Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

10 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Holstee LifeCycle Film: Visual Poetry for Bike-Lovers and Creators

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“Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them.”

My friends at Holstee have just released a beautiful short film that marries two of my great loves: bikes and creative restlessness. This cinematic take on their famous Holstee Manifesto, one of these 5 favorite manifestos for the creative life, is an exquisite piece of visual poetry, bound to give you goosebumps and leave you itching to get up and do — or make — something great. Enjoy:

And, lest we forget, the original Holstee Manifesto itself:

The manifesto is now available as a gorgeous 18×24″ poster printed on 100% recycled post-consumer paper, locally made with hydro-electric power and benefiting Kiva, as well as a letterpress card printed on handmade acid-free paper derived from 50% elephant poo and 50% recycled paper. Yep, elephant poo.

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10 NOVEMBER, 2011

Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon

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How Milton Glaser subverted Steve Jobs, or what the Mona Lisa has to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

What, exactly, makes an iconic image? You know, the kind that permeates pop culture to become imprinted on our collective conscience, achieving a status of instant recognition and near-universal appeal? That’s exactly what Oxford Trinity College professor Martin Kemp explores in Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon — a fascinating journey into the heart of modern iconography, veering across art, architecture, advertising, religion, science, and a wealth more. From the Mona Lisa to Che Guevara to Einstein’s E=mc² to Milton Glaser’s I♥NY, Kemp uses 11 such iconic images to examine the 11 key categories he identifies, lavishly illustrated in 165 color images. Beneath them all runs a common undercurrent of elements that hold the secret to all icons — among them, simplicity of message, robustness, and openness of interpretation.

Some types of images are specific — like Lisa and Che — while some are generic, such as the heart shape. The generic ones tend to seep gradually into general consciousness. The heart shape appeared on playing cards and became the religious symbol of the sacred heart, before becoming the ubiquitous symbol of love. It takes a designer of genius, like Milton Glaser, to refresh its power in the service of a specific cause. We all know I♥NY. But New York largely surrendered the ‘Big Apple’ to Steve Jobs.” ~ Martin Kemp

Mona Lisa, digitally restored. Photo courtesy of Pascal Cotte

Enrique Avila Gonzalez, Che Guevara. Ministry of the Interior, Havana, Cuba

Felix de Weldon, Marines Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima, Virginia, Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery

BFF Architects and Izé, DNA door handles, London, Royal Society.

Kemp has an excellent piece in The Wall Street Journal offering five lessons on successful iconography based on the case studies explored in the book.

Kemp also observes that even the icons of modern science, like DNA and E=mc², have taken on a quasi-religious dimension — which, of course, we already knew, even just by looking at the many geek-rebels who inked themselves with science. But, in fact, much of this iconography is based on pop culture mythology that isn’t necessarily rooted in truth. Kemp notes:

I assumed that Einstein’s famous formula for the equivalence of mass and energy, E=mc² had appeared in his renowned set of papers published in 1905. Einstein scholars insisted it was there. But it was not. In that precise form, the equation seems to have been visited on Einstein as a simplification of his ideas, cemented in the public mind by its association with the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. The well-known tends not to be true in such cases.”

Part Iron Fists, part The Myth of Pop Culture, part The Century of the Self, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon is an essential effort to understand who we came to worship what we worship and why the iconography of consumerism has such an enduring hold on us, whether or not we want to admit it. And though the book was written partly as a blueprint for branding, a subversive reading of it also offers a blueprint to the opposite — how to loosen the grip of commercial culture by better understanding the engineered mesmerism by which it transfixes us.

Images courtesy of Oxford University Press

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09 NOVEMBER, 2011

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors: The Physical Underbelly of the Internet

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An anatomical tour of the Internet by way of 60 Hudson Street, a nondescript epicenter of global data traffic.

We keep thinking and reading about the Internet as a cultural phenomenon, but what about its palpable physicality? In 2010, it was estimated that the world produced over one thousand exobytes of new data, or one trillion gigabytes. Most of it doesn’t stay put — instead, it travels through the world’s servers, but where exactly does it go? That’s precisely what Ben Mendelsohn set out to answer in Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors, a fascinating short documentary for his masters thesis at The New School. The film takes us inside 60 Hudson Street in Lower Manhattan — a deceptively nondescript building that houses one of the world’s major nodes of the Internet. The rest…well, you’ll have to see for yourself:

It’s really vital to remember that the Internet is physical. The Internet can be touched, it is material and it exists — because so much of the rhetoric surrounding current concepts of ‘cyberspace’ suggests that it’s somehow just this sort of magic, etherial realm that exists ‘out there’ almost on its own.” ~ Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society, Newcastle University

Technology does not exist in a vacuum. It is shaped by the many people and institutions that extract value from it. With all this infrastructure, all this sunk capital, there is obviously much value to extract from 60 Hudson Street… A combination of historic, technological, and economic forces has embedded this concentrated piece of Internet infrastructure in the dense urban core of Lower Manhattan.”

(Bonus: At 0:20, you can see a shot of our view at Studiomates.)

via The Atlantic Video

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