The sounds of up north

Made as part of BBC4’s ‘Listen to Britain’, this glimpse into a typical day and night round here shows that it’s not all green Dales and romantic moors.

That Yorkshire sound
A hand drawn animated documentary, following the rhythms of a day in Yorkshire. It captures the sound of Yorkshire, from it’s multicultural and bustling cities like Bradford and Sheffield, to the delicate sounds of birds in the country side and the hypnotic rhythm of the motorways and train tracks.

Looking through Cindy Sherman’s Rear Window

News of an upcoming exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s photography at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from the end of June to mid September. This is from the British Journal of Photography last year.

Huge Cindy Sherman retrospective goes on show at NPG next year
Titled Cindy Sherman, the exhibition will feature around 180 works, including the seminal series Untitled Film Stills. Shot from 1977-1980 in New York, the 70-strong series cemented both her reputation and her approach – manipulating her own appearance to explore the complex relationship between facade and reality.

Also on show will be all five of Sherman’s Cover Girl series, made in 1976 when she was a student, as well as more recent work such as Clowns and Society Portraits, plus material from her studio that gives an insight into her working process.

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Interestingly, as The Art Newspaper explains, this is all Hitchcock’s doing.

Cindy Sherman gets first UK retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery
The photographer Cindy Sherman grew up in New York’s Long Island in the 1950s. She was a self-confessed “child TV addict”. Her parents would leave her at home to go to parties, and she would watch the same films on repeat. Her favourite childhood film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, is “her blueprint,” the curator Paul Moorhouse says ahead of Sherman’s first retrospective in the UK, at London’s National Portrait Gallery. “That’s how I understand her work,” Moorhouse adds.

Sherman would repeatedly watch the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart as he in turn obsessively observes his neighbours, attempting to fathom their lives via fragmentary visual glimpses. In adulthood, Sherman would quote Grace Kelly’s instruction to Stewart: “Tell me everything you saw—and what you think it means.”

“Sherman’s art poses the very same challenge,” Moorhouse says. “She invites us to see her and then work out what she means. She is pure appearance.”

She began in the 70s, but her work is still vital today.

Sherman succeeded in “expanding the definition” of portraiture by actively “presenting a false image”, Moorhouse says. And that makes her “almost uniquely current”.

“There’s a sacrosanct notion, a holy cow, in art history: that we can read a person’s character by looking at their face,” Moorhouse says. “We’re always looking at other people and trying to work out who they are. But the truth is we can never really tell. You can only interrogate their appearance.”

Understanding and exploring that tension lies at the heart of Sherman’s art, Moorhouse says. And this tension is ever more pressing when seen through the prism of social media and projected identity.

“No other artist interrogates the illusions presented by modern culture in such a penetrating way,” Moorhouse says. “Advertising, fake news, social media, even pornography—no other artist scrutinises so tellingly the façades that people adopt or our struggle to make sense of what’s presented to us via our cultural outposts.”

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Someone’s death makes someone rich

Can’t help but think this shouldn’t have gone on sale.

Pistol that Van Gogh ‘used to shoot himself’ sells for £115,000 at Paris auction
An anonymous phone bidder took home the Lefaucheux revolver, its casing heavily rusted and the inlay of the curved handle missing, for more than double the highest estimates made by experts at auction house Drouot.

“It is a very emblematic piece,” said auctioneer Gregoire Veyres. “The fact that it’s a gun, it’s an object of death. And if van Gogh is van Gogh, it’s because of his suicide and this gun is part of it.”

Van Gogh’s gun, ‘most famous weapon in art history’, sells for €162,500
The auctioned Lefaucheux pinfire revolver is almost certainly the weapon used, although this cannot be conclusively proved. The type of weapon, its calibre, its severely corroded state and the location and circumstances of the find strongly suggest it is the gun. In the evening of 27 July 1890 Van Gogh suffered a gunshot wound while in a wheatfield and he then staggered back to the inn, dying two days later.

Art in the age of Netflix

The Dalí Museum isn’t the only one to use new technologies to draw in the crowds.

The Cleveland Museum studied how to best engage visitors in the age of Netflix. Here’s what they found
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s initiative, an interactive three-room experience (and app) called the ARTLENS Gallery, is one of the more comprehensive projects in the museum-tech sphere. It offers the opportunity for visitors to virtually explore artworks up close, create their own digital compositions, and learn about the museum’s collection by taking pictures with their phones.

To pre-empt any charges of gimmickry, perhaps, the museum conducted a two-year study on digital technology and visitor engagement.

Perhaps the most interesting figure had to do with millennials, an elusive demographic whose attention—and money—has long been coveted by institutions.

Millennials were 15 percent more likely to visit the digital galleries than older adults (44 percent compared to 29 percent, respectively) and 88 percent said that the digital component of their visits made them appreciate the value of an art museum.

“We’re not competing with other museums. We’re competing with Netflix,” says Jane Alexander, the museum’s chief digital officer. “You can be six years or 80 years old, you can have an art history degree or not—we want people to realize there’s something here for everyone.”

Along a bleak river

Expect more of these over the coming years; melancholic, soulful studies of our degrading environment.

Zhang Kechun documents the bleak reality of China’s Yellow River
Once a site of prosperity, the river is filled with a spiritual history in Chinese mythology. “I decided to take a walk along the Yellow River… so that I could find the root of my soul”, explains Kechun in his artist statement. “Along the way, the river from my mind was inundated by the stream of reality. Once full of legends, [the river] had gone and disappeared. That is kind of my profound pessimism”, he writes. Zhang spent four years documenting the river, the results of which reflect a bleak reality: industrial sabotage, pollution, and the long-term effects of floods are portrayed through grey and beige tones. The river has flooded many times and with such extreme consequences, that is has become known as the River of Sorrow.

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“Minimalist infantilization”

You don’t need a degree in visual identity to notice a certain amount of homogeneity amongst corporate branding these days. Graphic designer and writer Rachel Hawley investigates this  “creepy cheerfulness of a thousand smiling san serifs.”

The corporate logo singularity
By the time Facebook and Google got in on the fun, of course, this new style was well underway. Motorola, Spotify, Airbnb, PayPal, and Lenovo had all undergone similar redesigns; over the next few years, Dropbox, Mastercard, Pandora, Pinterest, and Uber followed suit, among others. The twenty-first century, it became clear, would be smooth, sleek, and simple.

What we’ve been left with is the unsettling omnipresence of a single corporate aesthetic, its reach rapidly expanding beyond its tech origins. Taken individually, any of these wordmarks might effectively communicate the intended qualities of friendliness and approachability; together, their cheerfulness is downright creepy, like the painted-on smile of a clown’s face.

[…]

Here, the truth is made plain: the childlike nature of corporate branding isn’t a random trend, but part of the mindset that consumers ought to be treated like children. Details are the sinister machinations of faceless authority figures; friendly colors and geometric letters like those on a toddler’s building blocks are comforting by contrast. That each brand looks more or less like the next is only for the better: the world is a little smaller that way, less likely to confuse or frighten. As Jesse Barron wrote for Real Life magazine in 2016, “We’re in the middle of a decade of post-dignity design, whose dogma is cuteness.” Cuteness, employed as these companies do, talks down to you without words.

In related news, Firefox is having a rebrand. And yes, this feels quite ‘cute’ too, after reading Rachel’s article.

Mozilla gives Firefox a new look that goes beyond the logo
Built around four distinct ideological pillars — a radical optimism about the internet, a desire to build better products, a drive towards openness, and a belief in the fundamental importance of being driven by strong convictions — the new look and feel isn’t the end of story, with Mozilla claiming that: “As a living brand, Firefox will never be done. It will continue to evolve as we change and the world changes around us.”

Firefox’s new logo has more fire, less fox
But before you say “What did they do to that poor fox!” know that the logo you see above actually isn’t the browser logo — that’s the brand-new overarching logo for Mozilla’s whole family of Firefox products, with each component (including the browser) having its own logo, too.

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Accidentally empowering museum audiences

I’ve always believed that the central tenet of interactive art, borrowed from Quantum Theory, is that the act of observing affects that being observed. Perhaps we could see these two recent news stories as examples of that.

Safe sealed for 40 years until museum visitor spins the dial
“I said, ‘That’s quite the time capsule.’ I said, ‘I’m going to try this now for a laugh.'”

He leaned his ear close to the lock, began cranking the lock and listened intently for the telltale click, click, click.

“I put in 20-40-60, three times right, three times left, one time right. Tried it, it’s like, oh my God.”

The door creaked open. The room filled with a cloud of dust and a round of applause.

“When it opens, total surprise and amazement, right? I have a little bit of luck but hopefully I didn’t use it all up on this one.”

Solved: A case of mistaken identity in a Madrid art museum
Pastor, who is 39 years old and currently living in Luxembourg, was so sure he was looking at Rodin that he thought he had misread the caption. While still in the museum, he began googling Leopold—who is remembered primarily for presiding over a genocide in the Belgian Congo. While the two men clearly shared a resemblance, Pastor couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a case of mistaken identity, and he resolved to get to the bottom of it.

Charting frustration

An interview with US artist, Christine Sun Kim.

An artist who channels her anger into pie charts
A series of her large-format charcoal drawings, which explore navigating the hearing world as a deaf person, are now on view at the 79th Whitney Biennial in New York. The six works pair depictions of varying mathematical angles with correlative, rage-inducing encounters that are both broadly applicable — “being given a Braille menu at a restaurant” or “offered a wheelchair at an airport” — and painfully specific to her experience — “curators who think it’s fair to split my fee with interpreters.”

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Channeling her experiences into images of geometric angles, musical notes and meme-like pie charts, Kim playfully combines different sign systems to create what she calls a “common language that all people can connect to.”

Eating lunch at your desk again?

Some fun videos from YouTuber omozoc, in the style of PES.

Stop motion cooking tutorials by Omozoc transform sporting goods and electronics into unconventional meals
A baseball glove becomes the bun of a strangely enticing hot dog, while a cracked-open computer mouse makes an unusual batch of scrambled eggs on the top of an open copy machine.

Keyboard crasher’s lunch

In the shadows

Some remarkably simple and effective sculptural installations from Kumi Yamashita.

Light & Shadow
I sculpt using both light and shadow. I construct single or multiple objects and place them in relation to a single light source. The complete artwork is therefore comprised of both the material (the solid objects) and the immaterial (the light or shadow).

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Before photography, the silhouette helped leave an impression
The four contemporary artists represented in the exhibition amplify the dualistic sense of technology and the occult seen in the 19th-century work. The most stunning of the works are by Kumi Yamashita, who conjures convincing shadow images using light and gently folded pieces of origami paper, or the carefully carved edge of a chair, or letter and number forms glued on the wall. The shadows give the uncanny suggestion of a living being, while they in fact are ensorcelled from inanimate material.

(Via)

The grit of space

We’re all fascinated by images of space (and from space), but their polish and stillness can sometimes hide the fuller picture.

Celebrating the rough, the raw and the human in hardcore space science
Images of space and the solar system have a powerful appeal, and amaze with their vibrant otherworldly vistas. But it’s easy to forget just how processed they are: the colours are often added for effect, and digital editing makes these pictures pop. So it’s worth remembering the human process behind space as we know it. This is precisely the aim of Black Rain, which transforms raw scientific data into pulsating audiovisual art. … Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – aka Semiconductor, the UK artist duo behind the video – say the images are a reminder of ‘the human observer, who endeavours to extend our perceptions and knowledge through technological innovation’.

A few more videos in keeping with that grainy, black and white vibe.

Solar Eclipse (1900) – the first moving image of an astronomical phenomenon

Universe

(And yes, I know that I’ve linked to that Universe video before. It’s too good to only show once.)

How to get ahead

This is the type of art criticism I can get behind.

Ranked: 10 paintings of Judith beheading Holofernes
Today in Current Affairs, we examine an urgent and timely topic: Judith’s beheading of Holofernes! This story comes to us from the Book of Judith, a biblical text about the attempted conquest of Israel by the Assyrians. Judith is a Jewish widow who ingratiates herself with the invading general Holofernes, waits for him to fall asleep, and then hacks his head off and takes it home with her (thus thwarting the entire invasion, because the Assyrians evidently had no Plan B if Holofernes was killed. Solid military strategy, Assyrians.)

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2. Caravaggio, c. 1598-1599

Lyta: This one is pretty and famous but I am not feeling it

it’s the Blake Lively of paintings

good bloodspurt tho

Brianna: yeah good on the blood front, but Judith just doesn’t seem sufficiently enthused

Lyta: “is this even the right angle? I should have practiced first”

“I’ll do better next time”

(Via Laura Olin’s newsletter)

The great (fake) outdoors

Fernando Maselli creates infinite mountainscapes in his quest for the sublime
To create his works, he photographs mountainous areas from different angles over a period of days; something only possible because of his training as a climber. Later, in the studio, he combines these images, creating a new landscape that through repetition attempts to achieve what he calls the “artificial infinite effect…[and] the concept of the sublime as it was defined by Burke”.

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Meanwhile.

I plant trees for a living, but Flat Earthers tell me they don’t exist
That’s a simplification of the concept, of course. The main idea is that within the overall Flat Earth theory, there are no more “real” trees left. According to them, the trees we see now are small ersatz versions of giant, 20-mile-high trees that used to exist on earth in ancient times. In short, the things we think are trees today are actually…bushes.

Dear me.

Sports days

Great to see some more work from this most patient of photographers.

“Crowded Fields” by photographer Pelle Cass
“I’m still fascinated by the body in motion and the strangeness of time (although I’m sick of watching college sports!). To make the compositions, I put my camera on a tripod, take up to a thousand pictures, and compile selected figures into a final photograph that is kind of a still time-lapse. I change nothing — not a pixel. I simply select what to keep and what to omit. It all happened precisely as you see it, just not at the same time.”

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Oh, it’s you

I was searching for images of Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase painting that had inspired Marco Brambilla’s animation, when Google showed me this photo.

A flash of recognition! I had seen it before, on that cover of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. I hadn’t realised who it was at the time, just thought it was some spooky old man.

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Victor Obsatz’s portrait of Marcel Duchamp
In March 1953, the Greenwich Village gallery owner Michael Freilich (RoKo Gallery) asked 28 year-old Victor Obsatz to photograph Marcel Duchamp in his apartment on West 14th Street. The resulting double-exposure print pleased Duchamp very much, as he chose it especially for the front and back covers of Robert Lebel’s 1959 catalogue raisonné.

The work has since become one of the most popular and sought-after images of the artist, and has been reproduced in a number of well-known texts on Duchamp, Dada, Surrealism, and recently in the The National Portrait Gallery’s 2009 exhibition “Inventing Marcel Duchamp, The Dynamics of Portraiture.”

It’s certainly a striking image of a very peculiar man, a great choice for a very peculiar book.

The Two Duchamps
He is known as the godfather of conceptual art, yet Marcel Duchamp was also a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, and had strong affinities for their craftsman-like approach and their ‘tortured explorations of sex, chastity and desire’

Ta ra, Theresa

The press are keen to analyse her political legacy (blah blah blah blah), but I’d rather look at Prime Minister May’s time at Number 1O via two of my favourite things – photos and charts.

The political life of Theresa May – in pictures
A look back over May’s political career, from being elected as MP for Maidenhead in 1997 to Brexit, the snap election that backfired and her onstage dancing at the 2018 Tory conference.

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Theresa May: Premiership in six charts
1. She hasn’t been in office long
Mrs May has developed a reputation for surviving in almost impossible circumstances, but she is still among the UK prime ministers with the shortest time in office.

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Moving animation

A round-up of films showing that animation is all about movement, really. Let’s start with something literal.

Nude Descending a Staircase No.3 by Marco Brambilla
“The figures of No. 3 constantly reconfigure themselves to cascade down an unseen stairway,” says regular NOWNESS contributor Brambilla. “The body, shapes and colour palette are pure Cubism, now expanded into three dimensions using state-of-the-art computer technology.” Brambilla’s No. 3 is a simulation of a walk cycle, which itself is an abstraction of human movement taken from motion-capture recordings. Variations of the cycles are rendered at different speeds and collaged into a kinetic composition that constantly evolves.

As well as bringing life to the models, this film shows you can animate the cameras filming those models.

Daria Kashcheeva combines stop motion, documentary-style filmmaking and painterly techniques
The trauma that spirals out inexorably from a single instance of failed connection between father and daughter is captured with an affecting candidness by Daria’s use of stop motion animation. For her, the technique affects a closeness with the world of the characters as a tactile reality. “I like the air between the camera and the puppets, which is tangible and which I cannot feel in computer 2D animation.” This proximity to the characters is further enhanced by Daria’s painstaking filming technique. Instead of adopting the fixed perspective of an objective viewer, she simulates the cinematic effect of hand-held footage by animating the motions of her camera as well as the movements of her puppets.

How about animating something that doesn’t move for 50+ years?

A whale can live 50-75 years. Its afterlife is equally long and spectacular
After a whale dies, it begins to sink. As it drifts slowly downward, its body provides sustenance for an incredibly diverse community of organisms. In Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale), the stages of consumption are illustrated by paper puppets of the fish, crustaceans and microscopic bacteria that feed upon the whale for decades after its death.

Or something that hasn’t moved for thousands of years?

Frozen for millennia, an ancient Greek soldier is freed to charge into battle once again
The artifacts that underlie so much of our understanding of the ancient world can often feel like brittle remnants of a dim and dusty past that’s hard to access without context and extensive knowledge. But sometimes just a little kineticism can transform a bit of pottery into a living story. Such is the effect of this animation produced for an exhibition at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading in the UK, which breathes life into war scenes from a vase found on the island of Euboea and thought to date to roughly 550 BCE.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous; animating continental drift, as the UK stupidly slides away from Europe.

Max Colson satirises post-Brexit UK in a 3D-modelled animation
Brexit really has brought out the worst in people. The rhetoric spewed by certain right-wing politicians has allowed blatant racism to ooze out of hiding, revealing a cesspit of empire-loving xenophobes that wouldn’t know what makes Britain “Great” if it smacked them in their bland food-loving faces. But with that rather enormous caveat, it’s also been an utterly fascinating time for people-watching. If you’re interested in the idea of ‘Britishness’, like artist Max Colson, the past three years have been a revelation. Via nostalgia for a Britain of the past (in many cases a fictional country that never really existed), there’s a tonne of insight into the values, fears and neuroses motivating us Brits. It’s these idealised views of Britain that Max has mined for his latest short film The Green and Present Land.

Make a wish

Something very magical and dreamlike yet mundane and industrial about this recent art installation.

A fleeting dandelion wish processing facility appears for two days outside of Los Angeles
A recent two-day installation in Commerce, California afforded visitors an opportunity to evaluate and deposit their secret wishes. Dandelions, which was organized by the anonymous artist group The Art Department, took place in an administrative building at the Laguna Bell electrical substation from May 11-12, 2019. The cavernous space was transformed into a secret wish processing facility, where visitors submitted their wishes for questioning and analysis before receiving a dandelion to send their wish in a whoosh down a chute of either slam dunks or long shots.

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A factory that processes your dandelion wishes
Visitors who wanted to make their wishes in person were handed a ticket and instructed to climb a flight of rusted stairs that led to a dilapidated administrative building. Inside, a grassy, dandelion-lined corridor pointed wishers to their first station: a cramped office where a brusk employee asked the visitor to describe their wish without spilling the specific details (the Department of Small Things That Float on the Wind, which oversees the wish-processing facility, firmly believes that sharing a secret wish automatically disqualifies it from coming true). The bureaucrat asked more general questions. Could the wish be categorized as altruistic or selfish? Did it pertain to romance or your career?

Then the wishers were ushered to the next station, where they took a more thorough survey on the WISH_TEK2000, an old, ’90s-era computer running on DOS. At the end of the survey — which asked you to rate your general luck on a scale of one to 100 — the computer spat out the likelihood of the wish being granted; for me, it was a long shot.

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The whimsical journey, which was unique, beautiful, and expertly produced, may feel like it lacked depth conceptually, but was genuinely engaging. Even though it was visually impressive, it didn’t dissolve into Instagrammable gimmicks. Pulling visitors into the immersive script discouraged them from breaking the fourth wall by pulling out their phone, and the surveys put pressure on visitors to think more seriously about what they may wish for if they actually had the chance for it to come true.

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Dalí’s back

Another art and AI post, but with a difference. An exhibition at the Dalí Museum in Florida, with a very special guest.

Deepfake Salvador Dalí takes selfies with museum visitors
The exhibition, called Dalí Lives, was made in collaboration with the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), which made a life-size re-creation of Dalí using the machine learning-powered video editing technique. Using archival footage from interviews, GS&P pulled over 6,000 frames and used 1,000 hours of machine learning to train the AI algorithm on Dalí’s face. His facial expressions were then imposed over an actor with Dalí’s body proportions, and quotes from his interviews and letters were synced with a voice actor who could mimic his unique accent, a mix of French, Spanish, and English.

Behind the Scenes: Dali Lives

Whilst we’re talking of Dalí, let’s go behind the scenes of that famous portrait of him by Philippe Halsman. No flashy, cutting-edge technology this time, just wire, buckets and cats.

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The story behind the surreal photograph of Salvador Dalí and three flying cats
The original, unretouched version of the photo reveals its secrets: An assistant held up the chair on the left side of the frame, wires suspended the easel and the painting, and the footstool was propped up off the floor. But there was no hidden trick to the flying cats or the stream of water. For each take, Halsman’s assistants—including his wife, Yvonne, and one of his daughters, Irene—tossed the cats and the contents of a full bucket across the frame. After each attempt, Halsman developed and printed the film while Irene herded and dried off the cats. The rejected photographs had notes such as “Water splashes Dalí instead of cat” and “Secretary gets into picture.”

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Time.com have a great interview with Philippe Halsman’s daughter Irene on what that shoot was like.

The story behind the surrealist ‘Dali Atomicus’ photo
“Philippe would count to four. One, two, three… And the assistants threw the cats and the water. And on four, Dali jumped. My job at the time was to catch the cats and take them to the bathroom and dry them off with a big towel. My father would run upstairs where the darkroom was, develop the film, print it, run downstairs and he’d say not good, bad composition, this was wrong, that was wrong. It took 26 tries to do this. 26 throws, 26 wiping of the floors, and 26 times catching the cats. And then, there it was, finally, this composition.”

Coincidentally, Artnome’s Jason Bailey has been using AI and deep learning to colorize old black-and-white photos of artists, including that one of Dalí’s.

50 famous artists brought to life with AI
When I was growing up, artists, and particularly twentieth century artists, were my heroes. There is something about only ever having seen many of them in black and white that makes them feel mythical and distant. Likewise, something magical happens when you add color to the photo. These icons turn into regular people who you might share a pizza or beer with.

Making an exhibition of yourself

The faces are real this time, though the galleries aren’t.

Put your head into gallery
Georgian artist Tezi Gabunia wants to trigger a dialogue about hyper realistic issues in art. His modus operandi is falsification. In his work “put your head into gallery”, Gabunia wanted to bring the galleries and the art to the people, and not the other way around.

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Whilst the images are striking, I wonder if he’s just pandering to our vanity, though. I mean, look at the queues.

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Put Your Head into Gallery