Musée d’Orsay’s Van Gogh Exhibition Breaks Historic Attendance Record

The Musée d’Orsay set a record attendance of 793,556 visitors to its exhibition ‘Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise’.

ARTnews has a story about how the Musée d’Orsay’s Van Gogh Exhibition Breaks Historic Attendance Record. The exhibit included a virtual reality component (Virtual Reality – Van Gogh’s Palette) where visitors could put on a headset and interact with the palette of Vincent van Gogh. You can see a 360 degree video of the experience here in French. It takes place in the room of Dr. Gachet who treated van Gogh. It starts with the piano at which his daughter Marguerite posed for a painting. Her character also narrates. Then you zoom in on a 3D rendered version of his palette where you hear about some of the paintings he did in the last 70 days of his life. They emerge from the palette.

It isn’t clear if the success of the show is due to the VR component or just the chance to see originals. We can only experience the 360 video which has limited interactivity. That said, I don’t find the video of the VR experience convincing. It is a creative documentary and it is hard to see how being immersed would make much of a difference. Was it just a gimmick to get more people to come to the show?

Group hopes to resurrect 128-year-old Cyclorama of Jerusalem, near Quebec City

MONTREAL — The last cyclorama in Canada has been hidden from public view since it closed in 2018, but a small group of people are hoping to revive the unique…

Good News! A Group hopes to resurrect 128-year-old Cyclorama of Jerusalem, near Quebec City. The Cyclorama of Jerusalem is the last/only cyclorama still standing in Canada. I visited and blogged about it back in 2004 when I was able to visit it. Then it closed and now they are trying to restore it and sell it.

Cycloramas are the virtual reality of the 19th century. Long paintings, sometimes with props, were mounted in the round in special buildings that allowed people to feel immersed in a painted space. These remind us of the variety of types of media that have surpassed – the forgotten types of media.

The Alt-Right Manipulated My Comic. Then A.I. Claimed It. 

AI generated comic in style of Sarah Andersen

My drawings are a reflection of my soul. What happens when artificial intelligence — and anyone with access to it — can replicate them?

Webcomic artist Sarah Andersen has written a timely Opinion for the New York Times on how  The Alt-Right Manipulated My Comic. Then A.I. Claimed It. She talks about being harassed by the Alt-Right who created a shadow version of her work full of violent, racist and nazi motifs. Now she could be haunted by an AI-generated shadow like the image above. Her essay nicely captures the feeling of helplessness that many artists who survive on their work must be feeling before the “research” trick of LAION, the nonprofit arm of Stability AI that scraped copyrighted material under the cover of academic research and then made available for commercialization as Stable Diffusion.

Andersen links to a useful article on AI Data Laundering which is a good term for what researchers seem to be doing intentionally or not. What is the solution? Datasets gathered with consent? Alas too many of us, including myself, have released images on Flickr and other sites. So, as the article author Andy Baio puts it, “Asking for permission slows technological progress, but it’s hard to take back something you’ve unconditionally released into the world.”

While artists like Andersen may have no legal recourse that doesn’t make it ethical. Perhaps the academics that are doing the laundering should be called out. Perhaps we should consider boycotting such tools and hiring live artists when we have graphic design work.

Issues around AI text to art generators

A new art-generating AI system called Stable Diffusion can create convincing deepfakes, including of celebrities.

TechCrunch has a nice discussion of Deepfakes for all: Uncensored AI art model prompts ethics questions. The relatively sudden availability of AI text to art generators has provoked discussion on the ethics of creation and of large machine learning models. Here are some interesting links:

It is worth identifying some of the potential issues:

  • These art generating AIs may have violated copyright in scraping millions of images. Could artists whose work has been exploited sue for compensation?
  • The AIs are black boxes that are hard to query. You can’t tell if copyrighted images were used.
  • These AIs could change the economics of illustration. People who used to commission and pay for custom art for things like magazines, book covers, and posters, could start just using these AIs to save money. Just as Flickr changed the economics of photography, MidJourney could put commercial illustrators out of work.
  • We could see a lot more “original” art in situations where before people could not afford it. Perhaps poster stores could offer to generate a custom image for you and print it. Get your portrait done as a cyberpunk astronaut.
  • The AIs could reinforce visual bias in our visual literacy. Systems that always see Philosophers as old white guys with beards could limit our imagination of what could be.
  • These could be used to create pornographic deepfakes with people’s faces on them or other toxic imagery.

Zampolli Prize Awarded to Voyant Tools

Spyral Notebook Detail (showing code cell and stacked graphs)

Yesterday I gave the triennial Zampolli Prize lecture that honoured Voyant. The lecture is given at the annual ADHO Digital Humanities conference which this year is being hosted by the University of Tokyo. The award notice is here Zampolli Prize Awarded to Voyant Tools. Some of the things I touched on in the talk included:

  • The genius of of Stéfan Sinclair who passed in August 2020. Voyant was his vision from the time of his dissertation for which he develop HyperPo.
  • The global team of people involved in Voyant including many graduate research assistants at the U of Alberta. See the About page of Voyant.
  • How Voyant built on ideas Stéfan and I developed in Hermeneutica about collaborative research as opposed to the inherited solitary paradigm.
  • How we have now developed an extension to Voyant called Spyral. Spyral is a notebook programming environment built on JavaScript. It allows you to document your Voyant explorations, save parameters for corpora and tools, preprocess texts, postprocess results, and create new visualizations. It is, in short, a full data analysis and visualization environment built into Voyant so you can easily call up and explore results in Voyant’s already rich tool set.
  • In the image above you can see a Spyral code cell that outputs two stacked graphs where the same pattern of words is graphed over two different, but synchronized, corpora. You can thus compare the use of the pattern over time between the two datasets.
  • Replication as a practice for recovering an understanding of innovative technologies now taken for granted like tokenization or the KWIC. I talked about how Stéfan and I have been replicating important text processing technologies as a way of understanding the history of computing and the digital humanities. Spyral was the environment we developed for documenting our replications.
  • I then backed up and talked about the epistemological questions about knowledge and knowledge things in the digital age that grew out of and then inspired our experiments in replication. These go back to attempts to think-through tools as knowledge things that bear knowledge in ways that discourse doesn’t. In this context I talked about the DIKW pyramid (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) that captures current views about the relationships between data and knowledge.
  • Finally I called for help to maintain and extend Voyant/Spyral. I announced the creation of a consortium to bring us together to sustain Voyant.

It was an honour to be able to give the Zampolli lecture on behalf of all the people who have made Voyant such a useful tool.

Replication, Repetition, or Revivification

A short essay I wrote with Stéfan Sinclair on “Recapitulation, Replication, Reanalysis, Repetition, or Revivification” is now up in preprint form. The essay is part of a longer work on “Anatomy of tools: A closer look at ‘textual DH’ methodologies.” The longer work is a set of interventions looking at text tools. These came out of a ADHO SIG-DLS (Digital Literary Studies) workshop that took place in Utrecht in July 2019.

Our intervention at the workshop had the original title “Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation” and concentrated on practices of exploring old tools – a sort of revivification or bringing back to life of zombie tools.

The full paper should be published soon by DHQ.

ImageGraph: a visual programming language for the Visual Digital Humanities

Leonardo Impett has a nice demonstration here of  ImageGraph: a visual programming language for the Visual Digital Humanities. ImageGraph is a visual programming environment that works with Google Colab. When you have your visual program you can compile it into Python in a Colab notebook and then run that notebook. The visual program is stored in your Github account and the Python code can, of course, be used in larger projects.

The visual programming language has a number of functions for handling images and using artificial intelligence techniques on them. It also has text functions, but they are apparently not fully worked out.

I love the way Impett combines off the shelf systems while adding a nice visual development environment. Very clean.