Archive for December, 2006

Chinese Graffiti Stories

I found graffiti in mainland China, but it wasn’t easy. Over the years, I’ve heard many explanations for the lack of street art there, from the stereotypical (orderly Chinese society) to the sinister (fear of reprisals). We had little luck in major urban centers like Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing (besides tiny bits like this). So, imagine my surprise finding these big ‘ol tags under a bridge in the quaint canal town of Suzhou.

Alongside a homeless camp are two pieces. On the left is a fairly traditional western tag. At right is an angular, less traditional Chinese tag. East meets west on the same wall. (close up here)

Since the artists are unknown to me, I often wonder what the story behind this meeting is. Did two writers from opposite sides of the world meet up in Suzhou and decide to make their mark together? Or, is it a call and response, an argument, with one piece angry at the other? What story does it tell us about China and Chinese graffiti? What does it tell us about how the Chinese view the western world?

No matter the story, I love this kind of cross-pollination. Artists from one part of the world influencing another, and the other echoing it back inside out and sideways. Culture is a beautiful thing but intercultural communication — that’s something else.

For more on mainland graffiti writers, see China Daily, graffiti crew Made in Guangzhou, and Chinese graffiti forerunner Zhang Dali.

The Last Black Senator

Barack Obama has been all over the news of late with hints that he may run for president. So, I wondered what the Senate would look like without him. It turns out that, if he leaves, there will be no more black folks in the Senate at all. He is the only black senator — but it doesn’t end there. Digging a bit deeper, I discovered that there have only been 5 African Americans elected to the Senate. Ever.

Give that a minute to sink in. Of the roughly 2700 Senate elections held since 1789, only 6 were won by an African American (Ed Brooke won re-election). That’s .2% or 1/5 of one percentage point. Considering that black folks have made up a fairly steady 10% of the population, this is a pretty serious reminder of how far the land of the free still has to go.

Of course, there are lots of factors that muddy the water. I’m not sure how many black folks were up for election or even ran in primaries. And this doesn’t take into account that there was a long period of time when black folks couldn’t run for any office, let alone Congress.

But none of that changes the fact that the Senate hasn’t seen nearly as many African Americans as it should have and that gives me pause. It also gives me pause that the first black senator, Hiram Revels, resigned his office after serving less than one year. How must he have been treated for him to decide, after making such a dramatic leap for his race, that he should give it all up almost immediately? I can’t imagine.

If the fifth African American senator decides to leave office prematurely, though, it does seem like he might do it for quite a different reason. And I must say that I’m more than happy to lose the last black senator if the result is the first black president. Hot damn.

Update: If you like Obama, check this poster.

with thanks to Mom; photo via Slate

Street Art, Buddhism, and Drywall

There’s something very Buddist about what’s going on inside the graffiti mecca at 11 Spring Street today. And something at once wonderful and sad.

For months, some of the best street artists in the world have been decorating the 30,000 square foot space with new work. That work then went on display for just 3 days. And on the fourth day (today) it’s all being painted over as the building goes condo. Shades of the beautiful Tibetan sand mandalas that, after weeks of painstaking creation, are almost immediately destroyed as a symbol of impermanence.

In a way, it makes sense that the art inside 11 Spring would meet a similar demise — it’s yet one more run over in the ever-morphing, supremely impermanent graffiti form. Still, when a mandala is dispersed in the traditional stream of running water, it takes forth blessings to the world. When the graffiti at 11 Spring is dispersed, it makes way for the blessings of multi-million dollar condos. I certainly don’t mean to dis any of the artists or organizers involved in this fantastic project, but it is just a little bit sad.

To be fair, it has been argued that much of the work will be preserved behind drywall and serve as a sort of time capsule. But does it have to end that way? I mean, street art has been taken seriously in art circles for a long time now. And Banksy’s stuff has been making bank at auction of late. How could the inclusion of one-of-a-kind work from stunningly creative artists (Fairey, Swoon, D*Face, Momo, more) do anything but sweeten the pot for folks already dropping millions on a spanking new Nolita condo? But, nah, they want their walls as white as they can get ‘em.

I can’t understand the way those people think. But, then, maybe that explains why I’m not rich. Fortunately, metric tons of images from the inside of pre-condo 11 Spring can be found on Flickr and Streetsy.

photo by p0psharlow

War is Hella Fun

Have you ever played an emotionally wrenching wargame? When was the last time a first person shooter made you cry? Ever spent weeks torn up over the pain and suffering endured by your troops in an RTS? Why not?

That question might sound strange, but stick with me a second… You see, over the years I’ve been addicted to all sorts of shooting games, exploding games, running-people-over-with-tanks games. Mostly because the good ones are hella fun, especially with friends. But part of me always felt a little weird about it. In January’s Edge, Lorne Lanning put it this way:

That’s when a medium really has power — the idea of the artist, mythologically, is to show us the way, or the wrong way, even. It’s showing the world something it needs to know, but for some reason isn’t necessarily able to see. You see it in a great movie, book, or play, but it’s not happening in games. What I see instead is we say: ‘Hmm, why don’t we take war, and make it as visually realistic as possible, then sterilize so that it’s just fun’, and there’s something very perverted about that.

And particularly perverted considering that my country is at war as we speak. How is it that so many games fetishize guns and ammo but don’t quite manage to attach the same import to people?

I’m certainly not looking to start up the whole murder simulator debate again (heck, I liked Manhunt). But I am hopeful that more will consider the fact that we are making fabulously fun games from experiences that are anything but. It’s not so much that I fear the folks are being desensitized to violence or that games like Battlefield or Quake 3 or Defcon shouldn’t exist. (I love that stuff!)

My point is more that game developers are missing a fantastic opportunity to help players better understand what troops really go through on deployment. That might not be as much fun but, then, neither is war. And as powerful a medium as gaming is, it seems a shame not to explore all its dimensions.

Update: Edge just put the full text of Lorne’s interview online. Worth a read — the guy makes points.

Nine Lives

I don’t typically talk about this site here, so forgive me this one time. Microscopiq has been around for some years now and through a lot of fits and starts and changes in that time. Lately, though, I’ve really been feeling in a rhythm with it but, of course, wondered how it seemed to others.

So it was a great surprise to wake up and find microscopiq invited to 9rules this morning. Thanks, folks! I really look forward to being part of the network and the community.

Update: For those who aren’t familiar with 9rules, check their about page.

Blip!

The bands on night two of the Blip chiptune festival played out like one of those fantastic mix tapes: up a notch, up a notch, down a notch, sideways, rock the house, down a notch, roof comes off. And boy did it.

With folks like Bit Shifter and Random anchoring the show, you know you’re in good hands. And the super-pixelated display that backed them only accelerated the head rocking videogame flow experience. It’s not so much that the retro sounds put you back in classic games but rather that they bring back the sense of momentum and joy those games evoked in an entirely different context. They blew that place up like a one-two punch.

But the real surprise of the night came from an entirely unexpected source. The front half of the acts was a bit uneven and when Coova (pictured above) took the stage with the words “I just flew in from Japan and I’m really tired,” the audience wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We needn’t have worried. She stood motionless, but her sound was anything but. The luminous, pulsing, distinctly Japanese, and forever evolving melodic structures that poured from her gameboys were the most stunning thing I heard all night.

Chiptune performances can resemble plate spinning with gameboys (most acts had at least 3) standing in for plates, each of which must be kept on point with the rest. Here the penalty for slipups isn’t so much crashing dishes as beats out of sync and busted breaks. It’s a precision dance of in-time button mashing, swapping patch cables, and slipping carts in and out of handhelds at exactly the right instant — or the crowd don’t bounce. And what’s amazing is that the best of the performers have this new art down to a science.

The Blip Festival is only half over. This afternoon features a screening of the fabulous 8 BIT documentary and Nullsleep plays tonight. Bubblyfish hits it on Sunday. If the vibe turns out anything like Friday, neither should be missed. For those who can’t make it, the wonderfully diverse multidisc chiptune compilation available at the show should be online orderable soon.

image via jellisvga




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