CETI Lab: ARTiculating frameworks for communication

by Anna K. Gargarian, Curator “CETI Lab”

September 2017 is an important marker in the history of space exploration: exactly forty years since the Voyager 1 was sent into space, forty-six years since a group of nobel prize winning scientists gathered at Byurakan to discuss communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence (CETI), and seventy years since Victor Ambartsumian discovered stellar associations.

Ambartsumian’s breakthrough transformed our understanding of the life of stars, and marked the beginning of the intellectual community that is the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO). It was Ambartsumian’s reputation, in combination with the unique environment of BAO, that lead scientists Carl Sagan and I.E. Shklovskii to propose Byurakan as the location for the 1971 CETI conference (1). During the peak of the cold war, scientists from the USSR and the US came together for four days to discuss the challenges of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet. The conference addressed questions of language, knowledge representation, transmission, reception, as well as philosophical concerns of free will, perception, and the consequences of successful communication. The information gathered during this conference was part of Sagan and Shklovksii’s decade-long collaborative research that informed the content of space missions like the Pioneer 10 in 1972, and Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977 (2).

Untitled design (12)

The 1971 CETI conference participants standing in front of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory’s conference hall.

 

It is within this context that HAYP Pop Up Gallery exhibits “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”, a multi-location collective exhibit that invites artists and scientists to imagine communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. From September 16-27, 2017, the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) and the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia will be transformed with site-specific installations by a diverse group of artists. 

Like the scientists before them, the artists are concerned with frameworks for representing, expressing, and accessing information. Contextualizing a question is at the heart of all problem-solving, whether from an epistemological (3), scientific, or curatorial perspective. It is for this reason that the 1971 CETI conference organizers shaped their discussion around the Drake Equation, a proposed formula for estimating the likelihood of communicating civilizations beyond our planet. While the equation was criticized for being more conjectural than scientific, its concern was not with accuracy but rather offered a framework for structuring the conversation (4). Similarly, the exhibition does not present one unified perspective, but rather proposes a structured set of contexts for approaching the question of communication. Through this diverse net of projects by writers, musicians, sculptors, photographers, and architects, we intend to portray a feeling for the paradigm of communication through an expressive language that uses metaphor as a formalism for understanding (5).

This brings us to our second concern, which is the question of language. Among the 1971 conference participants were linguists, anthropologists, and artificial intelligence experts who shared a common interest in finding the appropriate expressive language for representing cognitive theory. They discussed the possibilities of using binary, computer, or image-based languages, and struggled with the fact that language evokes ideas that extend beyond the subject at hand and refers to cultural perceptions that are not universal(6). Through metaphor, we hope to explore the conditions that frame communication and “help us understand references, reasons, motivation, and purpose not explicitly stated”(7). These conditions include self-consciousness, as seen in the installation by Sona Manukyan and the poetry of Arto Vaun. They include our awareness of our limitations in time and space as in the sculptural works of Manan Torosian and Samvel Saghatelian. In Vardan VHSound’s “Communication Machine”, the artist is concerned with representing not only knowledge, but also sensorial experience through an acoustic map of our environment. Artist Karen Mirzoyan explores the potentially dangerous consequences of successful communication through an apocalyptic “intergalactic war” series.

The exhibition is aware of the dangers of metaphor, which although a useful tool for understanding, is often scientifically inaccurate(8). But these inaccuracies, or rather absurdities of logic, are also at the core of this exhibition. Gaps in commonsense reasoning like trying to conceive of communicating with an “other” whose existence is still unknown, or like building a radio-optic telescope that was never actually used (9). Even sending devices into space as “time-capsules” of planet earth that may only reach another life-form long after human extinction on planet Earth. Science, like art, has been revolutionized by “absurd” ideas. While many of the exhibited works incorporate an element of humor, Lvis Mejía’s installation piece in Orgov subtly comments on the irony of a radio-optic telescope made to record sounds from space, by manipulating its shape in order to provide the observer with audio feedback defined by the observer him/herself.

Communication, like humor and the creative process, is ultimately born from a social context. Although there are great differences in the ways that artists and scientists approach universal concerns of existence, self-consciousness, and life beyond our planet, we hope to draw parallels on our collective interest for understanding and creatively manipulating our human limitations (10).

While the Voyagers serve as interstellar time-capsules of human knowledge and culture, “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO” has explored a much closer time-capsule which is the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. Like the scientists of the ’71 CETI conference, our ’17 CETI Lab artists have immersed themselves in the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in order to explore its culture, history, and the multi-layered dynamics of a still vibrant community of thinkers in order to address the underlying question:

“Before we ask how aliens communicate, we ought to ask how humans can.”
-Marvin Minsky (11)

The Artworks of “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”:

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Footnotes:

  1. According to Shklovskii, the original conference location was to be in Czechoslovakia, but this decision was changed after the tensions of the Warsaw Pact Invasion in 1968. Shklovskii states in his memoir that Byurakan seemed an opportune choice because of his ties to Ambartsumian and the “blinding beauty” (Ослепительная красота) of the view of Mount Ararat. (Шкловский, 110)
  2. From 1961 to 1967 Sagan and Shklovskii co-authored the book Intelligent Life in the Universe. The collaboration started as a translation exchange, in which Sagan translated from Shklovskii’s original text, but evolved into co-authorship as Sagan amended significant sections of the book. The book was fully written long distance via paper mail. Sagan and Shklovskii didn’t meet until the 1971 CETI conference in Byurakan, as Shklovskii wasn’t allowed to leave the USSR. (See Spangenburg, 68).
  3. The idea of “frameworks” was first developed by Minsky in 1975 within the artificial intelligence context as a way of conceiving of knowledge in structured units. Papert and Goldstein elaborated on frame theory in 1977 within the epistemological context to discuss “knowledge frameworks” as a theory on contexts, their relationship to language, and consequently understanding (Goldstein, 93-96).
  4. The Drake Equation was a probabilistic argument on the number of intelligent communicative civilizations beyond our planet. According to Sagan, the Drake equation was chosen for the conference structure (vs other equations on the same subject) because it was the original and simplest one (Каплана, 12)
  5. In Goldstein and Papert (1977) the authors speak of metaphor as a tool for “debugging” and self-learning. In the context of humor, Minsky (1980) sees metaphor as a powerful thought tool to apply previous knowledge and experience to new problems. Metaphor is essentially one of our most effective ways for representing and understanding the world around us.
  6. Goldstein & Papert, 96
  7. Goldstein & Papert, 101
  8. Minsky (1980)
  9. I am making reference to the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia (one of the locations of our exhibit). Although the telescope was used for observing stars and planets, it never fulfilled its primary intended function: to capture radio signals from space. It is important to note that there is little objective research published about this telescope whose history, purpose, and engineering remains an interesting point for further research and development.
  10. For Mayakovsky, poetry (like all art) should be born from a “social command” (Mayakovsky, 18). There are interesting parallels between the creative process of Mayakovsky (as described in “How are verses made?”), and man’s challenge of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence as defined by Minsky in his 1985 essay. Both identify material, space, and time as man’s constraints to be manipulated for effective understanding of our social environment and thinking processes.
  11. Minsky, 1985. p 9. It’s interesting to note that Ambartsumian makes a similar reference in the 1971 conference catalogue recalling: “Professor Shklovsky was right when he told me, before we can solve the problem of communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations, it would be nice to establish contact regarding this question with other countries, and that’s exactly the aim of this conference.” Paraphrased from Russian original text in Каплана, p11.

WORKS CITED

Goldstein, I. and Papert, S. (1977), Artificial Intelligence, Language, and the Study of Knowledge*,†. Cognitive Science, 1: 84–123. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0101_5

Mayakovsky, Vladimir. How are verses made?. Translation from original (1926). Cape ed., London, Grossman Publishers, 1970, reprinted 1974.


Minsky, Marvin “Communication with Alien Intelligence.” Regis, Edward, ed. Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Minsky, Marvin, “Jokes and their Relation to the Cognitive Unconscious.” In Cognitive Constraints on Communication, Vaina and Hintikka (eds.) Reidel, 1981. A.I. memo NO: 603, November 1980. Accessed Aug 16 2017.

https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/jokes.cognitive.txt

Minsky, Marvin “What to transmit, and what one might expect to receive” (notes, Byurakan, Armenia, Sept 7 1971), 1-11. Use courtesy of the Minsky Family.


“NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Still Reaching for the Stars After 40 Years.” NASA, NASA, 1 Aug. 2017, http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-voyager-spacecraft-still-reaching-for-the-stars-after-40-years. Accessed 3 Sept. 2017.

Проблема CETI (связь с внеземными цивилизациями), ред. С.А. Каплана, – Издательство “Мир”, – Москва, 1975, 349 с.

Spangenburg, Ray, and Diane Moser. Carl Sagan: a biography. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2004.

Шкловский И. С. Эшелон. Невыдуманные рассказы. — М.: «Новости», 1991. — 222 с.

Post-opening update!

Ողջույն բոլորին,

CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO-ի բացւմը մեծ հաջողություն է ունեցել՝ ցուցահանդեսը եւ միջոցառումները այցելել է 300-ից ավելի անձ։ 

Ցուցահանդեսը Բյուրականի աստղադիտարանում դեռ գոռծում է մինչեւ սեպտեմբերի 27-ը, ամեն օր 16:00-ից մինչեւ 20:00 (հանգստյան օրերին ժամը 12:00-20:00)։

Լուիս Մեհիաի ձայնային ինստալյացիան Հերունու աստղադիտակում Օրգովում ցուցադրվելու է  միայն մինչեւ կիրակի, այնպես որ այս շաբաթը վերջին հնարավորությունն է այն տեսնել։ Հերունու աստղադիտարանը բաց է ամեն օր 16:00-ից մինչեւ 19:00-ը (հանգստյան օրերին ժամը 12:00-19:00)։

Ինչ է տեղի ունենում այս շաբաթ։

  • Հինգշաբթի, սեպտեմբերի 21-ին, քանի որ սա տոն է, մենք կազմակերպում ենք տրանսպորտ Երեւանից CETI lab եւ հետ։ Ավտոբուսը Երեւանից կմեկնի ժամը 15:00-ին (Սպենդիարյան փողոցից, Crumbs սրճարանի դիմացից) դեպի Հերունու աստղադիտակ, ապա Բյուրականի աստղադիտարան եւ կվերադառնա Երեւան ժամը 20:00-ին:
  • Շաբաթ, 23 Սեպտեմբեր, 17:00: Հանդիպում եւ վորկշոպ Գորոդ Ուստինովի հետ՝ Հանդիպեք արվեստագետների խումբը Իժեւսկից (Ռուսաստան), ծանոթացեք միկրո լենդ արտի եւ Բյուրականի ինտերակտիվ քարտեզի հետ։
  • Կիրակի, Սեպտեմբեր 24, 19:00: Ջեմ Սեշն աստղադիտակի մոտ։ Լուիս Մեհիաի, Վարդան VHSound-ի, HEAVY SHEPHERD-ի եւ ուրիշների կենդանի իմպրովիզացիոն ներկայացում։

Հիշեցնենք որ տարածք անցնելու եւ միջոցառումներին մասնակցելու համար հարկավօր է գրանցվել այստեղ: Անհամբեր սպասում ենք Ձ՝եզ։

Սիրով,

ՀԱՅՓ Փոփ Ափ պատկերասրահ

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 22.46.28.png


Hi everyone,

The first weekend of CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO was a great success with over 300 people visiting the exhibition and attending the different events.

The exhibition at the Byurakan Observatory is still on show until September 27. It’s open to the public every day from 16:00 to 20:00 (12:00 to 20:00 on weekends).

Lvis Mejia’s sound installation at the Herouni Telescope in Orgov will only be up until Sunday, so this week is your last chance to see it! The Herouni Telescope is open to the public every day from 16:00 to 19:00 (12:00 to 19:00 on weekends).

What’s happening this week:

  • Thursday, September 21. As this is a bank holiday, we’re organizing transportation from Yerevan to CETI lab and back. The bus will leave Yerevan at 15:00 (in front of Crumbs café on Spendiaryan Street), take you to the Herouni telescope, then to the Byurakan Observatory, and head back to Yerevan at 8pm.
  • Saturday, September 23, 17:00. Meeting and Workshop with Gorod Ustinov: Meet this visiting artist collective from Izhevsk, Russia to learn about micro land art and their interactive map of Byurakan
  • Sunday, September 24, 19:00. Jam Session @ the Telescope. Live Improvisational Performance by Lvis Mejia, Vartan VHSound, HEAVY SHEPHERD, and others.

Reminder: to enter the grounds and participate in any of the events, you need to register here. Looking forward to see you!

Sirov,

HAYP Pop Up Gallery

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About CETI Lab

HAYP Pop Up Gallery is pleased to present “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”, a project combining an artist residency, a collective exhibition and an event week. This will be HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s 10th collective art exhibit in Armenia, and the first to take place at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory.

The Concept

“CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO” invites artists and scientists to imagine communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. The project takes inspiration from the 1971 CETI conference at BAO, organized by Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovskii, that brought together nobel-prize winning scientists to explore the possibilities of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet.

From September 16 to 27, 2017 the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) in Armenia will be transformed with site-specific installation by a group of diverse artists including photographers, architects, sculptors, writers, sound and installation artists. The project also includes a site-specific installation by visiting Berlin-based sound artist Lvis Mejía, at the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, just outside of Byurakan village.

Like the scientists before them, the artists consider the various unknown variables that frame the challenge of communication. Those include technical questions of language, transmission, reception and interaction as well philosophical concerns of free will, perception, and the consequences of successful communication. As we consider our own assumptions of “the other” and the parameters that allow for effective exchange, it becomes increasingly evident that the greatest challenge is in understanding the environment that frames these interactions.

The projects of CETI Lab are studies and explorations on the unique environment that is the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, its lifeforms, ideas and idiosyncrasies.

Participating Artists

Tina Chakarian, Visual Artist (Boston, USA)
Sona Manukyan, Photographer & Architect (Yerevan, Armenia)
Lvis Mejía, Audio Artist (Berlin, Germany)
Karen Mirzoyan, Photographer (Yerevan, Armenia)
Samvel Saghatelian, Painter & Architect (Yerevan, Armenia)
Manan Torosyan, Sculptor & Visual Artist (Yerevan, Armenia)
Gorod Ustinov, Artist Collective (Izhevsk, Russia)
Arto Vaun, poet (Boston, USA)
VHSound, Sound Artist (Yerevan, Armenia)

ARTIST PROJECTS & LOCATIONS

Location: Herouni Radio-Optical Telescope, Orgov, Armenia. 

Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 19:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 19:00.

The unaccountable to the non-observer, by Lvis Mejía
A site-specific installation and contemplative sonic experience on the principle of acoustic feedback.

The Communication Machine, by VHSound
An interactive instrument and public performance on the sound universe of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory.


Location: The Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, Byurakan, Armenia.

Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 20:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 20:00.

“Polychromatic Signals” by Tina Chakarian
A kinetic acrylic polygon.

Do they breathe?by Sona Manukyan
A site-specific installation on reflexive communication.

Intergalactic War Seriesby Karen Mirzoyan
An exploration in the consequences of communication as seen through children image-culture and popular sci-fi narratives.

Contactby Gorod Oustinov
An interactive micro land art installation and collective alien-tracking device.

Homo-Communicationby Samvel Saghatelian
A site-specific installation and study on the meeting point of communication: #TheHole.

“Start and end”, by Manan Torosyan
An outdoor sculpture on the cyclical nature of time and parallel forms of life in the universe.

“The Transgression of Light”, a poem by Arto Vaun
A meditation on the harmony and dissonance between humans and the universe.

PRACTICAL INFO

Locations & Hours of Operation:

The exhibition will last from September 16, 2017 to September 27, 2017

  • The Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, Byurakan, Armenia. Map here.
    Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 20:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 20:00.
  • The Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope, Orgov, Armenia. Map here.
    Hours of Operation: Open daily Monday-Friday from 16:00 to 19:00. Open weekends from 12:00 to 19:00.

Transportation:

  • BY CAR: You can easily drive there or get a taxi (around 4,000 one-way from Yerevan). Follow the Google Maps here to go to the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory and the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope.
  • BY HAYP BUS: Departure from Republic Square in Yerevan. Limited seats available, awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. Cost: 1,000 AMD one-way.
    *** Yerevan-Orgov-Byurakan: 13:00, 15:00
    *** Byurakan-Yerevan: 20:00

Exhibition tickets:

Because the Byurakan Observatory and the Herouni Telescope are functioning scientific centers, you absolutely need a ticket to enter the grounds. The ticket is available for free on Eventbrite here.

The soviet-era conference on communicating with aliens

by Charlotte Poulain


Forty-six years ago, in the midst of the Cold War, 44 scientists from the USSR and the United States gathered at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in Armenia. Each scientist had impeccable credentials, most of them were well-known in their field, and three were Nobel-Prize winners. The theme of the conference? Communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence.

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NOR DADA: Performance & Disruption

by Anna K. Gargarian


As a neo-dadaist project, including a performative element was essential to the concept development of NOR DADA. Recalling the notorious performances of the Cabaret Voltaire, dadaism’s mission to disrupt spread further than the visual boundaries of the page or the readymade object, and into the personal space of the body through public actions and provocative performance. Dada experimented with sound and movement in order to engage (and sometimes assault) its audience in a directly physical way, and challenge the metaphoric and literal line of the stage separating reality from fiction.

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Opening “NOR-DADA” in Venice

by Charlotte Poulain


Prepping

A short three months ago HAYP Pop Up Gallery was contacted by the GAA Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organization that participates yearly in the Venice Biennale with a large-scale collateral exhibit. They wanted us to participate in “Personal Structures: No Borders”, their Venice Biennale 2017 international exhibit of art by emerging and established artists from all over the world.

As you can imagine, we were very excited about the prospect of bringing our nomadic art gallery to Venice.  But the logistics were daunting: we had to come up with a solid concept and  significant funding within a seemingly impossible timeframe. Never the less, we decided to make the leap and seize the opportunity. We selected an artist whom we thought would make a bold statement: someone highly talented, contemporary, whose creative voice would propose a fresh perspective on Armenian contemporary art.

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Down_shift: sight, consciousness and time

HAYP 9.0: Down_shift

A Collective Exhibition

See our “call to artists” here

April 7-16, 2017 

Slowdown. Look. Listen. Observe. In HAYP 9.0: Down_shift, we’re asking artists (and our audience) to slowdown their pace of life, disrupt their routine, and consider unproductive time, or rather, productive delay. We’re talking about tuning in to our perceptive awareness and noticing the little things of the everyday: the sounds, sights, smells, and textures that frame our lives. In other words, deceleration for heightened awareness.

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