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03 JUNE, 2011

Landscape Permutations: An Experiment in Place and Space

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What cross-disciplinary curiosity has to do with impermanence, memory and spatial imagination.

I’m perpetually intrigued by photography projects that use perspective composites and collages to reinterpret the city — examples we’ve previously seen in the form of “urban hackscapes,” “photographic time machines” and Abigail Reynolds’ The Universal Now. So I love artist David Semeniuk‘s Landscape Permutations project — an ongoing exploration of “how spaces and places are experienced, remembered, and represented.” Semeniuk uses images of his hometown, Red Deer, Alberta, and recombines them to imagine a different hypothetical reality of spatial layouts.

In each work of this series, I have brought together separate components of two images, each with a unique interpretant, and forced them to share a single, new meaning. Despite an apparent loss of information within the larger frame of each work, the resulting composite image contains novel, endemic meaning which transcends either image used in its creation.” ~ David Semeniuk

What makes Semeniuk particularly fantastic — at least for me, as an avid proponent of cross-disciplinary curiosity — is that he describes himself as a “formally trained scientist, and an autodidactic artist”: His academic training is in marine biogeochemistry, and he considers his photographic experiments and artistic expression of his scientific exploration.

I am also very much interested in the representational capacity of photographs, and am motivated by questions such as: in what ways is a photograph a transparent view of the world (i.e. akin to looking through a pair of binoculars)? In what ways and to what degree does a photograph truthfully depict reality, and how is this influenced by the naturalistic qualities of photography? Despite the causal origin of a photograph, can a photograph become a more truthful depiction of a particular place?” ~ David Semeniuk

Full of simple poeticism,Landscape Permutations feels like a gentle reminder that our experience of the world is a highly subjective function of our memory, our imagination and our sense of presence. Cue in BBC’s What Is Reality?.

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03 JUNE, 2011

Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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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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