shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
(The final assignment for my archaeology class is to come up with an outline for a unit on a topic which was not already covered in the course. Here's my offering.)

After taking courses in both genetics and archaeology, I have become quite interested in research incorporating both. Genome mapping is one of archaeology's newest tools, and the information gathered in this way is fascinating.

Lecture 1: The Genome Treasure Map: GATC Marks the Spot

Genome mapping is being used as a sort of snapshot to study disease and heredity in long-dead people. So far, it has been used to learn more about only a few individuals and groups of people, but use of this tool is rapidly becoming more popular. The elite group of people whose genomes have been mapped includes a Spanish hunter gatherer, a Greenlandic Inuit, some Neanderthals, a Denisovan, Richard III (1), and Otzi the Iceman. Databases have been constructed for the genome sequences of Neanderthals (2) and Denisovans (3). With this technology, it may possible to determine characteristics of other extinct, ancient humans, too. One such group would be Homo floresiensis, the so-called "Hobbit" people of Indonesia (4).

The lecture would include the following basic information:
- what is genome mapping?
- how is DNA gathered from human remains
- what can be learned from this technique
- what has been learned about the people studied in this way

Recommended readings include:
- 'Startling and shocking': Key figures in the search for Richard III recount their reactions to the discovery of a skeleton at Grey Friars: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/media-centre/richard-iii/old-content/features/startling-and-shocking
- Richard III DNA tests to reveal hair, eyes and diseases of the King: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art467401-Richard-DNA-tests-to-reveal-hair-eyes-diseases-King

Lecture 2: The Relationship Between Hunters/Gatherers, Farmers, and Animals

As for a second lecture topic, we have other uses of genetic research in conjunction with archaeology to investigate. The genetic records of domesticated animals and crops reveals not only information about the animals of the time, but also as to the prehistory of farming and domestication. This blurred line between wild animals and domesticated ones potentially shows a blurred line between hunter/gatherers and farmers. Recent genetic studies have demonstrated that hunters/gatherers coexisted in geographic areas with farmers.

The lecture could include:
- What genetic studies of animals reveals about people's prehistorical relationship with animals
- The relationship between farmers and hunter/gatherers as determined by genetic research
- What plant genetics tell us about domestication of crops

Recommended readings include:
- The story of animal domestication retold: http://www.geneticarchaeology.com/research/The_story_of_animal_domestication_retold.asp
- How Farming Reshaped our Genomes: http://news.sciencemag.org/archaeology/2014/01/how-farming-reshaped-our-genomes


Related Exercises:

1. What other ways has genetic research been used in archaeology?
2. What ethical concerns are there with the genetic testing of human remains?

Your answer should be should be between approximately 400 and 750 words (with 750 as a maximum).


Works Cited:
1. The Discovery of Richard III. https://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/
2. The Neandertal Genome. http://neandertal.ensemblgenomes.org/index.html
3. Denisovans, an ancient human group, have genome mapped. http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/the-ancient-human-genome-project-denisovan-dna-mapped/
4. New Fossils Help Bring Hobbit Humans to Life. http://news.discovery.com/human/evolution/new-fossils-hobbit-face-13010.htm
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I grew up eating a lot of food traditional to my Canadian ancestors. We rarely purchased pre-made baked goods, and my mother baked almost everything from scratch. My family were gatherer/hunters, and much of our food came from our farm or from the wilds. I grew up cooking on wood stoves and over campfires with wood we gathered with our dog or pony teams, so I suspect my understanding of foods differs from that of people from urban, western upbringings. I was once used to cooking and baking in the ways my ancestors did over the past couple of hundred years. Although I now cook with modern implements I find the food tastes quite similar as long as I'm using comparable ingredients.

A while back, I picked up a copy of Dorothy Duncan's Nothing More Comforting: Canada's Heritage Food. It contains a variety of recipes similar to the ones I grew up with. I chose a recipe for honey bread because I had all of the ingredients in my larder already. This recipe was first published in 1896 in Fanny Merritt Farmer's The Boston Cooking School Cook Book. It was only about this time that honey was first listed as an ingredient in recipe books. Before that time, honey was served as an accompaniment to scones, tea, and such.

The recipe is as follows:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup strained honey
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk

Mix and sift dry ingredients. Add others. Beat thoroughly. Bake in loaf or bread stick pans in moderate oven, 350*F. Makes 1 loaf.

These would have been staple ingredients in a Canadian larder around the turn of the 20th century, available from the local grocer. The fresh ingredients such as honey, eggs, and milk, were produced on many farms, and flour was available from grain mills.

If you're familiar with baking, you may notice that a cooking time isn't listed. Neither does it say if the pan should be greased or powdered. I made the guess that I should cook it for about 45 minutes, as that's about how long it takes a gingerbread loaf to cook. I also lightly greased the loaf pan with butter.

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shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
About ten years ago, I studied metal arts at craft college. My focus was in the creation of jewellery and other small metal objects. I studied the history of jewellery as part of my curriculum, and we learned about ancient techniques. One of the techniques we studied was granulation. Granulation is a technique in which tiny, uniformly-sized beads of metal are affixed to a metal object in a pattern.

The early masters of this art were the Etruscans, back in the third century BCE. The precision work and the infinitesimal metal spheres they created are mind-boggling. Extant pieces show granules a mere 0.14 mm in diameter (1). It is unknown how such tiny, consistently-sized beads were created. It is also unknown how they were attached to metal pieces without melting them. Probable techniques have been determined, but there is no hard proof that these techniques are the ones which were actually used.

This photo shows detail on an Etruscan earring demonstrating a variety of granulation sizes and patterns, as well as a variety of other techniques including filigree (fine metal scrolling), chasing (hammering to create a concave surface design), repoussage (hammering to create a convex surface design), and dapping (hammering a flat piece of metal into a dome).

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shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
Long before archaeology was ever called archaeology, there were people going around searching for historical artefacts. In particular, people sought out holy relics. A holy relic is a part of a venerated person, or a piece of an artefact associated with that person. Although many of the relics are fake (it's been said there were enough splinters of the True Cross to build an armada), these fakes were still items of import. In medieval Christianity, "the physical remains of saints and holy figures were considered an essential part of the faith, offering a powerful connection with Heaven" (1). Pilgrimages to holy relics were vital, and could be used as Indulgences to cut down on time languishing in Purgatory. The most important relics of all were the ones associated with Jesus Christ. Since he was believed to have physically ascended to Heaven, the opportunities to retrieve a piece of Jesus were slim, and limited to hair, blood, fingernail clippings, or his foreskin.

At one point in history, there were a reported eighteen foreskins of Christ floating around Europe. Barring some loaves-and-fishes-style miracles, it is obvious these can't have been real. Even if the foreskin of baby Jesus had been saved, such a tiny scrap of organic matter should have rotted away while he was still an infant.

Regardless, the relic(s), called the Holy Prepuce, got around. Determining the veracity of these relics was vital, and specialists arose. The most common testing method was a taste test. "A properly trained physician chosen by the local priest would chew the shriveled leather...to determine whether it was wholly or partly human" (2). When Pope Innocent III was called upon to pass judgement on the authenticity of one Holy Prepuce, he demurred (3). I can't say I blame him.

One such Holy Prepuce was personally delivered by an angel to Austrian nun Agnes Blannbekin in the thirteenth century (4).

"Crying and with compassion, she began to think about the foreskin of Christ, where it may be located [after the Resurrection]. And behold, soon she felt with the greatest sweetness on her tongue a little piece of skin alike the skin in an egg, which she swallowed. After she had swallowed it, she again felt the little skin on her tongue with sweetness as before, and again she swallowed it. And this happened to her about a hundred times. And when she felt it so frequently, she was tempted to touch it with her finger. And when she wanted to do so, that little skin went down her throat on its own. And it was told to her that the foreskin was resurrected with the Lord on the day of resurrection. And so great was the sweetness of tasting that little skin that she felt in all [her] limbs and parts of the limbs a sweet transformation" (5).

Since people have been making dick jokes for thousands of years, much to the displeasure of the Catholic Church, the topic of the holy foreskin was a source of ribaldry. By 1900, they'd had enough of it, and it was decreed that talking about Holy Prepuce was an offense punishable by excommunication.

By the twentieth century, there was only one known holy foreskin, anyhow. It resided in Calcata, Italy. "For more than four centuries, the 'Holy Prepuce' had been the city's treasure, kept behind bronze doors over the altar in the Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It was displayed every year on Jan. 1, the Feast of the Holy Circumcision", finally vanishing in 1983 (6).

Where did this relic end up? There are numerous speculations. Considering the fate of an earlier Holy Prepuce was transmogrification into the rings of Saturn (7), the hypothesis that it was reclaimed by the Vatican is quite reasonable (8).

[Circumcision of Christ, detail from Twelve Apostles Altar (Zwölf-Boten-Altar). Painting by Friedrich Herlin of Nördlingen, 1466. Rothenburg ob der Tauber]

Works cited )
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
My next archaeological homework assignment is a fun one. I pick an archaeological site, provide some clues, and you get to see if you can guess where it is. Here goes!

This archaeological site is a tranquil seaside location, and until it was visited, no artefacts were on site. Despite the lack of both artefacts and ecofacts, 21.5 kg of materials were brought back by explorers for further investigation. The visit itself is what established this as a unique archaeological site.

The following is an aerial view.

[Mystery]

Answer to the riddle is behind the cut )
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
I was given the following assignment.

You are approached by Ryan Morrison, the mayor of a medium-sized city in the Midwest of the United States. He has heard that you know a lot about gamification and believes that gamification techniques can transform city government.

He would like to start with the health of city employees. The city has 50,000 employees and they happen to have exactly the same rates of obesity as the U.S. average: 34.4% overweight (but not obese) and 33.9% of them are obese. 53.1% of the city’s employees do not meet the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity and 76% of them fail to meet the Guidelines for muscle-strengthening activity. The city pays for health benefits for its employees and this cost is a huge part of the city budget. Economists in Mayor Morrison’s office have estimated that a 3% improvement in the average physical fitness of city employees would amount to a US$94 million reduction in annual city health costs; a 5% improvement would save US$188 million.

Describe in general terms a gamified system that could effectively motivate behavior change to address the challenge presented above. Specifically, explain how the system would effectively incorporate intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, or both. Your answer should address the fact that this is an internal gamification project, targeted at the institutional goals of the city government. The system can use any technology (or no technology!), so long as the resources required seem justified by the scope of the opportunity.


Here is my response....

*imagine that voice-over guy...*

In a world where human dignity is a distant second to fiscal savings, one man sets out to find a way to make his money-saving strategies look like an act of humanitarianism. That man is Mayor Ryan Morrison. Inspired by The Hunger Games, His Worship Ryan Morrison is seeking out the best gamification strategies in the nation.

Mayor Morrison knows that a lack of exercise and a surfeit of junk food causes ill health, and that's why he follows a strict paleo diet and CrossFits five times a week. He cares about his health. He also cares about the health of city employees, because if they're not healthy, they're taking sick days. And if they're taking sick days, they're also cashing in on those expensive health care benefits. Let's face it: health care benefits haemorrhage money away from the city budget, where the money could be used for things like campaigning for reelection. This is an internal gamification project, targeted at the institutional goals of the city government. After all, the health care costs of the city populace do not come from the coffers of civic government. Therefore, the only players will be city employees.

A three-month probation period will be implemented. This provides a head start for all players. Some may use this time to improve their lifestyle. Some may use it as one great last hurrah, bingeing on pizza pockets and pork rinds. At the end of the three months, players in the bottom tenth percentile in terms of health and fitness will be given a choice: they can either keep their jobs and benefits, or they can be removed. If they wish to keep their jobs, they must become players in the Civic Games (this name was chosen by His Worship in homage to The Hunger Games. His daughter is a huge fan). In many gamified systems, leaderboards are a common feature. In this instance, Mayor Morrison will be taking a different approach. Instead, this game will utilize a Danger Board. The Danger Board will list the players most likely to lose.

The bottom ten players from the Danger Board get to participate in the exciting Subway Events. Contestants will be sent to a decommissioned subway station rigged up with a variety of obstacles. The most exciting of obstacles is the ever-popular Don't Step On the Third Rail. Winners get to eat a healthy, nutritious meal. Losers get removed from the gene pool.

Since 90% of the employees will have an improved health/lifestyle in an attempt to avoid the Danger Board, the city is already ahead of target goals for improved health. The dangerous circumstances experienced by the insignificant number of employees participating in the Subway events will result in health care bills. However, since these games will be televised and sponsored by a variety of corporations, there will still be a healthy profit margin. And since the losers die and mortuary fees aren't covered by city employee insurance, everything is golden.
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
In August of 2012, the search for Richard III's remains began, and on the very first day of the dig, his body was discovered underneath a car park in Grey Friars, Leicester (1). I've kept half an eye on this story for a while. Richard III is a fascinating character, and the eponymous play is one of my favourite works by Shakespeare.

The story just became even more interesting for me. An article in Culture24, Richard III DNA tests to reveal hair, eyes and diseases of the King, shows that the genomes of Richard III and one of his proven descendants will soon be mapped. Richard III is lumped in with a Spanish hunter gatherer, a Greenlandic Inuit, some Neanderthals, a Denisovan, and Otzi the Iceman as an elite group of historical/prehistorical figures whose genomes have been studied (2). The story gains publicity because Richard III is a character who captures people's imaginations, because his ignoble resting place beneath a car park seems so anticlimactic, and because the Human Genome Project is a new and exciting area of scientific research.

The article emphasizes the role of DNA in our sense of identity, and how understanding the king's genetics gives us a snapshot of disease and heredity in the fifteenth century. The article, however, is brief and does not go into any real depth. As a result, it raises more questions than it answers. Just how prevalent is genome mapping in archaeology? The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 (3). How soon afterwards until it was used as an archaeological method? A cursory internet search for genome mapping and archaeology reveals a wide range of results, and they're not all related to human remains. There are plenty of articles which discuss genome mapping in molecular archaeology (eg. Molecular archaeology of the Escherichia coli genome (4)), as well as other studies of ecofacts versus human remains and artefacts (eg. Plant genome archaeology: evidence for conserved ancestral chromosome segments in dicotyledonous plant species (5)).

The article also raises questions about the other people listed whose genomes have been mapped. It contains no links to these studies, which seems like an obvious oversight. Fortunately, another online search reveals more information. I discovered that just as there is a Human Genome Project, there is a Neanderthal Genome Project. You can even search through the data at The Neandertal Genome (6). I learned that Denisovans, a lesser-known peer to Neanderthals and prehistoric humans, may be the first non-Neanderthal archaic humans to be sequenced (7). The genome mapping of the ancient Inuit in Greenland "provides evidence for a migration from Siberia into the New World some 5,500 years ago, independent of that giving rise to the modern Native Americans and Inuit" (8). The study of Otzi the Iceman's cellular mitochondria reveals mutations no longer present in our population, suggesting he belonged to a now-extinct group (9). Lastly, the study of the Spanish hunter-gatherer may help explain why prehistoric hunter-gatherers could coexist with farmers for thousands of years before disappearing (10). This is just a tiny cross-selection of the extant information on these people.

The archaeological data recovered through genetics studies is vast. I never would have suspected that a reviled British king would be the one to demonstrate this to me.

Works Cited )
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
A sense of foreboding and oppression permeates page three of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal: Volume 2, Bad Night. This mood is accomplished through a variety of visual and literary techniques. Through these techniques, this page showcases the anxiety ubiquitous to the creative process.

Allusion provides a framework for the claustrophobic mood. The title of the comic strip being drawn by the protagonist, Jacob, is an anglicization of Franz Kafka, the famous 20th-century author. Franz Kafka wrote about such recurring situations as alienation and bureaucratic authoritarianism. The name Frank Kafka therefore sets the stage for trepidation.

Franz Kafka's September 23, 1912 diary entry reads,

This story..I wrote at one sitting...from ten o'clock at night to six o'clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. Several times during this night I heaved my own weight on my back. How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again.... At two I looked at the clock for the last time. As the maid walked through the anteroom for the first time I wrote the last sentence. Turning out the light and the light of day. The slight pains around my heart. The weariness that disappeared in the middle of the night. The trembling entrance into my sisters' room. Reading aloud. Before that, stretching in the presence of the maid and saying, “I've been writing until now.” The appearance of the undisturbed bed, as though it had just been brought in. The conviction verified that with my novel-writing I am in the shameful lowlands of writing. Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul (1).
In "Bad Night," the reader is privy to Jacob's thoughts on the creative process. He says, “I try to always leave a strip in progress, but close to being done.... That way, the next morning you have something to start right in on. Because that last panel calls out to you...like an unfinished sentence” (2). In conjunction with Franz Kafka's ceaseless writing style, this adds to the oppression of the page.

A sense of imminent expectation pervades the page through auditory cues. Gerry's phone call is presaged by the “BRRNGG BRRNGG” of the first panel. This sound effect is an example of onomatopoeia. Not only is it the sound of the telephone, but it is also a homonym for “bring.” The phone demands Jacob's comic strip. Bring it now, it seems to say—BRING BRING! Gerry's subsequent mention of deadlines cements the imperative. The deadline looms. The clock looms. Jacob works under a virtual sword of Damocles.

The page is an example of mise-en-abîme: the literary term for a story within a story. Through the use of this recursive technique, thematic parallels are revealed. Archetypes within Frank Kafka P.I. continue in the framing story, and continue into real life. The expectations placed upon Frank, Franz, and Jacob are expectations similarly placed upon Brubaker and Phillips. The story transcends the fictional and becomes autobiographical.

The panels of framing story and mise-en-abîme alike demarcate oppression. In Frank Kafka P.I., the panels are identical in size, and march along the page in mechanical, precise formation. They are a visual reminder of the constancy of Franz Kafka's writing. In contrast, the panels of the framing story vary in width, reminiscent of an irregular heartbeat. Although the story progresses, it does so in fits and starts. This represents Jacob's method of intentionally leaving something unfinished so he is compelled to get back to it. The narrowing panels also serve to increase the sense of claustrophobia.

Two graphic styles are used on this page. Frank Kafka P.I. is drawn in a cartoony, Dick Tracy fashion. The lettering has a bold, authoritarian cast to it. The consistently-shaped word balloons are drawn with heavy black lines. While Jacob works away with this institutionalized drawing style, he himself is portrayed in a different mode.

Where Frank is drawn with oppressive regularity, Jacob is drawn in a technique more in line with contemporary realism. Frank shares Dick Tracy's trademark sneers and scowls, and Jacob is drawn in taciturn resignation. The realistic hue is no less oppressive, however. Lighting is used to deepen the foreboding of the page. Jacob is presented to the reader in chiaroscuro. Shadows close in on Jacob. If he ever wants to see the light, he must remain at his drafting table. By being shrouded in darkness, in shadows cast from an indiscernible light source, the drawings are claustrophobic. Jacob hides in his insular dark office just as Frank Kafka P.I.'s Remy D. hides in a janitor's closet.

Word balloons are treated differently in the framing story. Gone are the regularity and precision of the Frank Kafka P.I. strip. Instead, the only vocalization, that of Gerry, is presented in a jagged, rough-hewn word balloon. The edges are sharp, and appear to prickle Jacob, distracting him from the work he has been doing. When Gerry hangs up, Jacob is taken out of his groove and leaves the room. The unfinished panel of his comic strip necessitates his eventual return. He, like Kafka, Brubaker, and Phillips, is a slave to his work.

In just one page of exposition on the creative process, Brubaker and Phillips elicit profound feelings of foreboding, claustrophobia, and oppression. They do this through such techniques as onomatopoeia, literary and visual allusion, layout, drawing styles, and recursion. That they accomplish so much in so few words is masterful.

Works Cited:
Kafka, Franz. Diaries. September 23, 1912 entry. http://vgcentral.org/kafka/diaries/Diary%201912.htm

Ed Brubaker (words) and Sean Phillips, Criminal: Volume 2, Bad Night (Marvel, 2009), page 3.
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
In pop culture, Sigmund Freud is, perhaps erroneously, quoted as saying “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (1). However, in Jack Cole's “Murder, Morphine and Me,” from the May 1947 edition of True Crime #2 (Cole, 6), the sexual nature of the visual imagery is not just a matter of reading too much into the drawings. “Murder, Morphine and Me” is a horror story, and page 6 of the story is about sexual horror in particular.



Read more... )
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
[Masked Shrike]

(Photo of Masked Shrike by John Peacock)

The Masked Shrike is a medium-sized predatory bird notable for the dark stripe extending from the ear patches, across the eyes, to the base of the bill. Masked Shrikes are sit-and-wait hunters which perch and scan the ground for prey, often facing into the sun. In 2008, Reuven Yosef suggested that hunting into the sun gives the shrike an advantage over its prey because the prey's shadow is cast toward the Shrike, and because the Shrike conversely casts no shadow upon its prey. Researchers Reuven Yosef, Piotr Zduniak, and Piotr Tryjanowski wanted to test the function of the bird's mask. They formed the hypothesis that the Masked Shrike's mask acts like a football player's eye black to reduce sun glare, giving them a distinct hunting advantage when facing into the sun.

In order to test this hypothesis, adult male Masked Shrikes were caught, banded, and released within 30 minutes of capture on the same days they would be used in the experiment. The experiment was conducted over two seasons (2010 and 2011) in “the morning hours, in the same weather conditions and in clear skies, and the data from both seasons were pooled” (1). Seven birds had their black facial masks painted over with white gouache paint. Five birds had their masks painted over with black gouache paint. As a control group, eight birds did not have their masks painted over. Gouache was chosen because it is matte like the birds' plumage, and because it will wear off on its own over a couple of days.

The birds were then observed in their hunting areas, and evaluations made on the hunting success and foraging preferences of each of the birds. The birds which had been painted were observed both with and without the painted masks.

A marked difference was noted between the white- and black-painted/control Masked Shrikes. The birds with the white masks hunted with the sun to their backs much more frequently than the black-painted and unpainted birds. As the white paint wore off, the birds hunted more frequently facing the sun.

The hunting success of the white-painted birds was significantly reduced to that of the other birds. On several occasions, the observers noted prey reacting to the approaching shadow of the Shrike by escaping into a neighbouring bush.

There is no mention of hunting behaviours of the Shrikes during high noon when the sun is directly overhead. Do the markings provide any benefit to hunting during this time frame? Are the birds active after sundown? If so, do the markings provide benefit at this point? The experiment does not provide us with information for these time periods.

Nevertheless, this study is important because it shows there are other selective factors for the evolution of colouration and shape of markings than camouflage alone. It shows a way of experimenting with other masked animals to determine whether or not those markings aid the animal with its hunting.

Ultimately, findings show the mask of the Masked Shrike permits the bird to hunt into the sun, letting it identify its prey by the shadow cast toward the perching shrike, and letting it attack its prey without its own shadow warning off the prey.

1. Yosef Reuven, Zduniak Piotr, Tryjanowski Piotr (2012). Unmasking Zorro: functional importance of the facial mask in the Masked Shrike (Lanius nubicus). Retrieved from http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/3/615.full.pdf+html
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I'm a full-time student, though I'm not enrolled at any institution, and am not working towards a degree or certificate. I take university courses online, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), through Coursera and edX. Sometimes I drop the course. Sometimes I follow it through completion. Sometimes I do all the assignments and readings. Sometimes I just watch the lectures. I am always grateful for the opportunity to expand my knowledge and comprehension.

My current courses are
  • Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology
  • The Modern and the Postmodern
  • Animal Behaviour
  • The Ancient Greek Hero
I have more courses starting up within a few weeks.

I take classical voice lessons at Maxwell's Music House. Although I've touched on pop, Broadway, and folk, the bulk of the songs I work with are classical. Right now, I'm working on pieces by Mozart and Haydn. It's challenging and fun. Without this training, I'd never have known that I'd be comfortable singing up high.

Typically, I do regular physical fitness training at CrossFit Kitchener. I bust my ass there, and I'm in vastly superior shape now than I was in my 20s or 30s.

I study china painting at the Rockway Community Centre. Community centres are under-appreciated sources of training/education. China painting is a dying art form, and I'm doing my part to resuscitate it. Of all the painting styles I've studied, this is my favourite.

I'll soon be starting a pastels course at the Breithaupt Centre, another community centre.

I'm taking intermediate/advanced pole dance at Aradia Fitness. I plan on alternating between pole and aerial silks, which I study at In.Motion School of Performing Arts.

To top it all off, I take workshops when I can, mostly dance-related, through a variety of organizations.

I also teach. I have introductory belly dance classes starting up this month at the Downtown Kitchener Community Centre, and I may have more coming up at another community centre. This is pending an upcoming interview.

I love to learn. I love to teach. I love to make myself stronger and more knowledgeable, and I love to help others do the same for themselves.
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
We cannot escape the past. Everything we touch and see is from the past. Our present is so fleeting that it has left us before we have even become aware of it. The question of who owns the past is misleading, for the past owns us. All we can do is create and imagine based upon what it gives us.

For this project, I chose to put together an assemblage art piece composed primarily of found items. I decoupaged an old spice rack with a variety of images, from alchemical symbols to palmistry diagrams to paintings and photographs. I added ribbon and aged its appearance with ink. I incorporated a collection of old bottles that I hand-coloured, giving them a more historical appearance than they'd had initially. An engraved drinking horn, a collection of handmade rose beads, a stone goblet, a turkey vulture feather, a ceramic incense burner, and a collection of papercraft and woven boxes rest atop tapestry-style fabric. I intend for the collection to look like artefacts and moments out of time which hide secrets.

Images behind the cut )
shanmonster: (Zombie ShanMonster)
This was my first attempt at making a webcast, and my last assignment for my archaeology course. The video's a bit clunky, but I hope you find the story interesting. If my video editing skills were better, there'd be much more audio. I did all the photography and videography here.

shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
Dreams & Symbols is the culmination of surreal artifacts and the disintegration of procrastination. It all began several years ago when a local used book shop had moved to a new location and left behind a crate of books the proprietors didn't want to bring to their new store. I rooted through the box and found a book called Dreams & Symbols. I thought it was a bunch of malarkey, but there were numerous beautiful full-colour images inside. I brought the book home so I could do collage or decoupage with it.

For about the same amount of time, I've been keeping a rough pine crate which had initially been used to store cannisters of tea. It was covered with unattractive stamped print, but I always meant to get around to doing something with it. For this project, this finally happened. The pine crate met the metaphysical coffee table book and together, they became transformed into this cabinet.

Surreal images were cut with scissors, or with a utility knife on a cutting board, then affixed in place with high-gloss Mod Podge. I also attached a pressed flower to the upper shelf (which is removeable) in this way, and sealed it with copious amounts of Mod Podge. In order to dry the thick amounts of sealant/adhesive, I jerry-rigged a hair drier on top of some clay pots on medium heat and let it dry while I worked on the rest of the cabinet.

The few parts of the box which have not been decoupaged have been coloured with ink and accented with bindis.

I consider the cabinet itself to be part and parcel with the collection. The decoupage work is a collection in itself, and accents are added with metallic ink.

The objects without the cabinet vary, depending on the placement of the cabinet. When the cabinet is on my window sill, the collection sprawls out on either side and on top, including such objects as an hourglass, candles, plume, stone goblet, brass bell, a hand-made spider pendant, rose beads, and incense. The plume and rose beads I fashioned myself. I believe the scent of roses and incense are just as evocative as the visuals, and the sand trickling through the hourglass places a temporal value on the exhibit.

When the cabinet is in a smaller area, the viewer's eye is directed more toward the interior of the cabinet. Skulls, heads, bone beads, Catholic saints, North American aboriginal spirit stone, and voodoo dolls lurk in the upper level. In the lower level, hand-painted china boxes (painted by me), a feather, a curious metal button, a rabbit skull, and two thimbles (modern and reproduction Viking). The collection is meant to be dreamlike and to provoke strange mental connections.

Images aplenty )
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
Elder Squirrel Demon Summoning Circle is an environmental installation artwork piece which I placed on my back deck. A multimedia piece, it incorporates a demonic squirrel head, chalk, roses, herbs, peanuts, salt, and pinecones.

I created the centrepiece by hacking a Big Head Squirrel Feeder. Horns were fashioned out of Sculpey by my roommate Amelia, and I affixed them with KrazyGlue. The eyes and eye rims were painted with bright red nail laquer, leaving slit-shapes unpainted for the irises. This gives the eyes a blood-filled, demonic aspect.

Next, lengths of binding wire were attached overhead to the roof and a nearby tree. The wire is green and blends in with the foliage. I next connected the wire to the head with lengths of transparent bracelet cording. This transparent cording makes the head look like it is hovering unsuspended.

I next adjusted for height by winding the binding wire until the head hovered the correct distance from the ground. Because of the elastic nature of the transparent cording, this process had to be repeated several times during the exhibition of the installation piece. Once the head was in place, I marked the centrepoint beneath and sketched out a circle in chalk. I drew the pentagram, then added Enochian text traditionally believed to have been used to summon demons. Technically speaking, a traditional demon summoning circle looks different (and contains far more Enochian text), but for the purpose of making the circle more identifiable to the average viewer, I chose to go with a circle of protection. Besides, I doubt squirrels know the difference. ;)

To add colour and to tie in the elements with nature and the history of the occult, I also added roses from my garden, herbs, small heaps of rock salt, and pine cones gathered at a nearby cemetery.

Since I intended to make this piece interactive with nature, I included peanuts to summon the squirrels. Then I sat and waited for the squirrels to get cheeky and brave enough to approach while I awaited with my camera. To aid with the summoning, I participated in a dread occult practice: the osculum infame. In other words, I made kissy noises.

Eventually, a black squirrel demon was summoned.

My ritual worked!

As a note, no squirrels returned the next day, but two days later, when I went to look, the peanuts were gone, and in their place, at the centre of the summoning circle, was a cherry. I summoned a demonic cherry! I swear I did not put it there, and no one else was in the yard all day. Ooooo. Spoooooky!

I confess that I ate part of the cherry, but as of this time, I have not evinced any signs of demonic possession....

Pics and video behind the cut! )
shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
This project, which I've called Portrait of My Hand, is a two-part piece. I first composed my legs and hand against a tile background with filtered sunlight for lighting. I wanted to include strong diagonals in my composition, so I arranged the diagonals of my hand and legs in contrast with the strong parallel lines of the tile. Once I was happy with the arrangement, I took the digital photo and converted it to a grey-scale image.

I printed out the image on a laser printer, and coloured the reverse of the image with charcoal. Then I taped the image in place on top of heavy drawing paper, and traced out the outlines with a ballpoint pen. This left a line drawing of the portrait on the drawing paper.

Next, I cut out and tore a variety of shapes and strips from several newspapers, sorting them into piles of similar darkness/lightness values.

I used mucilage to place the bits of newsprint onto the drawing paper until the photograph had been reproduced in collage. This was a time-consuming process.

The image is perplexing to look at, with different elements popping forward and backward, often interchangeably. The fingers stand out in stark contrast, but sometimes they move forward or retreat behind the tile in a surreal method, with nods to Escher. The hand dissolves into a mash of words behind a strong, dark set of knuckles.

The line between the tiles is an extended series of ellipses, indicating there is always far more to be said.

And the images are behind the cut.... )

Dear Me

Jun. 12th, 2013 03:28 pm
shanmonster: (Liothu'a)
The envelope for this mail art is made of heavy drawing paper which had previously been painted with undiluted blue and yellow acrylics. Although it was painted with a brush, I was going for a repetitive pattern of variable colour values in the blue, similar to the potato printing I did as a child. The sheet was then trimmed to a square shape, the centre of the sheet was determined, and two corners of the paper were folded in until their points touched. Then the other corners were folded inward past the centre point and the body of the envelope was attached in place with double-sided tape.

The inset is made of flimsy graph paper, and detailed with ink and marker. I chose the graph paper because the repetition of squares reminded me of my primary school years, when many homework assignments were done on similar paper. The paper is the same sort of stuff I used throughout my grade school years for not only schoolwork, but for corresponding with my numerous international pen pals.

The images and text come from a variety of memories: most from my childhood, with memories of school experiences, foraging, gardening, living in wilderness, Jehovah's Witness upbringing, my hobby of drawing mazes, etc. The masks symbolize the constant need for adaptation, my drama and Classics background, and that what you see on the surface does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and memories beneath. The fractal patterns partitioning the sections are a reminder of the repetitive nature of thoughts and memory.

I intend for the piece to be both bittersweet and playful. )

Girl Talk

Jun. 5th, 2013 03:31 pm
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
I'm taking a Coursera course on Art Techniques, and thought I'd share my work with you.

Read more... )
shanmonster: (Purple mohawk)
So I drew this today for the art class I'm taking through Coursera. It's free, if you'd like to join.

I used pencil crayons, pastel, and markers.

It amuses me. )

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