Hidden In Plain Sight: Skateboarding’s Legendary Spots

Skateboarding has been shaped and influenced by many skateboarders throughout the years. The first skateboards started with wooden boxes, or boards, with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom. Crate scooters preceded skateboards, having a wooden crate attached to the nose (front of the board), which formed rudimentary handlebars. The boxes turned into planks, similar to the skateboard decks of today.

Skateboarding, as we know it, was probably born sometime in the late 1940s, or early 1950s, when surfers in California wanted something to do when the waves were flat. This was called “sidewalk surfing” – a new wave of surfing on the sidewalk as the sport of surfing became highly popular. No one knows who made the first board; it seems that several people came up with similar ideas at around the same time. The first manufactured skateboards were ordered by a Los Angeles, California surf shop, meant to be used by surfers in their downtime. The shop owner, Bill Richard, made a deal with the Chicago Roller Skate Company to produce sets of skate wheels, which they attached to square wooden boards. Accordingly, skateboarding was originally denoted “sidewalk surfing” and early skaters emulated surfing style and maneuvers, and performed barefoot.

As the popularity of skateboarding began expanding, the first skateboarding magazine, The Quarterly Skateboarder was published in 1964. John Severson, who published the magazine, wrote in his first editorial: a small number of surfing manufacturers in Southern California such as Jack’s, Kips’, Hobie, Bing’s and Makaha started building skateboards that resembled small surfboards, and assembled teams to promote their products. One of the earliest Skateboard exhibitions was sponsored by Makaha’s founder, Larry Stevenson, in 1963 and held at the Pier Avenue Junior High School in Hermosa Beach, California. Some of these same teams of skateboarders were also featured on a television show called “Surf’s Up” in 1964, hosted by Stan Richards, that helped promote skateboarding as something new and fun to do.


When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the skateboard video game, was released two decades ago, it opened up skateboarding culture to an entirely new audience. Kids all over the world who had never picked up a skateboard in real life, were spending hours attempting tricks like the McTwist, Madonna, Impossible, and the Stalefish, and they were doing it at some of skateboarding’s most iconic locations.

The developers of the game series recreated historical spots in skateboarding like Wallows, a drainage ditch in Hawaii, that were frequented by skaters in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Carlsbad Gap, a spot at a high school in Southern California that became famous in the 1990s. In every game level, an ode to skateboarding’s rich history was hidden in plain sight.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater takes place in a 3-D environment permeated by an ambience of punk rock and ska music. The player takes control of a variety of famous skateboarders and must complete missions by performing skateboarding tricks and collecting objects. The game offers several modes of gameplay, including a career mode in which the player must complete objectives and evolve their character’s attributes, a free-play mode in which the player may skate without any given objective, and a multi-player mode that features a number of competitive games.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was met with critical acclaim for all versions but the Game Boy Color version, which had a more mixed reception. The game resulted in a successful franchise, receiving eight annualized sequels developed by Neversoft from 2000’s Pro Skater 2 to 2007’s Proving Ground.

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Microsoft Invests $1 Billion In Elon Musk’s Plans To Mimic The Human Brain


Image: Annunciation by artist Tom Estes

Microsoft has invested $1 billion in the Elon Musk-founded artificial intelligence venture that plans to mimic the human brain using computers.

The investment from Microsoft, signed early this month and announced on Monday, signals a new direction for Sam Altman’s research lab. He and his team of researchers hope to build artificial general intelligence, or A.G.I., a machine that can do anything the human brain can do.

“My goal in running OpenAI is to successfully create broadly beneficial A.G.I.,” Mr. Altman said in a recent interview. “And this partnership is the most important milestone so far on that path.”

Today’s AI systems are known as “narrow”, meaning they are capable of doing one task well. AGI, meanwhile, is seen as the holy grail of AI research, although many experts believe it will not be achieved for decades.

Mr. Altman’s 100-employee company recently built a system that could beat the world’s best players at a video game called Dota 2. Just a few years ago, this kind of thing did not seem possible.

Dota 2 is a game in which each player must navigate a complex, three-dimensional environment along with several other players, coordinating a careful balance between attack and defense. In other words, it requires old-fashioned teamwork, and that is a difficult skill for machines to master.

In recent years, a small but fervent community of artificial intelligence researchers have set their sights on A.G.I., and they are backed by some of the wealthiest companies in the world. DeepMind, a top lab owned by Google’s parent company, says it is chasing the same goal.

The US software company’s alliance with OpenAI, which is seen as one of the world’s leading AI labs, pits the two against Britain’s DeepMind, which is owned by Google.

Both labs are seeking to achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI), an AI similar to human consciousness that can adapt to different tasks.

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Google Confirms ‘Quantum Supremacy’


Blitz, by artist Tom Estes

Google has officially announced that it’s achieved quantum supremacy in a new article published in the scientific journal Nature. The announcement comes exactly one month after it initially leaked, when Google’s paper was accidentally published early. Now, however, it’s official, meaning the full details of the research are public, and the broader scientific community can fully scrutinize what Google says it’s achieved

Google researchers state in the paper that their 54-qubit computer, known as Sycamore, is able to conduct a task in 200 seconds that would take around 10,000 years on a traditional system. That would mean the calculation, which involved generated random numbers, is essentially impossible on a traditional, non-quantum computer.

“This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm,” the researchers write in the newly published paper.

“As a result of these developments, quantum computing is transitioning from a research topic to a technology that unlocks new computational capabilities,” the researchers conclude. “We are only one creative algorithm away from valuable near-term applications.”

The company now hopes to build a system that can conduct more broad operations, which could be used across a variety of different fields.

Despite IBM’s attempts to downplay Google’s achievement, many in the research community welcomed the news, with scientists quoted by The New York Times likening Google’s breakthrough to the Wright brothers’ first plane flight in 1903. We may still be years away from having quantum computers that are useful for practical tasks, but Google’s findings could finally have provided proof that such a future is possible in the first place.

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Could Aliens Be From Our Own Future?


Image- Watchers by Tom Estes

In the face of all these false positives, mysteries, and straight-up hoaxes, it’s hard to keep faith in reports of extraterrestrials. It’s enough to make Fox Mulder hang up his badge and gun.

Project Blue Book was the official government organization tasked with investigating UFO sightings across the United States. Formally created in 1952, it handled roughly 12,000 sightings of potential UFOs and brought together a team of scientists and military personnel. The project was discontinued in 1969, and its records were later declassified.

Like MKULTRA or Project Y (the US Air Force’s experimental flying saucer, also called the Avrocar), Project Blue Book is one of those secret government projects that seem to confirm every conspiracy theorist’s suspicions: the government did have secret task forces investigating extraterrestrials, and its findings were kept secret from the public. What’s more, Blue Book was created at a time when UFO sightings had escalated to the point of mass hysteria-Kenneth’s Arnold’s famed encounter with a V-shaped formation of lights over Mount Rainier became the impetus for Project Blue Book’s inception.

During its operation, Project Blue Book investigated a number of high-profile UFO cases, including the Lubbock Lights. The scientific consultant and astronomer for the Project, J. Allen Hynek, also codified the “Close Encounter” categories-the basis for the title of the sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Under Captain Edward Ruppelt, the organization coined the term “Unidentified Flying Object” and attempted to create more rigorous reporting methods for UFO sightings. As the Project progressed, the majority of sightings were determined to have mundane explanations, but a small number were deemed genuinely unexplainable.

However, in the summer of 1952, Project Blue Book was brought before the Robertson Panel, which was meant to assess the Project and its findings. According to a memorandum, the members of the Panel were unimpressed with the Project’s results and mandated that its primary goal change to creating “an integrated program designed to reassure the public of the total lack of evidence of Inimical forces behind the phenomenon.” This meant the goal of Project Blue Book had essentially changed from seriously investigating extraterrestrials to convincing the public that UFO sightings were anything but extraterrestrial.

Like the majority of Project Blue Book’s cases, the supposed Blue Book alien interview on YouTube was quickly proven to be fake. It was revealed as a pet project of Aristomenis Tsirbas, the digital effects artist behind several Star Trekproductions. Isaac Koi, a UFO debunker, wrote up a thorough report on the video and pointed out that Tsirbas had created another UFO hoax video, titled UFO Over Santa Clarita, in 2012, along with a breakdown of how the video was created. You can read Isaac Koi’s full report here.


And yet, the Alien Interview prokes some interesting questions. Human evolution is the evolutionary process that led to the emergence of anatomically modern humans, beginning with the evolutionary history of primates—in particular genus Homo—and leading to the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species of the hominid family, the great apes. We learn about our ancestors in many ways- mostly by studying them. Bones tell us what they looked like. Teeth reveal their diet. Tools, pots, art and other artefacts hold stories about their culture. The theory that humans are descended from aliens has been around for quite some time, but what if we have it the wrong way around? What if aliens are descendents from humans? Perhaps they have mastered time travel and have come back in time to study us?


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Alien And Otherworldly Sci-fi Violin From The Future


This weird-looking, fully playable violin may look like it was designed by H.R. Giger or the prop department of Star Trek Next Generation but it actually a 2-string Piezoelectric Violin.  And it’s not just for looks, this sci-fi violin can actually be played to create beautiful music, in the right talented hands, of course.

The traditional four strings have been reduced to just two, and the sweeping shape of the piezoelectric instrument’s body is a far cry from the curves of a traditional violin. But the differences aren’t just cosmetic. The structure serves to amplify its acoustics in new ways.

Monad Studio states on their website: “The surface of this complex topological environment is further activated and becomes interactive using computer-generated sounds created by composer/computer musician Jacob Sudol. These sounds are emitted directly through the 3D-printed mural by means of handheld transducers that activate the installation as if it were the cones of a speaker to fill the space with constantly changing fields of sonic activity.”

3D printed instruments are revolutionary. In fact, they’re a real game changer. Consider the amount of time that goes into handcrafting guitars and violins. Then, imagine printing them in a quarter of that time and putting unique touches on them.

And the 3D-printed violin is just one of a suite of instruments designed to provide a collaborative experience exploring our relationship with sound.  It’s just one of five redesigned, 3D-printed instruments created by Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg of architecture studio Monad, with musician Scott F. Hall,  which first appear at the 3D Print Design Show in New York on April 16-17  back in 2015 as part of an installation the studio is calling Abyecto, a word meaning abject, heinous, hideous.

The instruments also include a cello, a didgeridoo, and a larger, valved horn instrument called a hornucopia. Rounding out the suite is a a single-stringed, baritone electric guitar — which sound artist Hall is calling a “Monobarisitar.”

What brings all these instruments together is the “rack” into which they integrate when not in use — the sixth instrument in the series, a sort of 3D-printed mural hung upon the wall.

“The surface of this complex topological environment is further activated and becomes interactive using computer-generated sounds created by composer/computer musician Jacob Sudol. These sounds are emitted directly through the 3D-printed mural by means of handheld transducers that activate the installation as if it were the cones of a speaker to fill the space with constantly changing fields of sonic activity,”

“Multiple performers explore the installation with sounding transducers around the work in a performance of a new work by Jacob Sudol titled ‘…spaces to listen to from within (ii).’ Participants can also engage with the installation by touching the sounding transducers against the sculpture to personally explore the work’s complex resonant structures.”

You can check out what Abyecto sounds like in the video below — including Hall playing his monobarisitar and others exploring the mural with transducers.

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Extinction Rebellion: When Activism Is Also Great Art


Environmental protesters, Extinction Rebellion, poured fake blood on the steps of the Trocadero, a Paris tourist landmark, in a stunt to highlight the accelerated loss of biodiversity on Earth. 

Artistic Activism is a practice aimed at generating measurable shifts in power. Activist art is about empowering individuals and communities and is generally situated in the public arena with artists working closely with a community to generate the art.

Extinction_SymbolOne example is Extinction Rebellion, a socio-political movement which uses nonviolent resistance. It was established in the United Kingdom with about one hundred academics signing a call to action in support in October 2018, and launched at the end of October. The campaign group (abbreviated as XR) has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements to protest against climate breakdownbiodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse. The aim of activist artists is to create art that is a form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures rather than representing them or simply describing them.

Art and activism do different work in the world. Activism, as the name implies, is the activity of challenging and changing power relations. There are many ways of doing activism and being an activist, but the common element is an activity targeted toward a discernible end. Simply put, the goal of activism is action to create an Effect. Art tends not to have such a clear target. It’s hard to say what art is for or against; its value often lies in providing us perspective and new ways to envision our world. Its effect is often subtle and hard to measure, and confusing or contradictory messages can be layered into the work. Good art always contains a surplus of meaning: something we can’t quite describe or put our finger on, but moves us nonetheless. Its goal, if we can even use that word, is to stimulate a feeling, move us emotionally, or alter our perception. Art, equally simply stated, is an expression that generates Affect.


As sightseers and police looked on, members of the Extinction Rebellion campaign group emptied canisters containing around 300 litres of red liquid on the famous esplanade across from the Eiffel Tower. Brandishing banners with the slogan: “Stop the sixth mass extinction”, the protesters then observed a few minutes’ silence before cleaning the steps.

At first glance these aims seem at odds with one another. Activism moves the material world, while Art moves the heart, body and soul. In fact, however, they are complimentary. Social change doesn’t just happen, it happens because people decide to make change. As any seasoned activist can tell you, people just don’t decide to change their mind and act accordingly, they are personally moved to do so by emotionally powerful stimuli. We’re moved by affective experiences to do physical actions that result in concrete effects: Affect leads to Effect.

“The evidence is crystal clear: Nature is in trouble. Therefore we are in trouble,” said Sandra Díaz, one of the co-chairs of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. A 40-page “Summary for Policy Makers” of the forthcoming full report (expected to exceed 1,500 pages) released May 6 in Paris.

The United Nations report warned that a million of Earth’s estimated eight million species are at risk of extinction. The bonds that hold nature together may be at risk of unraveling from deforestation, overfishing, development, and other human activities, the landmark United Nations report warned. Thanks to human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.

black and brown wooden table

Based on a review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the global report is the first comprehensive look in 15 years at the state of the planet’s biodiversity. This report includes, for the first time, indigenous and local knowledge as well as scientific studies. The authors say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species.

The tremendous variety of living species—at least 8.7 million, but possibly many more—that make up our “life-supporting safety net” provide our food, clean water, air, energy, and more, said Díaz, an ecologist at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina, in an interview. “Not only is our safety net shrinking, it’s becoming more threadbare and holes are appearing.”

photo of a tiger roaring

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Citing inspiration from grassroots movements such as OccupyGandhi’s independence movement, the suffragettesMartin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement, Extinction Rebellion aims to rally support worldwide around the urgency to tackle climate breakdown. A large number of activists in the movement have pledged to be arrested, and even to go to prison, similar to the mass arrest tactics of the Committee of 100 in 1961.

The Extinction Rebellion protest in Paris on Sunday. © AFP / Francois Guillot



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T-1000 Researchers Have Created A Programmable Shape-Shifting Liquid Metal


One of the most intelligent, imaginative and riveting sci-fi, action flicks to hit the screens ever, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is a classic without equal. What’s even more surprising is that “T2” is a sequel of an already great film. Arguably one of the greatest sequels ever made, Terminator 2 builds itself upon a few key ideas that upend the audience’s expectations and work like gangbusters with industry-altering technological execution. Even though the Terminator 2 movie was made nearly 30 years ago, almost nothing about it feels dated. And now researchers at the University of Sussex and Swansea University have recently announced that they have applied electrical charges to manipulate liquid metal into 2D shapes. Though still in the early stages of development, the technology is reminiscent of the main antagonist of Terminator 2: Judgment Day- a T-1000 shapeshifting android. Chinese scientists say they have also developed a type of robot powered by liquid metal inspired by T-1000, the self-repairing, shape-shifting killer android from one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator films.

The T-1000 is described in Terminator 2 as being composed of liquid metal, or a mimetic polyalloy (nanorobotics) that it can manipulate to assume various forms. Aside from being able to camouflage itself by assuming the appearance of a nondescript object or take on the likeness of other humans that it terminates in pursuit of its goals, the T-1000’s shapeshifting abilities enable it to form its hands into stabbing blades, slip through physical openings by oozing its liquid form, and instantly reform itself from any physical damage. The T-1000 was created by the Terminator franchise’s main antagonist, Skynet, a machine artificial intelligence that directs its robotic creations against the Human Resistance in an all-out war.



Once again real world science is starting to catch up to Science Fiction. Researchers at the University of Sussex and Swansea University have applied electrical charges to manipulate liquid metal into 2D shapes such as letters and a heart. The team says the findings represent an “extremely promising” new class of materials that can be programmed to seamlessly change shape. This open up new possibilities in ‘soft robotics’ and shape-changing displays.

While the invention might bring to mind the film Terminator 2, in which the villain morphs out of a pool of liquid metal, the creation of 3D shapes is still some way off. More immediate applications could include reprogrammable circuit boards and conductive ink.

Yutaka Tokuda, the Research Associate working on this project at the University of Sussex, has said:

“This is a new class of programmable materials in a liquid state which can dynamically transform from a simple droplet shape to many other complex geometry in a controllable manner. While this work is in its early stages, the compelling evidence of detailed 2D control of liquid metals excites us to explore more potential applications in computer graphics, smart electronics, soft robotics and flexible displays.”

The electric fields used to shape the liquid are created by a computer, meaning that the position and shape of the liquid metal can be programmed and controlled dynamically.


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Sacred Geometry Taught in a Donald Duck Cartoon

Donald Duck gets taught about Pythagoras, sacred geometry, and the fibonacci sequence! Who would have thought that something like this Disney cartoon from 1959 even existed?

For centuries a belief in the geometric underpinnings of the cosmos persisted among artists, musicians and scientists. The belief that a god created the universe according to a geometric plan has ancient origins. Plutarch attributed the belief to Plato, writing that “Plato said god geometrizes continually” (Convivialium disputationum, liber 8,2). In modern times, the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss adapted this quote, saying “God arithmetizes”.

Donald in Mathmagic Land is a 27-minute educational film featuring the one and only Donald Duck. Released on June 26, 1959, it soon became the most popular educational film ever released by Disney. Walt Disney himself said, “The cartoon is a good medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

The video features a group described as a secret club of “Eggheads,” their symbolic emblem a pentagram. The Masonic implications here seem clear, but of course, there’s no way to know for sure. Many people have theorized that Disney was an avid member of the Free Masons, even being among the few to reach the highest level, the 33rd degree, which is believed to use ancient teachings of the occult.

These include sacred geometry and devil worshipping. Considering the many subliminal messages hidden in Disney movies and cartoons in general, this aspect of the video is sure to raise more questions than it answers.Perhaps the most obvious and perplexing subliminal message hidden in a Disney cartoon, featured in Ducktales, are the words, “Ask about Illuminati” written on the wall in the background of the scene. What can we make of this? Was Disney himself trying to tell us something, or was this the work of a sneaky cartoonist? We may never learn the answer.


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What Is Freedom Of Speech? A Genuinely Illuminating Exchange

 Cathy Newman  grills University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson on gender and equality

Freedom of speech is the right to say whatever you like about whatever you like, whenever you like, right? Wrong. Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities and it can be legitimately restricted.  For example Channel 4 has been forced to call in “security specialists” after a combative interview with a controversial Canadian psychologist spawned a series of online abuse and threats directed at presenter Cathy Newman.  Ms Newman grilled University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who has attracted a following from the far-right, on gender and equality, including his claims that the pay gap between men and women cannot solely be attributed to gender. Prof Peterson also defended the interviewer, writing on Twitter: “If you’re threatening her, stop. Try to be civilised in your criticism. It was words. Words, people, words. Remember those?”

In a statement, a Channel 4 News spokesperson said: “Following her interview with Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson broadcast earlier this week, our presenter Cathy Newman has been the target of unwarranted and unacceptable misogynistic abuse and threats.

“As journalists in the public eye, our presenters expect criticism, but we will not tolerate this level of abuse towards our staff. We have taken immediate steps to ensure Cathy’s safety and security and continue to offer her our full support on this matter.”

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: what right does a white, middle-class, straight, cis male who turns 50 this week have to say anything about this? There are plenty of people who think that Peterson has no place on a mainstream news programme, or even in academic life. The far right, on the other hand, believes that Newman personifies an elitist media caste that is obstructing a great populist revolution. Both groups are ridiculous, and spectacularly ignorant of what constitutes a progressive civilisation.

Though it is unfair to pigeonhole two such intelligent people, the conversation between Peterson and Newman, distilled to its essentials, was an argument between classical liberal ideas and modern identity politics. Peterson made his case with reference to individual characteristics and attributes; Newman challenged him to consider the structural disadvantages facing, say, women in the workplace or transgender students.

The answer is: I say what I like, within the law, and so do you. It cannot be said too often that the first amendment to the United States constitution was adopted with the explicit purpose of protecting minority opinion. Though we have no such jurisprudential protection in Britain, and we – like most democratic societies – curtail speech that is libellous, incites imminent violence or whips up racial hatred, our inherited presumption in favour of free expression is more important than ever. A pluralistic, diverse society needs more free speech, not less. It needs fewer safe spaces and bans, and more civility and resilience.

Of all the delusions that grip our fractious era, one of the worst is the confident belief that greater restriction of speech will necessarily serve progressive ends. There is no logic in that whatsoever. Reforms can turn into chains of enslavement and we are seeing this come out of the Right-wing as well.  As Peterson warns, everyone finds something objectionable or upsetting. It would be a moment of maximum peril if the primary test applied to expression became its capacity to offend. Why assume that those setting the rules would necessarily support the powerless or the disenfranchised? The injunction “You can’t say that” leads just as plausibly to Margaret Atwood’s Gilead or to Oceania.

Even though there are good intentions involved, it’s the Liberals who think by enacting progressive and reform minded legislation to create further protections for women against violence and discrimination, the dangers exist, at the same time, in the further curtailment of all human rights.  Let’s be more thoughtful about what we wish for before we lunge forward with new reforms. It is an assault both intended and unintended on humanity. In a recent turn of events Canadian feminist author Margaret Atwood faced a social media backlash after voicing concerns about the #MeToo movement and calling for due process in the case of a former university professor accused of sexual misconduct. Atwood  states:

“In times of extremes, extremists win. Their ideology becomes a religion, anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic or a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated.”

You might not expect to hear this, but in certain circumstances free speech and freedom of expression can be restricted. Governments have an obligation to prohibit hate speech and incitement. And restrictions can also be justified if they protect specific public interest or the rights and reputations of others. Any restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of expression must be set out in laws that must in turn be clear and concise so everyone can understand them. People imposing the restrictions (whether they are governments, employers or anyone else) must be able to demonstrate the need for them, and they must be proportionate. All of this has to be backed up by safeguards to stop the abuse of these restrictions and incorporate a proper appeals process. However, restrictions that do not comply with all these conditions violate freedom of expression. Consider people put in prison solely for exercising their right to free speech to be prisoners of conscience.

To be a citizen is to engage, and the Newman-Peterson interview is a model of that engagement. Unless you believe that history has a self-evident direction – and it really doesn’t – you must accept that almost all progress is achieved by the hard grind of negotiation, tough debate and busy pluralism. The aphasia of “no-platform” and the bedlam of the digital mob add nothing to the mix. To quote the great African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates: let them talk.




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Babel – Light Installation by Tom Estes at The Shell Centre, London


Babel, Light installation by Tom Estes at The Shell Centre, London. 

Art is a very broad term and possibly one of its best virtues is its lack of precision, which means that it can mean basically anything. A lot of people are still arguing over what art actually is, and more specifically, what contemporary art does. An almost equally familiar discourse is considering if art should, or shouldn’t have a purpose, and that debate easily transforms into whether art can, and whether it should affect social change. There is a line of artists whose art presents itself as socially engaged. However, more often than not, this endeavor does not mean expressing the need to make the world a better place, but instead it focuses on very specific issues, observations and problems, and it takes many different forms, sometimes expecting from the viewer to be the active art-maker. So, even though there are some very representative artists, commonly associated with social practice, it seems hard to draw a line around the edges and say – this, here, is socially engaged art.

Socially engaged practice, also referred to as social practice or socially engaged art, can include any artform which involves people and communities in debate, collaboration or social interaction. This can often be organised as the result of an outreach or education program, but many independent artists also use it within their work. The term new genre public art, coined by Suzanne Lacy, is also a form of socially engaged practise.


Plans to redevelop the Shell Centre prompted many column inches when first proposed, thanks to the blocky, high-density designs in such a high-profile area.

The participatory element of socially engaged practice, is key, with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them. As Tom Finkelpearl outlines in his book What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, social practice is ‘art that’s socially engaged, where the social interaction is at some level the art.’ Socially engaged practice can be associated with activism because it often deals with political issues. Artists who work within this field will often spend much time integrating into the specific community which they wish to help, educate or simply share with. Of course there are worse character traits than sanctimony, after all, it’s really just good liberal instincts taken to overly pious extremes. But the urge to sit in self-righteous judgment on everyone else, to luxuriate in one’s own moral superiority, is so often what helps the Left make enemies out of potential friends. I’m no fan of Trump or the Conservatives. But you know what? It does seem that most are more interested in virtue signalling, being self-righteous and making tedious equivalents about Identity Politics in general. And it is all just fake, hypocritical and opportunistic rather than actually achieving anything.

Tom Estes’ art work entitled Babel blurs and distorts the lines of social engagement and instead exists to encourage conversation around current issues of material, physical or psychological limitations. It also raises questions of under what conditions the artist is the author of a collaborative, participatory artwork. Estes describes the work Babel as a way of creating a space for dialogues around the role of cultural identity and its relationship to a Hyper-consumerist Capitalist society. But he also asks us to, “re-think art as commodity and experience within an age of Public Relations, Propaganda and Fake News.”  Estes states:

“In a Hyper-Capitalist society people will do almost anything to alleviate their anxieties, accept any distraction. The internet on which you read this, television, booze, sex, pharmaceuticals are all part of our escape from a system designed to keep us unhappy and and always wanting more. People who are content don’t need to buy things to make themselves feel better. Words like social engagement, sustainability and community are frequently bandied about as buzz words, and their inclusion in the lexicon of corporate ideology implicates them as part of an establishment system which is in itself intended to be a form of short-duration entertainment. Some would argue that socially engaged art exacerbates social divides. As an artist I like to challenge and expose establishment art hypocrisy and paradoxes. In a sense what I am doing is using the same lexicon as the establishment in order to pervert it. I guess that might piss a lot of people off. But I don’t think the role of the artist is to be some kind of angel of mercy sent in by the establishment to help locals that feel disenfranchised. The artist should be one of the disenfranchised giving the establishment a good kicking”


Simon Jenkins — ever the critic of anything over three storeys —  described the scheme as ‘a visual wall of towers on a truly Stalinist scale’. The fight to overturn the scheme was dubbed the Battle of Waterloo.

“The kind of Liberal-Left people who are going in as artists and doing these socially engaged projects are often the same people who describe the people they are working with as ‘deplorables’. A generation ago, a post-modern cult now known as “identity politics” stopped many intelligent, liberal-minded people examining the causes and individuals they supported – such as the fakery of Obama, Clinton and Tony Blair and their bogus progressive movements. Self absorption, a kind of “me-ism”, became the new zeitgeist in privileged western societies and signaled the demise of great collective movements. And Liberal ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview became increasingly expressed in individualist terms. And now we have found ourselves in a world lost to emotion, irrationality, and a weakening grasp on reality. Lies don’t faze us, and knowledge doesn’t impress us. We are post-truth, post-fact.”

To understand the work is to first of all understand the title as that is a crucial aspect of the artist’s engagement. The Tower of Babel (Hebrew: מִגְדַּל בָּבֶל‎, Migdal Bāḇēl) as told in Genesis 11:1-9 is an origin myth meant to explain why the world’s peoples speak different languages. According to the story, a united humanity in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating eastward, came to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר‬). There they agree to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, unhappy with their arrogant desire to build a tower to reach heaven, confounded their speech so that they could no longer understand each other, and scattered them around the world. Estes goes on to say:

“There is a long tradition of renaming -and thereby reclaiming- buildings in London. What is now officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge was first called The ‘Blade of Light. However it was renamed in popular culture as ‘The Wobbly Bridge‘ after pedestrians felt unexpected swaying motion. The bridge was closed later on opening day, and after two days of limited access, it was closed for almost two years while modifications were made to eliminate the motion. Another landmark building, 30 St Mary Axe (previously known as the Swiss Re Building) is informally known as The Gherkin in regards to its shape. So there is already a popular trend to renaming structures. Likewise I felt that the origin myth of Babel summed up something about our own time. As political polarization grows, the arguments we have with one another may be shifting our understanding of truth itself. People are becoming less able to communicate as a form of selfish me-ism takes hold while algorithms are creating information bubbles that separate us from people with different opinions. Meanwhile new towers are going up every day as a celebration to the glory of greed and money. The Clinton/Blair establishment has lulled us into believing the lie that as long as its politicians are paying lip service to Black Lives Matter and advocating gay marriage, that it’s acceptable for them to choke us all to death by helping big money increase wealth disparity, institutionalize the economy, shrink wages and make it a struggle to put food on the table. Meanwhile they are spending trillions of dollars slaughtering millions of people overseas in corporatist wars for oil. ‘Vote for me! Sure I’ll sell the countries infrastructure to my plutocrat owners and fight to protect them from tax loopholes while you work two jobs just so your kids can eat, but I’ll never assume your gender!’ At the same time you have institutions like the Tate artwashing and lending respectability to big oil companies like BP. Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch was recently appointed to Arts Council England’s National Council. This is not only deeply troubling, given her close ties to the Murdoch corporate empire, but is also a glaring example of how nefarious the UK arts establishment has become. That is the fake left. That is the entirety of the establishment right now, and it’s what we need to be fighting.”

 Babel at The Shell Centre, 4 York Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7NW


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