Mechanical Bride

Hot Docs is just around the corner and this year Subtle Technologies is excited to be co-presenting  one of the films in the festival.  Allison de Fren’s  Mechanical Bride ( an homage to Marshall Mcluhan’s book )  explores the cultural desire to design the perfect artificial woman. The film travels from the classic early science fiction images of the fembot to the present day reality of the love doll industry which is embracing the latest technologies in terms of robotics and material science . The film takes an intimate  look at both the customers and makers in this industry.

The documentary evolved out of the research Allison De Fren did for her dissertation. “The Exquisite Corps : Disarticulations of the Artificial Female” explored representations of artificial female bodies, from the Renaissance to the present. De Fren’s fascination with men who build artificial women was sparked when she worked as an interactive digital designer with mostly male roboticists at a Silicon Valley “think tank”

The film plays :
Sun, Apr 29 11:30 PM at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Mon, Apr 30 9:00 PM at the Cumberland 3 Cinema
Sun, May 6 9:00 PM at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Tickets for Mechanical Bride are available on the Hot Doc website here.

Norman White, A Canadian Legend of Electronic Art

Splish Splash 2

I’m  looking forward to the upcoming screenings of “Them F*ck!ng Robots”, a documentary film about the career of Norman White.  Norman has influenced many artists, including myself, through the courses he taught at OCAD University (formerly OCAD and before that OCA) and now at Ryerson.   In the early 1990’s I decided to take a leap of faith. I had been working as an engineer in Ottawa and started a company designing satellite communication devices. In the evening I took dance classes. I came to the realization that I wanted to find a way to combine these two sides of my life, art and engineering. After looking around at various options I settled on coming to Toronto and enrolling at OCA . Norman was co-teaching an advanced course on servo control mechanisms at the time.  It was then that I developed an immediate admiration for the work and generosity of Norman White. He played a leading role in re-arranging my brain cells and inspiring me to use my electronics skills as an artist.  Norm always has insightful words to say about every students work and is willing to share his vast knowledge of programming, mechanics and electronics. His sense of humor is as sharp as his sense of aesthetics. The title of the documentary,  “Them F*ck!n Robots” refers to a piece he did with artist Laura Kikauka. This along with other pieces like “The Helpless Robot”  allow us to look at our own behavior through the machines he programs.

Norman Helping "The Helpless Robot"

Having done a BA in biology before he went to art school, Norm and I share a desire to combine disciplines and knowledge systems. Norm presented at one of our first Subtle Technologies festivals.  We are  very lucky to have the filmmakers  of  “Them F*ck!n Robots” join us for the screenings. Ine Poppe and Sam Nemeth are both based in Amsterdam.   A Q and A with the filmmakers and White will be moderated by emerging curator Farah Yusuf. The film is being shown at Ryerson on Saturday March 24th at 8 pm and in Hamilton at Factory Media Arts on Monday March 26th at 7 pm. Thanks to the generous support of the Mondriaan Foundation for allowing the screening of this film across Canada.

Tickets for Toronto Screening

Tickets for Hamilton Screening

Technoscience Salon :: MILIEU

‘TechnoScience Salon’ featuring Hannah Landecker (UCLA), a leading scholar of the histories of legacies of cell science and technologies, and artists Jack Butler, Heidi McKenzie, Nadine Valcin, and Jennifer Willet.

VENUE: Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Ave, Room 120

DATE: Monday, March 19, 4pm – 6pm

SPONSORS: Technoscience Salon, USA Mission in Canada (Community Partnership Grant), Subtle Technologies

CURATOR: Zulfikar Hirji


Hannah Landecker

is an author and Associate Professor of Sociology at UCLA. Her research interests are the social and historical study of biotechnology and life science, from 1900 to the present, the intersections of biology and technology, with a particular focus on cells, and the in vitro conditions of life in research settings. Hannah Landecker was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rice University through 2007. She was a visiting scholar at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas’s Institute for Medical Humanities in 2004, where she worked on a project that examined the changing human relationship to living matter in an age of biotechnology. Through a history of the technical manipulation of living cells, she looked at how biological things, including those made with human tissues, have been turned into tools and commercial objects. She is also worked on developing new methods and curricula for teaching the history and social study of biotechnology to undergraduates. Dr. Landecker has degrees from the Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT (PhD), and the University of British Columbia (BSc).

Jack Butler

JACK BUTLER currently lives and works in Hamilton, Ontario. His hybrid practice uses the means and methods of visual art to produce research in two domains – medical science and collaborations with Inuit artists (the current project, Art & Cold Cash). With degrees in visual art and philosophy, Butler exhibits internationally with work in public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada.

“I draw. Observing my art career over the last forty-five years of drawing, I have come to recognize that I am developing a core trajectory that focuses on sex and sexuality; the aesthetic, sensuous and even scientific experience of being sexual. My work ranges from my current interest in Somatechnics (theories and practices of alternative sex-gender embodiment) to early and on-going trans-disciplinary art/bio-medical research projects in genital embryogenesis (sexual differentiation in the human embryo) which art-based research is bringing me into collaborative work in trans-gender and intersex communities.”

Anima by Heidi McKenzie

HEIDI MCKENZIE is a Toronto-based ceramic artist completing her final year in Ceramics at Sheridan School of Craft and Design. Heidi has been a manager and creative producer with over twenty years’ experience in the not-for-profit arts sector. She has worked in the music industry, architecture, broadcasting, museum development, festival management, and radio and film production. In 2009, Heidi was the first in six generations to return to her father’s ancestral home of India, where she embarked on a three-month ceramic residency at the foothills of the Himalayas. In the spring of 2010, Heidi left behind her work in the cultural sector and committed to her new life path as an artist. Heidi is a the recipient of the 2011 Emerging Artist Award for the Toronto Artist Project juried art show and sale as well as the 2011 Metchosin International Summer School Bursary.

“My studio practice engages the relationship and responsibility of community in healing. This is explored through conceptual and material examination of ways in which clay, in its ceramic form, conveys “static motion.” Clay is inherently of the human body – the sediment of millennia. The medium reinforces the physicality of the implicit corporeal themes of ailment and recovery.”

Still from Nadine Valcin's 'Fire and Fury' (Credit: Fabrice Strippoli)

Born in Montreal and now based in Toronto, NADINE VALCIN fell in love with cinema after earning a degree in architecture. For the past decade, she has written, directed and produced television programs and magazines. Intrigued by cultural-identity and mixed-race issues, she took on her first film as an independent producer in 1996. Modulations, an experimental project, was followed by the documentary Black, Bold and Beautiful (1999) which picked up an honourable mention at the prestigious ‘Columbus International Film and Video Festival’ before it was adopted into university programs in Women’s Studies and African-American Studies. In A School Without Borders (2005) delves into Nadine Valcin’s questions about the education system and the process of integrating cultural minorities. More recently, she directed the short fiction film Fire that recounts the story of a slave accused of burning down half of Montreal in the 18th century. She is presently in the process of writing her first feature film dealing with a former child soldier seeking refugee status in Canada.

Jennifer Willet

DR JENNIFER WILLET is an internationally successful artist in the emerging field of bioart. From 2000-2007 Willet and Shawn Bailey collaborated on a project called BIOTEKNICA. She taught in the Studio Arts Department at Concordia University from 2000-2007, and completed her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program at the same institution. She now works as an Assistant Professor in the School of Visual Arts at The University of Windsor in Canada. In 2009 she opened a bioart research and teaching lab called INCUBATOR: Hybrid Laboratory at the Intersection of Art, Science, and Ecology at the University of Windsor.

Exhibitions include: the Arnolfini Museum, Bristol UK (2010), Exit Art Gallery, New York, NY (2009), Ars Electronica festival, Linz (2008), FOFA Gallery, Montreal (2007), ISEA San Jose, USA (2006), Biennial Electronic Arts Perth, Australia (2004), The European Media Arts Festival Osnabrück, Germany (2003), La Société des arts et technologiques (SAT) Montreal, Canada (2005), and The Forest City Gallery London, Canada (2004), amongst others.


Our 3rd Expedition Series Workshop


Saturday March 24 & Sunday March 25, 10am – 5pm
$180 / $120 for students and unwaged (light lunch included)
Only 12 spaces available!
Register here

As part of our Expedition Series of workshops, Subtle Technologies is excited to be presenting this workshop with award winning physicist Stephen Morris at the University of Toronto.

This workshop explores the fascinating world of Nonlinear Physics as it relates to Pattern Formation. Stephen Morris’s research lab investigates examples of emergent, self-organized structures that occur in Nature. The workshop will look at the driving forces behind such patterns as ripples on blown sand, crack patterns in dried mud, spirals in oscillatory chemical reactions and ripples in icicles. The workshop will also introduce participants to the equipment and techniques used in the lab.

Robert Deegan from the University of Michigan will be a special guest in the workshop and will discuss his research into pattern formation  from exploding seed pods to the bizarre nonlinear physics of vibrating cornstarch.

Participants taking this workshop will have a new appreciation for the patterns of nature and the mechanisms which drive these formations. This workshop will be of special interest to artists, designers and architects; however it is accessible to all those who are curious about the art of natural phenomena. Join us for this very engaging and thought provoking weekend.

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.- Henri Poincaré


ArtScienceCamp2: marshmallows, swords, cognitive science, architecture, open data….

The second ArtScienceCamp happened over the weekend. The whole event felt full of energy and a serious attitude towards having fun. The first set of photos uploaded so far (taken by our wonderful volunteer photographers Gail Edwin-Fielding and Quirien Wijnberg; more photos to be uploaded soon) should give you a sense of how it was.

More than 100 people were there on the opening on Friday night to share their ideas for sessions while talking over a glass of wine.

Once we had all the ideas together, we collaborated on figuring out how to put them together to make Saturday’s schedule of events.

On Saturday, the fun began at 10am with a short taste of what it means to teach someone how to sword fight – among 6 different parallel sessions. The day was full of conversation on topics from cognitive science to architecture to open data, interspersed with activities like building marshmallow structures and horsing around in the photobooth.

It was fun to see a lot of U of T students joining in. Typical end-of-day comments expressed a pleasant state of exhaustion from the quantity of new ideas and intensity of the conversations.

Thanks again to our sponsors, our coorganizers and volunteers, and especially to Zoe Dille and the staff at Hart House for making this whole fantastic day possible.

We’re looking forward to next year already!

ArtScienceCamp is coming up soon

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the ArtScience Party last week!  ArtScienceCamp is just around the corner on February 3-4 at Hart House. We’re sold out, but if you’re still hoping to come you can always sign up for the waiting list.

OR….. you can join our fantastic supporters and help make this unconference happen: Paul BlooreHotel OchoScott Berkun, TinEye, Janet Mador, Daniel Cooper, Jamie McQuay, Michele Perras and Corey Reid.

If you believe in connecting technology, art and sciences and giving others in our city the opportunity to interact with these fields, then we would love to hear from you and would love to have you as a sponsor. This is an incredible opportunity to get involved with some of our brightest citizens!

Do you remember the last awesome conference you attended? I thought so! We want to make ArtScienceCamp unforgettable so we would love it if you brought a brain teaser, an installation, musical shoes, or anything that you thought others would enjoy seeing and engaging with. Some participants are bringing their musical shoes, an electro shock therapy unit, an air drone….

Can you bring along something cool to share, something fun to play with?

And you know what makes an event awesome? Photography! Even better: a photobooth! So if you know anyone who would be interested in photographing the Art Science Camp, have them get in touch.

We are looking forward to seeing you next week.

And guess what? We are also going to build one of the highest marshmallow-spaghetti structure we can possibly build so you best come prepared!

Introducing Laura!

My name is Laura and I will be working with Subtle Technologies over the next few months as an intern. Subtle Technologies is intriguing to me because of my colliding interests in the arts, sciences, and new innovations. I have always been drawn to many areas of study, wanting to always be engaged in and experience everything.

Subtle Technologies is an ideal match because of their promotion of cross-disciplinary interactions. Subtle Technologies understands that the human tendency to categorize, while helping people to organize the world, can often result in people regarding diverse aspects of life as being separate issues, when they are really all interconnected and can be influential on the others.

It’s curiosity that bridges the gaps between art and science (part 2)

This is the second part of an interview with Subtle Technologies’ Founder, Jim Ruxton.

Megan:  What lessons have you learned in previous years that you apply today?

Jim: I think one of the most important lessons is to delegate as much as possible. I sometimes still find this difficult but it’s an important lesson. I’ve pretty well done everything at Subtle Technologies from acting as MC to being videographer to fixing artists electronics at the last minute. The whole Subtle Technologies team is amazing at pitching in whenever needed which is awesome and so important to running a smooth event.

Megan: With so many people and so many events happening, sometimes festivals of this nature throw curve-balls at the organizers. What’s the most surprising thing to have happen at a previous Subtle Technologies Festival?

Jim: I remember one year one of our presenters couldn’t make it at the last minute. It just so happened that the boyfriend of one of the presenters who was there was Rafael Lazano Hemmer. He is one of Canada’s foremost media artists. He pitched in and did a spontaneous presentation that was amazing. These are the kind of surprises I don’t mind happening.

Megan: What are you really excited about for this Subtle Technologies festival?

Jim: That’s a difficult question. I am excited about so many things including the exhibition, performance and screening. While all the presentations at our symposium will be interesting I’m intrigued by a couple that I’m really looking forward to hearing more about. I’m curious about the presentation by the Italian musician and nanotechnology researcher Riccardo Castagna entitled “Biomatic Virus – Viral Sound”. He has such a diverse range of interests and the idea of creating a musical virus containing biological information is intriguing to me. I’m also looking forward to hearing more about Timothy Senior’s project “Toward the Memory Tower” . Timothy is a neuroscience researcher who has created a fully immersive virtual reality environment that explores memory traces during sleep. I’m really interested in hearing from scientists looking for novel ways to explore and describe their science. I’m definitely a kid in a candy factory at Subtle Technologies.

It’s curiosity that bridges the gaps between art and science (part 1)

Subtle Technologies’ Founder, artist and former engineer Jim Ruxton shares what artists and scientists have in common, how last-minute calamities can yield the best surprises, and what we have to look forward to at the festival this year. Interview by Megan DePutter.

Megan: The scope of the festival –  “blurring the boundaries between art and science” – sounds incredibly wide. How do you determine which presenters to have at a festival?

Jim: It’s true, it is a broad scope. In past years we have focused on specific themes. This year we are opening the doors to art and science in general. Our first few years also were programmed across the entire art science spectrum, so we are returning to our roots this year. As in past years, we put out a call for submissions. Based on the numerous submissions, myself and our jury choose those presentations that will give an interesting perspective of some of the latest ideas and trends in art and science. From our chosen submissions themes begin to emerge.

We also have a poster session so those presentations that don’t quit fit into our presentation program may fit into our poster session. Our goal is to try and include a wide range of topics to generate conversations across disciplines. We also have curators who independently put together various programs such as exhibitions, performances and screenings with my input.

Megan: The arts and sciences cultures are often alienated from each other, and each contains many subgroups within themselves. How do you attend to these differences; in other words, how do you bridge these very distant worlds?

Jim: I think Subtle Technologies bridges these distant worlds by celebrating what artists and scientists have in common. Both artists and scientists share the joy of discovery, wonder and exploration. They are both involved in the process of trying to describe nature and the world around them. Also I think scientists are often surprised at Subtle Technologies by the keen interest artists and the general public have in their work. Often it is this curiosity that helps to bridge gaps. Many of the artists that present at our festival are very technically savvy. Scientists are interested to see the level of engagement artists have with some of the tools and techniques often used by scientists.

Megan: What is the most challenging thing about pulling together a festival of this type? Were there skills you had to pick up that were foreign to you as an engineer / artist?

Jim: I think there are many challenges. Some of which are being overcome as we bring more team members on board. Financing the festival has been a challenge. Our festival sits between art and science so it is often difficult to find funders that understand that. Typically an organization is either art or science based. This makes communicating about Subtle Technologies difficult as well. It would be so much easier if we were just a dance or film festival. Over the years I have certainly picked up skills at writing grants. Now that we have our Managing Director, Jen Dodd, on board many of the things I previously had to do have been taken off my plate so I can focus on programming. Another major challenge I have faced in the past is convincing scientists that they should come and present their work at Subtle Technologies. That has been a tough sell as scientists typically talkeabout their work at specific scientific conferences. I’ve gotten better at this over the years.

Magnets as Medium for Art

All of us can say that magnets have gripped our imagination at some point in our life. I  still get a kick out of taking two magnets and bringing them together with like poles facing each other, either North to North or South to South. Sure it’s great to feel two magnets attract each other but personally I enjoy the invisible force that repels two magnets as you bring them together. In recent years, experimenting with magnets has become even more dramatic with the easy availability of rare earth magnets. I buy my Neodymium Iron Boron magnets from Digikey. You can get some nice ones for as little as $0.32 each.  Earlier this year rare earth materials were in the news when China placed an export limit on the materials used to make rare earth magnets. There is no question that magnetics play an important role in almost every area of science and technology.  Artists have also embraced the use of magnets in their work.

Magnetic Wall 3 by Jenny Lear

This year we are very excited to have California based artist, Jenny Lear join us at Subtle Technologies. Jenny is a textile artist who has been integrating magnetics with fabric to create “Ferrofabric”. Her magnetic materials have been integrated into jewelery,  furniture, surface design and accessories. Jenny will talk about this work that ranges from ferrous velvet to magnetic tiles and the Scumbag, a handbag designed with layers of magnetic gunk. She will also talk about her work on hacking into magnetic stripes on credit cards and demonstrate a DIY technique of exposing the magnetic code. I’m really looking forward to seeing Jenny’s work and learning more about the potential of magnets in art making.