Brain Pickings

The Exquisite Book: 100 Artists Play a Collaborative Game


Conceptual horizons, or why the time to judge a book by its cover may have just arrived.

In the 1920s, a collective of Surrealists invented exquisite corpse, a game-like collaborative creation process wherein each contributor tacks on to a composition either by following a strict rule or by being only shown what the last person has contributed. Now, Brooklyn-based designers Julia Rothman, Jenny Volvovski and Matt Lamothe have replicated the exquisite corpse idea in a brilliant collaborative illustration project that enlisted 100 of today’s most talented artist and designers to co-create a book by building on each other’s work. Today, the project comes to life as The Exquisite Book: 100 Artists Play a Collaborative Game — an absolutely remarkable tome nearly two years in the making.

Here’s how it works: Each artist contributed one page to the book. The first five were given a few starter words to inspire their drawing, then each of the following artists only saw the page that immediately preceded theirs and used images to build on the story. Besides this conceptual continuity, a more visual one — a horizontal line that starts on the left side of the page and ends on the right — drew the images together. Artsts were free to interpret the line ever which way they liked, which most did with incredible ingenuity.

The project is an instant piece of creative culture history, from the illustrated introduction by McSweeney’s Dave Eggers of 826 Valencia and Where The Wild Things Are fame, to the meticulous making of its cover, to the all-star roster of contributing artists. (Including many we’ve raved about previously — Lisa Congdon, Luke Ramsey, Meg Hunt and many, many more.)

Sample some of the goodness, then do yourself a favor and grab a copy of The Exquisite Book: 100 Artists Play a Collaborative Game — we haven’t been this excited about an extracurricular art book since Pixar’s The Ancient Book of Sex & Science.

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Fault Line Living: The World’s Most Dangerous Landscapes to Live


Geysers, mud pots, and what Barba Papa has to do with the benefits of geothermal energy.

Fault lines are cracks in Earth’s crusts where tectonic plates converge. As you’d expect, these areas have an extraordinarily propensity for earthquakes due to the constant geodesic activity going on beneath. And yet millions of people around the world live on and around fault lines, in a constant state of alertness, with the sound of the earthquake drill alarm growing more familiar than the doorbell.

Faul Line Living is a 15,000-mile expedition from Iceland to Iran documenting the lives of people who live along the world’s most notorious fault lines. The multi-media project explores the human stories that populate these high-risk natural environments, working with school students, seismologists and citizens of each country along the way to better understand how different communities adapt to the challenges of life in fault zones.

Broken jug, damaged in the 1976 earthquake at Kopaska, belonging to Jon Halldorsson

The Blue Lagoon – despite the wind and rain, the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon provide a fillip to tourists and locals alike

Faul Line Living won the 2010 Go Beyond bursary from the UK’s Royal Geographical Society and Land Rover, a £10,000 award encouraging winners to push past their own limits as a way of promoting a wider understanding and appreciation of geography.

Fun after the rain

Steaming mud pots at Namafjall

On July 31, the UK-based team — Tamsin Davies, Serena Davies and Adam Whitaker — embarked upon their journey into these collision zones of nature and humanity. For 12 weeks, they will drive across the UK, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, learning to use a seismometer and delving into the social anthropology of fault line living through photography, interviews and real-time mapping.

Honeycomb basalt formations at Dimmuborgir

Barba Papa house at Seysdisfjordur

Explore the project’s breathtaking gallery and follow along vicariously on Twitter. Meanwhile, keep yourself grounded by appreciating the geological stability of your own locale.

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7 Ways to Have More by Owning Less


Inconspicuous consumption, or what lunching ladies have to do with social web karma.

Stuff. We all accumulate it and eventually form all kinds of emotional attachments to it. (Arguably, because the marketing machine of the 20th century has conditioned us to do so.) But digital platforms and cloud-based tools are making it increasingly easy to have all the things we want without actually owning them. Because, as Wired founder and notable futurist Kevin Kelly once put it, “access is better than ownership.” Here are seven services that help shrink your carbon footprint, lighten your economic load and generally liberate you from the shackles of stuff through the power of sharing.


The age of keeping up with the Jonses is over. The time of linking up with them has begin. NeighborGoods is a new platform that allows you to do just that, allowing you to borrow and lend from and to your neighbors rather than buying new stuff. (Remind us please, what happened to that fancy blender you bought and used only twice?) From lawnmowers to bikes to DVD’s, the LA-based startup dubs itself “the Craigslist for borrowing,” allowing you to both save and earn money.

Transparent user ratings, transaction histories and privacy controls make the sharing process simple and safe, while automated calendars and reminders ensure the safe return of loaned items.

Give NeighborGoods a shot by creating a sharing group for your apartment building, campus, office, or reading group — both your wallet and your social life will thank you.

UPDATE: Per the co-founder’s kind comment below, we should clarify that NeighborGoods also allows you to import your Twitter and Facebook friends from the get-go, so you have an instant group to share with.


Similarly to Neighborgoods, SnapGoods allows you to rent, borrow and lend within your community. SnapGoods takes things step further by expanding the notion of “community” not only to your local group — neighborhood, office or apartment building — but to your social graph across the web’s trusted corners. The site features full Facebook and Meetup integration, extending your social circle to the cloud.

You can browse the goods people in your area are lending or take a look at what they need and lend a hand (or a sewing machine, as may be the case) if you’ve got the goods.


Growing one’s own produce is every hipster-urbanite’s pipe dream. But the trouble with it is that you have to actually have a place to grow it. And while a pot of cherry tomatoes in your fire escape is better than nothing, it’s hardly anything. Enter Landshare, an innovative platform for connecting aspiring growers with landowners who have the space but don’t use it.

Though currently only available in the U.K., we do hope to see Landshare itself, or at least the concept behind it, spread worldwide soon.


swaptree is a simple yet brilliant platform for swapping your media possessions — from books to DVD’s to vinyl — once they’ve run their course in your life as you hunt for the next great thing. Since we first covered swaptree nearly three years ago, the site has facilitated some 1.6 million swaps, saving its users an estimated $10.3 million while reducing their collective carbon footprint by 9.3 million tons.

Inspired by the founders’ moms, whose lunch dates with girlfriends turned into book-swap clubs, swaptree makes sure that the only thing between you and the latest season of 24 is the price of postage.


Most of us are familiar with the concept of regifting. (No disrespect, but the disconnect between good friends and good taste is sometimes astounding.) Luckily, GiftFlow allows you to swap gifts you don’t want for ones other people don’t want but you do. The platform is based on a system of karmic reputation, where your profile shows all you’ve given and taken, building an implicit system of trust through transparency.

So go ahead, grandma. Hit us with your latest sweet but misguided gift. Chances are, there’s someone out there who’d kill for that kitschy music box.


We’re big proponents of bikesharing but, to this point, the concept has failed to transcend local implementations. While some cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Denver are fortunate enough to have thriving bikesharing programs, we’re yet to see a single service available across different locations. Until then, we’d have to settle for the next best sharing-based transportation solution: Zipcar, a 24/7, on-demand carsharing service that gives its members flexible access to thousands of cars across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Zipcar has been around for quite some time and most people are already familiar with it, so we won’t overelaborate, but suffice it to say the service is the most promising solution to reducing both traffic congestion and pollution in cities without reducing the actual number of drivers.


Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor. More than an Outkast lyric line, this is the inspiration behind share some sugar — a celebration of neighborliness through the sharing of goods and resources. Much like SnapGoods and NeighborGoods, the service lets you borrow, rent and share stuff within your neighborhood or group of friends

* * *

For more on the culture of shared resources, do watch Rachel Botsman’s excellent TEDxSyndney talk. Her forthcoming book, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, hits bookstores in two weeks and is an absolute must-read.

UPDATE: Botsman’s book, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, is now out and landed promptly on our best books in business, life and mind shortlist for 2010.

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it’s a sickness: The Obsession Network


What deviled eggs have to do with Jason Bateman, gay rights and The Beatles.

Obsessions. We all have them. (If you’ve been reading Brain Pickings long enough, you know some of our more esoteric ones include bookshelves, data visualization and David Byrne.) But, historically, obsessions have either been banished to reclusive clubs or shoved under the carpet altogether. No more — it’s a sickness is a bold celebration of obsessions through short tribute films in which people get to, quite simply, geek out about what they’re passionate about.

We believe that no one is ever more interesting than when they talk about what they love. To do your sickness justice is to own it. It is to prove how dedicated and enthralled you are with it. It is to geek out.”

From to Harry Potter to E. E. Cummings to the 80’s, a multitude of obsession groups spanning the serious (gay rights), the necessary (The Beatles) and the tongue-in-cheek (robot uprising) already exist and you can start a new one of your own anytime. Obsessions can be captured in anything from text to image to video, making the platform a Tumblr-like digital scrapbook for your fiercest fixations.

The lounge section features obsession-confessions by celebrities and micro-celebrities, from Jason Bateman’s fixation on classical music (we love you, Jason) to Marisa Tomei’s obsession with hula hoops to Seth Herzog’s devilish lust for deviled eggs.

Beautifully filmed and irreverently candid, the videos are just the kind of thing to put you at ease with your own obsessions by offering a very human angle on famous people’s.

it’s a sickness is part cathartic celebration of our obsessions, part hallmark of the universal need to define and differentiate who we are through what we do and own, part charming zoetrope of human eccentricity.


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