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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to define the contemporary aesthetic. Past posts have speculated that the type of work favoured by ffffound and its ilk is the dominant mode of modern design, featuring - but not limited to - the intersection of rough-edged printmaking derived textures, wandering lines and smudgy forms drawn from traditional illustration, the hard-edged glistening sheen of computer generated imagery and the patterns, lines and inherent beauty of raw geometry.

This is a multi-disciplinary world where art direction, amateur photography, architecture, illustration, craft, cartoons and technology all fuse into one another, creating - dare we say it - a homogenous pop culture aimed at the attention deficient more than anything else. It's also a global culture (see 360 magazine from China, for example), having evolved from the enthusiastic sub-cultural adoption of Japanese Manga in the West into an ability to absorb specific local influences to generate an all-pervasive yet ultimately placeless sense of the 'exotic'.

So where does the profusion of imagery leave actual, concrete, physical design? We'd speculate that architecture has been fairly comprehensively damaged by the attraction and dominance of the ephemeral - what might rather unkindly be called the triumph of whimsy. Consider Ruum, a new architecture and design magazine (found via Creative Boys Club, which is a mecca for the New Eclectic). With layouts and type that draw on a variety of sources, fashion shoots that have a kitchen-sink inclusiveness and a collage-friendly emphasis on the collation and presentation of imagery, Ruum demonstrates the influence of 21st publishing successes like MARK magazine and, to a lesser extent, A10.

In these publications, architecture is reduced to being little more than the generator of the layouts, not a series of three dimensional spaces but a 2D form that inspires print design, rather than spatial interaction. MARK and A10 differ from late C20 eclectics like Nest through their fatal attraction to novelty, a fascination with the sheen of what is apparently innovation, but is more usually the blurred hinterland between render and photograph, the point at which the computer-generated becomes indistinguishable from reality. Ladel on the increasingly clip art-like imagery found on art, architecture and illustration aggregators, and you end up with design that is simultaneously timeless and utterly of its time.

But is the modern aesthetic genuinely modern? We'd suggest it was simply a hacked about histogram of the past century, with the troughs edited out in favour of the peaks. Many have noticed Late Modernism's peaky attention grabbing of late, lamenting how the 'icon' has supplanted contextual design in an attempt to snap our synapses to attention through novelty, impact and verve. Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy has a splendid post that declares We are all Googie now, noting that the spiky commercial gimcracks of West Coast America not only transcended the rather dull and acquiescent output of the ruling International Modernists ('In fact, with their deliberate defiance of the rules of gravity and geometry, their brashness and lack of precedent, googie buildings were more true to the Modernist event'), but is arguably the aesthetic mode that underpins contemporary architecture.

*

Technology thoughts. 3D appears to be making a comeback, through a series of just-launched/in-the-pipeline applications that are tringing to bring science-fiction style interface control to the desktop (although the exciting-sounding Liveplace technology that everyone was talking about last week is this week's Yeti hoax). For a start, we've been playing around with Photosynth a little bit (good discussion at me-fi), and it does seem to do what it promises, although the research uses are few and far between right now / photoshop style enhancement for video. See also 10 futuristic user interfaces. The sheer complexity of modern data management is starting to manifest in unusual little ways, like the creation of 'fake following' applications that allow you to mimic real life behaviour - nodding, saying 'uh-huh' a lot, not paying attention - in the hitherto unrelentingly demanding digital realm.

Other things. A panorama of the Watercube / Re-Title, an online art directory / once and for all, WebUrbanist puts together 42 Essential Flickr Abandonment Groups (via tmn), illustrating the sheer scale of not just our ongoing fascination with modern ruins, but the amount of ruins out their to chronicle / Midpoint Meander, an architect-driven weblog.

The Lego minifigure turns 30 / the Olympics in Lego / Stimpy in Lego / after Other Simulated Worlds, revisiting Hiroshi Sugimoto's Dioramas series / Tigerluxe, a weblog by an illustrator / Postcrossing, 'a project that allows anyone to exchange postcards (paper ones, not electronic) from random places in the world' / a blog by the artist Gaston Caba / entschwindet und vergeht, a weblog touching on architecture, sound and more, including a piece on the Caretaker.

Michael Jantzen has a new website. While his largely computer-generated oeuvre isn't quite in synch with what passes for fantasy architecture these days, it's certainly prescient - consider the recently released renders of Zaha Hadid's Capital Hill Residence in Barvikha, Russia. A computer-generated fantasy made real (potentially), its form suggestive not just of architectural innovation, but of massive shifts in economic power and patronage. Mildly reminiscent of Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower in Potsdam / moving the Maxwell House, an icon gets relocated. Oh for the demountable lightness of an earlier generation of architectural masterpieces.

*

We were pipped to the post by the release of myLighter, a flickering flame you can install on your iPhone and presumably hold aloft while swaying to the music. There needs to be a word for technological ennui, the state we exist anything where anything is technically possible and the only thing that holds us back is our imagination. No sooner can you imagine a new application of an existing technology than someone has actually does it, posting details of their hack around the world.

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