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Friday, October 09, 2009


Cryonics, what's it all about? Dubious practices, if this recent story is to be believed: Former Alcor Employee Makes Harsh Allegations Against Cryonics Foundation (via me-fi). From the piece: 'When a body is brought into Alcor's facility, the patient's blood is pumped out and replaced with a chemical concoction to minimize freezing damage. In many cases, the head is separated from the body with the member's prior consent. Johnson said he began to grow uneasy about his new employer once he saw what went on in Alcor's operating room, where he witnessed three suspensions. "It was barbaric ... the third suspension that I witnessed, they actually used a hammer and a chisel," he said. "I actually witnessed them remove her head with a chisel and a hammer."'

Such strangeness is to be expected. A few years ago we had the pleasure of visiting Alcor, where we found a friendly workplace utterly devoted to what they were doing but also, how to put this, somewhat deluded about how they were going about it. This must have been about the same time the disillusioned employee was able to witness chiselling operations at first hand. When we were there, nothing was happening at all, save for a bit of clearing up. The big metal tanks hummed away to themselves, filled with dismembered sports personalities and immortality enthusiasts.

For the staff, their major problem in life was the inevitability and finality of death, an injustice that had to be conquered. Staff member Dr Mike Perry had written a hefty book, Forever for All (which we still have, somewhere), considering 'the problems of death and the hereafter and how these ages-old problems ought to be addressed in light of our continuing progress.... The immortalization of humans and other life-forms is seen as a great moral project and labor of love that will unite us in a common cause and provide a meaningful destiny.' It's a goal that is eccentric at least, a trait shared by many of the staff (some of whom wear their futurism proudly, like Regina M. Pancake, Alcor's 'Readiness Coordinator', former 'Nuclear Pharmacy Technician' and sci-fi prop handler).

The scope of ambition is illustrated by the Timeship concept, 'the "Fort Knox" of biological materials. DNA, tissue samples and cryopreserved patients will be housed in Timeship, and their safety and security against all threats, both natural and human-made, will have to be maintained for hundreds of years.' Designed by Stephen Valentine, this piece of epic Neo-Classicism is architecture for the long game (see the recent Design Observer link as well), its location secret, defended against intruders, bulky enough to withstand rain, disaster and the threat of ruin.

While the actual science of cryonics remains elusive beyond the relatively simple act of freezing something - resuscitation is still an entirely speculative process - the culture of cryonics is underpinned by the desire for immortality and the fear of death. The American Cryonics Society stresses there is no political or social undercurrent to their activities ('The American Cryonics Society is not a "utopian" organization.... We are a cryonics society: PERIOD. Our program is simple: freeze-wait-reanimate.). Indeed, a large amount of the debate surrounding cryonics is fiscal, looking at ways to sustain large, power-consuming organisations that require total financial and physical stability for a totally unknown amount of time. Nonetheless, the sense of impending apocalypse hangs over the entire movement, the conflation of disaster, survivalism, futurism and utopianism that has grown out of pop science, the same alternate reality that sustains other pseudo-scientific ventures, all of which are sadly gaining traction in our distracted world.

But we're repeating ourselves - Alcor is a thing of eternal fascination, as they (presumably) intended. There's more information in these earlier posts from December 10, 2003 and August 15, 2008.

*

Other, more transient, things. Photographs taken within a theme park at the Heterotopia. The location is Blackgang Chine, allegedly the oldest theme park in the UK, perched on the crumbling chalk cliffs on the south coast of the Isle of Wight / Data Liberation, striving to make it easy to extract everything you own from Google at your own convenience, not theirs / Meanwhile in Stoke, what would Cedric do?

His Old Haunts, an interview with writer (and one-time things contributor) Tobias Seamon / Mouette7, a tumblr / the Bloomframe is a neat piece of design, a window that doubles up as a balcony. Formerly just a concept, the design, by Hofman Dujardin Architects, has now entered production / One year after Hurricaine Ike.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008
The Caravan Gallery's new book, 'Welcome to Britain: a celebration of real life (amazon) is a fusion of Martin Parr and Derelict London, a charming sneer (if such a combination is possible) that manages to show its bedraggled subject matter with a genuine affection, while still retaining a large slice of ironic detachment. Obviously not all of Britain looks like this, but there's a certain joy in the desolation. Gems like the abandoned husk of Liverpool's International Garden Festival are modern ruins that should present a salutary warning to developers and proponents of festivals and exhibitions as a means of urban regeneration. In its derelict state, the Liverpool gardens are far from Heligan-style Neo-classical romanticism - it's probably the shopping trolleys - and closer to the post-apocalyptic Romantic aesthetic that has gained great popular currency in recent years. Now being restored and redeveloped - as Festival Gardens - the site is one of the subjects of the film and website The Model City (via Art in Liverpool). The site seems to have evolved into an overview of all model cities, past and present, and the optimism and utopianism they present at their peak, and the way abandoned and broken small scale constructions mirror and presage genuine decay.

This new ruin romanticism is especially evident in the Flooded London imagery, rendered up by Squint/Opera (the firm behind the visualisations for the 2012 Olympic Stadium, via Archinect - what could be the emotional motivation behind their fascination with rendered ruins?). The imagined ruin has always existed - they have been a staple artistic subject for centuries. Only the focus used to be on abandoned civilizations, the perceived hubris of the ancients. In contrast, the virtual ruination of the modern era is self-imposed schadenfreude, with all the damage and joy turned inwards. It is a feeling made universal by the internet, where planning catastrophes and architectural missteps are all lovingly chronicled and catalogued. When Al Qaeda 'borrowed' a CGI image of a smoking, post-apocalyptic Washington DC, commentators seized on the idea that the image was meant to indicate an imminent atrocity, designed to cause panic. Yet the realisation that this very image was created for entertainment purposes not only negates the terrorist's motivations (if that's the right word) but also the media interpretation of their strategy. The contemporary fantasy of the world without humans is not so much about a return to a religious and cultural year zero, but a collective dream of detachment, a desire to see accelerated decay. Just because we can.

*

A wikimapia overview of Tractorul, a 123-hectare tractor factory in Transylvania. Once of the economic engines of the Soviet Bloc - over a million tractors were built there - the vast factory is now empty and awaiting redevelopment. The factory makes up an eighth of the city of Brasov and forms its own suburb. Now being masterplanned by YRM, it is being touted as a centrally located business and leisure district, the ultimate evaporation of industrialised, socialised agricultural production / yet more pdf magazines. Little doses of intense design and imagery without the guilt of dead trees / the cutting edge in Virtual Worlds, including the relentless focus on spaces for kids / artworks by Sancho Silva.

Oldspeed Mouse Motor, a weblog about an engine rebuild, part of the vast online subculture / a 3D Casa Malaparte / Swiss Car Sightings, 5GB of images of four wheeled transportation on the relatively rarefied roads of Switzerland / Pattern Foundry is another small sign of a sea-change in design culture over the past decade, the gradual reclamation of pattern and decoration as a valid response to culture and context / a pretty peerless piece of industrial design, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing / An Accepted Gambit, a weblog / the Hardcore Street Photography Pool.

Scale and size in MMORPGs / paintings for sale / the work of Ladislav Sutnar / Brake Burns as Mechanized Folk Art / a piece of astute but unusually rare commentary: the rotating tower block in Dubai is dreadful / the ghostly gaze / garden bunker, the kind of backyard archaelogy we can only dream of (via). See also Unseen Jersey / bring IKEA to your Sims / the art of Bodys Isek Kingelez / foil face-scanning cigarette machines in Japan by holding up a magazine portrait of a middle-aged man / BLDG BLOG links Absence of Water, a photo essay at the Polar Inertia journal on the absurd number of abandoned swimming pools in the UK, an ongoing scandal.

This week's Bad Science is especially good, managing to skewer phone mast gremlins, Aids deniers, teen suicide clusters, bioscience pills, magnetising coasters and the Daily Mirror, all in one column / London life in the 1970s / the The London Shopfront Archive / stunning photographs by Simon Norfolk / Hard Rock Park, a brand moves into theme parks complete with Led Zeppelin branded rollercoaster (seen here being tested) that is apparently synchronised to 'Whole Lotta Love'.

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