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Before his show at Gammage, Sanford Biggers schools some ASU art students.
Sanford Biggers: An artist who understands how to embrace the unexpected.
November 19, 2015

While visiting ASU, Sanford Biggers explains how to embrace unplanned creativity — and unintended reaction

Interdisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers is a hard guy to pin down for an answer.

It’s not because the New York artist, pictured above right, is evasive or shy; he just wants his work to have multiple meanings and outcomes.

Take, for example, the teaser he provided for “Moon Medicine,” his upcoming show at ASU Gammage:

“We’re an all-black boy band but it’s not all black men and the entire band might not necessarily show up,” Biggers said with a straight face and a slight glint in his eye. “There’s a lot of room for improvisation. I don’t even know what it will be like.”

Others have described "Moon Medicine" as a music and optical experiment that weaves funk, film noir, punk, sci-fi, traditional Samoan dance and Buddhism with original video content and improvised “turntableism Turntableism is using a record turntable as an instrument.” and “VeejayingA Veejay is a video tracker and editing tool that can also be a real-time video sequencer or effects generator..”

That’s a mouthful, but Biggers wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I started to construct my creative language, I used to think that art was about delivering a specific message to a viewer. But one critique early in my career changed the way I viewed my work,” said Biggers, who is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Visual Arts program and is in Tempe as part of a 10-day residency sponsored by ASU Gammage and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“There were people from Haiti, China, Mississippi and they all saw my work differently. I recall using some boat imagery and one person saw it as slavery while another person saw it as freedom. I then realized that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing if you unveil your art and ascribe different meanings from personal experiences.”

Biggers’ work and installations have been celebrated through exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including the Tate Modern in London; the Whitney Museum in Harlem, New York; the Yerba Blue Center for the Arts in San Francisco; and institutions in China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Poland and Russia.

Woman vamping on stage.

ASU intermedia graduate student
Veronica Aponte stands center stage
during her class performance and
likens toys to audience members.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

He said he intentionally complicates issues such as politics, religion, identity, race and art history to offer new perspectives to established symbols. This past Monday Biggers offered his perspective — as well as a critique — to an intermedia class taught by Angela Ellsworth in ASU's School of ArtThe School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts..

The class presented a 10-minute interactive piece called, “Omni Optic,” which touched on themes of surveillance, technology and privacy. Part of the presentation included setting up Biggers by recording a brief presentation he gave of his work, and playing it back minutes later on a large screen.

Biggers acted neither surprised nor outraged by the intrusion, but embraced the concept. In fact, he liked it so much that he invited the class to participate in his Saturday performance.

“What you just saw right now shows there’s room for improvisation in any performance, even on the fly,” Biggers said. “My boy band just got bigger.”

“Moon Medicine” starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Tickets are $20, $15 for ASU faculty and staff and $10 for students and members of the military.

For more information visit ASU Gammage.

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ASU student-run laptop orchestra combines computer programming, performance art.
November 4, 2015

Laptop computers have become such an essential part of our lives that it’s almost become odd to consider doing things like paying bills or buying a book without one.

But conducting an orchestra?

That’s the premise behind LORKAS, a student-run experimental “laptop orchestra” at Arizona State University that’s bridging the gap between the worlds of computer programming and performance art.

“We come from a wide swath of people. While I wouldn’t use the word ‘misfit-y,’ I definitely can say we’re a weird bunch,” said Althea Pergakis, a digital culture major in the School of Arts, Media and EngineeringThe School of Arts, Media and Engineering is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering., who is also the co-director of LORKAS.

The ensemble, which is comprised of 10 core members, includes instrumentalists, programmers, composers, audio engineers, designers, singers and fabrication specialists. As a whole, it’s encouraging creative expression with technology and the arts.

“Half the people are into digital media while the other half are coming from the School of MusicThe School of Music is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.. We are all looking for something new, weird and different,” Pergakis said. “Essentially, LORKAS is a sandbox that allows us to go to a special place and explore.”

People sitting under lights with computers

LORKAS, ASU's student-run laptop orchestra,
performs by coding music both before and during performances.

Photo by Garrett Mitchell
(Top photo by Matthew Briggs)

The group will participate in the annual School of Music Prisms Contemporary Music Festival, which runs Nov. 4-7 on ASU’s Tempe campus. This year the festival will honor renowned French composer Pierre Boulez, celebrating his 90th birthday.

As part of the festival, LORKAS is hosting a Nov. 4 workshop featuring Diemo Schwarz, an artist and executive with Paris-based Ircam, considered one of the more cutting-edge, non-profit research centers in the field of music technology and the media arts. 

Founded in 2010, LORKAS was inspired by other laptop orchestras that began popping up after Stanford University debuted the concept a decade ago. The orchestra uses specialty-software equipped laptops to create original compositions in an improvisational manner, enhanced by gestural controls, eyesight cameras and wireless DMX lighting to create a one-of-a-kind sonic and aesthetic experience.

“We are generating live sounds and a lot of the music is improvisational,” Pergakis said. “We really do try to add a little zing to our set by immersing people in the sound.”

Each “instrument” consists of a laptop, an individual speaker, and a variety of control devices such as keyboards, graphic tablets and sensors which are run by ChucK, a music programming language that allows participants to code both in preparation for and during an actual performance.

“I find the interactivity between human beings and technology to be fascinating,” said co-director Justin Leo Kennedy, who is working on his Doctor of Musical Arts in composition in the School of Music. “There’s a stigma that the millennials have ruined a generation of music because of technology. And if I hear that one more time, I’ll probably throw up.”

LORKAS is also adding a little zing to its professional resume. December will see the release of their first album, “Nodes,” which includes 60 minutes of original compositions.

“People should come to LORKAS and see that both technology and music are what we decide to make of it,” Kennedy said.

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Peer into the rabbit hole with these many visions of "Wonderland."
ASU home to the many interpretations of Alice and her "Wonderland."
November 3, 2015

Special collections, symposium at ASU celebrate 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story

“And what is the use of a book,” asked Lewis Carroll’s Alice, moments before tumbling down the rabbit hole, “without pictures or conversations?”
— from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

Since its publication in 1865, more than 300 artists have created their own versions of the images and words in Alice’s eponymous adventure.

Many of those interpretations — including visions by painter Salvador Dali, printmaker Barry Moser, costume designer Irene Corey, Broadway composer Charles Strouse, pop-up book maker Robert Sabuda and the story’s original illustrator, John Tenniel — comprise Arizona State University Libraries’ assemblage of dozens of eclectic materials related to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass.”

The collection will be on display at the 10th annual Emeritus College Symposium on Nov. 7 in ASU’s Old Main building, which will celebrate the sesquicentennial of “Alice in Wonderland” by featuring a range of experts presenting on the breadth of Carroll’s influence. The event is open to the public.

Speakers include faculty associate Lou-ellen Finter’s photography of the American Southwest “through the Looking Glass”; astronomy and physics professor emeritus Per Aannestad on the connection between black holes and the Cheshire Cat’s grin; ASU Foundation CEO Rick Shangraw on “The Wonderland of ASU”; professor of supply chain management Craig Kirkwood on the digitization of the Alice books; and English professors emeriti Alleen Nilsen and Don Nilsen, who are compiling lists of the ways “Alice in Wonderland” was a zeitgeist in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to persist in popular culture.

Womand and man looking at book of art.

Hayden Library's Katherine Krzys and ASU professor Dan Bivona
look at Salvador Dali's vision of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland" and its sequel "Through the Looking-Glass."

Charlie Leight/ASU News

“These books are so rich they offer so many opportunities for generating a wide variety of meanings,” said associate professor of EnglishThe Department of English at ASU is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dan Bivona, who taught Carroll’s books in his classes and is researching Alice’s relationship to Wonderland’s creatures in connection with the Turing test, which determines a machine’s ability to exhibit human behavior.

The mutability of the Alice stories is in part because of Carroll’s sparse text, which allows for creative interpretation. “If you don’t know what a Gryphon is, look at the picture,” he wrote in chapter nine, relying on the book’s illustrations to fill gaps in its text.

Each redesign has an effect on how the work is received, said art professor emeritus John RisseeuwJohn Risseeuw is printmaking faculty emeritus in the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts..

Risseeuw spent 35 years teaching ASU students printmaking and the history of the book. He showed his classes the library’s different editions of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to demonstrate varying approaches to illustrating the text or creating images to complement it.

An example he used was Carroll’s “Mouse’s Tale,” one of the first instances of concrete poetry, in which the visual nature of the text represents the concept that is written within — in this case, a long tale told by a mouse and printed in a winding, tail-like pattern. “The interesting thing is that in every edition of ‘Alice’ this has to be done by the typesetter, and it’s always done differently,” Risseeuw said.


books with odd text patterns

Two versions of "Alice in Wonderland’s" long tale include a 1907 edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham and Barry Moser’s 1982 interpretation.


Nearly every edition of Alice in Wonderland — including many theatrical scripts — contains the tail tale.

Another commonality in many of the publications is their pictures’ resemblance to Tenniel’s originals.

“Tenniel is so good,” said Don Nilsen. “He did it so well. He captured the tone, and it was a very effective tone.”

Tenniel, the principal artist at the British weekly satire magazine Punch, spent more than a year perfecting his drawings for the book. His subtle inclusion of political allusions is often cited as a reason for Alice’s instant and enduring popularity among adult readers. 

“What Tenniel did, in one way, is to make it so that people can never think about, say, the Mad Hatter, without imagining this guy without that big top hat,” Risseeuw said. “Whereas if you read the text without seeing that, your imagination makes up an image for the Mad Hatter. … So an illustrator actually takes something away from the reader — prevents their imagination from taking the story where they would imagine it and expand upon it, perhaps.”

Katherine Krzys, curator of the Child Drama Collection and archivist at ASU, recurrently found copies of Tenniel’s illustrations alongside directors’ designs for dramaturgical productions. “I was surprised at how much carryover there was between the different versions,” she said. “There’s a lot of Tenniel, but different interpretations of it.”

According to Risseeuw, part of the challenge for visual artists commissioned to portray Alice in a new way is to “put their own thing into it.” He points to Dali’s suggestive, semi-abstract visuals as a departure from the more traditionally definitive illustrations of Arthur Rackham, Peter Newell, Moser and others.

A Punch illustrationIllustration of wild characters published shortly after Carroll’s death proposes that those attempts fall short. The image, titled “Tenniel’s ‘Alice’ Reigns Supreme,” depicts newer versions of the White Rabbit and Alice paying homage to the original.

Undeterred, new copies are continuously issued, and a handful of 150th anniversary editions are being released this year.

“It’s all comparative,” Risseeuw said. “It isn’t that there’s one that stands out or that is better than the others. They’re all good by comparison to each other. They enrich each other.”


Registration to attend ASU in Wonderland: The Tenth Annual Emeritus College Symposium, is available at The program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, and will be followed with a free Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom. Both events are open to the public.

ASU’s special collections, including its editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, can be viewed in the Luhrs Reading Room during the school year from 9 to 6 p.m. on weekdays and by appointment on Saturdays. The reading room is located on the fourth floor of the Hayden Library, and a staff member is always available to help locate materials. ASU Libraries invites classroom visits and scholarly research. To learn more, contact 480-965-4932. Aspects of the exhibit can also be viewed here.

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This year marks the 30th anniversary of ASU's MFA program in creative writing.
The ASU program's focus on nurturing "artist-citizens" sets it apart.
Students in the ASU Creative Writing MFA Program work one-on-one with faculty.
November 2, 2015

This year marks the 30th anniversary of ASU's distinguished MFA program in creative writing

Some of us are Type A people; we plan our days down to the minute and make decisions based on a practical system of weighing pros and cons.

And some of us are daydreamers.

Alberto Rios falls into the latter category.

“I got busted for daydreaming in elementary school. The egregious second-grader crime,” he said of the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer.

“I retreated to my imagination, and that was the beginning of my writing.”

Alberto Rios speaking at podium

Regents’ Professor and Katherine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English at ASU Alberto RiosAlberto Rios is a Regents’ Professor and the Katherine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English at ASU. speaks at an event celebrating the Creative Writing MFA Program. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.


Fitting, then, that he should one day help found the Creative Writing MFA Program at Arizona State University. The program, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

“It’s a mark of some distinction,” said Rios, who in 2013 was named Arizona’s first poet laureate.

He began teaching at ASU in 1982, shortly after winning the Walt Whitman poetry award and being subsequently recruited to the university by ASU Regents’ Professor Norman Dubie, whose own poetry has appeared in The New Yorker and “The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.”

Around that time, a crop of fresh, hungry English faculty was beginning to materialize on campus.

Current director of the program Cynthia HogueCynthia Hogue is a professor of poetry and the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU. called their serendipitous congregation a “critical mass of talent” that soon attracted a wave of students — Hogue herself had come to ASU to study under Dubie in 1978.

man writing

ASU Regents’ Professor Norman Dubie. This photo (© Rebecca Ross)
is part of the "Write Now: Celebrating 30 Years of Creative Writing at ASU"
exhibit on display at Hayden Library through Nov. 14.

Other members of that faculty group included the poet Rita Dove and the artist and former program manager Karla Elling.

Recognizing the need to meet student demand and eager to foster the growing community of serious writers at ASU, they determined it was time to establish a bona fide MFA program in creative writing.

In the 30 years since, the program has stood witness to a faculty that has received national and international recognition, garnering Guggenheim fellowships, NEA fellowships and several Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. As well, its students have gone on to win multiple prizes, Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships; publish books; and secure university teaching positions.

What sets it apart from other creative writing MFA programs, said Hogue, is “the element of the artist-citizen.”

“To be an artist is to be involved in the world in various ways. And we do that really consistently, and we also model a mentoring relationship,” she said, noting how each student in the program has the opportunity to work one-on-one with members of the faculty on their work.

Jennifer Irish, assistant director of the program, reiterated what she sees as the extraordinary nature of the program.

“I have the experience of having been part of several other programs and I have never been in a program or worked with a program that has such a true dedication to its students — at all levels," she said. “We have an amazingly committed faculty here who care about their students’ growth as artists and as people.

“And again, it goes back to that idea of the artist-citizen, that we are training artists who are going to go out and do good things in the world.”

One example of that intention realized is Poesía del Sol (Poetry of the Sun), an ASU Project Humanities partnership with the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine and the Creative Writing Program, led by Ríos.

Poesía del Sol pairs ASU MFA students with palliative-care patients at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. The students interview the patients and their families, then create poems based on that interview. The poems are printed, framed and presented to the patients and their families as a gift and a celebration of life.

portrait of a woman

Cynthia Hogue, professor of poetry and Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU. Photo © Rebecca Ross


Another example of being involved in the world is ASU’s Prison English Program, which allows students to not only edit the writing of inmates but also to teach in person at prisons in Arizona, helping educate those members of society who might otherwise not have such an opportunity.

Third-year creative writing master’s student Jacqueline Balderrama is one of the students who has done so. Her focus is poetry because, she said, “It belongs to the moment and to the image. It is concise, purposeful, and having an eye for poetry, I think, allows writers to perceive the world with an openness that invites meaning into the ordinary.”

Balderrama also serves as a poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review, a semiannual international literary journal that showcases emerging talents in the literary community.

A small portion of the publication is solicited from established authors, but the majority of contributors are chosen from the thousands of manuscripts received each year. Each issue includes poetry, prose, translations and visual art.

Hayden’s Ferry Review editor-in-chief Chelsea Hickok, who will graduate from the Creative Writing MFA Program in May 2016, relishes the position it has afforded her.

“I’m coming out of this program with three years' teaching experience, two years editing a literary journal, connections in the industry, publications and a confidence in my writing I didn’t have before,” she said.

Balderrama agreed about the importance of creative writing, saying, “Fine arts are critical to our humanity.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley delivered a Marshall Lecture on Oct. 7 at ASU in which she spoke on the importance of art in teaching us empathy and helping us to understand what it is to be human.

Reflecting that is a favorite mantra of Rios’: “Say it, and I will understand it. Say it well, and I will feel it.”

ASU’s Creative Writing MFA Program 30th-anniversary celebration continues next with professor of English Melissa Pritchard’s telling of the story of the Afghan Women's Writing Project and the Ashton Goodman Fund from noon to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the Memorial Union Gold Room on the Tempe campus.

For a full list of anniversary celebration events, visit

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Viewing photography through a prism of change

Photographer Nadia Sablin shares view of her two Russian aunts.
How did Nadia Sablin become a photographer acclaimed by the New Yorker? ASU.
October 30, 2015

ASU alumna Nadia Sablin uses her camera to share small, personal stories

Editor's note: Leading up to Homecoming, we'll be running several stories a week on ASU alumni. Find more alumni stories here.

Nadia SablinPhotographer Nadia Sablin calls her time at Arizona State Univeristy “one of the most productive periods” of her career.

Sablin says the support she received from the faculty and her colleagues in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts allowed her to try new approaches to her craft without worry.

Today, she’s putting her Master of Fine Arts in PhotographyNadia Sablin received her master's from the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. to good use, having recently been featured in The New Yorker for her photo series “Aunties,” which includes the photo above and details the day-to-day activities of her father’s two unmarried sisters at their home in Alekhovshchina, Russia.

Sablin herself was born in Leningrad and moved to the United States as a child. She currently resides in Brooklyn and will be releasing a book based on the photo series this November.

She recently took time to talk with ASU Now about her favorite aspect of being a photographer and how she thinks the power of photography can influence society.

Question: Why did you choose to pursue a career in photography?

Answer: When I was in high school, I found out I could take community college classes for free. I took a bunch of photo classes on a whim and really got into it. I was spending more time in the darkroom than my official classes, so I thought I wanted to do more of that.

Q: You were recently featured in The New Yorker for your photo series “Aunties.” How does it feel to have such high profile acknowledgement?

A: I’m so glad that such high caliber publications are interested in small personal stories, such as “Aunties.” It’s a different way of understanding the world, through individual lives rather than big political movements. That’s what I’ve always been most drawn to, and I’m happy to see that acknowledged and many years of my work validated in this way.

Q: How does photography have the power to impact society?

A: I think we’re already used to understanding history through images. Can you imagine the Great Depression without seeing “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange? Or D-Day without Robert Capa’s images? More recently, however, photography is how we experience the present, often initiating an activity in order to record it, not just for its own sake. With everyone always having access to a camera on their phone, we’ve become voracious consumers and indiscriminate producers of photographs. This is certainly changing our perception of individual pictures, and I’m curious to see what we’ll do with that change.

Q: What is your favorite part of the work you do today?

A: I photograph people primarily, and I meet a wide variety of strangers, forming relationships with them and learning about their lives. I hear all kinds of stories and see people’s faces change as they begin to open up to me. I love the moment when we connect — it’s a very powerful experience to receive the gift of someone’s trust.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in the arts?

A: Read a lot and work really hard on your art. Be happy about the process, and don’t expect validation. 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I have a book coming out in November with Duke University Press. I would love for you to buy it. Or look at it at the library once they receive a copy. The title is “Aunties: Seven Summers with Alevtina and Ludmila.”

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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October 27, 2015

ASU team taps into expertise of food 'citizen-scientists' as way to engage community in gathering knowledge

Valley newcomer Stacey Kuznetsov recently discovered a rather unconventional way to meet new people: fermented salsa parties.

“All my friends brought whatever ingredients they had in their homes, and we just blended everything and made fermented salsa,” she said.

The idea came from a transdisciplinary research project Kuznetsov, an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University, conducted along with grad student Christina Santana and associate professor Elenore Long, both of ASU’s Department of English.

Their findings, which they wrote about in a paper titled “Mindful Persistence: Literacies for Taking up and Sustaining Fermented-Food Projects,” were published this month in Community Literacy Journal.

As the lead researcher for ASU’s Social and Digital Systems (SANDS) Group, Kuznetsov was interested in pursuing a project that looked at the phenomenon of so-called “citizen-scientists” or “DIY-biologists” — people who are not professional scientists but who experiment and gather knowledge based on their personal interests.

“I thought food was a really interesting domain for that,” she said, as nearly everyone can say they have played the role of “citizen-scientist” in the kitchen at least a few times.

“I think it’s a pushback against traditional top-down ways of disseminating scientific information.”
— assistant professor Stacey Kuznetsov

Santana saw Kuznetsov’s budding project as an opportunity to delve deeper into her area of interest in community literacy by engaging local community members in research that relied on their expertise.

“What drew me to Stacey’s project was that, here’s an opportunity to get outside of ASU and … be the bridge and bring people in and create opportunities for people to experience some of the things that only our students get,” said Santana.

Over the course of several months, they spent time recruiting, interviewing and workshopping with members of the local community who regularly engage in experimentation with edible materials.

They met people who make homemade beer, forage for grasses, ferment fruit and vegetables and even one woman who practices human placenta encapsulation as a dietary supplement for new mothers. And they were invited to participate in a group workshop where they would demonstrate and speak about their methods.

Community fermentation workshop

A piece of SCOBY culture
(symbiotic colony of bacteria
and yeast) is added to tea to
ferment it.

Photo courtesy Christina Santana

“They were teaching us the skills as opposed to us coming and observing something that is already well-understood,” Kuznetsov said. “To me, that’s an example of community literacy, where I’m studying the practices of a community that’s clearly a lot more expert in a domain than I am.”

Following the initial food demonstration workshop was a co-authoring workshop, wherein the community members shared their ideas about their work and helped draft portions of the research paper. It was also at this time that Long came on board to assist with the writing.

“We wrote in lots of different ways. We had questions and then filled up the whiteboards with responses. And then we took sticky notes and people just consolidated their own themes. … And then we developed sets of patterns across the sticky notes, and then people wrote sections in teams,” Long said.

The theme of persistence revealed itself to the researchers over the course of the project as they worked alongside and listened to the experiences of local fermented-food experts who live by the mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

“The inquiry [into alternative food preservation] itself requires a kind of persistence because you’re constantly bumping up against things that you didn’t quite predict that in some ways trouble the project, but also make you a more expert person in doing that,” Long said.

Santana said the experience has given her an “access point” into a world she may otherwise never have known about.

“I think it’s helped me be less afraid of food. It sounds funny, but I’d never tried sauerkraut before, I would never have tried kombucha. … So I approach the kitchen differently in that I see potential or limit, and I think a little bit more about how I’m working with food,” she said, “but I still let my husband cook, mostly.”

Kuznetsov hopes their project will bring more attention to ways the community can be involved in research — “I think it’s a pushback against traditional top-down ways of disseminating scientific information” — and, “More sauerkraut!”


The School of Arts, Media and Engineering is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The Department of English is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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Urban Sol event charges ASU with electric creativity

Valley dancers and urban artists show their style at Urban Sol.
October 26, 2015

It still might seem like a strange partnership to some: a collection of the Phoenix Valley's street artists, dancers and musicians working with Arizona State University's Herberger Institute to create art.

But the Urban Sol program, which aims to bridge the street art world into the academic setting, continues to evolve with an electric appeal. The charge of creativity was on display this past Saturday evening as Urban Sol hosted its annual "MOVEMeant III" dance and art event at the Nelson Fine Arts Center plaza on ASU's Tempe campus. The night was filled with dancers of all ages and backgrounds stepping, flowing and spinning to the sounds of hip-hop and other dance music styles in front of a stand-room-only crowd. 

Some of the people were there to strut their stuff, others to show off their skills (like the ASU Hip Hop Coalition, pictured above). Together they were mass of movement and engagement as the lines between the crowd and the performers were blurred in a way that every great street performance knows so well.

For more information about the Urban Sol program, visit the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts' website.

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October 21, 2015

ASU student builds dinosaur skull that allows people to re-create the beast's call; hear it below

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

During her road trip to start graduate school at Arizona State University, East Coast native Courtney Brown stopped at a dinosaur museum in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Inside, she pressed a button at a sound exhibit to hear the simulated call of Parasaurolophus, a type of duck-billed dinosaur. The sound resonated with her.

“That was my favorite part of the exhibit,” Brown said. “But I also thought that the experience could be improved upon in a lot of ways.”  

Not long after that, the candidate for an Interdisciplinary Media and Performance Doctorate of Musical Arts did what any intellectually curious sound artist would do: She set about improving on the concept of a dinosaur skull that could make the noise of the dinosaur.

“I’d been doing new musical interfaces for a while, since 2006 to 2007,” said Brown, who earned her master’s degree in electroacoustic music at Dartmouth College. “I immediately thought of how that would go into my research. I wanted to have the feeling of being a dinosaur, I guess, and have it be this physical sensation … like being the dinosaur’s lungs.”

In ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Brown went to work with her adviser, Garth PainePaine holds a joint appointment as associate professor in the School of Arts, Media + Engineering and the School of Music., and later with Sharif Razzaque, her peer from the graduate computer science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

They helped to create the prototype for a re-created skull of a Corythosaurus, another type of lambeosaurine hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) — a cousin to the Parasaurolophus she’d encountered in New Mexico. The duck-billed dinosaurs were known for their head crests, through which they made their trumpet-like calls.

With her dual background in music and computer science, particularly with her experience in software development, Brown was able to build on her varied experience and hone her talent.

Corythosaurus 3-D models from CT scansThey were were shared by by Lawrence Witmer at Ohio University. provided the base for the skull, which was constructed with foam, coated in polyurea and pieced together with epoxy. The nasal passages were 3-D printed, along with the resonant passages of the interior of the dinosaur’s skull. Brown designed and built the larynx first, and then she and Razzaque used a Shopbot — a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine — to fabricate the skull.

Interestingly, the dinosaur skull crafted by Brown is an acoustic instrument.

“That was a really important aesthetic point for me,” Brown said, noting that she could have taken a hybrid/digital approach, but she was “interested in the poetry of the physical.”

To make the sound, people blow into a tube that pushes air through the skull to produce the extinct creature's call.

“I say this as somebody deeply involved in writing software, and I’ve been doing computer music for a really long time. But sometimes, as an engineer, you have to think, ‘What’s the best solution?’ And honestly, the easiest solution might have been having some kind of sensor that people blow into to create the noise, or somehow creating this larynx. I just wasn’t interested in that. I felt like it had to be physical.”

In her research, Brown passionately pursued the integrity of the Corythosaurus’ physical vocal mechanism. The obvious challenge, after 77 million years, was the lack of soft-tissue remains. From only the CT scan of the skull and dedicated, yet peripheral, research into the dinosaur’s cranial structural features, Brown had to divine an idea of the dinosaur’s physical larynges.  

“I did all this research. I was talking to [Ohio University's] Lawrence Witmer, and I asked, ‘So what do we know about Corythosaurus larynges?’ And he said, ‘We know nothing!’ That was a big blow,” Brown said. “I couldn’t absorb it. I kept thinking, ‘Maybe there’s something!’ Because I wanted it to be exact. It was about accepting the role of the imagination, which, in fact, is what makes it beautiful, in a way.

“When you blow into the skull, you can feel it in your lungs coming back to you, so there’s this physical sensation that’s just there. The whole point of the project is to give this physicality to the dinosaur sound. It becomes really important, I think.”

Paine emphasized this point, as well. “You can kind of embody the dinosaur by blowing into it, and then you can change the pitch by tightening and loosening the larynx,” he said. “Then those chambers all resonate like they would have done in the dinosaur.”

In August, her research project “Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls” landed Brown an honorary mention in the 2015 Prix Ars Electronica competition, one of the world's most prestigious awards for media arts. Her project was shown at the Ars Electronica Festival, drawing more than a thousand visitors eager to make the skull sing by breathing into it. The Corythosaurus skull prototype was displayed as an interactive sound exhibit.

“Only a small number of people who got honorable mentions was selected to come to Ars Electronica and exhibit their work at the Ars Electronica museum in Linz, Austria, a very prestigious venue,” Paine said.

Brown was flown to the festival and hosted for two weeks while she exhibited the dinosaur in the Ars Electronica museum.

“She also did a concert,” Paine said. “That’s extraordinary exposure for her on the international stage at the highest possible level.”

Brown says that without the transdisciplinary opportunities available to her in ASU's School of Arts, Media + Engineering facilities, the project never would have happened. 

“I immediately thought, ‘Oh! There’s a fabrication lab here!’ Whereas if I was in a computer music department, that wouldn’t be something I’d think about. I saw the variety of activities going on here in AME, and we thought, ‘OK, we can do this!’ I learned a lot about digital fabrication. It’s not magic. It’s a lot of work.”

Paine said all of that work resulted in the recognition Brown received at the Ars Electronica festival.

“It’s a really good kind of transdisciplinary point at which these things come together. So nobody in the music school could do this … probably nobody else in AME would think about doing it … but when you get somebody who brings those things together, then you come up with these points of exploration that are kind of unique that people in those individual disciplines wouldn’t come up with.”

Brown’s work has already generated interest from academics, musicians and even from dinosaur scientists and natural history museums.

“Her work opens up all this outreach potential, and the potential for the artists to lead the scientific inquiry, to lead the engagement and really improvise,” Paine said.

Written by Kristi Garboushian
School of Arts, Media + Engineering

ASU News

Provost’s lectures explore ecowarriors, philosophy and faith

October 20, 2015

Two prominent thought leaders and authors from Europe bring a close to the Provost’s Distinguished Lecture Series for 2015.

On Nov. 4, political philosopher Heinrich Meier speaks on “The Beginning of the Philosophic Life and the Challenge of Faith in Revelation: Reflections on Rousseau’s ‘Rêveries’.”  Heinrich Meier and Sir Jonathan Bate Heinrich Meier and Sir Jonathan Bate headline the Provosts Distinguished Lecture Series on Nov. 4 and Nov. 23, 2015.

On Nov. 23, British biographer, Oxford Professor and public intellectual Sir Jonathan Bate speaks about "Ted Hughes: Eco-Warrior, or Eco-Worrier?"

Developed with support from Interim Provost Mark Searle and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Dean of Humanities George Justice, the provost’s series seeks to bring some of the world’s best poets, scientists, philosophers and authors of the human condition to ASU.

“All the challenges — and I mean all of them — faced in the contemporary world are human issues,” Justice said. “Reducing them to technical problems almost ensures that our efforts will fail as much as they will succeed.”

“Humanists, such as Meier and Bate, understand the range of human experience, human thought, human interest, and by including them in research and education we allow ourselves to learn from ourselves and our history,” Justice added.

Meier is the director of the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation, a professor of philosophy with the University of Munich, Germany and permanent visiting professor with the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought with the University of Chicago. His expertise ranges from philosophy to political science, sociology and biology. He is the author of eight books, including “Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue,” “The Lesson of Carl Schmidt” and most recently, “Jean Jacques Rousseau.” With more than 30 years of the study of Rousseau at play, in his talk Meier examines the nature of the philosophic life and controversial writings on religion by Rousseau in his last work “Les rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire” (“Reveries of a Solitary Walker”). In addition to his talk, he will host a two-day workshop around the topic of “Social Contract and 'Nietzsche’s Zarathustra'." He will also tour facilities and attend meetings with ASU faculty, such as Pulitzer Prize-winner and Regents’ Professor Bert Hoelldobler and Provost Emeritus Robert E. Page Jr. Page, who launched the provost's series last spring, will introduce Meier at the Nov. 4 event at 4 p.m. in the Memorial Union's Pima Room 230 on the Tempe campus.

Bate is a biographer, critic, broadcaster and scholar. He is renowned in the field of ecocriticism, having published what is considered “the first ecological reading of English literature” — his “Song of the Earth.” Previously, in his “Romantic Ecology,” Bates articulated the conservationist influence of William Wordsworth’s poetry; the work has been enormously influential on later Romanticist work on literature and the environment. A provost of Worcester College and professor of English literature at University of Oxford, Bate is also a prominent Shakespearean, as well as public essayist that speaks to wider audiences on topics, such as “How books help us to be better human beings.” He was recently profiled on NPR for his newest publication “Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life” that explores the life of Ted Hughes, one of England’s most prominent poets, an avid environmentalist and husband of Sylvia Plath. The book has garnered high praise and is shortlisted for the U.K.’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for 2015.

Bate will speak about Hughes at 6 pm. on Nov. 23 in Old Main's Carson Ballroom on ASU's Tempe campus. 

Meier and Bate are strong advocates for the importance of humanities education. Meier was awarded the Peregrinus Prize, given in recognition of outstanding work in the humanities, by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences in Germany. Bate was knighted for his service to higher education in 2015. In an interview published in British Academy Review in 2014, Bate observed: “One of the reasons for studying the humanities is precisely that the humanities draw our attention to big, valuable, important things that cannot be contained or constrained within a model of economic benefit. Beauty, truth — these are difficult, abstract concepts, concepts that defy quantification.”

“Humanities is about the human experience past, present and future. Sometimes the breadth and understanding of what humanists do get buried in the painstaking research on seemingly narrow topics pursued by our world-leading faculty,” said Justice, who is also a professor in ASU's Department of English. “These speakers coming to ASU to deliver provost’s distinguished lectures broaden our range of thinking, synthesize broad research areas and tackle major issues in research. They invigorate our scholarly community, and we find meaning in our lives through the works of culture that humanists preserve for humanity.”

More information about this series can be found here.  

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


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Exhibit shares little-told tale of Jewish refugees' time in China

Holocaust survivor shares her tale of being a refugee in Shanghai
ASU exhibit focuses on the stories of Jewish refugees who relocated to Shanghai
October 18, 2015

The interesting thing about this Holocaust story is that it’s rarely been told.

The account centers around Irma Glahs Gottlieb, a 95-year-old Scottsdale woman who survived the Nazi purge of Germany in the 1930s by moving to Shanghai, China.

While much of the Jewish diaspora connects survival stories to relocations in North America or other parts of Europe, the Holocaust’s connection to Shanghai is a lesser-known chapter of this tragic history.

Gottlieb’s bit of the narrative is something she has only told a handful of people up to this point, and only in bits and pieces to her children over the years.

“Actually, I didn’t want to talk about this but my children think I should talk about it,” Gottlieb said. “Why should they hear about all the hardships we had because eventually we lived a normal life? That’s what we called it — a ‘normal life.’ I felt the past was the past.”

Gottlieb has opened the past and shared her story publicly for the first time as part of the “Jewish Refugees in Shanghai” exhibit, which is currently up and running through Dec. 15 at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center in Phoenix and at ASU’s Hayden Library on the Tempe campus.

Irma Gottlieb

Irma Gottlieb is one of many Jewish refugees
who resettled in Shanghai during the 1930s
while Jews were still allowed to leave Nazi Germany.

Photo and video (below) by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The exhibit is sponsored by ASU’s Confucius Institute, Center for Jewish Studies, and the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, and will feature artifacts, photographs, documents, and personal stories, like Gottlieb’s. Planned events throughout the exhibit’s run will include several lectures, a film screening and a book discussion.

“It’s a story we need to pay attention to because it’s still so relevant,” said Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of the ASU’s Center for Jewish Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We are in the midst of a major migration crisis in our country and Europe. It begs the question, what is our obligation to people in duress who have no other place to go?”

Gottlieb, who hailed from Succow, a small farming community in Germany, said hers was the only Jewish family in the town of 900 people.

“My first years were very, very playful and I had everything I could ask for. I’m an only child so needless to say I was very spoiled,” Gottlieb said. “The only time I knew I was different than the other kids is when the Jewish holidays came. Then my parents took me to a synagogue in the next town.”

By 1933, the atmosphere for Jews in Germany had become troublesome as persecution and violence became more commonplace. Gottlieb said it was a slow boil that started with being ignored by classmates while others taunted her. It became unbearable when her instructor refused to teach her.

So her parents, who owned a general store in Succow, sent her to a finishing school in Lehnitz, which was a donated mansion just outside of Berlin. The school was started by the Jewish community so that children and teens who had been excluded by their communities could continue their educations.

“During the morning and day we’d have lectures and I’d work on several languages (she is fluent in German, French and English) and in the afternoon we kept house,” Gottlieb said. “We’d clean, iron and peel potatoes in the kitchen, and every Friday night we’d have a rabbi who’d come to the house and hold service. That was the first time I actually felt comforted.”

That comfort didn’t last long. On Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, a wave of anti-Semitic violence took place throughout Germany, Austria and areas of Czechoslovakia in what historians describe as Kristallnact (“Night of Broken Glass). The name depicts the act of Hitler Youth and SS officers smashing the windows of synagogues, homes and more than 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, burning many of them to the ground. Jewish cemeteries were also desecrated.

It was a clear sign to Gottlieb’s father, and many other Jews, that they needed to leave the country. But it wouldn’t be easy.

According to Gottlieb, the German government forced her family to sell the general store “for a song” and departing Jews could only leave the country with 10 marks in their pockets.

At that time, there were only a handful of countries that would take in Jewish refugees. Gottlieb’s family was originally going to flee to the United States, but visa restrictions were difficult and required an affidavit, a sponsor, and a waiting period because of a quota.

They didn’t feel like waiting was an option. Gottlieb's father had already been picked up by the Nazis and then released because he'd been a decorated World War I vet.

But Shanghai was an open city, with no visa requirements — though some form of documentation was required to exit Europe.

Jewish refugees obtained documentation in various ways, including through the aid of relief organizations. But a significant number of them received the necessary documents through the efforts of He Feng Shan, the Chinese consul in Vienna who is often described as the “Chinese Shindler,” and Sigihara Chiune, the Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania.

As a result, Shanghai became a modern-day “Noah’s Ark,” accepting some 18,000 Jewish refugees and offering them shelter.

Gottlieb and her parents fled Germany by taking a train to Genoa, Italy, where they boarded the SS Victoria, a small luxury cruise ship.

“Suddenly I could talk and dance,” said Gottlieb, who was 18 when she boarded the ship. “I didn’t have to watch what I said and nobody was stopping me. I still have the tickets.”

But that trip was the first and last taste of happiness she experienced in years. Gottlieb said the four-week journey became surreal — many of the young men on the ship had been released from concentration camps and were either bald or shaved.

And when Gottlieb and the other refugees eventually disembarked in Shanghai, she received a cultural and economic jolt.

“We went from luxury to nothing in one day. We didn’t really know what to expect.” Gottlieb said. “They put us in back of a truck and brought us to a refugee camp in Hongkew. Men were placed in one section, women in the other. We slept in bunk beds.”

Almost 77 years later, Gottlieb can still recall their inaugural meal in a large dining hall with a long wooden bench and table: a hard-boiled egg, a piece of bread and cold tea in a tin cup. Before anyone took a bite, an angry refugee rolled his egg down the table and tossed the piece of bread to the floor. Through clinched teeth, he announced the meal wasn’t fit for a dog. Gottlieb said silence engulfed the room.

“That was the hardest moment. It was very sad and sadder even now when I think about what my parents must have felt,” Gottlieb said. “I think I realized for the first time … I think I cried.”

But at least they were out of Germany.

“As bad as things might have been in Shanghai, they weren’t half as bad as for the Jews in Europe,” said Robert Joe Cutter, director of the Confucius Institute. “Had they stayed in Europe, about 90 percent of them would have been dead. It did save their lives.”

The Glahs' eventually moved into a dilapidated home, purchased by a Jewish family who rented the family a room. The room had no hot water, kitchen or for that matter, a bathroom — only a bucket.

Gottlieb’s father made daily trips to the camp to bring back their daily ration of soup, which is what they existed on for several months.

Life eventually got better over time. Eventually a container filled with some of the Glahs' home possesions arrived.

However, they were forced to sell many of these creature comforts for food and money.

“My mother would say, ‘Today we eat a chair. Tomorrow we eat a desk.’ It was basically whatever my dad sold that day,” Gottlieb said.

The Jewish refugees eventually settled into their new surroundings and created businesses, bakeries, schools, synagogues, grocery stores, restaurants, bookstores, boutiques and clothing stores. Musicians played concerts on a rooftop garden, acting troupes entertained the refugees, and sports — boxing, football, tennis and table tennis — became popular diversions.

So did the movies. Gottlieb recalled seeing a screening of “Gone With the Wind” in Shanghai for a dime. For four hours, the Hollywood classic gave her a temporary distraction.

“We all tried to live as normal as we could. We had school, our own teachers and the people were just angels — the people who donated money so we could have food and schools and concerts,” Gottlieb said. “For me, everything was wonderful because I didn’t have to wonder who was behind me and could say things freely. I looked at it differently, like a young person would.”

Gottlieb’s teen years gave way to adulthood when she met her husband Erich at a summer camp created for refugee children who needed a respite from the trauma of their forced exits back home. He wanted to marry her on the spot, but her parents said no. He had a job with the Chinese Salt Administration and her parents feared he would take her into the interior of China and they would never see her again.

“My parents said, ‘If he feels the same way about you when he comes back, then you can get married,’ ” Gottlieb said. “So he did.”

Erich returned two years later and in June 1941, they were married in front of the German consulate at the insistence of her parents, who wanted it to be legal in the eyes of the German government.

Gottlieb instantly recognized the act as ironic, given the fact they were stateless. And there’s also that reminder of why they left.

“My marriage license has a swastika,” Gottlieb wryly said.

Old wedding photo

Irma Gottlieb is seen in a wedding photograph with her husband when they married in Shanghai in 1941. Deanna Dent/ASU Now

When World War II broke out in 1939, Erich and Irma safely made their way to Chungking, China, where they lived for the next few years. She didn’t see her parents for four years and only had contact with them through two letters, delivered by the American Red Cross.

After the war, Gottlieb found her parents in a Japanese ghetto in Hongkew. Later they all moved together to the United States, eventually settling in the Chicago area, where Irma and Erich raised a family and finally returned to a 'normal life.'

Gottlieb’s daughter Evelyn Simon, who was born in Shanghai, said her mother has left out many of the darker details of her ordeal, but that the light outshines the darkness.

“There is a lot of dysfunction and trauma that goes from generation to generation in regards to the Holocaust, but that wasn’t totally the case with us,” Simon said. “My parents didn’t want to color our vision of the world growing up. A lot of this information hasn’t come up until recently.”

Gottlieb’s vision of the past remains mostly positive and agrees with Holocaust historian David Kranzler, describing the relocation as “The Miracle of Shanghai.”

“I am very, very lucky to be here because all of my friends have passed away from not enough food, medicine and illnesses,” Gottlieb said. “Our life was saved by going to Shanghai whereas every other country had the doors closed. I definitely see Shanghai as a haven.”

Reporter , ASU Now