Euphoria & Dystopia: The Banff New Media Institute Dialogues, edited by Sarah Cook and Sara Diamond. Foreword by Kellogg Booth and Sidney Fels. Essays by Sandra Buckley, Steve Dietz, Jean Gagnon, N. Katherine Hayles, Eric Kluitenberg, Jeff Leiper, Allucquere Rosanne Stone. Afterword by Susan Kennard.
Publishers The Banff Center Press and Riverside Architectural Press write: Euphoria and Dystopia: The Banff New Media Institute Dialogues is a compendium of some of the most important thinking about art and technology to have taken place in the last few decades at the international level. Based on the research of the Banff New Media Institute (BNMI) from 1995 to 2005, the book celebrates the belief that the creative sector, artists and cultural industries, in collaboration with scientists, social scientists and humanists, have a critical role to play in developing technologies that work for human betterment and allow for a more participatory culture. The book is organized by key themes that have underscored the dialogues of the BNMI and within each are carefully edited transcriptions drawn from thousands of hours of audio material documenting BNMI events such as the annual Interactive Screen and the numerous summits and workshops. Each chapter is introduced by an essay from the book editors that discusses the roles of research and artistic co-production at Banff from 1990 to 2005 and a commissioned essay from a leading new media theorist. Includes the catalogue for 'The Art Formerly Known As New Media' exhibition, Walter Phillips Gallery, 2005.
I'll start with a confession: i haven't read the whole book. My only excuse is that it counts 1100 pages, with small fonts and only very few photos. I've had it by the sofa for months. So i read an essay here and there. One by Alexei Shulgin about netart (1998), Eric Kluitenberg's Notes on the Nature of Collaboration and Networks (2005), excerpts from Luis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn's participation to the summit Flesh Eating Technologies (1997), etc. Sometimes i want to read a text by an artist or theorist i like. Sometimes, i pick up an essay because of the issue it explores (Artificial Stupidity, method an Apparatus for Finding Love, Living Architectures.) So far it's been a fascinating journey. Euphoria & Dystopia is packed with insightful transcripts of talks, Q&A, ideas, debates, commissioned essays, excerpts by the media artists, curators, media theorists and computer scientists that you'd expect to appear in such publication. But because Banff is a place where people with widely different background and perspectives can meet, the book also contains texts by pharmacologists, nanotechnology researchers, ethnographers, spokespeople from the industry, sports designers, disability ethicists, cognitive scientists, leaders in Aboriginal storytelling, etc. Even a professional snowboarder.
Of course some essays and ideas have aged badly. But i was surprised to realize that most of the texts in the book are still acutely relevant 10 or 15 years on. It's quite disconcerting to realize that a number of discussions haven't made much progress over the years. The intro to the catalogue of the 2005 exhibition The Art Formerly Known As New Media, for example, hasn't lost an ounce of its strength. But even the essays and concepts that seem a bit passé nowadays have a value that goes beyond the archives: they give a context to today's discussions and debates, reminding us of what we used to think, forecast, fear. We all know how much the art & tech world is in dire need of more context.
I've never been to Banff and i know very little about it so i found it difficult to be excited by its history, functioning and sponsorship stories. But, hey, that's only a small part of this fantastic 1100 pages resource.
Check out also BNMI Archives - Banff New Media Institute.
Image on the homepage: Garnet Hertz, Experiments in Galvanism.
Black Dog Publishing writes: Material Matters: New Materials in Design discusses the vast range of materials that are available to us today, and highlights the advances predicted to prove seminal in the future. The six chapters are divided by chemical composition--Metals, Glasses, Ceramics, Polymers, Composites and material Futures--and with every material featured, the book stresses the relevance of physical material properties.
Each material featured is presented with relevant manufacturer information, material properties and current and potential applications and includes the websites of manufacturers and research institutes, making this a handy reference book for the designer. Material examples include the newly developed metallic 'microlattice', now the lightest solid known on earth; Dow Corning's 'Deflexion', a fabric capable of instantly hardening and Graphene, a material which, at 200 times the strength of structural steel despite being only one atom thick, has the potential to revolutionise the field of electronics.
Philip Howes, Materials Scientist and Zoe Laughlin, Creative Director of The Institute of Making, provide explanations of the basic chemical structure of materials--what makes a glass a glass and why not all polymers are plastics. Their discussion of the potentialities of new materials embraces disciplines as disparate as aerospace engineering and medical research, in addition to offering explanations to everyday material conundrums.
Microscopic glass flakes, Blood Lab-On-A-Stick, piezoelectric ceramics, Catalytic Clothing (clothes that purify the air around), noise-absorbing ceramic, titanium foam, antimicrobial copper, instantly-hardening fabric, light-reflecting concrete, self-healing concrete, soft magnets, self-cleaning glass, etc. And i had no idea that bullet-proof vests contained ceramic.
There is nothing arid nor soporific about new materials.
The authors of the book handpicked some of the most surprising new materials. Their look sometimes belies their nature, their names often verge on the oxymoron and their applications have only just started to be explored. Most materials are allocated one page in the book but some of them are illustrated further with a spotlight on a 'case study' that describes designers, architects and engineers' most innovative uses of materials: from largest optical/near infrared telescope to shape-changing architecture.
The text is as techy as necessary to explain clearly the physical properties and latest applications of each innovation but you don't require a degree in engineering to follow along.
Material Matters: New Materials in Design doesn't pretend to be the bible of all materials, the ultimate encyclopedia but it does fulfill competently its ambition to be a source of inspiration for designers and artists.
Soft Circuits or "epidermal electronic system" (EES) is an ultrathin, electronic circuit applied on the skin. It can stretch, flex, and twist and take input from the movements of your body.
Jólan van der Wiel lets magnetic fields and the force of gravity shape its stools. A mix of iron and plastic is layered between strong magnets that pull the material into unique designs.
Doris Kim Sung's Bloom installation demonstrates the properties of thermobimetal, a thermally responsive metal surface, which reacts to both the change in temperature and direct solar radiation. When the temperature of the metal is cool, the surface appears as a solid object, but once the afternoon heat penetrates the metal, the panels of custom woven bimetal will adjust and fan out to allow airflow and increase shade potential.
Stardust are made from dust that pre-existed the Sun. The interstellar samples were collected by astronauts in 1999. Scientists stored the stardust in Aerogel because its extremely light structure and thermally-insulating properties ensure that the particles are not damaged after being embedded inside the spongy interior.
Bare is a temporary conductive ink that can be sprayed or brushed directly onto the skin to create custom electronic circuitry. This innovative material allows users to interact with electronics through gesture, movement and touch.
Mushroom Packaging as a 100% biodegradable alternative to polystyrene (Styrofoam) packaging.
Ferrofluid, or magnetic liquid, is composed of ferrous nanoparticles suspended in a liquid.
Matthew Szösz blows air between pieces of fused discarded window glass.
A few months ago, i interviewed Léopold Lambert about Weaponized Architecture, an architectural project and research that explores the power of architecture as a political weapon. The concept is illustrated by historical precedents, interviews and essays but it is also exemplified by a very precise situation: the impact of the Isreali occupation on the Palestinian built environment, in particular in the West Bank.
At the time of our conversation, Léopold was about to turn his research into a book. The publication is finally out (both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book) and its title is Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence.
It's a lovely book and one that constantly surprises the reader by the depth of the research, the thought-provoking facts and ideas brought to light, by the photos, the maps and by the graphic novel that closes the book.
I'm not going to review it. Instead, i'll take the fact that it recently landed inside my -always grateful- letterbox as an excuse to talk to Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera who are both architects, bloggers and heads of dpr-Barcelona, the publishing house for Weaponized Architecture.
dpr-barcelona specializes in architecture and design books. Each of their publication is the result of a creative exchange between publisher, author or designer and the collaboration of academic experts that make most complete the overview about each project. Showing a clear innovative way to bring the contents to the public, our projects transcend the boundaries between time and space from conventional publications, approaching to those which are probably the titles of architecture in the future.
What i most admire in dpr-barcelona is that the publishing house is never afraid to question architecture, expand debates nor take risks with the way their books are presented and enjoyed.
I'm copy pasting below some extracts from my online conversation with Ethel and César, it took place just before the book was out, hence the use of the future tense:
What i most admire about dpr-Barcelona is that you don't seem to avoid politically challenging subjects. For example, when you chose to publish Situation Room, Weaponized Architecture, Un Atlas de Cartografías Radicales (the Spanish edition of An Atlas of Radical Cartography.) How do you select the books you are publishing and in some cases even translating? Do you pick up just what interest you as architects at a particular moment or do look for 'gaps' in the market?
We prefer to refer to them as gaps in the thinking. As architects we have been mostly educated through images more than ideas. Our task attempts to revert this situation by the contents we share and by the way we spread them. Coincidentally most of key issues we're facing now as civilization deals with political and economical challenging subjects. Under this scenario architects, liberated from their aesthetics constrains, could genuinely learn and collaborate with socially useful projects and ideas. We build our editorial task in that direction.
Why did you chose to publish Léopold Lambert's thesis for example? How did you come across his research?
Our relation started as most of the connections done in the "network": We noticed and follow Leopold's work since he was editing the blog Boiteaoutils. We found quite interesting mostly all of the issues he deals at the blog and finally we got in touch in 2009 to publish his project Kili No Nara in our blog. From there our connection was going beyond the blogroll, so when we published Lost in the Line, we realized that it was part of a bigger project: Weaponized Architecture.
While exploring the research done by Léopold, we realized that it was a job worth spreading to a different level. Placing its research and proposal in the West Bank, Lambert expands politically the field of architecture narratives, integrating design as a weapon within the scene of the Palestinian struggle. Here we see an act of architectural disobedience, a way to resist an establishment using architecture as a weapon with all its political implications.
How did you turn a thesis into a book? Does this involve a lot of editing, reformulating, reformating? Or did you manage to stick as closely as possible to the original text?
Even its origin is a thesis, when you go into the research and the structure proposed by Léopold, then you realize that naming it "a thesis" is just a formalism. Lambert shows in this work a clear intention of going further and works on the subject as an author committed to the subject studied. That is a sort of implication that goes beyond the limits of Academia.
So, our intervention as publishers has been minimum given that both the contents and the complete layout has been done by the author. We have done minor format adaptation for printing purposes and our main task was focused in supplementing with a publishing strategy aimed to expand the message as wider as possible by means of mobile-book version and the addition of Augmented Reality experience to some contents of the printed version facilitating multi-platform interaction to make more powerful [if possible] Léopold's commitment.
The book will have a free expanded-mobile version, which means that almost all the contents, but adapted to the logic of mobile devices (enhancing immediacy, brevity, and simplicity) will be published for free under a CC license expanding the content of the physical book. The interaction with Augmented Reality will be part of this mobile-book.
The book includes interviews with blogger Bryan Finoki and with Palestinian lawyer, novelist and political activist Raja Shehadeh and will be published both in paperback and as an expanded mobile book, with Augmented Reality [AR] interaction, so the content itself will be expanded through mobile devices.
Related entries: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine, Open City: Designing Coexistence - Part 2, Refuge, Decolonizing Architecture - Scenarios for the transformation of Israeli settlements and Welcome to Hebron.
The Circus as a Parallel Universe, edited by curators Gerald Matt and Verena Konrad. With essays by by Birgit Peter, Matthias Christen and Verena Konrad. And interviews with pop artist Peter Blake and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at Kunsthalle Wien.
Publisher Verlag für moderne Kunst writes: Clear the ring for the world of acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals! Presenting a number of contemporary works of art, the catalog »The Circus as a Parallel Universe« offers an introduction into the universe of the circus and highlights a wondrous place full of knowledge of the world, surprises and sensations, a place of poetry, but also of excitement, confusion, and unease. The circus as a parallel world has become a projection surface in film and literature, but also in the fine arts.
I wouldn't normally review the catalogue of an exhibition i haven't seen but i was seduced by the description of the book and its accompanying images (midgets! Anthony Quinn in La Strada!) But then i don't know much about the circus, i've never even been to the circus. Not because i have that "clowns freak me out" affectation but because i've always been so sad for the animals.
Still, there is something unique and endlessly appealing about the whole circus aesthetics though: the garish colour, the merry silhouette of the tents, the posters, the costumes (which i do wear on some occasions) and Moira Orfei (do click with sound to max volume). Don't laugh at Moira, she used to be the most beautiful creature of Italy. I just wish she'd leave those tigers alone.
The book has the usual format of a catalogue: a series of essays and then a few pages about each artists participating to the show, plenty of images and a couple of interviews thrown in. The essays are particularly good at identifying the rules and roles of the circus. On the one hand it's a world of escape and dreams. A world where social conventions, animal behaviour and even the laws of physics are challenged. But it is also a microcosm that sets very clear limits to its own transgressions, makes a business of violating norms and requires that its members operate within a strict framework.
The text The Circus as a Model of the World charts the intertwining histories of circus and cinema. Both shared the same venues, the same audiences and the nomadic lifestyle in the early days of the cinema. They might not have so much in common right now but the movie industry has never stopped looking at circus as a source of inspiration (apparently some 600 circus films have already been produced in 30 countries.) The essay Taste and Prejudice, however, demonstrates that the circus isn't meeting with the same appreciation as the other sources of entertainment. While theatre and circus used to compete in the 19th century for example, it is now obvious that one is now regarded as a form of art while the other doesn't meet with the same respect.
The interviews in the book are as enjoyable and though-provoking as the essays. They would, however, benefit from some context or at least a short introduction. For example, the interviewer kept asking Peter Blake about his collection. If i hadn't seen an exhibition about that collection two years ago, i wouldn't have received much information about it from the interview only.
I've said a few words about the essays, the interviews, the images are as good as you can hope in a catalogue. Let's talk about the small texts explaining the works exhibited by each artist. Actually there's only one thing i can say about them and it is that they are in german only! The whole book is in english and german except the part dedicated to the individual works. Why be so cruel? Why translate one half of the book and leave the other part in german only? Still, i did discover a few works i liked a lot. That Deborah Sengl does animal anthropomorphism like no one else.
The artists selected have found inspiration in the circus in its childhood entertainment form (as opposed to glamourous Cirque du Soleil-like performances), reconstructing part of its magic, decoding its figures and metaphors, extending its boundaries. Here's just a small selection of their work:
In 2005, Javier Téllez organized a parade of patients from Mexicali's CESAM mental health center. They were protesting against general views on mental illness in today's society. The procession stopped in Las Playas, a Mexican town on the US-Mexico border for the first-ever firing of a human cannonball over an international border: from Mexico to the US.
In the installation illustrated below, light chains hanging from the ceiling move up and down. The installation is activated by a person pedalling on an exercise bike.
Publisher Routeledge says: In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice: vision, light/shadow, reproductive processes, editing/ presentation/ evaluation.
I'm guilty of a serious case of Judging a Book by its Cover. The indecisiveness in picking up a single image for the cover put me off. Once you open the book, i can't say that the design gets much more appealing (although it is remarkably effective) but the content is literally mind-blowing. Bringing together rigorous theory, idiot proof 'how to' tutorials, artistic works that illustrate each concept and method might sound a bit too much for a sole book written by only two authors but somehow, it works. Theory, techniques and illustrative works complement each other efficiently.
The texts are extremely rigorous and well-researched but the authors never take readers' knowledge of any concept nor reference for granted. Nothing is too pedestrian: the tutorials are extremely detailed and info boxes regularly pop up on the side to explain in few words what is a magic lantern, a chiaroscuro or an installation. Who is Lacan, why Bauhaus matters.
Reframing Photography is probably not a book you'd want to read from cover to cover in one afternoon (it's 500 dense pages, my friend!) I headed to chapters presenting the work of the artists, looking for new names as much as new perspectives on artists i already knew. In the coming weeks i'll probably be back inside the book for the step-by-step on how to construct a pinhole camera and use it. I'm also quite tempted by the one detailing how to hand-colour black and white images.
Another quality of the book is that it doesn't abstract photography from its social context, discussing issues such as censorship in military operation, the place of photography in social networks like facebook, or comparing notions of originality and reproduction in photography to the same notions in genetics, etc. I learnt a lot from the paragraphs dedicated to the right to photograph, the authors not only explain that private parties have no right to confiscate your film if they don't have a court order, they also explain how to handle confrontation.
Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice is accompanied by a website of the same name. The online resource is so action-packed i sometimes wondered if the publishers were not shooting themselves in the foot.
Here's a few works i discovered in the book:
With Objective Distortions, Garth Amundson questions photography by manipulating the image with lenses made from recycled water bottles.
Rebecca Cummins converts trucks, buses and mobile homes into moving camera obscuras.
Somewhere in France, long before Cindy Sherman:
Shizuka Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to people living in ground-floor apartments asking them if they could stand in their front window at a specified date and time, for them to be photographed. Anyone unwilling to participate, they are suggested to draw their curtains. Because the seance takes place at night, Yokomizo's subjects can only see the photographer as a dark silhouette.
Just because i love Edward S. Curtis' photos:
German expressionists were pioneers in the art of playing with shadows:
I love that movie btw, and it's now in the public domain in the US.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sofia Borges.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to innovations in building materials, design technologies, and construction tools, a new generation of architects can finally realize structures that would have previously remained mere dreams. This emergence of a new vernacular of radically sculpted buildings, rooms, and installations melds rigorous usability with a playful and cutting edge aesthetic, facilitating highly functional yet undeniably exhilarating spaces.
The Sky's the Limit serves as a compelling exploration of these seemingly impossible, yet surprisingly practical structures and spaces. Unleashing the creative potential offered by the latest developments in design and construction, this book presents spectacularly formed buildings, façades, and interiors as well as inspiring temporary projects and urban interventions by both young and established talents. The projects featured here have all been built, are actively in use, and transport us to the outer limits of our spatial imagination.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture shows architecture that defies inhibition and doctrines but its 'radical' element shouldn't be confused with the critical investigations of Archigram or Superstudio. Many of the buildings presented in the book have been commissioned by major cultural, political and religious institutions and by business organizations. They act as striking symbols of their power. Given the high number of ambitious buildings erected in Spain, one can also suspect that they were commissioned and financed long before the crisis that is bringing Europe to its knees.
One thing is sure though, every single building in the book is arresting, unique and worthy of more newspaper columns than The Shard and other candidates in the race for tallest skyscraper.
The chapters in the book divide radical architecture into:
The Sky's the Limit is a collection of cutting-edge buildings. And it is a remarkably well-curated collection. But don't expect detailed descriptions of the technology used, of the challenges encountered or the impact the building had on the people who work inside it or live around it. This is a coffee table book, theory is scarce.
Another thing! This is probably not the place for such comment: but why is architecture literature suddenly so fond of the preposition 'atop'?
Still, i loved that book, its content is magnificent. Quick selection:
Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial space terminal.
Invisible from a distance, the Moses Bridge is a wooden passageway that parts a river in two.
The terminal, control tower and storage spaces of the Aeroport Lleida-Alguaire are drawn in a continuous line, forming a single construction.
A playground structure turned into a joyous pavilion covered in funhouse mirrors and wood panels.
Twelve buildings shaped like archetypal houses and stacked upon one another.
The 4-story building has plants in lieu of a façade, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows and curtains to make up for the absence of interior walls.
On the coastal border between Turkey and Georgia:
A concerte building for the employees of the Paris transportation system. Shaped like a ship with round windows.
Ordos Museum is covered in metal tiles that can stand violent sandstorms.
Little Hilltop with Wind View, a 8 meter-tall viewing tower commissioned by a Japanese wind power company, allows people to admire the landscape as well as the company's wind turbines. The light and flexible building is also responsive to the wind, swaying slightly on its platform when the wind blows. Like a tree in the breeze.
Views inside the book: