Nia James Kiesow

Nia James Kiesow likes culture, historical fiction, Japanese ramen, illustrating, and technology. Born and raised in San Diego, California, she now lives in Gramercy in NYC. Nia is currently the administrative assistant at the International Arts Movement.

Before They Pass Away

via HuffPost Arts&Culture

Check out these photos from photographer Jimmy Nelson’s photo project, “Before They Pass Away.” For the past four years, Nelson spent his time traversing remote areas of Africa, Asia, South America, and Siberia.

He calls these people “the last bastions of human purity and authenticity: the world’s lingering, dying tribes.”

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These photos of the raw landscape and nobility in these dying tribes are breathtaking. His disgust for homogeneity may perhaps be the echo felt by the general culture today. The hunt for value and authenticity in technological advance when compared to the historical precedence of the lifestyles of these tribes makes one cringe, no? Nelson describes his intention for this project:

“In the very near future, they will all have smartphones,” he explained. “The world is quickly becoming homogenous, and this change is happening at breakneck speed.”

“In all this homogeneity, people no longer think that their ethnicity and authenticity is valuable. They think what’s valuable is what they see here,” he said, gesturing to the many indistinguishable laptops that sat on almost every table in the crowded cafe before pointing to his heart, “and not in here.”

Check out his website here.

Auburn University’s Rural Studio 20K Housing Program

via Fastcoexist

There are so many debates out there about morality education and whether it is “all right” to be wedding learning with an ethical overview. Over at Auburn University’s Rural Studio, there is a program for design students that places morality into their materials–debates and issues aside.

‘Social justice architecture,’ they call it.

Rural Studio started making the 20K house in 2005, keeping in mind the assumption that $20,000 was the total cost of housing someone living on Social Security could afford to pay in monthly mortgage installments. Since then, students have built 12 houses for their rural neighbors, with each design building off the knowledge and real-world experience of the last. The last 20K house built included passive heating and a safe-room in the shower, after the Moore tornado ripped through Oklahoma and killed 23 people earlier this year.

I wonder what the annual statistics are of wasted materials in the average university design program. Hopefully Auburn University’s Rural Studio will set an example to other collegiate schools in crafting a program that takes into account both the theoretical as well as the practical aspect of design. A program like this serves its community, is purposeful with the materials used, and creates circumstances where both the givers and the receivers benefit greatly from the endeavor. Students provide skilled human capital and receive a hands-on learning initiative.

The question remains of how to keep a project like this affordable.

Read more about the project here.






Like Trapping Lightning in a Jar

Ever wonder how scientists figured out how to store electrical charges? A post over at MIT’s online library explains how it was done with Leyden jars around the beginning of the 1800’s.

The Leyden jar is the ancestor of our modern capacitor. As experimentation with electricity progressed through the 18th century, scientists were looking for better ways to store an electric charge. Insulated conductors could be used to store a charge, though a more compact storage device was greatly desired.

Ewald von Kleist and Pieter van Musschenbroek, each working independently, invented a solution in the 1740s. They discovered that a glass jar lined with metal foil on both the inside and the outside was capable of holding a significant electric charge. The device came to be called a “Leyden jar” by Van Musschenbroek’s colleagues, since the Dutch scientist was at the time teaching at the University of Leiden.

This image was created during the Vail Access Project.


This image was created during the Vail Access Project.

Giving Value to the Material

I came across Morgan Herrin‘s work on Colossal this morning and felt the need to share his work because of the detailed etching, striking imagery, and the transformation of humble material into beautiful sculptures. Herrin’s statement explains the reason behind his choice of material as well as methodology:

The evidence of my labor gives value to the material, which is otherwise cheap and disposable. Recycled, construction-grade lumber reflects our society’s preference for cheap, fast, and impermanent. My sculptures are hand-carved, a process that takes hundreds of work-hours and utilizes hand tools that have been almost completely phased out by modern machines. These two aspects combine to create a dialogue about time and the contrast between the past and the present.
I immerse myself in the subject matter of my work. Often, several very different forms combine to create one physical object. My process is ultimately a result of the combination of my fascination with figurative sculpture of the past and obsessive research into a subject. I reference the passage of time and its effect on art in terms of both physical change and change in viewer perception.

Learn more about Herrin’s work at ADA Gallery, and Mulherin + Pollard. Images via ADA Gallery.

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Plane Crash Memorial: Replacing Tragedy with Beauty + Awe

We want to share this story of awesome human accomplishment and the lengths to which families went to show duty to their lost loved ones.

18 years after a plane crashed in one of the most inaccessible places in the planet — the Tenere region of the Sahara Desert — the victims’ family built a memorial mostly by hand using dark stones to create a 200-foot diameter circle. Pieces of the destroyed plane were scavenged from the sand of the desert to be used in the memorial and 170 broken mirrors were placed around the circumference to represent each victim of the plane crash.

 The memorial can be seen from Google Earth and Google Maps if you type in the coordinates 16°51’53″N 11°57’13″E.

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October Desert Art Trek: High Desert Test Sites 2013

Over on LA Weekly’s art blog this morning I found out about a huge outdoor art gallery that spans from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque: the High Desert Test Sites. Started in 2002 by artists Andrea Zittel and Aurora Tang, the HDTS allows artists to experiment with art whilst engaging with otherwise deserted desert communities. This year’s HDTS covers 700 miles of desert terrain and includes sites of little fame like 29 Palms, Wonder Valley, Pioneertown, and Yucca Valley (the perfect desert roadtrip, if you ask me).

The HDTS folks’ mission statements include all of the following:

To challenge traditional conventions of ownership, property, and patronage. Most projects will ultimately belong to no one and are intended to melt back into the landscape as new ones emerge.

To “insert” art directly into a life, a landscape, or a community where it will sink or swim based on a set of criteria beyond that of art world institutions and galleries.

To encourage art that remains in the context for which it was created—work will be born, live, and die in the same spot.

To initiate an organism in its own right—one that is bigger and richer than the vision of any single artist, architect, designer, or curator.

To create a “center” outside of any preexisting centers. We are inspired by individuals and groups working outside of existing cultural capitals, who are able to make intellectually rigorous and culturally relevant work in whatever location they happen to be in.

To find common ground between contemporary art and localized art issues.

To contribute to a community in which art can truly make a difference. HDTS exists in a series of communities that edge one of the largest suburban sprawls in the nation. Many of the artists who settle in this area are from larger cities, but want to live in a place where they can shape the development of their own community. For the time being, there is still a feeling in the air that if we join together we can still hold back the salmon stucco housing tracts and big box retail centers. Well maybe.

They’ve included a road map with a list of all of the sites for you to hunt down. I can’t help but be reminded of the Albuquerque Petroglyph National Monument park. If you’ve ever been, you’d remember how awesome it was to roam the scorching desert hills looking for beautiful etchings scratched into black boulders. The HDTS sounds like it’d have that same scavenger effect — roaming the desert on a larger scale looking for hidden beauty in the desert.




LA Weekly‘s picks include the following:

Desert Applique by Lea Donnan: Yarn-bombing goes high art. This cluster of salvaged crochet blankets have been reimagined as makeshifts tents, dotting the semi-barren earth with a colorful afghan encampment.

Roadside Monument 3 by Cayetano Ferrer: A desert megalith becomes luminescent. Ferrer erected twin columns off the highway that allow any would-be artists to “draw” on the surface using light in the dark. The images fade over time, leaving only the memory of neon graffiti.

Googly Eyes for Giant Rock by Bettina Hubby: One of the more quirky interventions at High Desert Test Sites, Giant Rock is now everyone’s pet rock. The oversized, wind-powered googly eyes not only provided great Instagram fodder, they also provided light for a glow-in-the-dark cocktail party. Burning Man, eat your heart out.

Naima by Debbie Long: Long retrofitted a camping trailer with a skylight, and built a white interior chamber studded with hand-cast glass objects based on items collected in the desert. The natural light illuminates the plum-colored glass, so the viewer feels like they just stepped into a gleaming crystal cave.


Desert sky image by artist Pascual Sisto.

The High Desert Test Sites run from October 12th – October 19th.

The Summit | Symphony No. 1 by Jeffrey Roland Leiser

The Summit is a new symphony by Jeffrey Roland Leiser, the award-winning film composer from ‘Imagination’ and ‘Glitch in the Grid’.

The Summit is a new symphony from Jeffrey Roland Leiser, the composer of Imagination and Glitch in the Grid. It represents his first symphony written for the concert hall, an adventurous work that will be performed by a full orchestra – with your help.

Composed in four movements, The Summit tells the story of a traveler ascending an impossibly high mountain, the summit of which can only be reached through an act of compliance. At close to 50 minutes, The Summit has been fully composed digitally, and with your help, will be performed and recorded by a full orchestra.

Perhaps this video will  assist in explaining what The Summit is:

Andrew Kolb Illustrates Cartoon Conspiracies

If you haven’t heard some of the bizarre, possibly childhood-ruining conspiracy theories about your favorite cartoons, I suggest we get thee over to Flavorwire‘s list as soon as possible. As if one wasn’t enough, they now have two.

To help visualize what a cartoon conspiracies may look like, allow me to refer to illustrator Andrew Kolb, who has taken the liberty of sketching two theories floating out there.

He describes the first:

It’s suggested that the Flintstones and the Jetsons not only take place in the same universe, but at the same time! Set in a near future, the Jetsons live their automated lives high in the sky but what exactly are they living above?

The answer is ‘The Town of Bedrock’ and all of the other civilizations who chose to go the Amish route and lead a simpler lifestyle despite what the rest of the world might be doing.

The Flintstones exist in a near future where genetically created animals are made in the image of the past (though not accurately as shown some of the species are fairly wacky). Also, much of the technology of both worlds (record players, vacuums, etc.) function similarly but with very different materials…it’s because they’re running in tandem.

So remember that movie where the two families meet? Well it wasn’t time travel so much as it was TELEPORTATION! The Jetsons simply beamed to the planet’s surface and were as baffled at the simplified technology as I would be when presented with a butter churn.


And now the second:

It’s stated that Bikini Bottom lies directly below Bikini Atoll. For those of you who (like me) need some catching up on ‘Bikini Atoll’, it was a nuclear testing site for the US government waaaaaaaaay back in the day.

So it’s pretty much confirmed that Bikini Bottom is the result of over a decade of nuclear testing (both above and below water). Now the question of how Mr. Krabs fathered a whale doesn’t seem quite so difficult to answer.

And while I rarely need my cartoons to be justified or explained, I’m comfortable with the idea that all this radiation allows for fire and water to behave differently on the ocean floor.


Blockprinting with The School

I stumbled upon these great blockprinting photographs via Line x Shape x Color this morning and thought I’d share. We’re well over the drudgery of winter, but who doesn’t love a good pick-me-up craft project every once in a while? If the sprouting daffodils aren’t cutting it for you, try some Spring therapy with a good old-fashioned hands-on foray into wood blockprinting.

These photographs here depict the cool happenings over at The School in Rosebery, Australia, a creative company offering Master Classes in design by stylist Megan Morton. This particular class was taught by textile designer Joanna Fowles, using handmade stamps carved out of balsa wood to blockprint geometric shapes on linen napkins and tea towels.

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When you mix creativity with education, you get SLÖJD.

There’s a new collaboration stirring in Los Angeles concerning educational reform, but the call of duty this time comes from the design-oriented section of industry. The two parties partaking are No Right Brain Left Behind and verynice and together, the two have formulated a workshop to tackle the cause, naming their collaborative effort SLÖJD.

NRBLB is an organization that works closely with the creative industries to teach newer generations the importance of creativity as part of their education. Verynice is a design consultancy dedicated to the public good by taking on causes like job creation, cancer research, human trafficking, hunger, and more.

From GOOD we learn more about the workshop:

The goal of SLÖJD—which by the way means “woodshop foundry” in Swedish—is to prototype a product or methodology that can foster excitement and engagement amongst 9-12th graders by bridging arts and sciences. In addition to inspiring students, we also want to enable teachers to leverage creative ways to teach their day-to-day subjects.

We’ll accomplish this through a six-day work session in May that will invite 8 brilliant design-thinkers from Los Angeles to build, test, and iterate upon prototypes that will pave way for breakthrough methodologies in the middle and high school levels. At the end of the session, the design team will present the prototype and work leading up to it, to a group of esteemed critics for feedback and next steps. Participants will walk away with their name on a working prototype as well as a plan for moving forward with the product in an educational environment.

They also ask something of us, readers and (hopefully) partakers in the fight to keep creativity relevant:

Our team will be made up of eight multi-disciplinary design thinkers from Los Angeles. We will invite six participants, but the other two members will be decided by you, the GOOD community. To make this easy, click here and fill out the form at the bottom of the page to nominate yourself or a superb L.A.-based designer friend to be part of our team. The deadline for nominations is April 28th and we’ll be kicking off the workshop on April 30th. Skills we are looking for? Movers and shakers from any design discipline with hands on design and/or technology skills, and a strong passion for building things that matter.

The Art of Art Collecting: Christy Tennant Krispin and Art Patronage

By sharing their personal art collection, Karl and Christy Tennant Krispin hope to encourage more thoughtful art patronage among people of modest means and help connect aspiring and emerging artists with people eager to fill their homes with art. The Krispins displayed their collection at  Dubsea Coffee, located in the heart of the White Center area of Seattle, calling it “Close to Home.”

As reported by Christianity Today, the proposal to Dubsea for using the Krispin art collection to adorn its walls was as follows:

Christy would give a short gallery talk about the project and her thoughts on collecting, and provide a full-color “gallery guide” outlining the history of each work in the show—how each came to have a place in the Krispins’ home. Though none of the works would be for sale, Christy would include contact information for the artists in a small booklet she produced and online at her website. All in all, the aim would be to show that collecting art need not be about prestige and high price tags. Instead, it can and should be about the ordinary spaces where we live our lives and the relationships we nurture there.

The article by CT also described Christy’s gallery talk:

Christy stressed that the primary benefit of starting an art collection—for both artist and buyer—is the ensuing friendship between artists and those who value their work. Artists, like the rest of us, want to be woven into a broader community (beyond other artists), and art collecting is as much about friendship as it is an economic transaction, not limited to (sometimes) arranging creative financing for paintings or other works. In a culture that stresses the commodity value of nearly everything, connecting with artists as human beings first and foremost is, itself, a refreshing and countercultural act—one that artists deeply appreciate.

To read more, click here.

Tinker, Tamper, Strings and Dampers: the Prepared Pianos of HAUSCHKA and John Cage

discovered via The Avant/Garde Diaries


Hauschka – Noise is Music from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

When you place objects between or on the strings or hammers or dampers of a piano, you create what is known as a “prepared piano.” When the piano is played, the “preparations” create a resistance against the strings or hammers or dampers, changing the timbre of the instrument and creating a different sound than what is normally expected of a classic piano. Though the beginnings of the prepared piano are sometimes credited to Erik Satie and Heitor Villa-Lobos–these two musicians placed sheets of paper between piano strings for an affected noise–the name that receives the most recognition in regards to the instrument is John Cage, an American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist.

Cage describes his arrival to the creation of his prepared piano in the following account of composing a piece for Sylvia Fort in 1938:

I needed percussion instruments for music for a dance that had an African character by Syvilla Fort. But the theater in which she was to dance had no wings and there was no pit. There was only a small grand piano built in to the front and left of the audience. At the time I either wrote twelve‑tone music for piano or I wrote percussion music. There was no room for the instruments. I couldn’t find an African twelve tone row. I finally realized I had to change the piano. I did so by placing objects between the strings. The piano was transformed into a percussion orchestra having the loudness, say, of a harpsichord.

Cage’s passing in 1992 left room for a successor in the ways of prepared piano. Volker Bertelmann–better known as HAUSCHKA–pays homage to Cage by continuing the experimentation with piano transformation. HAUSCHKA uses bottle caps, plastic foil, parchment paper, duct tape, screws, and erasers among other things to manipulate the sonic compositions tinkering out of his enhanced instrument.

It all began in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when HAUSCHKA became interested in electronica music, seeking a way to somehow emulate it without the electricity. He recollects the process:

It was during this period that he became more and more fascinated with electronic music, developing a particular interest in stripping back anything that he considered redundant within his compositions, until the obsession led to him trying to achieve a similar effect without the use of electricity at all. He discovered that placing material within a piano opened the doors to a whole new sonic world in which he could transform his instrument so that it loosely replicated the sounds of all sorts of others, whether bass guitar, gamelan or the hi-hat cymbal of a drumkit.

Don’t fret if you don’t have a piano handy to tamper the dampers of your own piano because over at John Cage’s official website they’ve created an iPhone app that allows you to play meticulously sampled sounds of John Cage’s work! It features a piano prepared with the actual materials used by John Cage in the preparations for his Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48)!

Photographic Taxidermy by Andrew Zuckerman

via swissmiss.

In 2007, NYC-based photographer Andrew Zuckerman released a compilation of photographs in a book titled CREATURE, featuring a compendium of animal portraits intimately highlighted against Zuckerman’s signature white background. In doing so, the distinct animal subjects are divorced from their contexts to equalize the greater conversation that runs between them. (He has since released four more projects that run in the same methodological vein: WISDOM (2008), BIRD (2009), MUSIC (2010), and FLOWER (2012).

Zuckerman has recently launched a website for CREATURE and describes the concept for the project as such:

CREATURE is aesthetically rooted in the illustrative indexing of 19th century biologists and the dioramas of natural history museums, and shares their preservationist intent. In CREATURE, Zuckerman explores the notion of photography as taxidermy and the hyper-articulated images provide the viewer with intimate and vivid access to the animal kingdom, including a number of rare and endangered animals. Alongside scientific classifications for all of the species included in the project, the CREATURE collection provides a contemporary document of the animal kingdom at close range.





When Legos and Robots Sync

via The Creators Project

Here’s something I haven’t seen done with Legos yet–particularly the Lego Bionicles!

Sound producer and designer Giuseppe Acito harnesses the Nord Beat app, hooking each Lego Bionicle figure up to his iPad and controlling them with the MIDI sequencer. The Legos-turned-robots can then play pre-programmed songs or play live shows with Acito DJing through Nord Beat’s sequencer in real time.

Acito calls the resulting robot Lego group the Tao Mata Band. Instruments include synthesizers, xylophone chimes, drum machines, and handheld video game devices.

It’s bio-digital jazz, man.

Handselecta’s Flip the Script

The snapshots of graffiti that are often seen on Tumblr or Instagram usually display drawings or stenciled sketches–the kind that pushed artists like Banksy into the limelight. But if you follow the history line of graffiti back to its beginning, you’d see how this fixation on pictorial elements was not always the case for graffiti. Graffiti was a matter of typography once upon a time; it still is today to those still honoring the art as something that grew from the practice of creating branded identity through paint strokes, approaching it not as an activity for the sake of spectacle, but as a craft where individual letters were drawn rather than written.

One individual from the Handselecta project, Christian Acker, paid homage to the art by publishing a book–Flip the Script–that analyzes hand styles across America, focusing on the original urban centers where graffiti was first popularized: Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Miami.

Acker approaches typographic graffiti in a formal treatment, isolating each hand style for proper examination and places them cleanly between the pages of Flip the Script. They’re organized by city, with eight chapters dedicated to eight of the major cities and the artists who propagated the cities’ individual styles. Acker says:

Distinctive hand style lettering is an essential skill for artists and designers. Deftly executed hand crafted letter forms are a nearly forgotten art in an age of endless free fonts. Graffiti is one of the last reservoirs of highly refined, well practiced penmanship.

The most reviled and persecuted form of Graffiti, the tag, is seldom appreciated for the raw beauty of its skeletal letter forms. Most tags are removed immediately, and thus the casual viewer seldom has a chance to discern the difference between entry level and advanced hand styles.



Handselecta is an evolving project working to help showcase graffiti art and artists. The project seeks to get others to view “tagging” as a form of craftsmanship, as calligraphy. It serves first and foremost as a font foundry concentrated in the art of graffiti, documenting the progress of each graffiti artist’s writing style and history.

Their message to the world says:

We seek to educate the public unaware of the skill, style and practice that goes into the development of these letterforms & elevate the practice by enabling it to evolve to the next level. Just as calligraphy was the inspiration for generations of type designers past, today’s urban glyphs are the inspiration for a new typography of tomorrow.

For a book preview of Flip the Script, check out the video below.

Flip The Script – Book Preview from adnauseum on Vimeo.

Risa Hirai’s Cookie Canvases

Over at NPR this morning I found a small story highlighting art student Risa Hirai‘s edible art–more specifically, her hand-painted cookies. Hirai’s cookies feature Japanese motifs with the intention of wedding her ethnic roots to what she deems a very Western canvas: cookies.

If you were to walk into her current exhibit at the Gallery Tokyo Humanite (open until March 16th), the painted cookie display would feature bonsai trees, sushi, sukiyaki bowls, and daruma dolls. The experience includes not only seeing the beautiful, mouthwatering creations, but smelling them. Hirai asks her audiences to participate in her art through sensory experience–seeing, smelling, and tasting. The cookies are able to be eaten if their display time has not been for too long a period, as the cookies are made from sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. Hirai sometimes likes to deviate from her usual vanilla-flavored cookies to use a cocoa, green tea, or cinnamon base.

Attending Tama Art University in Japan for a degree in oil painting, Hirai feels her career ambitions have now changed since her venture into making edible art. Her beautiful cookies began as gifts to friends, but soon grew to represent a greater passion.

She says, “I had painted in oils until then, but I became so into making cookies and began to think that this could be a form of expression as art.”

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Visualizing More Than 63,000 Cross-References in the Bible

Imagine charting the 63,779 cross-references within the Bible. The complexity of transposing such data sounds like an endeavor presupposing a drawn out migraine, no? For Chris Harrison and Christoph Römhild, the project became something that focused on the beauty of the data rather than the functionality of the information. They sought to visualize it, rather than read it. What happened next involved not only the cross-references they sought to graph, but a cross-textual process that translated wordy data into a beautiful representation using color and light–inspiring beauty that matches the level of awe felt when examining the layered intricacies of the Bible.

Chris speaks of the collaborative process in creating the chart:

Christoph, a Lutheran Pastor, first emailed me in October of 2007. He described a data set he was putting together that defined textual cross references found in the Bible. He had already done considerable work visualizing the data before contacting me. Together, we struggled to find an elegant solution to render the data, more than 63,000 cross references in total. As work progressed, it became clear that an interactive visualization would be needed to properly explore the data, where users could zoom in and prune down the information to manageable levels. However, this was less interesting to us, as several Bible-exploration programs existed that offered similar functionality (and much more). Instead we set our sights on the other end of the spectrum –- something more beautiful than functional. At the same time, we wanted something that honored and revealed the complexity of the data at every level –- as one leans in, smaller details should become visible. This ultimately led us to the multicolored arc diagram you see.

The bar graph at the bottom represents the Biblical chapters; the books alternate in color from white to light gray. Each bar’s length signifies the number of verses in the chapter. The colorful arcs represent the the 63,779 cross-references in the bible, each color corresponding to the distance between the chapters the reference can be found in.

Chris Harrison is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute atCarnegie Mellon University.

Ace Greenhorn’s Masterclass

Swissmiss blogged a few days ago about Ace Greenhorn‘s little educational start up in New York City. The initiative presents a series of cheeky instructional videos on how to perform everyday tasks, because sometimes adult life can be tricky and we need those little reminders.

Ace Greenhorn says:

Ace Greenhorn’s Masterclass is all about learning all the time. Navigating adult life can be treacherous, and the teachings contained herein can help guide you to safety. Life’s most elusive challenges are dissected into easy to understand lesson plans, created by the Master himself. Whether you’re a greenhorn through and through, or a masterminding ace, these videos will help round out your adult education.

Check the videos out!

Raising the Quality of Life

A quote popped up on Take Root last month that struck me like a hot whip of ethical emotivism. Allow me to share:

The result is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of ‘style’ to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic Quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate basic description of modern American technology: stylized cars and stylized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes. Stylized refrigerators filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized houses. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one ever told them there’s such a thing as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.

The quote comes from Robert M. Pirsig’s novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book was written over thirty years ago (1974) and yet it lends thoughts on still-relevant issues plaguing the American population. This excerpt embodies the problem of what became the prevailing approach towards the question of “how to live.” Stylization. Valances of overwrought-ness. A self-awareness to the point of counterfeit personalities.

What a sham! What a shame!

Hopefully the pendulum will fast realize its approach to an extremity and swing in the opposite direction–towards the earnest and sincere. In the meantime, perhaps we can usher in that event by reading Zen in its entirety.

The novel is a meditation on philosophy, religion, and science; it enters into philosophic investigations on approaching life in terms of being truly genuine and containing quality. The protagonist, appropriately named Phaedrus after one of Plato’s dialogues, is presented with such questions of epistemology in an odyssey involving a motorcycle road trip across the American Northwest with his son. Through maintenance of the motorcycle, Pirsig illustrates how a cold piece of hardware, a product of rational technology, can be handled and understood with the precepts of artistry and spirituality. It’s a wedding of realms–science and religion and humanism–that people sometimes forget are better understood when juxtaposed and aligned than when separated.

Brightening Lives with Tiny Miracles

I learned this morning over at GOOD about a small neighborhood adjacent to the red light district in Mumbai, India working to break their cycle of poverty. The neighborhood is tiny, a mere 150 meter stretch of concrete upon which 115 families of the Pardeshi people live. Traditionally bamboo-basket craftsmen, the Pardeshi people are finding new routes to channel their talent and creativity with the help of Dutch artist Pepe Heykoop and the Tiny Miracles Foundation.

Tiny Miracles hopes to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, moving the Pardeshi’s classification from “very poor” to “middle class” by the year 2020. They’ve partnered with Pepe Heykoop, who set up a workshop in the community to teach the Pardeshis design skills in fashioning products available for purchase through the charity foundation.

Tiny Miracles says:

He goes there at least 3 times per year, and teaches them skills varying from welding, stitching, quality control and work ethics. It is a huge challenge to work with a group of people who are uneducated, they can’t count for example, and it takes a lot of patience and determination. But the outcome is wonderful: they are now, after 2 years, able to produce high-end design and earn a good income.

The products–ranging from copper, bamboo, or leather lampshades and paper or scrapped leather vases –are all made from recycled material. The Pardeshis repurpose the materials to craft beautiful design objects to raise their income. Hopefully by 2020 each family will have achieved earning 8 euros per day rather than the meager 0.75 they make now. Pepe and Tiny Miracles wish to transform the slum into a “City of Miracles,” teaching not only a new set of design skills, but educating the Pardeshis in formal English and helping them reach a basic understanding of healthcare, psychological and social support, and financial handling.

Their products are purchasable here.








Calculated Distortion

I often think that there is not enough mingling of the sphere of mathematics with the sphere of the art world. The last time I really thought about their collision was during an ancient arts class where one of my professors explained the aesthetic qualities in observing architecture that utilizes the golden ratio.

But this morning I stumbled upon the interesting sculptures of Jonty Hurwitz (via Colossal) that really had me thinking once more about the blending of calculations and art forms. Technology plays a heavy hand in Hurwitz’ creations, allowing for the calculation of minute details that would otherwise be virtually impossible to produce the old-fashioned way. Hurwitz’s sculptures are anamorphic, meaning they depend on the combination of algebraic functions to determine the next sequence of equations that will determine the formation of the material of the sculptures. The sculptures themselves look like something out of a Dali piece–warped, melted, and distorted. It’s difficult to imagine that each divot shape in the copper, steel, perspex, or resin was critically meditated on by thousands of computer calculations prior to its tangible existence. What’s even more difficult to wrap your head around is that these sculptures are based off of picture scans of objects (hands and frogs).

Once scanned into a computer, Hurwitz manipulates them with software:

For the anamorphic pieces its an algorithmic thing, distorting the original sculptures in 3D space using 2πr or πr3 (cubed). Much of it is mathematical, relying on processing power. There is also a lot of hand manipulation to make it all work properly too as spacial transformation have a subtle sweet spot which can only be found by eye. Generally I will 3D scan my subject in a lab and then work the model using Mathematica or a range of 3D software tools. I think the π factor is really important in these pieces. We all know about this irrational number but the anamorphic pieces really are a distortion of a “normal” sculpture onto an imaginary sphere with its centre at the heart of the cylinder.

This cylinder he comments on refers to a cylindrical mirror which his sculptures bend around to be reflected. The reflection reveals the original picture scan which the warped sculpture is based off of. It’s like looking into a warped fun house mirror, except the roles become reversed–what if the warped image were the real-life dimensional object and the non-distorted form becomes the reflection? The precision of crafting these optical illusions is astounding, the concept of visual calculation even more so.

Hurwitz expresses his passion for creating such art forms in the following quote:

I have always been torn between art and physics. In a moment of self-doubt in 2003, I wondered into the National Portrait Gallery and stumbled across a strange anamorphic piece by William Scrots (Portrait of Edward VI, 1546). Followed shortly down the isle by The Ambassadors (Hans Holbein, 1533). My life changed forever. I rushed home and within hours was devouring the works of Escher, Da Vinci and many more. In a breath I had found “brothers” in a smallish group of artists spanning 500 years with exactly the same dilemma as me. Within two months I was deep in production of my first work. My art rests on the shoulders of giants, and I am grateful to them.

The golden ratio presents an interconnection between math and beauty,  apparent in the very veins and fibers of nature with its perfectly closed forms observable in microscopic cell arrangements. That relationship between number calculation and art shows strongly in Jonty Hurwitz’s anamorphic work, on display at Kinetica Museum in London next month.

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The “Invisible Man” Makes a Conspicuous Appearance

Colossal reports that the Galerie Paris-Beijing has a new exhibition displaying the latest photo series by artist Liu Bolin, whose nickname came to be  “The Invisible Man” after his first body of work in 2005 called “Urban Camouflage” when Bolin photographed himself as blending into his surroundings using body-paint. The new photo series, called “Hide in the City”  uses the same methods and mediums to express Bolin’s ideas on the current human condition. His approach is not merely to show how an individual disappears into his surrounding environment, but how the environment seizes the individual and imposes change upon him through economic and urban development.

Galerie Paris-Beijing describes the creative process:

Helped by his assistants, he stands still for hours in a landscape while they are painting on him to create a camouflage. This action of vanishing generates a tragic and difficult dialogue between the subject and his environment.

The process is meticulous, no doubt, demanding Bolin to stand painstakingly still for long periods of time in order for the painting team to adjust details and mask the artist’s appearance. The method itself may be seen as a physical metaphor for Bolin’s ideas behind his work as the paint causes him to become integrated into the background until he seemingly disappears. But disappearing into the environment–an act of the individual–is not what Bolin wishes to emphasize. He explains, “My intention was not to disappear in the environment but instead to let the environment take possession of me.”

In an article at ArtPulse Magazine in 2008, Janet Batet writes of Bolin:

His proposal comes from the process of change and liberalization that contemporary Chinese society has been experiencing. It is a traumatic change that imposes a bipolar culture in which tradition and foreign influence, the old and the new, are in conflict with each other, seeking new horizons. Trapped in the midst of this process, the individual appears disoriented, displaced, skeptical, and he develops the most subtle of survival mechanisms. The environment, far from being stable, is ever changing, creating a kind of chameleon-like individual always willing to adapt to new decor.

In observing the photographs, it is difficult to believe that digital drawing was not involved in the process and that the finished product was done entirely by manual painting. Bolin’s ties to the ancient tradition signify yet another example of his ideas on the disoriented individual, wedged between the old and the new, attempting to balance the grasp of traditions amid an abruptly changing landscape that only continues to morph over time. The series is disquieting, but nonetheless speaks truths to the issues felt by the vast majority. How then does one sift through such troubled confusion? Bolin’s artwork suggests that individuals should examine the circumstances being imposed upon their lives and consciously preserve the conventions and cultures that give them identity, rather than submitting to forced customs devolving from a rapidly changing environment.

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Strobes and Strokes with Pablo Picasso

In 1949, a freelance photographer for LIFE Magazine, Gjon Mili, paid a visit to Pablo Picasso in the South of France. Mili, an innovator of photography at the time, experimented with electronic flashes and stroboscopic lights to capture a sequence of movements within one frame. Mili’s visit to Picasso’s home was to show his fellow artist the photographs he’d captured of ice skaters jumping around in the dark, streaks of illuminated lines dashing across the images from the little lights attached to their skates.

Inspired, Picasso jumped at the chance to be a part of Mili’s strobe photographs. The story that ran in LIFE at the time reported:

Picasso gave Mili 15 minutes to try one experiment. He was so fascinated by the result that he posed for five sessions, projecting 30 drawings of centaurs, bulls, Greek profiles and his signature. Mili took his photographs in a darkened room, using two cameras, one for side view, another for front view. By leaving the shutters open, he caught the light streaks swirling through space.

The idea of creating art with a little glowing bulb and a canvas of thin air must have been a thrilling proposal to Picasso, who wasted no time in putting Mili to work. The photographs produced are known as Picasso’s “light drawings,” capturing the fluid movements of the artist, outlining strokes of light that disappeared the very moment they were produced, save for the images documenting their shape. It’s common now to see lomography versions of light drawings, but how about glancing at some of the first photos pioneering the stroboscopic method–drawn by a master, nonetheless?

but does it float recently posted these images:


Illuminating the Renaissance

The New York Times ArtsBeat reports that at a Sotheby’s auction on Wednesday, the J. Paul Getty Museum of Los Angeles won a bid on a rare illuminated manuscript, The Deeds of Sir Gillion de Trazegnies in the Middle East, for $6.2 million dollars. In 2003, the manuscript was at the Getty on loan for their exhibition “Illuminating the Renaissance” and now it appears to have found its permanent home there. The manuscript was completed by the Flemish master Lieven van Lathem, supposedly the greatest illuminator of the Flemish High Renaissance.

The Getty’s overview of illumination is as follows:

“The finest and most ambitiously illuminated books were produced in Flanders (parts of present day Belgium and France) between 1470 and 1560. During this period, illuminators radically transformed the appearance of the illustrated page, introducing the mastery of light, texture, and space achieved by the finest panel painters of the day.

The new style evolved under the patronage of the most powerful ruling families of Flanders. Manuscripts were a vehicle of politics, piety, and luxury, and their appeal quickly spread across Europe.

The illuminations on view reveal the glamour of the European courts. History books tell tales of mythology, brave heroes, and inspirational rulers, while devotional books set the tone for a pious Christian life. Above all, their exquisite naturalism places these Flemish manuscripts among the greatest artistic achievements of their time.

Despite their popularity, the invention of the printing press and changing patterns of patronage ultimately led to the demise of the hand-made book. By 1560, the great era of Flemish manuscript illumination would finally draw to a close.”

This particular manuscript follows the adventures of Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies, a nobleman from present-day Belgium. The New York Times describes it as:

Part travelogue, part romance, part epic, it traces the exploits of Gillion on his journeys to Egypt, where he becomes a bigamist, and then dies in battle, a hero.


An Experiment in Mapping Chaos

Over at Colossal I spotted something seriously rad that took one of my favorite arcade games to a whole new level. Netherlands-based graduate student Sam van Doorn modified parts to an old pinball machine to create his own tool for design. The machine uses standard flippers to control an inked-up pinball as it’s flung across the game board. For each use, temporary poster paper with a printed grid with light blue ink is placed over the game board to record each user’s progress.

Sam calls his modified pinball machine “STYN” and of it he says:

STYN is an installation I build for my graduation. I have always been interested in building my own tools in design. In a time of digitalization of the work proces, you can easily forget the freedom and fun of play. By creating new tools, you give yourself the opportunity to break free from standards in design. As result of this idea I deconstructed a pinball machine an reconstructed it as a design tool.

 Originality is something to be admirable of, especially when people seem to think it’s so scarce these days. Not only is Sam’s design one-of-a-kind, but each drawing it churns out is completely original as well, dependent upon the abilities of the pinball player. The machine makes it possible to chart the unpredictable movement of the pinball, recording the physics of the chaos we normally register through blinking lights and abrasive tinker noises. The machine measures users’ skills not through high scores, but through the ability to stay in the game as long as possible. The better one is at playing pinball, the longer you’re able to play, and therefore create a more complex pinball drawing than those who can only get a few ink strokes in before the ball disappears from the game board.

I suppose it’s time to polish those motor skills, eh folks? I wonder if STYN takes quarters…


The Age of Ads

We don’t pay much attention to the craft of sign painting anymore–especially when electronic light boards or mass print wall decals became the alternative form of advertising. Over at The Morning News, the subject of the sign industry comes up as they talk about filmmakers Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s new book Sign Painters. The book describes the history of the craft of sign painting, describing the unfortunate “creeping sameness into our visual landscape” with the onset of the digital designs society has come to know. An excerpt from the book’s foreword follows:

“The watermelon sign, a particular American icon, often misspelled and full of genuinely folkish paint strokes, was everywhere. Then there were the painters who added impressive illustrations along with the smoothly handled letterforms. Sometimes they did it with gloss black one-stroked enamel letters on a glossy white background. Wow! And the ecstasy of seeing a sign on metal with a beautifully built-up edge of paint bulging from one side of the letter stroke! It’s not science, but it’s beautiful and all artists recognize this. These painters knew about optical illusions, that some letters like O and S need to go a shade higher and lower than the baselines to appear equal in the lineup. This is something you take to heart.”

The above photograph was found in The Morning News slideshow accompanying the story. It features Sean Barton of Seattle.

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper

There used to be a copy of “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” hanging in my college cafeteria and my school friends and I would wonder at it. We marveled at how casually brash and daring the Depression-era iron workers were to be sitting atop a beam suspended stories and stories above the buildings below. To bright-eyed youths like ourselves, the photograph captured the spirit of a time unknown to us, when skyscrapers were still a fairly new phenomena and the nameless faces of the workers who built them crawled from every crevice of the city to scrabble for any opportunity that paid. We joined the crowd of those who gave the photograph its iconic status as we observed a whimsical moment in the lives of these Depression-era men that still prevailed despite hard times.

This morning, however, I had to call my previous perceptions into question when I read in The New York Times of a new documentary titled “Men at Lunch.” The documentary sets out to unpacking the details–and mysteries–of this famous photograph. The article reveals a few facts which gives truth to a few misconceptions surrounding “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper:

The popularity of the picture, which has been colorized, satirized, burlesqued with the Muppets and turned into a life-size sculpture by Sergio Furnari, is partly about the casual recklessness of its subjects: The beam on which they sit seems suspended over an urban abyss, with the vastness of Central Park spread out behind them and nothing, seemingly below. But in fact a finished floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was probably just a few feet away. And it was certainly not casual. As the Rockefeller collection shows, it was among many such posed photos taken and distributed to the news media with the intention of promoting Depression-era real estate (albeit by photographers who were “absolutely mad,” said the archivist, Christine Roussel).

What is the takeaway? I’ve decided to hold on to that same sense of wonder I felt the first time I saw the photograph. Despite knowing now that the photograph was not, in fact, a candid snapshot, I’ll maintain believing that real, unstaged instances like this one actually existed during the Depression. In truth, I’m excited to watch “Men at Lunch” and learn more about these once nameless men.

DOC NYC‘s senior programmer, Mystelle Brabbee calls the documentary a “love letter.”

“We mostly hear about the famous architects and financiers, but this one iconic photograph shows the spirit of how Rockefeller Center was built — the fulfillment of the promise of Manhattan,” she said. “Beauty, service, dignity and humor dangling 56 stories above the midstream rush of the metropolis, all summarized in this moment.”

From Discord to Synchrony: A Mini Lesson in Physics

Over at The Kids Should See This, a video from the Ikeguchi Lab in Japan demonstrates how 32 metronomes match up in synchronous play after each being tapped at different instances. It’s a pretty difficult feat to sync 2 metronomes–let alone an extra 30!

It’s Okay To Be Smart explains the physics behind it:

When the arm of any metronome hits the side, it exerts a force on the blue platform. Normally friction would make that unnoticeable. But this platform is special. It’s set up on rollers so that it can move from side to side.

When any two metronome arms hit, their forces on the platform either cancel out or add together, depending on how out of or in sync they are. Any arms that are out of sync will experience a force in the opposite direction that inches them closer to the pack.

On Wonder, The Ethics of Elfland, and the Miraculous World We Live In

Our last blog post mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories and today I came across Harry Clarke’s fairy tale illustrations over at But Does It Float. Clarke’s illustrations appeared in a 1916 edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, informed by his studies in stained glass. Comparison of a window he designed depicting Saint Patrick preaching to his disciples–commissioned in 1925 for St. Michael’s Church in Ballinaslo–and the designs of his book illustrations, the style remains constant, caught betwixt the passing of Art Nouveau and the arrival of Art Deco. The illustrations are as mystical and wonderful as the fairy tales themselves–evoking that feeling of hidden secrets and wonder teeming around each corner in the land of Faerie.

In The Ethics of Elfland, the fourth chapter of  G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, the author explores that sense of wonder which is seemingly absent from the world and motions we mechanically move through in our day-to-day lives. The “noble and healthy principles” that arise from fairy tales, he writes, attempts to retain that sense of wonder by asking readers to view the world with a renewed outlook: Our existence is a miracle. Why must fairy tale language be reserved only for these stories which are left in the nursery as we grow into adults? The world in which we inhabit has a magic to it–divine magic, in fact–and Chesterton calls attention to the need for a renewal of awe and wonder to the miracle that is our universe.

On his reverence of the organization of the universe in The Ethics of Elfland, Chesterton writes:

But I really felt (the fancy may seem foolish) as if all the order and number of things were the romantic remnant of Crusoe’s ship. That there are two sexes and one sun, was like the fact that there were two guns and one axe. It was poignantly urgent that none should be lost; but somehow, it was rather fun that none could be added. The trees and the planets seemed like things saved from the wreck: and when I saw the Matterhorn I was glad that it had not been overlooked in the confusion. I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton’s Eden): I hoarded the hills. For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: for there cannot be another one.

And further:

In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.

I hope you reserve that same sense of pleasant bewilderment you feel whilst looking at Harry Clark illustrations and apply it to the miraculous world around you.


Add Something Adorable to Your Day

Click on the featured image above for full view.

I found something adorable on the Paris Review today! Illustrator Mattias Adolfsson drew up a few literal interpretations of the names of famous authors. The Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare illustrations are particularly amusing. I’m feeling inspired to jot a few down in my own Moleskine tonight! Why not break out a few fine-point pens and join me? Try these:

John Bunyan

Edward Eager

Robert Frost


The Brothers Grimm

Stephen King

Louis L’Amour

Beatrix Potter

Anne Rice

Lemony Snicket

Jonathan Swift

H.G. Wells

Beauty Observed in an Icelandic Volcanic Ash Field

The pictures you’re about to see are not what you might think them to be.  I am imagining the many inferences flitting through your mind at this very moment: a series of watercolor paintings, the product of someone’s bored Thursday afternoon tinkering around on the latest Adobe Photoshop program, or magnified snapshots of bloated raffia cells from a scientist’s lab. What good inferences you make! But alas, Brewing Culture informs us that these pictures are something very different from a first glance’s telling. You’ll be pleased to find that these pictures are something much better than the other options. They’re photographs of the real observable world, surreal even, as a Dali landscape–but dreamily beautiful.

Russian photographer Andre Ermolaev captures the volcanic ash fields of Iceland from an aerial view, including wispy-watered rivers sweeping through the glacial landscape.

The Rise of the Craftsman

Who says there’s nothing new under the sun? Originality can still be done–just leave it to the craftsmen! Over at swissmiss there’s talk of new online communities where people can request custom-made goods. It seems that factory-made products don’t dazzle the way they used to. A new trend shows the return to desiring hand-wrought pieces.

I remember when the Etsy craze first flared up, with original, handmade pieces fashioned by the tastes of crafty homemakers. Now there’s Custom Made and Makeably, where you can request absolutely anything you can imagine into existence with the help of the many craftsmen just a few clicks away. These online marketplaces boast thousands of professional makers who can churn out custom, quality goods that stem from your own ideas. Just be sure to include specific details to better describe exactly what you want!

Makeably self-describes:

Makeably is a new way for people with creative ideas to collaborate with makers to create custom items. As it’s become easier to buy things from anywhere in the world, It’s become even harder to find that exact thing you want, that perfect gift, something truly unique and, more importantly, specific to you.  We founded Makeably because we believe in making it easy for you to turn your thoughtful and original ideas into reality, with a little help from our hand-picked community of makers.

And the process is easy! Custom Made requires only four steps: 1)Find ideas, 2) Post your project, 3) Choose maker, 4) Track progress.

Personally, I’d ask for one of those cigar box four-stringers–like the ones they used to play in the Civil War era. Or perhaps a porcelain butter keeper with handpainted daisies on it. The possibilities are endless if you’ve got a hungry imagination and a craftsman looking for work.

photo by:

Caitlind r.c. Brown Raises a Storm

I just saw over at The Kids Should See This that at the Nuit Blanche Calgary contemporary arts festival last Saturday, artist Caitlind r.c. Brown put up her own kind of storm. She calls her piece CLOUD, and further describes it as:

“Created from steel, metal pull-strings, and 5,000+ light bulbs (both illuminated and burnt out) CLOUD asks the viewer to participate by experiencing the work first hand – standing beneath the structure and pulling lights on and off, creating the flickering aesthetic of an electrical cloud.”

Play this video to watch festival goers interact with the installation and emulate an electrical cloud: