CRRS Fellows Workshop April 12: William Barker & Noa Yaari

Please join me at the Fellows Workshop at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies, the University of Toronto on Tuesday, April 12, 4:00-5:30 pm (EDT).

Follow this link for details and registration to the live zoom session:

William Barker – Inglis Professor, University of Kings College, and Professor Emeritus, English, Dalhousie University; CRRS Fellow

“Looking at Erasmus: Problems with Portraits”

This short talk looks at the ways a portrait can be used by a biographer or historian to inform us about historical figures. Erasmus was depicted in different media by Quentin Metsys, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Albrecht Dürer. Because of Erasmus’ own importance as well as that of these major artists a lot has been written about Erasmus and his portraits. The deliberately naive question posed by this talk is “what can we learn about Erasmus from these portraits?” Can looking at depictions of his face tell us something about him? What is the truth in the image?

Noa Yaari – Artist, CRRS Fellow

“Art-Based Knowledge Mobilization at the CRRS”

Drawing on others’ scholarship is a well-known practice in academia; it shows the understanding and acceptance of “knowledge” as a communal enterprise. While knowledge moves from one agent to another, and evolves over time, however, it may take unusual forms, which raise questions about its essence and nature. In her talk, artist Dr. Noa Yaari invites us to view “knowledge” as a physical body that has spatial dimensions, which are necessary for its existence and validity. We will focus on her art project at the CRRS to explore shifts in the way we pass, preserve, and produce knowledge. This, in turn, will enable us to evaluate the field of knowledge mobilization and contemporary pop culture to advance the study of the early modern era.

Poster of the Workshop
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Using Emojis as Reactions on Zoom

Noa Yaari, Kissing Emojis on Zoom, 2022. Toronto.

On my December post, I was wondering if the engineers at Zoom can create shadows as a function in Background & Filters. This would add a realistic element to the filters that they already introduced into the platform. In this post, I’d like to share some thoughts about the application of emojis as “reactions” on Zoom, and in turn, their functionality.

The inclusion of emojis on Zoom opens new possibilities of communication through screens. Unlike their use in text messages or emails, however, their use on Zoom mostly takes place within a conversation, or after a live presentation. In principle, the visual reaction they embody follows spoken words, and may be followed by these or other emojis. What does the ability to “react” through an emoji to spoken, usually fast, communication do? And what can the hundreds of emojis on Zoom offer us in this context?

The ability to react through emojis relates to their amount on the platform. On the one hand, the availability of numerous, various emojis gives the feeling of freedom; since there are so many of them, the only thing that is required from the user is to know what they wish to express and choose the right emoji. The user ought to trust that whatever their message may be, there is an emoji in the collection that can utter it effectively.

On the other hand, the high number of emojis and the minor nuances between them may confuse the user, especially if they prefer to react in a timely manner. For example, note the difference between “kissing,” “kissing­_smiling_eyes,” and “kissing_closed_eyes” (see image above). Imagine yourself using one of them on Zoom; which one would you choose? Which among the three would be closer to what you feel and want to share?

The application of emojis as “reactions” on Zoom raises questions about how the company sees the activity on its platform. The emojis of “raise hand” and “clap,” for instance, are elegant visual solutions for a speaking environment. Moreover, they have become icons that can easily symbolize a period in our history. As such, their functionality goes beyond the platform, creating cultural codes on a global scale. How does Zoom see the functionality of the many other emojis? In other words, how does it see its users finding the time – the right time – to use them?   

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Bend With Me Sway With Ease

Michael Bublé

The Cover of Michael Bublé’s 2003 Album

Over the last month, I’ve allowed myself to develop a new addiction; Michael Bublé’s version of Sway. In fact, I’m listening to it as I’m writing these very words. I can listen to it forever.

Playing the song in a loop on YouTube gave me the opportunity to look carefully at the cover of Bublé’s 2003 album in which Sway is recorded. In it, most interesting is the relationship between Bublé’s eyes and the tittle over the “i” in “Michael.” To be accurate, it’s not Bublé’s eyes, but rather his pupils, the reflections of light on his corneas just above them, and the eyelash of his right eye. The combination of the dark holes, bright reflections, a wave of hair, and a little dot creates an intriguing composition. Why?

First, since Bublé’s head tilts downward, it seems as if he might collide with his written name. On the one hand, he doesn’t seem to look at it; on the other hand, the stretch of the name across the whole image emphasizes its two-dimensional nature. Nevertheless, Bublé looks at something beyond his name. Because he is so illuminated, he seems like the moon observing Earth. At any rate, because the tittle and the two bright reflections on Bublé’s corneas resemble one another, the tittle seems to gravitate them, and ultimately Bublé, toward itself.

Second, the “i” in “Michael” looks like a candle to me, with the tittle being the flame. This impression is strengthened by Bublé’s eyelash that moves upward, which could result from the heat the candle emanates. If the tittle can gravitate and heat at the same time, Bublé should be careful with his eyes. Suggesting that they are at risk makes this image intriguing.

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Animated Filters and Shadows on Zoom

Noa Yaari, Self-Portrait with a Filter and Shadows on Zoom, 2021.

I became aware of the animated filters on Zoom quite recently. They are one of my highlights of 2021. Engineers at Zoom, could you develop shadows for the objects that follow the user’s face? 

Happy New Year!    

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How do you cite a caption with an emoji?

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Using an Emoji in a Caption of a Painting

I recently started to use an emoji of a book in the captions of my paintings for my art project at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies at the University of Toronto, titled “Word and Image Relationships at the CRRS Library.”

Traditionally, we see images and captions as counterparts, where the image provides a certain view, and the caption provides information about this view or the artwork itself. If you look above, you see that the first line of the caption indicates the artist, the name of the artwork, its year of production, artistic technique, and current location. This is a conventional form of a caption. In principle, the role of the caption is to contextualize the image through minimal information; however, it can also be a space for creativity and play. Let’s answer two questions to better understand this possibility.  

What is the role of an emoji of a book in the caption above? First, as you can see, the emoji is of an open book; neither of a close one, nor of a pile of books. It is important because the painting is made on a printed scan of a double spread, on a “recorded glimpse” of an open book. Thus, the emoji shows the “canvas” of the painting, although in this project, I paint on double spreads that include at least one image, and in this emoji, there is only text.

Second, the emoji starts a new line in the caption. On its right, there is an entry of a bibliographical list, which we usually find at the end of a scholarly work. Here, we can interpret the emoji of the book as a visual affirmation that the bibliographical entry is indeed about a book, even if it is written in a caption of an image. By denoting both the physical base of the painting (a book), and the use of a specific book, the emoji raises the awareness of the choice to paint on books, on the one hand, and to paint on a particular book, on the other. Introspectively, it also points out the use of an emoji to do so.    

What is the effect of using an emoji in a caption of an image? In addition to the meanings the emoji may suggest, if it is colourful, for example, its presence seems to add “life” to the caption, just as colourful illustrations do in textbooks. This, in turn, increases the ability of the caption to pull the viewers’ attention toward itself. Does this affect the attraction of the image? Among other factors, it depends on the kind of emoji we use (book, heart, moon), and where we locate it in the caption (beginning, middle, end). To ensure that the emoji adds value to our work, we need to approach the latter holistically; to recognize that, beyond any categories, each of its elements is the preparation and the result of the other at the same time.

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Google’s 23rd Birthday

Google’s 23rd Birthday on Google Search

Apparently, today is Google’s 23rd birthday. There are so many reasons to wish Google a “Happy Birthday!” as it adds tremendous value to our culture and society. At the same time, I ponder where this culture of collecting and selling data goes. I wish I could get from Google and other companies the great products and services they develop without being constantly registered and targeted. Imagine the internet as a flea market.

At any rate, I want to write about the image that Google posted today on the Search homepage, showing an animated two-tier birthday cake, with chocolate icing, colourful candies, and a candle (see above). On the second tier of the cake, they wrote “23” to indicate the number of years the company has been around. The letters in the inscription “Google” above the cake look like cookies or doughnuts, and they are covered by chocolate icing and candies, just like the cake. Sweet.

What caught my eye this morning was the cake’s freckles that are spread on its face on the first tier. Since the chocolate icing above the face looks like the cake’s hair, we cannot identify the brown dots on the second tier as freckles as well. These and those on the “Google” inscription are probably crumbles. I find the use of the brown dots as both freckles and crumbles charming, and would like to take the challenge of explaining how this charm is constructed.

First, note how the pattern in which the brown dots are spread becomes less ordered as we go up the cake. The freckles are divided into two groups of five on each side of the face, while the crumbles on the second tier cover it somewhat equally, and the crumbles on the inscription are independent of any grid. Second, this gradual three-fold change in the pattern of the dots takes place in a small space. It means that the illustration requires us to adapt our interpretation of the dots quickly according to their pattern. What we think we see promptly becomes something else. This is how the wonder is constructed. The charm is introduced with the cake’s smile that is pleased with its wonder.              

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How to Choose an Image for an Invitation

The following isn’t an answer for the question positioned above, but rather several thoughts about the use of both words and images in a document. I’ll analyze an invitation that I recently prepared to my upcoming hands-on workshop at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University. The team at the Centre offered improvements to what I initially sent them, and we sent it today over relevant list-serves. These are the image and the text:

Noa Yaari, Artist in Residence 15/20 (detail), 2020. Ink and acrylic on paper, 22.9 x 30.5 cm, Toronto.

Artist in Residence” is an art project Dr. Noa Yaari created at home for the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies. Dr. Yaari likes to say that the project is about how she has experienced the current pandemic, but it is much more than that. In this hands-on workshop, she invites us to dive into its details and the deliberations that determined its look. For instance, we will focus on the elements that convey discontinuity and insecurity, on the one hand, and those that express optimism, and self assurance, on the other. This would be an opportunity for us to examine how works of art open spaces for personal interpretations but also utilize perceptual and cultural codes that we share. We will also participate in a 10-minute drawing exercise to unleash our creativity in a supportive environment.

First, I like to direct your attention to the terms “residence” and “home” and the image of the upside down house. The title of the art project, “Artist in Residence,” suggest that its theme is an artist being in residence, which is confirmed by the indication that the artist created the project “at home.” This, in turn, brings the meaning of “residence” and “home” closer, blurring the distinction between the professionalism of “residence” and the intimacy of “home.” The text argues that I like to say that its about my “experience of the current pandemic.” Indeed, one of the main characteristics of it has been the integration of work and home through the “work at home” model. Considering this, what does the image of the house contribute to the invitation?

If the artist created the project at home, and the image of the house is of the artist’s home (we know it was painted there), then the artist experiences a downfall. The text points out that I invite the audience to dive into the project’s details; their planning and the contradicting emotions they evoke. The use of the term “dive” emphasizes the movement of the house (or artist) downward, and the term “invites” legitimates any interpretations that the viewer may realize in their mind while reading the invitation.

Second, the text indicates that we will examine how artworks function on the fine line between personal interpretations and shared perceptual and cultural codes. This reminds the reader that their interpretation – perhaps association between – the terms “residence” and “home” and the image of the house may be idiosyncratic, and equally so, a collective reaction.    

This verbal-visual composition intentionally creates a mental space that expands in various directions. It positions words and images in vicinity to one another to raise different meanings that make sense to the same degree, as paradoxes do. The hearts, roof, and snow in the painting enable the colour red to do so as well.       

Please join us at the workshop on Monday Sept 13, 12-2 pm. Via Zoom:

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Research, Art, and Emotions

Noa Yaari, CRRS 14/30 (detail), 2021. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

An article on the RAND website explores the use and effectiveness of art-based approaches to public engagement with research. It argues that:

“When designing arts-based engagement approaches, it is important to consider that they can bring out experiences in stakeholders that may be challenging to process at an emotional level. Mitigations and management mechanisms to deal with potential unintended consequences should be included in the approach.”

The brief article from which I quoted this conclusion, doesn’t give examples. Thus, I can only guess what the author means by “unintended consequences.” What could they be? I recall myself being engaged with artworks of various kinds and reacting to them emotionally. I don’t remember myself experiencing “intended consequences;” they all seem independent of my wish whether to experience them or not and, in my memory, I’m fine with that. 

The assumption that “unintended consequences” should be “managed” suggests that they entail a negative feeling, or perhaps a positive one, which may be inappropriate. Am I right? Otherwise, what could be the reason to manage them? Perhaps these consequences are sadness, anger, fear, disappointment, agitation, and other kinds of pain. If the results of research are painful, and the art-based approach delivers them in a creative and engaging way, what is the problem with experiencing that pain? Isn’t that unpleasant experience a condition for further ideas, conversations, activism, and change?

Lastly, the recommendation to include “management mechanisms” in the art-based approach raises the questions: What are these mechanisms? Who should design them; the researcher, artist, or other kind of expert? And would it be risky to trust the audience that it can deal with its emotions as it encounters reality, research, and art? 

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Art-based Knowledge Mobilization

Noa Yaari, CRRS 12/30 (detail), 2021. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

I’m currently participating in a course in Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) at York University, which is run in collaboration with the University of Winnipeg and Memorial University. Titled MobilizeU, it’s excellent. One of the things I appreciate most in it is the opportunity to delve into “Art-based knowledge mobilization” (ABKM) and its potential to engage diverse audiences with academic research.

KMb is a field that examines and develops methods of sharing academic research with non-experts. These can be academicians from other fields, organizations, communities, and the general public. KMb uses communication methods such as describing research in clear and engaging language, visualizing information, and disseminating research on social media. It aims to enlarge the audience of the research as well as to enable stakeholders to become co-producers of its impact. Hence, collaborating with community members, industries, and policymakers is essential to KMb.   

For researchers, moving from a professional discourse to engaging non-experts with their research may be challenging. It requires the development of new habits, which entails learning and creativity. The expectation of research funders to see researchers involved in KMb activities adds pressure to that challenge.  

AKMB, which is also called art-based knowledge translation (ABKT), offers solutions to making research accessible to broad audiences, and it’s also fun. For example, as a Fellow at the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies (CRRS) at the University of Toronto, I create an art installation in the hallway that leads to its library. For the installation, I paint on 30 double-spreads that I scanned, which include both words and images and which I found inside the books of the CRRS library. While this project continues my academic research on the creation and communications of knowledge through combinations of words and images, it provides the viewers a sensorial experience and several “visual jokes.”

The freedom that art instills in research through KMb activities may effectively connect diverse audiences with the content of the research. One thing to consider is the format; it can be any kind of architecture, rather than a book or journal article. The physicality of the space and the artworks, on the one hand, and that of the viewers, on the other, can turn the knowledge into sensorial vibes.                                            

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