We continue our weekly tribute to all the random, eclectic awesome stuff out there. Welcome to Part 3 of the Hodgepodge of Cool issue: SHEEP! …or what 10,000 strangers, the BBC and Soulja Boy have in common.
By Maria Popova
When we promise random, we deliver random. But, really, there’s a ton of sheep-related awesomeness out there. In fact, we think sheep are the new penguins — you know, that awkward yet adorable “it” species of popular adulation that gives rise to all kinds of trends. You heard it here first, kids — Happy Hoofs, anyone?
Knowing the name of the individual animal you’re eating for dinner: kinda creepy. Knowing the name of the animal you’re wearing to dinner: kinda cute.FLOCKS, the brainchild of Dutch designer Christien Miendertsma, is a knitwear line that explores the long-lost connection between producer and consumer.
In simpler terms, you can buy a cozy wool sweater (or scarf, or mittens, or socks, or hat) that comes with a photo and a short bio of the ovine contributor, so you can confidently answer you fashionista friends when they ask who you’re wearing.
The project is a collaboration between the graphic designer, a knitter, some spinners, and the farmers and felters who tend a flock of sheep. Each sweater comes with the sheep’s “passport” and a yellow RFID tag that matches the one on the sheepie’s ear.
And we’d so much rather wear something that comes from a happy fluffy sheep than from the hands of an overworked Chinese 6-year-old.
The BBC, always the beacon of underappreciated entertainment (hey there, The Office original), has just upped the ante for sheep-related entertainment with the latest work of cult animators The Brothers McLeod.
Pedro and Frankensheep, a series of 10 5-minute episodes for CBBC, is part Robot Chicken, part Sesame Street, part something else entirely. It’s the story of a crazy guinea pig scientist and his cyborg pet sheep, delighting British kids in those bedtime hours with quirky, weird-voiced, crazy-eyed animation magic.
Ah, nothing beats a Mexican accent with a British accent.
THE SHEEP MARKET
Why on earth would 10,000 strangers get together to draw sheep?
Remember Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s labor distribution system where you can pay web workers small amounts of money to complete simple tasks for you? Artist Aaron Koblin did just that for his project The Sheep Market — he created a simple drawing app and simply instructed Turkers to “draw a sheep facing left.”
10,000 people got to it, for 2 cents each. In 40 days, they drew at a rate of 11 sheep per hour with an average draw time of 105 seconds per sheep. And little did they know Koblin was also recording their drawing process. He then collected all the drawings and turned them into a series of collectible stamps. But because the entire project is the ultimate experiment in collaborative digital art, he also crafted The Sheep Market website where you can see all the drawings and watch each one being drawn.
662 sheep were rejected. We feel really bad for them.
Rose stands at a little over an inch, clutching tiny bamboo knitting needles, and is made from 100% real sheep wool. She comes from Canadian crafts designer fantiny, who can ship one of Rose’s siblings your way if you’re so inclined.
Rose is most positively the cutest little knitting sheep we’ve ever encountered.
Forget all bucolic stereotypes — sheep have gone 2.0. Or at least that’s the case of Jan, the USB sheep from Swedish animal-themed gizmo maker Minimoo. Jan comes in 1GB ($43), 2GB ($58) and 4GB ($74) memory sizes.
Jan looks rather grumpy. But we empathize — we too would be rather grumpy if we had a USB flash drive stuck in our business end.
We continue our weekly tribute to all the random, eclectic awesome stuff out there. Welcome to Part 2 of the Hodgepodge of Cool issue: Mindless Fun, or what blue balls and Stephen King have in common.
By Maria Popova
You know those times when your brain just gives you the cold shoulder and refuses to cooperate in any sort of efficiency-oriented task? Those are the times when you need a good, solid time-waster — something so utterly pointless but oh-so-indulgent to do until that mind of yours comes back home. And we’ve got you covered with the best 5 things to mindlessly savor — stuff to shrug and giggle at, to unleash your frustrations on, or just stare blankly and blissfully at.
THINGS YOUNGER THAN MCCAIN
Political catfights, with their ugly jabs and relentless undercutting, can get dangerously close to Jerry Springer territory. Normally, “good-natured fun” is the last thing that springs to mind in trying to describe them. But one Obama fan brings us a gem that injects a dose of playful, tongue-in-cheek humor into political campaigning — while still making its point.
Every once in a while, something so head- scratchingly absurd comes around we just can’t help but grin and embrace it.
Which is why we dig Big Bag of Crabs — a nondescript loop of imbecile animation scored to ridiculously campy music that’s somehow the most cheek-burstingly hilarious thing we’ve seen in a long, long while.
It comes from mysterious getup Skammich, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of making people explode into fart-like laughter.
These guys don’t stop at craps — there’s also lalala (if you ever thought mascots were hilarious just by virtue of their existence, you’re gonna need a diaper for this one), spinning leek (we like to think of it as vengeance against all those anime-heads who take it all too seriously), and pirate, which we think pretty accurately reflects the intellectual sensibility of the current copyright legislation.
Sometimes, there’s nothing more mind-soothing than unleashing all your chest-stuffing frustrations on some unsuspecting office supplies. Like the age-old practice of cubicle grievance exorcism: bubblewrap popping.
Well, you can now do it from the privacy of your computer screen — thanks to virtual bubblewrap. It’s perfect for anything from the 3 o’clock slump to those times The Boss is being a more-than-usual jerk. So go ahead, pop your flustered heart out without worrying about the expressive sighs and massive eye-rolling of irked office mates.
…although, we must admit, half the fun of the real-world version is in the irk factor. Mwahahahaha. (Haaa. (Ha.))
BLUE BALL MACHINE
Few mindless fun gems are so supreme that they require nothing more than staring blankly at to get the job done. The job, of course, being getting you into that blissful state of hypnotic mental purging. And nothing purges the overwhelmed mind better than little blue balls.
Yep, you may remember the Blue Ball Machine we’ve grown to know and love — a gigantic pinball factory full of tiny little men pushing, packing, moving along and inspecting tiny little blue balls. For no apparent reason. Endlessly. To the mind-drilling yet somehow soothing score of circus music.
Best part: the little guy who gets repeatedly decapitated only to have his head replaced by a blue ball. Oh joy.
A great time-waster knows not issues of datedness — which means it’s great every time, even if it’s another blast from the Brain Pickings past. And if the mindlessness comes with a touch of serious art, then it’s all the better.
We’re talking about Zoomquilt II, the collaborative art project that unleashes on you an endless mashup of various artists’ work, all Flash-woven together into a seamless and never-ending loop of interlocking illustrations.
It’s like your favorite Disney characters took psychedelic drugs and decided to have a tea party in Stephen King’s living room, reading Alice in Wonderland out loud to each other. And they’re about to pour your mind a cup.
Here’s to living vicariously through the eeriness of others.
What Skoda has to do with Chinese monkeys and Salvador Dalí.
By Maria Popova
Apart from air, there’s hardly anything more integral to our existence than food. Which makes it easy to overlook as utilitarian fuel for ordinary life. But there’s a whole crazy world of extraordinary food-related coolness out there, and we’ve gone and digested it all for you: Here are our top 5 picks for goodies that satisfy both stomach and brain.
Rarely would a company have trouble doing business under any other name. But sometimes the need to convey the nature of your product with utter conviction has such a sense of urgency that it has to start as early as possible: at the name.
This seems to be the case for Edible. — an uber-gourmet virtual shop that caters to the most gastronomically adventurous of us. A delicacy heaven for the foodiest of foodies and a Fear-Factoresque hell for the mere mortals, the online store offers unusual edibles from around the world, all falling outside the realm of ordinary, everyday food and all likely to elicit anything from a raised eyebrow to an uncontrollable gag reflex.
Edible. (whose name actually includes the period that follows it, as in “Trust us, this is edible, period.”) includes an array of foods rarely seen in the Western world but regarded for centuries as delicacies in more exotic cultures.
And if you feel your confidence in the whole thing begin to shake at any given moment, remind yourself they’ve got that all-convincing period.
EUGENE & LOUISE BAKERY
Oh, the ways in which food can seem inedible. Just like you may have reservations about eating stuff that looks gross, you could have just as hard a time eating something that looks so perfect it might as well belong in a museum.
That’s exactly how we feel about the edibles of Eugene and Louise Bakery. Their cute-as-a-button marzipan treats look like the adorable lovechild of LEGO figurines and those trendy anime-inspired vinyl toys.
The sweet enterprise is the brainchild of three Belgian friends: Glenn D’Hondt and Sylvia Meert (a.k.a. Eugene and Louise) and Tinne Mermans. From the too-sweet-to-eat marzipan treats, to the in-your-face,-Charlie chocolate factory, to their fairytale-like journal, the entire thing tickles our inner child and takes us back to those precious Hansel-and-Gretelesque times when food was full of magic and fun.
LES DINERS DE GALA
There’s long been an intersection between food and art — heck, most chefs would be offended if regarded as anything less than artists. But when one of history’s greatest surrealists lays his art on food, it’s something else entirely.
Melting clocks and table-dripping eggs notwithstanding, Salvador Dali actually illustrated the complex relationship between art and food — literally. In between redefining modern art and stirring up political controversy, the mustached Spaniard wrote and illustrated Les Diners de Gala — a spectacular cookbook that features 136 recipes across 12 categories of supreme European deliciousness, stunningly illustrated and bound with color-illustrated cloth boards in a dustjacket embossed with gold foil.
To our utter befuddlement, the book is now out of print. But you can get your art-hungry hands on a copy for a few hundred bucks and serve a piece of art history at your next dinner party.
The real art of food starts at the production level. We’re not talking about your basic eat-organic, buy-local, humane-farming credo. We’re talking about the deeper, incredibly complex agricultural ecosystem that feeds our food supply.
And no one understands, or utilizes, that ecosystem better than Polyface Farms — a revolutionary Virginia-based farm that works with the ecological, economical and emotional aspects of agriculture, truly brightening our relationship to nature. Founder Joel Salatin says the farm is “in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”
Polyface has six different species of animals growing in an elaborate symbiotic ecosystem of sustainable agriculture, or permaculture. They’re all engaged in a fascinating bio-ecological dance where they keep each other free of parasites and the manure of one species makes for the grub of another. (Oh man up, this is world-changing stuff here, save the “poop” giggles for 30 Rock.)
Here’s one in-action example: a heard of cows spends a full day grazing a grass area clean. Salatin waits 3 days, then takes the “eggmobile” — a dingy cart full of 350 chickens — onto the grazed land. The hens then cluck their way straight to the cow manure and start digging for their favorite food: maggots. These are the larvae of flies, which would’ve hatched on the 4th day, creating a huge fly problem. (Salatin has waited until they’re as juicy and nutritious as possible to give the chickens maximum protein.)
Meanwhile, the hens are not only spreading the cow manure onto the field, but also contributing their own highly nitrogenous kind. The result? The entire cycle has both the cows and the chickens all happy and full, but it’s also fed the grass: thanks to the brilliant fertilization mechanism, it starts growing madly — 4 weeks later, the entire cycle can repeat itself.
And the only man-made equipment involved in the whole process is the fence surrounding the grass area.
Sure, food is a serious thing these days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. And it’s all the more indulgent when it’s scored to one of the most classically elating and playful songs of all time.
Plus, the word “schnitzel” just makes anything exponentially more fun.
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.
By Maria Popova
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.
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.)
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?)
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.
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.
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 Canstructionnational 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.
Here’s another blast from the Brain Pickingspast. “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?