What London landmarks have to do with quantum physics and vintage photography.
Nearly two years ago, we looked at examples of exploring layers of the present through images of the past in Photographic Time Machine. In The Universal Now, UK artist Abigail Reynolds takes this approach to an entirely new, more conceptually elaborate and aesthetically sophisiticated level. She collects vintage tourist guides, then search for photographs taken from a similar vantage point and printed at similar scale. When she finds these matching book plates, she cuts and folds the pages into a single surface, arranging the images in chronological order based on the publication dates of the books, with the first serving as the “base” of the collage.
Tower Bridge 1946 / 1979
Piccadilly Circus New Years Celebrations 1951 / 1961
Sibelius 1985 / 1973
The Universal Now works operate as a resurrection of the unregarded book plates and forgotten photographers that have stood in the same places at a different times, bringing these moments into a dialogue and into the present.” ~ Abigail Reynolds
Big Ben 1935 / 1982
Post Office Tower 1989 / 1999
Waterloo Bridge 1948 / 1966
Olympic Stadium Tower 1951 / 1961
The Universal Now takes its name from the world of quantum physics and its debates about the nature of the time continuum, which only adds to the project’s thoughtfulness and conceptual merit.
What tea has to do with critical moments in political history and iconic Russian literature.
In 1942, at the peak of WWII, Japan threw the Allies a formidable curveball — it blocked off the Burma Road, the essential artery supplying China with munitions from India to fight the occupying Japanese forces. Desperate for an alternative, the Allies diverted planes to the Himalayas, but the dangerous terrain and inclement weather caused too many pilots to crash into the mountains. A new land route between China and India had to be found, and two OSS men took it upon themselves to find it: Captain Brooke Dolan, an American explorer, and Major Ilia Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy’s grandson. To do so, they’d have to cross Tibet and seek the permission of a 7-year-old boy: The Dalai Lama.
Undeterred, the pair proceeded with their mission and came carrying a letter from President Roosevelt. At 9:20 in the morning of December 20, 1942, they were granted audience with His Holiness, establishing for the first time in history direct contact between a U.S. Presidnet and the Dalai Lama and thus bridging two cultures that had never met. Five months later, the two crossed the Tibetan platau and arrived in Northern China, completing the journey of over a thousand miles.
Dolan filmed the entire expedition and rare reels are now held in the motion picture library of The National Archive, who have kindly digitized and uploaded the footage for the world to see — just one instance of the importance of the digital humanities and the open web.
Tibetans are inherently sociable and on the slightest provocation pause their labors to visit over a cup of tea. Native drivers congregate at the ferry crossing. Tea is the chief drink of the country, made of barley, salt and butter. It gives them resistance to hunger and cold. They drink anywhere from 30 to 50 cups a day.”
What warthogs and vultures have to do with the most critical polarization in world politics.
There hardly is a time in world history more politically polarized than the 20th century, which divided the globe in two camps — capitalism and communism — divided at the height of the divergence by the infamous Iron Curtain. The Cold War was very much a war of ideologies and each side relied heavily on the ideological unity of its people, often employing the power of the visual arts — graphic design, animation, illustration — to drive its message home. While the U.S. was producing seminal design work under various WPA programs, the U.S.S.R. was busy churning out its own brand of political propaganda art.
Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika chronicles the visual legacy of 60 years of Soviet political history between 1924 and 1984. Forty-one beautifully animated black-and-white and color short films, never before available in the U.S., depict — and exploit — national stereotypes with remarkable visual eloquence that bespeaks the complicated non-relationship between the East and the West during that critical time in political history.
Ideological messaging aside, the films feature some astounding animation techniques that grace today’s trendiest cinematic vocabulary, from stop-motion to paper cutout animation to impressively intricate puppetry
The ambitious collection is divided into four parts, curated not simply by chronology but by recurring themes. American Imperialists features 7 films from the Cold War era, depicting Westerners as money-hungry industrialists who inevitably collapse under the weight of their own greed. Though mocked and derided, it’s interesting to note that Americans nonetheless remain human — which is not the case with other antagonists in Soviet propaganda, as we’ll see in just a second.
Fascist Barbarians is a 17-film reaction to the Nazi invasion in the beginning of WWII. Here, the Nazis are dehumanized and frequently portrayed as undesirable animals — pigs, vultures, warthogs.
Capitalist Sharks is a 6-film assault on the bourgeoisie, weaving sci-fi narratives to envision dystopian scenarios for capitalists’ world domination.
Onward to the Shining Future: Communism features 11 films that romanticize the state and promise a utopian future of universal well-being.
Harvested from Moscow’s iconic Soyuzmultfilm Studios, Animated Soviet Propaganda is an absolute gem of historical insight and a living hallmark of the swaying power of visual communication. With more than 6 hours of rare footage, the collection is not only a priceless political trophy but a prized possession for any design and film history nerd.
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