Let Colossal cheer you up

Colossal is one of the largest art, design, and culture blogs on the web, and I’ve been a big fan for ages. The trouble is I mainly use an RSS reader to keep up-to-date with its posts, rather than visiting it directly, and so I can easily mess changes to the design or layout of its website.

Take the ‘Editor’s Pick’ collections, for example, and this one — the best of humour.

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Dystopian Swedish sci-fi

Digital Arts has some images of wonderfully atmospheric paintings from Simon Stålenhag, an artist and designer from Sweden.

Simon Stålenhag’s incredible paintings show an alien invasion that has gone wrong
The artist’s near-photorealistic style provides a wonderful contrast to its otherworldly subjects.

They’re from his new book, The Electric State, due out this September. This is the description from Amazon of the hardcover version.

The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag
A teen girl and her robot embark on a cross-country mission in this illustrated science fiction story, perfect for fans of Ready Player One and Black Mirror.

In late 1997, a runaway teenager and her small yellow toy robot travel west through a strange American landscape where the ruins of gigantic battle drones litter the countryside, along with the discarded trash of a high-tech consumerist society addicted to a virtual-reality system. As they approach the edge of the continent, the world outside the car window seems to unravel at an ever faster pace, as if somewhere beyond the horizon, the hollow core of civilization has finally caved in.

And this is the description from the Kindle edition’s page.

The Electric State eBook by Simon Stålenhag
Stranger Things meets On the Road in this hypnotic, lavishly illustrated novel.

Set in a post-apocalyptic 1997, The Electric State is the story of Michelle who, accompanied by her toy robot Skip, sets out across the western United States in a stolen car to find her missing brother. Told in achingly melancholy, spare prose and featuring almost a hundred gorgeous, full-colour illustrations, The Electric State is a novel like no other.

Rights in The Electric State have already sold in thirteen territories and Deadline reports that the film rights were snapped up by the Russo Brothers’ production company (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) with Andy Muschietti (Mama, It) attached to direct.

There are many more images from his various projects on his website.

A secret photographer

I can’t imagine there will be many more stories like this. In this social media-sullied age, we are all too keen to press our photos into the faces of friends and strangers alike.

Over 30,000 negatives discovered in Russian artist’s attic reveal a lifetime of hidden photography
Russian artist and theater critic Masha Ivashintsova (1942-2000) lived a secret life as a photographer, taking over 30,000 photographs in her lifetime without ever showing a soul. It wasn’t until years after her death in 2000 that her daughter Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan stumbled upon her vast collection of negatives while cleaning out the attic. The photographs showcase an astounding look into the inner world of Ivashintsova, while also providing a glimpse of everyday life in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) from the 1960-1999.

Ivashintosova was heavily engaged in the city’s underground poetry and photography movement, yet never showed anyone her images, poetry, or personal writing during her lifetime. Ivashintsova-Melkumyan shares a quote from one of her mother’s diary entries that hints at the reasoning behind her hidden artistic life, “I loved without memory: is that not an epigraph to the book, which does not exist? I never had a memory for myself, but always for others.”

“I see my mother as a genius,” explains Ivashintsova-Melkumyan, “but she never saw herself as one—and never let anybody else see her for what she really was.”

These are remarkable photos, so evocative. She reminds me of what I think was said about Magritte’s painted gentlemen, that they were ordinary people holding extraordinary secrets. Masha Ivashintsova was a world famous photographer, but kept that secret from the world until after she died.

Everything, all at once

Repeat viewing is obligatory with these videos.

1.000.000 Frames / Candice Drouet
“It’s funny how much memory, hidden, is instantly conjured up with just a few familiar flashes. I’ve been rebooted. Amazing piece.” “You’ve watched a lot of great films. Thanks for putting this together.” “You certainly deserve lots of credit for all the work you have put into your outstanding production.”

Classical Gas – 3000 Years of Art
CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

A jaunt through five millennia of art history in just one minute
This meticulously animated short by the Chinese new-media artist and educator Cao Shu traverses some five millennia of art in a single minute. As flickering images move chronologically, in flipbook fashion, through a parade of styles and artistic movements – from Ancient Egypt, to the Impressionist era, to the 20th century avant-garde – a gender-shifting character makes a series of simple movements, seemingly ambling through the history of art.

A broken art market

Art and the art markets. You might think they have little in common with each other.

How modern art serves the rich
Then, on October 18, 1973, in front of a slew of television cameras and a packed salesroom at the auction house Sotheby Parke Bernet, they put 50 works from their collection up for sale, ultimately netting $2.2 million—an unheard of sum for contemporary American art. More spectacular was the disparity between what the Sculls had initially paid, in some cases only a few years prior to the sale, and the prices they commanded at auction: A painting by Cy Twombly, originally purchased for $750, went for $40,000; Jasper Johns’s Double White Map, bought in 1965 for around $10,000, sold for $240,000. Robert Rauschenberg, who had sold his 1958 work Thaw to the Sculls for $900 and now saw it bring in $85,000, infamously confronted Robert Scull after the sale, shoving the collector and accusing him of exploiting artists’ labor. In a scathing essay published the following month in New York magazine, titled “Profit Without Honor,” the critic Barbara Rose described the sale as the moment “when the art world collapsed.”

Of course things didn’t stop there. And as the scale of the sums involved grow,s the art markets feel more like a form of performance art themselves.

$450 Million Leonardo da Vinci Becomes Most Expensive Artwork of All Time
After a $286 million bid from de Poortere, Rotter warbled out a $300 million counter, tying the price that billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin reportedly paid for Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955) in 2015, the most expensive art transaction ever publicly reported until Christie’s Wednesday sale.

“Let’s see if that’s done it,” the auctioneer chimed.

De Poortere’s client was not finished, continuing up and up in mostly two- and three-million-dollar increments, until the price hit $370 million. The sum would have been more than enough to take home every other lot offered at Christie’s on Wednesday night. For the very next bid, Rotter called out $400 million, and that was the end. The room clapped, gasped, and laughed, the way one does when seeing something simultaneously historic, unbelievable, and more than a little crazy.

Theatre, where even its own advertising is wanting to be considered art, complete with the obligatory Instagram account.

Droga5’s Sublime Ad for Christie’s Captures the Power of a Leonardo Painting Without Even Showing It
Sometimes, not showing an artwork can be as powerful as showing it. This was true in Grey London’s story-rich campaign for the Tate Modern back in 2015. And it’s especially true of Droga5’s lovely, almost transcendental new spot for auction house Christie’s—which promotes the upcoming sale of a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci painting by not showing it at all.

Instead, the spot focuses on people’s reactions to the painting. And they are fascinating to watch.

[…]

This postmodern turning-the-tables idea comes full circle through the extension of the campaign into Instagram. While so many museum-goers are now Instagramming the artwork they see, the Salvator Mundi is Instagramming the people who come to see it.

Photos of the visitors have been documented on Instagram @thelastdavinci. Each portrait is captioned with the first name of the visitor and the time of their visit, which Droga5 says is “a format reminiscent of a biblical scripture citation.”

Here’s a perspective on art buying I hadn’t considered before.

What baseball taught me about the art market
Can we provide similar, easy-to-access data for the art market, and would that bring new buyers and sellers into play? It’s said that art buyers are often driven by emotion. Whether or not that’s true, we should also welcome the engagement of participants who would like data to lessen the risk of their emotional decisions. Some worry that more data in art will devolve art into something akin to an asset class, swarmed by bankers. However, I believe art buyers will continue to be guided by what they love and which art resonates with them deeply, and that data insights will only help to strengthen their engagement and confidence when buying or selling.

Wanting to get involved in the art markets but struggling to raise the millions of dollars needed? There’s an app for that.

Can Sedition create a marketplace for digital limited edition art?
The platform aims to encourage people who might not be able to afford these artists’ original pieces to become collectors of digital editions which they can access via their mobiles, tablets, PCs and connected TVs. With each purchase comes a certificate of authenticity, which — crucially — entitles the owner to resell the works at a later date if they so wish.

And yes, you can include me in that.

It’s cold outside

A photographer took a thermal camera out onto the cold streets of London to document the what it’s like to be homeless this time of year.

Traces of warmth: thermal images of London’s homeless
Photographer Grey Hutton has spent the winter photographing homeless people with a thermal imaging camera, offering a new perspective to the growing problem of homelessness in the UK, and highlighting the hardship that so many face on the streets of London in winter.

And more locally, a number of Leeds schoolchildren tried to see for themselves what it’s like to sleep rough.

‘It was awful, it was freezing cold and I was hungry’
40 kids from a school in Leeds spent the night sleeping without their home comforts. The aim was to give them an understanding of what it’s like to sleep rough in cold weather. They slept in an old office building and had no heating, no beds to sleep on and no luxuries like mobile phones.

Any second now

I’m so pleased to see this is making great progress. I’ve been a fan of it since first reading about it in Wired all those years ago, and have been spurred on to re-read the book again.

The Long Now Foundation begins the installation of the monumental 10,000 year clock in West Texas
The clock is designed to run for ten millennia without any required human intervention to keep it going. Inventor Danny Hillis, who came up with the idea of the clock, proposed for it to be “an icon to long-term thinking”. A number of parts are still being fabricated as of this date, but now the 10,000 year clock is getting closer and closer to keeping time for a long time. We’re all excited.

Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins (Vimeo)
After over a decade of design and fabrication, we have begun installing the first parts of the Clock of the Long Now on site in West Texas. In this video you can see the first elements to be assembled underground, the drive weight, winder and main gearing. This is the first of many stages to be installed, and we continue to fabricate parts for the rest of the Clock in several shops along the west coast.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point though, appropriately enough. This, from 2011.

How to make a clock run for 10,000 years
At first, Hillis and Rose and other members of the foundation figured the organization’s primary job would be building the clock. They even purchased a remote site, in Nevada, which met their geographic, geological and meteorological needs.

But then progress seemed to stop — at least from the outside. Although the Long Now Foundation continued working on prototypes, materials testing, design and other projects, media attention faded after the turn of the millennium. To anyone not part of the project, the clock seemed to have become one of those ideas that are good to think about, but impractical in reality.

Then Bezos and Hillis, already good friends, got to talking.

I wasn’t very keen on this take on it, however, from The Verge.

Construction begins on Jeff Bezos’ $42 million 10,000-year clock
Installation has finally begun on Jeff Bezos’ 10,000-year clock, a project that the Amazon CEO has invested $42 million in (along with a hollowed-out mountain in Texas that Bezos intends for a Blue Origin spaceport), with the goal of building a mechanical clock that will run for 10 millennia.

They keep calling it Bezos’s clock, which makes it sound like a billionaire CEO’s crazy vanity project. Yes he’s heavily invested in it, I get that, but it’s more than that, right?

The Clock of the Long Now (Vimeo)
The Clock of the Long Now is a portrait of Danny Hillis and his brilliant team of inventors, futurists, and engineers as they build The 10,000 Year Clock—a grand, Stone Henge-like monolith, being constructed in a mountain in West Texas. The film, like the clock itself, celebrates the power of long-term thinking and mankind’s insatiable thirst to solve life’s biggest problems.

Happy to put my money where my mouth it. (As I write this, they have 9,142 members currently. I thought about waiting to join till they get to 9,999, but I’m just not that patient.)

Become a Long Now member
Join Long Now to help us foster long-term thinking and support our projects: the 10,000 Year Clock, Seminars About Long-term Thinking, The Rosetta Project, Revive & Restore, The Interval and more.

Art and AI

Subtitled ‘What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art’, this is a fascinating read on current thinking about art and AI. The author, Hideki Nakazawa, one of the curators of the Artificial Intelligence Art and Aesthetics exhibition in Japan, thinks that, whilst we’re not there yet, we’re not too far away.

Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt
True AI fine art will be both painfully boring and highly stimulating, and that will be represent progress. Beauty, after all, cannot be quantified, and the very act of questioning the definition of aesthetics moves all art forward—something we’ve seen over and over again in the history of human-made art. The realization of AI will bring new dimensions to these questions. It will also be a triumph of materialism, further eroding the specialness of the human species and unveiling a world that has neither mystery nor God in which humans are merely machines made of inanimate materials. If we are right, it will also bring a new generation of artists, and with them, new Eiffel towers beyond our wildest imagination.

The pieces within that exhibition are grouped into four categories: human-made art with human aesthetics, human-made art with machine aesthetics, machine-made art with human aesthetics, and finally machine-made art with machine aesthetics. It’s that last category we’re interested in, but frustratingly it contained “no machine-made art, because none exists that also reflects machine aesthetics. The category was a useful placeholder—and, as we’ll learn, it was not entirely empty.”

What a great way to clarify where all these artworks, projects and systems sit. All too often we find AI and other computer systems merely mimicking the creation of art: the final product may look like art, but without the autonomous intention — without the AI wanting to create for its own sake — the AI is just a tool of the artist-behind-the-curtain, the programmer. For example:

‘Way to Artist’, intelligent robots and a human artist sketch the same image alongside each other
In the very thought-inspiring short film “Way to Artist” by TeamVOID, an artificially intelligent robotic arm and a human artist sit alongside one another to sketch the same image at the same time although with different skills. Without a word spoken, film loudly questions the role that artificial intelligence has within the creative process by putting the robots to the test.

More interestingly, here’s a wonderful piece that would have been placed in the second group of Nakazawa’s exhibition, human-made art with machine aesthetics.

Sarah Meyohas combines virtual reality, 10,000 roses and artificial intelligence in Cloud of Petals
Lastly, visitors can engage with a VR component, an element that replicates Sarah’s initial dream of the petals. There are six different screens and headsets – in a room filled with a customised rose scent – which are all gaze-activated to manipulate the AI generated petals. For example, in one headset petals explode into pixels as soon as you set your eyes on them.

And perhaps category three for these, machine-made art with human aesthetics?

A ‘neurographer’ puts the art in artificial intelligence
Claude Monet used brushes, Jackson Pollock liked a trowel, and Cartier-Bresson toted a Leica. Mario Klingemann makes art using artificial neural networks.

Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep
“Google sets up feedback loop in its image recognition neural network – which looks for patterns in pictures – creating hallucinatory images of animals, buildings and landscapes which veer from beautiful to terrifying.”

Don’t know where to place this one, however — art as a symptom of an AI’s mental ill health?

This artificial intelligence is designed to be mentally unstable
“At one end, we see all the characteristic symptoms of mental illness, hallucinations, attention deficit and mania,” Thaler says. “At the other, we have reduced cognitive flow and depression.” This process is illustrated by DABUS’s artistic output, which combines and mutates images in a progressively more surreal stream of consciousness.

A university union rep unhappy with their university’s spending?

I think it’s traditional to mock corporate rebrands and be appalled at the sums of money involved swapping one little logo for another little logo, but the timing of this one could have been better.

University of Portsmouth under fire over £800,000 rebrand costs as departments face cuts
Dr James Hicks, city university branch secretary of the University and College union, said: ‘I don’t understand why they would spend so much money on a logo and shortly after that say we’re having difficulties and might need to make savings. ‘You would assume they would have thought this through and it would be a little more joined up.’

I wouldn’t like to comment on the levels of marketing and recruitment expertise the UCU rep has – obviously it’s not £800,000 on just a logo – but after yesterday’s post about strike action, and the attention currently on VC pay, this could have been managed better.

Times Higher Education v-c pay survey 2018
Times Higher Education’s survey of vice-chancellors’ pay in the most recently reported financial year, 2016-17, reveals that Snowden’s total remuneration rose to £433,000 in 2016-17, while that of Breakwell – who announced last November that she would retire at the end of the current academic year – reached £471,000, a rise of 4.4 per cent. But even that salary looked paltry compared with the headline-grabbing £808,000 earned by Christina Slade of neighbouring Bath Spa University, a figure that – as THE revealed in December – included a £429,000 pay-off for “loss of office”.

Bath University vice-chancellor quits after outcry over £468k pay
“Professor Breakwell will receive more than £600,000 from the university, an enormous reward for failure, and will continue to exercise the authority which has generated the ‘climate of fear’ now openly talked-of on campus,” a joint statement from the campus unions UCU, Unite and Unison, said.

[…]

Ana Dinerstein, a member of the senate who last week voted no-confidence in Breakwell, said: “This is great opportunity for change that will start at Bath University and can spread throughout the sector. It can be a turning point.”

Or not.

 

The book is mightier than the wall?

We mustn’t lose sight of how impactful ideas can be, in a seemingly thoughtless world.

A single book disrupts the foundation of a brick wall by Jorge Méndez Blake
Although a larger metaphor could be applied to the installation no matter what piece of literature was chosen, Méndez Blake specifically selected The Castle to pay tribute to Kafka’s lifestyle and work. The novelist was a deeply introverted figure who wrote privately throughout his life, and was only published posthumously by his friend Max Brod. This minimal, yet poignant presence is reflected in the brick work—Kafka’s novel showcasing how a small idea can have a monumental presence.

Here, a book becomes part of a larger sculpture, but there are many examples of artworks that use books as sculptural objects in themselves.

Carving culture: sculptural masterpieces made from old books
Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from “literary jewelry” to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.

Artist takes old books and gives them new life as intricate sculptures
Dettmer puts on display his pretty fantastic creations, all while explaining how he sees the book — as a body, a technology, a tool, a machine, a landscape, a case study in archaeology.

Old books transformed into imaginative 3D illustrations of fairy tale scenes
Seattle-based artist Isobelle Ouzman creates 3D illustrations from discarded books found in dumpsters, recycling bins, and local thrift stores. She adopts these forgotten books as a way to give them a second life, cutting and pasting the books into layered fairy tale scenes instead of letting the novels collect dust or fall prey to the elements.

Or how about books as building material? They form the foundations of our societies, as well as being products of them.

Defiant Democracy: Parthenon replica made of 100,000 banned books
The titles include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and George Orwell’s 1984. The books are wrapped around a metal frame like a shingled facade with their covers visible, proving that despite efforts to keep their contents from the public, they have endured.

5,000 books pour out of a building in Spain
Artist Alicia Martin’s tornado of books shoot out a window like a burst of water from a giant hose. The Spain-based artist’s sculptural installation at Casa de America, Madrid depicts a cavalcade of books streaming out of the side of a building. The whirlwind of literature defies gravity and draws attention with its grandeur size. There have been three site-specific installations, thus far, of the massive sculptural works in this series known as Biografias, translated as Biographies, that each feature approximately 5,000 books sprawled out around and atop one another.

Not sure what category to put these books in, though.

Terry Border’s whimsical ‘Wiry limbs, paper backs’ series
Books come to life as characters of themselves.

I think we’ve stopped worrying about the death of the book now, but even if there are fewer books in our libraries, there may well be more in our galleries.