Photo by Matty Flader / Photo Reporter

As accelerating technological advancement changes the digital landscape, the role played by social institutions like schools, companies and the government will shift. Students entering the workforce may be faced with the aftershocks of this digital shift and are looking to prepare themselves. 

On Oct. 2, students filled McMaster’s LIVElab to hear Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld discuss the potential impact of the growing presence of technology in the modern workplace.

Cutcher-Gershenfeld, author of Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution, is currently a professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. In his book, he argues that there have been  two “digital revolutions” in the last 50 years — and that we will soon experience a third. 

“The first digital revolution was the shift from analog to digital communication, which gave us the Internet. The second digital revolution [was] the rise of digital computation, which has given us what is now the ‘internet of things’ … [and] ubiquitous computation all throughout society,” he said. 

As much as these two digital revolutions have transformed the world, Cutcher-Gershenfeld added that the ability to use this digital technology to make physical objects — a process he refers to as “digital fabrication” — changes everything. He points to fabrication laboratories as a particular example. 

Fabrication laboratories, or “Fab Labs”, are small-scale hubs equipped with digital manufacturing tools such as 3D and laser printers. Fab Labs can rapidly manufacture industrial-quality goods, allowing people to turn their ideas into tangible prototypes.

“What we’re talking about is the ability to make what you need by what we call self-sufficient production, in which you are making what you need without having to work for someone else … The capability to, in a sense, have a small rapid prototyping facility that can produce industrial quality goods is happening faster and faster,” said Cutcher-Gershenfeld.

When Cutcher-Gershenfeld began writing his book, there were only 1,400 Fab Labs and maker-spaces worldwide. There are now 2,000.

According to Cutcher-Gershenfeld, access to these Fab Labs will increase exponentially in the coming years. While the impact is currently modest, he believes that Fab Labs will give way to the rapid evolution of digital fabrication and, by extension, will change what the workplace might look like for students who are about to graduate and enter the workforce. 

During his talk, Cutcher-Gershenfeld emphasized the potential dangers associated with the growing presence of Fab Labs. Currently, it is difficult to predict the impact that Fab Labs will have on the economy. However, Cutcher-Gershenfeld warned that without the support of social systems, like government regulation, the ability to manufacture products digital outside of a factory setting may have repercussions on existing industries.

Judy Fudge, labour studies professor at McMaster University and organizer for the event, echoed Cutcher-Gershenfeld’s concern towards the rapid emergence of new technology.

“[Things] could change dramatically for the worse if we don’t think about the social systems to make sure they [also] change for the better,” Fudge said.

Fudge planned Cutcher-Gershenfeld’s talk as an opportunity for students and staff to see how the workplace is evolving and how some individuals are working to improve it. The seminar was planned with the Socrates Project, a McMaster initiative that brings attention to modern problems through an interdisciplinary lens, as part of their ongoing “Future of Work” lecture series. 

According to Socrates Project Director Rina Fraticelli, partnering with McMaster’s School of Labour Studies was an opportunity for the Socrates Project to stimulate discussion on how the average workplace might change in the future. 

After the seminar, Fraticelli said, “It seemed to me that . . . one of the biggest preoccupations . . . of students who are looking ahead [is asking] ‘What will happen when I graduate? What’s the world going to be like?’”

 

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Photo C/O Kronos Quartet

Space, the final frontier — these are the words uttered by television’s space captain Jean-Luc Picard aboard the starship Enterprise-D. Star Trek nurtured the world’s passion for space exploration, inspiring awe and wonder about the dark abyss that surrounds us. We exist in this unknown under the twinkling lights of the stars, in the midst of the slow harmonious orbit of planets dancing to the music of outer space.

Back on Earth, Kronos String Quartet is playing along to this music. For David Harrington, founder and violinist of the group, music is as mysterious as space. 

“To me music is a very personal, it’s almost human substance that we create for each other. We get to share it with each other. As a musician, all it means is that from a very early age, that’s what you wanted to have around you all the time, but it’s a mystery. How it works? I cannot tell you. I do not know. I’m in awe of music,” said Harrington.

Growing up in Seattle, Washington, Harrington started forming string quartets — a group of four musicians comprising of violin, viola, cello and bass — when he was 12 years old. When he turned 14, something did not make sense to him. He looked at the globe that sat in his family home and realized that all of the music he played and listened to were by the same people out of Vienna: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

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“The globe has more cities and religions. I needed to explore the world of music. That started me on a voyage that I continue to this very day of wanting to know more of music, more about cultures, languages, religions, traditions and forms of music,” said Harrington.

“The globe has more cities and religions. I needed to explore the world of music. That started me on a voyage that I continue to this very day of wanting to know more of music, more about cultures, languages, religions, traditions and forms of music,” said Harrington.

Growing up towards the end of the 1960s, the U.S.-Vietnam war shook American values and left a long lasting impression on Harrington. He and his wife left the United States in 1972 in fear that he would be drafted for the war. Signing a one-year contract with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Harrington played in British Columbia until returning to his home one year later. 

“[The war] influences all of us a great deal . . . I feel like Kronos was created in 1973 in the shadow of that war . . . The idea that music can be an essential aspect of life and even a counterbalance to events and can actually become a way of responding and even countering directions that things are moving in. That’s right at the heart of why we started this group,” said Harrington. 

Kronos String Quartet is based out of San Francisco, California. Harrington has been at the helm of the group as a violin player ever since its inception in November of 1973. The group’s other members are John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Sunny Yang (cello), who play together to form a dynamic mix of stringed voices.

The quartet will be performing “Sun Rings” composed by Terry Riley, a friend of the group. The idea for the piece came in 2000 when Harrington’s manager received a phone call from NASA. NASA asked if the group would be interested in using recordings from the Voyager space probes, which were launched to conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. While space itself does not emit noise, plasma waves can be recorded via a receptor and transposed into sound waves, producing audible noise.

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After hearing the recording, Harrington quickly called Riley to ask him to compose a piece that complimented the music of space. However when disaster struck on Sept. 11, 2001, Riley stopped composing and reconsidered the entire piece. He rewrote “Sun Rings” as a musical response to 9/11, finishing the piece in 2002.

The composer knew that somehow he wanted to integrate the pain he was feeling into the music. In the performance’s final song entitled “One Earth, One People, One Love”, Riley used voice recordings of poet Alice Walker as she chants “One Earth, one people, one love”. Riley recorded Walker during a demonstration following the 9/11 terror attack the day before.

The composer knew that somehow he wanted to integrate the pain he was feeling into the music. In the performance’s final song entitled “One Earth, One People, One Love”, Riley used voice recordings of poet Alice Walker as she chants “One Earth, one people, one love”.

Riley also used audio recordings of Gene Cernan, the most recent astronaut to walk on the moon. Cenran’s voice can be heard at the opening of the piece as he says, “You have to literally just pinch yourself and ask yourself the question, silently, 'Do you really know where you are at this point in time in space and in reality and in existence, when you look out the window, and you're looking back at the most beautiful star in the heavens?’” This was Cernan’s testament to the beauty of Earth. 

“We hope that “Sun Rings” as an experience will radiate out into the community, through the audience, through the choir that joins us, through all of us,” said Harrington.

Kronos String Quartet brings a unique performance to McMaster, not only through the music involved, but also through the message that they convey. The piece was created to instill hope and bring the world together during a time where many felt isolated. Combining these ideas with the vast unknown that is outer space, the piece emphasizes the unity of humankind.

“I think that my allowing Sun Rings to enter your life, I think a person will find a larger sense of appreciation for what we have right here, right now,” said Harrington. “Music is very mysterious, we never know when we will connect with another listener . . . it just gives more of a sense of wonder and wonder is such a beautiful thing.”

Kronos String Quartet will be playing “Sun Rings” (T. Riley) accompanied by the McMaster University and Women’s Choirs on Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. and on Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. in L.R. Wilson Concert Hall as a part of The Socrates Project.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

In the lobby of L.R. Wilson Hall, human figures constructed of wood carving and found objects are fastened to a series of nine panels. At the bottom of the panels are phrases chronicling the thoughts that the artist, Persimmon Blackbridge, had while making the work. The figures come together to question the way in which society frames disability as a fracturing of life rather than an expected part of it.

Blackbridge’s Constructed Identities exhibit will be set up in L.R. Wilson Hall from Jan. 16 to Mar. 15. The exhibit is part of McMaster University’s Socrates Project and put on in partnership with Toronto disability arts gallery Tangled Art + Disability, for which Constructed Identities was the opening exhibit in 2015.

On Jan. 16, Blackbridge came to McMaster via video chat to have a conversation with Eliza Chandler. Chandler is an assistant professor at Ryerson University, founding Artistic Director of Tangled Art + Disability and a practicing disability artist and curator.

Blackbridge chronicled her disability art practice, which began in 1977. The Canadian sculptor, writer, curator, performer and editor told the story of her life and its entanglement with her art practice. She cites art as something that has helped her in dark spaces and in her daily life.

I've been an artist for 48 years. I've had a psych diagnosis for 31 years. I've had a learning disability for 68 years. Had kidney disease for 15 years. Some of these things work better together than others,” said Blackbridge in the opening of her talk.

Blackbridge recalled starting art school not long after experiencing her first breakdown. She counts herself as fortunate to have found a community of artists and activists in art school who understood her experiences.

Blackbridge’s history of making disability and mad art has put her on the forefront of these movements, which are only now being publicly funded and programmed. She likes the idea of having this exhibit shown in a university because she sees universities as spaces where disability is beginning to be discussed in new ways.

The pieces in Constructed Identities bear similarity to figures she created for a preceding series that explored her diagnosis. It was in that series that she began cutting off the tops of the figures’ heads and she has continued doing that in this work.

“[I]t really represented how some of us have [multiple] diagnoses and every shrink you see gives you a new diagnosis and expects you to act in a different way depending on that… [I]t's [also]… a way of representing invisible disability… [S]ometimes we don't get to speak with all of our identities together, sometimes we get fragmented into different, different pieces,” explained Blackbridge.

The first phrase in Constructed Identities is “what she taught me.” “She” refers to Tempest Grace Gale, a singer, artist and Blackbridge’s friend who was murdered in 2009. Gale combined doll parts and collected junk in her art practice, items which Blackbridge inherited after her death. The series begins with a reference to her because she influenced all the pieces in the exhibit.

There are others in Blackbridge’s life who influenced the work. SD Holman insisted Blackbridge carve more in this series than she did in her previous one. The wings in panel 4 are a tribute to the death of Blackbridge’s friend, Catherine Holman, who passed away in a plane crash. The words, “soft stroke” refer to the small strokes that Blackbridge’s partner, Della McCready, has as a result of her mysterious brain disease. McCready also helped to install the exhibit.

Some of the figures in the exhibition were made since it first showed in 2015, all entitled “his bones.” These pieces are made with bones that once belonged to Geoffrey McMurchy, a disability artist and activist who died suddenly in 2015. McMurchy was a founder of Vancouver non-profit Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture, which supports and promotes artists with disabilities.

“He and I shared a junk aesthetic and often traded… in bits of trash to inspire each other's art work. I was sent beautiful bones he’d collected over the years and that formed the basis of these new pieces. His work, his style, his energy and his hot sly humour helped so many of us along the way,” Blackbridge said.

Blackbridge is not done with Constructed Identities. She still has McMurchy’s bones that she is working with. His death was also the catalyst she needed to create more seated figures, as she realizes that the floating figures could be perceived as standing.

Constructed Identities has been on tour across Ontario since it opened up at the Tangled Arts + Disability gallery in Toronto. Next year it will be going to Vancouver where Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture Society will showcase the exhibit as it continues to inspire audiences to think deeper about disability.

 

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Photo C/O Mush Hole Project

By: Drew Simpson

Without any lights on in L. R. Wilson’s Black Box theatre, it can be a dark void and clean slate waiting to be molded. Three school chairs sat staggered, two up front and one centered and backwards. On the attached desk were three dark-red bricks formed into a cross.

The chairs sat in front of three projector screens, one facing forward and the other two diagonally placed to enclose the space. A quote by John A. Macdonald calling for industrial boarding schools sat on the main screen. Projected images of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School portrayed different rooms onto the screens.

The Mush Hole performance is a reckoning to express the depths of tormented realities faced within the Mohawk Institute without traumatizing members of the audience with lived experience. The project aims to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action.

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Of the five characters, each represents a survivor’s story. They each have names, or as the Mohawk Institute identified children with, a number. Number 48 and 29 were Ernest and Mabel who met at the residential school and became father and mother respectively to number 34 and 17, Walter and Grace. The fifth character is number 11, the girl without a name or family, as she was a runaway from the Institute.

After some brief introductions by the director of Indigenous studies at McMaster and by Santee Smith, the artist producer of the Mush Hole Project, the lights that allowed the audience to find their seats dimmed into the darkness. And we, the audience, became part of the void as we watched their stories.

The show started with choking. Everyone was constantly choking because they were constantly silenced by the Institution. Another constant was starvation, as one scene clearly projected the mush they ate. At first it resembled oatmeal, but that breakfast dish does not call for maggots. The maggot-infested mush was all the children ate in the Institution, inspiring the name given to the institution by survivors as well as the title of the performance.  

While the characters were often all within the same room together, they moved in lonesome. Often the characters mimicked trying to hug each other but never being able to actually touch the other person as if a force field blocked them.

There was an incessant longing to comfort one another which sadly was retaliated with violence. This violence was conveyed upon themselves in the form of slapping their own hands away, scrubbing at themselves or even upon each other as the children fought.

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Although the characters were dressed in 1950s school uniforms, their environment more accurately mimicked a prison. The children marched, they could not touch each other, they fought over things like apples, which they considered luxuries, they starved as they laboured to produce food, they constantly cleaned and the constant chain of locks being open and closed were haunting.

Smith explained that in such a prison-like atmosphere, survival and self-preservation become priorities over human connection. Agonizingly, all I could do was sit and watch siblings Water and Grace constantly reject each other’s tried comfort or condolences. Even when Walter needed it the most trapped inside a boiler room.

The introduction to Walter’s solo was a visual backdrop and sounds of steam and other sounds to set the tone of the boiler room. As every character had a solo in a specific room, this solo was gutting. He danced as if trying to escape and to stop whoever was stripping him. The solo was suggestive, but it was the fear, guilt and trauma in his eyes and his hands as they reached out during his dance that communicated he was being abused.

Every person suffered in the Institute. The girl labelled number 11, was lucky enough to run away, but it was suggested she did not fully escape. At the end of her solo, the screen showed her laid in the snow, her hair covering her face.

In another scene Mabel and Ernest sat at their kitchen table, playing popular 1950s music as Ernest drank and Mabel carefully pushed the chairs under the table, tapping at imaginary heads and smiling. Sometimes she motioned to spoon-feed the imaginaries in their seats. Ernest pulled and shoved the chairs away, urging Mabel to drink.

In the inescapable prison, Grace used her taught Christianity to cope. In one scene she loudly sang a gospel as number 11 and Walter rumbled and choked in their seats.

The show communicated multi-faceted torment, discussed the ideas of identity, self-hatred, inter-generational trauma, abuse and overall the effect of such a prison-like system that was the Mush Hole. Above all, it was conjoined stories of resilience for surviving every room and every lock and key.

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Photos C/O Sabrina Macklai

On Nov. 9, recipients of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award, one of McMaster University’s largest scholarships, held a dinner meeting in partnership with the Socrates Project to discuss free speech and McMaster’s current guidelines in light of the larger province-wide focus on the issue.

The event was invite-only, consisting of nine Wilson Leaders and alumni and approximately ten additional guests.

The topic of free speech was chosen as a result of the Ontario government’s recent announcement that all Ontario universities must formulate a “free-speech policy” by January 2019.

McMaster currently has a guidance document outlining “acceptable” forms of protest for event organizers.

[spacer height="20px"]The Wilson event allowed participants to share a meal and exchange ideas on free speech and how McMaster should move forward. The focus, according to Wilson scholar Monish Ahluwalia, was simply to promote critical discussion in an open environment, not to come to any definitive conclusion or recommendation.

“We are all from very different backgrounds and programs and experiences,” Ahluwalia said.

“We are hoping we can end with a group of people who have had this discussion and who will open their minds up to some different views hopefully and come out with a more holistic understanding of what free speech is.”

The Wilson Leadership Scholar Award is an award given to three undergraduate students and three graduate students each year. It provides them with up to $50,000 in funding and unique mentorship and leadership opportunities.

This small dinner was the first of its kind that the Wilson scholarship had hosted. However, the event was also an extension of the Socrates Project, which has facilitated many events this year on social issues and art projects.

Wilson scholars Josh Young and Ahluwalia agree that the small size of the dinner helped promote dialogue and dissent.

[spacer height="20px"]“Smaller group-oriented discussions seem to foster more organic discussion. It is not forceful,” said Young.

“We’re curious to see if this is something that students find valuable,” Ahluwalia added. “Moving forward, we are not decided on whether we want it to be invite-only or public. We fear that with too many people, it might get hard to control. It might lose its value.”

The idea of more productive discussion in small groups of select students raises questions about inclusion and exclusion and how to best ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and respected when it comes to contentious issues.

In effort to include more voices, yesterday, the McMaster Students Union hosted a town hall open discussion at TwelvEighty. MSU President Ikram Farah, McMaster President Patrick Deane and McMaster associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion) Arig al Shaibah were there to field questions from students.

Both the Wilson dinner and the MSU town hall are products of the university’s focus on the issue of free expression against the backdrop of the provincial government mandate.

Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario both released free speech policy drafts in Oct. 2018. Last month, both the MSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union condemned the government’s free speech mandate.

As the January policy deadline nears, McMaster students can expect more dialogue and speech on the question of “free speech” on campus.

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Photo by Kyle West

In attending events on gentrification, Angela Orasch realized that the conversations on this issue were happening in several discrete places. The McMaster University political science PhD candidate decided to plan an event to bring the different groups together in hopes of creating a network to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification.

The result was the Gathering on Art, Gentrification and Economic Development, funded by The Socrates Project and McMaster University’s Office of Community Engagement. The free public forum, open to all interested individuals, took place from Nov. 9 to Nov. 10 at The Spice Factory.

On Nov. 8, a door by donation kick-off party occurred at This Ain’t Hollywood, featuring performances by Lal, Lee Reed and Cheko Salaam. All proceeds went to the Tenant Turn-Up fundraising tour, a mini-tour connecting the housing struggles of Stoney Creek Towers in Hamilton, Parkdale in Toronto and Herongate in Ottawa.

The two-day forum consisted of a mixture of performances, panels and workshops, allowing individuals to both speak to their personal experiences and share strategies to work against the pitfalls of gentrification.

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We wanted to have varied programming… so [people] could learn differently through different means and be engaged in the process…. I think it was just a way to avoid the standard almost academic style of conference… it just didn't feel right for the collaborative spirit of what we wanted GAGED to be,” Orasch explained.

The programming was designed to bring multiple perspectives into the same space so individuals could ask questions to and learn from one another. There were contributions by frontline workers, individuals discussing LGBTQ2S+ concerns regarding gentrification, the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, COBRA and the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network, among others.

The participants discussed a wide range of topics, such as the role of art in the economic development of Hamilton, what gentrification means for Hamilton’s Indigenous community, the role of McMaster University in the gentrification process, the service industry and gentrification and the perspective of new Hamiltonians.

I think ideally if we can build bridges and capacity between groups to start challenging some of the negative stuff that's happening… that would be a great takeaway. [By] connecting and networking with various groups… there might be some room for… mutual interest and mutual goals,” Orasch said.

The goal of GAGED was to produce a report of actionable items and best practices models that will be made available to the public and distributed to City Hall, McMaster University, arts organizations and community groups.

However, this forum is only the first step in what Orasch would like to do about tackling gentrification. As with any multi-faceted and unfolding issue, it is impossible for the negative effects of gentrification to be alleviated overnight.

Orasch would like to see GAGED continue into the future, becoming a hub to connect different affected individuals and groups. She would like to see a team associated with GAGED that can continue organizing events, lobbying and creating publications and policy briefs to tackle this ongoing issue in a sustained way. Looking further into the future, Orasch would like to see the work of GAGED extend to other cities.

I guess one thing is that it's not just gentrification… but it's a broader economic system that's unfair, inherently unfair, and gentrification is just… one way in which the economic system unfolds in cities. But maybe because it's a cohesive concept it's a good one to latch on to it and create an activism around,” Orasch said.

GAGED could become a model for other cities seeking to confront gentrification. It could also evolve into an inter-municipal forum, uniting the strategies, ideas and expertise of groups affected by gentrification in different cities. GAGED is part of the first step in creating an increasingly cohesive strategy.

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