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02 JUNE, 2011

Pretty Big Dig: Construction Cranes as Ballet Dancers

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Mechanical grace, or how to never look at a construction hat the same way again.

When Canadian choreographer and filmmaker Anne Troake was passing by a construction site one day, she observed the incredible orchestration with which the enormous machines moved, a special kind of mechanical choreography. So she wondered what it would be like to actually choreograph these giant dancers into a graceful ballet. The result was Pretty Big Dig — a poetic 2002 short film that articulates the assimilation of machines in the visual language of dance, with Troake’s characteristic undertone of humor and irreverence. This ABC clip about the project is the last remnant of the film online — a hint at the tragedy of how much creativity gets lost in analog archives and buried in closed-access libraries — but what it lakes in completeness it makes up for in sheer charm and inspiration, a beautiful manifestation of the incredible creativity that thrives at the intersection of wildly different disciplines.

More of and about Pretty Big Dig can be found on FREEDOM — a fascinating documentary about Troake’s work and unorthodox, cross-disciplinary approach to dance, alongside more of the world’s most eccentric, extraordinary dancers, choreographers and urban performers.

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02 JUNE, 2011

Dear Me: Letters by Luminaries to Their 16-Year-Old Selves

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What the renouncement of dieting has to do with love and buying shares in Google.

Some moons ago, I came across this installment in The Rumpus’ wonderful Dear Sugar advice column, which proceeded to dash right past my unforgiving cheesiness radar and settle into that Really Excellent Read place. In it, Sugar shares 40-something wisdom with her 20-something self, reaching for those hard-learned truths with remarkable humor, vulnerability and grace. The piece reminded me of Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self — an absolutely fantastic older anthology of retrospective letters by luminaries spanning just about the entire cultural spectrum, from Oscar and Pulitzer winners to doctors to comedians to musicians and more, envisioned and compiled by Joseph Galliano. The roster of contributors includes icons like Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, Debbie Harry and many more, with proceeds from the book benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Elton John

Dear Debbie, Moon, Debeel, or Deb,

Just because you have a lot of different names, and maybe feel like there’s a lot of different yours, don’t be confused. Give yourself some time and all the ideas and possibilities that these names conjure up for you will become clear to you. The pieces of the puzzle will reveal themselves and all you have to do is keep finding out what makes you feel happiest and this oftentimes will be the easiest thing for you to do. This is remarkable in itself. That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.”

~ Debbie Harry

Alan Carr

Actually, buy shares in Google. That should sort just about everything out.” ~ Danny Wallace

Emma Thompson

When he says he doesn’t love you, believe him. He doesn’t.” ~ Emma Thompson

Annie Lennox

Sandra Bernhard

Stephen King

Equal parts poignant and entertaining, Dear Me is an endearing reminder of how much we’ve grown and, perhaps far more importantly, that the only way we grow, the only way we get things right, is by getting them horribly, horribly wrong first — and that’s quite okay.

Thanks to the lovely Letters of Note for the reminder

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01 JUNE, 2011

thxthxthx: The Art of Finding Happiness in Everyday Gratitude

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What laundry and bee stings have to do with the secret of happiness.

We live in a culture with far, far too much pessimism, cynicism and dystopianism going around. It’s easy to dismiss any inkling of positivity as self-serving Pollyannism, yet there’s plenty of evidence that recognizing our simple blessings greatly increases our well-being. I’m certainly a believer.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Leah Dieterich‘s fantastic THXTHXTHX thank-you-note-a-day blog and, this week, it’s joining this running list of blog-turned-book success stories with the publication of the truly wonderful book of the same name, thxthxthx: Thank Goodness for Everything — a lovely compendium of everyday gratitude in the form of 200 of Dieterich’s original handwritten thank-you notes on everything from clean sheets to empty bars to the “th” sound.

Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes vulnerable, and always profoundly human, the notes are a gentle, non-preachy reminder that, heck, we’re incredible beings living in an incredible world and why oh why do we make such a tragic habit of forgetting that?

Far from merely being one of the most charming books to come by this year, thxthxthx is a timeless and much-needed reminder that happiness is a choice we actively make, not a divine courtesy bestowed upon us by some arbitrary higher power.

An speaking of gratitude, a big “thank you” to Jason Bitner of Cassette From My Ex fame for flagging this.

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01 JUNE, 2011

Designing Minds: Uncovered Video Profiles of Prominent Designers

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Peeking inside creative crania, or what giant bananas have to do with the difference between design and art.

In 2008, a now-defunct podcast program by Adobe called Designing Minds — not to be confused with frogdesign’s excellent design mind magazine — did a series of video profiles of prominent artists and designers, including Stefan Sagmeister (whose Things I have learned in my life so far isn’t merely one of the best-produced, most beautiful design books of the past decade, it’s also a poignant piece of modern existential philosophy), Yves Behar (of One Laptop Per Child fame), Marian Bantjes (whose I Wonder remains my favorite typographic treasure) and many more, offering a rare glimpse of these remarkable creators’ life stories, worldviews and the precious peculiarities that make them be who they are and create what they create.

My favorite quote about what is art and what is design and what might be the difference comes from Donald Judd: ‘Design has to work, art doesn’t.’ And these things all have to work. They have a function outside my desire for self-expression.” ~ Stefan Sagmeister

When designers are given the opportunity to have a bigger role, real change, real transformation actually happens.” ~ Yves Behar

While the series may now be a sad ghost town of creative investment, as many such short-lived corporate initiatives tend to wither into, it remains an illuminating time-capsule of our era’s design thought-leadership. Luckily, all 70 episodes remain intact — and free — on iTunes.

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