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Monday, March 01, 2010
Is it really hip to be glum? Riffing on the insta-popularity of Unhappy Hipsters: 'US psychologists ... cropped pictures of models in ads so only their faces were visible, then asked people to rank them in order of mood. Overwhelmingly, models ­advertising pricier brands were judged to look glummer.' (pdf link: Facial Displays of Emotion in Folk vs. Elite Advertisements).

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Antonio Contador's 6=0 consists of six copies of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence". "The records were bought on ebay and never removed from their original envelopes and they never will. Each of the records will travel: from my house to each exhibitions place, from each exhibition location to another, to each envelope another one is added. Upon arrival the date is annotated and a photograph of each envelope is taken to be shown on the next exhibition." Showing at the CMCA

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The Most Popular Journal / iconism is not dead, including CCTV redux and OMA's design for a homage to Roger Hargreaves / The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers / The First Word: A Dictionary of New Architecture / Binky the Doormat / Muriel Auclert Real Estate, modern houses for sale in France / Artur, contemporary architecture tours in Budapest / Big Lorry Blog / Styledeficit, a tumblr / illustration by Wells Brown.

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Thinking outside the bun: redesigning the hot dog ("If you were to take the best engineers in the world and asked them to design a perfect plug for a child's airway, you couldn't do better than a hot dog") / cruise back in time with the history of the Wienermobile / Inventory Updates, upscale, hyper-tasteful fashion blogging / yet another set of Penguin and Pelican book covers / Parr's ambivalent obsessions, Poynor on Parrworld: The Collection of Martin Parr. More images at we make money not art.

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Lost Landscapes of Detroit (via) / Traffic control in Pyongyang / post-earthquake in Chile - follow Platforma Arquitectura for information / Who here recycles? / Random Brand finds music videos, but not for a while / Come on Sugar, Let me Know, the standfirst says it all: 'This week, Giles Turnbull reaches out to the masses on Chatroulette for advice on sexiness, with horrifying consequences.' / Arcadia demade, retro-engineering modern video games / A magical miniature day in the life of NYC / The Tom and Jerry Censorship Comparison Guide / what's it like around the Watts?

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Jonathan Schipper's Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle is very reminiscent of Chris Burden, especially his 1985 piece 'Samson', a machine designed to destroy the gallery it is exhibited in: 'a turnstile connected to a gearbox and a 100-ton jack, the latter pushing against the ends of two giant timbers wedged between the outer walls of the museum. Every visitor to the show, passing through the turnstile, pushes the museum's walls a little farther apart.' (source, Outrageous Acts Give Way to Eccentric Sculpture, NYT, 24.09.11). Video. 'Real slowly, each person coming into the museum is helping this jack to expand.'

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Objects and accumulations. From a recent Guardian piece, As I love them, so my dad loved me: 'Frankly, I still can't face properly sorting out all the old photographs, memorabilia and cuttings. What do you do with the mementos of someone who has died? I can't even bring myself to throw away his old school reports (terrible ones!) or photographs of long-ago weddings of relatives whom I don't know. I am no longer surprised that there are people out there who will do it for you for money. It occurred to me what a burden we may be putting on our children, who will inherit our vast digital archives.' And what about the future? Will we have digital house clearance specialists who will come and sift through your files,

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How does American Apparel make money? 'If you trace the textile industry it is a timeline of the development of world economies, first the South, then Mexico, China and now Vietnam.' / paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal / photography by Sophie Brasey / Photocartographies: Tattered Fragments of the Map.


Yet more from David Levine's photostream: The Port of San Francisco Annual Report 1938 - 1940 and LOOK's Guide to the New York World's Fair 1964-1965 / Knitting Pattern Handsome, self-acknowledged nostalgia / Never had a dream come true..., a visual collage of alt culture references, clips, vids and scans / SGIstuff, a 'source for SGI (Silicon Graphics, Inc.) related information on the web since 2001'.

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Small scale iconism, the Living Architecture project (related story in Building Design). There's a blog as well. There's something inherently frustrating about this approach, opening up so many questions about the role and definition of 'modern' design, as well as who it is actually aimed at. Helmed by Alain de Botton (he of The School of Life, amongst other things), the resulting projects, by Peter Zumthor, Jarmund Vigsnaes and Nord, amongst others, presents a strange mix of chic holiday home, modernist utopia and show house. This self-conscious definition of contemporary architecture marks it out as a place of otherness and aspiration, 'retreats' designed to elevate the senses and the spirit on a very temporary basis. There is no room for the prosaic or the ordinary, effectively broadening the gulf between architecture and non-architecture (as architects tend to see it), or, in other words, keeping the good stuff bottled up and out of reach.

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Friday, January 23, 2009


We've been playing around with TinEye, the 'reverse image search' (registration required). As of this evening, the site claims to have crawled 1,013,140,121 images, assembling a giant database that can be used for near-instant comparison. From the FAQ: 'TinEye finds exact and altered copies of the images that you submit, including those that have been cropped, colour adjusted, resized, heavily edited or slightly rotated. TinEye does not commonly return similar matches, and it cannot recognize the contents of any image. This means that TinEye cannot find different images with the same people or things in them.'

The site does a good job of pulling up a set of differently sized, coloured and scaled versions of the same painting. Maurice de Vlaminck's Landscape with Red Trees (1906) gives the above set of thumbnails a ripple of difference - admittedly mostly very slight - but noticeable in terms of hue and crop. But what about paintings by the same artist? Or different versions of the same landscape? (Paul Cezanne painting Mont St Victoire, for example). Or even different views painted using the exact same combination of colours? Imagine if it could be set to find works by the same artist working in a similar way? TinEye could not only help research artistic movements, it could uncover potentially hidden works. It could create new movements.


Above, a TinEyed selection of thumbnails of one Cezanne painting. Below, several thumbnail images of paintings of the same view, all by Cezanne.

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But what about brands? Could TinEye be trained to identify a Nike trainer, regardless of model, a BMW, or even a building by Frank Gehry? Repetition breeds familiarity in the world of branding, but the idea that an object's inherent brand values might be digitally quantifiable opens up huge cans of worms for product designers. All things seem possible. Imagine the launch of truly recognition engine, a new business tool that is seen as the litmus test for brand recognition. Simply upload the design, adjust the sliders, and you can whether or not your design has _enough_ BMW in it through it's ability to 'attract' and be associated with existing products.



If you run a search, pick 'closest match last' to see how images - usually stock or press shots - are clipped, chopped and pasted. These tiny deviations from the original are examples of the emerging digital patina, the inadvertent introduction of imperfections through the encroachment of jpg degradation, crops and colour recalibration. The inability of digital art to replicate itself precisely is referenced in recent work by Thomas Ruff (sometimes v.nsfw). Ironically, the very tool that reveals this hitherto visual richness in digital design might ultimately lead to the push-button blandification of the material world.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
'Via Bettina Rheims, a Russian oligarch introduces his lovely wife to the world' is the subtitle to The Book of Olga (nsfw), a new book from Taschen. This object operates on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. As an opulent presentation of what is deemed quite literally a 'trophy wife', it's the modern equivalent of Gainsborough or Reynolds, portraiture for the post-Madonna and post-Koons world.

But through Rheims' involvement the portraits also claim to operate on the level of art, an expression not of love or taste (however misguided this might appear) but a statement of the role of portraiture and presentation within a relationship. The pornographic gaze has evolved from the blurred edges and frenzied brushstrokes of Giovanni Boldini, hinting at a hidden eroticism. Instead, everything is on display. Like Boldini or Gainsborough, these images are struck through with fantasy, and just as in the past, that fantasy doesn't necessarily belong to the sitter, but to the person who paid for the picture.

Perhaps this is reading way to much into what is essentially a glossy version of the glamour photography gift sessions (nsfw, in all probability). It begs the question, what will be the artistic legacy of the oligarch explosion? Now that the twilight beckons, the temptation is to scout around and decry the paucity of the artistic and architectural commissions that resulted from their five year rule of the international scene.

What will be left? A Philippe Starck designed yacht, Project Sigma, commissioned back in 2005 and only just breaking cover (and starting work in its role in facilitating tax avoidance). A private house by Zaha Hadid, which may or may not exist in some physical form by now. The charred remains of an house in New York by UN Studio. Countless destroyed supercars littering the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg. Dachas that are trumping McMansions in scale. Large swathes of London under Russian ownership. A 'destabilised' Riviera'. Etc. etc.

What lingers is the hunch that these acts (the ones of creation, not of destruction) were never deliberate artistic statements (like the recent Koons-designed yacht), but accidental ones, an aesthetic evolved out of new, hitherto unknown, arenas of status and display.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The Kinetic Family Drawing, a projective diagnostic technique neatly summarised in the 1948 imaeg 'Child Draws Home', taken in 1948 by David Seymour. In recent years, children's drawings of catastrophe or chaos have come to represent a primal and fundamental truth about an event, emotive media shorthand for horrors we might otherwise be inured to. See, for example, Children's drawings of the Spanish Civil War, the Darfur Conflict, the war in Chechnya. And, at the opposite end of the scale, drawings which speak about aspiration and anticipation, The Laptop Club, a tmn classic. One set speaks of horror, the other of hope and anticipation.

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Other things. Vintage Paperbacks / Paris in Old Photographs / Fictional Cities, including Venice on film / Tanks and Tablecloths, an art project that is all about 'identifying common themes between the military and the domestic.' / A4 papercuts by Peter Callesen.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008
Extracted from some random spam, book530.com, one of the countless 'art factories' in Dafen, a southern Chinese town that produces vast numbers of oil paintings, copied slavishly - and expertly - from Old Masters, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Abstract Impressionists, etc. etc. The work is true mass production: "We divide up the colors among us," said [18-year-old Zeng Xiangying], "By dividing up the work, contrasting colors stay clearest." How do they work? eBay is awash in Chinese galleries: avantoil, chengxiangzhubao521, Paintings-888 and templeofart all pulled from a very quick search. That last store has over 3,000 items for sale. Everything is 24 x 20 inches (must be something to do with standarised shipping rates), although you can supersize your order (everything is painted to order, naturally). The likes of Mark Kostabi and Thomas Kincade must be incandescent with rage that someone else is muscling in on their game. We're seriously tempted to buy a painting and see what the quality is like (although the medium is occasionally over-extended - such as the reproductions of Matisse's Blue Nudes, cut out pieces of coloured paper that might be interesting rendered in oils).

More. Michael Wolf has an excellent set of images of Chinese copy artists, posing proudly with their work, while Shenzhen-based flickr user lila75 has a complete set on the Dafen Artist's Village, a sort of hyper-steroidal version of the Place du Tertre or even the Hyde Park Railings. We like this picture, which seems to illustrate the collision between high culture and commerce quite succinctly. This piece, Workshop of the world, fine arts division, by James Fallows also gives a flavour of the place.

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Other things. Paris in the 50s. See also general sets and scenes from the 60s and 70s, including views of the Olivetti factory, the inner workings of a typewriter workshop. Most of these images appear to pre-date the introduction of Sottsass's Valentine. There are plenty of typewriter museums online, including Chuck and Rich's and Lady Typewriter.

Some publications. Reconstruction, 'studies in contemporary culture'. Here you'll find articles like '"Thank Goodness He-Man Showed Up": Hypermasculine Cultural Posturing and the Token Women of 80s Animated Action Teams', discussing the 'strange sexualized overtones' in cartoons like G.I.Joe. Other issues include a piece on 'The Playing Card's Progress: A Brief History of Cards and Card Games'.

Urbanomic, 'philosophical research and development'. Their new publication, 'Collapse IV, Concept Horror', looks interested. Ordered / Tanks and Tablecloths, 'an ongoing collaborative research project between artists Elizabeth Haven and Lizzie Ridout, identifying common themes between the military and the domestic.' / the work of photographer Bas Princen, via candyland.

Digital Urban on MapTube, a suite of Free Google Map Creating Software developed by University College London's CASA laboratory (Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis). A way of importing data into Google Maps, it works a treat for things like the London Underground Map and Post Office locations (compare and contrast with the closures map). We wish there was a way to strip out all the map information entirely, leaving just the data behind. Also, the data contained within maps like London Building Volumes begs to imported into Google Earth so it can be tilted and flown through.

Apocalyptic game rendering crops up on terrorist mood board, apparently. Gamers unamused / the first digital camera, invented by Steve Sasson / Japanese motorway interchanges, the kind of thing that crops up at Follow Found / Aesthetechtonik, a weblog and portfolio by architect Mike Suriano / Vintage Posters / stumbled across this on a bookshelf the other day: The Google Book, by V.C.Vickers, published in 1913. Unsurprisingly it now exists on the Google-devoted Google Blogoscoped.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


The Shell Guides presented an extraordinary vision of Great Britain as a bucolic utopia, rich in wildlife, local interest, verdant views and winding lanes. Intended to spur the early motorist into fuel-sapping forays across the landscape in search of new experience, they were illustrated and adorned with imagery that drew on the abstracted vision of modernism, in particular Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism. Arguably the serene imagery created for the Shell Guides, and the accompanying posters and maps, are a further stage removed than the work of England's mostly rather polite exponents of modernism, taking the dynamism of modernity and re-packaging it as a largely decorative art form. The guides and posters included work by Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash (detail from The Rye Marshes, 1932, above), Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Vanessa Bell, Abram Games, Rex Whistler and E.McKnight Kauffer. All experts of the era, but who might also be called exponents of tea-towel modernism.

Today, Shell are known mostly as makers of quite extraordinary profits. When did this situation arise? When - and how - did the company throw away its reputation as keeper of English whimsy and quiet delight? Just how could a company so immersed in the arts, located at the precise point where the avant-garde melted into the populist, throw it all away? The guides are the subject of a new exhibition at MODA, The Shell Guides: Surrealism, Modernism, Tourism (see also wikipedia). Some more examples of Shell's exceptionally broad and fluid corporate identity can be found at Ian Byrne's fabulous Petrol Maps website, 'mapping the history of oil company road maps in Europe', and Rennart's page on Shell Posters (and individual pages on Nash, Ravilious and Bawden).

Elsewhere, EU 'should ban inefficient cars'', according to a former Shell Chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart. "You would be allowed to drive an Aston Martin - but only if it did 50-60mpg."According to this profile, he drives a Prius.

The shift in the decades following the heyday of the Shell Guides also saw industry move from being a largely estranged, hidden spectacle (very far from being a 'tourist' destination, and suitable only for moody, modernist studies of industrial life) towards a reconditioned, reenacted life as heritage and spectacle. After the Falkirk Wheel, will we get The Derby Arm? The British canal, once one of the key arteries of the industrial revolution, is being reinvented as a collection of theme park machinery whose main purpose is to generate tourism, not electricity or steel.

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Long Live Magazine Culture (and part two), Russell Davies on seminal publication design and the misuse of received wisdom. Includes this link to a piece on AR's epic Manplan, which ironically has had more of an impact on designers over the years than the architects and planners it was meant to invigorate.

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Interesting how you can sometimes stumble into a whole patch (good collective word for weblogs? probably not) of locally-focused blogs, all lovingly compiled and unexpectedly revealing. Perhaps they're no more revealing than any random geographic cluster of linked weblogs, but what might seem like epically Pooterish esoterica is transformed into fascinating insight when you realise that the locales, characters and events being discussed are within mere miles of your own location. Admittedly a fair few of these transcend the idea of a personal diary and veer dangerously towards the quasi-fictional book-proposal blog, a minor sub-genre in British publishing that merges the tradition of diary-making with the skittery, brand-saturated observations of Chick Lit.

So via Landcroft House's inward link to us, we find Confessions of a Dulwich Nanny, Nunhead Ramblings, Posh Mum (definitely pitched at literary agents, that one), The Bellenden Bun Fight, The Wood Vale Diaries, The Daily Muse (also responsible for My London Taxi, a guide to keeping a black cab as a family car).

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Wrong Distance, an exceptional visual culture weblog. Example posts: Eero Saarinen Sketches, photography by Michael Wells, modern plastics pamphlet (see also) / At Night in the Forest, a personal project by Ben Aqua / Ask Jerves, visual culture collection, as is criva, this is no declaration, re:cycle and holster / we like Andre Thijssen's Fringe Phenomena project / Line Architecture, visual things / Bookendless, a Japanese site dedicated to art books and monographs, the more obscure the better.

Will Wiles' review of 700 Penguins in icon looks at the era when 'good design' was largely overlooked in favour of 'a distressing amount of general schlock' in the late 70s and 80s. To be fair, a lot of this general schlock is what passed for 'good design' during those times / watch the Jungle House take shape, accompanying the Design Museum's current Jean Prouve exhibition / Bad Banana Blog, visual culture and ephemera / The Alphabet of Illustrators, 'an index of names' / Badaude, a weblog with illustrations.

An observation taken from Miranda Sawyer's piece Who calls the tune in the new music age?: 'Just five years ago, you'd release a handful of products from every album, meaning three singles, a couple of 12-inch remixes. Maybe up to about 10. Now, for the last Justin Timberlake album [2006's FutureSex/LoveSounds] we released 181 products. And 140 of them were digital: ringtones, wallpaper, soundtracks for games.' / vote for 'the most beautiful car in history' / a couple of mp3 blogs, dusty sevens and the ghost of electricity / that will probably be that for this week.

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