Archive for September, 2007

Warping Real World Spaces

Warped Wall – wallpaper reacts to objects hanging from it by warping beautifully

Unchained – typically oppressive chain link fences become objects of beauty in The Netherlands

Blown Up Living Room – living areas overtaken by inflatable tendrils

Vuitton Refused – irony abounds as high priced fashionista Louis Vuitton does garbage duty

Helios House – Keith shoots a gas station gone low poly just outside of Los Angeles (more)

images via demakersvan and surrealien

Twisted Metal and Leaving Car Culture

I was in a spectacular car crash. Roads were deceptively slick from an overnight storm. A white Civic speeds alongside and darts suddenly in front of me, leaving inches. Then his brake lights come on. I cut right to avoid hitting him. My wheels go bald, my car skidding left into his with a sound like a crumpling tin can. His car careens left, slamming into the median. Mine slides right, out into the river — almost. A few pieces of well-placed wire keep me from going in face-first. (I guess we have Robert Moses to thank for something after all.) I walk away, but the car is totaled.

After the adrenaline of the accident wears off, panic sets in. I’m without a car for the first time since high school. Sure, I’ve taken public transit for long stretches before, but there was always the car out back just in case. Sayonara safety net.

And suddenly the amount of pro-car propaganda arriving by mail turns from a trickle to a flood. Since my car became a twisted heap, I’ve found myself awash in shiny brochures from everyone from Mercedes to Hummer to Hyundai. Heck, even my insurance company sent me a brochure with details of their “best rate” auto loans. Why were they all so sure I wanted a new car? That’s car culture. Even if you don’t need one, you want one.

Instead of running out to fill that auto void, though, I decided to go cold turkey. It wasn’t easy. My commute ballooned from 30 minutes to an hour thirty in each direction, and the up-front cost went from $15 a week to $30 a day. Going carless takes planning and cold hard cash. (Transit subsidy, anyone?) Plus, it just feels strange.

And it’s that lifelong programming that still has me subconsciously shopping for parking spaces a month later. What does that say about the creep of the almighty auto into our collective psyche? But things have gotten better, too. No more dealing with obnoxious drivers for an hour a day, no more traffic jams, no more worrying about the next car repair or getting a ticket. But my biggest worry driving a car has always been the ever looming possibility that you might seriously hurt or kill someone — someone who just happens to wander out into the street at the wrong moment: a kid chasing a ball, an adult who misreads a crosswalk sign. That anxiety is behind me, too.

As if to punctuate my first month of auto abstinence, World Car Free Day was this weekend. It’s nice to be on the right side of that equation for once, even if it started off against my will. And GM’s workers added their own inadvertent nod by walking off the job yesterday. Friday also saw the return of parking spaces to nature via Park(ing) Day. Signs from above, no? Well, at least I’ll take it that way.

image by jae lee

Ukraine’s Floating Castle

Found object: floating castle. Photos of a mysterious levitated structure that looks straight out of a fantasy film showed up recently, and much speculation followed. Where was it? Was it a sculpture? Had the photoshop corps been at work again?

Some judicious automated translator banging (most of the conversation is in Russian, Spanish, and Ukranian) yielded a few tidbits. The photographer, for example, says it was dismantled in May of this year. And it was in Ukraine. Archinect says it’s the remains of “bunker for the overload of mineral fertilizers.”

But what I find most interesting are the connections people made between the structure and film worlds created by Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and, most often, Hayao Miyazaki — particularly Howl’s Moving Castle. I never quite understood what went on in that film. (A couple friends from Japan didn’t either, so I’m guessing it’s not a cultural thing.) Still, the characters and the world were so strong that it nearly didn’t matter.

And the fact that so many want to see Miyazaki’s world in the real one says something about the places his films create. Lots of animated films let us escape into wonderful imaginary places. But there’s something special about Miyazaki’s movies that makes the real world seem more wonderful, too.

Find alternate angles and multilingual conversation at panoramio. Thanks to ffffound.

Fabulous Illustrated Octonauts Back in Action

See, there is something good about the end of summer after all. The second in Meomi’s gorgeously illustrated Octonauts book series is due out October 15. And, from the looks of it, creative duo Vicky Wong and Mike Murphy have outdone themselves as the supercute team of eight return to explore charming underwater vistas in a new story about saving the world’s shadows. Preorder it and get a autographed copy plus postcard.

Find more at Octonauts HQ and visit for some behind the scenes goodies. Even more regular updates on the studio blog.

via k10k

Words and Wordless on City Streets

Psychic Vacuum

Psychic Vacuum – Mike Nelson’s new installation in Essex Street market is a beautiful expression of the haunting environs an urban explorer might encounter on entering a long abandoned space — a modern Pompeii (more at Bluejake, Gothamist, NYT)

Save The Words – video from the future cleverly examines the loss of written language

Folder-shaped Folder – metaphor amusingly fleshed out with this USB drive shaped just like the files it carries

Open Secret – graffiti just outside Cape Town puts intimate thoughts in plain sight

Lady Cab Driver – cabbie and blogger Melissa Plaut takes us inside what it means to be a female hack in New York City

Cornered at the Bend – love this unexpectedly powerful shot from the streets of Mumbai

Gallery Baghdad: Art Among the Ruins

Iraq Gallery

There’s an art exhibit space in Baghdad, but good luck getting there. This week’s Studio 360 takes you on a trip across the the most dangerous city in the world in search of Madarat Gallery, and it ain’t easy.

The problems start early: simply finding a translator willing to make the journey is a challenge. And that translator, Abdu Ibrahim, has to do much more than navigate language: determining the best travel route, obsessively watching for people following them, even remarking that he was going to die with the Americans. Still, he develops a sense of giddiness as the the trip goes on, as the travelers slipped further and further into open roads, unsure of who might intercept them, and for what. After all, the going rate for an American is $50,000.

Some of the things they encounter:

  • Barricades everywhere. Nearly every side street blocked off by local militias (using burned out cars and office furniture) in order to protect what’s left of neighborhoods.
  • An American military convoy, which they must stay 100 meters behind at all times. If they do not, they will be shot immediately (Abdu has seen it before). The most dangerous thing to do on the road in Iraq is get too close to an American military patrol.
  • Stories of sniper ambushes along the very same road, targeting Iraqi soldiers, policemen, and perceived collaborators.

All this makes one wonder what it must be like to live in a place that’s been in this state for so long. What toll must it take to make your home here? It reminds of the Serb sniper attacks in Goražde, Bosnia that became so regular, residents cobbled together a shielded bridge to deflect the bullets. (see Safe Area Goražde)

Finally, they arrive. The gallery is at first a dark, humid place (there is no municipal electricity). Once a gas generator is switched on, though, the travelers step another world — a space that looks like something out of New York or LA — very different from the war-torn country that lies just outside. On show is a poster competition about violence against women. 35 posters, ranging from literal to abstract. Bravely, one of the pieces is by a woman. (more here)

One Iraqi artist explains the importance of the gallery this way:

People who are staying here, they find art in the bottom of their interest. It’s not prior to them. The most prior activity is how to keep your head on your shoulders. And that was the challenge Hasan faced. To have this gallery under this terrible situation is a bravery — is real bravery. So, this is why we help him voluntarily. […] Now there is very small role for educated people in Iraq. So, we catch this opportunity. Art is acceptable. But if you directly talk in politics, you will be subject for killing. But, if you paint something, whatever the meaning is, you might be excused. So we try, through art, to say many things that are not allowed if we directly say them. And then we try, gradually, to touch some political sides of our culture. And we don’t guarantee that the next season we will be here to continue. But if we are alive, we will start again.

Powerful stuff. A reminder of what it means to live in a war zone; desperately trying to retain some measure of normalcy in the most abnormal environment imaginable. And a reminder of why art still matters, even here.

Hear the entire story at Studio 360 and visit Madarat Gallery online. Don’t miss the hard hitting Iraq commentary of Battlestar Galactica, discussed in the same episode. And find more on growing up in Iraq at CNN’s Children and War.

images via nytimes and joe sacco

Subversive Clouds & Other Dangerous Dreams

Thunderclouds Over a Flower
California Ice Age

Storm Clouds – microscopiq favorite Jeff Soto just opened his new show in Chelsea and it’s a good deal more political than what he’s done before. Fascinating stuff. See also an inspired homage to Soto by the equally awesome Three Legged Legs

Kenya’s Bus Stop Cartoonist – Nairobi residents lucky enough to travel by a very particular bus stop are treated to a new political cartoon, hand drawn daily

Iwai Imagines – musical innovator Toshio Iwai (creator of Electroplankton and SimTunes) demonstrates his latest psychedelic musical instrument, to be produced by Yamaha

Botswana Goes Hollywood – all sorts of characters come out the first time an international movie is shot in Botswana

Big Rig Jig – visually stunning and Burning Man go hand in hand, but this sculpture is something special (via Centripetal Notion)

Musical Type – mixed reality music video by way of Uruguay cleverly interleaves type and real footage to tell its story. More typographical music videos at

Battles Rock South Street

As ambient punk crew Deerhunter finished their set at South Street Seaport in downtown Manhattan, the concert promoter grabbed a mic and wondered aloud: “I have no idea how they’re going to top that.” Ooops!

From the instant the thunderous bass loops of Tij hit speakers, it was clear the challenge had been taken up. By the time Battles hit the first impeccably timed break in that opening number, there was little doubt who the winner was. Goosebumps.

The hourlong set was filled with stand out moments: from John Stanier bashing drums so hard on Atlas, he didn’t particularly need amplifiation to the virtuosic live sampling that allowed Ian Williams to accompany himself on the dizzying riffs of Race: In. But what impressed most was the degree to which the band won over a crowd of such a wide demographic — hardcore teens to random middle aged tourists — some of whom stumbled in purely by chance. Since when have the constant time signature shifts of math rock reached so many? The sea of people bounced to otherworldly syncopation of Ddiamondd.

Being a fan of math rock pioneers Don Caballero for some years, I was pretty depressed when guitarist Ian Williams split following their most accomplished effort: 2000’s mind-bendingly melodic American Don. Battles, though, makes it clear who got the better of the deal. Where Don Caballero regressed badly with World Class Listening Problem, Ian’s new band Battles takes math rock someplace entirely new with this year’s instant classic Mirrored. But hearing those tracks live is a whole different thing. It gets into your bones. You close your eyes and absorb it. Your head bobs uncontrollably. Come the end of the show, I was smiling ear-to-ear. File under best shit ever.

Find more Battles at and wikipedia. Kudos to the River to River Festival for ending on such a unconventional note. We last wrote about math rock in Audio Autumn.

photos by jalapeño and epicharmus; many thanks to flickr

Unexpected Art

Wanna make us smile? Give us art where we least expect it; small stuff that goes against expectation. And the past week gave us just that.

Religion Inside Out – artists turn Osama into Jesus and put a burqa on the Virgin Mary

Blue Dubya – a thoughtful portrait of Bush, until you realize it’s made of porno magazines

Classical Member – an alleyway isn’t an alleyway without crude drawings of genitalia. Banksy turns them into high art

Model Villages – small goes smaller with these fabulous models of European villages and more

Temple Drops Jaws – conservative south becomes home to the biggest Hindu temple in North America

Stunningbird – tiny bird goes huge in a stunning photo by Jeff Kouri

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