My first Denver library system reads

Back in October, after two years of living in Denver, I finally visited my local library branch. I happened to be at the library, attending a local neighborhood walking event and so I used the opportunity to also get my Denver library card.

The historic Park Hill Library branch is lovely, and although it has since been expanded and renovated, the original building was one of 8 branch libraries Carnegie donated $160,000 to build and furnish, in Denver between 1913 and 1920.

I picked up four graphic novels while there;

  • March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

I saw Congressman Lewis do the talkshow rounds (including I believe The Daily Show) when this first came out. Been meaning to read it since.

Although I knew the broad outlines of the story, it was of course inspiring to read the specifics. The fact that it was a graphic novel, definitely made it easier/lighter. Likely wouldn’t have read it otherwise.

  • Krishna: Defender of Dharma by Shweta Taneja

It was interesting to read these stories, in a different context/format, so many years after hearing/reading them last. Surprised myself at how much I still remembered.

The drawing/writing style, wasn’t my favorite. Prefer my graphic novels a bit more gritty and adult. However, probably appropriate for the content. A sort of modern update to the classic’s of Amar Chitra Katha.

  • Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

For whatever reason, I didn’t “enjoy” (was a bit more of a slog to get through) this one as much as the first volume.

That being said, this volume still has the excellent black/white graphic style. Also, her personal story is still so unique – from her time as a young student in Vienna, to her return to and life in Iran (post Iran-Iraq war) – at least to this American reader.

  • Denver Square: We Need a Bigger House! by Ed Stein 

Although not a native to Denver, nor a resident at the time these strips were originally written, the local character resonated with me. Especially with it’s celebration of all things Denver sports, particularly the Broncos. Still such a fact of life, in this town.

It felt (as it should) so of it’s place and time. Yet, reading it I was struck by how many themes; from traffic on I-25, the housing market in Denver and wildfires, are still relevant today.

Other topics; such as Columbine, the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election and 9-11, transported me temporally and led me to reflect on my own experience of these events, as well as the passage of time.

Sam Jacob and Bruce Sterling on the New Aesthetic

Via a G+ #hashtag I came an oldish Interview with Bruce Sterling, re: the New Aesthetic with David Albert Cox of Coxblog, published on here. Therein, Mr. Sterling suggested the New Aesthetic is a clear and “deliberate reaction against atemporality” which also emphasizes processuality.

Meanwhile, over at Sam Jacob’s site personal site Strange Harvest I read an article he wrote for COMMONPLACE, a version of Fulcrum, published at this years (2012) Venice Biennale. Therein Mr. Jacob noted that New Aesthetic “reeks of something suspiciously like nostalgia” and then goes on to analyze/link the New Aesthetic as/to “just another fastbred cultural cycle”.

One year ago this week

The Deepwater Horizon oil well blew a year ago but the effects of the disaster are ongoing and the full extent to which, unknown. Reminding us of that fact is Leslie Kaufman’s article in the NYT, Gulf’s Complexity and Resilience Seen in Studies of Oil Spill. She opens with this quote from Christopher Reddy, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  “Hundreds of scientists are working day and night trying to carve out a piece of that giant puzzle, but it is an entire region and it is complicated.

Meanwhile over at Places Design Observer, Timothy Beatley in the essay Blue Urbanism: The City and the Ocean uses the anniversary to suggest that while the concept of green urbanism is gaining ground, oceans largely have been left out of the discussion. Beatley’s essay makes use of terms like marine sprawl and “Ocean Management Planning Districts”. He ends with a call for a blue urbanism as design frame, political agenda and imaginative endeavour. He writes: “Blue urbanism asks us to imagine a world in which urban citizens — challenged, educated and informed — use their political power on behalf of marine conservation.

Finally, The Guardian commissioned (Supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England) Tim Gautreaux to write the fictional  Gone to Water  for their Oil Stories series. Early in the story his two protagonists have an encounter with an underwater stump which serves as a device to clarify that the damage to the Gulf began long before Deepwater Horizon.

“After several miles they began to pass oil company canals cut into the marsh on both the left and right, and the motor hit a stump, hard, jumping up and puttering in open air until Claude could find the kill switch. As he replaced the propeller’s shear pin with a cut nail, the boy asked them what a stump was doing out in open salt water.

“Aw, Jackie, this used to not be water.”

The boy brushed dark hair under his cap. “What was it?”

“Ha. Land, you little fool. You see how what we in now looks like a lagoon? Years ago it was a long narrow cut, not a hundred feet wide.” He looked up from his work. “All this was land. Over there was camps, but they fell in the water every one. A farmer grew sugar cane in a sure-enough field over there. I remember a road. The world’s meltin away on account of all these rig canals.”

The rest of the story is full of illusions to lost marsh-scapes and ends in a both literary and physical loss. Memory and the present experienced simultaneously. Atemporal, perhaps?

Inception and generic architecture(s) of the mind

So I finally watched Inception like 6-7 months too late? On a smallish (compared to in theatre) iMac screen. But was suitably blown away. The idea of artificial, spatial gymnastics is nothing new. The film was however, provocative in its application of psycho-spatial constraints to the dream(ing). The labyrinths in other words must be more imagined than real. The selection of architectural archetypes: private residence, skyscraper, and urban scape,  is also interesting. Ellen Page plays a character who sits somwhere between the master-world-builder and psycho-geographer. Adriane the architecture graduate student that is hired to craft the three layers of built environment is given only one real constraint. Her work must be a sort of generic “un-concious” architecture. Almost, a-historical in an intensely personal sense. It must not include real places or people. As in not in the memory of the inceptee. Her construction(s) thus go beyond post-modernism towards a digital mashup, atemporal condition. Not truly relying on specific historical precedent but shared typologies. Ellen Page’s character is hooked because of the ability to “create” anything.  Though in reality the limits of the dream world insertion require a generic architecture.

Super Colossal’s review  (here) highlights this exact point: “Yet amid this fantasy, the backdrop is consistently the generic, ordinary city… It explicitly states that the role of the architect (read level designer) is to create a place in which the dreamer is comfortable, so that they do not realise they are dreaming, enabling the team to steal (or insert) whatever secret they are after. Hence, the generic downtown anyplaces we are shown.”

All this makes me reflect on a recent discussion about Generic Architecture, in a thread over on Archinect (here), this spring.  Wherein I wrote, “I guess a big distinction would be between those who see generic as good (an almost vernacular) vs bad (a cookie cutter type approach).” After viewing Inception, is it possible to conceive of the psychological benefits or considerations of generic architect? Was Adriane’s work highly personalized or deeply generic? I think one would have to admit both. Is there a way this sort of dualism could be applied to more physical forms of architecture? Perhaps the dualism could be to develop a both vernacular and yet also generic architecture…..

but is this Future Fatigue?

Noting these two pieces of more or less simultaneous news, I also noted that my imagination, which grew up on countless popular imaginings of exactly this sort of thing, could produce nothing better in response than a tabloid headline: SYNTHETIC BACTERIA IN QUANTUM FREE-SPACE TELEPORTATION SHOCKER. .

Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory.

More from William Gibson (here)

Going meta-On leagues and legions (Banham and the Smithsons)

Was wondering what was up when I saw all these post (collected below) by different blog authors all referencing Alison and Peter Smithson’s, But Today We Collect Ads and Reyner Banham’s “The Great Gizmo“.

Including 765, Loudpaper, dsgnagnc, Strange Harvest, a456, and Kazys Varnelis among others.

However, in this (excerpted below) post Kazys sort of lets the cat out of the bag…and since Kazys post was a few days ago I figured what the hell…

In passing, she mentions leagues and legions, an online group of young on-line writers (I may be the oldest of them… shudder) . The long post I made the other day about Banham’s the Great Gizmo and the Smithsons’s “But Today We Collect Ads” and the first Networked Publics panel were the first forays into this work. Expect more!

Plus, Twitter has been all abuzz with the hashtag #lgnlgn

So here is my meta-contribution/compilation to the first round of their work.

First my thoughts on the two original source, which I had never read before.

On Alison and Peter Smithson’s, But Today We Collect Ads

Centers mainly around the question of why certain folk art objects, historical styles, or industrial artifacts and methods become important at a particular moment, which cannot easily be explained. “Advertising has caused a revolution in the popular art field.” A theme illustrated by this little couplet

Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,
Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,
And Charlotte Periand brought a new
object to the office every morning,
But today we collect ads.

The Smithson’s furthermore suggest that when it comes to the crafting of society architecture has something to learn from the profession of advertising. If only scale and success, for “Mass-production advertising is establishing our whole pattern of life – principles, morals, aims, aspirations, and standard of living.

On Reyner Banham’s, The Great Gizmo

A great companion piece is this review in Harvard Design Magazine by Wouter Vanstiphout. Wherein Wouter writes, “Being a historian and an observer, Banham presents his program of urban dispersion by gadgetry not as something new and original — as did his architectural avant garde contemporaries at Superstudio or Archigram — but as a valid historical tendency, as something real that has been going on for ages, that has a tradition, and that is happening at this moment somewhere near you.

In The Great Gizmo Banham links American essentialism to a frontier portability. The portable gizmo is and has always been American in nature. In fact he goes so far as to say if a rural happiness exists in America it owes its existence to the American embrace of the gizmo and industry. Moreover, the gizmo is the tool which enables this rural happiness to be experienced by all. It is the great democratizer particularly because of its cheapness/ubiquity along with the fact that such objects “leave craftmanship behind them at the factory“. There is also striking similarity between the Smithson’s praise of mass-advertising and Banham’s belief that the Sear and Roebuck catalogue is “one of the great and basic documents of U.S. civilization and deserves the closest critical study

Banham seems to suggest that gizmos relationship to the city is one of anti-infrastructure. At least in the massive, physical sense of the word. In comparing the distributive reality of the gizmo to the old static style infrastructure/existence of American cities like Boston, Philadelphia or NYC, Banham implies that a suburban distributed urbanism more closely resembles the contemporary (but also historically authentic) American life style.

Finally, a quick reaction/summary to what 765, Loudpaper, dsgnagnc, Strange Harvest, a456 and Kazys Varnelis wrote.

765 ties the two original texts together with the title of his post “But today we collect gizmos” in which he explores the metaheuristics of gizmos. He notes that when it comes to the study of heuristics “Someone’s got to decide whether to hit the Black Box with Maslow’s Hammer or Occam’s Razor.”

In her post “agriculture takes command” Mimi of Loudpaper explores the intersection between the American embrace/fascination of/with the gizmo and the growing trend of urban agriculture.

Quilian in “But, Today Ads Collect Us (but, we can hack them)” suggests that is a virtual gizmo and explores the ways in which advertisers make use of digital and social media platforms to turn “us into mini-conduits of their message…Daily life as commodified data“. This has had the perhaps, unintended, consequence of creating a new spatial practice. In this context Quilian writes “hacking, or the re-configuration of systems to work in ways other than what they were intended to, has become the favorite tool of activists against the commodification of our digital and physical spaces“. He closes with a quote from the essay “Spatial Practices in the Margin of Opportunity” by architect Markus Miessen, in which Miessen declares “Today’s spatial practice not only uses experimental research related to transient conditions of urban society, but also applies physical and non-physical structures in order to change and alter specific settings“.

Sam Jacobs of FAT in “More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta” explores the connections between deserts, Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons and the role of gizmos in both. I particularly enjoyed the 10 Rules of the Roadrunner Universe he lists which were defined by Chuck Jones the series creator. I also, found this passage striking,

We identify with his constant, ridiculous Banham-esque optimism in design. If ACME products did the job they said they would, the precarious balance between Roadrunner and Coyote would be set out of kilter, and the narrative would end. Coyotes schemes – like strapping on a pair of rocket powered roller-skates – are doomed to fail because design perverts his natural state.

For, when placed within the context of Baham’s belief of the close link between American essentialism and gizmos, it suggests that perhaps the biggest problem facing American’s today is our over reliance on gizmos. Specifically, because their design perverts our natural state.

Enrique in “Story of an Eye (and Another Eye, and Yet Another Eye)“, goes real meaty and uses Banham’s original text as a starting point to explore among other things Bruce Sterling’s concept of atemporality and Dürer. He starts with the contention that atemporality has a direct relationship to network culture in that, “It is a way of using the very tools that network culture offers us (via social networking sites, music, film, et cetera) to develop a way of thinking about history that is wholly contemporary.” Enrique also believes that Banham’s “The Great Gizmo” is in fact itself an example of atemporality. He concludes with a suggestion, that we embrace atemporality. Yet, he also proposes a re-naming of the practice to atemporalize, atemporality, as it were, “let’s use a really atemporal (and oxymoronic) term to describe our practice. I’m thinking of the term “new traditionalist” here not because it invites a certain kind of revisionism, but rather because it allows me to remember something I heard once. How fun! Yes, it was the clarion call of the true New Traditionalists.

And in his post “Today we Collect nothing” Kazys argues that what the Smithsons proposed and Banham did, is no longer possible or certainly as easy. For, “Network culture levels out the differences between high and low. The transactions are constant and if our access to knowledge isn’t perfect, it’s awfully close. There’s nothing to collect anymore, no sources out there that are unknown to architecture.” Yet the contemporary futurity proposed by those authors is now dated, “Our lives have been thoroughly transformed by gizmos, but our architecture is much the same“.

Girlwonder in “Today we Operate on Objects” looks at objects and provides a listing of some operations. Actions or characteristics which can be applied to objects. She uses the term “set of operations“. Are operations the same as surgery? Can an non-object be operated on?

Finally, Robert Sumrell in “But Today Ads Collect us” suggests that in this world of portable electronic devices and third-party smart phone apps, adds have flipped the script. Whereas the Smithsons believed designers should emulate the power of ads by collecting and dissecting the knowledge behind their construction, it is through the power (or rather reach) of the gizmo that ads collect and thus learn from us.

So what then can we say as a conclusion?

All the remixers acknowledge the facts as described by the two texts. Ads and the gizmo are key lenses through which one can analyze both the past, contemporary or even atemporal American existence. Yet, they all explore different topics. Moreover, they believe that ads and the gizmo can either be used (or hacked) or are using us. Which is it?

Perhaps, both? We use the Gizmo, it uses us. As for American essentialism… Advertising and commercial culture aren’t an American invention. Perhaps, the “Great Gizmo” is though. If only because the individualistic nature it allows us to perpetuate. Some see a future in distributed Gizmo everywhere urbanism. I would argue that the Gizmo should be embraced, not for it’s distributive, but rather it’s attributive and also connective effects. Meaning, the Gizmo isn’t the future, we all are.

This is why the Gizmo is not just an object. We use a Gizmo it operate on us, most of the time. Or we use it to operate. However, we rarely, operate on ourselves. Although increasingly, that is the end point. Of the Gizmo=Us=American Essentialism. Is America itself a Gizmo? No. Or rather not one. We are a collection. If anything that is our strength. Well, not that we are Gizmos, but that we are Gizmo’d. As in out. Too many. Or not the right ones….

Bruce Sterling on “Futurity Now”

Bruce recently posted a transcript of his talk “Atemporality for the Creative Artist” that he recently gave at Transmediale 10, Berlin, Feb. 6, 02010. Topics covered included;

the potential of generative art;

Then there are other elements which are native to our period that didn’t really work before, such as generative art. I take generative art quite seriously. I’d like to see it move into areas like generative law, or may be generative philosophy. The thing I like about generative art is that it drains human intentionality out of the art project.

and how the current decade will end

A new generation will arise who does not need things explained to them in this way. They will not wonder at a slogan like ‘futurity now’, because they will have never known anything different.

They will not have to forget how things used to be. And at that point, we will be on a different playing field.

But we don’t get to choose the era of history that was given to us. We can only choose what we do within the parameters of what exists on the ground.

Now, no matter how confusing this may seem or how poorly phrased, there is a very good chance that you can physically outlive this era with your own body. It’s just ten years! ‘Futurity Now’ in some ways is like a slogan that means ‘Make me grow up’. That’s what you are demanding when you say ‘futurity now’. It’s like ‘make me get older’, ‘make me get wiser, now!’.”

Read more (here)