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Or more accurately 3D animation, real time computer graphics and projection mapping interacting with electronic music to create something that merges theater set design and production, cinema, live music and virtual reality. One could imagine a character out of say, Blade Runner, walking into a concert or nightclub scene resembling what I saw in this performance. Unfortunately it wasn’t live but on YouTube, though it would be quite an experience to see it at the Sydney Opera House in person. As usual, my discovery was out of tune with any sequential time sequence as I’m busy bouncing all over the place.

I first stumbled upon it while looking up Amon Tobin, the Brazilian electronic musician who collaborated on this project with director Vello Virkhaus, media production collective V Squared Labs, Leviathan and set designer Vita Motus. The music was originally from Tobin’s album ISAM (which has been a part of my lounge room ‘ambience’ lately), an Acronym for “Invented Sound Applied to Music”, the record was: ‘an experiment in synthesizing field recordings and transforming them into new physically playable instruments to create unique sound palettes.’

The set itself at various times looks like a dystopian city of the future, a mass of broken T.V. sets, a giant game of Tetris or some kind of self conscious but irrational space ship with Tobin embedded in the structure as the captain. It’s at times a disorienting 21st century version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis assembled from musique and video concrete sources, filtered through Kraftwerk’s industrial elegance and finally interpreted by the mix, match and fusion of DJ culture. This is a one of a kind audio/visual spectacle and definitely worth your time dear reader. Let it paint unique pictures in your own mind.



vsquaredlabs.com

amontobin.com

 

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Taking his inspiration from 70’s and 80’s video games (his name is derived from the ‘Space Invaders’ arcade game), French artist Invader is interesting in a variety of ways, not least in the fact that he uses mosaics instead of spray paint. He has also used Star Wars characters, Pink Panther and Popeye. Like Banksy and many others, Invader protects his identity and refers to himself as an Unidentified Free Artist and has been ‘invading’ city spaces all over the world since 1998. In true video gaming style, he’s also kept score: 3280 Invaders / 65 CITIES ha ha. And speaking of identity, he’s one the artists who appears in the film ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’, itself an interesting and often funny look at celebrity and the art world.

If you’ve ever had to remove tiles you’ll know that its easier to break them than to save them as some collectors have found out with Invader’s work. One of his solutions is to offer ‘invasion kits’ for sale, so you too can build-your-own Space Invaders ha ha ha. Alternatively you could go to your local home-depot-bunnings-masters-whatever monstrosity you have in your town and purchase some construction strength glue and cheap building material and invade space with your own creation! Anyway, I like the approachable nature of this project and the fact that its industrial nature has the potential to make it almost invisible. ‘Why would you want to make it invisible?’ I hear you say and my point is that quietly altering a highly regimented and controlled environment is more important than getting arrested, banned or being famous for 15 minutes.

I don’t think I’ve written much about street art previously, but this process, along with old-school DIY book/zine/record publishing and the still largely decentralized internet, seems to be the last frontier of free expression and speech. Wanting to side step the museum and gallery system, Invader sees himself as a ‘hacker’ of public space, displaying work at street level for everyone to enjoy. Working in public spaces also rearranges a city’s architecture to an extent, at least giving it a much needed splash of colour. We already have our head and physical spaces invaded by all kinds of junk so why not Space Invaders or Shepard Fairey’s Andre The Giant?

www.space-invaders.com

Walter Gropius (Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919): ‘Together we will want, think up, and create the new building of the future, which will be everything in one shape: architecture and sculpture and painting which from millions of hands of craftsmen will rise once towards the heavens as a crystal symbol of a new coming belief.’

Sony Tower (1976)

Kisho Kurokawa is a Japanese architect/town planner most well known for the Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972) and the Sony Tower (1976). He is of interest to me (and should be to everyone) as his concepts make him a predecessor of ‘fluid’ architecture, which is endlessly updated by the occupants’ lifestyle/work, technological developments and the property market. He founded the Metabolist movement in 1960, the key principle being Symbiosis. Moving away form the centralised prototype of the European city (centralised squares for example), it was a radical vision of cities without centres, a web of decentralised cells or modules. Metabolism proposed building spaces and structures in relation to metabolistic structures, which constantly undergo the process of growth, change, circulation and recycling. It was a Symbiosis of culture, design and nature (a biological, relative and variable model) versus Modernism (a mechanical, industrial model). His description of the future of architecture was Abstract Symbolism, the abstract being the global, information society we now live in and the symbolism reflecting local beliefs and culture. Sorry for the long quote below but he makes some really valid points in regards to modernism.

Kurokawa on Bauhaus and Modernism: ‘Bauhaus was a reform movement which introduced Modernism into architecture. It was directed against the then academism, which was dominated by neoclassicism. They continued to fight against the academism as such and in the end their style dominated the architecture of the following period such that Bauhaus itself has now become an academism. Today we present-day architects fight against the new academism or Modernism, which really has become over powerful. This is because with my symbiotic thinking I oppose the fact that the so-called International Style that arose from modernism has to be carried over everywhere throughout the world independent of the culture of the particular country, right into the last jungle.

What academism did later incorporate from Modernist architecture was simply the construction style, which was then spread world-wide in the next generation in the name of Modernism and the International Style. However, that was fundamentally industrialism, having little in common with the original Bauhaus. Since then, this industrial style determines 99% of public buildings, as you can see there outside the window.’

Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972)

The modular construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower was the world’s first example for capsule architecture built for actual use. Prefabricated capsules were attached or plugged into two circulation towers with built in stairwells and elevators, making it possible to exchange, replace and convert the components according to need. From the outside, the tower looks like a bunch of giant washing machines stacked together or a space station somewhere far away. The interior gives one the feeling of being in a submarine or a space capsule but the important point to consider here is the lack of space in most urban environments. Of course, looking at these structures today, they seem in a state of disrepair even though the highest-level technology and materials were used so the concept hasn’t taken off entirely. The design and feel might seem monotonous but it is the concept of individual elements linked to a single, asymmetrical, free form, growing structure that sticks in the mind.

Kisho Kurokawa: ‘The architecture of Metabolism was based on the image of a living cell. That image encompasses notions of growth, division, exchange, transformation, autonomous parts, deconstruction, temporariness, recycling, rings ad a dynamic stability. Capsule architecture was an architectural expression of the living cell.’

Of course, Kurokawa has been involved in many other projects worth discussing, especially the relationship between architecture and nature in his work. Or man made ‘second nature’, an intermediary space where the indoors and outdoors, past and present and universal and local meet. I think his ideas are very relevant in the 21st century and beyond, particularly the notions of cultural identity and sustainability. I haven’t read it but Kurokawa’s book ‘Each One a Hero: The Philosophy of Symbiosis (1997)’ seems to be the book to get if you want to delve any further.

Kenji Ekuan

Now here is a time capsule for the serious student of design history, particularly industrial design. I found the book while rummaging through a second-hand bookshop, and what a find! A 1973 lecture series (I guess there’s more?) by Kenji Ekuan. It’s a lecture in which he talks about Japanese culture, history, education, commerce and industry as seen though the prism of design practice.

Of course, some of it will be dated or even alien still, such as the housing pods or capsules, which unlike a lot of Japanese developments, has not taken off in the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that even then, Mr. Ekuan was looking at the world in a global sense. Exchange of products means exchange of culture, the way the east and the west communicated during and before the industrial age. A country sent only the finest products, the best examples of its culture. This then brings us to the question of quantity versus quality, which has still not been properly addressed. What do mass-produced cheaply made goods say about a culture? And how do they represent a culture if they’re made by cheaper labour in another country? This multinational approach has the unfortunate side effect of entirely removing cultural exchange sometime in the near future.

The real high point for me has been the insight into Japanese education, ceremonies, architecture and arts/crafts. Practices such as flower arranging and calligraphy are instilled as ‘organisational creativity’ in people, giving them a more refined sense of beauty and functionality. Creativity becomes a part of daily life. The ‘organisational’ part instils a sense of self-discipline early on. We can still learn a lot from this approach. While the lecture is obviously not as thorough as a book written on the subject, it does give one an insight into design practices and thinking in 1970’s Japan.

Well this was a discovery made through a music video of all things. Every now and then (and this is true of tv ads as well), you see something that sticks with you and you want to investigate further. The video is ‘Tonto’ made for the largely instrumental group Battles by a British based collective United Visual Artists.. They seem to be concerned with modifying space and light through installations and live performance. This includes many different disciplines such as architecture, fine art, engineering, graphic and communication design. I’m guessing that many European music and art festivals feature their work.

 

The video is an LED installation synchronized with the audio to create a multimedia experience which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’.  The installation functions as a light symphony and I think it complements the music so perfectly, one hopes it gets used on tour. The alien/ lunar landscape is actually an old Welsh slate mine.

 

Obviously, I could have included other examples of UVA’s work, but this is a good place to start discovering the rest of the portfolio for those who are interested.

 

The website is here: http://www.uva.co.uk/

 

The making of the ‘Tonto’ video can be viewed here and is highly recomended if you want to see the creative process of the collective: http://www.vimeo.com/15299797

Another great BBC documentary, this time exploring the world of design and how it has shaped our world over the last century. This is mandatory viewing for anyone looking to immmerse themselves in the history of design in all its different facets and some of the more important developments: the arts and crafts movement, the assembly line mass production process, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, etc up to the present day. It’s as in-depth as we are likely to get so dig in! Kind of hard to get online video links at the moment but the dvd is out..

http://www.bbcshop.com/history/the-genius-of-design-dvd/invt/av9799/

And now for something a little different, more in the area of infrastructure and architecture and its impact on our world, culture, lifestyle, etc. Retail historians Peter Blackbird and Brian Florence have been documenting the rise and fall of malls in America at deadmalls.com, which I think is an interesting exercise seeing how the ‘suburban mall serving as a social and retail center’ concept originated there and has been spreading across the world since in places like Australia (pretty much an exact copy) and more recently in ‘developing’ countries like China and India. In India, the demolition of small business shops (estimated at round 40,000!) is pretty much a government incentive to allow malls to take over the market place and make bigger profits.

These private shopping and in turn living spaces (the suburbs) were seen as an escape from the masses and urban chaos in the 1950’s. New (sub)urban centres sprang up as artificial environments creating in effect an artificial culture, where the mass produced replaced the home grown and the hand made. The photos taken from deadmalls.com could have been taken in Australia as well, except that here they are still thriving even though I have read that some councils have resorted to ‘elevator music’ in order to calm down youths not content with or simply no able to constantly shop. What do they do? I remember being a teenager and seeing shopping centres as these towering maximum security shopping prisons, once you go in you never come out. Town or village ‘centres’ offer a more integrated and organic approach, without the need for fences or walls.

The photos have a quite haunting, almost post apocalyptic quality to them and they should serve as a warning to countries willing to abandon all facets of culture in favour of conspicuous consumption.

Moving on from early examples of advertising and commercial art, we enter the world of complete identity design, art directors and advertising agencies. Or the forerunners of what came to be known as graphic design, industrial design, information design, etc. Early on in the 20th century, companies, agencies and governments increasingly wanted to speak in a singular voice which created a need for art directors: someone who could oversee logos, logotype, brochures, advertisements and the like. Peter Behrens’ work as artistic consultant for the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (or AEG) company is widely recognised as the first comprehensive design overhaul (logotype, product design, publicity, etc.) as part of company policy. He was considered the first industrial designer in history, and below are a few examples of this overhaul: we can see the beginning of consistency of identification, information and promotion.

A luminarium is a inflatable walk-in sculpture which is easy to transport and adaptable to different sites. The structural engineers are inspired by the pure forms of geometry and nature, by Islamic architecture, Gothic cathedrals and modern architectural innovators such as Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto.

I had the plesure of visiting one of these structures, Amococo, during the Adelaide fringe festival. It is built of opaque plastic which allows sunlight to illuminate the inside like some sort of a futuristic cathedral or even a night club (neon colours always remind me of the night life). There are no square corners which made it quite a disorienting experience initially, I guess because we are so used to the square or rectangular formats of our living and work spaces. This is quite an interesting idea considering the rate at which architecture is destroyed and rebuilt in this day and age. It already uses only natural light, maybe the structure could also be inflated with cool or hot air depending on the need (in a similar way to the ‘Water Cube’ in Beijing). It would be interesting to see how well this works with regards to sustainability..

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