Friday, February 20, 2009

Depression is great for design, no, it's terrible, no, it's great!

Earlier I linked to the Icon magazine article from 2007 about how design needs a recession, which had elicited commentary online now that we've hit an actual recession. The New York Times jumped on the bandwagon and said that what design needs is indeed a depression, not just a recession. Murray Moss at Design Observer got mad and explained that the NYT writer was being a puritanistic dweeb, and it's not design's fault if everyone lost their marbles when everything was going good, and now designers are unemployed just like everyone else, and how is that good for design?

I reread my own post and recognized the very puritanical moralism that Design Observer pointed to. It seems like we have a really strong need to believe that now that life is more financially challenging, we will all become very Good and Worthy and only make and produce Worthwhile, Morally Superior Things. There is also a strong undercurrent of pure, old-fashioned envy in believing that designers and artists should live in poverty and suffer, because otherwise they might have some fun and start producing frivolous things which have no Deeper Meaning.

I wonder: doesn't art and design just hold a mirror to society? It's typical that we get mad at art and design when we don't like what we see in the mirror. What we want to see in the mirror now that our own irresponsible behavior got us in trouble, is someone Good and Worthwhile and Not Frivolous. Designers and artists had better start showing us that, or we will get really mad and start accusing them of nihilism and of destroying our very culture.

In the picturesthe Corallo and Vermelho armchairs, from Fernando and Humberto Campana, used as illustrations in the Design Observer and New York Times articles, respectively.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cartography meets typography

Siberian graphic designeVlad Gerasimov has created this beautiful map, representing the size of a country with the size of the typeface.

Wherein we easily learn what is the biggest country in the world, can verify that Africa is indeed not a country (Sarah Palin could have used this map!) and also that it is typographically challenging to be an archipelago.

Spotted on Strange Maps.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three Souls

In old Finnish mythology, everyone has three souls. The souls are in fact separate spirits that inhabit the same body. One of them, henki, we are born with. It is our life force, responsible for breathing and blood flow and keeping our body warm and so on. One of the ways to say that a person is dead in present day Finnish is still, "henki lähti" - "the henki has left". It's also the root word for "breathe" - "hengittää", and "the holy spirit" - "pyhä henki". ("Pyhä", "sacred" or "holy" itself has an interesting etymology, originating from "taboo" or "forbidden".)

Then there is itse, an ancestral spirit which we acquire at the age of a few days. The word itse means "self" in modern Finnish. The ancient concept maps somewhat to "personality", which was considered strongly influenced by our ancestors. Itse is capable of separating from the person, and appearing in different locations or staying in this world after the person's death, as a ghost. Sometimes a person's itse would appear before them at a house they are on their way to visit, giving the hosts warning to prepare for the visitor. It would look just like the person, but not be real. This phenomenon was called an etiäinen.

Finally, a person's guardian spirit is called luonto. In modern day Finnish luonto means "nature". The luonto could come from the original ancestor of that person - sort of like a totem animal - or be another kind of spirit or entity, which normally lived in the spirit world or in the land of the dead, but could be raised to give the person special powers and protect them. To this day, we say that someone is "haltioissaan" - "possessed by their guardian spirit" - when a person is very excited and overcome by awe. Luonto is acquired at the time a child gets their first teeth. Children were considered extremely vulnerabe before they acquired their luonto, and in need of special protection. A person's luonto was considered to be strong if the person was very charismatic, passionate and strong-willed. There was special magic to make one's luonto stronger, if it was diagnozed to be weak by the village shaman or wizard. A strong luonto could protect a person against many ailments and curses, but posed its own risks if not balanced with the other parts of the soul.

A person could stay alive for a while if their itse or luonto left them (shamans would regularly send their itse on missions in the spirit worlds). A loss of one's itse or luonto for a longer perior was considered to be the cause for many diseases and problems. Depression was diagnozed to be a loss of the itse, "itsettömyys". Various weaknesses, like alcoholism, could result from a loss of the luonto, "luonnottomuus". These problems could be cured by summoning back the missing part of the soul and strengthening it. But a person could not survive without henki; if that spirit left, the others would leave too and the person would die.

Almost all of old Finnish medicine and magic (as well as childbirth and preparation of dead bodies) took place in the sauna. Which is something you should remember next time you enter one. 

The useful observation about God was found at West Oakland Bart.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Healing Art in Oakland

Rock Paper Scissors is hosting an amazing exhibit of 125 wooden figurines representing each of Oakland's 125 homicide victims last year, painted by people in the community. On display are also portraits of Oakland residents, and letters to the victims. You can write your own letter, too, to victims or their families.

Rock Paper Scissors is on 2278 Telegraph Avenue, at 23rd Street. Go see the art and participate and help heal this disease that hurts the whole community. The show runs until February 28th.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mapping your Mental Oakland

If you are a citizen of Oakland, it is your duty to go to this page and fill out a (not very terribly long) survey.

Robert Lemon, from UC Berkeley, will use the data to create mental maps. Mental maps are awesome: they describe a person's perception of their own world - in this case, neighborhoods and urban space within the City of Oakland.

Mental maps have been used in geography to understand individual perceptions of space and place for sometime. The method has proven useful in helping geographers understand how people perceive elements within the landscape for navigational purposes and to understand the cultural value of spaces."

Do it! For science! You know you want to!

The artwork is Mental Map: Evasion V, by Franz Ackermann.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Foibles of Penultimate Brink

Penultimate Brink was Rampant Hendricksen's sister, but they were nothing alike. Penultimate had avoided most of the murder attempts by their mother. She had been in day care from an early age. Unlike her sister, Penultimate Brink was quite the social butterfly. And a bit of a slut frankly. At the age of eighteen, Penultimate Brink made a habit of attaching a plastic hair clip to the headboard of her bed after each romantic conquest. On Valentine's Day 2007 there were thirty six of them. But that night at 3:32 AM, there was a minor earthquake which caused all the hair clips to come loose and tumble onto Penultimate's sleeping head. One of them gripped her ear quite painfully. Penultimate Brink interpreted this as a sign, and immediately finished with her wanton ways. After this incident she only took a new lover once a year, on or near Valentine's Day.

Candy heart created with the excellent Acme Heart Maker.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Really Extreme Toaster Project

Thomas Twaites is a student at the Royal College of Arts in London, and he is making a toaster. From scratch. He is extracting oil to make plastic, and processing his own copper, iron, nickel, and mica (which is what the heating elements are wound around). From these raw materials, he is going to produce a functioning toaster.

Twaites has plans to go to my native Finland for some nickel, as there are no more nickel mines in Britain. He is also trying to negotiate a helicopter trip to the North Sea to collect some oil. He has already figured out how to use a microwave oven to process iron ore, and has created a blob of iron about the size of a nickel.

The picture is of iron being made in a microwave. Spotted on We make money not art.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Abandoned Cars and Horses

Littering the desert landscape around Dubai International Airport are over three thousand abandoned luxury cars. Their owners have driven to the airport and left their mounting consumer debts and car loans behind. European and South Asian expats are ditching their former luxury lifestyles, as jobs in investment banking, retail, and services are drying up.

I wonder if in past recessions people drove their horse-drawn carriages to the seaport and left them there as they boarded ships to abandon their woes. Hundreds of horses, stomping and whinnying in the wind. Waiting for a coachman, waiting for a piece of carrot, waiting for a winding road.

The picture is a cover of an interesting and strange graphic novel by Tim Lane.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Freedom Trampoline

In Wikipedia, we learn that "a kind of trampolining was done by the Inuit people who used to toss each other into the air on a walrus skin". According to circus folklore, the trampoline was supposedly first developed by an artist called Du Trampolin who saw the possibility of using the trapeze safety net as a form of propulsion and landing device.

It is a beautiful thought: the safety net as a source of propulsion and exhilaration. The kind of society I'd like to live in.

Here's the thing: we may lose our trampoline because it has been deemed an eyesore and danger to society, or at least the Homeowners' Association, but they can never take away the trampoline in our hearts. We provide each other with safety and security and laughter and propulsion. And landing. And if you take away our trampoline, we will just keep having even more fun, but in secret. So there.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pimps, hos, and johns

I watched local journalism and producing talent Cerissa Tanner's excellent report on teen prostitution in Oakland and I have a lot of respect for police, procecutors, and organizations who try to help child and teen prostitutes break out of the lifestyle.

Whether targeting the prostitutes or their pimps, the challenge is providing meaningful alternatives for people who may have been tossed on the street by their parents, and who feel that educational and professional opportunities are not really part of their world.

A couple of weeks ago a nice big white SUV dropped two kids off on my street corner. They looked to be about 13-14. One was a boy, dressed in a sort of girly way and wearing makeup, and the other was a plump, sullen girl. They proceeded to sit down in front of my door and smoke crack. They sat there for a long time talking animatedly. The boy would occasionally accentuate his words by pointing his hand like it was a gun he held sideways, like the gangsters do on TV, and saying, "POW! POW! POW!". It was pretty clear they had been working - what else would a middle class white guy have been doing with a couple of crackhead kids dressed like, well, prostitutes?

Now, here's my question: we can target these kids, and we can target their pimps, and maybe some day there will be meaningful education reform that can address some of the structural issues at play here. But who is addressing the middle-aged, middle class guy driving that SUV, who thinks it is his right in life to come into my neighborhood and purchase a 13-year old boy and girl for his use? Where are the organizations talking to these individuals about their choices? They are, after all, the only individuals in this game with power to make real choices about their lives.

In Sweden prostitution is legal, and they prosecute the johns, but that's no good either: the burden of proof for a crime rests with the prostitute, and they need their income. They're not going to bust their customers. Duh.

I don't know that there can be any single solution, but here's what I'm going to do. White SUV guy: next time I see you, I'll write down your licence plate number. Maybe I'll create a special web site where I publish licence plate numbers and photos of people just like you. Because I bet in your community you act like you are not part of this problem. And from where I'm sitting, it looks like you fucking create this problem.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eau de West Oakland

I am a great fan of artisan perfumers like Strange Invisible, The People of the Labyrinths, L'Artisan Parfumeur, and Escentric Molecules.

Especially Strange Invisible. Their scents are like memories in a bottle. You will feel like you are opening an old leather suitcase in the attic, and finding a forgotten bouquet of dried flowers inside. Or like you are in a distant harbor in a magical land where a faint smell of kelp is overpowered by an arriving cargo of precious spices. Best of all: on their website, you can order samples of the perfumes, and they are only five dollars each. They're highly concentrated, so a sample size lasts quite a while.

If I were to start my own artisan perfume line, Eau de West Oakland would smell like that tangy top note of hot asphalt molting on a summer day, of dried grass, of sweet roses growing in big bushes, of the neck sweat of someone currently experiencing pride, of something shiny, of a toasted diesel base, of dog smell, barbeque smoke, and sexily sideways smiles.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Myrtle Street Astronomy

Early astronomers used nothing much more than their eyes, sticks and careful record keeping to construct the first calendars.

Here at Myrtle Street Review, we can use surveillance video as our observatory. In this video, you can spot the winter equinox. What you see is an animation of the camera view at exactly 12:00 noon from October 15, 2008, to February 1, 2009.  By watching the direction the shadow moves you can see the earth passing through the Winter Solstice.  When the tree shadow is moving the left, the days are getting shorter. When it is moving to the right, the days are getting longer.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of Notebooks and Poets

Today someone took the comments notebook from the Myrtle Street Review print distribution box. I saw the person on the video; they looked nice, and since there were no print editions in the box, it says "Take One", and there was just a notebook in there, I don't really blame them. Though it was taped to a string that is attached to the box.

I really hope the person writes something in the notebook and enjoys it! I also hope they stop by again, for a fresh print edition, and that they leave some poetry or a comment in the new comments notebook.

The image is from 4.20 PM, right after the person who took the notebook left the frame. The Myrtle Street Review is all about protecting their privacy.
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