Death scenes from 36 of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, synchronised to climax in unison :::..

Row 1: Blackmail, Murder!, Rich and Strange, Number 17 (?), The Man Who Knew Too Much, Waltzes from Vienna (?)
Row 2: The 39 Steps, Sabotage, The Secret Agent, Young and Innocent (?), The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn
Row 3: Foreign Correspondent, Rebecca, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, Lifeboat, Spellbound
Row 4: Rope, Under Capricorn, Stage Fright, Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder
Row 5: To Catch a Thief, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho
Row 6: The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot

[Originally published by Ultraculture, March 5th, 2011]

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The arts are for everybody not the few; there is creativity in all of us :::..

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Every child deserves the chance to learn a musical instrument, act on a stage, and develop their creative imagination, writes Jeremy Corbyn.

The arts and creative industries are the backbone of much of our cultural heritage, and I fear that under this government over the next five years this cultural heritage is under threat. As a proud supporter of the arts and firm believer in the community benefit of publicly supported arts policy, I would like to set out where I stand with regards to the creative industries and my priorities, if elected Labour leader, in defending and supporting British local and national arts projects.

It is my firm belief that the role of government must be to work alongside arts communities and entrepreneurs in widening access to the arts, and for this broader engagement to stimulate creative expression as well as support us in achieving our social objectives.

Throughout my time in Parliament I have worked with the arts sector. Locally I have always been committed to supporting community arts projects in my constituency of Islington North, most recently supporting the opening of the now thriving Park Theatre.

Under the guise of a politically motivated austerity programme, this government has savaged arts funding with projects increasingly required to justify their artistic and social contributions in the narrow, ruthlessly instrumentalist approach of the Thatcher governments. During the 1980s, Thatcher sought to disempower the arts community, attempting to silence the provocative in favour of the populist.

The current climate of Treasury value measurement methodologies (taken from practises used in the property market and elsewhere) to try to find mechanisms appropriate to calculating the value of visiting art galleries or the opera are a dangerous retreat into a callous commercialisation of every sphere of our lives.

The result has been a devastating £82million in cuts to the arts council budget over the last 5 years and the closure of the great majority of currently funded arts organisations, especially outside London. Even if some London flagships survive, they will be unable to continue the participatory projects of such benefit to our local communities.

These cuts have taken place while demand for the services funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport continues to rise. The UK now invests a smaller percentage of its GDP in arts and culture than the EU average and less than European competitors like France and Germany.

We as a Labour party must offer an alternative programme for the arts, both supporting their ability to enrich the cultural lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year across the UK and promoting a feeling of community ownership from which we all benefit.

As a country that has made such remarkable contributions to music, dance and theatre, the current suffocation of our arts should concern us all. Commercial theatre in London alone contributes over half a billion pounds a year to our economy, a contribution resulting from public investment. Research by the Young Vic’s artistic director, David Lan, found that over 75% of the directors, designers, and writers working in the West End come from the publicly funded theatre.

Our current government’s approach risks undermining the very future of a sector that multiplies the returns on any funding invested. The arts and culture industry receives 0.1% of government funding but contributes 0.4% to GDP. The creative economy now accounts for 5.8% of all UK jobs. The arts are linked to 42% of inbound tourism-related expenditure while British films (themselves often supported by direct public investment) generated £1.4 billion of exports with a trade surplus of £916 million in 2013.

Beyond the obvious economic and social benefits of the arts is the significant contribution to our communities, education, and democratic process they make. Studies have demonstrated the beneficial impact of drama studied at schools on the capacity of teenagers to communicate, learn, and to tolerate each other as well as on the likelihood that they will vote. The greater involvement of young people in the political process is something to be encouraged and celebrated.

Further, the contribution and critique of our society and democracy which theatre has the capacity to offer must be protected. To quote David Lan, “dissent is necessary to democracy, and democratic governments should have an interest in preserving sites in which that dissent can be expressed”.

Our vision for the arts

Our Labour leadership campaign is for a country in which people are happier, more fulfilled and secure in their work as well as home. I believe in a government that works in the interests of its people and that supports people in achieving their collective aspirations through providing strong public services, access to the arts, lifelong learning, and a prosperous, more balanced economy.

For this reason, as leader I would want to prioritise the need for more investment in the arts generally and for the Labour Party to offer an investment programme to rebuild the foundations of artistic enterprise in our country that are being laid waste to by the current government. The Labour party has a proud tradition of supporting our cultural institutions, from founding the Arts Council in 1946 to the setting up of the Open University by Jennie Lee during Harold Wilson’s premiership.

Too often, while publicly funded arts organisations have participatory programmes, too little of the public subsidies available are provided to the performers and educators. Likewise, funding must be directed to the local initiatives and youth theatres offering so much benefit to their local communities as well as flagship national projects.

Following the lead of successful programmes, such as those run by The Young Vic and the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, we must support outreach programmes designed to involve young people both as participants and as audience members. Here I believe we can take inspiration from the fantastic programme run by the Birmingham Opera Company, which combines professional singers and musicians with community performers, and in doing so engages a far more diverse audience with an art form that might otherwise be thought of as inaccessible.

The arts must never be the preserve of those with privilege but open to all. Access and diversity within the arts must be improved with greater equalisation of those who are able to benefit from public funding as well a more even regional allocation of funding.

Finally, I am fearful about the impact the latest round of cuts at the BBC will have on programming and on our media output in this country. I firmly believe in the principle of public service broadcast and am fearful of following the path tread in the United States, where PBS has been hollowed out, unable to deliver the breadth of content to compete with the private broadcasters, and where Fox News has as a result been effectively allowed to dominate and set the news agenda.

I want to see the Labour Party at the heart of campaigns to protect the BBC and its license fee. When we return to power we must fully fund public service broadcasting in all its forms, recognising the crucial role the BBC has played in establishing and supporting world class domestic arts, drama, and entertainment.

If we are to achieve our goal in government of supporting people in leading more enjoyable and fulfilling lives, funding for the arts must be central to that offer. I pledge to work alongside the creative industries to support, develop, and collectively achieve a culturally rich, more prosperous future for our country.

[Originally published on The State of The Arts

Art World Debates – Can A Computer Detect Art Forgery Or Make Paintings That Fool Even The Experts?

Could Computers Make Forgeries That Are Impossible To Fake?

The art world is now on the cusp of a new problem – computers creating works of art that might soon become near impossible to spot as fakes.

For the past few decades, artworks of famous artists have been scientifically decoded by physicists who have found beautiful mathematical patterns hidden in plain sight. Richard Taylor, a physicist from the University of Oregon, uncovered the repeating designs—fractals of grey, black, and yellow within the chaos of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings.

Jackson Pollock's Paintings Contain Intricate And Complex Mathematical Patterns

Jackson Pollock’s Paintings Contain Intricate And Complex Mathematical Patterns

Taylor had predicted way back in 1999 that computers could analyze the geometric patterns within the brush strokes to detect a Jackson Pollock fraud from an original. To prove his theories, Taylor and his colleagues planned to use the unique signatures they found to make a Jackson Pollock fake, good enough to dupe art experts,

“However, we concluded that to generate this work would represent the dawn of a new and unwanted era. So we shelved the plan.”

But as robots increasingly take on the duties of humans including interaction and care-giving, Taylor strongly believes the art world is headed straight for some troubling times when computers will start making such exceptional fakes that those machines which are built to spot these fakes, won’t be able to tell the difference.

“If a computer can fake a painting, can it also fool the computers designed to detect the fakes?”

“Can the programs designed to spot fakes stay a step ahead of the programs designed to generate them?”

Fortunately, Taylor and his team, apart from another one led by computer scientist Lior Shamir from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan, have been hard at work to safeguard the artwork from forgeries. Shamir has been able to teach computers to use fractal analysis to distinguish between real Pollocks and imitations. With a success rate of 93 percent, computers are now smart enough to spot fakes no matter how well they are crafted.

However, the same ability to spot a fake could be used to automate creation of artworks that could be impossible to be termed as fakes. Shamir believes that computers will eventually be able to create artwork indistinguishable from a person-made painting.

Many in the art circle however, have never believed the threat is imminent. While computers can certainly analyze a part of paintings to reliably predict its authenticity, they can’t reverse-engineer an entire masterpiece, much less, imitate the artists.

What’s concern-worthy though is the fact that a computer program can indeed create a piece of artwork that can pass for an original, but materially, things get more complicated, explained Daniel Rockmore, a mathematician from Dartmouth who applies mathematical models to artwork,

“Going from pixels to the actual painting strikes me as complicated. But you wouldn’t want to say it could never be done.”

At the rate which computers are gaining intelligence and understanding, it wouldn’t be impossible to see complex artwork created by a computer in the near future, being sold for a handsome figure.
[Originally published on INQUISITR, March 14, 2015]

The condemnation of memory: what’s behind the destruction of World Heritage sites :::.

by Bastien Varoutsikos (Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Harvard University)

In this January 2015 photograph, a man walks through the ruins of Old Aleppo, a designated World Heritage site. Hosam Katan/Reuters

In this January 2015 photograph, a man walks through the ruins of Old Aleppo, a designated World Heritage site. Hosam Katan/Reuters

Recently in Aleppo, Syria, the Jabha Shamiya militia has started carrying out a new urban warfare strategy: tunnel bombing. Aside from the human damage wrought by this tactic, it is also extremely damaging to Aleppo’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In addition to the collateral destruction caused by warring religious and political sects, the destruction of World Heritage sites is often associated to the absolute iconoclasm of several Islamic fundamentalist groups. Recent examples include the demolition of the Bamyian’s Buddhas in Afghanistan and the destruction of Timbuktu’s Holy Shrines in Mali.

However, these are only the most visible examples of a broader threat to cultural heritage around the world. And Middle Eastern extremist groups are far from the only ones responsible; profitable looting, unchecked industrial and urban development, and collateral damages during conflicts – all have led to the destruction or disappearance of cultural heritage.

An international collaboration

Cultural heritage can be either tangible (sculptures, monuments), or intangible (oral traditions, performing arts); movable (paintings, manuscripts), or not (archaeological sites). They can represent a number of things: it memorializes an important era in history, it can symbolize a nation’s power, or represent a profitable source of income. For these reasons, they’ve been the object of manipulation and destruction for millennia, whether it was the looting of the pharaohs’ tombs 2,500 years ago, or Scipio’s complete annihilation of Carthage in 146 BCE.

In November 1945, representatives from different nations gathered to ponder the causes of two consecutive global conflicts. The group, made up of politicians, scientists, philosophers, and artists, identified part of the problem as mankind’s “ignorance of each other’s ways and lives” – an inability to understand, appreciate and preserve different cultures.

At the end of the conference, thirty-seven countries created UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and signed its constitution; a year later, twenty countries ratified it. The institution was dedicated to the promotion of “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” through the advancement of cross-cultural knowledge, and the protection of cultural expression in its many forms. Through international collaboration, the organization soon went to work, preserving endangered cultural sites like the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt.

In November 1972, during UNESCO’s 17th session, the state parties adopted the “Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage,” and created the “World Heritage” designation, which they assigned to extraordinary cultural achievements, such as the Andean road system and the Great Wall of China, and natural landscapes, like Iguazu Falls and Turkey’s Göreme National Park.

World Heritage sites can include natural landscapes, like Iguazu Falls, located at the border of Argentina and Brazil.  Martin St-Amant/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

World Heritage sites can include natural landscapes, like Iguazu Falls, located at the border of Argentina and Brazil. Martin St-Amant/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The Convention mentioned that “The deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.” It also emphasized the global ownership of this heritage, along with the responsibilities of future generations.

As of today, 779 cultural properties, along with 31 mixed sites (natural and cultural) are listed in 161 state parties throughout the world. For the past 70 years, a set of conventions, recommendations, and declarations, have contributed to the development and implementation of new regulations, which tackle issues such as illegal trafficking, protection of cultural heritage during conflicts, and defining what should be considered “intangible cultural heritage” (such as “male-child cleansing ceremony of the Lango of central northern Uganda,” or “Mongolian caligraphy”).

Present day problems

However, as of 2015, in addition to the non-listed cultural heritage features, 46 World Heritage sites and 38 cultural practicesare considered endangered.

For instance, in Crimea and Ukraine, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has raised concerns about the lack of measures in place to protect archaeological and cultural resources; the destruction of several historic churches and fortresses has already occurred. Meanwhile, in Yerevan, Armenia, corruption and misplaced nationalism has led to an almost complete eradication of the old city, which dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. In Bolivia, extensive mining activities is threatening the survival of the 500-year-old Potosí colonial settlement.

An aerial shot of Potosí, a 500-year-old city in Bolivia. Note the mining activities in the top-left corner of the photograph.  Gerd Breitenbach/Wikimedia Commons

An aerial shot of Potosí, a 500-year-old city in Bolivia. Note the mining activities in the top-left corner of the photograph. Gerd Breitenbach/Wikimedia Commons

America hasn’t emerged unscathed. In New York City, much of its modern architectural heritage – like the American Folk Art Museum – is being neglected. It’s also estimated that up to 80% of the archaeological sites in the US have been looted and damaged.

Finally, rampant looting has taken place in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and large parts of Southeast Asia, due to an illegal antiquity trade market estimated to be worth upwards of a billion dollars per year. Some of these pirated artifacts will end up for sale online, on the auction block at Sotheby’s – even in national museums.

Shared memory: the ultimate common denominator

Why, despite international efforts such as the UNESCO, is cultural heritage still under attack worldwide?

Some have blamed nationalistic regimes, which often attempt to politicize cultural artifacts, using them to reinterpret the past for specific ideological purposes. Others have highlighted the striking contrast between the massive profit created by the illegal antiquity market and the relatively low penal risk tied to it. And some have also pointed to the lack of enforcement of UNESCO regulations; they’ve also suggested the creation of modern-day “Monument Men” – individuals tasked with safeguarding at-risk areas of cultural importance in countries at war.

But above all, there seems to be a disconnect among nations and individuals in how they comprehend the concept of world heritage, and its importance as a means to safeguard mankind’s memory.

When the UNESCO convention was signed, the world had just emerged from two global conflicts. While each nation had its own agenda, all the attending state parties sought to find common denominators: shared goals that would persevere beyond ideology, politics, power and economics. It’s an ambient universalism that’s particularly well represented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The creation of UNESCO was undoubtedly influenced by the destruction caused by two World Wars, in which entire cities – along with countless structures of cultural importance – were left in ruins. Here, a decimated Cologne, Germany is pictured in 1945.  Wikimedia Commons

The creation of UNESCO was undoubtedly influenced by the destruction caused by two World Wars, in which entire cities – along with countless structures of cultural importance – were left in ruins. Here, a decimated Cologne, Germany is pictured in 1945. Wikimedia Commons

The challenge of the UNESCO participants, then, was defining a set of universal values that would preserve and promote a culturally diverse world. To the assembled parties, the modification and re-interpretation of the past was one of the greatest threats to world peace. This was particularly conspicuous in the creation of the Ahnenerbe during Nazi Germany. This research institute, headed by Himmler, was charged with studying “Aryan culture” and finding evidence supporting Hitler’s imperialist and racial ideology.

UNESCO decided that the sum of all of mankind’s experience and achievements was to be safeguarded and shown as the heritage of all. It would serve as the ultimate common denominator. Some of the charter’s lessons are simple: the past belongs to no particular nation, no culture is a hermetic entity, and it is a fluid concept, always gaining new elements.

A relativist perspective on the concept of World Heritage would question the right of institutions to meddle in the affairs of individual countries. I would argue that the huge number of people risking their lives on a daily basis to preserve pieces of their cultural heritage is the strongest evidence of a universal devotion to safeguarding our shared memory.

In order to support this effort, increasing international collaboration between different institutions has occurred at the scientific, law enforcement and judicial levels. The ongoing efforts of UNESCO, the International Council on Monuments and Sits (ICOMOS), INTERPOL have led to positive results, such as the registration of art dealers and the closure of loopholes that allowed artifacts from looting to enter the legal antiquity market.

Of course, more needs to be done.

In Ancient Egypt, one of the worst punishments an individual could receive was the chiseling off of his or her name from all monuments and statues – the idea being that the person would be doomed to be forgotten for eternity. In Ancient Rome, this type of post-mortem sentence was named damnatio memoriae, the condemnation of memory.

It is the opposite – the preservation of mankind’s shared memory – that is at the core of World Heritage. As war continues to rage in places like Syria, the same countries that have pledged to preserve the world’s heritage should consider what’s also at stake – beyond politics, beyond economics – and recognize how much can be lost.

{ Originally published in theconversation.com – February 3 2015 }

[ A Life With Leica ]

Thorsten von Overgaard, a Danish writer and photographer, born in 1965, specializing in portrait & documentary photography. He is also an educator and loves to write about photography… you can get to know him better at his very own web site.

A Life With Leica from Northpass Media on Vimeo.

Filmed over 7 days – A Life With Leica explores the philosophy behind Danish photographer Thorsten von Overgaard as he practices his craft throughout the streets of Rome, Italy.

Creative // Northpass Media
Executive Producer // Kurt Bangert
Director-DP // RH Bangert
Cinematographer // Zach Dierks
Editor // Jon Quigg
Production Coordinator // Luca Fortunato Asquini
Gaffer // Luca Martis
Locations // Luca Fortunato Asquini
Title Design and Motion // Jon Quigg
Color Grade // Taylre Jones
Composer // Sam Billen
Music Consultant // Dan Billen
Driver // Marco Taglioni