Small is beautiful

The 1957 Voisin Biscooter C31, part of RM Auction’s Sale of the entire contents of the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum (via MeFi). For more Voisin, see our earlier post, Dead icons.

Posted in design | Leave a comment

Weekend things

Sadly unavailable to buy in the UK: Yellow Loveless, a tribute album (via MeFi) / Renaud Marion makes photographs of floating cars / things to watch: Memorex is a loving homage to the neon-tinged early days of CGI, legwarmers and body-popping / see also this Cyriak video for Bonobo, a hypnotic melange of upbeat 50s era American advertising (via b3ta) / single serving tumblrs that exist to point out life’s little absurdities: Agency Wank, Trip Advisaargh / see also the Creative Confessional (both the latter via b3ta) / the Lomography Smarthphone Film Scanner is pie-in-the-sky Kickstarter / stereo/3D photography of very small things by Wim van Egmond.

Posted in linkage | Leave a comment

All seeing

Against Tumblr at Maisonneuve Magazine: ‘But Tumblr, infectious as it may be, is symptomatic of a vacuous taste-making culture that thrives on fickle inside jokes and the immediacy of novelty qua novelty’ / taking custom made Lego set to the extreme; the Eye Creature / love this: Monocle Ipsum (via magCulture) / Remembering Balthazar Korab. See also the Korab Collection at the Library of Congress’s online catalog / American Airlines redesign gets skewered. Has any high profile redesign ever not been slated?


Eyes in the Dark, a weblog about art / The Sea Was Angry That Day, My Friends, an illustration tumblr / the tumblr of artist Craig Sharp / a guide to some of London’s historic execution sites / contemporary art alongside traditional cabinets of curiosities, an exhibition at Newcastle Museum, as seen on Frillip Moolog / Apollo 16 lunar rover dash cam.


At last Dezeen has an opinion, shifting away from the model of posting everything and anything and venturing some critical thinking / we were also unaware of the burgeoning Dezeen Music Project, which has been going for nearly a year / things to watch: the Smoke and Mirrors 48 hour film competition / the late great architecture critic Ian Nairn on the Orient Express, introduced by Jonathan Meades / The War Game, legendary apocalyptic docu-drama from 1965, banned for 20 years / Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968), in full / chalk and cheese; the latest People are awesome compilation seems confirm Kevin Kelly’s supposition that The Improbable is the New Normal.

Posted in linkage | 1 Comment

Known issues

Old Shapes, New Brutality, a sculpture by artist Nick Hornby (not that one). See also the work of Nick Cave (not that one) / What are some famous works of obsession? See also, The Old Man and the C Drive, a post about single-themed sites / The Verge fleshes out our earlier post, Creepstreams: an interactive map of insecure webcam feeds. Apparently this is a known issue.


Napalm Death – The Scum Story, a documentary. See also the Death’s appearance on the BBC children’s programme What’s that Noise? / the Guardian runs a photo story from Toy Fair 2013 / Central Station is a ‘creative social network’ with a host of galleries / Roger Linn, drum machine pioneer, also makes the Adrenalin III guitar pedal / massive waterslide in New Zealand / photographer Thomas Ball (blog) has a number of fascinating projects, including ‘Utopia’ and ‘Growing Pains’. His forthcoming project about Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity looks fascinating as well. Above, ‘Trend Setter’, from the Delhi, Juxtaposed series.

Posted in art, linkage | Leave a comment

The origins of circuit bending

ET wasn’t the first circuit bender. The term, used to refer to ‘the creative customization of the circuits within electronic devices… to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators’, has been around since 1992 and was coined by a chap called Reed Ghazala, a musician, composer and technologist who accidentally discovered the sonic possibilities of a shorting circuit in around 1966. Vice has a short documentary profile of Ghazala, part of its Soundbuilders series. The burbling, bleeping, esoteric audio craziness of the genre is epitomised in Ghazala’s massive discography (The Dreams that Insects Dream, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Requiem for a Radio, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, The Sound Theater Radio Special Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Suite for a Radio and Turntable: Outdoor Operations, Sound Theater (Cassette) 1985, Posters in the Underground, Sound Theater and Sound of Pig (Cassette) 1986, etc. etc. etc.). ‘If Jackson Pollock were to design electronics he’d be a ciruit bender – I mean, the wires fall upon the circuit like the paint upon Pollock’s canvas, you could say – what happens, happens, and if I like it I stick with it.’


One of Ghazala’s first instruments was the ‘Incantor‘, a highly modified Speak & Spell that the artist developed in 1978, as soon as TI had introduced them. The sheer variety, style and uniqueness of the Incantor bring to mind the countless customised guitars created by Sonic Youth, each with its own timbre and application. Ghazala maintains his own website, Anti-Theory, with sound, links and images aplenty, but those who want to hear more examples of circuit bending there are a host of sites out there, such as GetLoFi, with a handy guide to bending the cute Casio SK-1 – the world’s cheapest sampler, Gieskes, a Dutch site with a fantastic Vimeo portal of odd electronics and sonic experiments, Daedsound (‘disagreeable audio experience designs’), who modify all sorts of stock products from overdrives to wah pedals, (from where the above image comes from), and Casper Electronics (‘the friendly ghost in the machine’) who do a bunch of Speak & Spell modifications / related, Donald Sherman orders a pizza using a talking computer, Dec 4, 1974 / Tumblr Noise, a brilliant source of the offbeat, drone, noise, and more.

Posted in music, technology | Leave a comment

Vtech and tech

Electronic toys are at their heart imitative, that is to say they ape the ‘toys’ and objects of the grown-up world. A company like VTech, founded in 1976 in Hong Kong to cash in of the growing bandwagon for simple video games, soon branched out into educational toys a few years later – ‘electronic learning products’ – like the Computron and Quiz-a-Tron, the latter featured prominently in the 1980 Sears Christmas Catalogue. It joined an already crowded market, led by the classic Speak and Spell by Texas Instruments, introduced in 1978 (online version) along with several other TI educational toys, including the Wiz-a-Tron (1979) and the Little Professor (also 1978). Whereas the Speak & Spell and its ilk weren’t actually imitating anything, save for large-scale early calculators, modern ELPs frequent take the form of mini desktops (initially), then laptops and now tablets (the InnoTab 2, for example). It’s perhaps surprising that toys haven’t evolved from being mere precursor objects to their ‘grown-up’ counterparts into objects that shape technology instead.

Posted in technology | Leave a comment

Click Opera

There’s something clever – and sinister – going on here: Upgrade your (in)security cam firmware is a site that scrapes the web for open webcam software, plotting the results on a world map so you can dive in on hundreds of open, unsecured cameras around the globe. We’ve been poking around for a few minutes and it seems that most of the ones that work at pointed at the blinking lights of crucial electronic equipment, or doors that aren’t supposed to be opened. Highly voyeuristic, but the main frisson comes from imagining you’re being played by an elaborate viral scheme to promote some horrific film, and any minute the grey, static frame will be filled with some unspeakable beast lunging at the camera. You have been warned.

Posted in technology | 1 Comment

Stacks and wrecks

The Richard Balsbaugh Collection of Vintage Radios / art by Rob Chavasse. We especially like Wild Bean Cafe (above), part of his Stack Series and available as a limited edition print from The Sunday Painter / bbonthebrink, a weblog about Paris / Arizona: Naming the dead from the desert, ‘the sad jigsaw puzzle of personal attributes and belongings.’ / Concordia Island: new visions, an architectural speculation; ‘Using the actual shipwreck — with its imponent presence and overwhelming, submerged physical mass — as a departure point, architects were challenged to offer new visions for the future of a wounded territory.’

Posted in architecture, art | Leave a comment

Art of Glass

Doll’s House with Fall Out Shelter, c 1961 (via MeFi). At the blog Ranch Dressing with Eartha Kitsch / James Bond and the triumph of product placement: limited edition promotional Samsonite attaché briefcase for Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997 / buy Sarah Jane Smith’s Nissan Figaro / more movie ephemera at our tumblr, courtesy of last month’s Entertainment Memorabilia sale at Bonhams.


Luke Jerram makes complex glass sculptures of Microbiology, stunningly beautiful but also medically accurate. Above, HIV, ‘made as objects to hold, to contemplate the impact of the disease upon humanity.’ E.coli, Human papillomavirus, Malaria, and more.


Kiln is a very old school Android game, instantly familiar to anyone that played Psion’s classic Thro’ the Wall on a ZX Spectrum. The twist is that Kiln adds another dimension / Misprint, a weblog / Fluxmachine, a tumblr of marvellously unsettled animated gifs by Kevin Weir.

Posted in art, technology | 1 Comment

On the right track

The ‘most murderous place in television crime drama is Cabot Cove, the fictional hometown of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. Fletcher was solving five cases a year in Cabot Cove, which CBS, who broadcast the programme, said had a population of 3,500. That equals a death rate of 1,490 per million.’ How unrealistic is murder on television?


Retro design a distant memory as car makers move on from the brief blip that saw the past mined for inspiration. See also the culture engine / a huge collection of French postcards / the story of Rita Hayworth’s hairline / Peter Quinnell is an illustrator, one of many, many artists photographed by Alun Callender for his East Sussex Artists Project / includes Ptolemy Mann, who also has a weblog about art and colour, Significant Colour.


Burning Settlers Cabin, a fine example of what we should start calling a ‘traditional weblog’, a collection of observations, found things, scans, links and more. Sample post: An Encyclopedic Photographic Memory of Ephemera: ‘I have a book about the 1964 World’s Fair. I’ve never read it. I do, however, know each and every illustration, color palette, and photograph in the book. Who knows what it is about? I’m too distracted by the tiny drawings on divider pages. To make matters worse, I deconstruct the meaning of the imagery. And I make odd connections that require an encyclopedic photographic memory of ephemera.’ / see also Things that Quicken the Heart, a weblog.


The Suitcase Machine is a site by Mario Marchese devoted to art, design, organ grinding, puppet making, magic tricks, toy restoration and eccentric machines. We especially like their devotion to ultra tiny suitcase trainsets, such as the Train Set in a Cheese box. We also like Oscar With an A, a machine that translates sound into drawings (above)

Posted in collections and archives, ephemera | Leave a comment

This and that

Watershed+ is a great tumblr by a Calgary-based public arts initiative, focusing on architectural and artistic interventions surrounding water and society, old and new / the Capitol Building under construction, 1863 / the Design Museum’s 2013 designs of the year shortlist / Ben Sandler’s Tomorrowland series, a melange of mid-century and futurism / There’s Something Happening Here, an exhibition of contemporary photographers / La Boca Blog, design inspiration / Jessica Likes This, the tumblr of artist Jessica Eaton.


Dark, mysterious woodland photographed by Michael Lange / We find Wildness, a site about photography / Glenn Beck building his own city. Seaside on steroids / PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society, an installation by Andrés Jaque that explores the stuff hidden away in the basement of Barcelona Pavilion: ‘The basement area was deliberately created as a hidden storage and maintenance room. Most visitors to the pavilion are unaware of its existence, so Jaque imagined the things inside it to be like ghosts.’

Posted in linkage | Leave a comment

The original postcard versions

Postcards, new year’s cards and much, much more at the colossal collection of Japanese postcards at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Above, From an Airplane (Hikoki kara), late Meiji era. We also like this: To Tomita Beach, circa 1936. There’s a striking aesthetic at play here, especially in the new year cards, a boldness quite at odds with the equivalent mass-market art in the west. There’s also overt militarism (no less graphically striking).


Neutra Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg Will Be Demolished. A few flickr images of the Richard Neutra building, designed in 1961, show the parlous state it has got into. Here’s a set from when it was still open / the NYT takes a critical look at London’s new architecture (‘I wondered aloud what Rafael Vi–oly could possibly have been thinking when he came up with the top-heavy design for the building that has been nicknamed the Walkie-Talkie, close by.’).


RIP Ada Louise Huxtable / S Magazine majors on landscapes adorned with skinny contemporary nudity / Twentieth Century Illustration, a sale catalogue featuring classics by Seuss, Sendak, Gorey, Thurber, etc. / Cabbit, a short film / YouTube Slow, slows down your videos / a cloak (?) of superheroes / photographs by Christoffer Delsinger / old school weblog, TYWKIWDBI (‘Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently.’)


This and that, a list round-up. The NYT’s 20 favourite book covers of 2012. Contrast with Lousy Book Covers, a tumblr / 15 movie posters from another time, photoshop fun for an alternate universe (to give the Hollywood machine some ideas, perhaps?) / 12 horrible plans for New York that (thankfully) never happened. See also, the New York that Never Was, at Untapped. Related, Sergey Semonov’s beautiful, ultra-composited and corrected aerial panorama of Manhattan.

Posted in collections and archives, history | Leave a comment

A few random links

Hendzel and Hunt are furniture makers in Peckham, with bespoke creations including the optically confusing Dreamworks Cabinet / cats of war, an ongoing series at Panabasis, the journal of the Janus Museum / Airdroid is clever stuff, allowing desktop access and control of your smartphone / the Aston Martin One-77, discretely borrowed from a generous owner and tested / My Little Pony, 1818, at Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities / How big firms quietly own little brands / a useful buying guide for the Mercedes 600 Pullman / not for the squeamish, Sutured Infection, a tumblr about medical history / Piece Corps is a new game by Joe Doucet / did the Americans ever plan to invade Russia?

Posted in linkage | Leave a comment

Trolleys and monuments

Documenting Modern Living, ‘digitizing the Miller House and Garden Collection’, a website devoted to cataloguing and presenting the correspondence and ephemera created during the design and construction of the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, designed by Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard and Dan Kiley (via Coudal).


Meawhile, on the other side of the world… Simona Rota’s Ostalgia series treads what’s by now quite familiar ground, the evolutionary dead-end that is Soviet-era monumental modernism. It’s still fascinating and richly evocative, with the buildings themself giving off the kind of patina and memory that the glossy, picture perfect Miller House only regains through its yellowing archives. Via Domus: ‘The word and concept of Ostalgia, born in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, could be literally translated as Pain of East.’ / another form of Soviet chic, we suppose: Pyongyang Racer! (warning, music autoplays, sometimes. Via MeFi). The game seems about as reliable as the scenario it depicts.


As a follow-on from our earlier link to photography’s evolution into a communicative act, a counter argument, of sorts: The Improbable is the New Normal, according to Kevin Kelly at The Technium / Curators discover first recordings of Christmas Day. Bit late, perhaps / linked earlier but worth flagging up in its own right: Tygertale, ‘a blog about brilliant children’s books’ / illustration as it used to be, a tumblr / Lake Shore Rail Maps, ‘historic railroads, industries and towns of Northern Ohio’.

Posted in architecture | Leave a comment

Lu, Kraft and UFOs

Lefèvre-Utile bake biscuits. Better known as LU, the French company started in Nantes in 1846, initially as a distributor for Huntley and Palmers before then baking their own. Best known for their elaborate posters by Alfonse Mucha and Firmin Bouisset, as well as the classic Petit Beurre. LU became part of Kraft in 2007, with Kraft’s ‘global snacks’ business recently evolving into Mondelez International (perhaps to get away from the big ‘K’s association with distasteful things like underground caverns of processed cheese).


Another symbol of the LU empire is the architecture of the former biscuit factory, once a sprawling riverside complex dominated by two Deco towers, their illuminated windows picking out the ‘LU’ logo in coloured glass. Almost all of the vast complex is gone now, as has one of the towers, transformed into the Lieu Unique, an arts centre. The new LU factory is a utilitarian usine on the outskirts of Nantes in La Haye-Fouassière, with a tacked-on Kraft sign beneath the classic ‘LU’ logo. It also stands next to a fabulous roundabout: the flying saucer. It’s also home to a geocache. From the link:

‘The name “La Haye-Fouassière” comes from “fouace” or “Fouasse”, a local specialty cake star-shaped six horns. The “fouaciers” have formed a large corporation during several centuries. The last “fouacier” stopped its activity in 1992. A “fouace” is present on the emblem of the town. A biscuit moved to La Haye-Fouassière in 1987, near the cache. In 1993 it was decided to beautify the roundabout near the plant by placing a flying saucer five meters in diameter surrounded by three astronauts to 2 meters high, each bearing an emblem of the town: a fouace, a bottle of Muscadet and a “petit beurre”. This decoration costed at the time 800,000 Francs and made mention of the town at the French TV. You can make this cache at evening, the saucer shines of different colors. The cache is magnetic. Be discreet when you discovered and replaced.’

Posted in history | 1 Comment

Photography, tumblrs and more

Meditations on Photographs: A Car on Fire at the Mall by JM Colberg: ‘The act of photographing, the gesture, has become part of our interaction with the world. You photograph just like you look. You know that you can never look at all of those photographs again (in all likelihood you never will – who has the time?), but it’s not about the photographs – it’s about the photographing. The act of photography might have turned into the equivalent of whistling a song, something you do, something that might or might not have beauty, a communicative act just as much as an affirmative act: I was there, and me being there means I had to photograph it.’ / Owen Hatherley on Photography and Modern Architecture / see also Hatherley on the travails of Preston Bus Station.


Other things / the tweets of dead design icons / a cardboard landscape in Chile, photographed by Cristobal Palma and designed by Lyon Bosch Arquitectos / a literal Beet Box, a project by Scott / Elite video game reboot hits funding target / two posts on cities and the imagination: Twelve Missives from the Roi des Belges, a MeFi post compiling the first year’s creative activity around David Kohn’s Room for London. And Cities and the Soul, a hugely comprehensive celebration of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.


Yet more anti-iconism (a burgeoning trend?): Why Is This Museum Shaped Like a Tub? The NYT on Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum / see also Zaha Hadid vs. the Pirates. Bootleg buildings sail into China / tumblr round-up: boats against the current / artificialblood / gedaechtnispalast / Sæglópur / Monkey Flow Scuba.gram / wool + bricks / Kontrollhamster.


Step back in musical time with Tim Pope’s video archive. David Bowie has also posted prolifically in recent months, leading up to today’s unexpected new release / see also the portrait of Bowie carved by artist Wilfrid Wood / Fast Company publishes a gallery of images by Filip Dujardin / Disassociated, an excellent weblog.

Posted in architecture, ephemera | Leave a comment

A thing-searcher

‘I don’t know what you’ve got in mind,’ said Pippi, ‘but I’m not the sort to lie around. I’m a thing-searcher, you see. And that means I never have a moment to spare.’
‘What did you say you were?’ asked Annika.
‘A thing-searcher.’
‘What’s that?’ asked Tommy.
‘Someone who goes searching for things, of course! What else would it be?’ said Pippi as she swept all the flour into a little pile. ‘The whole world is full of things, which means there’s a real need for someone to go searching for them. And that’s exactly what a thing-searcher does.’
‘What kind of things?’ asked Annika.
‘Oh, all kinds,’ said Pippi. ‘Gold nuggets and ostrich feathers and dead mice and tiny little nuts and bolts and things like that.’

(from Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. The image comes from tygertale’s Pippi Longstocking appreciation)

Posted in things magazine | Leave a comment

A small selection of random things

They Meant Well – Government Project Disasters (also available as a free pdf), a look at when procurement goes horribly wrong. Includes the R101 Airship, the Channel Tunnel, the Millennium Dome and Experience (of which remarkably little survives online), Concorde, nuclear power and the bizarre Tanganyika groundnut scheme, a post-war ‘idea to cultivate groundnuts in the British protectorate of Tanganyika’. Related, a list of white elephant projects.


The 1992 Aztec Barchetta by Italdesign, a sort of Blade Runner-esque concept car that was actually built / via Romotow W2 camper concept, via Autoblog. Shades of Softroom’sMaison Canif‘ from a decade or so ago, as well as the fabulous Volkswagen Doubleback camper / Post-Sandy, 15,000 flood-damaged cars sitting on an airport runway.


We missed this: the Lego advent calendar in Covent Garden / an interview with artist Eric White, creator of otherworldly, cinema-infused imagery / Water Will Be Here, imagining cities beneath the waves, a project by artist Eric Corriel / how cities would look if there was no electricity, a project by photographer Thierry Cohen / IRENE, an erotic fanzine / a brief analysis of the injuries received and likely consequences to the Home Alone burglars / the RSH-02, the Roland S.Howard Tribute guitar pedal / Mudhoney live in Berlin, 1988.


From Psychopath Lairs to Superhero Mansions: How Cinema and Modernist Architecture Called A Truce: ‘We all know that psychopaths prefer contemporary design. Hollywood has told us so for decades. From the minimal lairs of Bond adversaries to the cold homes of dysfunctional families, modernist interiors scream emotional detachment and warped perspectives.The classic film connection between modern buildings and subversive values is well documented and, for the architectural community, quite regrettable.’


Venus as it was, Mars as it could be / related, The Lensman’s Children, a weblog with an astronomical focus / also related: architecture for the sake of architecture: Big’s Phoenix Observatory Tower, the iconic megaproject as cultural linkbait.


We’re flattered (thanks, Andy Martin). And last but not least, enormous thanks to a generous donor who recently made a substantial (and wholly unexpected) contribution to things’ ongoing running costs. We’re extremely grateful.

Posted in linkage, technology | 1 Comment

One of these things is not like the other thing

Happy new year. We’ve had a gratifying amount of feedback to our last post of 2012, a short discussion of the internet of things and the realm of the superficial, the analogy of the curiosity cabinet and its potentially damaging – or positive – impact. There are some good points (and links, such as Emile de Bruijn’s post ‘We are all found objects now‘ and suggestion that Pinterest, et al, have parallels with André Malraux’s 1947 Musée Imaginaire, an early experiement in eschewing the hierarchy of art history in favour of ‘taste’).


But we digress. Towards the end of last year our enthusiasm for things, and things, was starting to wane. Twelve years is a long time on the internet. But a new year brings new energy, plus the realisation that ‘things’ isn’t simply howling into the wind. We’re a few months late in making these discoveries, but the RCA/V&A History of Design course – where this publication originally began – now has another online publication, Unmaking Things, a forum for the course to ‘explore (and expose) the process of writing (and crafting) history. Unmaking Things is about trying out our theories, making mistakes, discovering interesting lines of thought, starting debates, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.’


We feel rather guilty for not linking to the HOD more regularly as there are some fascinating pieces proposed that we’d love to read in more detail: Bullet Bras and Bombshells: the Conical Design of Bras and Breasts in America 1930s – 1960s, Santa, Strawberry Cake and KFC: The Material Culture of the Contemporary Japanese Christmas and From Technocracy to Techno-Utopia: Futurology and the Soviet Home 1964-1974 to name just three.


On to the next ‘thing’. The arrival of also slipped under the radar. It’s a little bit frustrating, to say the least, to be suddenly faced with an identically named magazine, even if it is one with a rather different focus (‘things magazine was conceived five years ago when I stumbled across a ‘kids’ issue from the great Martha Stewart… I wanted to create a magazine that was beautiful to look at, was easy to follow and that would inspire parents and children to create beautiful things together.’). Started in September 2012, the new magazine also tweets and is legalled up to the eyeballs. It’s our fault, perhaps, for not buying the domain (surprisingly, we see that is worth some $1,695).


The other thing that tempers our slight ennui with the daily weblog format – apart from the distant promise of more print – is that there is still so much interesting stuff out there. Are we evolving into a site that tries to uncover the creative processes that underpin modern culture’s churn factory, or are we just going to keep striving for clicks? We shall see / some things: ‘Recreating the sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop using the Web Audio API’ / Amanda Ghassaei’s 3D Printed Record project is nicely done / Below the Boat offer laser cut maps of underwater contours (via Kottke), although we are wary of the phrase ‘heirloom quality’ / The Original Star Wars Trilogy As Maps (via MeFi), a classic online button pusher / finally, why hasn’t Samsung’s Galaxy SIII’s clipboard bug been given more attention? It’s a bit like being given a new notebook and pen only to discover there’s no ink cartridge in the pen. Infuriating.

Posted in collections and archives, things magazine | 4 Comments

Cabinets, cases, collecting and display

And so we find ourselves on the edge of the year, without all that much inclination to look back (that’s a job that others can do with so much more depth and expertise). Things magazine feels increasingly marginal, hovering on the fringes of something that is happening elsewhere. Back when this magazine started, the collection belonged in the museum or to the obsessive. As the decades have progressed, the things that people collect and the way they display them have shifted into the digital realm, which in turn has reinvigorated the act of acquisition in the physical world.

But there’s something else afoot, something intangible and nagging but ultimately unavoidable. It has to do with ‘things’ and things, and the currency of imagery and favourites, likes, re-blogs and comments. For some time now we’ve felt like the internet is awash in an increasingly homogenous gloop of visual ephemera, a loosely curated stream of ‘cool stuff’ that gushes out of one or two sources and is then scooped up by an almost unlimited army of bottlers. What were once called ‘articles’, ‘features’ and ‘galleries’ are now relegated to the umbrella term ‘content’, and modern media has evolved into a mechanism for amassing and disseminating this content, often again and again, around and around, in the search for a percentage of the audience.

At the same time, we, the audience, are entirely complicit in perpetuating this swirl, giddily seizing on the most interesting scraps of ‘content’ to be re-circulated and re-purposed to create yet another little vortex within the grand spiral. Of course there are many notable exceptions, either in terms of presentation or their actual subject matter, but the overall feeling is one of being overwhelmed. What’s most interesting – and perhaps troubling – is the way in which the subject matter (the actual ‘content’) is changing in response to the means of presentation.

We could give any number of examples, but the general gist is this; the modern object is groomed for the display case, designed, planned and displayed in such a way that it will catch the eye of a hundred million consumer-collectors. This is a perverse inversion of traditional (and much criticised) museology, which was accused of taking the object and presenting it according to self-determined ideas about its use and origin; think of all those Victorian museum cabinets filled with a hundred variants of the nose flute or some such, drawn from cultures all over the world and arranged by size and colour, not age, origin and use. Over time, museology evolved and these displays were considered unhelpful and archaic.

And yet today, we are being explicitly invited to consider everything as being a little dollop from one giant homogenous lump of ‘contemporary culture’, an exercise in flattening and blending that takes away the delight of discovery. Physical metaphors are sometimes helpful. We’ve often thought of the internet as a vast cabinet, one that regresses almost infinitely into a series of drawers and cupboards, each containing ever smaller compartments. But what the internet seems to have become is a glass box of stuff, with everything on display all at once.

Posted in collections and archives, nostalgia, things magazine | 12 Comments