Randomness

Doug Menuez: Documenting Silicon Valley 1985-2000

A remarkable, yet ‘quiet’ revolution was unfolding in the mid 80s in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA – a singular era that would radically change communications, cultures and ways of being in the connected, wired (and wireless) world. By then, I was just beginning to enjoy my computer classes in school, cracking acronyms like RAM and ROM and keying away in the BASIC language. On the other side of the planet, over a period of fifteen years, American photographer Doug Menuez stepped into the ideas rooms, work-spaces, group meetings, pep-talks, lunch and launch huddles inhabited by late twentieth century technology tribesmen and tribeswomen, who cumulatively, in their own ways, wanted to change the world. And, they did. In training his lenses on the likes of Steve Jobs at NeXT, John Sculley at Apple, John Warnock at Adobe, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove at Intel, Bill Joy at Sun Microsystems, Bill Gates at Microsoft, and Marc Andreessen at Netscape (among many others), Munuez remained an observant, insightful and privileged witness to a very significant period in human technological, design and engineering innovation, and mapped the key architects and soldiers who laid the foundations of what will be later dubbed ‘Silicon Valley‘. In recognizing the archival importance of his project, Stanford University Library acquired his images ten years ago. Take a look.

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Designs of the Year 2014: Product Design Nominees

Designs of the Year‘ is the London, UK located Design Museum‘s exhibition of the most innovative, intriguing and original international design across the seven categories of Product, Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphic and Transport design. Although global in spirit, I do sense a Euro-Western Europe slant in the list of nominees across the categories. Starting today (26th of March, 2014), voting opens as part of the social jury process in selecting the winners of round one, across the seven categories for the final exhibition. These are the nominees for Product Design for the year 2014. Take a look.

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Postcards as propaganda: Women’s suffrage movement, 1902-1915.

The battle of the sexes has been waged much longer than we would imagine, here and now. In the early 20th century, the women’s suffrage movement strengthened its foothold across both sides of the Atlantic, and in the face of this visible, growing strength, the (threatened) men in opposition deployed blistering propaganda targeting the opposite sex. The weapon of choice, of course, was the extremely popular postcard. To quote researcher John Fraser (The Oxford Art Journal, October 1980): “that the pictorial postcard was ‘possibly the great vehicle for messages of the new urban proletariat between 1900 and 1914’ (it was cheap to buy and to post, simple to use, and quick to arrive in an age of frequent postal deliveries).” From the blatantly misogynistic to the provokingly laughable, a range of these early pre-electronic mass media propaganda survive to this day. The right to vote was, and still is, a terrain of contestation and negotiation. Take a look.

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World Architecture Festival 2013: Winners

The World Architecture Festival took place in Singapore this year and saw around 200 shortlisted projects compete for awards in 30 different categories, from offices and places of religion, to family homes, schools, shopping centers, and future architecture projects. WAF is arguably the most prestigious of architectural honors in the world, and it draws the best of talent from across nations. The shortlisted projects and the wide range of architectural interventions presented in the festival is indicative of the fertility of the built environment, of creative processes and responsibilities accruing to furthering of thinking and doing architecture, in breathing life into spaces and structures for human families, communities, and societies worldwide. Take a look at the top honors.

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Product Design: ‘Inspired Urban Living’ 2013.

1700 product concepts from over 60 countries made their presence felt in this year’s Electrolux Design Lab, in response to the brief of ‘Inspired Urban Living’. Industrial and product designers pitched in with some common themes addressing personal care and care of the near and dear ones – from healthier, cleaner homes to cooking, from appliance accessories to domestic robots. Product concepts emerging out of design schools are audacious at times, and one can see a hint of it in some of the concepts. Bio-mimicry appears to be catching on, along with the need for us to breathe non-polluted air. Not all of the concepts are going to go through to final development and prototyping – but for the very few that do, it will still remain a test to see if what looked good as idea sketches and concept notes, actually function as envisaged in the everyday real world. Take a look at some of the entries for the Electrolux Design Lab 2013.

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Ghana: VCR Theater Posters from the 1980s.

Mirroring the VCR days in India, the first VCRs reached Ghana in the 1980s to give rise to a rental structure and exhibition of video cassette movies, particularly in the urban centers of Accra and Kumasi. Quite like India again, a host of fixed and mobile VCR movie theaters rolled into business. Itinerant VCR businessmen would travel the country hooking up TVs and VCRs to portable generators even, in case of non availability of power, to create impromptu theaters of entertainment. A table and a couple of chairs were good enough. These VCR movie screenings were promoted via a large variety of colorful and exaggerated hand drawn and hand painted posters by self taught artists who often used discarded flour sacks as the canvas. In the idiom of popular street art, these posters exude a charming lack of sophistication, and therefore, is typically in opposition to high brow gallery art. This liberty of interpreting American and Hong Kong movies in a single frame for promotional purposes on the streets of sub-Saharan Africa, had given voice to a rather unique visual idiom – marked by childlike exaggerations, disregard for fidelity to content, emphasis on shock and gore, and a wicked touch of humor. Take a look.

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Teratology in the 18th C: Monsters and Artists


In 1775, French artists Nicolas-François and Geneviève Regnault published the influential ‘Les Ecarts de la nature ou recueil des principales monstruosités‘ (The Deviations of Nature or a Collection of the Main Monstrosities). Tapping into centuries old scientific, ethnographic, and cosmographic interpretive traditions of “the monstrous”, François and Regnault were guided by poet Boileau’s idea that “no monster exists that cannot be made pleasing through art”. This marks an important moment in teratology i.e the study of perceived abnormalities in the natural world, both real and imagined. Perceptions, whether individual or societal, of deviations from the norm hold a place of academic interest for me, for they are often lensed with an entire arsenal of valuations of what is acceptable and what is not. The term “monster”, which is derived from the Latin verb “monstrare” meaning “to show”, was used to describe a visually unusual creature from about the 1st century B.C. onward. Classical interpretations of “the monstrous” were to remain influential until the end of the 17th century. Then came the ‘aesthetization’ of the monstrous along with the coming of Christianity, when authors began interpreting such phenomena as having been brought forth by God to communicate divine judgments. By the end of the Middle Ages, unusual natural occurrences were increasingly perceived as “wonders,” or “prodigies”, terms which all focused on their strange and exceptional character. Wonders were seen as signs of God’s anger, or a sign of the power of nature, inspiring fear or admiration depending on the religious and political context.

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Remembering Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013) : Wish you were here.

British artist, graphic designer and film-maker Storm Thorgerson has left an indelible mark on the minds of a generation or two of youngsters (or ‘oldsters’ for that matter) who grew up imagining the music of Pink Floyd. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Thorgerson’s influences were many, and when he was brought in to deliver the artwork for the ‘psychedelic-progressive’ music of Pink Floyd in the late 1960s – early 70s, he mapped his interest in the surrealism of René Magritte, Salvador Dali and the inimitable Man Ray, to the atmospheric music of Pink Floyd. This touch defined the music, created spaces for imagining, and was provocatively original. Working with analogue, pre-Photoshop tools, Thorgerson was singular about his vision and uncompromising. However hard we may try, it is difficult to evoke Pink Floyd without Thorgerson. He passed away quietly, a few days back (18th of April, 2013). Storm Thorgerson. Wish you were here.

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Frédéric Chaubin: Soviet Architecture. 1970-1990

Fascinated by the massive scale of Leonid Brezhnev era architecture, french magazine editor Frédéric Chaubin toured the former USSR for seven years (between 2003 and 2010), during which he stumbled upon 90 soviet buildings scattered across 14 former USSR republics, bearing the identifiers of what he calls ‘cosmic communist constructions’. His documentation is an important contribution to architectural history, especially of an era, of which not much is comprehensively known. Architectural Brutalism is somewhat evident in these structures that reveal a surprising freedom from the top-down directives of 1920s Constructivism and thereafter. These striking buildings, constructed on a huge scale usually from reinforced concrete, are anti-picturesque, their outlandish gravity-defying forms pitted against the landscape. Chaubin maintains that architecture reflects and expresses ideology and philosophy of that era. Take a look.

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Sergei Vasiliev: Russian Criminal Tattoos 1989-1993

Former law enforcer and later ‘Vecherny Chelyabinsk’ staff photographer Sergei Vasiliev had the privilege of access to some of the most notorious and hardened criminals in Russian prisons and reform settlements across Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Perm and St Petersburg, from about 1989-1993. In these years he managed to document the unique visual code on the skin-canvas of these out-of-law men. It is important to note that these tattoos, in the closed circle of the Russian underworld of the early ’90s, were not fashionable embellishments to flaunt, but rather, they were personal histories marking the criminals’ route through the prison system, their ranks in the gangland hierarchy,  successes and failures, promotions, demotions, kills, transfer of work, and so on. Unlike the more commercially pop and fairly visible Japanese yakuza tattoos, the visual code captured by Vasiliev maps a rather curious irony – that these notorious gangsters were honest in not running away from their past, never putting a tattoo which they had not earned, and always living up to what they have done and they might do, and inking it on their skins as daily reminders of who they are. And because of who they were, they are now long dead and gone.

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