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Tuesday, February 02, 2010


The attraction of the technological failure, and how the internet serves as a dispensary of extended footnotes to otherwise forgotten history. Take the Sinclair C5, now firmly established in the canon of entrepreneurial also-rans, an idea not so much beyond its time, but out of time, the answer to a question that no-one was asking. But were it not for the internet, the C5 would languish in the very marginalia of cultural commentary, the nuts and bolts of its brief existence papered over by snide remarks, quips and references. Now every little dead end and half-baked idea is glorified and celebrated with its own chapel of rememberance or mausoleum, turning the internet into a repository of abandoned strands of human ingenuity.

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A forthcoming exhibition at the V and A celebrates small spaces, including 1:1 structures by seven international practices: Rintala Eggertsson, Terunobu Fujimori, Helen and Hard, Studio Mumbai, Sou Fujimoto, Rural Studio and Vazio S/A.

Art saved from the Nazis / art saved from itself / the second video ever posted on youtube was of someone falling over / the greatest extended takes in movie history / rounding up consumption, the Amazon Filler Item Finder / Linefeed, a design weblog / photographs by Rob Hann / amazing model village.

Wooden toys by Take-g / Tin Trunk, fashion history / paintings by Steven Pennaneac'h / Angry People in Local Newspapers / Vintage Headlamp Restoration / AE Worldmap, architecture aggregator / Grange Hill then and now (via haddock) / photography by Marquis Palmer.

The RV Hall of Fame (via BBC) / Sell Sell, a weblog / Volume, an architecture magazine / urban exploration: cathedrals. Great rooftop shots of Paris / A decade that was not: in architecture too, on the aughties ('noughties'?) as ten years of architectural destruction and the failure of the profession to offer anything more than hollow symbolism in response.

Curiouscurious, a tumblr / Every Bell That Tolls Me, a tumblr / Baubauhaus, imagery cascade / Exit Magazine's minimal YouTube presence is like the anti-iPad / aKun, a tumblr, which introduces us to the work of Chris Kenny and the concept of desire paths / Eventual Ghost, a weblog / Annalogs, a weblog / the Guess Where London? pool / In Pictures: House Moving in Chile.



A selection of editorial headings by Winsor McCay, 1867-1934 at Golden Age Comic Book Stories (via number61). What an absolutely marvellous website. The richness of the illustration on the following pages is breathtaking, all the more so for being scanned at half decent quality in epic quantities. The work of Arthur Rackham; Dugald Stewart Walker; Kay Nielsen

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Making the Unbelievable, Believable: Magical and Fictional Worlds in Visual Art. On the nature of fiction and belief, and how it is the often almost imperceptible details that help us make the leap that lodges a fictional space in our minds. 'In the Victoria and Albert Museum there is a medieval sculpture of an angel, and the tunic dress has slits embroidered around the edges where the wings come out. Now that is a true angel. It's like when snow is painted, it has to embody real snow to be believable.' We think of the snow in Pauline Bayenes' illustrations for CS Lewis's Narnia series, and the way a single slash of black on white implied a deep, crisp coldness. From the link, talking about the Disneyfication of Winnie the Poo: 'The tiniest marks do an enormous amount of work in terms of giving you an emotional and unconditional love for one of those characters in the original drawings.'

The debate also mentions the Magic Pencil exhibition, a British Council initiative from a few years ago to bolster the international presence of the country's children's illustrators. So much of our mental landscape is shaped by illustration, specifically illustration for children's books, spaces that are created when the mind is primed to store imagery.

Below we reproduce a short piece from things 9 on an exhibition held a decade ago at the Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture, back when it lurked on the edge of Regents' Park. As well as Baynes, the exhibition included work by Tove Jansson and Maurice Sendak.

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Children's books are occasional spaces, exotic locations that do not have the familiarity of our own homes and rooms. But how does children's literature portray the house? Can it simultaneously provide both familiarity and exoticism in that most familiar space? Alan Power's eclectic exhibition at the Prince of Wales' Institute of Architecture is a comprehensive picture of the role of the house in children's books, illustrating many literary locations. From the original artwork for Lewis Carroll's Alice, through the elaborate architecture and world of the Moomins to the post-psychedelic fantasies of today's sophisticated illustrators, there is something from everyone's past on display.

For children, the spaces described in these books have the same physical resonance and psychic presence as those infrequently visited physical spaces which seeped into the consciousness as 'special places' - like grandparent's houses, with their attics, cellars, hidden spaces and history. My own grandparents lived in a small, 1930s house in the suburbs of Bath, traditionally styled but with a strange pebble-dash and concrete finish. Even the house's name, Greenways, had the mysterious aura of, say, the House at Green Knowe, Lucy Boston meets Narnia. Elements of adventure abounded; a dusty, child-sized attic, bare save for boards and mote-filled streams of light from a single tiny window. My grandfather's workshop, a remote eyrie festooned with tools, was circumnavigated by a miniature railway, which whirred around at head height whilst he worked. The garden's rampaging herbaceous borders towered above children, becoming a maze of secret passages and hedgerows. Alongside an overgrown pond thick with snails and buzzing with dragonflies, ran a model railway - hand-built model steam trains chattering through Meccano signals and points made from knitting needles. Buried deep within the front hedge was my mother's childhood Wendy house, the ceiling sagging beneath the foliage above, the floor splintered and torn like a replica ruin.

This space impinged greatly on my consciousness, and merged and melded with the vivid descriptions and pictures that filled the books of my childhood. But the journey into past memories is frequently marred with disappointment, and unsurprisingly, it was a shock to revisit the house in adulthood - and be surprised by the small scale, the harshness of the house's appearance, the newly-built houses that filled the garden and the neatly manicured flower beds. But although revisiting the spaces created within children's books appears to be a similarly risky journey, books retain their personal voice and sense of intimate scale.

In children's literature, the house frequently represents a space outside conventional experience. Through the protagonist, the reader transgresses the rules and conventions established by adults. Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are aptly illustrates this journey. The hero, Max, spirited from the 'safety' of his bed and transported to a strange new world, free from the shackles and conventions of everyday life.

But such transgression is frequently punished, or at least carries the implication of grave consequences; witness Alice's (mis)adventures in Wonderland. Or, for example, take Dr Seuss's mischievous thing one and thing two who run riot in a space placed in the temporary custody of children. The Cat in the Hat, representing the temptation of transgression, ultimately cannot convince the children that these things mean fun. Beatrix Potter's dark morality tales of Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten focus on the innocent abroad, adrift in a world of serious 'adult' concerns. The message is simple: do as we say or…. In contrast, Catherine Storr's Polly and the Wolf stories neatly inverts this grave message. Despite depicting a traditionally sinister children's book character, Storr's Wolf is a downtrodden loser, forever thwarted by Polly's cunning and his own pitiful stupidity. Even Polly's journey into the clearly transgressive (and messy) space of the Wolf's own house culminates in the child's victory. But for the most part, such stories focus on the invariably negative results of invading a forbidden zone, or inviting an alien, unwelcome presence into your own space.

Naturally, real life is rarely rudely interrupted by anthropomorphic invasions, or wayward journeys into fantasy realms. Sadly, it becomes increasingly apparent that as we grow older, the physical spaces we held dear as children have become integrated with our everyday, mundane existences. Transgressions become limited by laws and rules and spaces become property, with onerous implications of trespass and theft. Perhaps only children's literature provides us with a satisfying journey back into a murky past clouded with the knowledge of subsequent experience, for now we know that rules were not made to be broken.

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Another form of fantasy living space was enacted on America's West Coast in the post-war years, when the Case Study Houses transcended their original brief as low-cost housing prototypes for the masses and evolved into the epitome of aspirational living, perched atop canyons and dunes. Accompanying Taschen's facsimile reprint of Arts and Architecture is this website, also entitled Arts and Architecture, upon which you can find extracts from every issue and details of the houses that were submitted.



Other things. Is Detroit worth saving? versus 'An auto industry bail-out will fail' / houses of the future fail to find buyers. The life-size exhibits at the MoMA show Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling remain unsold, save for Horden Cherry Lee's Micro Compact Home.

Sidebar revisits. Transpontine, rich in South London history, complete with the Transpontine South East London History Map and posts about walking through New Cross and William Morris in South London, as well as this blog on the location of London's Stink Pipes. All recommended.

75 years of the hunt for Nessie, cryptozoology as embedded cultural meme. No concrete evidence whatsoever exists indicating that the Loch Ness Monster is real; it is a phantom trope designed purely to excite the Daily Mail.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008


End of week round-up. From Silver Lake to Suicide: One Family's Secret History of the Jonestown Massacre / Cemeteries of the Century / Paper Jam, excellent UK weblog / Piran Cafe, a weblog that links the National Media Museum's flickr page, with sets including spirit photographs of William Hope, one of Britain's premiere spirit photographers at the turn of the twentieth century. Whatever happened to spirit photography?

Mixin'Jams, the weblog as box of chocolates. Drill down to find soft centres, like Henry Bursill's Hand Shadows to Be Thrown upon the Wall / Bodas/Weddings, a photographic project by Juan de la Cruz Megías / design by Enzo Mari / photography by Tamir Sher.

Showing a savvy understanding of the kind of story that drives site traffic via sites like this one, the AJ presents the 10 scariest buildings in Britain. A pretty broad selection, but not really scary as such, just frightening in an Orwellian or ugly kind of way. Once again, St George Wharf comes in for a well-deserved kicking, but its inclusion merely highlight the clippings job nature of the article.

Key Ideas, a weblog allied with the Camberwell College of Arts and overseen by Peter Nencini. The weblog attempts to put a bit of theoretical heft back into the endless stream of imagery that has become so prevalent / 12 clay car mock-ups. at oobject, via Twirk Ethic. The site also linked to this NYT article from last year, Sketches of Optimism From Detroit's Glory Days

Browsing through other people's lives and likes / Adam Macqueen, a weblog / Today is a Good Day, a weblog / Le Peu Introverti, a weblog / The Lamp Post, a weblog / 3D printers approach the mass market, now 'As Cheap as Laser Printers Were In 1985', via haddock. We're waiting for the killer app that turns the 3D printer into the must-have item for every home.

Phil Beard's 'notes on the visual arts and popular culture'. Great stuff, including this post on illustrator Tony Sarg, purveyor of art to London Transport / graphic design and photography by Jon Spencer (not that one) / the Victoria and Albert Museum has its own Vimeo page, featuring just four films so far, but with huge potential.

Before we turn into the BBCS, or delve deep into the world of skunk apes, chupacabras and dead black panthers, things hears credible word of some cryptozoological goings on in Wiltshire. Watch this space.

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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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