Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

26 MAY, 2011

Follow For Now: A Time-Capsule of Contemporary Thought

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What the changing guard of design has to do with evolutionary theories of network dynamics.

Much of today’s fixation on retrofuturism and the paleofuture meme has to do with the pleasure we take in fact-checking the visions and predictions of the past against the commonly agreed upon reality of the present. And while there’s an undeniable luster to the shiny jetpack visions of yesteryear’s gadget-dreaming, what I find even more fascinating are the cultural and intellectual movements that powered these visions. In Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes, Roy Christopher collects over seven years’ worth of conversations with contemporary cultural luminaries, including TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, street artist and remix culture frontman Shepard Fairey, science fiction author Bruce Sterling, Brain Pickings favorite DJ Spooky and 39 more.

The book was originally published in 2007, which makes it a rare, paradoxical and infinitely fertile cross between sort-of-contemporary cultural critique of the present and near-prophetic time-capsule of the recent past, swiftly fluttering across disciplines and ideologies to deliver a powerful cross-pollinator of modern intellectual and creative curiosity.

I love Steven Johnson, so it’s no surprise his interview is one of my favorites. Here, he captures precisely where I stand on the debate on what the internet is doing to our brains and the future of information:

Popular culture, on average, has been growing more cognitively challenging over the past thirty years, not less. Despite everything you hear about declining standards and dumbing-down, you have to do more intellectual work to make sense of today’s television or games — much less the internet — than you did a few decades ago.” ~ Steven Johnson, No Bitmaps for These Territories

The time elapsed since the book’s publication makes it particularly fascinating to reverse-engineer how the ideas in recent popular books by these thinkers originally germinated. For instance, Albert-László Barabási‘s interview presages his excellent 2010 book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do:

For many decades we believed that networks are random. Whenever we had to face a very complex system, such as people are connected by social links (society), chemicals in the cell connected by chemical reactions, webpages connected by URLs, we assumed that the links are thrown randomly around. In the last few years, we learned that this is not the case. Instead, networks hide wonderful order and are described by rather rigid evolutionary laws. These laws lead to the emergence of hubs, nodes with an extraordinary large number of links, that partly dominate real networks but they also keep them together.” ~ Albert-László Barabási, Think Networks

And as a longtime fan of Shepard Fairey‘s (whose portrait of Blondie’s Debbie Harry is my favorite piece of art that I own), I enjoyed this 2002 peek inside his creative reservoir, pre-Obama notoriety.

I like people who blur the line between fine art and graphic design. There are a lot of people who have grown up with a lot of advertising and sensory over-stimulation from video games and MTV, who are making very smart and engaging art and graphics. I don’t know what to call this movement [but] I really think the changing of the guard in the art and design world is beginning.” ~ Shepard Fairey, Giant Steps

Relentlessly stimulating and insight-packed, Follow for Now is the kind of book I’d like to see published every decade, and devoured every subsequent decade, from now until the end of humanity.

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25 MAY, 2011

Content Is Queen: A Generative Portrait of Democracy

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What YouTube favorites have to do with British royalty, David Hockney and the Grammys.

I’m relentlessly fascinated by generative art, especially when it offers more than mere gawk-worthy code-slinging to instead enlist algorithms in telling a human story or making compelling social commentary. That’s exactly what artist Sergio Albiac does in Content Is Queen — a remarkable generative painting, using the most popular videos on the web at any given time to paint a portrait of the Queen, playing on the paradoxical duality of tension and interdependence between populism and monarchy. (Coincidentally, a fine complement to the Ralph Waldo Emerson line of thinking earlier today.)

[This project] is a video art series of generative portraits that reflects on the foundations of democracy against the resilient nature of structures of power. At the same time, [it] is a paradoxical dialogue and strange marriage between the banal and the utterly majestic.” ~ Sergio Albiac

Albian uses an original technique he has developed, called “generative video painting.” Unlike previous takes on video collage, like David Hockney’s multi-POV collages or video mosaics like the recent GRAMMYs We’re All Fans project, Albiac’s approach uses selected regions of video content to “paint”" heterogeneous regions of the image, making both the partial content of the videos and the whole image fully visible at the same time.

via Etre

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25 MAY, 2011

Past Objects: Excavated Curiosities from New York’s Forgotten Past

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What landfills have to do with ivory craftsmanship and existential questions of impermanence.

Since 1969, Scott Jordan has been digging around New York City for buried treasures. More than four decades later, Jordan has turned the childhood hobby into a curious career as a self-trained historian and restorer at the intersection of history, archeology and urban scavenger hunting. In Past Objects, Jordan offers a fascinating look at the most interesting objects from his massive collection, which he has excavated using shovels, mesh sieves, canvas rucksacks, and sheer ingenuity from across New York’s five boroughs.

Jordan’s passion for strange and wonderful collectible remnants dates back to his childhood, when he and his brother used to roam the woods of Connecticut in search of fossils. When he was five, his family moved to NYC, which made him adamant not to become a “city kid.” So he simply repurposed his unusual hobby to his new urban surrounding and began his forty-year search for New York City’s past.

I daydream about what our present time will seem like to people in the future. How our landfills will be a great source of well-preserved materials forty, fifty, sixty feet down in the bread-loaf shaped mounds that we create. Its’ a strange thing to think that everything we know and see will come to pass, that our lives and everything we do and use every day will one day be old-fashioned and outdated.” ~ Scott Jordan

At once haunting and relentlessly fascinating, Past Objects is as much a journey into the past as it is an invitation to consider the footprint of the present, both for us as individuals and our culture as a civilization.

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