Torque Control

From Our Archive: Judith Berman on Cultural Appropriation

Bears, Bombs and Popcorn

Some considerations when mining other cultures for source materials, by Judith Berman

Bear_Daughter[The cover] painting is a made-up decoration merely done in Pacific Northwest style … meant to say to a reader “This novel is based on the mythology of the Pacific Northwest,” just as covers for other kinds of fantasy use images from Celtic, Norse, or Japanese mythologies to signal “pick me up” to the right kind of reader. ([Name withheld], p.c. Feb. 9, 2005)

In the background of the cover for my novel Bear Daughter sits an object that resembles a piece of Native American art. It looks, in fact, quite a bit like a painted wooden screen made by a Tlingit Indian artist in the early 19th century to represent the hereditary Bear crest of the Tlingit Naanyaa.aayí clan. That screen, now in the collections of the Denver Art Museum, formerly embellished the Ground Shark House in what is today Wrangell, Alaska.

Having worked for a number of years with traditional Tlingit art, I immediately recognized the resemblance of the cover image to the Naanyaa.aayí Bear screen. It also resembles, to a lesser degree, two other screens. The first of these, likely a copy of the Naanyaa.aayí screen, was made for the Killer Whale House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of Klukwan, probably in commemoration of the genealogical links between that house and Ground Shark House. The second, which the Naanyaa.aayí screen likely copied, is known only from a fragment preserved at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Upon seeing the cover, my first concern was that the background object might be another related Bear screen, one I didn’t know about. Tlingit clan heirlooms like these screens are the focus, today as formerly, of deep emotions about one’s connections to past and future generations. The right to display such heraldic designs is a hereditary prerogative often acquired–“paid for,” as it is sometimes said–through the blood of one’s ancestors. In earlier times wars were fought over misuse of crest objects. A validated Tlingit crest object, as I wrote to my publisher, is

like a national flag, a trademarked product logo, a memorial to dead relatives and ancestors, and a family heirloom with strong emotional associations, all rolled into one. There is variation across the [northwest coast] region in what these objects mean and how they are used, but the notion that they are in some fashion property and “copyrighted” is near-universal.

Some crest heirlooms remain in Native custody, like the Klukwan Bear screen. Many others, however, have found their way into museums and private collections. The means by which they have done so are frequently not pretty, and the objects have been the subject of repatriation claims and other legal actions. Given that the cover artist had likely used photographs as the source for the cover image, US copyright law, which extends to so-called “derivative” images of copyright materials, might also have been called into play. In short, using an image of genuine crest art on my book cover could have been problematic.

Continue reading “From Our Archive: Judith Berman on Cultural Appropriation”

Visions of Space: An Interview with David A. Hardy

By Alex Storer.

Any science fiction or space art aficionado should instantly recognise the name David A. Hardy – perhaps from the early part of his career working with Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night and their award-winning books, including Challenge of the Stars and Futures / 50 Years in Space, or perhaps from his film and television credits, which include Blake’s Seven and The Neverending Story. Maybe you’ve got books in your SF collection adorned with David’s stunning cover art (maybe you’ve even read his own SF book, Aurora), or have encountered his work on the convention circuit. At the very least, if you’ve ever bought Cadbury’s chocolate, you’ll recognise the logo that Hardy originally designed during his time working at their Bournville factory, Birmingham, in the 1960s!

First published in 1952, David A. Hardy is the longest-established living space artist. Hardy started out as an astronomical artist, and the inevitable expansion into science fiction did not come for some years. Hardy’s work can transport you to the remotest corners of the Solar System, or into remote alien worlds and future times. What’s more, Hardy is still working and in as much demand as ever, regularly supplying cover art for the likes of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and countless science fiction paperback and e-book titles.

Initiation of Akasa_F&SF

F&SF: Initiation of Asaka

Hardy’s artwork continues to move with the times – in tandem with spaceflight technology and our ever-expanding scientific knowledge about the planets in our Solar System, and advancing with the advent of computer technology and digital art.

I grew up in awe of Hardy’s work, courtesy of its inclusion in the most marvellous book, Space Worlds, Wars & Weapons (published in 1977 by the sadly defunct Paper Tiger imprint), and an art print that hung on the wall at home, entitled Stellar Radiance. This artwork my young imagination; it was like having a window into space. It sparked my obsession with science fiction art and ultimately led to me working as a science fiction artist myself, years later.

Stellar Radiance

Stellar Radiance

When I rediscovered my love of science fiction and space art in 2007, I realised it was time to start creating my own – and David A. Hardy’s work was my first port of call.

However, at the time, I did not know the name of that wonderful painting that I used to lose myself in, nor the artist’s full name – though the carefully scribed signature of “Hardy” in the bottom corner of the painting had always stuck in my mind. Thanks to a quick Google search, in no time at all I was in touch with the man himself, and soon found myself discovering his decade-spanning portfolio, starting with the books, Hardyware and Futures / 50 Years In Space. David’s enthusiasm and encouragement were invaluable and enough for me to know that I simply had to give it a shot.

One of the things which appeals to me about Hardy’s art is that whether it is paint or pixels, the work is still distinctly Hardy. When it comes to digital art in particular, I’ve always found it crucial to still have the touch of the artist’s hand, which I feel adds soul and personality to a digitally piece, eliciting just the same kind of emotional response one gets from looking at a canvas painting – and Hardy achieves this masterfully.

Despite being in the age of photographic imagery and photorealistic 3D graphics, hand-rendered art has remained important in science fiction circles, as it is another medium in which we can escape into other times or worlds – and more often than not, the art goes hand in hand with the SF literature we read; either adorning the covers of the books we love or simply inspired by them.

A ‘Hardy’ is immediately identifiable, not only by that kind of vibrant colour palette (regardless of medium), but by a consistent style and approach. Decades of experience and expertise all go into making each and every piece a work of wonder that one never tires of viewing.

I caught up with David to chat about all aspects of his work and career …

The first time I encountered computer-aided artwork in the early 1990s, it felt like a life-changing moment; a glimpse of the future. Do you remember the first time you saw computer art and did you realise it was going to be a significant way forward, especially in terms of science fiction art?

DAH: I had a similar “Eureka!” moment when I discovered the airbrush in 1957! Here was a way to paint atmospheres, glows, nebulae in a way that was realistic yet wouldn’t take hours of painstaking blending of paints. I have always kept up with new technology, and started using photography, especially ‘derivative’ (manipulated) images, in my work. In the 1980s I did all my own darkroom work and even became a LRPS. I also bought a large-format camera and started taking photos of my work to send to publishers as transparencies (slides) rather than entrusting valuable artwork to the tender mercies of the Post Office! I became aware of the intrusion of computer art in publishing, and it was exciting, but I couldn’t afford any of the equipment. Then when the Atari ST came along in 1986 I got a 520, then a 1040 and finally a Falcon before getting my first PowerMac in 1991. But it was still some time before I felt able to use this professionally. (I did however produce graphics for an Atari/Amiga game, Kristal, which won an industry award.)

Kristal

Kristal

Many SF artists have continued to work with paint while others have moved to digital or only work digitally – yet you have maintained a healthy balance of both. What do you feel you can achieve with digital art that you can’t with traditional media – and vice-versa?

Continue reading “Visions of Space: An Interview with David A. Hardy”

Jeremy Shaw’s ‘Liminals’

jeremyJeremy Shaw’s Liminals can be seen at The Store Studios 180 The Strand, until 10th of December 2017. It is the first off-site exhibition by Berlin based KÖNIG Galerie and forms part of their recent expansion to London.

Liminals, a work of Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw, takes the form of a fictional documentary made not more than a couple of decades into our future. From the narration, we reconstruct some of its historical context, although the focus of the documentary is on ‘periphery altruist cultures’. The Liminals are one such sub-cultural group, who are observed by the posited filmmakers with a detached fascination (and a style) reminiscent of the early 20th century ethnographies.

It is far from clear who is the intended audience, because humanity’s days, the documentary reveals, are numbered. Technology is to blame, specifically, choosing to let computation replace ritual. Kieslowski’s warning in the first episode of Decalogue against elevating computers above faith has clearly gone unheeded, and in 2024 all spiritual experiences are replaced by VR via a technological innovation called ‘The Unit’. ‘The Singularity Disaster’ follows in 2033, and soon after ‘The Announcement’ of ‘the countdown to extinction’ is made.

Amongst the general apathy that ensues, radical groups emerge, as they always do – observes the film’s narrator – during the Millenarian periods of history. The most radical of these groups believe that a possible salvation lies in the ideas of ‘pre-Unit’ science fiction writer Samuel Delany, specifically the paraspace:

a specific paraspace could serve as a transitory zone for humanity – an intermediate area between the physical and the virtual where a generative incubation period towards our next phase in evolution could take place. They refer to this paraspace as The Liminal.

The documentary is an exposition of the methods by which The Liminals are trying to reach that paraspace.

 

Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson

mollyTade Thompson, whose novel Rosewater was reviewed in Vector earlier this year (see below), has just published a new work of fiction. The Murders of Molly Southbourne is set to appear on screen as well, which is not surprising given the beautifully harrowing images that the novel fosters. It is a work of science fiction which reads like a thriller. It might be bloodier than Cormac McCarthy, yet it has the sweetness of a coming-of-age romance. The emotional confrontation with one’s reading self that ensues (‘should I be enjoying this scene?’), as well as all other inner conflicts, are put into perspective by the novel’s narrative of self-destruction. The science-fictional world of Molly Southbourne is a combination of Cold War past and a low-fertility future. The latter is particularly refreshing given the dominance of overpopulation scenarios in both science fiction and everyday conversations. Tade Thompson’s medical and psychiatric knowledge is always put to good use in his novels, the characters are entirely plausible in their contradictions, and the science is internally consistent and evidently very carefully thought through.

Continue reading “Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson”

The Geography of Fear: Dave Hutchinson interviewed by Tom Hunter

The BSFA holds regular events in London, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Artillery Arms near Old Street. These events are free, and open to members and non-members alike. Keep an eye on the BSFA website for news of future events. In June 2017, Tom Hunter rendezvoused with Dave Hutchinson, author of the acclaimed near-future spy series, Fractured Europe. Our asset Andrew Wallace returns safely to HQ with the following intelligence …

Any writing career has its highs and lows, and in Dave Hutchinson’s case, quite literally. One of the jobs he applied for after leaving university (he graduated from Nottingham with a degree in American Studies), before beginning a career in journalism, was air traffic controller. Dave credits the absence of planes falling from sky to the fact that he didn’t get the job. Still, it’s intriguing to think of Dave Hutchinson, author of the award-winning near-future Fractured Europe series, as an air traffic controller in a parallel universe … managing the borders between nations, between earth and sky …

Continue reading “The Geography of Fear: Dave Hutchinson interviewed by Tom Hunter”

Exhibition Review: Haroon Mirza/HRM199

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Chamber for Endogenous DMT (Collapsing the Wave Function), 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and ZC Low Res-7734

Haroon Mirza/HRM199 reviewed by Polina Levontin

The Zabludowicz Collection in North London is hosting an art exhibition until December 17, which is of particular interest to the sf community. The commissioned work is by Haroon Mirza, whose own studio is located nearby. The exhibition is titled ‘For a Partnership Society’ and the word partnership is key to thinking about the works presented. Firstly, the exhibition itself is a collaborative project on many levels and in almost all of these collaborations science plays a role. Science is invoked in the exhibition as a subject, for example, when the production of scientific knowledge is being compared to a process of forming other sorts of beliefs. Science appears as an object when the standard theory of physics or excerpts from topology lectures become the material parts of an art installation. A history of science serves as a context for the conversation about the fundamental building blocks of a belief system. Furthermore, both technology and scientific methods are intentionally employed as tools for making the artwork, as well as appearing as subjects for Mirza’s artistic explorations.

The premise of Mirza’s work is that the fictional, the religious, the artistic and the scientific are not separable modes, that ‘science, like art, politics and religion often relies on system of beliefs in its pursuit of truth’ [Zabludowicz Collection]. References to a Pythagorean society which practised mathematics as religion remind the viewer that the pretence of decontextualized objectivity in science is a relatively recent phenomenon.  In his 1984 essay ‘No Apocalypse, Not Now’ Derrida gives another reason for why we should no longer pretend that beliefs and science can be disentwined: technological powers have passed the threshold where the science itself poses an existential threat to humanity. Derrida was referring to nuclear physics, something which Mirza references in almost all the works that are part of the current exhibition. Since 1984, when Derrida wrote ‘one can no longer oppose belief and science, doxa and episteme’ because modern/atomic technology ‘coexists, cooperates in an essential way with sophistry [imagination]’, new technological threats such as AI have emerged.  Mirza’s work is a manifestation of this quote:  the AI and other forms of technology coexist and cooperate in an essential way with his art.

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Pathological Theology, 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection Low Res-6038

At least one part of the exhibition is literally a scientific experiment, conducted with researchers from Imperial College. In ‘Chamber for Endogenous DMT (Collapsing the Wave Function)’ Mirza constructs a confined sensory deprivation space which is being used by the scientists to explore human perception. Like the scientists, Mirza is interested in the potential of art to influence a state of mind, or even alter the state of mind as much as some psychotropic chemical substances or meditation practices. In a spirit of experimental design and following a framework for scientific investigations, Mirza’s art installations produce a range of sensory input levels – from near complete deprivation to sensory overload.

The scientific method is used by Mirza not just in setting up progressively increasing levels of exposure to sensory inputs, but also in taking a deductive approach as the principle for creating artwork. He dissects, breaks down and analyses various materials (including works of other artists) as a scientist would in trying to understand the basic principles of how something works.  His approach is hierarchical, making explicit different meta-levels. For example, Mirza takes a ‘found’ YouTube video where young Bjork is seen examining the functions of a cathode ray tube and, echoing her curiosity about technology, breaks the wholeness of the video down to expose its more elemental aspects: the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) system of colour projection, the individuality of video frames and how these are cropped, sequenced and made to follow one another at predetermined intervals (24 frames per second).

Haroon Mirza hrm199_The System, 2013, installation view, Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Zabludowicz Collection_Low Res-7017

Mirza’s thesis is that a partnership first and foremost requires the dismantling (or at least the questioning of) barriers. Mirza successfully makes the viewer (even a scientifically trained one like myself) uncertain of where scientific knowledge ends and the pseudo-scientific begins. Science is never presented as an isolated subject, more poignantly, videos with snippets of lectures on topology are shown side-by-side with a commentary on a history of colonialism. The idea that there is only one true system of knowledge is questioned as the viewer is invited to contemplate the standard theory of physics alongside indigenous knowledge systems, shamanic rituals and AI. Topology, colonialism, quantum physics, environmental catastrophes and political upheavals dissolve into one another with the aid of the AI Deep Dream technology.  Cumulatively all these ideas are given an inorganic but seemingly living presence by Mirza who uses an Emerging Paradigm (hrm199) technology to forge a coalescence of synchronised video, sound and led lights.  Mirza’s genius of generating meaning out of seemingly inarticulate materials is evident in the title of this work. It is simply a pair of numbers, ‘9/11 11/9’. Mirza uses the succinctness of mathematical notation to tell a complex story, where an attack on the World Trade Centre becomes conjoined with the 9th of November, the date Trump’s victory in the American election was declared.

Mirza’s many disruptive dualities are designed to induce the kind of ‘cognitive estrangement’ (Darko Suvin) that is characteristic of sf. Further, his preoccupation with science and technology and their interactions with human perception and understanding of reality places his work in the critical space occupied by the theorists of science fiction.

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Pathological Theology, 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection_Low Res-6124

Space Age: Mapping’s Intelligent Agents

Navigational chart from the Marshall Islands, made of wood, sennit fiber, and cowrie shells. [Wikimedia/UC Berkeley]

With the stakes so high, we need to keep asking critical questions about how machines conceptualize and operationalize space. How do they render our world measurable, navigable, usable, conservable? […] In a coming age of robot warfare and policing, we could see designers specializing in the creation of robot-illegible worlds rather than machine-readable ones […]

Shannon Mattern: ‘Mapping’s Intelligent Agents’ at Places.

From Our Archive: Biographical Fantastic

Framing the Unframeable

What does the fantastic bring to the storying of lives? By Gary K. Wolfe

441px-Novalis2

“Unser Leben ist kein Traum, aber es soll und wird viellicht einer werden”.
(“Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one, and perhaps will.”)

– Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenburg), as quoted in George MacDonald’s Phantastes (1859)

“And do not rely on the fact that in your life, circumscribed, regulated, and prosaic, there are no such spectacular and terrifying things.”
– C. P. Cavafy, “Theodotus,” as quoted in Elizabeth Hand’s Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998)

When one looks at the published memoirs and autobiographical sketches written by science fiction and fantasy authors, mostly for the benefit of their fans – the sort of thing collected in Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison’s Hell’s Cartographers (1975) or Martin Greenberg’s Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers (1981) – one is initially struck by the relative thinness and lack of genuine introspection of many of the essays. Typically, such pieces read as a variety of Augustinian conversion tales, depicting a precocious childhood, often solitary and bookish, sometimes sickly, sometimes featuring battles with parents to get into the adult sections of the library, and characteristically leading toward a moment of revelation: “And then came Hugo Gernsback” (Alfred Bester) [1] “Then I saw and bought an issue of something called Amazing Stories” (Damon Knight) [2] “So science fiction entered into and began warping my life from an early age” (Brian Aldiss) [3] etc. In one of the still-comparatively rare autobiographies of SF writers, Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson ends a chapter with the following cliffhanger:

Something else happened, however, in the spring of 1926, the first year I was out of high school. Something that changed my life. Hugo Gernsback launched a new pulp magazine, filled with reprinted stories by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs, stories he called “scientifiction.”

The magazine was Amazing Stories. [4]

Following these road-to-Damascus moments, however, these memoirs and autobiographies seldom become genuine testaments, instead amounting to not much more than narrative resumés, filled with anecdotes of encounters with fellow writers and editors and often with almost obsessively detailed accounts of sales figures and payments; one comes away with the sense that (a) science fiction writers all clearly remember the first SF story they read, and (b) they keep really good tax records.
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Southern California Science Fictional Thinking in Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas

Boom California

UCR Arts Block-28

Tyler Stallings

History is written in retrospect. Patterns are sought among seemingly unrelated events at the time of their occurrence. There is never just one historical narrative. Historians make choices about what events to represent and from which perspective, often to the disadvantage of people on the losing end—for example, the colonized or enslaved. Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas provides a space-time continuum for reimagining the past from the perspective of the “alienated” and the “other,” from the peoples marginalized by the powerful. The exhibition includes over thirty contemporary artists who explore interactions of science fiction and the visual arts in Latin America, the U.S., and the intergalactic beyond; collectively laying out a provocative view of arts in the Americas told in the present but with an eye toward future, alternate Americas.

Mundos Alternos is an 11,000-square-foot exhibition, with an accompanying book of the same title…

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Superhero_ines: Rebooted Comics and Trans* Identity

Manteau: Seriously? Bust? – What kind of things’ve you dialed so far? You been a giant metal spring, yet? A super-disco dancer? A boomerang? Now it’s bust because you’ve got ovaries? Every few dials, this happens, Baroness.
(Miéville & Santolouco, Dial H #3, 2012)

In this academic article, Christina Scholz explores trans* identity within comic books. Christina Scholz teaches at Graz University, and has research interests which include Weird fiction, M. John Harrison and China Miéville. You can visit Christina’s blog for links to more academic writing, fiction, and reviews (and other things!)

Abstract: Gender is a discursive and performative construct, and mass media such as comic books play a role in how it is constructed. Problems arise from discrepancies between prescriptive models of gender and individuals’ actual lived experience. Now, in the era of the reboot, comic book writers have the opportunity to change the identity politics inherent within well-known series, reaching a wide audience through iconic figures, and contributing to changing cisnormative perceptions of gender. Comic books are particularly crucially placed in this regard, since superheroes, as established metaphors of otherness, may in some sense already be ‘queer’ figures. However, although important and exciting steps have been taken toward better representation of trans* identities within superhero comics, we still have a long way to go. Drawing in particular on the theory of Judith Butler and Antke Engel, as well as lived experience, this article explores the past and present representation of trans* identities in comic books, and looks with hope toward the future.

Continue reading “Superhero_ines: Rebooted Comics and Trans* Identity”