Monday, January 25, 2016

Brains & Owls in Pantaloons

Burrowing Owl, linocut 5.5" x 7" by Ele Willoughby, 2016
One of the things I want to do this year is participate in some new (to me) print exhibits and exchanges. BC based printmaker Lori Dean Dyment and I were discussing on FB the yearly Chinese New Year exhibits and print exchanges held by PROOF Studio Gallery. We weren't sure if they were going to do one this year (the call for submissions for their Year of the Monkey show came one only recently*) and she suggested we both participate in Leftovers, a print exchange hosted by Wigtip Press. I was very flattered that she said she'd love to do an exchange together, because I think her prints are really quite magical and you should go have a look at her portfolio. Also, I had hear of Leftovers which has been growing in size year by year. The idea is that printmakers can make tiny prints, no larger than 5" x 7", and use of all the scraps of precious papers we've been hoarding. They have multiple exhibits of all the tiny prints and auction off prints from hunger relief (with funds going to the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force). They invite printmakers to choose any subject, but suggest that food or hunger might be appropriate.

Thinking of you, linocut by Ele Willoughby, 2016
I thought about that for a while and I had no inspiration. Whenever I thought about hunger, what came to mind were all-too-real images from the news, of starving people in Syria (though there are starving people in many other places too). It was not a topic I wanted to live with intimately, while composing a print. So, I took them at their word that all subjects were welcome and looked for something which was a little more in my wheelhouse, so to speak. Then I saw an image of a juvenile burrowing owl who appeared to be wearing pantaloons. And while fluffy-legged owlets might not be as serious seeming a topic as hunger, I am able to celebrate the beauty and whimsy of wildlife (and perhaps bring some attention to how endangered burrowing owls have become on the Canadian prairie) while helping some fellow printmakers raise some funds to combat hunger in their community.

Every year I print a Valentine. This year I also chose to revisit an old brain block by carving a second block, so a one colour print could become a two colour print. Cause love isn't really about hearts at all, is it? It's about our minds and brains. Plus, brainy Valentines are great for zombie (or anatomy) lovers.

If you're reading my blog, pretend to look surprised on the 14th, husband.

Hou: The Monkey, linocut by Ele Willoughby 2008
I do enjoy the PROOF Chinese New Year prints shows and plan to submit my Monkey this year, and perhaps select a few random Chinese Zodiac animals for their print exchange.

*Due date for submissions is February 15th, 2016 for their
15th & FINAL International Print Exhibition and Exchange
Celebrating The Chinese Year of the MONKEY 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dave Pillow

The one and only Neigh Horse
Last night, wishing to spare our neighbours from the yowling and comfort our seemingly scared but actually sly, beloved tiny tyrant, we let the baby into our bed at 2 am, where he proceeded to squirm and flail, hitting each parent in the face. He insisted on going to the bathroom. He amused himself at length by tickling his ticklish father. He requisitioned my pillow, and named it "Dave". Why Dave? I have no idea. Sadly, Dave was not needed for sleeping, but in order to examine his pocket (i.e. the pillow case). Also, we were offered a running commentary on his all too audible flattulance. BIG toot! I'm hopeful tonight will be less eventful, though he asked for Dave Pillow before bed.

I've been meaning to tell you all about how he learns language, but this anecdote sort of tells you why my blogging has decreased. Some days you just drink coffee until you are able to make it to nap or bedtime.

He's quite the little talker. He's been learning to speak over the last year. At his last appointment with the pediatrician they forgot to ask me to fill in a survey about development. The doctor said she really wasn't worried; they wanted to know if your two year old could string together three words and Gabriel had not ceased talking since she had arrived. I loved signs of extrapolation, when last summer, for instance, he would say things that were logical, but wrong, so he clearly had inferred words, rather than heard them (like "mans" insted of men). Now, I am particularly enjoying seeing him invent and name things. Many toys had utilitarian names, because his parents had to be able to identify and describe them (like Puppy, Monkey and Dinosaur). Lately though, he's named his own toys. A stuffed rabbit at his birthday was instantly Peter Rabbit. A Christmas monster is now Smelly Fred (after the Denis Lee poem). The rocking horse his father built him is Neigh Horse. Amazingly, a blue shark from blythechild was named Rocky Go Shark. But Dave Pillow is the first named, random, inanimate object. I didn't give it to him. You gotta draw the line somewhere. Dave is mine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

COSMIC turtles

A graphic cosmic timeline, from the
Big Bang to the present day
(Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)
This year, to coincide with PrintAustin, Art.Science.Gallery is hosting COSMIC, a show of prints about "Origin of the Universe. Evolution of the Universe. String Theory. Dark Matter. Dark Energy. Multiverse. Unification of Space + Time. Our Solar System. Cultural Cosmology." I mean, how could I resist? I've been working in every spare moment to produce two brand new prints for the show. (As it happens, most of my astronomy related prints have appeared in previous exhibits there, so I needed new cosmological material).

My first instinct, the first images I imagined were something like the NASA spacetime diagram shown, which is a graphical representation of a lot of the major concepts of cosmology: the Big Bang, Inflation, the formation of galaxies and so forth and even dark energy and our current accelerated expansion... It's a great use of imagery to communicate science, but it's far too literal. It's a diagram, not a piece of art. So I turned to the figurative, imaginative, metaphorical, to avoid the trap of the literal.

Turtles, All the Way Down, 11" x 14" (27.9 cm x 35.6 cm)
linocut with chine-collé by Ele Willoughby, 2016
In some cultures there are origin myths explaining that the (apparently flat) Earth is in fact supported on the back of the World Turtle (occassionally in conjunction with other beasts). In cosmology - or the astrophysics of the origins of our Universe - there is an expression "turtles all the way down" which relates to a well-known anecdote, and metaphor for the problem of infinite regress. There are many versions of the anecdote. It appears, famously, in Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, amongst other sources. The story goes that a physicist, after explaining the origins of our planet, is confronted by a disgruntled audience member who claims this is nonsense. The Earth is, according to him or her, supported by a great turtle. When the physicist asks about what supports the turtle, the answer is a larger turtle, of course. When the physicist persists and asks what supports this next turtle, why, it's "turtles, all the way down!" of, course. The same problem in epistemology is known as the Münchhausen trilemma, after after the story of Baron Munchausen who claimed to have pulled himself and his horse out of the mire by pulling his own hair, in the ultimate example of bootstrapping. (Incidentally, bootstrapping is a favorite tool of physicists, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, is one of my favorite films).

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: 'What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.' The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, 'What is the tortoise standing on?' 'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. 'But it's turtles all the way down!'
— Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988

I've illustrated this expression with a variety of wonderful turtle species using collaged or chine-collé papers to show their various colours. From the top we have an eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), a black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), a painted batagur (Batagur borneoensis), a Oaxaca mud turtle (Kinosternon oaxacae), a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the hint of something larger.

Those who've known me a long time will know that I've illustrated this concept before, I love turtles, am obsessed with origin myths and am rather found of zaratans. I am now wondering what, if anything, is the difference between a zaratan and an aspidochelone (incidentally, also encounted by none other than the Baron Munchausen, of course)?

The second piece I've submitted for COSMIC is Noh Spacetime. So it's metaphors all the way down.
Ele Willoughby, 'Noh Spacetime', linocut 12" x 12", 2015

Friday, January 1, 2016

Spacetime, Noh & New Year

 Happy New Year! I hope you had a great New Year's Eve to launch a fabulous new year! Personally, it was a bit quiet; I spent my evening looking after my little guy (who is under the weather), keeping an eye on my feisty, elderly diabetic cat (who had some cat medical drama this week, but who, fingers crossed, may actually be able to come off her daily insulin injections) and printmaking in my pyjamas. My husband was working the late shift... though he magically did arrive in time for us to greet midnight together.

2015 was definitely not my favourite year. I'm old enough to know that the challenging times come and go and there will be a time beyond them. My hope for our next year, is that it is less stressful for us all, and any lessons it has to offer are gentler. Health, happiness, love and adventure for everyone.

I suppose I have been thinking a bit about space and time. Inspired by Art.Science.Gallery's upcoming printmaking show about cosmology, and wishing to avoid being to literal (my first instinct is to produce the sort of diagram you might see in a textbook, rather than art), I finally took a crazy idea from my head and put it on paper. It's all about Noh and spacetime.
Ele Willoughby, 'Noh Spacetime', linocut 12" x 12", 2015
I've tried to be succinct, but I realize, to do so, you would have to happen to have several of my interests in common, and read the same books and so forth. So, here goes nothing. If this is gobledegook to you, please feel free to ask questions!

This is a linocut print on 12" x 12" (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm) Japanese paper with collaged or chine-collé gold paper, of Noh masks on a spacetime diagram. The masks shown are a woman (Onna-men, a young girl Ko-omote mask), man (Otoko-men, specifically a warrior Heida mask) and a demon (Onryo, specifically a jealous Hannya mask).

Years ago I stumbled upon a book about Noh in a used bookstore. I collect masks and am interested in Japanese culture, so I bought, 'Noh, The Classical Theatre' by Yasuo Nakamura. I was very surprised to read how the author described the difference between the men and women characters and the supernatural "beings not of this world" in Phantasmal Noh. The humans live in a 3D world and the otherworldly characters like demons live in a 4D world. As a physicist, I know that we all actually live in a three spatial dimensions with a 4th dimension of time; this would mean that the supernatural Noh characters have access to a 5th dimension - 4 spatial dimensions and time. What surprised me even more, was the explanation of this 4th spatial dimension of spirits which is "not for the purpose of setting up positions in time and space as we know them". Nakamura explains by way of analogy, and his analogy is almost identical to that used by Edwin Abbott in his 1884 satirical novella 'Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions'. This strange little geometrical parable of a book gained fame after Einstein had published his theories of Special and then General Relativity. In hindsight, Abbott's book, which tells the story of how flat shapes one day encounter a sphere, seems like it is foretelling how we in our 3D world are in fact embedded in a 4D reality, and teaching us to think about higher dimensions outside our experience. Both 'Flatland' and 'Noh, The Classical Theatre' explain higher dimensions by imagining first linear creatures trapped on a line and how 2D creatures on a plane could in fact be free to move around them, and then proceeding to describe planar creatures encountering a 3D creature and how its freedom of movement would seem supernatural.

So, I've shown the Noh masks on a spacetime diagram. Special relativity tells us that we can't separate space and time and our world is actually part of a 4 dimensional spacetime continuum. It also tells us that while speed is relative to your frame of reference, the speed of light called c (about 3.00×108 m/s, or 299 792 458 m/s) is the universal speed limit. Nothing can go faster. So to envision this 4D world, we use spacetime diagrams. There's no easy way to draw 4 dimensions on a flat 2D surface, so we use the trick of showing time as the vertical axis, and only showing 2 of the 3 spatial axes on the horizontal plane. Where the axes meet is here and now! Everything below the plane is the past. Everything above the horizontal plane is the future. Everything we know is limited to a volume of spacetime known as a "light cone". This is the cone on the diagram. The slope of the cone gives speed (specifically it's the inverse of the slope, or the distance in space divided by the time); wishing to avoid extra math, we simply scale our units of time such that c = 1. So, the cone makes a 45 degree angle with the vertical and horizontal axes. I've shown the light cone as if it is filled with stars, because remember, it represents everything as we know it, the observable universe. Everything which can possibly have affected us in the past, now, and everything we can possibly affect in the future. Any object or thing or person or planet or what have you has a lifeline - the line it traces through space and time within the lightcone. The slope of the lifelines can never be flater than the lightcone, or the speed can never be greater than c, the speed of light. For the Noh masks, the dotted lines are their lifeline. The man and woman are together and here and now. The woman was a young girl in the past. The man will be a warrior. All the white space outside the light cone is what physicists call "Elsewhere". Elsewhere is unreachable; you would have to be able to go at superluminary speeds - faster than the speed or light - or have access to higher dimensions. So the demon does precisely that; her lifeline goes much too fast and in and out of elsewhere!

Incidentally, according to some flavours of modern cosmology or string theory there may in fact be more than 4 dimensions. So perhaps our Phantasmal Noh characters have access to these dimensions, or maybe they are tachyons - postulated particles with imaginary mass which can go faster than the speed of light. Certainly, this classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century, comes complete with characters not limited by causality.