Brain Pickings

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Friday FYI: Itchy Throat

Doing what you couldn’t the way you should.

It could’ve been that not- quite-ripe kiwi. Or your overcarbonated caffeine fix. Or a cat hair from your roommate’s annoying feline. Whatever it was, your throat is itching and it’s driving you crazier than said cat’s dry-humping habit. Worst part: you can’t exactly scratch it.

Well, actually, you can.

Pull on your earlobe and massage it between your thumb and index finger. This stimulates the nerves in the ear, which creates a reflex in the throat, which in turn causes a tiny muscle spasm. That spasm does what your hand can’t — or shouldn’t — and “scratches” that maddening itch.


Inflated Claims of Art

Soundtrack to the sidewalk, subway zoo, and why the British tabloids insist on harassing a 65-year-old lady.

Today, we’re looking at art that blows — literally. Think of this as a niche appendix to our best-of graffiti and socially-conscious street art series a while back, with a nod to the superhero issue. Yep, we’re multi-pronged like that.


As much as we respect comic book culture, we’ve always wondered what it is exactly about the action illustrations that inspires such unconditional reverence, such loyal followings and such… dedicated… fan conventions. Could it be the unique intersection of visual and sound effects on the printed page, creating a POW! new reality of WURRRG! mixed media and OOH! non-linear perception? Perhaps.

And street artist D.Billy has decided to explore that intersection in our very real reality with his visual representations of sound effects through installations of colorful media like balloons and party steamers.

He works in “found scenes” of urban landscape and, after photographing the finished creations, he leaves the installations on the scene to engage passers-by and inspire a new awareness of the surroundings normally taken for granted.

We love the idea of bringing surreal elements to the most mundane corners of reality, and doing it in a way that plays with how we’re used to experiencing our own senses. Check out D.Billy’s Flickr stream and think about the visual action soundtrack to your own neighborhood. WOWZA!


While bursts of color splattered throughout the otherwise mundane environment sure can be stride-stopping, it’s all the more fascinating when the stride-stopping stuff comes from the most mundane of materials. Case in point: artist Joshua Allen Harris, who uses plastic bags and subway vent air to create inflatable sculptures.

Harris has animated anything from a giant ape to a giraffe to the Loch Ness monster to an entire zoo. New York Magazine recently interviewed the artist for a look behind this unique breed of urban surrealism.

The magic of it is that it looks like plain ol’ trash until a train passes underneath, animating the sculptures and bringing entire scenes to life. And since Harris works mostly in the streets of New York, we find his work to be a brilliant, playful way to engage the world’s most notorious intentionally-oblivious pedestrians.


Finally, Banksy is outed?

We won’t include a photo here because we think half the fascination of it is in the mystery — leave the man/woman be.

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Oh, Conan

Life rule #387: always do as Conan says.

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Apparently, late-night comedy doesn’t pay enough.

Bottoms up, kids.


Artist Spotlight: Alice Wang

What Isaac Asimov has to do with your body image and why your friends would rather you got 8 hours of sleep.

Every once in a while, we come across an artist so innovative and conceptually brilliant that we have the compulsion to stalk them. This, however, gets kinda hard if they’re halfway across the world, which in most cases they are. So we just spotlight them instead.

Today, we take a stalker’s stare at Alice Wang, a Taipei-born, London-educated, is-gonna-be-big-take-our-word-for-it product designer. We’re obsessed with Alice because her work isn’t just an aesthetic: it’s informed and inspired by genuine insight into human behavior, cultural taboos and sociological patterns. In other words, the Brain Pickings mission materialized.

Her Audio Sticks project explores how digitization will change our complex relationship with music. In Pet Plus, Alice projects the way we treat our pets as human surrogates onto products like the pet wineglass set that live in the extremities of the human-pet relationship.

She looks at the complex issue of body image through the prism of Asimov’s First Law — the idea that artificial intelligence can never harm a human — and the weight we place on that number on the bathroom scale.

Three different scales challenge the absolutism with which we think about body image.

White lies allows you to manipulate the weight reading depending on where you stand on the scale’s surface. Half-truth shows the weight reading to your friend or partner, who can choose the level of truthiness in relaying the number to you. Open secrets texts your weight reading to a friend’s mobile phone, binding said friend to share the results next time the two of you hang out. (“Hey, Anna, you brought suntan lotion, right? Oh and by the way, you’ve gained 5 pounds.”)

And then there’s the tyrant alarm clock. It hijacks your phone and starts randomly dialing one of your contacts every three minutes until you get out of bed and make it stop before your social circle has shrunk to the size of a sleeping pill.

Wang’s work is sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheeck, and always thoughtful. Just the way we like it.


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