A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 , edited by Dennis Crompton.

(Available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: In the decade of the Beatles and the moon landing, cybernetics and megacities, an ambitious group of young British architects burst on the scene with a bold manifesto for urban building. The Archigram group pioneered a playful brand of architecture that was visionary, utopian, and grounded in social need. Through a provocative series of publications and exhibitions, the avant-garde cooperative challenged an architectural establishment they felt had become reactionary and self-serving. They advocated a complete rethinking of the relationships between technology, society, and architecture, rightly predicting today's information revolution decades before it came to pass.

A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 is a compact history showcasing the group's most interesting and influential schemes, from walking cities and plug-in universities to inflatable dwellings and free time nodes. This book, the most comprehensive guide to Archigram's voluminous output, collects the critical responses of the period, in addition to hundreds of drawings and photographs.

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Amazing Archigram, 1964. Cover illustration of the fourth issue of Archigram magazine

I thought i knew Archigram. I had read about their vision of technology (or 'technocratic future' as magazine editors like to call it), about the walking city, the plug-in city and the instant city. I even read about the swimming pool for Rod Stewart. But this book confirmed that my knowledge of their work and ideas was -at best- superficial.

The book is like a paper version of the Archigram Archive that the University of Westminster made available online a couple of years ago. There's only a couple of contemporary essays in the book. The rest is drawings, comics, editorials written by Peter Cook for the Archigram magazines, essays by members of the group, project descriptions, black and white photos, etc. You jump from an essay mentioning the anti-aircraft Maunsell Forts recycled into headquarters for offshore pirate stations to houses you can carry on your back, inflatables villages or even traveling metropolis. With Archigram, robots are shooting screens, seminars and conferences are adopting the model of the circus to move around the country and Roy Lichtenstein draws urban super heroes.

Archigram is a product of their time of excitement, innovation and faith in the future when thinkers, engineers and architects were dreaming of marine cities and flying houses. Yet the texts written by Peter Cook in the issues of the Archigram magazine haven't lost their spark nor visionary relevance. Back in the 70s they were already saluting the rise of diy initiatives, of people being creative and playing a more active part in the environment in which they lived. And while today, we're talking about smart fridges, a 1969 Archigram project imagined the 'electronic tomato' which would do the shopping and direct business operations for you.

Reading Archigram's essay is uplifting and thought-provoking. Because of the vivid imagination, the use of comics to communicate ideas but also because of Archigram's critique of society (and of the architecture profession in particular.)

It's also a bit disheartening at times, i know that next time i visit the graduation show of a design school, i might look at some of the projects and realize that they have that uncanny air of "Archigram's been there, done that!"

Two words about the format: it is squarish, super thick and short. The kind of shape that never quite fits into the most manicured bookshelves. The inside has a vintage feel with thick, mat pages and tiny fonts.

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Archigram Magazine Issue No. 1

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Page from Archigram Magazine n. 5, Computer City, November 1964

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Archigram, no. 8, 1968

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Archigram, "Walking city" Concept

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Ron Herron, Enviro Pill, 1969

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Gala Ambiance, Monte Carlo Palm Tree Project, Archigram Architects, 1971


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Room of 1000 Delights, Peter Cook, 1970

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Peter Cook, Blow-out Village, 1986

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Electronic Tomato, 1969. © Warren Chalk, David Greene, Archigram

Photo on the homepage: Blow-Out Village, Peter Cook, Archigram 1966.

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The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, by Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman, and Matt Lamothe • Foreword by David Macaulay.

Available on amazon UK and USA

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Publisher Chronicle Books writes: A science book like no other, The Where, the Why, and the How turns loose 75 of today's hottest artists onto life's vast questions, from how we got here to where we are going. Inside these pages some of the biggest (and smallest) mysteries of the natural world are explained in essays by real working scientists, which are then illustrated by artists given free rein to be as literal or as imaginative as they like. The result is a celebration of the wonder that inspires every new discovery. Featuring work by such contemporary luminaries as Lisa Congdon, Jen Corace, Neil Farber, Susie Ghahremani, Jeremyville, Jon Klassen, Jacob Magraw, and many more, this is a work of scientific and artistic exploration to pique the interest of both the intellectually and imaginatively curious.

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Gilbert Ford illustrated Why do we blush?

Teaming up science mysteries with illustration, comics or even fine art is obviously a nice idea. But a great idea is not enough. It needs to comes with a fresh direction, clever match-making, genuine curiosity and impeccable taste. This book, fortunately, has all these ingredients.

The scientific enigmas explored in the book depart far far away from us with "What existed before the Big Bang?" then moves gradually, in a very Powers of Ten fashion, to issues pertaining to the universe ("Are there more than 3 dimensions?"), our planet ("Can evolution outpace climate change?), the mundane peculiarities of human beings ("why do we hiccup?"), the idiosyncrasy of the animal world ("Why don't animal muscles atrophy during hibernation?") then the questions start investigating what goes on inside our bodies and they end on the nanoscale ("Are nanomaterials dangerous?")

The result is often gripping and sometimes even baffling. Some issues remain a mystery: i'm afraid that scientists are still unsure about the reason why whales sing (in case the question is keeping you awake) and more annoyingly, they don't know either what happens to time as you approach the speed of light. But whether they have a clear-cut answer to a mystery or only tentative theories, the scientists manage to explain the phenomenon and its raison d'être with a limpid, intelligible and fairly short text.

This book is delightful and if i have one negative commentary to say about the book it's that I'm not a huge fan of the retro-feel of the illustrations. It gives a uniformity to the book which imho is both a blessing and a curse. But, hey! Now i know why pigeons bob their head when they walk and that knowledge, my friend, is going to make me the star of all the Christmas parties this year.

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Lab Partners illustrated the Circadian Clock

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John Hendricks illustrating Do Rogue Waves Exist?

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Lauren Nassef's illustration of "What is the origin of the moon?"

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Alex Eben Meyer's take on "Why do pigeons bob their heads when they walk?"

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Matt Forsythe illustrated "Why are humans and chimps so different if they have nearly identical DNA?"

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Yelena Bryksenkova illustrated "Can evolution outpace climate change?"

The book trailer!

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Luke Ramsey illustrated "What triggers the Earth's polarity?"

Darkitecture: Learning Architecture for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Iwona Blazwick and published by Two Little Boys.

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(available on amazon UK and USA)

Darkitecture is an anthology of texts and projects exploring how we learn about and build architecture for real communities in the twenty-first century. It draws on the ideas and methods of the late architect and Royal College of Art tutor Gerrard O'Carroll, a vibrant and unorthodox thinker of architecture. Along with his writings and statements are texts and projects by his contemporaries and alumni. Together they represent some 'what if?' scenarios with which to proceed on the journey towards becoming an architect; towards the conception of a design vocabulary that expresses everyday lives; and the creation of buildings and urbanities that embrace the irrational and celebrate the social. Darkitecture is a revolutionary handbook that will challenge students, designers, architects and citizens to review the way they look at, think about, learn and build architecture.

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Assemble Folly for Flyover, 2011

The figure of architect and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art Gerrard O'Carroll is at the center of the book. I couldn't remember where i had heard his name until i leafed through the book and i realized i had visited some of the exhibitions he had organized and blogged about the work of several of his architecture students.

A critic called O'Carroll the "King of Darkitecture" after having visited an exhibition of his in 2007. The neologism made for an attention-grabbing book title. However, I don't find the book nor the projects and ideas it presents dark at all. I found them thought-provoking, relevant to our times (which i admit are fairly dark) and lucid. Even if most of the essays and works are dealing with "speculative near future and alternative nows." There's plenty of humour in the book as well. And not necessarily of the dark kind. My favourite quote was by O'Carroll asking why the modulor man has no penis.

O'Carroll called for a more thoughtful brand of architecture, for an architecture that engages with society, with the 'fragility of human behaviour', for an architecture that doesn't enclose but create a framework for things to happen.

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Tom Greenall's 2009 project Cultivating faith: The feeding of the 59,000 imagines that a UK shortage of halal meat might be answered by the building of an in-vitro meat production facility.

The content of the essays is eclectic. One moment you read about how radical architecture emerges with times of economic crisis, unrest and doubts. Next, you read about aspiring models knocking on the doors of photographer Juergen Teller. Or about the way technology interferes with the way we love, about the handing over of our streets and squares to private developers, the role of the anti-hero in architecture, the tension between our nostalgia for unspoilt 'natural' food and our interest for the consumption of fruit enhanced with drug-delivery systems. The people evoked in the book include J. G Ballard, radical architects Superstudio, Jacques Tati, Gaetano Pesce and Ennio Morricone.

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SuperStudio

The book is edited by Iwona Blazwick OBE and includes contributions from Iain Aitch (journalist), Paola Antonelli (MoMA), Iwona Blazwick (Whitechapel Gallery), Nigel Coates (architect), Emma Dexter (curator), Tom Greenall (RCA), Rosy Head (RCA), Jonathan Hill (Bartlett), Claire Jamieson (RCA), Anna Minton (writer), Rowan Moore (critic), Jake Moulson (RCA), Richard Noble (Goldsmiths College), Lucy Pengilley Gibb (RCA), Fiona Raby (RCA), Alex Smith (RCA), Noam Toran (RCA), Anthony Vidler (Cooper Union) and Gilda Williams (writer).

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View inside the book

Pretty nice design by Luke Fenech and Morag Myerscough too!

Image on the homepage from Mon Oncle, the film by Jaques Tati, 1958.

Fallout Shelter. Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War, by David Monteyne, assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary.

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Publisher University of Minnesota Press writes: In Fallout Shelter, David Monteyne traces the partnership that developed between architects and civil defense authorities during the 1950s and 1960s. Officials in the federal government tasked with protecting American citizens and communities in the event of a nuclear attack relied on architects and urban planners to demonstrate the importance and efficacy of both purpose-built and ad hoc fallout shelters. For architects who participated in this federal effort, their involvement in the national security apparatus granted them expert status in the Cold War. Neither the civil defense bureaucracy nor the architectural profession was monolithic, however, and Monteyne shows that architecture for civil defense was a contested and often inconsistent project, reflecting specific assumptions about race, gender, class, and power.

Despite official rhetoric, civil defense planning in the United States was, ultimately, a failure due to a lack of federal funding, contradictions and ambiguities in fallout shelter design, and growing resistance to its political and cultural implications. Yet the partnership between architecture and civil defense, Monteyne argues, helped guide professional design practice and influenced the perception and use of urban and suburban spaces. One result was a much-maligned bunker architecture, which was not so much a particular style as a philosophy of building and urbanism that shifted focus from nuclear annihilation to urban unrest.

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Civil Defense bunker, Lakefront, Undated. Photo: New Orleans (La.) Office of Civil Defense

While reading the book, i was reminded of an American TV series from the early 1960s: The Twilight Zone. They called it La Quatrième Dimension where i lived. The episodes were part of a French tv programme from the 1980s that mixed science, scifi and pop culture. The two presenters, the twins Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff, were the coolest guys on this planet. I got a shock about an hour ago when one of the first results of a google search produced this! But i'm digressing. Some of the most memorable episodes of the Twilight Zone featured nuclear shelters, see for example Time Enough at Last and The Shelter. Atomic shelters were very exotic, very American, very eccentric to me. They were also sinister. Because of their design and purpose of course but also because of the era they embody and because of the scenarios built around them by the tv writers.


The Twilight Zone, The Shelter, 1961 (continues: part 2 and part 3)

The episodes of the Twilight Zone are works of fiction but they also echo some of the preoccupations and ethical dilemmas raised by many of the architects whose work is discussed in this book. Fallout Shelter. Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War is first and foremost an architecture book but its content is also pertinent to readers who have a very limited interest in the discipline. The design and politics of fallout shelters spills onto other issues that characterized the early Cold War. From racial questions (the shelters were conceived for white American families living in suburbs and not so much for the people living in multi ethnic inner-cities or for 'marauding Indians') to the reluctance to spend tax money on social welfare. From urban dispersal to the exploration of new modes of urbanism (for example, Camp Century, 'the city under the ice'.)

However, some of the issues raised and solutions brought forward at the time still (unsurprisingly) exert an impact on the world we live in today: the militarization of public edifice and spaces (called in the book 'fortress urbanism'), the propaganda of fear, the top secret bunkers built by the government to protect members of the federal government and of the military reminded me of the 'Blank Spots on the Map', etc.

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Collier's magazine cover from 1950 depicting a mushroom cloud over Manhattan (Chesley Bonestell)

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Posting a fallout shelter sign on a building in Washington, D.C. Image released to the public by the Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense, December 1961. Image via District Fallout

Here is the rough structure of the book: The first two chapters differentiate the approaches to civil defense taken in the 1950s an 1960s. While the 50s had little understanding of the impact of atomic weapon on the land and advised citizens to build their own shelters, the later decade admitted that little could be done to protect the population from the atomic blast itself and that only the fallout could be addressed which lead to a change of strategy that involved locating existing public buildings that could be used for communal protection. Chapter 3 examines more closely the planning process. Chapter 4 explores how architects approached (or brought a critical light on) the opportunities offered by civil defense work. Chapter 5 and 6 presents a series of architectural competitions, publications and programs launched to convince architects to plan for fallout shelters in new constructions. The last chapter studies in detail the building that inspired the book: the Boston City Hall.

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Kallmann, McKinnell, & Knowles, Boston City Hall (photo)

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Fiber Drum and polyethylene liner provided by the department of defense office of civil defense for public fallout shelters. Each drum is filled with 17.5 gallons of water which will provide drinking water for 5 persons for 14 days. Photo taken on February 19, 1962. (AP Photo)

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Architects' Conception of New Orleans Civil Defense underground emergency control center to be located on the city's outskirts as a protective measure, 1960. Photo: New Orleans (La.) Office of Civil Defense

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Community Shelter Plan depicting a portion of Dallas, Texas. List of shelter addresses on the left. In yellow, drainage areas people could walk to shelters; in red areas they would need to drive their cars. In white, no fallout shelter is available. Image Civil Defense Museum


Federal Civil Defense Administration Presents Lets Face It, No date

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Life January 12, 1962

Source image on the homepage: Atomic annihilation.

Beyond Contemporary Art, by artist and founder of Tenderpixel Etan Jonathan Ilfeld .

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

2222cover6195.jpgVivays Publishing says: In this book, the author surveys the key concepts and ideas that have reverberated throughout the art world in the last decade through studying the artists who have created them. From blockbuster museum exhibitions to influential art fairs and art-stars, the ever-expanding contemporary art world has been increasingly integrated into popular culture. While highlighting established artists such as Gerhard Richter, the book also includes emerging and mid-career artists whose work ranges widely. Artists such as Jeremy Wood who plots his movement across the globe through GPS tracking, Tatsuo Miyajima who does digital light displays, Eduardo Kac who does transgenic bio-art or Santiago Sierra who paid workers to shift a heavy rock back and forth are among the international artists included in this book. Often controversial, these artists push the boundaries of what would traditionally be considered art.

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Richard Ansett, No Coat on Fatal Attraction #9, 2007

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Richard Ansett, The Big Society, Man living with mother (deceased)

Beyond Contemporary Art is the first book i've read that not only recognizes that contemporary art is constantly reinventing itself (a fact that most books on the subject acknowledge) but that also exemplifies clearly the relentless flux and stretching width of the definition for contemporary art. The book shows painting and photography for galleries, sculpture and installation for museums but also street art, game art, information aesthetics, computer-based art, etc. It's an eclectic book, a fact highlighted by the presentatin of the artists in alphabetical order. Anish Kapoor comes right before Eduardo Kac. Takashi Murakami directly follows M/M.

Beyond Contemporary Art is also a very subjective book. I can't see how it is possible to be entirely objective when it comes to contemporary art but it does make you wonder what your own choices would have been. I know that if i had to write a book that focuses so strongly on emerging art, i wouldn't have felt the need to add Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor. Maybe i would have left Banksy aside too. I would have chosen more political works (the kind of work we define as 'activism' and 'hacktivism'), i would have looked beyond the USA and Europe. But that's just me being equally subjective. And that's also just a detail because the author does a far better job at showing what is contemporary art today than any contemporary art fair does. Which brings us to Frieze, the fair is opening tomorrow in London and it's going to be interesting to see how static or forward-looking Frieze is this year compared to the book (last year was decidedly on the stagnant side.)

Beyond Contemporary Art is a brilliant book. Only a couple of blogs would bombard you in such short succession with Aram Bartholl, Björk, Usman Haque, Burning Man, Ryoji Ikeda, INK Illustration.

However, i would advise the author to be better acquainted with geography. Ars Electronica doesn't take place in Vienna, Stroom isn't in Belgium.

A few examples of what you can find in the book. With or without comments:

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Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, From here to ear (detail), 2007

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot transformed the Curve (at the Barbican in London) into a walk-though aviary for zebra finches. The birds went about their daily life, flew around and perched on or fed from the electric guitars and other instruments and objects that the artist had installed in the space. By doing so, they composed an unexpected, live soundscape.

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Jenny Pickett & Sunshine Frère, Wheel of Death. From the exhibition 'If i Can't Have You, No One Can', 2008

Jenny Pickett & Sunshine Frère offered gallery visitors the opportunity to purchase art works. If they couldn't afford the object they coveted but they did not want anyone else to have it, they could pay to have it destroyed for a fraction of the price. The destroyed artworks was then presented in beautifully packaged remains and come complete with an authenticated DVD of the art(efact's) destruction.

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Katie Paterson, Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), 2007

Earth-Moon-Earth involved the transmission of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back with the help of moon bouncers.

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Katie Paterson, Vatnajökull (the sound of), 2007

With Vatnajökull, Katie Paterson broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier live to a visitor on a mobile phone in an art gallery.

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Roman Ondák, Measuring the Universe, 2007. © The Museum of Modern Art

Over the course of Roman Ondák's exhibition, museum attendants had to mark the visitors' heights, first names, and date of the measurement on the gallery walls. Beginning as an empty white space, over time the gallery gradually accumulated the traces of thousands of people.

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Gerhard Richter, Stained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral, 2007. Image © designboom

Gerhard Richter'sstained glass window in the Cologne Cathedral is a 113 square metres abstract collage of 11,500 pixel-like squares in 72 colors, randomly arranged by computer (with some symmetry), reminiscent of his 1974 painting "4096 colours". Cardinal Joachim Meisner did not attend the window's unveiling; he had preferred a figurative representation of 20th century Christian martyrs and said that Richter's window would fit better in a mosque or prayer house.

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Miguel Palma, Air Print, 2012

Inside a transformed container, a ventilation system sucks in air and dust particles, which are filtered onto a piece of fabric. The result is a constantly changing pointillist imprint of the pollution present in Liverpool's air.

The fabric is replaced every two week and the print is then displayed in the exhibition space.

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Jeremy Wood, Data Cloud, 2008

Data Cloud asks where we are in relation to where technology thinks we are. A GPS receiver was placed on 2 benches to record their position every ten seconds for one minute. The successive locations of the benches were mapped on a 3d chart of where the GPS infrastructure said they were. 12 new identical park benches were then assembled at 1:1 scale according to where the GPS positioned them, over, underneath, and nearby the two original benches.

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Lisa Anne Auerbach, Did You Hear What Bush Said When Asked about Roe vs. Wade?, 2005

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Yaris & Kublitz, Anger Release Machine, 2006-2008

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Olafur Eliasson, La situazione antispettiva (The Antispective Situation), 2003

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Michael Johansson, Toys'R'Us, Dingy scale 1:1, 2006

Quick look inside the book.

Image on the homepage: Rona Yefman, Pippi Longstocking, The Strongest Girl in the World, 2006.

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.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

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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.

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