Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

16 OCTOBER, 2009

Experimental Cartography: The Map as Art

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What tattoo art has to do with fashion, vintage atlases and Nazi concentration camps.

We’ve always been fascinated by maps — through various elements of design, from typography to color theory to data visualization, they brilliantly condense and capture complex notions about space, scale, topography, politics and more. But where things get most interesting is that elusive intersection of the traditional and the experimental, where artists explore the map medium as a conceptual tool of abstract representation. And that’s exactly what The Map of the Art, a fantastic Morning News piece by Katharine Harmon, examines.

Matthew Cusick, 'Fiona’s Wave,' 2005

Cusick's oversized collages are painted with fragments of vintage atlases and school geography books from the golden era of cartography, 1872-1945.

Corriette Schoenaerts, 'Europe,' 2005

Schoenaerts, a conceptual photographer living in Amsterdam, constructs countries and continents out of clothing.

(You may recall Schoenaerts from our Geography, Topography, and Everythingography issue.)

Arie A. Galles, 'Station One: Auschwitz-Birkenau,' 1998

A grim allusion to Nazi concentration camps, these drawings, based on Luftwaffe and Allied aerial reconnaissance film, were made over the course of a decade.


Qin Ga, 'Site 22: Mao Zedong Temple,' 2005

In 2002, China's Long March Project embarked upon a 'Walking Visual Display' along the route of the 1934-1936 historic 6000-mile Long March, and Beijing-based artist Qin kept tracked the group’s route in a tattooed map on his back. Three years later, Qin continued the trek where the original marchers had left off, accompanied by a camera crew and a tattoo artist, who continually updated the map on Qin’s back.


Paula Scher: The World, 1998

Paula Scher: Africa, 2003

These maps come from Harmon’s The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography — a remarkable collection of 360 colorful, map-related visions of experimental cartography by well-known artists and design thinkers like Olafur Eliasson (remember him?), Maira Kalman (another TEDster), Paula Scher (and yet another), and Julian Schnabel, as well as more underground creatives whose art is greatly inspired by maps. The book also features essays by Gayle Clemans, introducing a richer layer of insight into the work of some of these map artists.

Be sure to read Harmon’s excellent essay below the Morning News images, which offers a fascinating look at the historical relationship between maps and the art movement, both products of the shifting political and aesthetic influences of the time.

via Coudal

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12 OCTOBER, 2009

Journalism Redefined: The Photographer

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A photographer, a graphic novel, and the remarkable story behind the headlines.

As we observe the eighth anniversary of Afghanistan’s latest occupation, the world would do well to reflect on the history that brought us to this most recent impasse. That complex history deserves a fittingly complex treatment, which it gets in the genre-breaking masterwork The Photographer.

First published in 2003 in French, The Photographer was reissued in English this year. Melding a graphic novel, photo essay, and travelogue, it tells the story of photographer Didier Lefèvre’s journey through Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Lefèvre documented the group’s harrowing covert tour in 1986 from Pakistan into a nation gripped by violence in the aftermath of the 1979 Soviet invasion. While a few of his 4,000-plus images were published upon his return to France, years passed before Lefèvre was approached by his friend, graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert, about collaborating on a book that would finally tell his remarkable story.

The resulting effort, assembled by graphic designer Frédéric Lemercier, is a seamless tour de force of reportage unlike anything else in modern journalism. Through hybrid forms of history, The Photographer tells one tale of what is of course an ongoing narrative in a part of the world we usually hear about in abstract headlines. We were moved by the courage and strength of the Afghani people and the MSF doctors who risk their lives to help them under exceedingly difficult conditions, especially the team’s young, female head of mission. Although we know how this particular piece of the story works out—against long odds Lefèvre makes it back to his native France, and MSF will stay until forced to abandon its operations temporarily in 1990—that does nothing to diminish the book’s suspense.

The Photographer is a true hybrid of artistic approaches. Frames of photos run in succession to provide parallax views of a scene, and Lemercier’s coloration of the drawn panels enhances the immediacy of the experience. (The Persian script in several scenes was even penned by Persepolis artist/author Marjane Satrapi.) Moved along by interwoven panels of photography and illustration, we were completely absorbed by the action and had to be pulled away to tell you about it.

For a singular storytelling experience, let The Photographer take you on a trip through time to a place we still need to understand better.

Kirstin Butler has a Bachelor’s in art & architectural history and a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a freelance editor and researcher, where she also spends way too much time on Twitter. For more of her thoughts, check out her videoblog.

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09 OCTOBER, 2009

Color and the Brain: Beau Lotto’s Optical Illusions

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What tsunamis have to do with online banking, public transit and better street cred for geeks.

We’re deeply fascinated by both the inner workings of the brain and the essential role of color in design thinking. Which is why we raved about Beau Lotto’s TED talk when we first saw it live at TEDGlobal this summer. Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab, and his fantastic talk is now available for all to see — a remarkable journey into how we see, by way of optical illusions, plays on color and light, and some curious neuro-factoids.

Illusions are often used, especially in art — in the works of the more contemporary artists — to demonstrate the fragility of our senses. This is complete rubbish. The senses aren’t fragile — if they were, we wouldn’t be here. Instead, color tells us something completely different: That the brain didn’t evolve to see the world the way it is — we can’t. Instead, the brain evolved to see the world the way it was useful to see it in the past.

Much of this, of course, isn’t new — many of the illusions Lotto demonstrates borrow from the famous Ishihara color test, developed by Japanese researcher Dr. Shinobu Ishihara in 1917.

But what we find most interesting is the notion of translating color into sound as it’s closely related to the work of a dear, dear friend — Israeli animation artist and jazz musician Michal Levy, who actually sees music and hears color — a rare phenomeno known as synesthesia, a neurological crossing of the senses that occurs in only a tiny fraction of the population.

Her brilliant short films, Giant Steps and One, embody many of the principles used in Lotto’s translation of children’s paintings into music. (Needless to say, we hope to see Michal speaking at TED one day.)

For a deeper illumination of the brain’s incredible relationship with color and light, check out Lotto’s fantastic book, Why We See What We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision — a compelling exploration of the visual history of our species, the historical significance of visual stimuli, and the wide-spanning consequences of how our brain sees.

Meanwhile, we’re anxiously awaiting the emergence of more synesthetic projects across the arts and sciences as multimedia environments evolve and interaction artists continue to experiment with the intersection of technology and the senses.

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