Brain Pickings

Culture-Crossing Subcultures

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$12,000 hot dogs, digital Olympics, friends with money, friends without, virtual bridges, virtual divides, what Atlantis has to do with high fashion, and why testosterone now comes in silver.

CULTURAL KNIT-PICKING

Guerrilla knitting. Yes, it exist. And it’s not a bunch of grannies running around town with gigantic needles in a bout of end-life crisis. It’s the practice of using knitting to create public art in clever, won’t-believe-this-was-knitted ways. It’s “knit graffiti.”

knit.pngIts roots can be traced to the early 70′s when British-born knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman was commissioned to knit a sweater based on a pre-canned knitting pattern. Which she did, except she radically rewrote the pattern with a proprietary system and set off the beginning of the “thinking knitters” movement, rising above the “blind followers” of patterns.

Now, we remember seeing a small knitted hot dog at an art gallery a couple of years ago, accompanied by a 5-digit price tag, at which point we promptly concluded this was the stuff of insanity. But despite our prior view of the craft, we recently came across a fascinating talk by sociologist Rose White on the history of guerrilla knitting that goes as far as aligning it with the history of computer hacking. And history aside, today’s guerrilla knitting has reached unbelievable levels of craftsmanship and creativity.

Sure, we still couldn’t swallow a $12,000 knitted hot dog. But maybe that’s just because we don’t have the knitted digestive system.

ARTIST-SLASH-ATHLETE

Hell hath no fury like a designer’s ego challenged. Or at least that’s what the guys behind Cut&Paste found in November of 2005 when they held the first digital design tournament, a live face-off judged by a panel of industry all-stars amidst a rowdy crowd of onlookers.

Today, Cut&Paste designathons have been held all over the world, spreading the tournament’s three-fold mission: to end designer anonymity, to bridge the gap between artists, clients, recruiters and consumers of good design, and to educate about how design really “happens” by cracking open the creative process.

And in case this is giving you the impression it’s all just fluff, rest assured: it’s hardcore. Designers get 15 minutes. They may bring in approved objects to capture with a digital camera, but these objects become available to everyone. And none of it can be artwork, images, pre-designed digital elements or anything that falls outside the strictly-from-scratch framework of the tournament.

It’s all worth it, though — besides the laurels and the street cred, winning designers get material kudos from the likes of Apple, Wacom and Adobe. Not bad, not bad at all.

And because it’s something this cool, it calls for a grateful nod in the direction of the tip-off, one friend-of-a-friend Mr. Richard Parubrub hailing from North Carolina. Gracias, señor.

FRIENDS WITH MONEY

LendingClubSure, money matters can inject a healthy dose of awkward into a conversation or a relationship. Especially between friends. But it doesn’t have to be that way, mostly because we live in a capitalist world where it’s only natural for our financial capital and social capital to intersect.

That’s where Lending Club comes in, a social lending network that lets members lend and borrow amongst themselves at rates much better than the bank’s. And because money ventures are also naturally likely to get you suspicious or skeptical, pull that eyebrow back down: Lending Club got major kudos from Barron’s, BusinessWeek, USA Today, and more. Which is no surprise since the folks behind it hail from big-timers like eBay, MasterCard, Wells Fargo, Agency.com, and aQuantive.

So far, over $5 million has changed hands since Lending Club launched last May. No wonder, what with all the careful screening (no sub-640 FICO scorers here), lending done entirely on members’ terms (you pick the level of risk you’re comfortable with, even what specific “need” to lend to), and the smart, proprietary lender- borrower matching system.

We could finish with some obvious pun on how networking really pays off. But let’s cut the clever crap — the concept is fucking genius.

REEL DIFFERENCE

Film. What a cultural commodity of the western world, one we take for granted and consume alongside popcorn. And what a way to treat the seventh art, one with enormous and often unexpected power.

FilmAid InternationalThankfully, there are visionaries out there using the overlooked medium to send a message of hope to those in the underprivileged world. FilmAid International uses film to enrich the disrupted lives of the millions of displaced people living in refugee camps all over the world. The simple act of hanging a 12-by-16-foot movie screen from the side of a truck has been making a tangible difference in the lives of refugees from Kosovo to Afghanistan to East Africa to Louisiana since 1999.

Sure, it’s easy to say that with no roof over your head and hardly any food on your folding table, film is the last thing you care for. But that’s such an underestimation of the far-reaching effects of psychological trauma, such a painful stab at the power of human imagination, the capacity to transcend the bite of the present and see hope in the future. Which is exactly what the million-and- counting viewers in FilmAid’s seven camps are doing. More than that, a 2006 study found that 96% of the project’s refugee audiences found it to reduce conflict and strengthen community building.

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Movie producer Caroline Baron, whose brainchild the project was, nails the answer to the why-film-when-no-food question: “I throw the question back to the refugees themselves. They say the film is food for them — that if their minds are not well, the food doesn’t help.”

If you’re feeling like putting a tiny stitch on a broken life today, make a small donation to keep the hope reel rolling.

PARALLEL VISION

For artist friends Stephanie and Mav, telecommunication wasn’t enough of a bridge between their creative brains when they had to move apart. Instead, last January they set up 3191, a visual blogging site named after the exact distance between their homes. Every morning for a year, each took pictures of herself and some other environmental element of her morning, then posted the pictures side by side on 3191.

The result: a joint photography project absolutely brilliant both in concept and in execution. So brilliant, in fact, that Princeton Architectural Press picked it up and is publishing 3191 a year of mornings this fall.

3191.jpg

Meanwhile, Stephanie and Mav are chasing the sun this year with project sequel 3191: a year of evenings. And suddenly, we feel like all those awful cliches about the beauty in the little everyday things are, well, not so cliched.

Simple. Stunning.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifThere’s little we love more than irreverent design, geeky web stuff and, um, data. Which is why we were delighted to discover the following take on today’s virtual world: a map-visualization of online communities and their related points of interest, wherein geographic areas reflect estimated membership bases.

And, um, anthropomorphic dragons? Wait, are they talking about Sergey and Larry?

Sure, we may take some issue with the accuracy, but the concept is nonetheless neat, playfully reminiscent of Grayson Perry’s brilliant “Map of an Englishman.”

AU REVOIR PARIS, CIAO MILAN

And whilst on the subject of geography and topography, who better to contribute than the masters of the man-made archipelago? Yep, Dubai is at it again, this time with Isla Moda: the world’s first blob of freestanding ground inhabited entirely by fashion.

The island is intended to be a global fashion hub, with boutiques from the world’s most celebrated designers, a slew of residential villas (set to go on sale for shameful amounts at the end of this quarter), and an extravagant fashion hotel. Dubai Infinity Holdings even plans to invite high-end designers from each continent to design the various pieces of the island. (We can’t wait for the one from Antarctica.)

At $80 million, this project seems to have outclassed class and outluxed luxury. Too bad global warming’s plans for it skew more Atlantis than fashion world atlas.

STREET PICKINGS

We’re not ones to put people in danger of overdosing on class. And it seems like neither is Philly.

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Oh, Philly, city of the enviable ability to see beauty (booty?) in the least likely of places. Wait, we take that back. This was actually spotted across the street from a respectable establishment sporting neon silhouettes and gentlemen walking out with brown paper bags in hand. In broad daylight.

Guess what: Philly’s just as fun when you don’t sleep over. Silver Sharpie on us.

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