This beautiful sign comes by way of Ginger at Deep-Fried Kudzu, a huge site of folk art, material culture, food, landscape and buildings centred on Alabama, but also on the South in general.
Kenji Nakayama, mechanical engineer, shoe designer, artist based in Boston, here. Detailing and lettering of great exuberance.
And below, a vimeo trailer for a well-discussed film on American sign painters. For something so fundamental to the look of America, the painters are a near outlaw lot. Well, maybe that is the point. Lose the signwriters and lose that nostalgic, hand-made quality that used to characterise the States, but increasingly ceases to do so.
Everyone has always heard that Andy Warhol was an illustrator, originally, of shoes and cookbooks. I was convinced my old Joy of Cooking was done by him, but it turns out these disembodied hands in Juliet Greco sleeves were actually done in 1931. Somehow I don't believe this date. These hands are so like Warhol's in Amy Vanderbilt's 1961 cookbook, below. Nonetheless, such drawings are both clear and bizarre: what the hand needs to know about making bread, or rolled sandwiches. Pinwheels these were called. Just a couple of years later the Velvet Underground was formed as Warhol's house band.
In American Masters: Lou Reed, rerun on PBS on the weekend, Reed said that Warhol had a levelling eye – politicians, stars, soup cans – all were treated the same. This determined indifference is the ultimate democracy: the line drawing of two hands cutting the side off a loaf of bread means nothing other than cutting off the side of the loaf. It isn't a cleverly-shaped baguette or a whole grain loaf — it appears to be an unsliced wonder loaf. These hands don't even have sleeves. The bread board has no perspective, neither does the loaf; there are no crumbs. The knives, the long pin and their blunt attacks on the bread are both clumsy and sinister. I find the drawings both wry and amusing. They are unarticulated, but not inarticulate.
Suzanne Moore wrote a good piece in the Guardian about how postmodernism put paid to the avant-garde which can perhaps only exist within modernist certainties. She writes: Reed's death has hit my generation because his presence anchored us into a time and a place when the avant garde was still meaningful. .. His death made us remember the music that made us want to leave our small towns and our small lives, a time when transgression was not simply a marketing technique.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side was all over ordinary radio in 1973, when I remember listening to it, in Nanaimo, during my year out from the AA. It didn't shock, it seemed right, I got it, as did we all.
It was reportage.
sorry, I didn't ad the ads, they just all of a sudden have started to appear. damn.
Marketing, the bane of contemporary life.
A dandy piece by Rosalind Krauss on reading, or not reading, Twombly. It was written for Artforum in 1994 about the catalogue raisonne of Twombly's works, overseen by Heiner Bastian. Krauss writes about the various projects that assign meaning to Twombly's paintings from those who take the classical references, such as Virgil scrawled across a canvas, as evidence of Twombly's classical humanism and a deep reading of the deep past, to Barthes, who throws all that out and speaks against analogy in Twombly's mark making, where 'Virgil' is a citation running against any sort of classical reference, and is instead a position, modern, cultural, irresponsible.
Krauss writes instead about graffiti — 'performative, suspending representation in favour of action', which is what Action Painting wanted: all emotion and gesture. She writes that 'graffiti's character is the strike against form, ensuring a field in which the only way the image of the body can survive is a part-object, a concatenation of obscene emblemata...' There are marks, but they aren't symbols, ciphers or citations, rather they are fragments that protest the self-reflexivity of his Abstract Expressionist peer group, Pollock, de Kooning and Motherwell.
Twombly has a writing hand. The work from the 1950s, yesterday's Poems to the Sea, is perhaps a protest against the vigorous, obliterating masculinity of Motherwell, but it became how he made his marks. By time he had appointed Bastian to assemble essays for the catalogue raisonne, the summary of an artist's life, he quite liked the idea that he was a channel to Apollo and Dionysus. One might, towards the end of one's career find it more noble than being a thirty-year old artist working through artistic differences with one's friends in New York.
Rosalind Krauss, always true to the work, restates the critic's responsibility to make an independent reading. I love her for this.
I looked up Sesostris, whose coronation we are presented with, above, and found this sculpture, below.
I would say that in Twombly's Sesostris we are looking at a crown. A fragment of a sculpture. Sesostris III has departed.
Rosalind Krauss. 'Cy was here; Cy's up'. Artforum International Magazine, September 1994
Language is always an abbreviation.
John Berger, 'Post-Scriptum'. Audible Silence: Cy Twombly at Daros. Exhibition catalogue, Loewenbraeu-Areal in Zurich, 2002
I published a photo of one of these mushroom columns during my concrete discussion last year, which covered issues of formwork, brutalism and transparent construction methods. The historic value of brutalism, erupting in England over the demolition of Peter and Alison Smithson's Robin Hood Gardens, has reached this brutalism backwater, where the only truly béton brut building we have in this small city, the Planetarium, is never discussed, but dreary copies of copies of le Corbusier are. It is as if theoretical debates are heard as murmurings from distant stars – misheard actually and applied to completely inappropriate pre-cast concrete-panelled buildings.
The photo above, of a kind of grafitti paradise, says nothing about the architecture, its function or ownership (so this isn't political protest) but does say something about the identification of concrete surfaces as durable canvas and about gaps in surveillance. Elaborate wall paintings take time; time is allowed here. It isn't the grafittiists that disrespect the buildings, but the owners of the buildings themselves who are responsible for their care.
On the list of stats for this website, a post I did on MacLean's compendiums a couple of years ago gets a surprising number of visits, every week, week after week. I actually found a compendium in a box I was sorting through after the flood, not mine, but my brother's, from Grade 5.
It starts with the correct way to sit, to place your arm, to angle the paper. In fact the whole compendium is not just about the correct way to write, but how to conduct yourself as a good person, how to write nice thank you letters, get well letters, all in a beautifully smooth hand. If someone hadn't commented on MacLean himself, that he appeared at schools and did magic tricks, I would find this sort of teaching unbearable. As it was, out in Victoria, he never came to our school and we were left with the rules. I was an earnest student, tried hard to have perfect writing. My brother clearly approached it all with a sense of irony.
It looks sort of asemic to me.
Fred Smeijers, Dutch graphic designer, formed a design studio called Quadraat in 1992, in Arnhem.
Punch cutting is a 16th century way of making type that Quadraat, the typeface, is based upon. A counterpunch is a punch that makes punches.
When making a piece of type for a letter press, the original was cut on a steel punch, then a mould was made from it, and then type was cast from the mould. To cut the original letter, the steel had to be cut with sufficient depth into the matrix. Internal curves and angles are extremely difficult to cut deeply, so a tempered steel counterpunch, harder than the matrix, was used to cut the negative spaces inside the letter. The counterpunch, used for each letter gave a consistency to the corners and curves.
Smeijers wrote a book about this, Counterpunch: making Type in the 16th Century, Designing Typefaces Now.
In terms of writing, it is always interesting to find that no matter what the historical investigation, or the mechanics of making a font today, there is this scrap of paper where the letters are drawn out by hand; where the writing of the letters, the drawings, are so delicate.
Asemic writing: writing without easy translation into meaning, leaving one to contend with the marks themselves. I'm not sure that marks that look like writing are, actually, writing. I think they are drawing, and all the senses that they resemble writing are mechanical. The hand makes marks. Sometimes the marks are encoded, and we read them; other times the marks carry other things, and all we can do is look at them.
This comes byway of an article by John Foster in Observatory on Michael Jacobson's website, The New Post-Literate: A Gallery of Asemic Writing. Out of the long list of examples with the Observatory article, I picked this one. It looks like something I understand, some of the others I don't. Perhaps I understand how these marks are made, and so feel a kinship. This is not meaning however. I don't know what this page says, if it says anything other than that one can make such marks. It is not text.
Nonetheless, there are books written asemically, no doubt as magical as viewing any kind of calligraphy in a language one does not know. It could be saying anything at all and we would never know.
Michael and Paddy Rafferty in Galway, September 1982.
This is lilting, puirt a beul in Scottish Gaelic, portaireacht bhéil in Irish Gaelic: rhythm and tone, mouth music, coded messages perhaps, perhaps vocables. Can't understand it, but I do like the ties, the shirts, the concentration, the relative immobility of the two brothers, the relentless beat. This is a lovely thing.
It isn't enough just to build public parks, orchards and other kinds of urban forests and urban farms, there must be a culture to support such things. Farzaneh Bahrami in On Site review 25: identity, wrote about the public tradition of use in what we might see as the very inhospitable landscapes of modern transportation infrastructure:
There is memory, history, tradition, culture and family here, not dependent on the quality of the space. The point isn't to design a better highway median, but rather recognise that there is more to all of this than aesthetics.
One may read Farzaneh Bahrami's essay 'Tehran, Occasionally Public' here:
In Vancouver, Sole Food Farms has leased, for $1/year, a former PetroCan gas station one-acre lot adjacent to the Downtown Eastside, and made an urban orchard on it. Five hundred fruit-bearing dwarf species, planted over 800 containers, will be fully cropping in 3-5 years. In the meantime, the containers also produce ground crops, sold to restaurants and grocery stores. Downtown Eastside residents are hired, the produce is organic, it is intensive farming with an enormous embedded social energy.
Sole Food has four sites throughout the downtown core; on this one the ground is contaminated, being a former gas station, thus the above-ground containers, which can also be moved if the land is reclaimed by the owner. There are always development pressures on land in a downtown area, an acre is a large plot and the cost of de-contamination is linked to technological advance, so the land could be developed: condos and such. However, there is something so fundamentally optimistic about an orchard on the move if it ever comes to pass.
Vancouver is so forward-thinking I don't think it is actually part of Canada.
This was a four-hour, 3,000 square foot urban park, done with a Block Party permit from the City of Chicago. What is the point if it is only for an afternoon? To give people an alternative view of the city where there are not cars and roadways become lawn?
I bit more useful are Havana's agriponicos, below, where raised beds are built on rubble sites, old parking lots and in city parks:
In response to the US blockade, in place since 1961 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, between 1989 and 1994 these were mixed subsistence farms with animals and crops with all products consumed by the producer. After 1994 restrictions were eased and crops could be sold by the growers at markets.
It makes one question the luxury of the whole concept of the public park – a space for the eye and the mind – we have in our cities, that produce little in the way of material well-being. The Chicago pop-up above is its apotheosis: wasteful of resources and energy to make a rhetorical point. Meanwhile we have to drive long distances spewing fumes and exhaust to get to a local-ish farmers market, or else get our vegetables sent from the US because for some reason this is cheaper for supermarket chains to do than to buy locally.
Our open-space values need some revision here, not just fun projects, but serious and permanent connections between urban open space and food provision.
Park(ing) day, originally a guerrilla project in San Francisco in the mid 2000s, now spread over many cities around the world. On one day in September, parking meters are fed and the parking space is made into a temporary park, rather than being occupied by a car. Fine, point made, city streets are inhospitable with their wall-of-steel edges, when they could be lined with boulevards of grass and trees instead.
However, a festival aspect has entered Park(ing) Day, a celebration of pop-up parks: it is not longer a guerrilla action, it is sanctified as a street festival in many cities, street fair licences are bought, the protest element has been infantilised. Balloons abound.
The surest way to disarm protest is to commodify it, to bring it on board as a celebration. What is actually being celebrated here? That one day in a whole year, car parking is suspended in a few streets? Point lost.