Something odd is happening

Something very odd is happening. I’ll wait to see if things change in Beijing. I leave tomorrow in the morning, and if I figure out what is going so oddly, I’ll post something. Or not…

The conference went very well. My keynote was well received, and this afternoon we had a nice panel discussion on Computer Science education in our respective countries (USA, China, Australia). During this session, I thought about something that surprised me.

Lately, I’ve been hammering about thinking of our research center (CCT) as not just a computational science research center, but more broadly as computational research center across all disciplines, not just science. This is because I can see 10 years from now a time when all disciplines, from the sciences to the arts, the humanities and the social sciences will be immersed in computational activities that fundamentally transform the respective disciplines. Much of this is already happening in areas such as music, geography, art, linguistics. But I can see a time when every discipline will have some form of computational thinking and activity as part of its everyday research.

We already have a program for Communication across the Curriculum. Is it time for a program of “Computation across the Curriculum?”


Images from Nanning

My talk in Nanning went well.  Here are some photos of the keynote session.

In this last photo, I am with Li Maoqing, who is the chair of the organizing committee for ICCSE 2009. 
These next photos are from a mountain park, where there is a large temple with 5 30-foot tall Buddhas.  A truly impressive sight.  The area is lush with trees and bamboo, and there is a beautiful lake where you can feed the koi.  As you can see in this first picture, there are thousands of koi, so much so that they can lift each other out of the water when trying to get the food.

I hope these pictures make it to my blog.  I am having difficulty reaching it by normal means.  Hopefully, my internet connection will be better in Beijing.

A view from Shanghai

I am on a long planned trip to China. I was invited to give one of three keynote addresses at the IEEE International Conference on Computer Science and Education, in Nanning, China. My keynote is entitled “The Arts as a Driver for Computer Science Education,” a topic I deal with everyday in our AVATAR Initiative. As part of this trip, I decided to stop in Shanghai along the way, and Beijing on the way back.

Shanghai is an amazing city of contradictions and dichotomies. Old versus new. History versus modernity. Rich versus poor. And with the Shanghai World Expo next summer, construction is everywhere, from new roads to renovated buildings, to new skyscrapers, to new public works of all kinds. The entire Bund section is being revamped, making driving and walking even more insane that apparently normal.

I say apparently because from my limited experience in Shanghai’s taxi system, driving in this town is normally insane. Being a pedestrian is anything but. It reminds me of walking in Paris, and trying to dodge cars as they cavalierly made right turns across crosswalks. I always felt like I was in a bull-fighting ring when walking in Paris, with cars trying to get as close as possible to pedestrians without hitting them. Shanghai reminds me of the old video game Frogger, where there is just utter chaos. Bikes, cars, walkers, all moving about the streets seemingly without a care for what the others are doing.

The weather has been muggy, cloudy, rainy, sweaty, dusty and smokey. The latter two I attribute to all the construction and the general air pollution from an urban city. Otherwise its just like home, except MUCH more crowded. There are really beautiful places (Jing’an park and temple, Yu Gardens). And I have enjoyed the food (mostly).

Now its time to pack up and head to Nanning. The presentation is done. I might spend some more time looking for better images to use. But I think I’m ready to go.

Art Scandal in Baton Rouge

I’ve lived here for almost 21 years now, and I have recognized that Baton Rouge has not been the most progressive of places. That is until recently. Within the last 5-10 years, there has been steady movement towards a more cosmopolitan attitude and an awareness in the business community that for Baton Rouge to grow, it must create a climate that attracts and keeps a younger generation.

But every so often something happens that is so bizarre, so ludicrous, that reflects on our parochial past, that begs the question “What the hell were they thinking?”

A well-meaning group of young professionals determined to make Baton Rouge a better place, Forum 35, has sponsored an art “event” known as “ArtMelt“. It is known for being THE hip art social event of the summer (okay, the only hip social event of the summer), crowded galleries, a wide range of visual art, lots of people, and did I say crowded galleries? And while it is a juried show, it is not curated, so you get a really wild mix of good, great, not-so-good, and diverse art. And this year they estimated attendance at 10,000 people (did I say it was crowded?). As a community-oriented organization, it’s great. As an arts exhibitor, the jury is still out.

This year’s edition of the ArtMelt was last Friday. On Thursday, there was a private preview part of the exhibit at the Shaw Center. One of the works, Real People #3 by a former student of mine, Kenneth Wilks, was a diptych with one photograph of a woman accompanied by a second photograph of the same woman nude.

Friday morning, a group of high school students was going to view the exhibition, and the powers that be within Forum 35 decided that the nude photo should be removed from the exhibit. Needless to say, Wilks was upset. He stood where the missing photo should have been with a sign saying “I’ve been censored. Ask why.” He was then escorted by the Baton Rouge Police out of the building, and beyond. Here’s an article in our local arts rag, 225 Magazine. At the end of the story, you can see the public comments and “they ain’t pretty.”

Aside from the fact that one of my students had to endure a very public humiliation, this incident reminds me of how people who are not artists should not make decisions about art exhibitions. In general, ArtMelt does a good job with this. They have a jury of professional artists make the selections from 600 submissions from around the state. And while they don’t “curate” the show, the mere fact of such a celebration of regional art is worth, well, celebrating.

The problem occurs when business sensibilities are used to make decisions about art. Not only did they take down part of the diptych without his permission AFTER they accepted it in the exhibit, they took down only part of the art piece, thereby destroying the whole point of two photographs. Anyone with a sense of what art is or how it communicates would understand the utter nonsense of all this. That was not the case here, and Forum 35/ArtMelt has deservedly taken a big hit on their credibility.

This is not the first time there was a hubbub over art in a public exhibition. Sometime around the late 90s or early 2000s, our friend Roberta Cohen had a work removed from an invited exhibition at the Baton Rouge Gallery because someone complained about its sexually provocative imagery (a coarse abstraction of a male with an erect penis). The piece was not about sex, but rather about rape, and was a powerful evocation of its violence. There was quite a ruckus locally about this, and it split the local art community as I recall.

At least, Forum 35 has learned to respond quickly to its mistakes. They published a public apology on their website the Monday following the incident. Maybe they will learn that they should have artists more directly involved with the event from the get-go. Maybe, maybe not.