Monday, 16 March 2009

‘Vague, but exciting', three words that unleashed th web

20 years ago, almost to the day, Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a memo that laid the premises of what was to become the web. ‘Vague, but exciting’ is how Mike Sendall, his boss at CERN, recognized the proposal. But today, Berners-Lee is more interested in the potential that the web has yet to unlock.

Information Management Memo, 1998 © Cern

’I wrote the information management proposal 20 years ago, but 20 years ago nothing happened’ said Berners-Lee during the www@20 celebration organized on March 13, 2009 at the CERN . ‘Sendall gave the go-ahead and allowed me to purchase a NeXT machine, but it was a wink, rather than a nod. The project only took off when random people got involved and that’s what was so exciting.’

Berners-Lee holding the proposal, laird, 13.03.09

The ‘random people’ who were to make history with Berners-Lee were all present at the anniversary meeting. And what a bunch of kids they have remained. Their juvenile enthusiasm and spontaneity remains intact after all these years, bringing the day’s Master of Ceremony, Laurent Haug, the Director of Lift Conference whose idea the celebration was, to remind them during the official proceedings that they could perhaps reserve their noisy reminiscing for the post-event dinner party…

Ben Segal, often referred to as Berner-Lee’s mentor, was the first to speak. He admits that he still does not understand the “picture” that Tim submitted to Mike Sendall. At the time, he was the Cern’s Internet Coordinator. He remembers Berners-Lee saying ‘People just need to agree on a few simple things.’ The miracle, he says, is that people did, ‘just enough to make it work.’

He added ‘The web was created at Cern, but from its weakest point and using underground resources. What Tim was doing was tolerated, but he had vision and perseverance, and he had the tools.’

Ben Segal,Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Photo Maximilien Brice 13.03.09 © Cern

Berners-Lee invented a way to easily share and search electronic documents by presenting texts and images in a universal format. When the coding language, HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) was combined with a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) users could access the documents independently of the systems that their computers were working on.

Cailliau and Berners-Lee. Demo of the NeXT computer on which the Web was developed, Photo Maximilien Brice 13.03.09 © Cern

Without Robert Cailliau two things might not have happened: the necessary resources for the research to be pursued might never have become available and the web might not have remained free. Cailliau was the Head of Office Computing Systems at CERN when Berners-Lee made his proposal. He became a tireless lobbyist and had the foresight to keep the web in the public domain. As Berners-Lee acknowledges, ‘if there had been royalties, the web would be dead’.

Laurent Haug, MC, leads the discussions

‘Of all the decisions that you made at the time, are there any you regret?’ asked Haug. Berners-Lee had to think a while, but admits that the colon and double slash, as in http:// (for Hypertext Transfer Protocol) were not ideal. He would also have reversed the denominations, as in ch.swisster instead of .

As for the name of world wide web, it was chosen by Berners-Lee because he wanted people to share their information with the world and because he deliberately wanted to stay clear of the Greek mythology after which so many scientific projects seem to be named. Zeus, Odyssey or Mercury were not for him.

Role reversal: Berners-Lee catches the photographers

‘The danger of celebrations is to look back and forget that we are only at the beginning of the web’ said Berners-Lee who refers excitedly to its ‘unlocked potential.’ He is convinced that the linking of the huge masses of random data that are out there will allow for unsuspected discoveries.

In a recent TED talk, he gave the example of the development of new drugs to treat Alzheimer due to the linking of two unrelated databases, one on genomic profiles and the other on proteins.

‘Let us share what we know’ says Berners-Lee ‘but let us also share what we don’t know.’

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Discover the key to Fellini‘s dreams

One of the 50 original drawings by Fellini in the show © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

On the theme “Fellini, Dreams of Venice and other Reveries” an exhibition in the lakeside town of Morges sets out to illustrate the origin of some of the most outlandish and unforgettable scenes in cinema. The Italian film maker of La Dolce Vita was not only a master story-teller, he was an amazing draughtsman as well.

The choice of Friday the 13th of March for the inauguration of an exhibition dedicated to Fellini’s fantasies would no doubt have amused the artist. The show is made up of 150 originals works, including about 50 drawings that he produced to tell his dreams or brush a powerful caricature. It is completed with behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the sets of most of his other films, including 8½, Amarcord, Satyricon and Roma, as well as of many of the legendary actors who played in them like Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale.

Anita Ekberg with Fellini on the set of La Dolce Vita, 1960, © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

All the documents are on loan from the Fellini Film Foundation which is unexpectedly based in Sion in the Valais. When a young Swiss film aficionado was taken on as Fellini’s personal assistant and secretary in 1970, a position that Gérald Morin held for seven years, he became his accidental archivist. Over the years he has obsessively collected over 13,000 documents, photos, posters, scenarios, drawings, props and costumes related to Fellini or to works about him by other film producers, including Robert Altman and Jean-Luc Godard.

The foundation has recently signed a partnership with the Swiss Film Archive in Lausanne where the originals, available to researchers, will be kept.

The purpose of the exhibition says Yvan Schwab, the Director of the Forel Museum in Morges, is to “show a Fellini that we do not know”, a man who was an artist not only in his films. Ever since his museum exposed the preliminary sketches and scenery designs of the clown, Dimitri, five years ago, Schwab wanted to organize another show connecting performance and the fine arts. A man of theatre himself, he knows what he is looking for.

The Forel Museum is housed in a delightful 16th Century Italian-style house in the center of Morges. The contrast with the extravagance and sexual jubilation of Fellini’s works could not be greater, although the giant portrait of Casanova, of Donald Sutherland fame, appears wonderfully in context.

Donald Sutherland on the set of Casanova, 1976,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Casanova in old age as drawn by Fellini,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Dreams, or what Yvon Schwab calls “the esthetic of dreams” is the theme that runs through the exhibition. It is meant to illustrate the origin of the powerful images that are the hallmark of Fellini’s art. “My visual imagination is the greatest gift that I ever received. It is the source of my dreams. It allows me to draw. It shapes my films” said Fellini.

We learn that many of the wild scenes that inhabit Fellini’s films were remembered from his dreams and scribbled onto a paper immediately when he woke up. He also used his formidable drawing skills to communicate to his decorator or make-up artist what he expected from them. Fellini rarely signed his sketches, or facetiously signed them in the name of another artist, for example Matisse, saying to the autograph seeker “You wanted the signature of a famous artist, well now you have it!

The exhibition also offers insight into Fellini’s way of working with the actors, which could not have been more different from the Actor’s Studio approach in vogue during his time. Instead of memorable emotions, he wanted memorable images. A priest on roller-skates or Anita Ekberg in the Trevis Fountain were some of them.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Erotic Rodin opens in Martigny

Le soleil couchant © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

The title of an exhibition that starts on Friday at the Giannada Foundation in Martigny leaves no doubt about the works on display. The sculptures and drawings by the great French artist, Auguste Rodin, are primarily of women in erotic postures. But make no mistake, these are the works of an inspired genius, not of a voyeur.

From the collections of the Rodin Museum in Paris, 30 sculptures and 70 drawings have been selected to join those already owned by the Giannada Foundation, including the famous “Kiss”. These works belong to Rodin’s later period, from 1890 until his death in 1917.

Rodin had by then gained the notoriety and the means to afford live models, often several at a time. They remained in motion during the drawing sessions, while Rodin sketched without interruption, rarely looking down to see what he had drawn.
He wanted to capture the tautness of their limbs as they folded their bodies into abandonment and desire. Some of the poses are positively acrobatic.

Luxure © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

It is precisely Rodin’s ability to capture those fleeting moments that preserves his drawings from any form of vulgarity. He celebrates the beauty of a woman’s body, allowing her to appear nude, but never naked.

La Faunesse, © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Perceptions during Rodin's time were naturally different. According to Christina Buley-Uribe, world specialist of Rodin’s drawings and one of the co-authors of the catalogue, the scandal that the works generated was due to the absence of academic poses, but also to Rodin’s introduction of “instantaneity and accident” into his drawings.

She quotes Ella Young, an English visitor who accompanied W.B. Yeats to a show in the artist’s presence as saying “He is mad, beastly and sensually mad.”

Rodin maintained that the 10,000 or so drawings that he produced were the “the key to understanding my work.” They served to capture the tenseness and emotions that he wanted his sculptures to express. He was not interested in perpetrating the classical allegorical tradition of his time.

Instead, his figures were intended to convey strong characterization and a powerful physical intensity. Remember his Thinker or his portrait of Balzac.

The Kiss, of which there are only three in the world, greets the visitors at the exhibition. It was recently purchased by the Giannada Foundation and is the symbol of a long love affair between the foundation and the Rodin Museum.

Léonard Giannada founded the FDG in 1978 in memory of a younger brother, Pierre, who had died in a plane accident. By 1984 he had already organized his first Rodin exhibition in Martigny, followed by three related exhibitions; this is the fifth.

Over the years he has constituted an admirable collection of Rodin’s works for the foundation, all of which will mingle with the ones on loan from Paris. Giannada is the only foreign member of the Rodin Museum’s acquisition commission. "Ever since I bought a book on him at the age of 15, Rodin continues to be an important part of my life," he says.

Erotic Rodin is drawn out of the 1,000 drawings and numerous sculptures in which Rodin expressed an astonishing sensual liberty. How the profoundly catholic Valais where Martigny is located will respond is anyone’s guess.

Lutte amoureuse © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Despite the title, Erotic Rodin is not an exhibition meant to titillate. It is the stamp in time of the lesser-known work of a great artist, of which he is said to have been particularly proud.