Publisher MIT Press write: Political acts are encoded in medial forms--feet marching on a street, punch holes on a card, images on live stream, tweets--that have force, shaping people as subjects and constituting the contours of what is sensible, legible, visible. Thus, these events define the terms of political possibility and create terrain for political actions.
Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism considers the constitutive role played by aesthetic and performative techniques in the staging of claims by nongovernmental activists. Attending to political aesthetics means focusing not on a disembodied image that travels under the concept of art or visual culture, nor on a preformed domain of the political that seeks subsequent expression in media form. Instead, it requires bringing the two realms together into the same analytic frame. Drawing on the work of a diverse group of contributors, from art historians, anthropologists, and political theorists to artists, filmmakers, and architects, Sensible Politics situates aesthetic forms within broader activist contexts and networks of circulation and in so doing offers critical insight into the practices of mediation whereby the political becomes manifest.
I left this book untouched for months when i saw that it counted over 650 pages. That wasn't the smartest thing i've done this year. Once i finally opened it, i realized that Sensible Politics was a brilliant series of short essays written by smart people about some of the artists, thinkers and works i admire the most. Think Trevor Paglen, Eyal Weizman, Michael Rakowitz, Allan Sekula, Rebecca Gomperts, etc. There's also Jean-Luc Godard, i'm only mentioning him we're all supposed to worship his work.
Surprisingly, there's no lame duck in these essays. I was expecting to skip through a couple of stodgy or irrelevant texts but all i've read so far is a series of very informative and well-articulated essays.
Here are just a few examples of the scope and pertinence of the essays: Ariella Azoulay discusses how images taken as casual souvenir can quickly become evidence that document a crime (think of the torture of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib) or conversely, turn an abuse into an act of kindness, Meg Mclagan explains how successful documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth or Supersize Me have paved the way for socially-engaged documentaries that double as commodities with box office appeal, Carrie Lambert-Beatty analyzes how labeling Women on Waves as an art project enabled the activists to bypass legal hurdles, film maker Kirsten Johnson shares her experience of being an embedded journalist in Guantanamo Bay and talks about the military's restrictions surrounding the prison and the trial of Salim Hamdan, Sam Gregory, Program Director at the human right organization WITNESS talks about the fate of grassroot human right footage in the youtube age, the two editors of the book interview Eyal Weizman about forensic architecture, Fayne Ginsburg raises the story of the virtual appropriation on Second Life of Uluru, a major Arborigenal sacred site where non-Aborigenals are not allowed to take photos or to film.
Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism decodes and dissects the multiple interconnections between visual culture and the domain of the political. And it does it in a series of texts that are far-reaching, bold and never predictable. I'll recommend this book for anyone interested in activism, politics, social science, culture or/and visual art.
Image on the homepage: © Oliver Weiken, Germany, Shortlist, Current Affairs, Professional Competition, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. Image Description: Palestinian morticians prepare the body of a man who died during an Israeli airstrike for his funeral in a morgue in a hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, 21 November 2012.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Introducing: Culture Identities features outstanding poster campaigns, publications, and cross-platform corporate design for international cultural institutions by both young designers, who are striving to prove themselves creatively, and established studios, who are experimenting with new forms of visual expression. In the book, readers not only hear from designers who are especially active in the cultural field, such as Bureau Mirko Borsche, the New York-based studio 2x4, James Goggin, and Johannes Erler, but also from notables on the client side including MoMA, the Barbican, Van Abbemuseum, and documenta.
With its selection of striking collaborations between innovative designers and visionary cultural institutions, Introducing: Culture Identities presents the field of visual identities for cultural clients as a continuous dialogue that pushes the limit of what is possible creatively.
I like a book that influences the way i look at the city i walk through every day. Since reading Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions, i've started paying more attention to the design of posters and leaflets advertising the programme of cultural institutions. And even if being more attentive to promotional material isn't exactly my life greatest ambition, there's some great graphic design and typography out there that deserves to be granted more than a distracted glance.
The book features tree main sections. The first one looks at graphic design from the point of view of the cultural institutions. The chapter reveals how some museums or art events select a design studio, integrate them as collaborators and how the internal team welcomes (or not) the proposals of the designers. Only 7 institutions are featured but their relationship with typography and graphic design is analyzed with a depth i wasn't expecting. That first chapter sometimes gave me the feeling that i was taking a peek behind the curtains of institutions such as the Barbican Art Center or Documenta.
The next chapter brings the perspective of the design studios, looking at the relationship they establish with the institutions and how they subtly tweak or break with the identity that cultural institutions have developed over the years. For some designers, a theater or a dance festival is a client like any other. For others, it's a particularly stimulating interlocutor who is receptive to experiments and has developed a similar understanding of creativity.
The last chapter is pure Gestalten: a fast and vast selection of success stories with plenty of images and über efficient descriptions.
Introducing: Culture Identities, Design for Museums, Theaters and Cultural Institutions is a book that should inspire and inform anyone interested in graphic design and typography. It should also entertain anyone interested in uncovering yet another layer of their urban environment and in discovering some of the strategies that culture is using to sell itself to the public.
The only negative comment is a geographical one. Apart from a couple of exceptions, most of the design studios and institutions are based in either Europe or the US. I wouldn't have minded seeing some works from countries such as China, New Zealand, Mexico or South Africa.
And now for the views inside the book:
EP Vol. 1 - The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 by Alex Coles, Professor of Transdisciplinary Studies, School of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Huddersfield and Catharine Rossi, Senior Lecturer in Design History at Kingston University.
Publisher Sternberg Press describes the book: EP is the first critically underpinned series of publications that fluidly move between art, design, and architecture. The series creates a discursive platform between popular magazines ("single play") and academic journals ("long play") by introducing the notion of the "extended play" into publishing: with thematically edited pocket books as median.
The first volume is devoted to the activities of the Italian avant-garde between 1968 and 1976. While emphasizing the multiple correspondences between collectives and groups like Arte Povera, Archizoom, Superstudio, and figures such as Ettore Sottsass and Alessandro Mendini, The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 also highlights previously overlooked spaces, works, and performances generated by Zoo, Gruppo 9999, and Cavart. Newly commissioned interviews and essays by historians and curators shed light on the era, while contemporary practitioners discuss its complex legacy.
With contributions by Paola Antonelli, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Andrea Branzi, Carlo Caldini, Alison J. Clarke, Experimental Jetset, Verina Gfader, Martino Gamper, Joseph Grima, Alessandro Mendini, Antonio Negri, Paola Nicolin, Michaelangelo Pistoletto, Catharine Rossi, Vera Sacchetti, Libby Sellers, Studio Formafantasma, and Ettore Vitale
I've reviewed or simply read my fair share of books about the work of Archigram, Ant Farm and Haus-Rucker-Co.. It was high time i'd read more about the Italian avant-garde in architecture and design because the 1960s and 1970s in Italy is a creative period that needs to get more attention outside of the country.
The key events and concepts covered in the book are never dull. The designers and architects of the Italian avant-garde had bite and sometimes they also had humour. Intellectuals and artists were protesting about the conservative model of the Venice biennial and calling for its restructuration (which gave way to the Architecture Biennial!) Ettore Sottsass was putting tiny tv sets in nature 'for night butterflies'. Ettore Vitale was designing posters reminding of the dangers of fascism. Radical architects were holding seminars on a disused railway bridge. Gruppo 9999 were creating the Space Electronic discotheque in Florence as a 'progressive multimedia environment.'
The book compiles commissioned essays and interviews. By people who were questioning and shaking up design, architecture and art then and by people who, today, are analyzing and discussing the impact of those avant-garde ideas and realizations.
EP Vol. 1 - The Italian Avant-Garde: 1968-1976 lays the solid basis for a deeper and more critical reflection on a key moment in the history of architecture, design and art in Italy. I would recommend the book not only for its historical perspective but also for the way it echoes some of today's interests and preoccupations. The architects and designers of the time too were raising environmentalist concerns for alternative sources of energy. They were already questioning the rule of the objects and the role of an art biennial. They too were exploring more powerful uses of 'new media' while looking for a more meaningful relationship between man and technology. And believe it or not, they were already inventing designs driven by concepts and encouraging 'non-professionals' to build 'spontaneous structures' and participate in ongoing debates. Surely there are lessons there that we could all make use of.
I think that the book would have benefited from a clearer presentation of the socio-economic and political climate in that time and place. But other than that, i'd say this is one of the most exciting and eye-opening books designers and architects could lay their hands on these days.
Previously: A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 , Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992, The Sky's the Limit: Applying Radical Architecture, Clip/Stamp/Fold - The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X, Book Review: Ant Farm - Living Archive 7, Casa Per Tutti, Other Space Odysseys, Ant Farm retrospective in Sevilla, Pioneers of conceptual architecture, etc.
Going Public - Public Architecture, Urbanism and Interventions, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, Sofia Borges and Lukas Feireiss.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Going Public showcases the creative revival of public space in our urban and rural landscapes. The book's compelling selection of formal and informal interventions, reclamations, and architecture illustrates the current scope and interest in refashioning and repurposing our built environment for public use. The objectives of the featured examples are as diverse as the projects themselves and range from inspiring communication and community experience to devising new means of gathering in and connecting to nature.
Ranging from bold to subtle and from temporary to permanent, the architecture and urban design featured in Going Public offers inspiring and surprising interpretations of our public surroundings and natural landscapes.
I might think (probably foolishly) that i get the contemporary art world pretty well covered but each time i open one of Gestalent's book dedicated to graphic design, architecture, street art or illustration, it feels like i've spent too many years lying torpid in my shack at the back of the tundra. So many jaw-dropping ideas, images, projects and initiatives i had no idea existed multiply in quick succession as i flip through the pages of the books.
Going Public - Public Architecture, Urbanism and Interventions didn't disappoint in that respect. In pure Gestalten style, word is as scarce as it is efficient, the layout and typeface are faultless and the selection of works is constantly engaging. At least for people like me who have been hibernating for so long.
Most of the projects presented in Going Public are small interventions aimed at opening up urban or rural space to the broad public and acting as catalysts for social, cultural and political exchanges. Because many of them are lightweight and temporary, they give young talents a space for expression and investigation. And i'm always happy when a publisher, curator or institution looks beyond the usual suspects.
The book is divided into 6 areas of investigation. Chapter one, Gimme Shelter, is about providing an umbrella for public programs and activities. Chapter 2, Constant Gardener, has a self-explanatory title. Then comes Walk With Me, a series of projects which takes you on a stroll around a city or scenery. Benchmarks introduced me to urban furniture with a sense of humour. Chapter 5 Between a Rock and a Hard Place shows how non-places are rehabilitated. The book closes on Why Don't We Do it on the Road? tat explores how overlooked places can be revamped and used for activities that range from organizing carpentry workshops to hosting a temporary open-air museum.
Many of the projects, however, would fit well in several categories. Here are some of my favourite:
Florentijn Hofman (he of the giant yellow duck)'s 13 meter high rabbit invites the inhabitants and visitors of Orebro (Sweden) to examine the space both with the bunny, and then again after its removal.
A bunker sliced in two, opening a walking path for sightseers to admire the mass of the building and the lake. Bunker 599 is a pilot project that attempts to make The Netherlands' military landscape publicly accessible .
Noun 1. Unavailability - The Quality of not Being Available When Needed is a mobile fisherman's shelter made with a foldable wooden frame and walls that, when filled with water, solidify into ice that protects the fisherman from the weather.
The ever-brilliant EXYZT collaborated with Ewa Rudnicka to install an UFO (Unexpected Fountain Occupation) on a disused fountain in Warsaw city centre. The space performed as a bar, hostel, film venue, flea market, concert hall for 2 months.
Using only blackboards, chalk and an abandoned building, Candy Chang gave passersby in New Orleans --and soon other cities across the world-- the opportunity to share their personal dreams and aspirations in public space.
Three swings for up to twenty passengers are suspended from Mmabatho Stadium's outer frame. Facing each other, and dangling from a height of twelve meters, the swings require the passengers to negotiate with one another about how to achieve optimum path and speed.
Gravalosdimonte Arquitectos's estonoesunsolar" ('this-is-not-a-plot) cleaned up abandoned plots around the historical area of Zaragoza, Spain and turned the spaces into temporary open squares for the public to meet and play.
Views inside the book:
Book description: The Art of Walking: a field guide is the first extensive survey of walking in contemporary art. Combining short texts on the subject with a variety of artists work, The Art of Walking provides a new way of looking at this everyday subject.
The introduction relates peripatetic art now to a wide range of historic precedents, and is followed by a series of visually led 'Walks' dealing with seven overlapping themes: footprints and lines; writers and philosophers; marches and processions; aliens, dandies and drifters; slapstick; studios, museums and biennales; and dog walkers.
The guide includes newly commissioned art and writing, and many artists have been actively involved in the design of their respective pages.
This overview of artworks dealing with walking completely took me by surprise. I was expecting psychogeography, peripatetics, geolocation and theory. But The Art of Walking: A Field Guide is not only light on words, it also follows themes that range from aliens to slapstick to dog walking.
The way the content is illustrated is worth a mention too. There are the usual photos that document performances of course but also letters, preparatory drawings, souvenir programme, etc. The succession of images for each artwork allows the reader to fill in the dots, complete the short presentation text and create their own narrative. The author even asked some of the artists to participate in the editorial process. For example, The Art of Walking opens on a series of proposals that artist Peter Liversidge wrote down on his old typewriter for the author of the book, for himself or for the reader. He invites you to put down the book and go outside, for example. And following his suggestion, the book closes on 5 empty pages for you to write down notes.
The book was thus nothing i expected. And that's never a bad thing.
Special mention for the format and design of the book. Soft cover. Thick, glossy pages but not too glossy (if you know what i mean.) Round corners.
And now for the traditional tour of some of the works presented in the book:
In 2003, Regina José Galindo walked from the Congress of Guatemala building to the National Palace, dipping her bare feet in a basin filled with human blood, leaving red footprints behind as a protest against the presidential candidacy of Guatemala's former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt whose military regime committed widespread human rights abuses.
In 1991, Francis Alÿs dragged a magnetic toy dog on wheels through Mexico City until it became covered entirely in coins, bits of old tin cans and other street debris.
In the 1999 video performance 'Stoat', Marcus Coates is staggering on wooden platforms, in a pitiful attempt to recreate the animal's gait.
GPS device in hand, Simon Faithfull walked along the Greenwich Meridian from Peace Haven in Hampshire to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Following the exact line of longitude involved climbing through windows and up fences, crossing private properties, swimming through streams and crawling through hedges.
Marches by Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an audio recording, booklet and map documenting two performances on 23 May 2008.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan choreographed two marches in the Queen's Walk and Tower Hill areas of London. The marchers stomped wearing footwear created by local cobblers for greater sonic effect.
And While London Burns is the soundtrack for the era of climate change, set amongst the skyscrapers of the most powerful financial district on Earth, London's Square Mile. An opera for one, it takes the listener, equipped with an mp3 player on a walking audio adventure through the streets and alleyways of our city.
Between 1976 and 1979, Keith Arnatt photographed dogs and their owners out for walks near his home in South Wales. The artist went to great lengths to ensure that the owner and his pet are looking at the camera at the same time.
"Where the photographic act is concerned, a dog's attention span is extremely short. When, for example, calling a dog's name fails to attract its attention, I am forced to resort to more extreme measures."
"My barking and growling are quite effective, though such antics tend also to affect the owner's own response. And though a fair number of pictures do show the dog making the required response, they are marred by showing the owner peering down to see whether they are doing so."
In 2007 high wire artist Didier Pasquette attempted to walk between three of Glasgow's Red Road high rise tower blocks. Unfortunately, high winds forced Pasquette to retrace his path. The performance was used by artist Catherine Yass as the basis of a reflection on the urban environment.
Also by David Evans: Critical Dictionary.
Available on Amazon USA. Sorry, I couldn't find it on amazon UK.
Book Description: The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon. With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.
Unpleasant Design landed on my doorsteps a few days ago. I opened the envelope, grabbed the book and uttered a loud "Who's the idiot who designed this?!?" because the sleeve around the cover was made of sandpaper. Sandpaper!
I then read the title of the book and had to admit that it was a very clever idea.
Each of us has met examples of unpleasant design as we go through the city. The bench that is uncomfortable to sit on for more than 10 minutes, the trash can specially designed so that you can't sit on it nor stuff big bag of garbage inside, the anti-sticker coating on lamp posts, etc. I guess most of us don't really pay attention but they do coerce us to use the city in a prescribed, restricted way. And then there's unpleasant design for the unhappy few: benches with armrests in the middle so that the homeless can't lay down and sleep on it, blue lights in bathrooms and tunnels preventing drug users to spot their veins, an aluminium bar with spikes on it found in corners of buildings and alleys that is angled so that pee would end on your feet (a popular design in The Netherlands apparently), structures to remind pigeons that they are not welcome in town, or CCTV cameras that target specific race and age groups. And of course, there's that notorious mosquito device.
Unpleasant Design dresses the portraits of bullying urban furniture, looks at the specific strategies behind its design, comments on the use and control of public and semi-public spaces. After having had the book in your sandpapered hands, you won't look at your city with the same eyes, i'm sure.
The book documents and casts a critical eye on design motivated by policies of exclusion but, and that's what makes the book such an inspiring lecture, it also looks at how individuals, artists, activists are responding to urban unpleasantness.
Authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic have spent over a year researching forms of social unpleasantness, taking photos wherever they went, writing down ideas and talking with people who are also denouncing and resisting unpleasant design. The resulting essays and interviews are enclosed in the book. Among my favourite are: Survival Group's photos and comments about Anti-Sites (the spaces designed to prevent homeless people or simply weary passersby to sit down and have a rest), Vladan Jeremic's look at the hidden politics of garbage removal in Belgrade, an interview with the insightful and witty urban hacktivist Florian Rivière, a discussion with 'neo-nomad' Yasmine Abbas, another one with Dan Lockton of Design with Intent, the interview with Gilles Paté, the 'fakir' of urban spaces, etc. Add to that, plenty of case studies, examples of artistic devices and ideas that create and fight unpleasant design but also the outcome of a competition about unpleasant design.
Two of the winning projects of the Unpleasant Design competition:
A maze lock for public toilets, bars and restaurants to avoid drunkards entering the toilet and passing out or damaging the property.
SI8DO is a social-integration urban furniture designed to improve the working conditions of immigrants who work at the traffic lights selling tissues.