Leonardo.info interview with Christine Maxwell

Realtime Transcription 06/14/09

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CHRISTINE MAXWELL: Leonardo, first of all, has an extraordinary track record of over 40 years of commenting on and cataloging -- because it was never even being -- all the work of artists and scientists around the world was just sort of staying in individual silos. So Leonardo really has made a name for itself in its first 40 years of documenting and recording the work that's been going on. But since the advent, really, of the Internet, it was really one of the very first societies to go beyond where it came from. So Leonardo, which is the flagship journal, has become a network on the Internet, thousands of artists, professional artists, scientists and engineers who collaborate and work together around the world; and all of the projects that Leonardo has seeded -- and there are many of them -- have started from tiny specks which weren't even in the eyes of other people and which today are mainstream. So it has a real track record, not only in the documentation side, but in being very prescient about what's important, and about helping to nurture artists and give them opportunities to work with scientists and engineers, finding funding somehow to help nurture and seed projects that never would have been done before, had it not been for Leonardo. >> Can you give us a couple of examples? You mentioned the Mir Space Station? CHRISTINE MAXWELL: Yes. Well, I think it was 30 years ago or more. Leonardo started a space arts workshop, literally in the living room of the founder of the Leonardo, Frank J. Malina, in France, and there were no space art workshops in those days, and we didn't even talk about art in space. But this became a very extraordinarily exciting ground of discussion, and all of a sudden all these people who actually were working, artists were working on something, sort of came out of the woodwork and found out about the space arts workshop. So it became a hub and a center and a focal area where the expansion of why was that important came about. And the piece of art that ended up on Mir, I don't know, I think even though Mir, of course, went into the sea and disappeared, there was a film that was made in Mir while that artwork was tumbling around in there. And I've seen it. It was really, really moving because, as I said, it was the only piece of color in that space station. And it was kind of like a structure. It was a very, almost phosphorescent green, so it was a very, very bright thing. But it tumbled and it moved, and the astronauts would come out and go find it because it was something that really got their attention. It was just a sort of humanizing element in space. And I think that's very important. >> Is history repeating itself? I mean with the reference to Leonardo da Vinci -- CHRISTINE MAXWELL: Yes. >> -- and the Renaissance period? CHRISTINE MAXWELL: Well, there is; and what I think is so exciting and important is, in fact, the network that is Leonardo today is made up of many, many more people than, in fact, made an extraordinary revolution happen at the time of Leonardo da Vinci. So, yes, there are these opportunities, magnetized -- made a lot larger because of the network of the Internet and how that can do. So I think the opportunity for really important connections and the ability of artists to work with artists, scientists, engineers, companies on the commercial side, not just on the artistic side, and really having a responsibility and a role to help us save our planet.
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At Forum Oxford this year we were treated to a fascinating talk by Christine Maxwell. She's currently running a startup looking into mobile search, but her talk was about the Leonardo, an online network where Art, Science and Technology converge.

The heart of their work seems to be the journal Leonardo which was founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank J. Molina. In the years before widespread use of the Internet, Malina created an international channel of communication between artists, with emphasis on the writings of artists who use science and developing technologies in their work. After the death of Frank Molina in 1981, and under the leadership of his son, Roger F. Molina, Leonardo moved to San Francisco, California, as the flagship journal of the newly founded nonprofit organization Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). The organisation has grown along with its community and today is the leading organization for artists, scientists and others interested in the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts and music.

Christine is a former Trustee of the Internet Society and The Santa Fe Institute. She serves on the Advisory Board of Leonardo, and it was in this capacity that she gave the presentation in Oxford. There is a mine of fascinating information on the website
leonardo.info, although navigation is a challenge. Clearly offline publishing of the journal is the main priority.

Thanks to Jonathan Marks, www.criticaldistance.com, for supplying the original interview material