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Monday
Jul212014

Air Ocean World

Buckminster Fuller. Air Ocean World Dymaxion Map, 1946

part of Fuller's Dymaxion World Map Patent: click on the image to see the whole patent. The critical paragraph: 'It is an object of my invention to provide a sectional map of the world, or of a portion of its surface, which is so constructed that its parts can be assembled to give a truer over-all picture of areas, boundaries, directions and distances that is attainable with any type of plane surface map heretofore known.' Was this a mathematical/geometrical puzzle? One must always remember how interlaced Fuller's researches were with military problems. Fuller's Dymaxion 1946 cartography patent.  Oh these patents.  Such energy has been expended in mapping to render the three-dimension sphere on flat paper without distortion, or at least with understandable distortion.  We no longer understand such distortions but there is a lively discussion of the politics of map-making, several of which we had in On Site review 31: mapping | photography. The Dymaxion map is an icosahedron where to preserve the actual shape of the continents and oceans, bits are lost in the edges of each triangular excerpt.    

Dymaxion: dynamic, maximum and tension.  It was Fuller's mantra, but it is quite surprising how far his ideas spread: far beyond domes and living off the grid.  Most of his work in housing and cars was done before WWII, and little was financially viable.  After, he mostly wrote and lectured and this is where his influence sank deep into the postwar American art movement.  Black Mountain College also keeps reoccurring as a site where everyone met everyone else, John Cage especially.  1948-50 or so seems to have been a period of wide-open possibility where all disciplines were in intense conversation with each other. 

Jasper Johns. 'Map (Based on Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Air Ccean World), 1967. Hans Namuth and Judith Wechsler, 1990. Distributed by MoMA, Circulating Film Library. From the MoMA description: 'a portrait of the artist at work. The film begins in 1972 with Johns repainting Air Ocean World based on Buckminster Fuller's dymaxion Map. Johns work is traced over the next eighteen years. His Untitled, 1973, with its cross-hatching, flagstones, and anatomical parts become recurrent motifs, as Johns begins to imbed skulls and severed arms in them. The paintings become more personal as Johns gradually 'drops the reserve' in his recent series, 'The Seasons'. The film culminates with Johns working on the final state of the etching based on 'The Seasons'. There is no narration as such. Jasper Johns speaks at various points, John Cage reads Johns' statements, then rearranged through a computerized method based on the I Ching, curator Mark Rosenthal comments on several stages of Johns' work, and Christopher Ricks reads passages from Beckett's Foirades/Fizzles.'
In 1990, Hans Namuth and Judith Wechsler made a film about Jasper Johns: Jasper Johns: Take an Object.
It begins with Jasper Johns painting a huge dymaxion map (destined for Expo 67, now in Cologne's Museum Ludwig), Janis Joplin on in the background.  Then comes John Cage reading a selection of Johns' statements: 'art is either a complaint or an appeasement'.  One can see traces of the map that keeps occurring in the way patches of colour or marks or objects sit in some folded relationship on the canvas. But that aside, this is a truly rivetting film, and reminds me again of why Jasper Johns is so important.  

Tuesday
Jul082014

the world of patents

UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE 2,682,235 BUILDING CONSTRUCTION Richard Buckminster Fuller, Forest Hills, N. Y. Application December 12, 1951, Serial No. 261,168, p. 1.

Investigating the world of patents in conjunction with Buckminster Fuller's 1951 patent of the geodesic dome, which made him quite wealthy as he licensed the rights far and wide, I have discovered a) that patents only last 15 years and then are released to the public domain, and b) that there is a certain madness in the patent world.  
Evidently inventions must be novel, useful and not obvious.
Novel we get, not obvious means that it can't be a logical development of a previous patent, but useful?  This clearly is a wide and ambiguous quality.  

Many patents are genuine developments that advance medical technology, etc., but someone wants to put a clamp on the developments to make money from it.  Well and good, research and development costs.  Others seem to respond to some really annoying problem someone has in their daily life and god dammit they are going to solve this, patent it and make a fortune.  Such as the bird trap cat feeder, which catches sparrows and feeds them to cats. 

UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE 4,150,505 BIRD TRAP AND CAT FEEDER Leo O Voelker, Linn Kans 66953 Application August 8 1977, US1977000822683 p.1.Now, what world does this person live in?  Is there a personality type that easily loses perspective in the blinding light of their own genius?  What is wrong with sparrows that they should be so cruelly hunted – it is something like finding out that the Elizabethan delicacy, lark's tongues, required a thousand tongues to make a single serving.  Was Elizabethan England overrun with larks?  Was Kansas in the late 1970s visited by a plague of sparrows?  

Oh no, there is a large section of google references to sparrow control.  Evidently they are invasive, successful and displace little native birds.  This is one of the discussions we are having in the contributions to On Site 32: weak systems – successful invasions of the small and insidious.

Monday
Jun232014

Black Mountain College

A. Lawrence Kocher, Studies Building, Black Mountain College, Lake Eden, North Carolina. 1941

Black Mountain College, North Carolina, started an interdisciplinary summer arts school at Lake Eden in 1944 during a war, when things rarely start, and continued to throw artists, musicians, dancers and experimental types together through the 1950s.  One of these was Buckminster Fuller who had done his startling dymaxion work in the 1920s and 30s and by the late 1940s mostly taught, did workshops and mentored people.  One of these was Jeffrey Burland Lindsay, an engineer-industrial designer in Montreal who headed up the Buckminster Fuller Research Institute, a grand name which turns out to be Lindsay and Ted Pope in a small space on the Plateau.  One of the summers Fuller was at Black Mountain, Lindsay too was there: the practical fellow to Fuller's inspirational stuff.  They built a 48' geodesic dome in 1948, called by Elaine de Kooning the Supine Dome, as it failed, gracefully.  From the pictures it looks like they were building it out of ribbon.

One Black Mountain listing says 'the college played a formative role in the definition of an American aesthetic and identity in the arts during the 1950s and 1960s'.  It must have done, it appears to have been stacked with emigrés from the Bauhaus, plus Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Josef Albers; there were poets, there were painters, all was possible.  Students included Ray Johnson, Noland, Rauschenberg, Twombly, John Chamberlain — these are the ones I know, there are many others I don't know, but it was clearly seminal, formative, an essential part of American postwar modern art. 

The college was located on Lake Eden, planned in 1938 by Gropius and Breuer but development was suspended during WWII, and then after the war Lawrence Kocher took over the design of the main building. It was built by students and faculty from 1940-41, plus, for sustenance and extra cash, there was a farm and a mica mine.

This is a curious episode in American architectural history, one senses that money was tight, creativity and optimism high, materials were often found, the country itself was in the grip of a military-agricultural complex.  Kocher's austere, Gropius-influenced, minimal campus building, the stamp of which is in Frey's canvas house of the 1930s, and so similar to a wartime barracks, is also not unlike a North Carolina tobacco-drying shed: wood frame, clad in corrugated galvanised steel.  And it has aged like a tobacco-drying shed, leaving behind its bauhaus modernity and revealing its deeper connection to a local vernacular.

This series of images, taken in 2007 at the Lake Eden Campus of the Black Mountain College, focuses on the Studies Building. Designed in 1940 by A. Lawrence Kocher, the building was completed in 1941 and is the largest structure built by the college.

 

Friday
Jun202014

the Tarpon Inn and hurricanes

The Tarpon Inn in the 1940s. Although built and burned, re-built and destroyed by storms before this version, its basic and original form and function is a barracks. It presages the two storey motel with each room accessible from an outside walkway. Compared the the Tarpon Inn in its current palm-treed beauty, this view from the 1940s seems to indicate a more motel-like attitude to travel and lodging.

The Tarpon Inn, in Port Aransas on the south east Texas coast, was built in the 1920s specifically to resist hurricanes and the storm surges that had destroyed its earlier versions.  A forest of pine poles are set each in 16' of concrete and continue through two storeys to the roof. There is a post in each corner of each small room.  There are no inside corridors, you get to your room from the porch.  The lobby is papered with tarpon scales – discs about 1.5" across – each signed by the fisherman who caught it, including famous people who came for the sport, mostly in the 1920s and 30s when there was a lot of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, in the Gulf.  

Tarpon scales from the 1920s-1940s in the Tarpon Inn lobby, 7000 of them supposedly. Tarpon are warm water ocean sport fish, 4-8' long and up to 250 lbs.  It is alleged that the tarpon has suffered a massive decline along the Gulf coastline since the 1950s because of loss of coastal 'nursery' marshes: mangrove marshes in Florida, a seawall across much of Mississippi that used to be marsh, and increased commercial fishing of menhaden, a tarpon food source. 

Why am I revisiting the Tarpon Inn after twenty years since I saw it?  Perhaps because it is an ecology of people, architecture, climate and weather that seemed so precise, and so gone.

The Tarpon Inn today. These images are taken from traveller's blogs; although the inn is on the Texas Historic Register of significant buildings and properties I wasn't able to find a survey of it. The Tarpon Inn operates as a rather beautiful boutique hotel these days, Port Aransas's gritty past all but erased.

Thursday
Jun192014

breakaway walls

Damage from Hurrican Ivan, 2004, in the southeastern USA where breakaway walls are necessary and mandated.

This structural detachment of structure and skin is very helpful in extreme weather: in hurricane-prone coastlines houses have breakaway walls which are ground level enclosed areas for parking or storage, where the enclosing walls will actually break away from the structure when hit by high winds and water.  The house is instantly piloteed, water and wind rush right under it.  Breakaway walls are bylaws in many areas, and there is a FEMA manual that outlines specifications. The principles appear to apply only to ground floors; the house itself is conventional construction where walls are meant to protect, not flee.  

Because of our northern climate, all our woodframe houses sit on basements that act like concrete boats: they resist frost heaving but in a flood fill up with water immediately.  And every time there is a tornado in a non-tornado zone such as happened in southern Ontario last week, the houses are deconstructed leaving piles of studs and shredded plywood.  In Places in the Heart, a 1980s movie set on the prairies during the Depression, a tornado was coming and Sally Field rushed about the house opening all the windows before taking the children into the storm cellar. The house was made as transparent to the wind as possible. A storm cellar is accessible from outside the house, no convenient basement stair, and so even if the house is blown apart, the cellar is a separate underground bunker.  This was in The Wizard of Oz, which we've forgotten.

In this new era of violent weather, our bulwarks against traditional weather where the worst that happens is that it gets very very cold — three weeks of -30, no problem, the houses are snug.  Our houses have always been built to resist — we feel the whole house ought to be a storm cellar — rather than to bend.  We are getting new weather, we are going to have to rethink it all. 

Wednesday
Jun182014

Albert Frey: cotton house, 1933

Albert Frey, Swiss, studied at ETH Winterthur, a critical point as technical schools taught construction and technology. He graduated in 1924.  What a time to be a young architect: he worked with LeCorbusier and Jeanneret in Paris from 1924-28 alongside Sert and Perriand, then moved to the States.  He joined Lawrence Kocher in New York and worked with him until 1935.  Kocher was also the managing editor of Architectural Record, a journal that promoted American modernism.
Frey worked on the Museum of Modern Art in 1937-9 and after this moved permanently to Palm Springs, falling, like so many European architects, for the freedom and space of the American south west.  

Two Frey and Kocher houses: the Aluminaire, a demountable house faced with aluminum panels, which was moved several times in its life, and a canvas cabin, both done in the early 1930s.  They did permanent houses, including one for Raymond Loewy, but these two are in the nature of workshop experiments.  
The canvas house, built for Kocher, consists of painted sail canvas stretched over a redwood frame, insulated with aluminum foil.  These details come from Joseph Rosa's book on Frey, but compared to the Aluminaire there appears to be little information on the canvas house. The images here are from a single website.

Frey and Kocher, canvas weekend house, 1933

However, in Popular Science, February 1933 the canvas house appears.  For 15¢ (20¢ in Canada) what an exuberant little publication this was: packed with ideas, inventions, the wonder of developing technologies and sheer curiosities — it shows a most positive and active engagement with newness that I just cannot see anywhere today. Here is a pdf of the Feb 1933 edition.

Popular Science, February 1933, p42

On p 42, just above identifying dogs by their nose prints, is 'Architect Designs Cotton Houses'.  The write up:  'Houses of cotton are proposed by Lawrence Kocher, noted architect, to solve the low-cost housing problem.  Models of two types, a $1,500 five-room home and a week-end house, have been designed.  A weatherproof exterior is provided by a roof and walls of fireproofed cotton ducking stretched over a wooden structural frame.  Inner walls are also of cotton.  Insulating material may be added to exclude heat and cold.  Since the canvas is flexible, it is adaptable to any shaped surface. '

This is the Villa Savoye for Depression-era America: inexpensive, democratic, inventive, flexible. 

Friday
Jun132014

Dar um Jeito, 2014

Supposedly this is the official 2014 FIFA World Cup anthem, not that dreadful piece of commercial plastic Ole Ola, which is merely the official song

I'll take this one: lots of Carlos Santana, Wyclef and Alexandre Pires.  Brilliant video.  Dar um jeito: We will find a way. Here we go. That's all we know.

Thursday
Jun122014

Maracaña: O jogo bonito

Maracaña, 1950. Reinforced concrete stadium built for the 1950 World Cup, Rio de Janeiro.

In his 2004 book, Stades du Monde: sport & architecture, Angelo Spampinato listed the Maracaña stadium in Rio de Janeiro as one of the legendary temples of football. Built between 1948 and 1950 for the 1950 World Cup, it was deliberately designed to be the largest stadium in the world, seating 183,000 with standing room for 220,000.  The World Cup that year opened with Brazil-Mexico (4-0) and ended calamitously with Uruguay-Brazil (2-1).  

For 2014 the bottom tier was rebuilt, a new roof added and seating has been reduced to 79,000 with the loss of the Geral, the standing terraces. This took $735 million of Brazilian public money and then the running of the Maracaña was effectively privatised, turned over to AEG, owners of LA Galaxy and the O2 arena in London, on a 35-year contract.  A bit of controversy there.  An adjacent indigenous museum and a school were demolished.

The Maracaña is heroic in volume and history: Pele's first and thousandth career goals, thousands of match upsets, despair, elation, rock concerts, two masses by Pope John Paul.  Its original engineer was Paulo Phiheiro Guedes, working with a team of architects.  Evidently, as stadia go, it is very flat, just five storeys from pitch to the top of the top ring.  Most of the renovations are hidden: new media centre, locker rooms, auditorium, boxes. There are 1000 new parking spaces under the stadium, another 13,000 spread about the neighbourhood. Visible are new seats and the extended roof which now covers all the seats and is fitted with photovoltaic panels.  

Estadio Maracaña, opening after three years of renovations, April 2013Estadio Maracaña is one of twelve FIFA World Cup stadia, but of course its expansion is also part of the preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The World Cup is the preliminary scrubbing of Rio, which will continue for the next two years.  China was able to remove great chunks of old housing and historic infrastructure as it gives itself licence to do so.  Brazil is doing the same, without the licence.  The people are becoming obstructive, there will be delays. 

Wednesday
Jun112014

Tilla Theus: FIFA headquarters, 2003-6

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006So, FIFA.  It has a headquarters, in Zürich, in a very Swiss building by Tilla Theus. There are so many architects in the world doing really lovely work that we rarely hear about – Tilla Theus's presence on the web doesn't extend to english-language sites at all. However, she studied at ETHZürich and has a small practice of sixteen people, Tilla Theus und Partner AG. The FIFA headquarters in Zürich-Hottingen was built between 2003 and 2006.

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006The building wraps a garden where (superstitiously I would think given that just this morning there was a report of the Brazilian team sprinkling beach sand on the pitch for its meeting with Croatia) earth from all the FIFA member countries has been placed.  The glass skin on the outside is ambiguous: slightly torqued, it appears to shimmer in its landscape.  The transparency is an architectural conceit, given how un-transparent and allegedly corrupt and open to bribery some FIFA members are.  Photographs show an elegant, serious, marbled hall of mirrors.  Unfair to project FIFA's operating politics on a piece of architecture, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  Forget FIFA, the building is beautiful.  The materials are emotional, rather than the structure, or the programme: tilted translucent alabaster walls, polished stone, layers of structural glass so that the building envelope is both transparent and thick. 

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006It is cool, a cool, calm setting for what must be often quite hot negotiations about politics, money, face, national identity, whistleblowing, power – is architecture capable of calming tempers, holding a moral high ground?  Or does it legitimise impunity.  This is a question that has been applied to Le Corbusier and Neimeyer's UN Headquarters in New York since it was built in 1952.  For Tilla Theus the project was to do an excellent piece of architecture in the city in which she lives and practices. Very Swiss.  It can't all be smooth sailing though, as I struggled through German texts and interviews I came across this little comment: 'I am a woman, I always take criticism personally.'  Well, yes.

Tuesday
Jun102014

soccer ball technology

Adidas's FIFA World Cup history, 1970-2014Thought I ought to know something about soccer ball technology, given that the hexagon ball which has held sway for decades appears to have been replaced by something much more free-form and sinuous.  

The first World Cup was held in 1930, in Uruguay. The ball had twelve panels, leather, two of which were laced to tighten the outer shell over the inner ball, originally in the 19th century an inflated animal bladder, later rubber.  The quality of the ball had much to do with the quality of the leather, and whether it came from the rump (good) or shoulder (less good).  The six panels of two strips became six panels of three strips each, making the ball smoother, then changed back again.  There were other variations: interlocking T-shapes, other geometries.  It is a parallel investigation to map-making where a round globe is represented by flat paper; here flat pieces of material are shaped and stitched together to make a globe.

Adidas's twelve panel white leather football for the 1966 World Cup1970 Adidas Telstar football, Buckminster Fuller's truncated icosahedron sphereBuckminster Fuller designed an infinitely smoother ball in 1970 of twelve pentagons and twenty hexagons composed as a truncated icosahedral sphere. Hexagons and the pentagons at their intersection were coloured black and white for television visibility and, supposedly, for the players to more easily see how the ball was spinning. Up to this point all footballs had been single colours.  The Bucky-ball, as it is known but called by Adidas Telstar, was used in FIFA World Cup matches until 2006 when a fourteen panel ball was introduced, in 2010 the eight panel Jabulani ball was developed.  

The eight panel Jabulani is made of thermally bonded moulded panels of ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermoplastic polyurethanes, textured with specific grooves designed to improve aerodynamics. Evidently players don't actually like this ball; it changes direction in mid-air and performs completely differently in different altitudes.  Curious that such a high-tech construction and aerodynamic design makes such an unpredictable ball.  One does wonder what influenced its adoption.  Adidas-sponsored players claim to like the Jabulani

From a NASA study mentioned on wikipedia: When a relatively smooth ball with seams flies through the air without much spin, the air close to the surface is affected by the seams, producing an asymmetric flow. This asymmetry creates side forces that can suddenly push the ball in one direction and cause volatile swerves and swoops and this effect is referred to as knuckling. Older designs of the ball have a knuckle speed of around 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).... the Jabulani, with its relatively smoother surface, starts to knuckle at a higher speed of 45–50 mph (72–80 km/h). This coincides with the typical speed of a ball following a free-kick around the goal area making the effect more visible.

There have been subsequent developments, the current ball being used in Brazil is called the Brazuca, eight panel, very decorative.  Smooth balls with little obvious construction or material markings offer a good surface for graphics so that the most recent balls are like small demonstrations of national identity.  Brazil's World Cup ball is all coloured ribbons, very curvy, like the pavements at Ipanema.
Here is a video comparing the official Brazuca with a replica.  The real one is covered all over with little bumps: this will be the aerodynamic stuff.  The replica is shiny as a billiard ball.

Football technology is a huge area, the images will take you to a couple of comprehensive sites with lots of information on the history of soccer balls. It's all very interesting.

Monday
Jun092014

Soccket balls

Soccket, an energy-generating football, generates and stores enough electricity after half an hour of use to power a small lamp

In honour of FIFA feel compelled to say something about soccer this week.  Shall start with the electricity generating football, SOCCKET, put into production in 2013 with kickstarter funds.  It was developed in 2012 by Jessica Matthew, an Edo from Nigeria, a very clever girl who went off to Harvard and allegedly taught herself mechanical engineering.  Her psychology and economics degree shows: the project is sophisticated way beyond its energy-generating possibilities.  

The football has a pendulum inside which turns a generator attached to a battery.  This adds a bit of weight, but just an ounce.  The ball is airless, don't understand that bit.  It has a 6W output: for the undeveloped world, this means a lamp can be plugged into it for three hours after half an hour of kicking the ball around.  For the developed world which is actually purchasing the balls for quite a lot of money, it can recharge your phone. You buy this soccer ball really as a charitable act: you buy one and one will be given to someone far away.
Pulse II, a skipping rope that generates electricity from the spinning of the rope in the handles.
Uncharted Play, Inc, Matthew's design firm, also makes a skipping rope, PULSE, where the generating mechanism is in the handles.  This sells for $295 in New York.  Says Matthew, 'Right now, we  are selling them in New York and in New York, we charge people a lot because it is New York'.  As I said, clever.

In an interview, Nicole Brown of Uncharted Play explains the marketing of PULSE: 'Because charging a cell phone is more of a developed world issue, we’re going to give a SOCCKET, which powers a lamp, to the developing world for each PULSE sold.'  Images show little children in otherwise un-illuminated huts doing homework by the light of a tiny led lamp and, where living off the grid is not an option, iPhones in bright white rooms are plugged into it. I understand that the developing world far exceeds cell phone use compared to the developed world which has so many more options, but one's First World charitable impulses are triggered by the combination of technology (which we have) and poverty (which 'they' have).

It's good, this project, but the marketing of it is a bit patronising.  I found a hysterically funny collection of comments on SOCCKET on Seun Osewa's ₦airaland Forum covering every possible aspect of the project, such as, from Willskid:
Seun and Mum
Mum: Seun, where u dey go?
Seun: I wan go play ball
Mum: Ori e da... U no go go read ur books
Seun: Mama u forget say u and papa fone don flat...If i nor play ball, u no go charge ur fone today oo...


or from Virgo:
So while developed countries produce electricity with Coal, Liquid Petroleum, Petroleum Gases, Nuclear, and others, Africa must resort to kicking a ball around in order to enjoy electricity?

Let's just say ₦airaland remains skeptical.

Thursday
Jun052014

Selkirk Settlement maps

“Plan of land bought by the Earl of Selkirk from Peguis and other Indians. 18th July 1817.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 4149347. Click on this image to enlarge it.

“Selkirk Treaty – Indian Chart of Red River,” undated. Library and Archives Canada, note reads “Land involved: The Red River north of Red Lake River and South of Lake Winnipeg and the Assiniboyne River from Fort Douglas to ‘Musk rat or Rivière des Champignon [sic]‘ … No date (but probably accompanies treaty of 1817/07/18)

Two maps, the lower one probably sketched by Peter Fidler, witnessed, signed and attached to the deed of the sale of land along the Red River to the Earl of Selkirk in 1817 for the Red River Settlement.  It is signed by five chiefs who made their marks as their clan totems. 

Curiously, if one reads the potted history of the Red River Settlement, this negotiation is not mentioned: Selkirk purchased a controlling interest in the Hudson's Bay Company which already claimed the territory, and then granted it/himself a large (116,000 square miles) tract of land, Assiniboia, both to establish a colony of Scottish sheep farmers displaced by the Highland Clearances who arrived in 1812, and to quash the North West Company's interests in the West.  The Pemmican War ensued, Métis were involved, the North West Company burned down the colony's fort, arrests were made and eventually the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company.  The seeds of the Red River Rebellion fifty years later were sown here.

So where does this 'sale of land' occur in the official history?  Or was this simply a politeness, not really a sale, but acknowledgement that a negotiation had taken place.  

I first saw this map in Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Canada and just thought it the most alive map I had ever seen: the English names on the rivers indicate that north is at the top of the page, the Enlightenment convention where the viewer is located in the place of the sun, Sun Kings all of us.  However, the aboriginal chiefs were on the other side of the table, looking at the map from the north, their territory.  Both parties reveal their relationship to land: one is in it, one is looking at it.  The chiefs were spatially placed in a supplicatory position in terms of Selkirk's agents; the agents revealed their commodification of the land through both the power of The Map, and their objective view of it. 

Wednesday
Jun042014

Indian Candy 2

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. right: Tantanka (buffalo) 2013. Indian Candy in the process of disappearing. Real billboard images are clear, art is ambiguous; advertising is immediate, art prints itself on the mind and sits there the rest of the day as one tries to make sense of it.

Artefacts exist, but it is not necessary to 'see' them.  Claxton is interested in the image, not the artefact, and how the image has a life much more insidious and invasive that the material thing.  It makes one rethink the value of archives (all the originals) and their digitisation, free to use in a way the originals will never be.

Claxton's images in Indian Candy belong to an era before even my time, more like the 1920s-40s, the era of the Hollywood western.  We used to see them at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday mornings when I was a kid, and on Fun-o-Rama, a kid's late afternoon TV program from Seattle in the 1950s: endless reruns of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Three Stooges, lots of David Niven as a swashbuckler.  But even then the white hat/black hat/Indian chief thing was remote, disconnected to all the kids from the Esquimalt Reserve that went to our elementary school.  It never occurred to me that Donny Albany was an 'Indian'; it was something I learned much later, that he was the son of the Esquimalt band Chief. (old terminology, I know, but it was the 50s, sorry)

The power of Claxton's images is that they pinpoint an era and a process whereby the stereotypes were formed and then embedded in the American psyche via popular culture: the midway, movies, toys, games, TV.  During the long era of residential schools in both the US and Canada which were gutting the structures of North America's indigenous peoples, they were portrayed as dangerous, fearsome and inscrutable – a portrayal that was, and still is used on any group resisting assimilation.

Dana Claxton. Contact billboard, 9th Avenue SE, Calgary. Sitting Bull's signature, 2013Forgetting that this was our Contact billboard, I first thought it was something to do with the Stampede which starts its advertising about now.  However, violet is not a Stampede colour, nor is the dangerous allusion to difficult histories.  Clearly, if this is Sitting Bull's signature, he was taught to write in commercial script.  Is it shaky because someone else wrote it for the Wild West Show postcard and it seemed appropriate?  Another act of embedded 'weakness'? 

I don't think it is his signature.  You cannot trust documents. 

Tuesday
Jun032014

Dana Claxton: Indian Candy

Dana Claxton. Contact billboards, Dundas Street West, Toronto. left, Geronimo in Pink, 2013; right Tantanka (buffalo) 2013

Dana Claxton is one of the exhibitors at Scotiabank Contact this year, and three of her works are on billboards on Calgary's 9th Avenue SE: on my corner is Sitting Bull's signature taken from a postcard handed out by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, where such troubling heroes had become exhibitions.

The billboards are owned by Pattison, and the exhibition of Contact works is part of Pattison's Art in Transit programme. May and June each year are a treat, as our same billboards always have Contact works, and then they go back to being commercials.  Would it be too much for Pattison to denote these billboards as permanent sites for photographs from the best of Canada's artists?  It gives so much to think about, these beautiful and provocative images.

Claxton's billboard images are drawn from her series Indian Candy, chromogenic prints on aluminum of the clichés of the 'wild west' indian: Tonto, Geronimo, Maria Tallchief in exotic headdress, a buffalo, writing on stone petroglyphs, Sitting Bull, a feathered war bonnet, a ledger drawing, all taken from the vast archive that is the net, pixellations and all, and then washed in bright candy-coloured chemical colours. The narrative line is the ambiguity between history and popular culture, the Wild West Show exemplifying the confusion: were the Indian Wars, the stock in trade of the western movie, history or entertainment?  After Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull crossed the border into Saskatchewan, living there for five years. Claxton's reserve is Wood Mountain First Nation and is descended from Sitting Bull's people.

It is interesting that actual location of all the original pieces she uses are in various archives – where doesn't matter as they can all be found on the web, somewhere, copied and re-assembled, manipulated, emphasised, re-arranged. The validity of the images is not in the contiguity of evidence, original piece next to original piece that traditionally makes a good archival collection. Their validity is that the images circulate in the public domain, and someone has pulled pieces together to say something. The order in which the fragments of evidence are shuffled tells particular histories: the way the US Department of the Interior arranged them both demonises and patronises Sitting Bull's resistance to colonisation; the way Claxton recontextualises the same pieces tells the aftermath.

 

Friday
May302014

Samurai ningyo

Ningyo: samurai tradition has been celebrated on May 5 since 730 AD, originally called Tango-No-Sekku (the first day of the horse). During the Edo period of 1600-1868, the celebrations and displays by the samurai class were elaborate displays of weapons and combat; the first samurai dolls appear at the end of this period, at the beginning of the Meiji era.  The Bata Shoe Museum has a samurai doll, a ningyo much like this one, that dates from 1870.  The samurai as a military class had sidelined the emperor to figurehead status, a situation that lasted 'until 1868 when the Meiji emperor was restored to power'.  It is interesting that Bata's ningyo was created just two years later, valourising the tradition of a class that had just been demoted and its right to carry arms abolished. Originally it was only the samurai class that commissioned ningyo, however, as Japan embarked upon a long modernising process of industrialisation, they came to stand for 'pure' Japanese character and became generalised and idealised.

Samurai protected farmers: the strong protect the weak, and in turn the weak will serve the strong. This theme (according to an essay by Timothy Mertel) appears symbolically as the tiger and bamboo: the tiger protects the bamboo grove from predators, and the bamboo camouflages the tiger's lair.  This is the major tenet of Japanese feudal society.  

Our man, above, has been a fixture of my life forever, can't remember when he wasn't there – it might have been a wedding present for my parents. His sword is in a tiger skin sheath. The armour is, I think, from the Kamakura period (1185-1333): lacquered plates laced with silk and repoussé metal mounts. I'm taking this description from Mertel's piece, so far it all fits.  I've never known anything about this small figure until today.  He is wearing rather lovely cream silk jacquard bloomers.
The Bata Shoe museum describes the shoes thus: 'These samurai shoes are called tsuranuki. They are made of bear fur, which symbolises the intrinsic ferocity, strength and courage of a samurai warrior.'   

Ningyo bodies are straw with carved heads and hands covered in a crushed oyster shell paste which is then burnished and painted.  My fellow has the most delicate pale blue gloves embroidered with flowers.  His face is quite fierce, and is a particular samurai of legend, the details of which I cannot find.  

The armour: it is very interesting, and it was the flexibility of the dragon skin ceramic discs that reminded me of samurai armour: metal plates that were laced together so they moved and didn't inhibit action. 

Thursday
May292014

ceramic armour

ceramic plates in a Dragon Skin body armour vest

When we see the bullet proof vests on foreign correspondents, they are basically kevlar with ceramic trauma plate inserts roughly from 5" x 8" and 1/4" thick for concealed vests, to 10" x 12" plates up to 1/2" thick for tactical vests. They work in combination with the aramid fabrics: high ballistic protection from the plates, dispersal of blunt trauma from the fabrics. 

Boron Carbide: B12C3  for those who understand such things is exceptionally hard because the molecules form a network plane.  Not a new technology, it was first synthesised in 1899.  The discs in the Dragon Skin are silicon carbide (SiC) or carborundum, used since 1893 as an abrasive. thank you wikipedia.  Both these materials have a zillion other uses: something about how their molecules arrange themselves in dense interconnected plates makes them exceptionally inert, resistant, hard and defensive.

The small overlapping plates of the Dragon Skin allows more motion and is designed, evidently, to absorb multiple hits, which is a sobering thought.  All of these are meant to protect vital organs, not to render someone entirely bullet proof.  I expect that development in ballistic technology forces the development of anti-ballistic systems.  There is, for example, something called a full metal jacket bullet which is a soft lead core fully jacketed in hard metal which allows higher velocities as the hard jacket slides more easily down the bore.  Do I want to know this?  I suppose so, I thought the movie Full Metal Jacket was actually about some kind of armoured jacket for soldiers.  The point of a full metal jacket bullet is that they can be used indiscriminately against both soft and hard targets. I think I'll leave this topic now.  

There was a scandal in 2007-8 where the US government did not equip its soldiers in Afghanistan with $5000 Dragon Skin armour, choosing cheaper armour from companies with government contracts.  Some things never change.

Wednesday
May282014

uses of kevlar

Tim Smit, Urban Security Suit, 2008

Kevlar clothing: lots of examples in biker jeans which have strategically placed panels on the knee, thighs and back. The jeans however are dreadful: huge and wrinkled.  Well, biker jeans often are. 

And then there is the slash-proof pinstriped banker's suit lined with kevlar.  Truly horrible.  Much more beautiful is this 2008 outfit by Tim Smit in the Netherlands, who does not appear to have a web presence other than many reviews of the Urban Security Suit.  

Neoprene, kevlar panels, mucho style, the hood comes with a gas mask: for being kettled at anti-globalisation protests clearly, special pockets for defensive accessories.  The comments on the gizmodo site were scathing: the kelvar too thin, neoprene too hot, etc etc.  But they cavil: one might as well look beautiful as no armour is without its chinks.

Tuesday
May272014

carbon fibre

easycomposites.co.uk: Carbon Fibre Cloth Fabric 12k 2/2 Twill 450gsm. This roll is 1m (39") wide. £20/linear metre. Use in conjunction with a 3k 200g surface layer then 1 or more layers of 12k 450g cloth to produce larger parts or thicker laminates. 'Also commonly used as the reinforcement/bulking layers for carbon fibre moulds. In some circumstances this 12k 450g cloth can even be used as the surface layer on cosmetic parts where a larger weave pattern is desireable although care will need to be taken to ensure that the greater texture of this heavy weight carbon fibre cloth does not 'print through' making the surface of the part uneven.'

It did occur to me I have no idea what carbon fibre is.  It is carbon atoms arranged longitudinally as very thin strands which are spun to make thread, which is woven to make fabric. The fabric is woven, for some reason, as a twill, giving it its recognisable appearance (above) The fabric is then combined with a resin and moulded, rather like fibreglas, to make a material five times the strength of steel at one-third the weight.  Magic.  

The resins can be thermoset polymers – epoxy, or thermoplastic polymers: polyester, vinyl ester and nylon.  Kevlar, the bullet proof fabric, uses carbon fibre and aramid, a polyamide whose molecules are also directionally oriented.  Silica and rubber can also be added to the binding polymer for different kinds of performance.  

If moulded, as the Carbon Black wheelchair, sheets of carbon fibre cloth are layered in a mould which is then filled with epoxy.  There are various ways it is all set: air, heat, vacuum.  Arcane? no, there are YouTube videos on how to use carbon fibre kits to mould all sorts of things.  And the image above from easycomposites will sell you everything you would ever need to make things.  

Besides the vaunted Formula 1 cars which use it, so does BMW for some body panels: while steel is less than $1/lb, carbon fibre is $10, which is why it isn't used everywhere in large quantities. Plus it isn't really recyclable.  The first I ever heard of it, a long time ago, was as graphite golf clubs: very whippy and light.  I'll stick with my persimmons.  But every music store these days has carbon fibre guitars looking extremely sexy: black and gleaming, with that characteristic twill catching the light. 

Blackbird Rider Nylon guitar, reviewed in Wired, where Charlie Sorrel said it resembled a 'medieval stealth lute'.

Monday
May262014

carbon black

the 7.5 kg Carbon Black wheelchair

A couple of years ago I saw a BBC documentary on the struggle Andrew Slorance, wheelchair bound himself, and his wife had in designing a carbon fibre monocoque wheelchair and getting it to market. They had sunk all their money into producing a prototype, and then another prototype. You felt for this pair, the process was so expensive: to get a protoype to test even was incredibly difficult and meant finding shops in remote industrial parks in the centre of Scotland that could even work with carbon fibre. I remember thinking at the time that good design is not its own reward.  Nevertheless, they persisted.

The gist is that the basic monocoque is cast each time for each individual according to their needs: backrest size, seat width and depth, leg length. Then there are stability adjustments that locate the centre of gravity. I remember in the documentary they had problems with it tipping over until one had learned how to judge where one's centre of gravity actually was. This appeared to be the major stumbling block to the design being picked up for manufacture, that and its cost.
Other options are the wheel size, the size of the rim you push the wheels with, lights, guards and various add-on things.  

It is smooth, it is clean, it is quite glamorous engineering. The glamorous Sophie Morgan, all tawny blond hair and beauty, is the Carbon Black ambassador and inhabits both her chair and the website

Carbon Black was shortlisted for a design award from the London Design Museum in 2012 and has been nominated for a World Technology Network award.  A group called SMART:SCOTLAND provided an original grant to build moulds and to market Slorance's prototype, and then in 2012 in the run up to the 1012 Paralympics the project got £350,000 specifically to get this product to a global market.   From the Highlands and Islands Enterprise announcement of the grant: 'Using the very latest composite materials and Formula 1 engineering, Carbon Black is set to change perceptions of the wheelchair. Carbon fibre offers incredible strength to weight properties, combined with unprecedented stiffness for optimal energy efficiency. The monocoque design is both lightweight and strong, yet has a minimal appearance, resulting in more person, less wheelchair.'
It has become a big project.  

Slorance had been in a wheelchair since his mid-teens when he broke his back.  He felt keenly all the problems with standard wheelchairs: their weight, their sheer ugliness, their mechanics, their ugliness, their unresponsiveness, their seeming inability to move along with technology. Perhaps people are so stunned by finding themselves in a wheelchair that it cows them into inert acceptance. The wheelchair so separates them from, in Slorance's case, normal teenaged dashing about, that it must seem often to be an instrument of torture.

Carbon Black weighs 7.5 kg including the wheels: this is the result of using carbon fibre with its huge strength to weight ratio. The fact that Formula 1 technology keeps being mentioned indicates something of the cost of such a wheelchair.  Of course it is a wonderful material, warm to touch and mouldable; the launch price was £7,800 and I have seen other prices nearer £12,000.  The Carbon Black System tumblr blog is full of ways to get subsidies for this price, such as access to work allowances, NHS vouchers and so on.  This is a grand site, much newsier than the formal site. It looks like they sell one a week.   

Friday
May232014

triskelia

Isle of Man coin from the mid 1700s

Something about the Acrobat™ wheel reminded me yesterday of something I'd seen before: the three armoured and spurred legs that are on the Isle of Man flag, most often seen in conjunction with the TT race.  It is the potential springiness of a bent leg that operates much like the shock absorber on the Acrobat™ wheel that made the connection, rather than any overt visual trigger. 

As a heraldic device, as it has been since the 13th century for the Isle of Man, since ancient times for Sicily, the sources for such an odd conjunction of three legs, running clockwise, armoured or bare, are vague.  Idiopathic even.  
For Sicily, its triskele is supposedly drawn from the triangular shape of the island (original name Trinacria).  

The Isle of Man is a Gaelic island just 50 km from Ireland, culturally part of the Western Isles, overwashed with Scandinavian invasions.  The triskele of three legs was the emblem for a 10th century Norse king whose territory included both Ireland and the Isle of Man, perhaps appropriating the Celtic trinity of sea/wind/fire which form a triangle around earth. Earlier than that, histories simply say it is a pagan sun symbol.  The legs should run clockwise (according to the sun theory, sunwise being another name for clockwise) but I keep seeing it printed with them running counter-clockwise.  Like the reverse swastika of the Nazis, to change direction sometimes means something sinister. Having the Isle of Man used as an internment camp by Britain during WWII can't have helped. 

The Isle of Man TT race badge