Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

25 MAY, 2011

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


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know and see will come to pass, that our lives and everything we do and use every day will one day be old-fashioned and outdated.”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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25 MAY, 2011

How Ralph Waldo Emerson Shaped the American Ideal


Philosophy, entrepreneurship, and what classic spiritual movements have to do with modern geeks.

Today marks the birthday of poet, essayist, lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, father of Transcendentalism — a belief system in which spirituality transcends the physical and the doctrines of organized religion, and is instead based on the individual’s intuition, advocating for “a poetry and philosophy of insight and not tradition.” His iconic 1837 speech, The American Scholar, is commonly considered the American “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” and, to put it in modern layman terms, is easily the original geek manifesto. His seminal essay, Self-Reliance, remains one of history’s most important works on individuality and anti-conformity.

Emerson: The Ideal in America is the first documentary about the life and work of the great thinker, whose belief in “the infinitude of the private man” is embedded in contemporary concepts ranging from spirituality to spirit of entrepreneurship to ideals of individualism and personal agency. The film is available both online in its entirety and on DVD, and is very much a must-see.

Here is the real secret to Emerson’s work: He stands still, he listens to his heart, and he writes as he listens.”

To commemorate Emerson’s birth today, Seth Godin’s Domino Project is releasing a fantastic new edition of Self-Reliance, featuring self-reflections from both historical and contemporary luminaries, as well as quotes from icons like Henry Ford, Helen Keller, Steve Pressfield, and Milton Glaser. In classic Domino Project fashion, it’s a multiplatform release including a hardcover, audio CD, mp3, Kindle ebook, Audible audiobook, limited deluxe edition (with cover design eerily similar to the Holstee Manifesto), and shareable multi-packs.

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23 MAY, 2011

Cement Eclipses: Tiny Street Art Sculptures by Isaac Cordal


What tiny people have to do with the sleepwalking hypnotism of urban routine.

I love the work of London-based street artist Isaac Cordal, whose makes big social commentary by way of street art sculptures with tiny human figurines. Since 2006, Cordal has been placing minuscule cement pieces on streets, sidewalks, walls and other corners of the city across Europe, exploring “the voluntary isolation of human beings” from nature. Cement Eclipses is a beautiful new 256-page anthology of images from the project, many never-before-seen, offering a thoughtful look at his tiny-big gifts to the public and inviting an exploration of their meaning in a sociocultural context.

Cement eclipses is a research project of urban space that runs between the fields of sculpture and photography. The sculpture is used as a starting point and photography as a witness to the execution of installations for later viewing or exhibition.” ~ Isaac Cordal

My favorite has to be this piece titled Sleepwalker, which adds to the come-hither allure of the tiny scale the ephemeral mystery of playing on shadow:

Vulnerable and expressive, the vignettes in Cement Eclipses are as much a conversation about solitude as they are an invitation to examine our role as citizens and fellow human beings in a shared urban reality.

via Colossal

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