A few of my favourite books in 2013
I could have titled the post "Gift ideas for Christmas" but to be honest, these books are not christmassy in the traditional sense of the word. Neither is my blog, for that matter. The truth is that this is a list of books i've enjoyed but never found the time to review as they deserved. I always meant to but here we are in mid-December and the "to review ASAP" pile of books is reaching skyscraping dimensions on my table. So here's a few publications that shouldn't be off your radar:
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders, by Jalila Essaïdi, was the very good surprise of the year. Its starting point is the famous project 2.6g 329m/s, aka the 'bulletproof skin' developed with the help of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award. The publication is described as A stunning hardcover book with a special cover and paper that feels soft like skin/silk, counting 160 pages that visually explore the process of creating bulletproof skin. Which is true but doesn't do the book justice. What Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders does what very few books about biotech art do: it brings the project but also the whole field into a broader context. Scientists, philosophers and renowned people involved in the 'biotech art' world contributed to the volume with essays that ponder on the ethical, cultural, artistic and scientific meaning of the project and of biotech artworks in general. Among them are Symbiotica Director Oron Catts, Director of the Center for PostNatural History Richard Pell, artist Clifford Charles, scientific director of the Center for Society and the Life Sciences Dr Hub Zwart, expert in spider silk (and its many high tech potential uses) Randy Lewis, science writer Simon Ings, forensic firearms expert Benno Jacobs. A space is also given to random people who commented on the project.
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders is a smart, entertaining and thought-provoking book. It's also splendidly designed, i can't recommend it enough.
Yes, i've mentioned that one already. It's a 'best of' F.A.T., a guide to copy/replicate/customize their most astute or ludicrous projects. I still can't believe they've allowed me to plaster a text inside the book.
Outerviews. Conversations with Artists, published by MoTA. 17 interviews with artists, selected from the pretty spectacular archive of the ArtistTalk.eu project. The conversations included illuminate the processes behind the making of art works, which in have in our view proposed the most interesting challenges to the common conceptions of art.
You need to email the address at the bottom of this page for a copy. Well worth the trouble.
The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the "war on drugs," which has so far cost more than 60,000 lives in just six years. Hernández explains in riveting detail how Mexico became a base for the mega-cartels of Latin America and one of the most violent places on the planet. At every turn, Hernández names names--not just the narcos, but also the politicians, functionaries, judges and entrepreneurs who have collaborated with them. In doing so, she reveals the mind-boggling depth of corruption in Mexico's government and business elite.
This one's on my kindle and i've only just started reading it but so far, so very good. Gripping, informative in the 'i can't believe i'm reading this' sense.
Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, edited by Geoff Manaugh. Published by Actar.
From autonomous tools for remote archaeology to radio telescopes scanning electromagnetic events in space, by way of colorful mechanisms allowing children to experience the animal superpowers of other species, Landscape Futures looks at the world of extraordinary scientific machines and their hypothetical alternatives that filter, augment, clarify, and transformatively reproduce the world they survey.
Another book from the one and only Manaugh, the guy who makes good old planet earth look like a distant, slightly bonkers and ever fascinating planet.
The publication comprises of 38 illustrated articles on built projects received through a Call for Work. Punctuating these articles, a series of conversations between world leading experts from design to engineering, incl. Mark Burry, Philip Beesley, Gramazio & Kohler and Hanif Kara, discussing themes on drawing to production, behavioural composites, robotic assembly, and digital craft. This densely illustrated publication is intended to impart unequivocal evidence to the reader on how these projects were made, to encompass the breath, complexity and skill required in making digital architecture (i.e. its not as easy as some make out), and to impart the vitality of making as a collaborative and exciting practice.
The book accompanied a conference that took place in 2011. I only got my hands on it a few weeks ago. And because it is still as relevant as ever, it's now available in paperback.
Art Since 1980 charts the story of art in contemporary global culture while holding up a mirror to our society. With over 300 pictures of painting, photography and sculpture, as well as installation, performance and video art, we are led on an illuminating journey via the individuals and communities who have shaped art internationally.
Kalb approaches art from multiple angles, addressing issues of artistic production, display, critical reception and social content. Alongside his analysis of specific works of art, he also builds a framework for readers to increase their knowledge and enhance critical and theoretical thinking.
I wouldn't advise this book to anyone who has only a flimsy interest in contemporary art, they'd be put off by the amount of information to ingest. However, this is a solid reference book for people who are passionate about art and think they lack some of the basic knowledge necessary to better understand and appreciate its meaning and context.
Deller explores how the trauma of the Industrial Revolution and chaotic urbanisation affected British society, focusing on emblematic figures including: Adrian Street, born into a Welsh mining family, Street rejected a life in the mines to become a flamboyant androgynous international wrestler; James Sharples, a 19th centrury blacksmith and self-taught painter from Blackburn, famous for his much-reproduced image, The Forge; and rock stars from industrial towns whose roots can be traced back through generations of workers in factories and mills. The radical transformation of the landscape in the early industrial era is powerfully evoked in Victorian images of factories ablaze at night, shown alongside an apocalyptic painting by John Martin. Industrial folk music, the incessant rhythms and racket of the factory floor, and heavy metal will also permeate the exhibition in sound installation and film.
I read this one in a couple of hours. I'm obviously biased. I love Jeremy Deller's work and i've always been fascinated by the Industrial Revolution. The artist clearly isn't the best writer in the world but some of the parallel he draws between now and then (in particular the working conditions in factories in Northern England at the time of the IR and today's culture of zero hour contracts) are worthy of consideration.
This is the publication that accompanies an exhibition of the same name. It's now up at the Manchester Art Gallery and i'll review in the coming days.
Obviously, i enjoyed these books too in 2013.
Image on the homepage: Bio-artist Jalila Essaidi, who used Professor Randy Lewis's special spider-goat silk to create "bulletproof skin". Picture: AP Source: AP.