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33: on land

On Site review: other ways to talk about architecture and urbanismContains things you will never find anywhere else.

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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

Thursday
May222014

the SoftWheel wheelchair

SoftWheel wheelchair

If yesterday's Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair had all the dignity of a chair, the chair of the Soft Wheel wheelchair is near-invisible.  It was developed (through Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economics) by a fit Israeli farmer who had broken his pelvis and was shocked by the state of ordinary wheelchairs on off-road terrain.

There is nothing faintly humanitarian in this project, it is pure technology, this wheel, and about time too.  The Acrobat™ wheel used in the Soft Wheel project, uses three shock absorbers rather than spokes and is also being used in bikes.  Until the wheel meets an obstacle, such as a stair, or curb, or pothole, it acts as a normal wheel, but on encountering a large and immoveable change of grade, the shock absorbers reconfigure their lengths in a form of selective suspension.  The wheel itself absorbs impact, rather than the chair or the body.  I sense it will be expensive.

Clearly a first-world device: businessman, downtown, big city, good shirt: we get it. This isn't about difficulty, but about success.

Grand idea, what is interesting is the invisibility of the 'wheelchair' in all the promotional material; if there are handles at the back they don't appear.  The wheels alone are obvious, as substitute legs.  This is blade runner stuff where there is almost an advantage to prosthetic technology over the able-bodied, a shift in perception that was brought to the fore in the London Paralympics in 2012.  Disability is increasingly (theoretically) an anachronism.

It is at either end of the wheelchair trajectory – one end is the plastic garden chair, the other is the Acrobat™ wheel – that exciting developments occur, each filtering in towards the middle, or so one hopes.

Wednesday
May212014

the free wheelchair mission

free wheelchair mission's inexpensive wheelchair project

One of the critiques of things such as keepod is that access to information technology isn't a straight line to water purification, for example.  Hardly a critique I know, but I did read it.  However, there has always been a pragmatic streak in people that allows them to figure out problems and solutions – it used to be said of fellows from Saskatchewan farms that they could fix anything with wire and binder twine, a gross gender stereotype no doubt, but not a bad one.  Kids growing up on isolated farms in the early 20th century were innovative, practical, used to doing a lot with very little.  

Of course today one can look on the web to see how to fix something, but often that seems to be the blind leading the blind: just because there is an app for that doesn't mean you can actually fix the wheelbarrow wheel.  

This wheelchair costs $77.91 to manufacture and deliver.  Anyone who has dealt with our medical system and CSA approved wheelchairs knows that 'proper' wheelchairs run to thousands of dollars, and my god they are ugly. And they weigh a ton.  (Ah well, just looked up the cost of a wheelchair and you can get one for $245 at Costco.  Clearly my experience is out of date.  Gosh, here is the EZee Life™ Economy for $150.  Whatever.)

The Free Wheelchair Mission was started by a biomedical engineer in Californa who developed this wheelchair as 'a basic design at an extremely low cost to reach the highest number of disabled impoverished people in the shortest possible time'.  He uses component pieces already being manufactured in high volume, perhaps for something else: mountain bike wheels, plastic garden chairs, nuts and bolts, casters, all manufactured and flat-packed with cartoon-like instructions in China and sent off in containers to sites in need.  

Jens Thiel, in 2010, had a website loaded with photos of monobloc plastic chairs used in strange ways – I wrote about them at the time.  Thiel's site has disappeared unfortunately, but this designboom entry will do.  Is the plastic chair the cheapest and most easily found seat for a wheelchair?  Probably, but it also has a look that is not medical, which is perhaps more important.  It is a chair first, with wheels.  This seems important somehow, that one sits in a chair rather than a dark complex piece of disability kit.

Increasingly, sitting here in one of the G8/G7 countries, I feel locked into technologies that are complex, dark, inaccessible, expensive and not very nice looking.  There is a revolution going on that does not extend to the society in which I find myself. 

Tuesday
May202014

keepods

When I started to write these posts, in 2009, the second posting was about the Jiko stove, which I'd seen on the Shell/BBC World Challenge, an annual competition of solutions to problems in parts of the world without services, especially electricity and clean water.  There were rafts of efficient and safe braziers designed that would minimise the amount of fuel used and the smoke emitted; there were ingenious water purification solutions such as the Jompy where a water pipe ran through the stove and purified the water in the process.  There was the Sudeepa, a beautiful little glass jar with a screw on lid and flattened sides used as an oil lamp that if knocked over would not roll.  2009, the invention of devices was in full throttle.   

Gradually the Shell/BBC World Challenge changed from solutions, such as prosthetic limbs made from melted down pop cans, to something more entrepreneurial, so that now there were cooperatives that made things, such as baskets out of telephone wire, or ottomans from crochetted plastic bags, or honey from collective bee hives, that needed the competition money to get such things to market, especially foreign markets.   Projects such as these are the staple of the Thousand Villages stores, and recently, Holt Renfrew's oddly disjunctive charity-based product cabines full of interesting small things, bangles and satchels from places like India or Ghana.  

There was a shift from products to solve local problems to the marketting of local products calibrated for conscientious westerners.  World Challenge stopped running.

Now, in 2014, five years later, the most revolutionary products are technological: how to get the still developing world hooked into global systems and this is happening with lightning speed: the underbanked, 50% of the world, increasingly use mobile payment networks such as M-Pesa, a mobile network moving quickly through Africa, Afghanistan and India. The fellow living in a street market selling stuff to tourists isn't paid in cash, but through his mobile phone.  Would I know how to do this?  uh. no.  

Keepod is an IT project, developed by Nissan Bahar and Franky Imbesi in Tel Aviv.  It loads a USB flash drive with an Android 4.4 operating system that then uses any kind of discarded computer whose hard drive has been removed as a temporary facilitator.  They have separated the hardware (simple mechanics and can be shared with many people) from the software (individual and portable). This is, so far, running in Kenya – pictures of lots of children with their keepods on a cord around their necks.  In an interview, Bahar and Imbesi said that within minutes children were posting images to facebook – it isn't that the knowledge of the rest of the world is lacking, even children know what they can't do, it is the equipment that is lacking.  This is quite different from one laptop per child which requires literally millions of computers.  This requires millions of USB drives which Bahar and Imbesi feel can be sold at $7 each: $5 for the drive, $2 for the program, loaded and upgraded locally at a keepod point in a market – a new small business.   

The keepod is the latest solution to what is ultimately an equalisation of access, and is actually more nimble and sustainable than anything I see around me. 

Monday
May122014

once strong, but now weak, systems

This video, Andy Merrifield outlining the basis for his book The New Urban Question, came by way of Rodrigo Barros, a Chilean architect currently training as a construction logistician for Médecins Sans Frontiers.  Barros did a brilliant piece for On Site review 31: mapping | photography on the 'rightness' of maps that centre on the United States and allow South America to drift off the global view.  His is the view from the South.
 
This particular view, after forty years of intense geopolitical theorising from Latin America, is his lens, and so he picks up on a certain theoretical vocabulary found in Merrifield's brief outline of just how Manuel Castells' explanation of urban social movements has been superseded by a new form of divisive capitalism.  

When states can no longer afford the social services they subsidised in the full flush of postwar capitalist development, their disinvestment in such things as health care and housing pushed such services into the private sector.  This gave rise to urban social movements which struggled to hold governments to their role as keepers of some sort of public faith.  Merrifield feels that the turn to mass privatisation in the 1980s and 90s obliviated urban social movements and that a new paradigm must be developed that returns public space to the public, public health to the public, public housing to the public, the public service to the public.  

Just yesterday there was an interview on CBC with the head of Canada Post whose former position was as the head of Pitney Bowes. There we are. Pitney Bowes is an American private mail and data service for businesses.  Under the Pitney Bowes model, Canadian mail is no longer a public service, it is a corporate business, thus the end of home delivery, the shocking price of stamps and the full support of our current neo-conservative Thatcher/Reaganite form of government. This gives me particular grief.  We are a non-profit publisher with a publications mail contract with Canada Post which gives us a discount on mailing On Site review, except for international mailings which tend never to arrive.  Or if they do arrive it has taken six months to get to, say, Denmark. In contrast, Valery Didion's Criticat is sent from France at a book rate, €2.95, which gets here in a week.  In return I send On Site back to them at publications rate which may or may not get there several months later, or I spend $18 to send it letter mail which gets there in a week.  

Somehow Canada as a wide, dispersed country only sees urban social movements of any consequence in Toronto and Montréal, especially Montréal, infrequently and now rarely, Toronto.  In the rest of the country there isn't the critical mass to act collectively from say, Alberta to Manitoba, so sparse is the population. CBC used to be the glue that held us together, its recent cuts have been lethal.  It is all one with the sacking of scientists, the gutting of census collection and analysis, the cutting free of wounded Canadian Forces from their pensions, cutbacks to universities: the private sector is supposed to be picking up the slack, but it isn't.  And the time is past, according to Merrifield, for Castells' urban social movements to have any influence at all.  In this country, we missed that phase altogether.  

Wednesday
Apr232014

very weak systems

Years ago, when I first went to teach at University of Texas at Austin, there was a bunch of GSD and Yale people on the cut that I was in who were very exercised about weak form.  At the time it was a keen discussion and now, twenty years later, trying to fix a 1930s mantel clock where the brass frame that holds the glass on the front has parted ways with its hinge, I find I am deep into weak systems.  The glass is held in by a flimsy gilt bezel which acts as a loose spring.  It is surprisingly effective.  As I am not a jeweller by trade and can't actually do a fine pinpoint weld to attache two pins to the brass frame, I have devised a circle of wire to also act as a spring, that will sit just inside the frame, and the ends will stick into the holes drilled in the hinge bit that is bolted to the clock face wall.  

Whatever, it is still very interesting to think about weak things that exert just enough pressure on the world to exist and to do whatever their job is with an utter economy of means.  It would be interesting to re-survey the whole world of weak systems that work together to hold things together: in architecture and urbanism, infrastructure and construction.  Such as the flimsy flimsy 2 x 4 props that support precast walls of great thickness and strength before the structure that holds them up permanently is in place.  And so on.
 

I wrote this a couple of years ago and it is the basis for the present call for articles on weak systems. My wire spring didn't work, I realised the bezel had been broken and a section had been lost so the spring was incomplete and couldn't muster enough tension to stay in place.  Eventually it went to a clock man in Victoria who stuck the glass to the frame with great blobs of silicon and said, with great satisfaction, 'this will never come apart now.'  Well, this is true, but not so elegant.

Monday
Apr072014

Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014

Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014. Tate Britain, London

Phyllida Barlow is the artist chosen for the Tate Britain Commission of 2014 and her work has recently opened – riotous spills of debris from the doorways and halls of the neo-classical Duveen Galleries.

The Tate Gallery has always been about British art and there has been much problematising of its founding and its legacy: Tate & Lyle was a Victorian Quaker sugar refinery established after the abolition of slavery, nonetheless sugar as a prime commodity was part of the infamous Atlantic Triangle of the eighteenth century: Africa for slaves sent to the Americas to extract resources shipped to Europe for refinement and consumption. The International Slavery Museum shares the Albert Dock with Tate Liverpool.  Henry Tate had the Tate Gallery built to house his art collection which he donated to the state. Duveen was an art dealer whose family wealth came from importing art and antiques to Britain.  He funded the extension of the original 1890s Tate in 1926 and again in 1937.  Patrons and collectors of art – Clore: finance, property, retail, Courtauld: textiles, Tate: sugar — without them, and many others, Britain wouldn't have its public galleries at all.  

With this kind of financial, industrial and accumulative spatiality, Phyllida Barlow's work is particularly human, warm, messy, chaotic, inexpensive, temporal and ephemeral. She has worked her whole career with detritus gathered from skips and building sites.  Her project is not the diamond encrusted skull that critiques the twenty-first century art market, rather it is the making of 'things' from rich found materials, the assembly of structures from the unusable. Barlow herself saw the Duveen site as having 'two particular contradictory aspects: the tomb-like interior galleries against the ever-present aspect of the river beyond'.  dock ambles and shambles through several galleries with vast paintings pinned to complex wooden constructions that both crawl and tower.  It is, apparently, much like most of Barlow's work: massive installations that are dismantled after their exhibition, i.e. work with no commercial value but clearly of great import.

dock isn't just great piles of junk; the name itself takes one to the noise, the cranes, the hectic nature of docks from a time when they dealt with more than just shipping containers.  Once on a passenger ship docked briefly at Le Havre, I watched as a crate of wine being winched aboard fell back to the dock splintering into a pile of sticks, bleeding burgundy across the concrete.  Docks were full of tremendous incident.  Even watching logs loaded at the CPR docks in tiny Nanaimo was fraught.  

Although I can't see Phyllida Barlow's dock, from the photographs one senses that these pieces must rustle and creak – they are wood, wood always moves.  Leaving the term dock aside, as sculptures they are unfixed, they cannot be perceived without walking in, around and through them, as one does architecture.  The scope of this installation is complex and extended, it rings of bomb sites and redevelopment clearance, poverty and an obsessive love of materials, no matter what their status. 

Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014. Tate Britain, London

Friday
Mar282014

Powell & Moya, Skylon, 1951

The Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers. Photo by Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.
As we have a call for articles out for On Site review 32: weak systems.  I've been thinking of such things: Buckminster Fuller's postwar experiments with geodesics and space frames: how light can structure be – how much material can be removed so that what is left is the stress diagram alone?  Jeffrey Lindsay was one of his young engineers – from Montreal, ex-RCAF WWII pilot. It all coalesced evidently in 1948 at Black Mountain College where a combination of sculptors, Josef Albers, John Cage, Fuller, Merce Cunningham and ex-pilot engineering students who had learned about geodetics as navigational theory (straight lines that describe a sphere) experimented with building domes out of lath.  

Lindsay moved to southern California, but continued to work with both Fuller and other architects: he was the engineer for the vast space frame at Simon Fraser University, 1966.  If you look him up on wikipedia there is a huge image of Fuller's geodesic dome for the US pavilion at Expo 67.  These are dramatic structures: transparent, minimal material with huge impact: architecture no longer a solid against the world, but a structural system that mediates between internal space and the outside – it turns the outside into a romantic vision of otherness, seen through a scrim.


Powell & Moya, Skylon, Festival of Britain, London. 1951.And from a different angle altogether, another example of structural minimalism is Powell & Moya's 1951 Skylon, the overriding symbol of a magical technological future for Britain.  It really was a lovely thing, a javelin balanced on three slack cables strung from three steel posts canted away from the centre to balance the weight of the skylon.  It is stabilised by near-invisible guy wires. How exhilarating it must have been to see, unlike anything that had ever come before.   This was not to be inhabited but to be looked at: straight symbolism, which was also its downfall as it was dismantled and cut up for scrap when the government changed from Labour who used the Festival of Britain as an event to mark the change in Britain's fortunes –away from rationing and bomb sites to a gleaming future; not surprising that it fell given the postwar economic state – to the Conservatives under Churchill, cold warriors who felt Britain should recover its imperial trappings from half a century and two world wars earlier.  

I don't think American structural minimalism ever had this political charge – postwar United States was in its technological ascendency, a consequence of the space race, another cold war contest. The American reaction was to rush toward this conflict, rather than bluster about a glorious past.

Wednesday
Mar262014

John Stezaker on collage

In this lull while On Site reivew 31: mapping | photography is being printed, forgive me if I am over-enthusiastic about Gestalten, a Berlin publisher of all things architecture and design, which I have just discovered.  There is gestalten.tv, which these videos come from, there are stores, there are fonts, there is much to look at and think about. 

This is an interview with John Stezaker on collage, which he sees as a subtraction of material rather than the building up of material usually attributed to it.  And he comments on the sheer weight of images we live under, that the bombardment of images reveals an 'unconscious mythology' made evident.  He works in film - this excerpt opens with a bit of one. 

I've always thought in Stezaker's work there was more than a passing reference to the German collagists of the 1930s and 40s – Hannah Hoch for example, especially in Stezaker's use of images from that era, reassembled in an eery grotesque, but when he speaks about it, you get a different sense, of someone who is working almost as a photographer capturing moments where the scene suddenly assembles itself and speaks.

 

John Stezaker—Resonating Nostalgic Lyricism from Gestalten on Vimeo.

Tuesday
Mar252014

the violence of drawing: Yara Pina, 2011

From The Drawing Center's description:

Yara Pina is one of 54 artists chosen for The Drawing Center’s new Open Sessions program, which will  explore drawing as an expansive practice, tool, metaphor and  theme. Open Sessions offers alternative opportunities for contextualizing and exhibiting artwork, bringing a range of artists into conversation with each other. Pina’s work dialogues with traditional drawing by using one of its most tried-and-true tools, charcoal, to aggressively deconstruct the gallery space.

Yara Pina. Untitled 4, 2012 ; Untitled 2, 2011 - videos in loop from Yara Pina on Vimeo.

Thursday
Mar202014

The Weather Diaries, 2014

News of this, The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale, by Cooper & Gorfer, came by way of Nicole Dextras, no slouch at weather herself.

The video is a look at a very distant, very connected, place.

The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale by Cooper & Gorfer from Gestalten on Vimeo.

The Weather Diaries, Nordic Fashion Biennale by Cooper & Gorfer from Gestalten on Vimeo.

 

Tuesday
Mar182014

Afterlife, 2013

The Arcade Fire video, Afterlife, directed by the remarkable Emily Kai Bock.

Thursday
Mar132014

London calling

Joe Strummer, London Calling, circa 1979

Yes, it is writing, a heap of writing, the sign of the hand, a document of visual culture, but it also sings at us embedding the music, the words, the exhilaration of hearing it again, and again for the rest of the day.  I don't need the recording, it is in this scrap of paper. 

Tuesday
Mar112014

Robert Smithson: a heap of language, 1966

Robert Smithson. A Heap of Language, 1966. pencil drawing, 6 1/2 x 22 inches. The Over Holland Collection. © Estate of Robert Smithson

My sense of language is that it is matter and not ideas - i.e., "printed matter". R.S.June 2, 1972.

The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt, New York, New York
University Press, 1979

Monday
Mar102014

before delete, cut and paste

The first two pages of chapter 11 of Jane Austen's manuscript of Persuasion, written in 1816 and published, after her death, in 1818. The British Library, Shelfmark: Egerton MS 3038, ff.9v-10.

The original pages appear to have been trimmed and pasted onto larger sheets and bound into a book.  Slow composition, time to smooth out thoughts and ideas.  Do ideas come to us more quickly because we can now type more quickly?  or is writing with a straight pen a form of editing as you go.

Why do I turn so often to images of handwriting?  Perhaps because it is a form of drawing, mark-making, with its own rhythms based in the hand, the arm and the body; the hand, the pen and the ink; the brain, the hand, the words.

Thursday
Mar062014

Jonas Dahlberg: memory wound, 2014

Jonas Dahlberg. Memory Wound, winning competition entry to Memorial Sites After 22 July. image: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

Memory Wound, above, is one of three memorials to the victims of the massacre at Utøya, Norway in 2011.  The rock cut out of the Sørbråten peninsula to make the channel will be used to make another memorial in Oslo on the site of a car bomb, also Anders Breivik's responsibility.  

According to The Guardian, Dahlberg has spoken of poetic rupture, beauty indissolubly linked to loss. One wall of the cut is inscribed with the names of the children killed, the other is carved out into a ledge from which to view the names.  The cut is aligned with Utøya – it doesn't eradicate Utøya by being placed literally on the site of the massacre itself.

This is how such massively inexplicable deaths are memorialised these days, by massive land art.  There is little else that we feel is significant enough to approach the scale of war, for this was an act of war between a race-based fundamentalism and an unwitting, wealthy, liberal and secular populace.  It seems to be too difficult to explain how Anders Breivik came to be, the best we can do is to set up sites where we can contemplate what he did.  Memory Wound is a powerful place to do this; does it address the rise of anti-islamic fundamentalism in Europe? Not really, it addresses the children, their absence – the effect of a cause that remains active, not absent.

Land art puts human activities into the context of the earth as a planet, the sun as a star, time measured in light years – things almost beyond comprehension for all we have been taught how geology and astronomy works.  These things have become our ineffable, things so detached from the development of the human race that they absorb human failings.  It's cosmic and all, but there are other Breiviks out there, and they are unmoved.  

Wednesday
Mar052014

John Thomas Serres: an artist in the Channel Fleet, 1799-1800

John Thomas Serres, Point de Roquilon, France. Captain M. K. Barritt. Eyes of the Admiralty: J T Serres, An Artist in the Channel Fleet, 1799-1800. London: National Maritime Museum, 2014. Image: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. Don't think you'll find it on the UKHO website however, this appears to be a working website of great complexity for contemporary documents, maps, charts and shipping publications.

About the time I was young and tooling around on a little sailboat in Nanaimo Harbour, I found a book of drawings of the BC coast done by an artist on Captain Vancouver's ship. They looked much like Serres' paintings (above) – navigation charts, meant to point out signal points, rocks bays, harbours and dangers.  These and Vancouver's drawings, which I've never been able to find again, delineated land, not from land itself but from an opposing position on the water.  The land is the objective other.  

It is interesting, from our map-dominated representations of land today, that in the eighteenth century elevations were as necessary as reckoning by the sun: they are visual one-to-one maps without translation to a plan.  Of course they eventually had charts, but Vancouver was in uncharted territory: a drawing or a painting bypassed translation, gave the context and the scale of the coast, especially if it was potentially hostile.  

From the water, the land-bound built environment is very small – a toytown between the sky, the mountains and the sea, all huge. Even approaching a city such as Vancouver by ferry, its complex urbanity is itself but a pale cluster, not very tall, almost irrelevant.  From the middle of the strait one can see that the Island is the top of a mountain range, that the strait is full of small islands, that there are dozens of boats from tugs to freighters, container ships to barges: daily life on a terrain that remains mysterious to those on land.

Monday
Mar032014

on metaphor

James Gallagher, Domestic 2, collage, 2010 

This is how many of us feel after the grant and essay submission deadlines of last week – the whole community of architects who write or curate exhibitions, or try for the Prix de Rome, and publishers of same, and then [brkt] setting its call for submissions deadline on the same day: it did a lot of people in.  

James Gallagher feels (as quoted by Rick Poyner in 'Collage Now') that 'collage is the perfect medium for coming to terms with a culture saturated in images, both printed and online ... today's collage artists carve out fragments from this frenzy and force the disparate pieces to become one...'   This is probably the definition of all art, that one accumulates things: ideas, marks, scraps of paper perhaps, maps, photos – everything trailing histories, accumulated meanings, ambitions and contexts – and then makes something out of them, in some other medium. 

I doubt that fragments ever re-coalesce to 'become one' leaving their separateness behind.  Rather they are used to force a metaphor that might have some sort of unity, but which is only effective if it is complex and layered enough to cut through the frenzy of information, images and ideas with which we are surrounded.  But is this frenzy actually a frenzy, or is it just a very rich world we live in?

In previous times it was probably organised belief systems that sorted out our information for us; in a secular world lots of other things step in and on competing terrains of ideology and politics we are confused.  We have always turned to art to make sense of things in that completely illogical way that artists consume and transform and represent the confusing, from mediaeval religious icons that stood in for the utterly ineffable, to poets that crammed it all into fourteen lines, to composers who shout into an open piano, as did John Tavener for The Whale, planting the transcendent and very useful understanding of metaphor firmly into our young heids.

Whether or not metaphor is actually what allows me to make sense of things, I don't really care.  It does, and that'll do.

Tuesday
Feb252014

Saskia Sassen: dense urbanised terrain – not a city

Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities. Part of a series, this one with Saskia Sassen, on the MoMAmultimedia site.

Monday
Feb242014

Thomas Morrison: families on the isle of Lewis, 1900s

Island life: a Lewis family, photographed by Norman Morrison in the first decade of the 1900s. Photograph: Tormod an t-Seòladair

The kinds of faces that built Canada, Highlanders and Islanders from Scotland. These, from Lewis, were photographed when they didn't know what they looked like – there is no rearranging of their faces for the camera: this was them.  No one is allowed that grim set to the mouth anymore, even if you actually feel it.  

For such a hard life, living in that pile of stones and sods that is a black house, every woman has a bit of lace somewhere - a collar, a shawl, a bed cover — clearly something so clean and precious, in which to invest one's pride.  

The image above is linked to an article on how the photos were found, and the one below takes you to a slide show of them.

A family group taken between 1910 and 1920. Photograph: Tormod an t-Seòladair . This was the era of mass emigration from Scotland to the Canadian West, especially; my own great grandparents in 1910 for example. It was hard in Scotland, it was hard on the Canadian prairies.

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