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weblog archives
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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.

*

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.

*

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).

*

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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