Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The 2006 Whitney Biennial

Most writings on the 2006 Whitney Biennial focus on the canny way it reflects the “apocalyptic mood at the moment,” or on its above-board internationalism. Michael Kimmelman, in the Times, says that one of the exhibition’s unstated goals “hop[es to] recalibrate the image of the art world as something other than youth-besotted and money-obsessed.” The Village Voice’s Jerry Saltz calls Day for Night—the first named Biennial—“the liveliest, brainiest, most self-conscious Whitney Biennial I have ever seen.” He’s got the last part right, I’d venture.

Whitney Biennial logo

Call it the ‘artless’ Biennial. It’s no fun, homely, and solipsistic. Tyler Green calls itan awesomely bad exhibition,” citing poor installation and “curatorial gasbagging that turns wall text into wall essays.” (We part on his objections to curatorial ‘foregrounding,’ which seems to me to be a reasonable aim in pomo times—it’s just that the curators’ vector is, well, uninteresting.) Compare and contrast the just-opened Berlin Biennial, which has forsaken a focus on the new (or a metacommentary on the state of the art world) for one on place: Massimiliano Gioni—one of the curatorial triumvirate—spoke that “we came to understand in Berlin were the incredible layers of history and all the different ways that artists work and show here—not just in institutions, but in temporary spaces, apartments.” (Other exhibition sites include an office, a ballroom, the shuttered Jewish School for Girls, a former horse stable, a church, and a cemetery.) In the end, Christopher Knight best diagnoses what’s wrong with this and future editions of the Whitney Biennial: in jettisoning the show’s raison d’être without abandoning the Biennial itself, the curators doom their mission.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Death Disco

The joke, of course, may well be on me if fifteen years from now
everything on the radio sounds like this.
But it wouldn’t surprise me too much.

—On Second Edition, from the
August 1980 issue of
Stereo Review


PiL performing “Death Disco”
“Top of the Pops,” 21 July 1979

Simon Reynolds’s justly hailed (and newly released, stateside) Tear It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 [the book’s website is here, on Amazon here, and flogged on Slate here] has shone the spotlight on PiL’s first big American single, “Death Disco” (later redubbed “Swan Lake” for its Metal Box/Second Edition release on LP) : Reynolds cites the television performance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops”—the UK’s answer to “American Bandstand”—as one of the seminal musical moments in his young life. Inevitably, a clip has surfaced on YouTube, and a small viewer is posted here for your listening pleasure (and more, with Lydon’s plaid suit and Wobble’s leering, toothy grin—he’s sitting on a dentist’s chair for the duration).

Death Disco clip
“Swan Lake,” 7" sleeve (1979)

“Swan Lake” still sounds great—it feels as alien and as winsome as it did in 1979, when I’d sit, hunched over a speaker, trying to make sense of what seemed like pop, but also quite unlike pop. Cannily transposing Tchaikovsky’s theme to anchor the composition, they are the only notes given to the guitar (Wobble’s bass shoulders the lead). But it was the new end tacked onto the LP version—and not heard on the TotP clip—that really got me, and still does: it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. Some 3:50 into the selection, a passage that is anchored by a bubbling, atonal bass line and punctuated by a shimmering synth aurora borealis (foreshadowed a few dozen seconds prior) is clipped, and cut-and-paste-repeated four additional times. More than a decade of studio magic—overdubbing and looping—had preceded the release of Metal Box, and yet there was something radical about the simple juxtaposition of the clip with itself, and its abrupt beginning and end that seemed to herald the dawning of a new pop. It may be that all music crit is an elaborate justification of taste, but Second Edition—hey, it’s less than $7, new!—is worth sampling at twice the price.

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Opening day

Orioles logo

Before violent (and then brisk) spring weather returned to Baltimore yesterday, nature bestowed a few short hours of warm temps to Camden Yards as the Orioles got off to a winning start in 2006 by defeating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 9-6. (As I have said for a few days now, the battle for fourth place in the AL East has been joined.) Twenty-two-year-old lefty phenom Scott Kazmir started for the Rays, impressing with his fluid motion, but labored through the first two innings, throwing over sixty pitches and opening the door for the hometown ten. O’s starter Rodrigo Lopez was typically erratic, struggling at times but pitching well enough for the win. God bless Melvin Mora, and sweet-swinging rookie Nick Markakis (who made a ninth-inning appearance as a defensive replacement in right field)—things may never look this rosy for the rest of the season.

In some parts of Mobtown, Opening Day is a traditional holiday, the kind where old (and not-so-old) ladies hang decorations on the front of their house, or in the workplace. So it’s not as unusual as it might be that, while walking through the union cafeteria on Monday morning—I work in a large aerospace firm with a manufacturing facility—folks were stringing up black-and-orange crêpe paper, as well as large baseball cutouts, from the ceiling; covering buffet tables in white paper; and preparing for mass quantities of hot dogs with all the fixin’s.

This also marks the opening of the 2006 season for ffactory, whose proprietor has been laboring under the thumb of the man for far too long. Play ball!

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Friday, March 31, 2006


Y’all: I’ve been gone for so long that I thought it prudent to tweak the look, so that folks could tell, at a glance, that something had changed. I’m not really sure I like it, but it’ll do until something better comes along.

In the meantime, things are a little funky—some of the layouts are off, and I'll be nipping and tucking most of the weekend, I expect. Happy to be back!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ffalling down.

It’s hard to believe that folks are clamoring for posts, but clamor they do. I’m back from a busy end-of-year, the new year in Los Angeles, and rarin’ to go, but duty calls: I fly to dusty Ft. Worth for a business trip this eve, and, upon my return, drive my beloved to Nashville this upcoming weekend. Top tens, and more, next week—I promise.

[A Bawlamer locution, for those not in the know:] Happy new years!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sacred spaces

In the November issue of the Urbanite (pdf here), Zoë Saint-Paul looked at “The Sacred City,” a topic that we discussed when she was writing the piece, and one that I found provocative once she got me thinking about it. I am always on the lookout for peaceful places in Mobtown, but it doesn’t take long to see that the quiet and the sacred are not one and the same. At the time, I jotted down some notes on the theme and pass them along here, with only a few edits.


What constitutes the sacred? For me, it is something that enables one to feel one’s insignificance: to contemplate death, or the sweep of history, ideals, or one’s place in the world—in short, a feeling of humility. I place a great deal of importance on the divinity of man, however one thinks of that, and so I’m generally drawn towards the intersection, the harmony, of man and nature. (Many find the wilderness a sacred place, but not me—we are frequently reminded of the destructive power of nature.) That leaves one with the chance to catch a bit of the religious impulse, the happy and bittersweet feeling when one is connected to the moment, the place, oneself.

In the early 1980s, I was paying a visit to Père-Lachaise cemetery in northeast outskirts of Paris, searching for the grave of Guillaume Apollinaire, when I came upon a small group standing over his tomb, one of their number—a middle-aged man—reading several of his poems. I observed the rite from a distance, standing in the drizzling rain until they were done before my own visit. When we contemplate great men and women, their works, and their legacy, we may experience the sacred. I remember finding myself on the National Mall one winter evening when virtually no one was around, thinking about the remarkable founders honored there, a wellspring of patriotism.


Silbury Hill, Wiltshire
Silbury Hill, Wiltshire (1985)

[Photo credit: Marilyn Bridges, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes (Aperture, 1986); this largest man-made hill in Europe reaches 130 feet in height and covers some 5.25 acres. Believed to have been built in four stages beginning in c. 2500 BCE, it is said to be the burial place of King Sil, who was interred sitting on horseback. In fact, it may have served as an astronomical observatory.]


Relative quiet is helpful, but not required. I enjoy being out-of-doors where other people are going about their business, but not engaging me directly. I love the sound of the tugboats in the harbor at Fells Point, of the trains as they make their way through east Baltimore, of (even!) the crowd at the ballpark on a beautiful September evening.

When I was visiting the pyramids at Giza, I was endlessly frustrated at my inability to find peace in what is clearly a magical place—not the crowds, actually—the place is so big that it’s easy to avoid others, at least if everyone is pursuing the same strategy—but they aren’t: folks are hawking camel rides, selling souvenirs, offering to show you around, and they won’t go away. Later in the day, when I was several pyramids down at Saqqara (the “step pyramid”) and a storm was threatening, I [more or less] had the place to myself. Much smaller than Giza, but more personally profound, since I had a little slice of quiet.

A place to sit, or recline, is almost essential.
Physical comfort is essential. No cold!

Familiarity, a sense of being rooted to the place, helps—I’m pretty comfortable in Baltimore, having lived here for most of my adult life (save five years in California). I love Los Angeles, and have the ability to find a sacred place almost anywhere out there (it has more than a little to do with the climate, and the land, and the ocean, but there is also something about the place that makes me happy).

The familiar does not have to be due to direct experience. Folks feel comfortable in religious buildings the world over, and I felt at home in Paris the first time I ever visited, the result of years of middle-school French class indoctrination. I once visited Istanbul based on the purchase of a Victorian travelogue. Sometimes our “fit” with a place can be almost mystical, no?

The strange can be marvelous, but an awesome place is not the same as a sacred one.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

More camo

students in green
teachers in pink

“Camo Day” photos (more)

A second collection of odds and ends from the camouflaged world (part one is here, although you can likely scroll down the page a little to see it).

First up is the popularity in American secondary schools of “Camo Day,” where students and teachers dress appropriately [inset left]. Any Camo Day googling will quickly uncover a story on the Spurger [Texas] school that was flummoxed by a parent’s worry on the effect of a school tradition similar to Sadie Hawkins Day (where girls take the initiative in asking out boys): at Spurger, though, the boys often wore skirts or dresses for their celebration, raising a concern that the practice might lead to more widespread homosexuality. The school district cancelled the rite last year, replacing it with the manlier wearing of the ’flage.

Camo Madonna and Child
Camo Madonna and Child

In the late 1970s, French architect and artist Émile Aillaud imposed a camouflage pattern on seventeen high-rise buildings—the Cloud Towers [“Tours Nuages”], found in the Paris suburbs at Nanterre.


Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay has long employed camouflage in works investigating Western pastoralism and the theme of death in arcadia.


Reprinted here: several anecdotes from Patrick Wright’s review of DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material in the London Review of Books on the part of fine artists in the development of camouflage.

“I well remember at the beginning of the war,” Gertrude Stein wrote in 1938, “being with Picasso on the Boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso, amazed, looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is Cubism.” Stein went on to suggest that the entire First World War had been an exercise in Cubism. Hailing Picasso as the first to register an epoch-making change in the “composition” of the world, she concluded that a great convulsion had been necessary to awaken the masses to his discovery: “Wars are only a means of publicizing the thing already accomplished.”



Abbott Thayer (1849-1921), the “father of camouflage,” American portraitist and landscape artist, was well known for his “angel” paintings, in which he added feathery white wings to portraits of girls and young women. In 1915, the painter was due to meet army authorities in London in order to exhibit a prototype camouflaged garment for snipers. Thayer, who was suffering from nervous tension at the time and was probably also fed up with being mocked and derided, pulled out of the meeting at short notice, leaving John Singer Sargent to attend on his own. The British generals are said to have been horrified when Sargent opened Thayer’s valise. According to Richard Murray of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the prototype garment resembled an old hunting jacket, trailing strips of coloured cloth and daubed with patches of colour that reflected Thayer’s interest in harlequin costumes. It’s not clear whether the British generals objected to the scruffiness, the disruptive coloration or the cowardice that some military traditionalists still believed was at the root of the camoufleur’s new systems of deception.

Chili 1
Chili 8
Chili 5
Chili 4

Chili Williams
WWII camo posters

The British artist Solomon J. Solomon (1860-1927) and his colleagues came up with a grass-threaded fishing net, which would, he claimed, quickly become the “universal camouflage” material for French as well as British troops. Assisted by a carefully chosen band of scene painters from Covent Garden and the Drury Lane Theatre, Solomon also produced steel-cored observation posts that resembled slender willow trees. Other effects were achieved with wire-netting, dyed raffia, papier-mâché and plaster of Paris, the last proving especially useful in the construction of dummy heads that could be pushed up over a trench parapet to tempt enemy snipers into revealing their positions. Later, he worked at the secret Elveden Explosives Area in Suffolk, devising schemes that would enable Britain’s new tanks—which would later be dubbed “Cubist slugs”—to blend into the landscape. Solomon was repeatedly frustrated by the attitudes of the military command. He was mockingly addressed as “Mr. Artist” when he visited GHQ in France, and felt blocked in his attempts to ascertain the terrain in which tanks were likely to be deployed. The trainee tank soldiers appear to have remembered his designs not so much as Cubist attempts to confound enemy observers, but as ludicrous “pink sunsets” that would soon disappear under the flying mud of the Western Front.


The camouflage sections had enjoyed moments of popular acclaim on the Home Front. During the war bond campaign, Trafalgar Square was briefly turned into a “camouflaged” village, and a shop in Hackney’s Mare Street drew considerable attention when decked out as a camouflaged trench.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bawlamer happenings

Marnie poster
Connery and Hedren

A while back I wrote a little piece on Hitchcock’s Marnie, and how it was filmed on a little street in SoBo; in the comments, there was a short discussion on how parts must’ve been filmed on a sound stage, and other vagueries. Well, ff received an email yesterday from one Mark D. Phelps, who lived on Sanders Street when the movie was being fashioned. From Mr. Phelps’s note:

I grew up on Sanders Street in the 60’s and vividly remember the excitement of the filming. One time during the shooting I ran out of my house and up the street and was screamed at by the men in charge. We were all instructed to stay indoors and keep our front doors closed. Of the photos you published of the street, only one is the real street, the view from high up (filmed from the roof of a house at the top of the street on Riverside Avenue). The others are from a sound stage. How can you tell? Look at the steps. In those days the white steps were cheap wooden and hollow—you could crawl under them to hide if you were small enough. You can see the hollow area in the high shot. In the close-ups the steps are solid as if they were marble. … [T]he backdrop of the ship was totally fabricated and the subject of much consternation by the residents of south Baltimore when the film was released because it looked so fake. They covered up a dilapidated factory and a parking lot and inserted a huge ship at the end of the street.

(Thanks for writing, Mark!)


And then there’s this IM transcript, courtesy of a ffriend, reporting from his Hampden Estate on the goings-on in our little Appalachian burg.

Stalker: On Roland Ave, down toward 34th St., a couple of rednecks are dressing a couple deer. The skins are in bloody piles on the sidewalk.
honeyworsted: NO WAY!!
Stalker: The deer are tied to the fucking porch rails.
honeyworsted: FLICKR IT!!
Stalker: It's like the end times.
Stalker: They'll skin me.

honeyworsted: so are they like on their porch?
Stalker: No, they're standing on the ground, and the deer are hanging de-skinned from the white pickets.
Stalker: They're like flesh wreaths.
honeyworsted: wow
honeyworsted: wow
honeyworsted: we live in a city!!
Stalker: No, we live in Hampden.
Stalker: Fuck I'm gonna go see what I can do. Be back in 10 minutes.
honeyworsted: you should call the cops

Stalker: Well they weren't really friendly.
Stalker: I walked past and there were two little kids watching it.
Stalker: And I doubled back and stared at it for a second.
Stalker: One of the meat wreaths is now just a couple of leg shanks hanging from the railing.
Stalker: And one of the rednecks says, "Vegetarian, huh?"
Stalker: And his much taller and meaner seeming buddy laughed.
honeyworsted: hahaha
Stalker: And I said, "Naw, I just don't usually see things like that every day."
Stalker: And the taller and meaner redneck says, "You know, there really aren't that many rednecks in Baltimore anymore."
honeyworsted: couldn't they dress the deer in the woods??
Stalker: And then their "old ladies" came out on the porch.
honeyworsted: anymore??
Stalker: And I was outnumbered and outgunned.
honeyworsted: they sound kind of proud
Stalker: No, you bring the carcass back to your cave for dressing, unless you go to a dressing station out wherever you shot the defenseless fucking thing.

honeyworsted: fascinating!!
honeyworsted: bizarre!!
honeyworsted: so no pics huh?
Stalker: No, it's too dark, I would have had to have gotten along with them, but they were on the defensive. They're only done butchering one of them, if you want to go watch #2.
honeyworsted: does it look like they know what they're doing?
Stalker: Oh, they've killed and skinned before.
honeyworsted: isn't there some kind of law?
Stalker: I'll keep an eye out on Sundays and see if they do it again.
Stalker: I think it's disturbing the peace, maybe.
Stalker: It's gruesome as hell.
honeyworsted: there's got to be some kind of sanitation/health violation
Stalker: They got a hose!

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Polish trifecta

Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds has all the hallmarks of a difficult European movie: it is concerned with an unfamiliar postwar history, produced under strictly controlled Stalinist oversight, and filmed with meager resources. Yet Popiól i diament is accessible, visually sophisticated, and startlingly modern. Some background, from Criterion’s entry on the film:

Popiol i Diament
In 1999, Polish director Andrzej Wajda received an Honorary Academy Award for his body of work—more than thirty-five feature films, beginning with A Generation in 1955. Wajda’s second film, Kanal—the first ever made about the Warsaw uprising—secured him the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and started him on the path to international acclaim, secured with the release of his masterpiece, Ashes and Diamonds, in 1958. These three groundbreaking films ushered in the “Polish School” movement and later became known as the “War Trilogy.” But each boldly stands on its own—testaments to the resilience of the human spirit, the struggle for personal and national freedom, and Wajda’s unique contribution to his homeland and to world cinema.

One quickly grasps the fundamental tension of post-WWII Poland necessary to get into the movie: the populace, dependent on the Polish Home Army (actually, the Sluzba Zwyciestwu Polski—Service for Poland’s Victory—or SZP) during the Nazi occupation, is put between the incoming Soviet-backed Communist regime and the SZP’s resistance of the Stalinists. If you’ll pardon me, I’d like to go directly to a key critical angle: Wajda was fishing for an viewers under similar constraints. As Paul Coates puts it in his essay for the War Trilogy package, “[c]riticize the Home Army too strongly and the audience will turn on you; offend the regime, and your film might be amputated or aborted.” Given the inhibitions under which Wadjda was operating, it’s remarkable that Ashes and Diamonds is so balanced and at ease; in fact, this balance is one of the wellsprings of its modernity.

Ashes and Diamonds still

The other source is Zbigniew Cybulski’s electrifying performance as Maciek Chelmicki, the SZP resistance fighter who is tapped to assasinate a local Communist party secretary; Cybulski, a fish out of water, dressed in fifties beatnik garb down to his dark glasses—the actor refused to don period costumes, unlike the rest of the cast—is near-unanimously likened to James Dean, a rough contemporary, but there’s something of a young Brando in him, too. (Wajda, on yielding to Cybulski’s sartorial preferences: “I think that was the moment when I became a director. I was able to not direct what didn’t need to be directed.”) By all accounts, the young audience for the film found, in him, a countercultural spokesman.

Ashes and Diamonds poster

Criterion’s extras on Ashes and Diamonds are typically excellent; of particular interest is a revealing interview with the director who, on the precipice of the era of the auteur, demurs. The imagery and cinematography is exceptional—many writings dwell on the scene where Maciek lights afire the shot-glasses of vodka on the hotel bar, evoking votive candles; or mention the scene where a white horse wanders into the frame outside the hotel; or the striking image of Maciek and the barmaid (who figures prominently in activating his emotions on the night they make love) in the churchyard, with an inverted, crucified Christ bearing a crown of needle-like thorns [pictured, although the reduced resolution does not do it justice]. Wajda reports that Andrei Tarkovsky was reputed to admire the penultimate scene, where Maciek’s wound is revealed as he is hiding amidst white bedlinens, billowing on an array of clothelines at the outskirts of town. As the assassin clutches a sheet to his abdomen, a red bloodspot is revealed—a visual allusion to the Polish colors, visible as Maciek departs the hotel on the way to his murderous act.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, in spurning the auteur’s persona, Wajda found the balance that he sought, a balance that was necessary for the film to find its audience. Its presence is everywhere one looks: from politics to Maciek’s acute awareness of a choice between the seductiveness of a “normal” life with the blonde barmaid and the heroic life of the soldier fighting the Communists; the character of the party secretary, whose son is one of Maciek’s SZP brethren, is rendered in shades of gray; with the dynamic presence of Zbigniew Cybulski, it seems as if it were filmed ten years more recently than 1958. This is already an overly long post, so I ’ll end with a quote from the interview with Wajda, revealing a humility not often associated with artists, and illustrating, again, his effectiveness.

The secret of our war films was that with those films, we augmented our biographies. I didn’t participate in the Warsaw uprising, but I made Kanal. I didn’t find myself in situations like Cybulski or Maciek Chelmicki in 1945, but I made Ashes and Diamonds. I didn’t particpate in the kind of operations depicted in A Generation, or in the kind of bravado portrayed in the film Lotna. So these films became a substitute for parts of my life.

From the Imagination series
From the Loneliness series
From the “Imagination” and
“Loneliness” series (2005)

Pawel Fabjanski, a young Polish photographer who graduated from Polish National Film School in June, has been on a roll. His website touts several awards, current shows in Warsaw and Vienna, and a profile in issue number 424 of French Photo magazine, all since his degree; his commercial-savvy “pink rabbit” series was a winner of Arctic Paper’s competition that landed the nuclear power plant image [inset right] in the “Cool Solutions 2006” calendar. Not busy enough, apparently: the beautiful Christmas lights image is from his new “Loneliness” series.

TOMASZEWSKI: Symfonia pastoralnaLIPINSKI: Polowanie na but
TREPKOWSKI: Mistrzostwa Europy w boksieLIPINSKI: Zolnierki
Polish cinema posters

[Via Coudal, a] searchable database of classic Polish film posters, with images, mostly from the 1950s through the 1970s; thumbs exhibited are the cream from Henryk Tomaszewski, Tadeusz Trepkowski, and Eryk Lipinski, original graphic designers commissioned in 1946 by Film Polski (a state film distribution monopoly). The site’s proprietor has commerce on his mind—“[t]he best works should reach the $10k range within a decade, and an average price may easily quadruple. Right now, they are still a bargain…”—but the rest of us can still admire.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The spotted opossum

I happened upon this site that examines the history of exploration of Australia whilst looking for opossum engravings—really!—and was able to establish that the European settlement of the continent began at the time of our constitutional convention (in 1787).

Spotted Opossum
Spotted Opossum, Peter Mazell;
hand-coloured copper engraving
from Voyage of Governor Phillip to
Botany Bay
by Arthur Phillip
(Rex Nan Kivell Collection)

It turns out that Captain James Cook was the first European to discover Australia—did I ever know this?—in 1770, first sighting the southeast coast in March.

He discovered and named Botany Bay, carefully explored and mapped the coast northward, and finally, on Possession Island in Torres Strait, took possession of the whole eastern coast, naming it New South Wales.

(Excerpts from his journals are available on the site.) But the first settlements (for the establishment of a penal colony—decidedly part of my elementary school curriculum) took place decades later while America was debating its new constitution. Arthur Phillip, an admiral in the British navy, led this first expedition, landing in Botany Bay, and began to settle the continent. Phillip’s journals include a wide-ranging justification of the endeavor; an impressive historical survey (natural, anthropological, and otherwise), and an accounting of the young government, such as it was. But all of this is a thinly-veiled excuse to put up an amazing print [inset left] of the spotted opossum, a creature that surely cannot be real, conjured from the feverish imagination of a colonial sailor and amateur natural historian, prefiguring Lewis Carroll.


Friday, November 18, 2005

City of lights

'Evening in Paris' perfume
Ads from the 1950s:
0 1 2 3 4

Crikey. I’ve been working long hours this week, and haven't gotten enough downtime to polish off the longer pieces that have been in the hopper for too long already, but a few short notes ere I fly to Nashville this eve.

Cindy passed along the following from Stumps, a company that specializes in products for planning proms and other similar events. In the 1940s, they offered “Evening in Paris,” the first large area decorating theme kit. Well, they’ve expanded hugely since then, and the endless catalog of theme kits is a sight to behold.

Midnight in Paris

My favorite is the “Midnight in Paris,” and now my mind is spinning to find a reason to buy one of these things. From the description, the kit contains

1 Paris Gate, 1 La Tour Eiffel, 1 Paris Skyline, 1 Set of Parisian Hedges, 1 Pair of La Tour Lamp Posts, 1 Set of La Tour Mini Lamp Posts. We created the background with black and gold star gossamer. We created the floor with dark green and cobblestone flat paper.

À bientôt, y’all!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

“The Worst Record Covers of All Time”

Genesis’ Foxtrot
Genesis’ Foxtrot

Why do hipsters reject Genesis? Animal Collective couldn't try any harder to mimic them, from the prog-jamming down to the stupid album art.

—Brent DiCrescenzo
The Worst Record Covers of All Time,” on Pitchfork

[via Troy]

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Camouflage survey

It all started with a great score from Daedalus, a book I’ve been looking for for some time: designer Hardy Blechman’s Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia Of Camouflage (Firefly, 2004—it had previously been available only under a British imprint) for a cool $30—go and check it out at the source, or see Steven Heller’s review in Eye, or the one in Boldtype.

And then, in rapid succession: a BB post on dazzle camouflage, followed by a call for papers for the upcoming Camouflage: Art, Science and Popular Culture, to be held at the University of Northern Iowa Department of Art on Saturday, 22 April 2006. (The conference is organized by Roy R. Behrens, whose False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage—Bobolink, 2002—is the wonky yang to Blechman’s stylish yin; proposals are due by 10 January 2006.)

dazzle Fiat Strada
A dazzly paint-job.

Some snips: in 1917, at the height of the U-boat scare during WWI, a former marine artist, designer, and illustrator—one Lt. Cdr. Norman Wilkinson of the Royal Navy—was assigned to a team tasked with visually altering British ships to improve maritime survivability. Interestingly, dazzle (as it came to be known) did not operate as conventional camouflage—which typically masks a body’s visibility—usually does: dazzle creates a vibrating visual field which makes it difficult for a human observer to accurately determine the position and heading of a potential target, crucial inputs for a successful torpedo-er (prior to the age of radar, sonar, and computerized navigation). Wilkinson’s band tested candidates by painting models and testing their effectiveness by rigging a turntable, water, and periscope optics. (The U.S. and France would follow suit, usually employing fine artists in the endeavor.)

DPM is a rich visual sourcebook, one that gets you heading in all sorts of fruitful directions: it covers camouflage in the natural world, in warfare (of course), but also provides fashion and pop images that serve as great fodder for free-association. Me? I’ve been pondering the morphing of camo from utilitarian to semiotic signal of the military, patriotism, and plainspeaking Americanism (in our fair city, football fans have adopted the uniform, with a bit of tailoring). And in the Costume Institute’s Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed (from 2001), one thread concerned the utility of fashion in hiding unflattering body parts.

For the scholars: a camouflage bibliography, courtesy of Behrens.

Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo
Eva Green as Venus de Milo
Eva Green in
The Dreamers

Addendum: From a scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s awkward and forced Dreamers, actress Eva Green is depicted as the Venus de Milo when she camouflages her arms by wearing long black gloves and standing in a dark doorway, dressed only in drapery surrounding the hips. [cws::13 Nov]

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

New BüKs

S.C.U.M. Manifesto
Buy it
at the BüK Shop

Hey, kids: remember that nutty Valerie Solanas? Before she shot Andy, she published the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, an anti-male polemic—“her radical tract is a stunning salvo in the age-old battle of the sexes”—that has recently been reissued by the folks at BüK.

And what is a BüK? It…

…is an inexpensive pamphlet—just $1.49—containing one provocative essay, short story, portfolio of pictures, collection of poems, or other surprising entertainment, readable in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. At 5 x 7 inches and 16-32 pages, a BüK fits easily into a pocket, purse or backpack, where it is always ready to serve up absorbing material by or about architects, artists, actors, composers, critics, directors, designers, divas, educators, economists, environmentalists, essayists, models, moguls, novelists, photographers, politicians, poets, singers, and scientists.

Buy! There’s a fairly interesting and extensive catalog that includes titles on Liberace, Greenland, and the hobo lexicon.

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Production up

I’ve finally been able to shake off my writer’s block and have several columns that will go up tonight and tomorrow through the weekend [sample topics: literary Darwinists and television, camouflage, Blaze Starr, mystical video, and humility]. In the meantime, though, admire this remixed poster from the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, whose “Wednesday Poster of the Week” feature highlights vintage imagery from a billboard campaign from the 1930-40s in conjunction with the Outdoor Advertising Association.

NAM poster
(Original here.)

“Grunion runs have ended for this season.”

So declares the Los Angeles Times’ latest “Fish report.” The California Department of Fish and Game provides grunion porn:
Grunion leave the water at night to spawn on the beach in the spring and summer months two to six nights after the full and new moons. Spawning begins after high tide and continues for several hours. As a wave breaks on the beach, grunion swim as far up the slope as possible. The female
grunions spawning
Those spawnin’ grunions.
arches her body and excavates the semifluid sand with her tail to create a nest. She twists her body and digs until she is half buried in the sand with her head sticking up. She then deposits her eggs in the nest. Males curve around the female and release milt. The milt flows down the female’s body until it reaches and fertilizes the eggs. As many as eight males may fertilize the eggs in a nest. After spawning, the males immediately retreat toward the water while the female twists free and returns with the next wave. While spawning may take only 30 seconds, some fish remain stranded on the beach for several minutes.
(For more grunion lore, see this article from LAist.)


Monday, October 31, 2005

Trick or treat?