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Repurposed Art: The Second Life of Cardboard

The alter egos of discarded cardboard, what Edvard Munch has to do with recycling, and the only violin Itzhak Perlman can’t play.

Today, we’re looking at a ubiquitous and often overlooked material — cardboard — and fresh ways of breathing new life into it beyond the obvious call for recycling. Because reusing is great, but repurposing into something that makes a bigger cultural contribution, well, that’s immeasurably better.


Most of us see corrugated paper as a shameful piece of packaging waste, begging to be recycled — if we pay attention to it in the first place, that is. But for artist Mark Langan, it is the proverbial canvas for a truly unique kind of art.

Mark makes Corrugated Art — a celebration of “the unique properties of a highly visible manufactured product” by creatively repurposing it into fully recyclable artwork.

Mark’s commercial work includes a number of corporate logos. Some, of course, are more appropriate than others — Packaging Company of America is a no-brainer, but we fail to see how the sustainability message fits with the bottled water industry, easily among the world’s least sustainable.

We’re big fans of repurposing here — both physically, as a way to minimize waste, and conceptually, as a challenge to conceive of the ordinary in a an extraordinarily novel way. So go ahead and explore Mark’s work — you’ll never look at cardboard the same way again.


The work of British artist Chris Gilmour isn’t merely about giving old materials new life — it’s about provoking amazement and surprise and a new understanding of everyday reality.

Gilmour makes life-sized sculptures made out of packaging cardboard. But as immaculate as his craftsmanship is, his art transcends the realm of craft — it’s a commentary on the process of deconstruction and construction, an aesthetic and conceptual narrative about the routines of daily life, an exploration of the often thin line between reality and unreality.

Gilmour’s work has progressed from objects that capture the emotion and memory of first-hand experiences — a bicycle, a typewriter, a piano — to pieces of broader cultural context.

Explore Chris Gilmour‘s work and process — his sculptures are a true testament to art’s transformative power in both material and mind, inspiring new ways of thinking through new ways of doing.


Simply-named American company Cardboard Design offers all kinds of cardboard-made castles, forts, rockets, playhouses, dollhouses, teepees, dens, chairs and pods — play-therapy for kids being nursed on the sustainable lifestyle from birth. Great already. But beyond the they also have something called liquid cardboard — a line of products that move freely from one shape to another.

Each item is an absolute chameleon, with the capacity to transform into anything from a vase to a bowl to a candle holder to a stress toy — creative clay to be molded solely by your imagination.

We also love Cardboard Design‘s “Cardboard Speaks” guerrilla campaign — a quirky effort aimed at making passers-by question the mundane material and toy with the prospect of its second life.

Here’s to looking at the ordinary and envisioning the extraordinary — even if it’s “mere” cardboard we’re looking at.


Similarities: Because It’s All Been Done

What Einstein has to do with copyright, where indie bands get their concert posters, and why there’s no such thing as creativity.

“Everything’s been done.”

Or so goes the adage drilled into every budding art director from the start. Now, we have proof, thanks to Similarities — a Flickr set that pits pairs of similar images against each other, exposing their striking aesthetic and conceptual similarity.

Substantiating Einstein’s bold contention that “the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources,” Similarities takes pairs of cultural artifacts, often separated by decades, and exposes anything from well-meaning homages to blatant rip-offs to the unfortunate overlaps of equally twisted minds.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that Similarities isn’t out to point the finger at the potential (and often clear) theft of ideas — rather, it’s there to shed light on the creative process, to illustrate something we very much believe here at Brain Pickings: That creativity is simply the sum total of your mental resources, the catalog of ideas you’ve accumulated over the years by being alive and alert and attentive to the outside world.

So when you explore Similarities, challenge yourself to question the subconscious influences and stealthy inspiration that creep into your own creative output. What you find may surprise you.


GOOD Magazine: The Real Stimulus Package

How the best magazine around got better, or why taking a slight financial hit can get you an intellectual grand slam.

We love GOOD Magazine. Always have (well, at least since their launch party in Philly’s Reading Terminal in 2007), always will. And now we have yet another reason to.

goodsubInitially, an annual subscription to GOOD used to cost $20, all of which went to your choice of charity from their list of nonprofit partners — great already. (Ours went to WWF.) But imagine our delight to discover that GOOD is now pushing the innovation front with a pay-what-you-want model – you can subscribe for anything from $1 to $1,000, all of which still goes to a charity of your choice.

Your choice of subscription also gets you various tiers of perks: Anything over $20 gets free admission to Choose GOOD parties (and good they are, take our work for it), $10o or more gets your name immortalized in the magazine, and if you have the good will and appropriate pocket depth to afford the $1,000 subscription, we’re talking lifetime subscription to the magazine, lifetime free admission to Choose GOOD parties, your name printed in the magazine, and a signed, limited edition bound copy of GOOD.


We’ve seen this sort of approach in the music industry, with acts big and small, from Radiohead to Jill Sobule, redefining the traditional business model. But we’re all the more excited to see it in print publishing, an industry struggling to stay afloat in the digital ocean of content.

More importantly, it’s a particularly good metaphor for the broader concepts GOOD stands for: Cultural contribution. Empowerment. Freedom of choice.

choosegoodWe can’t recommend GOOD enough — they go so far beyond “good enough” in every respect, from the compelling content, to the fantstic design and art direction, to their sustainable choice of paper stock. So go ahead and get your subscription to GOOD — it’s a solid investment, in both your personal growth and in your contribution to causes larger than yourself.


Geek Tuesday: Data Immersion Gone Wild

Making sense of the world one dataset at a time, or what Mahnattan men and the poverty line have in common.

It’s no secret we’re huge (HUGE) data visualization junkies here. So we’re all over UUorld, a fantastic new immersive mapping environment that helps you makes sense of the data through highly intuitive visual analysis.

UUorld, pronounced [world], uses four-dimensional mapping — an approach that exposes the spatial and temporal context implicit to virtually all data, revealing insight far deeper and more compelling than any brain-numbing array of numbers splattered on an Excel spreadsheet could. (Which doesn’t surprise us, given the overwhelming evidence for the visual-spatial sketch pad’s role in cognition, comprehension and memory.)

While UUorld is capable of analyzing international trends and patterns, it also allows you to zoom in on sub-national elements like states, counties and even cities. The software comes with an enormous portal of free data, or you can import your own to visualize. The maps you build are highly customizable, so you can flex your creative muscle and art-direct your data visualizations to aesthetic perfection.

Visualizations and maps are downloadable in a variety of formats, including KML — which means you can export your data creations to Google Earth, plotting your data in its planetary context. And because Google Earth has an open API, we can only begin to imagine the fascinating potential for crowd-sourcing data visualization from UUorld users, eventually building an immense global library of trends and patterns that help us better understand our world and each other.

We’d love to see UUorld eventually explore the dynamic, creative potential of rich data analysis by partnering with data visualization artists like Chris Jordan, Aaron Koblin and Jonathan Harris.

A robust non-commercial version of UUorld is available for free, or you can go Pro for just $49, which we think is beyond reasonable for you get.

And if you aren’t ready to commit just yet, go ahead and explore the data gallery — you’ll find such delightful edutainment as the percentage of households run by single mothers, U.S. magnetic field intensity, a state-by-state dissection of the Obama stimulus package, and the average earnings of Manhattan men.


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