A new documentary series explores the impact of chess on human art, culture and history
What makes chess unique among all games throughout human history?
That’s just one of the thought-provoking questions explored in a new four-part documentary series produced by Ideas Roadshow called Through the Mirror of Chess: a Cultural Exploration.
It’s a wide-ranging master class into the game’s impact on culture, art, science and sport. Using interviews, imagery and snippets of chess games, the films are among the most comprehensive examples of chess exploration in documentary format.
The series was created and produced by Howard Burton, whose diverse career includes acting as the founding executive director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo. Irena Burton is the series’ senior editor.
Burton considers the possibility that chess is unique because of its origins as a warlike game, its enormous complexity and the fact that no luck is involved in playing. But other games, such as the ancient game of Go invented in China more than 2,500 years ago, have all those characteristics too.
He concludes chess owes its uniqueness to play that requires simultaneous manipulation of a wide range of pieces with different powers, a feature lacking in other complex war games.
The series is available on Vimeo and the Ideas Roadshow app.
Paul Morphy v. Duke of Brunswick and Comte Isouard, Paris, 1858
How does White end the game?
White played 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7 16.Qb8+ Nxb8 17.Rd8 mate, one of the immortal games featured in the Ideas Roadshow documentary.
How art has made a difference in the life of a northern Ont. man with severe autism – CTV News Northern Ontario
The family of a non-verbal Sudbury man with severe autism is sharing the story of how art has made a remarkable difference in his life as he heads to Toronto to display his paintings.
Morgan Kitching is a 21-year-old who discovered his love for painting four years ago during a power outage at the family cottage in Killarney, his mother told CTV News in an interview.
Pierre Sabourin, Trish Jokat and Morgan Kitching of Sudbury. March 27/23 (Alana Everson/CTV Northern Ontario)
His mother, Trish Jokat, believes the combination of colour and creating has led to incredible positive changes in him, including his eating disorder.
“The more he painted, the more he ate. It seems like the colours would imitate the food,” Jokat said.
“For example, the red, he is eating cranberries now. The green, he’s eating salads. His whole diet has changed.”
Pierre Sabourin is Jokat’s partner and a landscape artist who has sold his work all over the world.
He also teaches art and said over the past four years, Morgan’s artistic talent has blossomed along with other abilities too.
“Seen some incredible changes in Morgan,” Sabourin said.
“When I first met Morgan, I couldn’t communicate with him at all. And all of a sudden, we were able to communicate through colour. And that’s an amazing experience just in itself.”
With World Autism Awareness Day on Sunday, Kitching will be displaying 200 of his paintings at Queen’s Park on Monday and the family said it hopes the exhibition will shine light on the power of art.
“I hope they take away the fact that there is more therapies out there than just one or two and that they should just let their children explore, use lots of paint,” Jokat said.
“‘Don’t ever give up hope,’ is the typical standby statement and just allow them to create.”
“The things that I learned teaching school was that children that are dealing with life skills have a propensity to art and I think that is very important to explore,” Sabourin added.
A short documentary about Kitching’s journey with art and autism is available on YouTube.
In the Basque Region of Spain: Art, Culture and a Puppy That Blooms
It’s not every beach stroll that leads to a modernist masterpiece, let alone one set in the sea amid crashing waves.
After a bracing walk along the esplanade beside Ondarreta Beach in San Sebastián, Spain, I coaxed my family to keep going until we arrived at the western edge of La Concha Bay. There, anchored into the rocks and bashed by waves, was the 20th-century Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida’s “El Peine del Viento” (the Comb of the Wind): three nine-ton, rust-covered sculptures. They resembled monumental claws or talons reaching out, trying to connect — a potent symbol of Basque endurance over the centuries.
It was also a sign to my husband and 11-year-old twins, Freddie and Frida, that we’d be spending the weekend seeking out art in some unusual places.
With its wildly vertiginous and verdant landscape and proud heritage, the Basque region has long been a place I’ve wanted to explore with my family. So in February, we spent three crisp, sunny, culture-focused days driving from San Sebastián to Bilbao with several worthwhile stops in between.
By the second day, my kids didn’t want our adventure to end.
Driving into town earlier that day, past the grandly ornate buildings lining the final stretch of the Urumea River before it reaches the sea, Freddie declared San Sebastián “pretty cool” when he spied groups of kids carrying surfboards and heading toward the beach as they dodged fur-coat-clad shoppers hurrying along the sidewalks. With its world-renowned culinary scene, film festival and stunning natural setting on a crescent-shaped cove, San Sebastián can tick a lot of boxes for visitors with widely varying tastes. Even in February, the beach was buzzing, though only surfers in wet suits and dogs chasing sticks ventured into the water.
The city’s museums were alive with a similar mix of youthful energy and old-school European cultural appreciation. Tabakalera, a giant multipurpose art space inside a former cigarette factory, features exhibitions, film series and huge open-space lounges — some with table tennis and other amusements. It’s a place where kids can be exposed to accessible culture, but still have room to run around. There is also a vast library, a pizzeria and, on the top floor, a restaurant called LABe run by students at the Basque Culinary Center, so it can be a full-day experience.
On a rainy day, Tabakalera could be a lifesaver for a visiting family. But it was sunny during our visit, and the city’s cathedral, with its vast expanses of jewel-toned stained glass, was especially beautiful. This summer we’ll be making a trip back to San Sebastián — both to swim in that beautiful cove and to see the Lighthouse, a monumental sculpture inside a derelict lighthouse on the city’s picturesque Santa Clara Island. The Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias dug up the floor of the structure and recreated in bronze the geological features of the rock beneath it. Reached by boat, it’s only open from June through late September.
Unexpectedly, the San Telmo Museum, which we assumed would be a display of regional pride, turned out to be a highlight of our trip and, like the city itself, had something for everyone. Though one enters through a small, minimalist glass-and-concrete pavilion, the museum is built around a staggeringly beautiful Gothic monastery cloister with elaborately carved stone arches. Opening a side door to the dark and moody chapel, I was blown away to discover vast murals by one of my favorite Spanish artists, José Maria Sert, whose best-known works were sometimes painted on gold or silver leaf, and are more typically encountered in glamorous settings like Rockefeller Center or the palatial homes of wealthy clients rather than somber monastery chapels.
Around the corner were shimmering suits of armor, swords, maces and other weapons, which Frida — currently enamored of all things medieval — explained to us in all their lethal goriness.
Freddie’s most frequent question upon entering a museum is: “Do they have any cars?” Indeed, this museum did — groovy 1970s ones (along with scooters and bicycles). The vehicles highlighted the Basque region’s role in modernizing Spanish society from the 1960s to the ’80s, during the final years of the Franco dictatorship and the beginning of the country’s democracy. Going further back in time, a display of more than a dozen examples of the bizarrely elaborate 17th-century linen headwear traditionally worn by married and widowed women had Frida perplexed enough to declare (and not for the first time) that she would never marry.
At the opposite pole of this potpourri of regional art is Chillida Leku, a space dedicated to the oeuvre of just one artist, Eduardo Chillida, whose monumental sculptural works — including variations of “El Peine del Viento,” which we saw on the beach the day before — are in (or often in front of) major art museums around the world. In the 1980s, the artist purchased the property — which is near the town of Hernani on the outskirts of San Sebastián and includes a 16th-century farmhouse — to create a compendium of his works installed both indoors and outside for pastoral contemplation. And even with two kids running around the grass trying to scare each other by jumping out from behind the artist’s massive yet elementally simple steel or stone or concrete sculptures, Chillida Leku (leku means “place” in Basque) provided delicious hours of just that. I was particularly struck by the way some of the largest sculptures branched out at the top and seemed to reach for one another but never touch, like many of the ancient trees nearby.
Inside the beautifully restored stone and wood farmhouse, a gallery attendant named Anabel got us all talking about the sculptures and provided a wealth of fascinating details about the artist, such as the fact that he trained for years with the local blacksmith — which explains why some of his early works incorporate elements of farm tools.
The seaside hamlet of Getaria, about 30 minutes west of San Sebastián, may be tiny, but it gave the world two titans who changed history in one fashion or another. The first was Juan Sebastiáno Elcano, the Spanish explorer who completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522 after Ferdinand Magellan was killed midvoyage in what is now the Philippines. He made it back to Spain after some 1,200 days at sea, returning with just one ship and only 19 men (five ships and some 265 crewmen departed Spain in 1519). He is a celebrated hero in his homeland, but is largely unknown outside Spain, where credit for the voyage goes almost entirely to Magellan.
In contrast, Getaria’s other native son has a name that is known far and wide and has become a global brand. Cristóbal Balenciaga — the couturier whom Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and other designers considered, in Dior’s words, “the master of us all” — was born here to a local fisherman and a seamstress in 1895. By his teens, he had clients among the Spanish nobility and eventually the royal family. He moved to Paris during the Spanish Civil War, where his talent and list of clients became legendary.
To great fanfare, the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum opened in Getaria (in the former palace of his most ardent early client) in 2011, bringing the rarefied world of haute couture to this quaint village. Many of the stunning dresses on display were donated by the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco; the American philanthropist Rachel Mellon, known as Bunny; Balenciaga’s friend and protégé, Hubert de Givenchy; and other beau monde figures. It’s a fun romp for kids through the dimly lit galleries of fanciful clothing from a different age. This year’s exhibition, “Balenciaga Character,” focuses on the essence of his designs and what made them so innovative and beautiful that other designers felt almost obligated to follow his lead for decades.
How many UNESCO World Heritage sites allow you to drive your car on them? Heading farther west from Getaria, we bypassed downtown Bilbao and went straight to Las Arenas, the posh seaside enclave where the Nervión River meets the Bay of Biscay. Our goal was to see (and use) the Vizcaya Bridge, a pioneering type of suspension bridge built in 1893 and recognized by UNESCO in 2006. It was designed by Alberto de Palacio y Elissagüe (who also designed the iconic Atocha rail station in Madrid). The brief was to create a link between the towns of Guecho and Portugalete on opposite sides of the river without impeding the shipping traffic that was crucial to Bilbao’s booming steel industry. Palacio’s novel design was not a roadway but a suspended gondola that today shuttles about eight cars and a fair number of pedestrians across the river in one minute — as thrilling for my husband and me as it was for the kids. The deck supporting the gondola is more than 150 feet above the water, so even today’s tankers, aircraft carriers and a few airplanes have managed to get under it.
Back when it opened, there were set fares for pigs, cattle and funerals — today it’s just cars, scooters, bikes and pedestrians (1 euro, or a little over a $1, round-trip for pedestrians). As we approached the soaring tower on the Portugalete side of the river, Freddie squeezed my hand and said, “This is the best day ever” — words he also uttered amid the giant redwoods of the Sequoia National Park in California.
Ever since the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao opened in 1997, the city has occupied an important perch on the European cultural travel circuit. Many kids will go bonkers over the giant floral puppy, a large petunia-based sculpture by Jeff Koons that stands in front of the museum. If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll want to know about the nearby “water park,” a fountain with variable jets of water spouting from the ground, where children and adults can cool off in the midday heat.
Whatever exhibitions are on view (until May 28, there’s a beautiful Joan Miró painting exhibition focused on the artist’s early years in Paris), a ride up the glass elevators in Gehry’s torquey, bendy central lobby is enough to satisfy most kids. Do not miss the long gallery of monumental spiral sculptures by Richard Serra; exploring the mazelike spaces created by the circular steel walls is, I’ve found, a home run for children.
By the time we got to Bilbao’s maritime museum, Itsasmuseum, we were pretty exhausted, and I told the ticket seller we’d be in and out in 30 minutes. In the end, the guards had to move us out at closing time as we were so engaged with the displays of antique model ships and paintings of historic shipwrecks. There are also more modern exhibitions about surf culture and the role of the river and the sea in Bilbao’s development, as well as what’s being done in the city to adapt to global warming and preserve the ecosystem that’s been its lifeblood. In warmer weather, a small dry dock in front of the museum allows visitors to explore various types of vessels in use on the city’s waterways.
Like San Sebastián, Bilbao has its own vast multipurpose cultural center in the Azkuna Zentroa Alhóndiga, a former wine and olive oil warehouse that sat empty for 30 years until the architect Philippe Starck reimagined it as a library, exhibition space and gym, where there are two indoor pools on the roof that anyone can visit for a few euros per day.
And splashing around in pools designed by Mr. Starck — one of which has a glass floor that looks down on the galleries below — counts as a cultural activity, no matter your age.
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Italian art experts astonished by David statue uproar in Florida
The Florence museum that houses Michelangelo’s statue of David has invited teachers and students from a Florida school to visit, after an uproar over an art lesson.
The school’s principal quit after a complaint about a sixth-grade art class that included an image of the statue.
A parent had complained the image was pornographic.
She said the principal should be “rewarded, not punished”.
“Talking about the Renaissance without showing the David, an undisputed icon of art and culture and of that historical period, would make no sense,” Ms Hollberg said.
The controversy began when the board of Tallahassee Classical School – a charter school in Florida’s state capital – pressured principal Hope Carrasquilla to resign after three parents complained about a lesson that included a photo of the 17ft nude marble statue.
The statue, one of the most famous in Western history, depicts the biblical David going to fight Goliath armed only with a sling and his faith in God.
The board reportedly targeted Ms Carrasquilla because the parents claimed they weren’t notified in advance that a nude would be shown, with one parent calling the statue “pornographic”.
The incident has left Florentines and experts on Renaissance art bewildered.
The David is considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and a symbol of humanist values. It has been displayed in the Galleria dell’Accademia since 1873.
Ms Hollberg said she was “astonished”, stating that to think that the David statue could be considered pornographic means not only failing to understand the Bible, but Western culture itself.
“I cannot believe that actually happened, at first I thought it was fake news, so improbable and absurd was it,” she said.
“A distinction must be made between nudity and pornography. There is nothing pornographic or aggressive about the David, he is a young boy, a shepherd, who even according to the Bible did not have ostentatious clothes but wanted to defend his people with what he had.”
The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, also invited the teacher who showed the students the image of Michelangelo’s David to visit the city and its works of art.
“Mistaking art for pornography is simply ridiculous,” he tweeted. “Art is civilisation and those who teach it deserve respect.”
In an interview with Slate online magazine, Barney Bishop, chairman of the school board, said that last year the principal sent a notice to parents warning them that students were going to see Michelangelo’s David, but this wasn’t done this year.
He called it an “egregious mistake” and said that “parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture”.
According to Florentine art historian and dean of the University for Foreigners in Siena, Tomaso Montanari, such an attitude is “disconcerting”.
“First comes the dismay at the absence of educational freedom, as it should not be restricted or manipulated by families,” Mr Montanari said.
“On the other hand, from a cultural perspective, the Western world has a tendency to associate fundamentalism and censorship with other societies, believing it possesses the capability to spread democratic ideals worldwide.
“But this cultural backsliding clearly highlights the presence of fundamentalist views within the West as well.”
While several parents and teachers plan to protest Ms Carrasquilla’s resignation at the school board meeting, she isn’t sure she would take the job back even if it were offered.
“There’s been such controversy and such upheaval,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I would really have to consider, ‘Is this truly what is best?'”
Back in Florence, Ms Hollberg remarked: “From majestic statues to charming fountains and paintings, Italy is overflowing with works of art, not just in its museums, but in all its cities, squares and streets, with some featuring naked figures.
“Does that make it pornography? Should entire cities be shut down because of the artistic depictions of the human form?”
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