American writer returns to U.S. after 2 years held captive in Syria
NBC News: American writer Peter Theo Curtis returned to the United States on Tuesday after being held captive in Syria for nearly two years, his family said in a statement.
Curtis, 45, was believed to be abducted by militants when he crossed into Syria in 2012.
Photo: Writer Peter Theo Curtis was released this week after being held captive for two years in Syria. (Courtesy: Curtis Family)
In 1869, the year the Museum was incorporated, the Trustees turned to the critical task of building its collections. Within a few months, they sent Daniel Giraud Elliot, a noted ornithologist and naturalist, and Museum Trustee William T. Blodgett to negotiate the purchase of “certain collections of specimens in Natural History” in Europe.
Elliot and Blodgett ultimately purchased the collection of Prince Maximilian zu Wied (1782–1867), an explorer from the German principality of Wied-Neuwied. Prince Maximilian’s collection “is regarded as one of the most important private collections in Europe, and has long been consulted by the scientific world,” wrote Blodgett in his report. It was a fantastic opportunity for the nascent Museum to acquire specimens that would form the nucleus of its holdings.
The value of the Maximilian collection lay largely in its diversity and the rarity of its specimens, containing 4,000 mounted birds, 600 mounted mammals, and about 2,000 fishes and reptiles, either mounted or in alcohol. Researchers at the Museum still study these today.
The Invisible Presence
The works of Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller often create a potent atmosphere through the abundant use of antiquated objects and nostalgic memorabilia. Kitty Scott of the AGO astutely thought to link the words memory palace to their works, which have been collected in a retrospective show held at the AGO and the Vancouver Art Gallery, where I was lucky enough to experience it. This description is most accurate because each piece is a complex network of memories that are at once accessible and completely foreign to the viewer. Works such as Dark Pool, 1995, Opera for a Small Room, 2005, and The Killing Machine, 2007, are composed of dense collections of used objects that have a strongly uncanny presence. The objects are often well worn and bear the musk of a former possessor. They are commonplace objects: vinyl records, tea cups, personal diaries and journals, all domestic items that most visitors have been intimately familiar with at one point in their life. And yet now the objects are being used and displayed so strangely in dark, heavy installations that any personal memories evoked in the viewer are undeniably contaminated by a foreign presence.
In Opera for a Small Room Cardiff & Miller use programmed lighting and robots to create the visual and aural traces of an unseeable person performing for the audience. The sound system plays a recording of the invisible man scuffling through the room, sorting through the stacks of records and speaking to the audience. His presence is further supported by lighting that creates his shadow flickering around the room and robotics that pull out his chair and turn on the record players. The invisible presence of modern technology is disguised as the invisible presence of the ghost who inhabits the installation.
The Killing Machine has a menacing presence when visitors are first confronted with it. Two gangly and yet sinister robotic arms, as well as a variety of old television sets emitting buzzing static images surround an electronic dentist’s chair. The experience of the installation however only truly begins when the viewer inevitable pushes the large button that entices visitors to PRESS it. The Killing Machine is then brought to life and the viewer can only watch in horror as an invisible victim is tortured to death by the robotic arms equipped with firing pneumatic pistons that whirl in a dance of death around the chair. Click here to watch The Killing Machine in action.
Underlying the dated and decrepit objects of the Cardiff & Miller installations is a force used to create the eerie presence of their pieces. These artists ironically rely on the latest technology to bring new life and a new presence to their installations. Robotics and precise programming are essential to the execution of these pieces. Interestingly, in an interview with Canadian Art Cardiff explained that “Technology is not the subject matter for us,” and Miller was quick to follow, stating, “The concern is only in what it can do for us.” Despite this aloof attitude towards technology, the duo is dependent upon the latest innovations to bring their ideas to fruition. Art and technology are inseparable from each other in the work of these two artists.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is set to host Lost in the Memory Palace from June 21st to September 21st, 2014.
- Emily Cluett
Thanks to a NASA physicist, the notion of warp speed might just travel out of sci-fi and into the real world.
NASA’s Harold White has been working since 2010 to develop a warp drive that will allow spacecraft to travel at speeds faster than light — 186,000 miles per second.
White, who heads NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Team, spoke about his conceptual starship at a conference last fall. But interest in his project reached a new level this week when he unveiled images of what the craft might look like.
Created by artist Mark Rademaker, who based them on White’s designs, the images show a technologically detailed spacecraft that wouldn’t look out of place in a “Star Trek” movie. Rademaker says creating them took more than 1,600 hours.
At the SpaceVision 2013 Space Conference last November in Phoenix, White talked about his design, the concepts behind it and the progress that’s been made in warp-drive development over the decades. He discussed the idea of a “space warp,” a loophole in the theory of general relativity that would allow for massive distances to be traveled very quickly, reducing travel times from thousands of years to days.
In his speech, White described space warps as faraway galaxies that can bend light around them. They work on the principle of bending space both in front of and behind a spacecraft. This would essentially allow for the empty space behind the craft to expand, both pushing and pulling it forward at the same time. The concept is similar to that of an escalator or moving walkway.
"There’s no speed limit on the expansion and contraction of space," White said at the conference. “You can actually find a way to get around what I like to call the 11th commandment: Thou shall not exceed the speed of light.”