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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.


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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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Apologies for a few weeks of downtime. This piece is getting some linkage, 'The City is a Battlesuit for Surviving the Future', on the legacy of Archigram, the media image of architectural innovation and the ongoing evaporation of urban interaction into non-physical form - a form that paradoxically is enhancing how we interact with physical spaces and one another. The one issue that is integral but always somehow unspoken with these treatises is contemporary information density, the ongoing aestheticisation of data that was very much a characteristic of Archigram's work and has steadily increased in day to day life.

The modern city is the data city. Architectural renderings and monographs present case studies in the context of information, with statistics and graphs supplementing the traditional projected view. The utopia of tomorrow will be saturated with information, and it is how we navigate this space that is the focus of so much contemporary speculation on technology and the city.

However, the idea of the 'information city' has created a very fine line between utopia and dystopia. So many of the qualities beloved by bloggers (this magazine included), designers, architects, designers and commentators seem to exist in a fluid state between good and bad. For example, how to reconcile the idea that 2000AD's Mega-City 1 is one of the great inspirational sci-fi cities with the 'reality' of the comic's metropolis as a crime-ridden, fear-saturated, consumption-crazed urban nightmare?

One suggestion is that we are mistaking complexity for cultural engagement. Just as the dense jumble of links and images that characterises the contemporary website gives an impression of a rich cultural experience, it also recalls imagery of the chaotic, layered city. One example is the ongoing fascination with ruins of the recent past, a means of instantly conveying historic context and patina, a seductive visual shorthand for two hundred years of industrial and economic data.

The web is not a city. Data space is not a place. But the analogies are persistent. By committing our memory to Google or the 'cloud' we have inadvertently created a great hunger for the intangible and ephemeral, the scraps and minutae of everyday life that get sucked into the circuitry and instantly forgotten. Already we are lamenting the loss of the unknown landscape as a result of global satellite imagery, gps and mapping. Physical space and the raw quality of still air immobilised by a structure cannot by duplicated or imitated. The 'infrastructural city' is not the labyrinth of chance encounters so celebrated by the Situationists. Our interactions are manufactured and governed.

Yet imitation remains our focus. The way virtual interfaces mimic physical spaces - desktops, pinboards, tables and surfaces you can post, pin, pinch and scatter content across - acknowledges our hunger for the tangible. 'The City is a Battlesuit for Surviving the Future' acknowledges architecture's debt to fictional cityscapes and how the most ambitious masterplans aim at creating spaces where 'the infrastructures are layered, ad-hoc, adaptive and personal - people there really are walking architecture, as Archigram said.'

Visualisation is at the heart of these new utopias. Once, the imaginary city was merely shaped and re-shaped in the corners of our mind - the rolling roofs of Peake's Gormenghast would have been impossible to create except in the imagination ('Blackstone Quarter, Stone Dogshead, Angel's Buttress, the Coupée (described as 'the high knife edge'); the North Headstones 'beyond Gory and the Silver Mines'; and the Twin Fingers, 'where Little Sark begins and the Bluff narrows'.) Today, we expect constant visual challenge, not the mental gymnastics of linking spaces and names and building cities from text on the page.

How do we reconcile the real city, with its messy unpredictability, with the visionary dreams of the utopians, where everything is connected and complete interaction is taken for granted? The internet does its best to connect the two, but it feels as though the scraps of reality, once processed, scanned and catalogued, lose the very qualities that endear them in the first place. Example: the literal billions of images on flickr are a snapshot of people, places and things defined by a finite number of tags, not the myriad, impossible to reproduce connections that denote reality.

Perhaps this gap will close, and visual search systems, tags and metadata will evolve to supersede the connections we make instinctively. But ultimately the city is not about searching, but about memory, and how cultural collages trigger, accentuate and erase our rememberance of the past and our perception of the future. The data city of the future will be unnavigable without technology, granted, but as a species we seem to be crying out for help remembering, unable to find things with the arsenal of digital tools and reliant, instead, on other people's recollections. This is why, we'd suggest, that the idea of archives, museums, drawers, corridors, boxes, cellars, warehouses and vaults, modern ruins and scanned ephemera, still hold such fascination, without ever really satisfying our innate desire for things.


As if to confirm the above, a collection of 'other things'. The security implications of hypergraphics / Fernando Feijoo, illustrator / @random, a tumblr / All Things Considered, a weblog / James Wines of SITE on the art of architectural drawing / a couple of flickr groups focusing on architectural drawing: I and II.

Crash test, old versus new: '2009 Chevy Malibu versus 1959 Chevy Bel Air at Autoblog. See also old family car versus new car / retro design seems to be emerging as one of the core qualities of electric cars: Honda's EV-N is a good case in point / we're taking another run at Hunch, which has quietly been pushing out consumer advice for the past year or so.

Archive and Conquer brings together some interesting topics, including the most over-photographed parts of Detroit (think ruins, although the 100 houses in that last link offer a spread of architectural variety and intrigue sadly lacking in almost any contemporary housing development) and a link to a set of famous vandalized paintings, a collection by Lance Wakeling. See also Ice House Detroit, a literal freezing of one such ruin as a comment about the glacial economy and the domestic wastelands that have been generated as a result.

The work of Gerrit van Bakel, collected over at The Silver Lining / see also the world of KidZania, a chain of small scale townscapes aimed at children. Found via this Guardian piece: 'Its buildings, vehicles and other features are scaled down to two-thirds real size to accommodate its young inhabitants, who have more than 50 jobs to choose from during a typical five- or six-hour shift, with each job lasting about 30 minutes.'

A pictorial history of Grey Gardens, the house made famous by the 1975 documentary (and a recent film) and the subject of a fan sites and other online reliquaries. The house, now owned by Ben Bradlee, can be found here, amongst a generous scattering of beachside mansions.

Things of Interest. We've watched the 'things' brand be chipped away in recent years, most notably by the Mac application Things, which swept in and stole our Google search thunder (quite justifiably) / guest editors: Paul Petrunia of Archinect, Jeff Carvalho of Selectism and Josh Rubin of Cool Hunting / Google Crop Circles, a hoary old publicity trick / programme for the Rotterdam Architecture Biennale.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

We've written before about the single-pixel depth of online culture, but perhaps we should also stress the infinite length and width of that one-pixel-deep image, a vast jpg that envelops the earth. Imagine the world scanned and mapped at 1:1 scale, with no surface left unimaged. Part of the problem of writing about 'things' in a virtual place is that so much of the physical world is left unchronicled. For us, if something isn't online, it doesn't exist.

Throw in the things that don't exist anywhere but online, and you have a world of confusion, a place where the only time you get to dive beneath the pixel-deep surface is when you are entering a virtual world. A case in point: the Infocom Collection, text adventures of legendary depth and complexity (via metafilter). Here are places to get lost without even moving. 'Congragulations on your fine dental hygiene'.


Hermann Zschiegner's thirty-four parking lots of Google Earth (posted at reference library) inspired him to 'collect Ruscha-inspired book and have found close to 50 different Ruscha-esque books... [including] Jeff Brouws' "26 Abandoned Gasoline Stations" and "Macintosh Road Test" by artists Corinne Carlson, Karen Henderson and Marla Hlady.'

Monopoly City Streets, supposedly the world's largest game of Monopoly? Interesting to see how this one plays out. How about a global version of Risk? Or War Games? (although apparently DEFCON: everybody dies does a good imitation). The Google Maps API could be hacked about to allow any number of games to take place around the world.

Related, high resolution photos of the moon, taken from Earth (via kottke) / photography and mash, aggregating London photography exhibitions and a gallery / Tumblr round-up. Schumtzig presents illustration / lqdx blgr, 'scrapbook of infogasmic charts and interesting links' / Jen Benkman, gallerist and curator / are2, old artwork and posters.

Parenthetically wonders 'how many middle aged advertising and fashion executives of the '60s fetishized the look or music of their youth: the 1920s.' / Stork Bites Man, a weblog / bunker chic, the Nixie Concrete Clock (via Yanko Design) / Allee Willis has a Museum of Kitsch, a sort of Stuckist anti-museum / Escapees, an RV discussion forum.

Archive and Conquer, which points us to the site of artist Rosamond Purcell, 'keeper of an incredible wunderkammer', 'a full-size recreation of 17th Century naturalist Olaus Worm's Wunderkammer', the original etching of which can be seen here, with more selections from Museum Wormianum seu Historia Rerum Rariorum (1655).

Technology histories: Edison National Historic Site / Transdiffusion Broadcasting System, comprehensive television archives / the Soviet Digital Electronics Museum / the Fading Ad Blog / mag and cover art linked here / slightly circular, via this greeble piece at Creativity Online (picked up via our referrer logs), an essay, 'John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design'.

'The British public, and more especially naval circles, are very much amused over an amazing hoax perpetrated last week on Admiral Sir William May, Commander in Chief of the Home Fleet, and the officers of the flagship Dreadnought at Portland by a young woman and five young men.' More about the Dreadnought Hoax, perpetrated by Horace de Vere Cole ('The prankster at one point gave theater tickets to each of his bald friends, strategically placing them so that their heads spelled out an expletive when viewed from the balcony'), with friends including Virginia Woolf and Duncan Grant. Simpler times...

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Ebb of Memory, Kevin Slavin writing on digital archiving and recollection: 'The sharp upswing in all of this record-keeping – both active and passive – are redefining one of the core elements of what it means to be human, namely to remember. We are moving towards a culture that has outsourced this essential quality of existence to machines, to a vast and distributed prosthesis. This infrastructure exists right now, but very soon we’ll be living with the first adult generation whose entire lives are embedded in it.' Concluding: 'For the next generation, it will be impossible to forget it, and harder to remember.' At EDGE.

Icon's editor takes a lie detector test. Every magazine editor should have to do the same / Lynsey Hanley has a 'miserable day as Le Corbusier' / Underground City, about which more on flickr / Vanity Fair turns against its own, an editorial 180 noted at Transracial / huge, image heavy page of retro futurist concepts, many from the former Soviet Union / the Polygraph Museum / irresistable, old maps of London.

Ctrl-N Journal, a cartographic weblog. Highly recommended. See particularly the link to Windows of the Mind, a recent Guardian piece on the subconscious art of domestic psychology, the way placement of windows or walls might upset or enhance your experience of a space.

The Claremont Institute's is rich with Clancey-esque scenarios about possible future ICBM attacks on the US. Essential reading for strategic planners in the Axis of Evil. Includes jittery quicktime movies of the Chinese obliterating Los Angeles, a conservative fantasy if ever there was one.

Conditions Magazine, coming soon / Redub reader repackages key articles in a slick format / What We Do is Secret, actually, what we do is collate enormous quantities of visual material about new architecture in Japan and elsewhere / now that's a toolkit / The dieline tackles new water packaging, with an ethical caveat. Could it be true that 'working on new water brands [has] started to seem tantamount to working on cigarettes'? / art by Richard Galpin / art by Holger Lippmann.

Savage Messiah, a website by Laura Oldfield Ford / the Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions, via experts getting it wrong / Vague Terrain, a weblog / art, imagery, fashion, etc., at Mafia Hunt / the Artylizer, yet more visual sharing / above image from Toronto Scientific and Surplus / who needs Amazon when there's the Cosmic Ordering website?

My Year in Outfits at stickers and donuts (high flight) / art by Nathan Abels / Yolanda Bello's frankly rather creepy dolls (also creator of the my first McDonalds doll) / Have Fun with a Lie Detector / we need to help with this / back in pre-credit crunch times (July 2006), the NYT produced a fine piece on Russian style. Reminiscent of Daniela Rosell's photo series Ricas Y Famosas (also featured in Colors).

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A few months ago there was an online gallery about the Great American Catalog at tmn, the kind of saturated colour nostalgia that the web does so well. It reminded us to revisit these classic collections of 27 Christmas catalogs at Wishbook's photostream. This is nostalgia so fierce it makes your eyes water; even a world one wasn't necessarily a part of can somehow tug at the memories (the 1975 Sears Christmas Catalog), for example.

In Eccentric Spaces, Robert Harbison writes of John Ruskin's descriptions of Venice, noting how the Victorian critic effectively used the page and the written word to turn the entire city into a museum, weaving an apparently casual path between objects - things - of interest to generate an informed narrative that transcends the static, closed and contrived cabinet-bound world of the museum collection.

So is the internet a city or a museum? The relentless wandering we seem to do all day long along its virtual corridors would imply the latter, but from the early days of an 'information superhighway,' the metaphorical thrust has been for a parallel, virtual urbanism, a 'city of bits'. That analogy certainly implies less coherence than the codified, quantified and curated world of the museum. As Harbison notes in the chapter entitled 'Contracted World: Museums and Catalogues', 'Like the dictionary a museum cannot be enjoyed passively. The spectator must decide what is background and what foreground. Nothing tells him he is not supposed to look at everything; he must learn it is not feasible.'

The museum is an organisational structure that soaks up and reflects its surroundings. More Harbison: 'There was a kind of Victorian museum that imitated luxurious domestic furnishing, filling itself with velvet sofas and heavily carved wooden cases, dark fabrics on the walls setting off statues on pedestals that faced each other as if about to start into life, even sketched each other.' These museums - the domestic wunderkammers (a genre crowned perhaps by Sir John Soane's private masterpiece) - ultimately belong in a minority, overshadowed by the splendour, gravitas and authority of the new grand institutions. Private collections were combined, as at the V and A, and placed within temples to collectomania. The American institution excelled in particular, for, according to Harbison, 'they exist out of the world, cloistered and shut off to a degree not found elsewhere... [with a] need to embody all the possibilities of refinement, to bring in one massive Ark of all the history we haven't had.'

The Victorian museum template is essentially paradisal, rendering the known and unknown world into dioramas that rationalised, explained and chronicled objects through narratives and organisation, often especially constructed for the occasion. For our modern minds, this is not enough - the object can't simply be placed within an imaginary context and expect to be contained. Harbison again: 'Yet many preserved specimens seem to sharpen the division between the past and the present, the saved thing pointing up and clarifying the newness of all the rest.'

Dioramas and other contrivances couldn't contain everything, and were inevitably juxtaposed with cluttered galleries of accumulation. The Victoria and Albert Museum's Cast Courts are a case in point, as are the print rooms which proliferated in the C19. 'Another of the styles which people have by their acquisition imposed on art, the print room, also dilutes the meaning of objects by massing them. With their hundreds of ungainly close albums these places are not correspondent complications of experience to libraries of books.'

So is the internet - the internet of objects, designs, creativity, cataloguing and chronicling - merely a modern day cast court or print room? All 'work' is reduced and resized, hung on the same gallery walls and given the same passing glance, the glancing perusal of the perpetually scrolling museum. Just as the dense clusters of imagery that marked early museums contrasted strongly with the more open, expansive, curated galleries that subsequently evolved, the internet of objects appears increasingly at odds with the internet of connectivity and expanded human horizons. How will we deal with the growing distinction between cabinets within rooms within corridors within buildings within streets within cities?

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