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Monday, July 31, 2006
The object as a starting point for nostalgia. Discuss. The web's role as collector and presenter of past lives and past is something of an obsession here at things - we even indulge in a little bit of it ourselves. Consider nostaglia as our most powerful and most universal emotion. Is the object its primary vessel? Objects are constants, fixed things that remain as everything around them is in motion. However, the plurality of available meanings in everyday things - the signs, symbols and intentions behind consumption - have led to a situation whereby history can be imprinted onto an object, as can any number of meanings.

As the internet was just starting to make itself felt as a cultural force, commentators wrote despairingly at the way the late 20th century consumer bought so willingly into 'nostalgia marketing'. Before we crystalised our nostalgic feelings in objects and devices to capture this emotion - bottled like an exotic scent - nostalgia existed as a diaphanous, dangerous idea, something that could be used to stir up populations, wielded by politicians, exiles and idealists for whom the past was always a better place.

Svetlana Boym's book The Future of Nostalgia deals with, largely, the way in which nostalgia for a past erased by politics manifested itself in the urban environment (there's an interview with Boym here, the infuriating background music soon disappears). Boym's perspective was coloured by her past in Soviet Russia (now the subject of vast tracts of the internet, from space to military might, to industrial ruins (again, somethere we've been guilty of ourselves), a collective memory that, through the internet's archival powers, has manifested itself in object form.

One of the features of modern life is how objects often start out by embodying the future, then swiftly becomes consumed by nostalgia. Consider the iPod, a technological revolution which also facilitated revisiting the past (at the risk of sounding like Dylan Jones). But it's not just music; the ease with which one can find information on classic TV shows, browse old car manuals or commercials has eviscerated niche interest and made everything part of the mainstream, allow cults can be perpetuated (or even exposed). So much of our lives are consumed with storing and recalling memories that we are in danger of failing to create a present about which we can one day be nostalgic about.


Other things. Gosh photo's links page continues to be a treasure trove of interesting imagery / Natasha Kidd makes machines that paint / The Photographer's Shadow. There but not there / Photosynth, one way to 'augmented reality', via me-fi. See also this BBC story about the technology. See also 'Photorealism and Non-Photorealism in Virtual Heritage Representation', the dread idea of having important buildings boiled down into 3D models.

'Woman sought in Magic Cheese scam', the perfect headline / Geller vs Carson (and Randi) / Evening time on my allotments, some bucolic images at 1mag3 / digital accumulation, a visual weblog / the Falling Sand Game. Like many millions of Lemmings (also available in Java) / play Sim City Classic in your browser. Another great idea, the java train set, from the simple to the fantastic. The Time Travel Tube Map came up as well, as well as Ben Fry's zipdecode / explore Yukiweb.

Lo-fi electronic music at Bhaji's Garden / Terrafugia - is it a car, is it a plane? / generation debt, a book and weblog by Anya Kamenetz / photo-realism by John Baeder / how not to repair your Maybach / the photography of Christian Patterson (via gatsu gatsu) / Make no sound, a weblog / beautiful abstraction at Slower.

Beautifully observed images at Picture of the Week (see also here). Designer Daniel Eatock has a website bursting with innovation, from the images of camera straps to damaged Fiat Coupes ('Each photograph presents a car that has a second graphic mark as a compliment to the original by result of an accident. A combination of design and accident colliding.'). Thank You Photographs.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Simon Wheatley's thoughtful images (with commentary) of Inner-City Youth, London (via WMFU, via The Rambler). See also Terence Nunn's amazing Pictures of a Vanishing World, London in the 1960s (via i like). Robert Dyas should never have changed its identity / photos by Lewis Hine.

Mercedes Benz estate car conversions / 'Hooked!', a comic about heroin abuse from 1966 / the art of Erwin Wurm / tinselman, a weblog / A Painting a Day / the myth of the Flying Car. The existence of the hydrofoil car might just save the futurist's blushes.

Natural Accidents, part of the Paul Virilio curated excercise Unknown Quantity / the Obediah Dogberry Society / Nazbaztag is the world's first wireless rabbit / the Timebase history project / Dr Chris Cattle grows furniture / vivid urban landscape paintings by Zsuzanna / strange statues from around the world (via btoblog).

Great drawings by Tom Harper / the Techno Tuesday comic street / the former mines at Zollverein, now a World Heritage Site / fascinating, if rather depressing, obituaries from the late C19th.

Friday, July 21, 2006
Zaha Hadid comes to London, albeit in a slightly underwhelming way. A few yards away, Herzog + de Meuron have comprehensively stolen her thunder by unveiling their plans for a vast extension to Tate Modern. Pearman describes it as gothic, and there's a certain looming intensity to the whole ensemble. Here's hoping it doesn't go the same way as the V&A's Libeskind-designed Spiral. Clearly the architecture story of the day. Related, visionary architeecture (i.e. fantasy schemes).

The Story of the Fall right from the start (via diskant) / dare you use the Daily Mail O Matic? / Who Hates Who in the Middle East. Possibly out of date already / 'do not taunt Happy Fun Ball' / Elmer McCurdy, the sideshow outlaw / all about small houses / a rooftop meadow / In the aquarium, 'a londoner's life'. A weblog with some fine drawings as well.

The horse's neck, a weblog / Elastico, visual culture (in Spanish) / Phantasmaphile, another visual culture weblog / Mazine.WS, 'exploring the potential of networked media', and born out of Postgraduate courses at the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication / foreword, a book design blog.

A technical history of Apple's Operating Systems, a pdf extract from a book that makes quite good reading / car histories and brochures (in French) / the 'Rise of the Aerotropolis,' or how the fast-growing aviation hubs of the Far East will soon leave Western airports behind. Check out the $33bn Dubai World Central, 54 square miles of airport in addition to Dubai's existing International Airport.

Swiss architecture magazine Hochparterre has a selection of weblogs covering cities around the world: Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York, Peking, Shanghai and Zurich / a large collection of images of contemporary architecture / we had no idea that Hugo Boss had rather sinister connections with the world of uniform / amazing construction photos of H+dM's Beijing Stadium. See also this NYT piece.

The pointer kite, a great idea / Head Wide Open, a weblog / place cremains into a Huggable Urn / more musing on underground bases, this time at the more fantastical end of the spectrum / some statistic on the age of England's housing stock / Becher on Becher by Kahn, a post at gravestmor on Idris Kahn's work 'every... Bernd and Hilla Becher Prison-type Gasholders', blending the German photographers' imagery together.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Other things, starting with architecture. The end of Pimlico School. The school itself is reputedly not at all fond of the building / a gallery of Jean Nouvel's Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, a building which seems to be sucking in most of the negative architectural criticism at the moment, like a strange vortex / Mr Gehry promises to turn Abu Dhabi into the next major cultural destination. See also 'The Mile-High Club: Why Experimental Architecture isn't working out for Denver'. Or, an investigation into the anti-Bilbao effect.

'How to start recycling and become green?' Some tips / flavorpill points us towards a slightly disappointing collection of Soviet space propoganda. Perhaps one of the most successful examples of artistic propoganda of all time, Soviet-era space art was the public representation of an immensely private - and frequently catastrophic - undertaking.

The wallpaper-branded Ferrari / Sir Clive Sinclair launches the A-bike. Many scoff / Day-to-Day-Data, a website for 'artists who collect, list, database and absurdly analyse the data of everyday life'. Includes Kevin Carter's Dedododo Dedadada / links and things at / excellent photography at intersecting images / play The Last Starfighter video game, re-made by crazed enthusiasts (via Sachs) / Feuilleton is a great weblog, 'being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms'. Just about as comprehensive a summation of the medium as one could hope.

The Urban Pantheist catalogues the myriad species in the city (via me-fi / Springwise, 'new business ideas for entreprenuerial minds'. A weblog for Dragon's Den viewers / contribute to this click survey, and marvel at how predictable human beings are / tantalising glimpses of the exhibition Sub Urban, images of underground London, at the recent London Architecture Biennale 2006. The photography is by Alan Williams. See also this flickr set of rail lines and stations / an incredible mobile home, converted from a truck (plans). A true home from home. Some more home conversions.

146 Miles Without a Map, the Pilgrim's Way between Winchester and Canterbury. A weblog about a charity walk across Hampshire, Surrey and Kent. Sponsorship suggestions so far include '50p each time I stop and talk to a child under ten. No word on whether the sponsor will cover my bail when over-protective parents call the police and have me arrested'. A fine idea, although current weather conditions might make it rather hard going.

The Punch Below the Belt, anti-Japanese propoganda from WWII. One Theodor Geisel was involved in a similar sort of exercise back in the day as well / a giant model trainset in Berlin, X Loxx: Miniatur Welten Berlin / A fine use of satellite imagery: the Huangyangtan Mystery, a scale model of a landscape in a landscape. The location of this mystery feature is revealed here, but no further explanation can be found. Via The Register.

Apologies for the long silence. In the meantime, consider this map of the future of world population, a truly titanic pdf file that posits some pretty unattractive numbers. A bit more about the map here and here. See also Mary Mattingly's collection of world maps 40 years in the future.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Two enquiries into the nature of architecture: the failure of high design, functionalism and benevolent patronship, as Metropolis looks at Columbus, Indiana, a modernist utopia presided over by the well-intentioned J. Irwin Miller (creator of the Cummins Foundation), home to many fine examples of mid-century modern, and now just as lifeless and crime-ridden as many other, lesser-styled, small American towns. Should Cummins' money have been spent on planning Columbus, rather than cherry-picking good design? At the other end of the spectrum, architecture as deliberate spectacle, as Hugh Pearman addresses OMA's 'non-pavilion' for the Serpentine Gallery (Ludwig Abache's photographs of the pavilion's genesis - check the animation). A folly, yes, the creation of which is now an established part of the Serpentine's role, but the tight budgets and deadlines also provide an opportunity for architects and engineers 'to advance the art and science of architecture.'


More architecture. Should Paris's new Quai Branly museum exist at all? No, says Fiachra Gibbons in the Guardian, this Musee des bogus arts (bet the subs desk was pleased with that): 'Museums are meant to tell stories, and never have more long-abused objects needed theirs told so badly. Instead they are displayed, mostly unlabelled, in one dark vitrine after the next: mute, menacing and inscrutable, all the cliches we should be running headlong from.' The New York Times is equally scathing: 'If the Marx Brothers designed a museum for dark people, they might have come up with the permanent-collection galleries: devised as a spooky jungle, red and black and murky, the objects in it chosen and arranged with hardly any discernible logic, the place is briefly thrilling, as spectacle, but brow-slappingly wrongheaded.' The piece also makes the point that 'Objects are not static; they are the accumulation of all their meanings.' Apparently Quai Branly 'make[s] itself the meaning of everything in it,' a very Victorian notion of museology, and not in the narrative spirit that the modern museum must demonstrate. Consider the Horniman Museum in South London, or the Ashmolean in Oxford, both of which evolved into museums of museology as the 20th century progressed, and have had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, we like the old museums, the treasure cases of objects whose arrangements appear random and spontaneous, places for unexpected discoveries and associations. There's room in the world for both.

Behind the Ever-Expanding American Dream House', an oft-told story of how 'the average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s; it now stands at 2,349 square feet.' Mother Jones ran a similar story, 'This New House' about a year ago. Our favourite stat from that? 'The Unabomber's legal defense team cited the size of his shack—10' x 12'—to buttress his insanity plea.' (ironic how Theodore J Kaczynski's famous rant against technology and modernity should become one of the most distributed electronic texts. There is also an Italian Unabomber). Back to big houses: the NPR piece quotes Harvard professor John Stilgoe, "The big house represents the atomizing of the American family," he says. "Each person not only has his or her own television - each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children."


Other things. Plates from an 1853 textbook, Naturgeschichte in Bildern (via BibliOdyssey, and the original link) / Noisemechanic and Me-fi music, a great idea which we've only just discovered / goodness, Big Black are reforming / Alain de Botton aims to build on happiness. The author of The Architecture of Happiness is setting up as an 'enlightened' developer. Calling the AJ 'the architect's bible' is a bit rich (although we love the recent redesign by a practice for everyday life / Whiteplane2, an 'ambisonic sound and light installation by Alex Bradley and Charles Poulet' / not about McMansions at all, the Walter Segal Self Build Trust / the spectacularly obtuse weblog, which links to the photoshop experiment, complete with how-tos, etc.

Monday, July 03, 2006
The City of Galvez is an imaginary space lovingly documented on line, all grainy cityscapes, Expressionist shapes, soaring, lonely music and the general feel of a long lost society (via Atlas (t), via a stranger here myself). Imaginary cities seem to be taking over the internet, as people exploit the medium's potential for chronicling other worlds, densely layered information, artificial geographies and personal mythologies. Here you can find cities and spaces created from Lego, computer games, art and literature, even the profit-centric machinations of developers. The internet has disseminated previously fringe activities like urban exploration (a frequent favourite at things), which are in effect chronicling new urban spaces, places that had previously been lost or abandoned. We are all making our own maps now.

Real cities are getting in the act, transforming themselves into places of the imagination in the hope that the unseen and unimaginable will manifest themselves out of these new technological perspectives (digital flaneurism if you like). In France, Cannes and Nantes are building virtual recreations of themselves, ostensibly to aid with issues of future planning (see 'test driving a cityscape'), but also, one suspects, to gain fresh insight from the overview, as if the urban realm could be placed on the couch and psychoanalysed. The question is, are we bothered to look that deeply into the real world when the alternatives - the World of Warcraft, abandoned Soviet factories, online communities, etc., etc., - appear so persuasive. It's all very well using virtual worlds as case studies for the real one - tracking social dimensions (see PlayOn), for example, and how people react to the availability or scarcity of resources, but the real world could conceivably wither and die from neglect as the virtual one takes over. We're reminded of an ill-advised government suggestion to 'digitise' listed buildings so they could be safely demolished yet always accessible. However, Virtual Heritage is a growth industry.

Whether there are really lessons to learn for the physical world remains to be seen. While the internet remains resolutely two-dimensional in form - dashing early predictions that we'd all be desparate to navigate data in 3D - what is driving the move towards virtual representation is mapping data. With more and more bandwidth and data available, applications for location data are growing exponentially, be they relatively superficial (the Google Earth Drift Monitor, via Digitally Distributed Environments, or embedding youtube video in panoramas). The killer application is no doubt out there, ready but unseen.


Other things. Graffiti Taxonomy (via, again, atlas (t), who uses the far more interesting word, 'latrinalia'). On mapping a particular form of overt but subtle self expression / the weather toaster / many, many, architecture links / the art and architecture of Andrew Geller, famous for his idiosyncratic beach houses / Bret Aaker's series Hyper Fake.

Extracts from photographer Milo Keller's series AlpTransit / links and things at the mountain 7 weblog: any site that digs up abandoned asylums in Essex is fine by us / which reminds us, we need to buy the next issue of Strange Attractor / the hunt for 928, looking for refuge of a downed spy plane.

Where are the quietest bits of London? A map. Related, what parts of capital can one sneak around with ease? Points us towards derelict London for the first ime in a while / submit response, due for a re-visit / this me-fi post on Utopian Modernism goes into the detail we didn't have time to last Wednesday / speaking of imaginary landscapes, find the urban fairies.

Unusual things: Theo Jansen's Strandbeests are currently stalking through Trafalgar Square, getting shoved by tourists and being snapped by flickr users / that old chestnut, the flying car, rises up again (via jalopnik). No indication of how wide and long this thing actually is; our guess - sizeable (Hummeresque, perhaps).

There's something extremely comforting about i like's tales of their great British holiday, including a near miss with Portmeirion / a red house / the Airstream Basecamp concept, half tent, half caravan. We prefer our Airstreams long, old and a little bit tatty. Or re-visit Tom Bentley's Roads to Freedom, from our last issue, oh, half an age ago / the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (via me-fi) - especially his imaginary prisons.

A new use for youtube: archiving Tom and Jerry. The duo's Christmas specials still present - for us - the perfect image of how the festive season is supposed to be / a collection of Five idents / the grim Chinese death vans / cinematic classics reinterpreted as traditional drawings (via ask me-fi, via kottke).

Softsleeper, a publishing house and design company run by Peter Maybury and Marie-Pierre Richard / 'The word "time" is the most common noun in the English language, according to the latest Oxford English Dictionary' / the work of artist Yang Zhenzhong, balancing / Plasticbag on the ingenuity on display at the 2006 RCA Summer Show (official site here) / where have all the Serpentine Pavilions gone?

Archidose on Paolo Soleri's partnership with MINI, an attempt to drive people to Arcosanti. Commerce and counter-culture collide, although to be fair Arcosanti seems pretty inaccessible by public transport / tetris with crates / we never knew the ZX Spectrum's rubber-buttoned keyboard was called a Chiclet Keyboard.