when an old analog television wasn't receiving any channels). Suddenly, the network was dreaming entirely on its own based on what it knew. Artists could tweak this 'knowledge' and help guide the network in a certain direction, but could never completely predict what would be created.

Google dubbed the style 'Inceptionism', after the famous blockbuster movie Inception, and finally at the end of this February, it received its own exhibit. Comprised of Deep Dream artworks curated and edited by a number of artists, the show was a single night of images auctioned off to support a local arts charity, and wound up raising over $84,000 for the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. Every single image in the auction was sold!

Posted on March 16th 2016 on 04:49am

Friday 11th March 2016Anish Kapoor and the Lure of Vantablack

Anish Kapoor, the well-known British artist who has designed a number of public artworks and architectural projects including the popular Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, has a brand new feather in his cap - although it's almost impossible to actually see.

Thanks to recent advances in nanotechnology, a firm based in the United Kingdom named Surrey NanoSystems has developed a material so dark that it absorbs 99.96% of all the light that hits it, known as Vantablack. As most artists know, objects take on colour by reflecting all the other wavelengths of light. A mirror reflects almost all the light that hits it, making it a near-perfect representation of the

“It's blacker than anything you can imagine. It's so black you almost can't see it. It has a kind of unreal quality. I've been working in this area for the last 30 years or so with all kinds of materials but conventional materials, and here's one that does something completely different," he explained. “I've always been drawn to rather exotic materials."

The deal naturally has some artists rather frustrated by the exclusive licensing deal between Surrey Nanosystems and Kapoor, suggesting that the quest for the darkest blacks has always been the province of dedicated artists throughout the course of history.

It's not the first time that artists have been granted exclusive access to use a particular colour, although there seems to be little available data how regularly someone would challenge such a patent agreement. Perhaps this is simply due to shoddy recordkeeping, or perhaps its due to the fact that it's hard to maintain your artistic credibility by using something so intimately associated with a single person. As far back as 1960, French artist Yves Klein created and patented a shade of blue known as International Klein Blue which he used to create a series of paintings, but to most people today it would be recognized as the same blue that adorns the faces of the art-theatre troupe The Blue Man Group.

Kapoor won't be the only person who has access to the nanomaterial, as several manufacturers have expressed intense interest in using the material, but the deal he has signed gives him exclusive license to develop the material into a spray-type "paint" and then use it in his projects, which means he is effectively the only artist in the world who will have access to it.

For now. With the technology needed to conduct nanotechnological research, it's probably only a matter of time before a competing firm comes up with a similar material, although it's still quite a coup for Kapoor. 

Posted on March 11th 2016 on 04:47am

Wednesday 09th March 2016Brick by Brick

Lego is one of the most enjoyable kid's toys of all time, but it's also an excellent tool for the modular visualization and construction. It's a great equalizer in its simplicity. To that end, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is running an interesting experiment: they provided ten of the world's leading architecture firms with the same set of plain white Lego bricks and asked them to "imagine the buildings to deal with challenges that face our future cities." The project is part of their Brick by Brick exhibit, designed to showcase architectural engineering and design to visitors of all ages.

Each firm received three Lego Architecture Kits comprising 1200 white pieces, and assembled them into a variety of applied design solutions. It creates an interesting crossroads where art, design and engineering meet. Some of the firms involved included SOM of Chicago, Adjaye Associates of London, Kengo Kuma and Associates of Tokyo, but perhaps the most interesting (and artistic) entry was created by the UIC School of Architecture.

Rather than sticking with the assigned project, they ditched the white pieces of the architecture kids in favour of chunky coloured Duplo pieces which they assembled together into a giant disorganized pile titled Lego 601.

According to their statement, "solutions to future conditions only can be discovered through unconventional and disobedient methods. The key is to identify and challenge preconceptions to escape contemporary anxieties about the future."

Typically architects aren't so inclined towards such impractical artistic statements, but it highlights the creative nature of the work that is done in disciplines that aren't traditionally considered part of the art world.

The most practical of the designs was that put forwards by Adjaye Associates, who envisioned a modular structure that would help respond to growing population density around the world. "The design easily allows expansion up and out, empowering communities to be resilient in the face of natural disasters and population growth," the firm writes. "It features solar panels for heat and energy, and breezeways for free cooling."

So is it art? Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but it requires no less creativity - some might even argue it requires more. Nevertheless, the era of clearly delineated spheres of influence is well and truly over, and the artistic world would do better to approach the rest of the world in a more holistic, integrated fashion - brick by brick.

Posted on March 09th 2016 on 04:43am

Friday 04th March 2016Artist Spotlight: Alice Smeets & Atis Rezistans

On this week's edition of Artist Spotlight, we're going to look at the collaborative work of award-winning documentary photography Alice Smeets and a Haitian artist collective named Atis Rezistans. The project is actually not overly recent, but may not have received the widespread note that the odd mixture of haunting and downright weird deserved. Entitled 'The Ghetto Tarot', the project was an attempt to turn the images from the world-famous Rider-Waite tarot deck into a series of photographs using nothing more than materials available in the ghettos of Port-au-Prince.

Smeets recalled some of the stranger moments that occurred during the extended photoshoot. "There have been plenty of little, funny moments. One example: when we were shooting the scene of the Death card, I asked the artists if they had real skulls to place them in the picture. Five minutes later, Claudel, one of the artists and my dearest assistant, came along holding a plastic bag filled with skulls in his hands as if it was the most normal thing in the world to carry dead people's heads around.

It constantly surprised me how the artists almost always found immediately what I asked for. For the picture of the High Priestess, we needed horns to place them next to her feet. I hadn’t let them known beforehand that we would be in need of them. As soon as Claudel found out, he ran and came back a moment later with two horns in his hands. They never told me where they found all of the materials, they just happened to lay around somewhere in the Ghetto."

The end result of the project is a tarot deck with the created photos, which is available for sale for 35 euros on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site that provided the funding for the entire project, totalling almost 50,000 euros.

There is an odd mixture of successes and failures in the images, some of which are incredibly striking and others which seem more like a lazy art school project - although to be fair, the same thing could be said of the original Rider-Waite illustrations with equal applicability.

“The spirit of the Ghetto Tarot project is the inspiration to turn negative into positive while playing. The group of artists ‘Atiz Rezistans’ use trash to create art with their own visions that are a reflection of the beauty they see hidden within the waste. They are claiming the word ‘Ghetto,’ thus freeing themselves of its depreciating undertone and turning it into something beautiful.”

Posted on March 04th 2016 on 04:40am

Wednesday 02nd March 2016Robot Artists

Another week goes by, and another story trumpeting robotic artwork comes to supposedly dazzle us. Recently we discussed the Instapainting robot that drew based on a collaborative Twitch stream, and techies across the net were fascinated by the interplay. It was fairly interesting, of course, but as a collaborative art project rather than as a dire warning that robots are soon going to be replacing human artists.

This week, we bring to your attention a robot created by Google's Creative Lab that is able to create a pencil line drawing of a photographic portrait taken by a phone camera. It's an interestingly quirky piece of tech, but hardly something that can really be called an artist, despite what the gadget-hungry internet would like you to believe.

The robot is really just a Nexus 6P smartphone attached to a device known as a IOIO (yo yo) that enables it to move a pencil up and down the canvas by contracting and releasing two cables. But all of the interpretive work, in other words all the elements that actually make up a portrait, are handled by the application that converts your photo into an on-screen line drawing. While it might have a chance at replacing a boardwalk caricature artist on sheer novelty alone, it hardly seems likely that it will ever create something that will hang on a gallery wall.

But that's not to say that it's the last word on the potential of robot artists.

As artificial intelligence becomes one of the hottest areas of scientific research thanks to some actual, tangible leaps forwards in the field (think IBM's Watson winning at Jeopardy or Google's Deepmind AlphaGo beating the world's best Go player in 4 out of 5 matches), we may actually begin to see some true attempts to create an artificial artist. Many people around the world are concerned about robots replacing them in their field - McDonalds fast food workers, for example - but is this really going to ever be a concern for the art world?

Perhaps the better question is what will happen to the creative arts in a world where menial labour is all handled by machine intelligences, leaving us with a glorious excess of free time to work on whatever may catch our fancy.

Posted on March 02nd 2016 on 04:37am
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