Brain Pickings

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Reclaiming Urban Landscape: Graffiti Subversion

Ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what manholes and Stanley Kubrick have in common.

What bigger mark of a city’s self-expression than its graffiti culture? The tricky thing is that much of urban graffiti has become contrived, sliding by our attention as expected graphic clichès. The ones that break the norm manage to leave a cultural mark bigger than the physical paint-on-concrete one, and here is our curation of the top 5 unconventional urban graffiti executions.


Ruins. Landslides. Demolitions. To the average pedestrian, these are the most brutal architectural scars and open sores of a city. But to one Brazilian artist, they are a canvas of the imagination, an opportunity to imagine and re-imagine — the graffiti equivalent of looking at clouds and seeing magical shapes.

And, not unlike the great art of yore, these contemporary urban masterpieces remain unsigned and unclaimed. The images popped up randomly with the plain descriptor “Brazilian Graffiti,” leaving us with nothing less than utter awe and respect for the anonymous artist.

via Best Pics Around


From graffiti art on the remains of what once was, to graffiti art on what has never been and will never be. Confused? That’s usually the first reaction to Julian Beever‘s chalk drawings anyway. “The Pavement Picasso” creates trompe-l’Å“il drawings (2D images designed to create an extremely realistic 3D optical illusion) using anamorphosis projection — a technique requiring the viewer to look at the drawing from a designated vantage point in order for the illusion to work. Too much fancy talk for saying the guy’s art extracts more holy-shit’s from passersby than a 5-legged purple elephant.

Watching him work his magic is even more fascinating:

The Pavement Picasso finds inspiration in a wide range of niches — from the art of the great masters, to nature, to famous people, to low-brow pop culture currency. (Spiderman, we’re looking at you.)

Since the early 90’s, the artist has anamorphosized the streets of England, Germany, Australia, the U.S., and Belgium, using nothing but chalk, a camera and buckets of patience to transform our magicless urban sidewalks into fantasy scenes that truly suspend disbelief.


It’s official, the best street art does come from Brazil. What a culture of seeing a canvas where no one else does. Case in point: storm drain graffiti by Brazilian duo 6emeia — artists Leonardo Delafuente (a.k.a. “D lafuen T”) and August Anderson (a.k.a. “SÃO”).

The team also decks out fire hydrants, manholes and various other urban hydraulics standbys. Their projects are inspired by the need for change and color in urban landscape, driven by the idea that artistic tradition has always inspired the greatest social change. They aim to create a new language between art objects and art audiences, calling their art “drops of color in an immense gray bucket.” Eggg-zactly.


At a superficial glance, the following street art may appear to be just another not-all-that-exceptional piece of graffiti. But what makes it exceptional is its cultural context: it’s situated around one of the largest surviving monuments of Communism left untouched in Bulgaria as sombre reminders of life before democracy.

And what makes it so powerful is that it truly takes graffiti culture to its roots of anti-authority rebellion: under Communism, free expression and the artists who practiced it were severely oppressed, if not persecuted, their creative vision squeezed tight in the crushing fist of the regime. Today, this graffiti fence is how artists have symbolically and physically confined Communism to its tiny and uncomfortable compartment in culture’s collective memory, where it slouches gray and demolished in the grip of free creative expression.


Some of the most successful graffiti and guerrilla work has an element of mystery to it. (No, we’re not talking about Banksy here — the dude now has a website, we think he’s got about as much mystery left as a Red District “exotic dancer.”) We’re talking about what could easily be one of the largest guerrilla art mysteries of our time.

It all began sometime in the 80’s when the cryptic Toynbee tiles first started appearing on sidewalks, inscribed with some variation of the semi-articulate phrase “TOYNBEE IDEA IN KUBRICK’S 2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER.” Since then, more than 250 plaques have appeared in a number of major U.S. cities and a few South American capitals.

Like in this one spotted on Juniper and Filbert streets in Philadelphia, the main inscription is sometimes accompanied by other cryptic messages and political allusions.

The tiles have expectedly attracted an enormous amount of attention from conspiracy theorists and mass media channels alike, but the only widely agreed upon interpretation has to do with references to 19th century religious historian Arnold J. Toynbee and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the material used in the plaques was a mystery until recently, when it was finally confirmed to be layered linoleum and an asphalt filler compound.

The leading theory suggests the movement was started by Philadelphia carpenter James Morasco, in his 70’s at the time, who claimed in a 1983 newspaper interview that Jupiter could be colonized by bringing dead humans there to have them resurrected. Although Morasco died in 2003, new tiles have since been appearing consistently, particularly in the Greater Philadelphia area (with the latest reported sighting as recent as a week ago), leading some to speculate that the entire endeavor is the work of a single person and Morasco was only responsible for the first few.

At the same time, plaque size and styling vary greatly across locations, suggesting there may be a multitude of artists involved — in which case we have to wonder what kind of Mason-like secret subculture is so cohesively mum about such a large-scale public space movement.

To this day, the phenomenon is a complete urban mystery that, despite prolific coverage in thousands of newspapers, blogs, local TV specials and even a feature-length documentary, remains unsolved.

Left you high and dry? Thank you, thank you, we’ll be here all week.


Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 1

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 scaffolding has to do with Bambi.

Nothing says “give us back our space” like some unexpected greenification amidst the pavement-and-concrete dullness of the city. So we’ve picked the top 5 ideas that bring a tasty bite-sized bit of green to our urban stew of gray.


The PARK(ing) Project started in 2005 when REBAR, a San Francisco collective of artists, designers and activists, decided the city was in desperate need of an intervention: the dire lack of outdoor human habitat in downtown public space deprived people of their very basic need for a space to sit, relax and do nothing.

At the same time, 70% of the city’s downtown outdoor areas were dedicated to vehicles. So REBAR decided the way to go was to temporarily reclaim some of those parking spaces, feeding meters as a way of “renting” some precious outdoor space for up to 2 hours and transforming that space into a mini-park where people could just sit and enjoy themselves.

Think of it as a bonsai version of The Great Outdoors.

Since then, urban PARK(ing) has been popping up all over the world — Santa Monica, Glasgow, Sicily — producing the expected chain of befuddlement followed by amusement and eventually a delighted grin. And we say anything that brings more smiles to our sidewalks bustling with steel-faced pedestrians is a brilliant idea.


The Parkwheel, a grass-lined wheel that lets you take the park with you, is the product of a student project aiming to make a social statement about the lack of green space in cities — and the irony of how we’re not even allowed to walk on the few public grass areas that do exist.

This nifty “park to go” came from David Gallaugher and two more students at the Dalhousie University of Architecture in Nova Scotia.

And, hamster jokes aside, we really, really want one.


Ugly billboards are everywhere, polluting our cityscape with bad ads, uninspiring imagery and general corporate unseemliness. So when one pops up and actually brings something fresh and inspiring to our urban scenery, we dig big-time.

Like this one for the adidas Grun, a shoe collection of questionable design that may indeed look much better on your building’s facade than it does on your feet.

Spotted in London. (Why is everything better in Europe?)


Ah, construction sites. With their raw industrial scaffolding, they’re just about the ugliest and least outdoorsy city sight. So when something not only covers the big ugly but actually greenifies the sidewalk, it’s a very, very good thing.

That’s exactly what Japanese architecture studio Klein Dytham did in Tokyo back in 2003 when the city’s largest mixed-use development was being built.

The Green Green Screen spanned an impressive 900 feet, covering the construction site with vertical stripes of 13 types of living evergreens alternating with green-leaf-themed graphic patterns. The Green Green Screen stayed up for the entire 3-year duration of the development, delighting passersby with a parklike experience that every New York sidewalk could oh-so-desperately use.


As much as we respect graffiti culture, it has become one of the most universal reminders that you’re in a city — nothing says urban clutter like a graffiti-clad concrete wall. Which is why we dig street artist Edina Tokodi’s green graffiti — moss installations transforming drab public spaces like neighborhood streets and subway trains into living, touchable art galleries.

The Hungarian-born, Brooklyn-based artist is appalled by our city-dweller lack of a relationship with nature and hopes her art sends us into “mentally healthy garden states” — she sees herself a as a “cultivator of eco-urban sensitivity,” and relates her art to deeper emotional memories of animals and gardens from her childhood in Central Europe.

We just wanna pet Green Bambi.

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Down With The Man | Part 1

This week, we’re taking down The Man: from the tongue-in-cheek to the damn-straight-serious, it’s all about revolutionary ideas that aim to change the status quo. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 1.


Money. Cash. Dough. The ultimate fuel for The Man’s power trips. After we saw Al Jaffee paper-fold his way through half a century of political statements, we figured money was such a perfect medium for sticking it to The Man by having some good ol’ fun with his self-aggrandizing use of ink and paper.

Enter Moneygami — the Japanese art of origami (oru = paper, kami = fold) applied to currency. And while we’ve seen other forms of moneygami crafting various fascinating creatures and objects out of cash, we find it all the more effective when The Man’s mugshot is the awkward centerpiece.

Plus, the hats are a touch of genius — sure, some may be reflective of the country’s traditional attire. But others make the whole thing that much more rebelliously hilarious when the result is a powerful political figure in a questionably appropriate hat. (We’re looking at you, Abe Lincoln in a turban and gagnsta Abe.)

Check out more of the world’s leaders in various extra-cranial accessories. Justin may have brought sexy back, but the fedora is all on Alexander Hamilton.


Down With The Man | Part 2

Why the Catholic Church isn’t a fan of car racks. Welcome to the Down With The Man issue: Part 2.


Hand count: ever wished there were more 3-day weekends around? Guess what: time to stop wishing and start doing. That’s right, there’s a movement out to radically change the good ol’ Gregorian calendar and make Monday an official day off. An everyday Festivus for the rest of us, if you will.

The guys at Yakima, the makers of those nifty car racks and other killer gear, are on a mission to make Monday the new Sunday and give people more time to enjoy The Great Outdoors. Or, you know, life.

And they mean business.

They’re arming people with printable protest signs, DIY buttons, and even boss- convincing research to help get The Man signing off on it in no time. And if you’re raising a skeptical eyebrow, let us assure you the movement is already afoot — judging by Uncle Sam pranking the Tour de California to spread the word, it seems like people want Mondays off even more badly than we thought.

So what can YOU do? For starters, join the Facebook group supporting the cause. Then, get all those propaganda materials and get to work — any public event you can sneak into is fair game. Concerts? Why not. Talk shows? Go right ahead. Political rallies? Hey, if you can pull it off without getting arrested… Bonus points for getting on camera.

Because, really, who wouldn’t want 3-day weekends every weekend?

Oh, we know. The Man.


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