Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘street art’

16 JULY, 2008

Inflated Claims of Art

By:

Soundtrack to the sidewalk, subway zoo, and why the British tabloids insist on harassing a 65-year-old lady.

Today, we’re looking at art that blows — literally. Think of this as a niche appendix to our best-of graffiti and socially-conscious street art series a while back, with a nod to the superhero issue. Yep, we’re multi-pronged like that.

D.BILLY

As much as we respect comic book culture, we’ve always wondered what it is exactly about the action illustrations that inspires such unconditional reverence, such loyal followings and such… dedicated… fan conventions. Could it be the unique intersection of visual and sound effects on the printed page, creating a POW! new reality of WURRRG! mixed media and OOH! non-linear perception? Perhaps.

And street artist D.Billy has decided to explore that intersection in our very real reality with his visual representations of sound effects through installations of colorful media like balloons and party steamers.

He works in “found scenes” of urban landscape and, after photographing the finished creations, he leaves the installations on the scene to engage passers-by and inspire a new awareness of the surroundings normally taken for granted.

We love the idea of bringing surreal elements to the most mundane corners of reality, and doing it in a way that plays with how we’re used to experiencing our own senses. Check out D.Billy’s Flickr stream and think about the visual action soundtrack to your own neighborhood. WOWZA!

JOSHUA ALLEN HARRIS

While bursts of color splattered throughout the otherwise mundane environment sure can be stride-stopping, it’s all the more fascinating when the stride-stopping stuff comes from the most mundane of materials. Case in point: artist Joshua Allen Harris, who uses plastic bags and subway vent air to create inflatable sculptures.

Harris has animated anything from a giant ape to a giraffe to the Loch Ness monster to an entire zoo. New York Magazine recently interviewed the artist for a look behind this unique breed of urban surrealism.

The magic of it is that it looks like plain ol’ trash until a train passes underneath, animating the sculptures and bringing entire scenes to life. And since Harris works mostly in the streets of New York, we find his work to be a brilliant, playful way to engage the world’s most notorious intentionally-oblivious pedestrians.

BANKSY IN, BANKSY OUT

Finally, Banksy is outed?

We won’t include a photo here because we think half the fascination of it is in the mystery — leave the man/woman be.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
08 MAY, 2008

Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 4

By:

This week, we’re looking at ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what grannies and Major League Baseball have in common.

MONKEY SEE MONKEY REDO

After we gave props to groundbreaking graffiti executions, it’s only fitting that we also honor non-graffiti urban guerrilla art — especially the kind that makes a social statement. Because, after all, if we’re gonna be claiming our streets back from the grip of modern indifference, we’d better have something to say.

PIXELATOR

Yeah, yeah, we’re into advertising. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re into good, smart advertising. Which means we’re all the more eager and willing to call out the really, really bad stuff — and root for the rebels out to take it down.

Like Pixelator: an outlaw guerrilla project that uses NYC subway entrances as its canvas, covering those eye-stabbingly ugly video billboards with a lit-up panel of 45 color- changing blinking squares. We love the extreme euphemism with which the team behind it, Jason Eppink and Jen Small, talks about the work, calling that ultimate bottom-of-the-barrel advertising “exhibitions” and the suits behind it “artists,” as if only to draw our attention to the point: our aesthetic sensibility is being relentlessly polluted by the visual atrocities of the corporate world.

Pixelator is about taking a stance against it all, a stance they invite you to join them in: here’s how you too can pixelate some public ugly.

Next, let’s take on those hideous in-train subway ads — now that’s something you’re forced to stare at for quite some time, because it’s usually between them and the smelly dude talking to himself… although we’re always far more intrigued by the latter. (Draw you own conclusions, bad ad people.)

IMPROV EVERYWHERE

The concept of “guerrilla art” is by definition undefined. Which means it’s not confined to any medium or dimension. Sure, a lot of it is static, physical art. But some of it is dynamic, complex, and mobile. Which makes it all the more impressive.

We’re talking about guerrilla get-up Improv Everywhere — a group of comedy-minded citizens who cause carefully orchestrated “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The NYC-based group, founded in 2001, has amassed an enormous following of unofficial national and global chapters. They’ve done over 70 such stealth comedy missions, recently making major waves with the Frozen Grand Central one.

Besides being a wildly impressive stroke of such large-scale genius, the stunt got major mainstream love: not only did it land in the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU , but it was also cool enough for R.E.M. to blatantly rip off. (Nicely done, Gestalt — lost your creative bone along with your hair?)

Improv Everywhere’s founders met through the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade and much of their improv is inspired by the teachings of the cult group that brought us ass pennies.

We just dig the entire concept because IE’s missions jolt pedestrians out of the private zombie bubbles we mindlessly walk around in all day. They remind us to come to and pay attention — because when you look at how long it took the Grand Central passersby to notice the extreme and obvious bizarrerie, those Orwellian drone-filled scenes seem frighteningly nonfictional.

SECRET WALL TATTOOS

Guerrilla statements are all the more indulgent when they mess with institutions that take themselves a bit too seriously. Especially if the messing is kinda hidden, producing even more of a jaw-drop when accidentally discovered.

Case in point: you may remember the “secret wall tattoos” of pickings past — drawings in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture only revealed when said furniture is moved. Word on the street is the movement was started by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who compares the idea to the delightful discovery of the toy hidden in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Today, there’s a whole following of independent artists spreading the hospitality mischief. And curiously enough, hotels hungry for street cred are actually paying artists to do that stuff. But street- cred-for-sale discussions aside, we love the idea — what better form of social art protest than taking some of that mind-numbingly bland space back?

So here’s to injecting a bit of scavenger-huntish excitement into the otherwise bland hotel experience. Next time you check in, make sure you peek behind the paintings… and maybe pack a Sharpie of your very own.

MARK JENKINS ART

We’ve been obsessed with Mark Jenkins for quite some time, so it’s no surprise we honor him here. His street art installations are an exquisite hybrid of playful and unsettling, from the human- legged shopping cart to his Storker Project

But besides the gotta-love-it shock value of his brilliantly cast and positioned sculptures, we love what his art stands for. In a rather compelling interview with The Morning News, the artist shares what drives him: a certain outrage at how stagnant institutionally authorized public art is — monuments, memorials and the like seem to cling to the past rather than push the city into the future or challenge its present.

And that’s a pretty big social statement — how come our culture chooses to glorify the works of the past rather than celebrate the artistic vision of the present?

Plus, we just can’t stop laughing at the wall-diver.

BANKSY

Okay, okay, Banksy fans: relax. Here it comes… although we’ll preface it by saying we’re a bit ambivalent about the “social statement” quotient of Banksy’s art: somehow, it always seems to be a bit too ego-gratifying (a.k.a. “Oooh, look at what I can get away with!”) as opposed to challenging ordinary folk to stand for something.

But despite selling his works at auctions, we have to hand it to Banksy for smuggling his own art into the MoMA, The Met, The Museum of National History, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery, and…wait for it… the Louvre. Sure, this may be the ultimate ego-driven prank — but it also challenges our relationship with art and makes us question. What belongs in this museum? Why? What makes it better than that?

And, really, while we may admire his exquisite technique (and his ability to sneak a live red elephant into a gallery), we find that all- important social perception shuffle is what really makes him a guerrilla maverick.

Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you let people take away from it.

CANSTRUCTION

Guerrilla art doesn’t always have to be unauthorized. In fact, the more people are on board, the more of a difference the effort can make. And when it’s about solving a really, really serious social problem, then it’s really worth noting.

We found out about Canstruction by fluke, stumbling upon a bizarre public installation downtown — several gigantic sculptures of anything from the Philly Phanatic to an iPod, all made entirely out of food cans. Turns out, Philly was just one stop on the Canstruction national circuit — an operation of the Society for Design Administration, the design/build competition travels the country, challenging teams of engineers, architects and students to construct enormous sculptures out of full cans of food.

Here’s the social kick: after the competition, all the cans are donated to local food banks and distributed in emergency hunger relief programs. Since Canstruction was founded in the early 90′s, 10 million pounds of food have been donated — sodium overdose aside, that’s one massive stab at the poverty monster.

Check out the gallery of work to get amazed, inspired, and even fired up to participate. And, hey, if your city isn’t on the tour map, you can always host a competition. Talk about grassroots initiative.

KNITTA PLEASE

knit.pngHere’s another blast from the Brain Pickings past. “Guerrilla knitting” may sound like a laughable oxymoron (visuals of prankster grannies materialize), but it’s actually a brilliant form of public art that blasts the urban grayness away with a bold splash of color.

Heading the movement is Houston-based Knitta Please, a group of 11 men and women out to reimagine the cityscape. Since 2005, the crew has been wrapping ordinary city staples like lamp posts, bike racks, parking meters and other random personality- deprived objects in colorful hand-knitted sleeves.

The yarn ninjas have since color-bombed their way around the world, knit-blasting places like Seattle, Harlem, Paris, El Salvador, The Great Wall of China and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

And we love the statement they’re making — what better way to wrap up our week-long tribute to guerrilla work that claims the city back from the gray grip of faceless concrete?

Missed parts 1, 2 or 3?

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

25 JANUARY, 2008

Geography, Topography, and Everythingography

By:

Google vs. Hitler, underwear peninsulas, Hansel and Gretel, global black holes, 18th century German lovescapes, how Holland’s streets are finally becoming rivers, why Philly is reinventing the wheel, and what Joan Miró has to do with NASA. We’re exorcising our maps obsession.

MOUNTAIN VIEW TIMES

conspiracy.gifAlright, folks. It’s happening: Google has officially begun its world conquest. Starting with New York City.  Or so venture capitalist John Ellis of Real Clear Markets thinks as he speculates that it’s only a matter of time until Google buys The New York Times. And it makes a lot of sense — it’s no secret that NYT has been on a steady decline of value (down 70% over the past 5 years, actually) and, if the New England properties got sold off, it would only be worth under $3 billion. Which is lunch money for the big G. It’s also no secret that Google is going hard after the mobile market, readying to launch Google Mobile. The only trouble: Washington. And owning a major media outlet is bound to score them major points in the lobbying game.

We’ll leave it to the pros to elaborate on the details, but we’ll just say that if the Nazis were able to re-imagine New York in their own world domination schemes…

…why shouldn’t Google? At least this time there’s a do-no-evil take on it.

WORLDWIDE RUNWAY

Fashion: it’s a global thing. Dutch artist Coriette Schoenaerts seems to be feeling our little maps theme here with her fashion cartography: high-end clothing laid out to represent the geographic and political maps of various regions. Check out South America, The Netherlands, and Europe.

South America

The work was commissioned by Rails Magazine and aims to boycott the human body ideal traditionally used to sell fashion.

Meanwhile, global fashion is taking it to the streets: literally. Street Clash is an innovative contest that recruits bloggers and photographers to stage a virtual face-off between the street styles of cities from Paris to Perth.

Last year, 118 fashion “fights” ensued brackets- elimination-style, finally yielding the best-dressed city of 2007: Tel Aviv.

A retrospective of the catwalk catfight is taking place as we speak at Berlin Fashion Week.

NEW YORK CITY FAIRY TALE

It started without a name. Kind of: some poking around the East Village and the blogasphere would reveal it had a codename: “Birdbath.” Which sounds more creepy than crepe — not a surprising approach given the operation is the doing of legendary New York chef and prankster Maury Rubin. What is it?

Today, the revolutionary neighborhood “green” bakery has fully embraced its codename and, after Rubin’s City Bakery success, Birdbath is taking the love of sugar and dough to new levels. It features Rubin’s famed gigantic cookies. But this one is as green as it gets, using top-notch organic ingredients in both the food itself and the shop’s marvelous architecture, making for a bakery Hansel and Gretel would love. We’re pretty sure you can even eat the whole place, including — and we mean this in the least cannibalistic way possible — the staff: Birdbath‘s walls are made of wheat and sunflower seeds, covered with milk-based beets-pigmented paint, the floor comes from a cork by-product, the counter from bamboo, and the baristas’ vests from linen and hemp. Yum.

Rubin’s idea is to inspire people to make the connection between organic foods (which, by the way, more than half of Americans buy regularly these days, spending over $14 billion annually) and a broader appreciation of organic, sustainable materials.

No green bakery in your ‘hood? No problem. Now you can get delish, do-good foods wherever you are. (Plus, we’re big proponents of locally grown over organic.) And the fine folks at LocalHarvest, the online community for farmers and foodies alike, are making it super easy with their nifty map-based search feature.

localharvest.png

Go ahead, trade a Whole Foods trip or two for a farmers market one — it’s an experience of its very own.

UNDERDOG AND FRIENDS

You may remember the heads-up from a while ago to keep an eye out for Nokia because the progressive underdog is creeping up on everyone from Apple to Google to MySpace. Well, turns out we were on to something.

Nokia + FacebookThe guys at Paid Content report Nokia is now foraging big-time into the world of social networking via a hush-hush pact with Facebook. Seems like the idea is to make Facebook the default social net of Nokia headsets (much like YouTube is for iPhone video) in exchange for a Nokia stake in the Zuckerberg empire. Not a bad idea for a mobile company in the business of “Connecting People.”

If you’re getting the so-what shrugs, consider the deal in light of Nokia’s aforementioned recent acquisitions — especially the Universal-catalog- backed music store, the Ticket Rush concert ticketing partnership with Live Nation and the Enpocket mobile advertising platform. (Plus the steady 58% stock increase over the past year.) And while social networking as a way to relate to friends is great and all, these powerful tools have the potential to make it much bigger — it can be a way, a monetizable way, for people not just to list their interests and connect with friends, but to act on those interests and relate to products they’re passionate about.

This underdog is barking loud and clear.

Meanwhile, and because this is the maps issue, we feel compelled to point out where the Nokia/Facebook partnership just won’t happen: in the international “black holes” of the Internet.

That’s right, these 15 countries are all Big-Brother-on-steroids about their citizens’ access to and use of the Internet. Doesn’t it just make you rejoice in democracy and the ability to Facebook away any time of day?

DATING JUNGLE

It’s a crazy world out there on the singles scene. You’ve got blind dates, pity dates, online dating, speed dating…it all makes us wanna say “Oy!” (But we won’t. Because we’re not 60 or Canadian.) Well, you can now multitask your way around that jungle with a new hybrid: online speed dating.

WooMe, the online speed introduction platform cooked up by the folks behind PayPal, has finally launched in alpha.

It takes 30 seconds to register, then you’re on your way to all the 5-minute video chat sessions your heart desires. After each, you’re asked (thankfully, not by the datee) whether or not the person wooed you.

If the answer is yes, you chip in $1 to get each other’s real contact info. Which seems to us like a much better deal than the traditional dinner-movie-drinks scenarios that often have thanks-but-no-thanks endings. (Plus, it makes it so much easier to “go to the restroom” if things start going awry.)

And if things do go right, perhaps you’ll get to move your personal pin on this 1777 German map of the Empire of Love.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  • GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)
STREET BLUES

And while we’re dealing with all sorts of cartographic representations of stuff, let us pay tribute to a brave effort to change the stuff in order to change the reprsentation. Dutch artist Henk Hoftstra‘s latest outdoor art project takes Google Earth head-on with 4000 liters of blue paint poured onto the streets of Drachten, Holland. The goal: an “urban river” visible from Google Earth, with the words “WATER IS LIFE” stretched across it.

urbanriver.jpg

Although the installation hasn’t shown up on Google Earth yet, the current Drachten view seems to have been snapped earlier in 2007, so it’s a matter of waiting for the satellites to come ’round — because we know Google stuff always does.

REINVENTING THE WHEEL

bikeshare.pngAnd while checking out other people’s streets is cool, why don’t we selfishly turn focus inwards and talk about the streets of Philadelphia for a second. Namely, about the amazingly bikeable streets of Philadelphia. Which is why an ambitious new collective, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is trying to break Philly’s car habit and take urban sustainability to new heights.

Enter Philly Bike Share — a public use bicycle program that aims to do for Philly what similar efforts have already done for many European cities: provide low-cost alternative transportation, reduce traffic congestion and increase the overall livability of the city. Which jives rather nicely with a few of our big urban gripes: people who live 15 minutes from work but choose to drive, foot-wide cobblestone Old City alleys clogged with SUV’s, and $20 cab rides. Hey, it may even help with our standing on the 25 Fattest Cities in America ranking.

But, in all seriousness, it’s a great idea — not only do we have the largest connected park trail system in the country, but we also have a highly sophisticated urban biking system (download the map here) with over 150 miles of bike lanes, a ton more off-road routes, 1,800 street-side parking racks and even buses equipped with bike racks.

philly-bike-lanes.png

Turns out, if we only replaced 5% of Philly’s short-distance car trips (under 5 miles) with bikes, we’d be reducing our carbon footprint by 98 tons of emissions per year. Clearly, we could say that’s a ton — but it would be an obvious understatement. So even if you’re not quite ready to commit for some reason (or if you already have a two-wheeler of your very own), you can help simply by dropping Mayor Nutter this quick email asking him to authorize and fund the program.

Besides, there’s the Dasani Blue Bike program in Pittsburgh — and if Pittsburgh can do something, what exactly are we waiting for?

BRIGHT SIDE OF THE MOON

We’ll sign off with one of our absolute favorite maps — which looks more like Joan Miró on psychedelic drugs than a real map. (Nice find, Wired.) Except it is an honest-to-NASA map of the dark side of the moon, with the different colors corresponding to geological materials and phenomena.

It’s part of a series done under the Astrological Research Program, a 1971-1998 partnership between NASA and the United States Geological Survey. And we think it’s geeky-artsy-cool — our kinda stuff.

Way to go downhill, NASA.

(Finally, special thanks to our new favorite blog, Strange Maps, for further inspiring and fueling our pre-existing map obsession.)

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.