Brain Pickings

Symmetry: A Split-Screen Exploration of Duality

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What the origin of the universe has to do with gender identity, binary parallels and anatomy.

Nearly a year ago, WNYC’s Radiolab (which we love) and New York filmmaking trio Everynone (of Everyone Forever Now fame) brought us On Words — a spellbinding short film that examined the importance of words by imagining a world without them. Today, the team is back with another gem of a collaboration.

Symmetry is a mesmerizing split-screen short film exploring the poetic parallels and contrasts of our world — birth and death, heart and brain, masculinity and femininity, all many more of humanity’s fundamental dualities. It’s the best thing you’ll watch all week, we promise. (Or, as Kirstin Butler put it, “[S]top everything and watch the most beautiful, satisfying split-screen video.”)

The film was inspired by Radiolab’s Desperately Seeking Symmetry episode, which examines how symmetry and its pursuit shape the core of our existence, from the origins of the universe to what we see when we look in the mirror.

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Eastern Eggs: Bot-Etched Art Eggs for Japan

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Contemporary artists, modern bots and, erm, Jesus come together for Japan.

This month, while much of the world is celebrating Easter, Japan is rising from the rubble to its own slow and painful rebirth. Earlier this week, we featured an inspired Twitter-sourced anthology of art and essays by and for Japan’s earthquake survivors, benefiting the Japanese Red Cross. Now, an ambitious new effort from the UK brings the same spirit to Easter. Eastern Eggs offers a series of limited-edition wooden eggs adorned with artwork by a handful of brilliant contemporary artists. The designs are tattooed onto the eggs by the one and only Egg Bot and, once you pick our design, you can even watch it being made via webcam. There’s a suggested donation of £10, though of course you’re welcome to contribute more, and all proceeds go to the British Red Cross tsunami relief efforts.

Easter eggs are a symbol for rebirth and the start of a new life. Over the coming months and years, Japan has to rebuild — not just a country but homes, families and lives.”

The project is the brainchild of the fine folks from TBWA London. If you are, or know, an artist who would like to get involved, they’d love to hear from you. Otherwise, be a good egg and grab yourself one.

Thanks, Sermad

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Bompas & Parr, Jelly Architects

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Last year, we looked at artists creating incredible edible landscapes out of food, condiments and spices. But hardly does the unusual medium become a greater feat of architecture than when its raw material is the least architectural of substances: jelly. Just ask British food consultancy Bompas & Parr, better known as Jellymongers.

In this short documentary, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr talk about the whimsical “food experiences” they’re known for, and how they rendered everything from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Buckingham Palace in gelatinous form using their signature blend of science, cutting-edge technology and architecture — just the kind of cross-pollinating of disciplines we believe is fundamental to creativity.

The whole reason we events is to give people their own stories. They’re very active participants. If you go into a restaurant, you don’t want to be talked at by a waiter the entire time. Actually, the really important thing is the conversations you have with your diners around us and around the food.”

The film comes from the fine folks at Berlin-based visual culture mongers Gestalten, who also brought us the excellent Shepard Fairey interview on copyright, Big Brother and social change, among other fantastic micro-documentaries about creative culture mavericks and pioneers.

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How Cancer Became Cancer and What Its Future Holds: A Pulitzer-Winning Biography of the Dreaded Disease

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The highly contested nonfiction category of the Pulitzer Prize is as much a measure of good writing as it is a reflection of the era’s cultural concerns. The 2011 nonfiction winner was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (public library) by Columbia professor of medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee — an intelligent and illuminating medical and sociocultural history of the ubiquitous disease, from its origin to the first recorded cases to modern medicine’s ongoing struggle to find effective treatment.

Mukherjee writes:

When I started writing this book, I thought of cancer as a disease. But as I wrote more and more about it, it seemed as though it was not just a disease but something that envelops our lives so fully that it was writing about someone. It was like writing about an alter personality, an illness that had a psyche, a behavior, a pattern of existing.

The book begins with the stories of pathologist Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker, who is credited with launching the war on cancer by urging scientists and the government to race for a cure of the little-understood killer.

The second half of the narrative shifts from the cultural to the scientific context of humanity’s battle with the disease, focusing on the incremental yet game-changing discoveries of a various brilliant scientists over the past half-century as the scientific community raced to understand how cell become cancerous in order to better address prevention and treatment.

So fascinating is the book that one dedicated fan used its narrative to extract a visual timeline of cancer from 1950 to the present:

With its blend of cultural anthropology, rigorous research, and genuine empathy, The Emperor of All Maladies is, as the Pulitzer unequivocally implies, a pinnacle of nonfiction that oscillates between the profoundly distressing cultural tyranny of a presently incurable disease and the relentless scientific exhilaration embedded in the very possibility of unraveling this great and all-consuming mystery.

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.