Mechanical, musical marvels

I’m not sure how I’ve failed to share Wintergatan’s Marble Machine video before now. It’s from a few years ago, but I still come back to it and am just as blown away as I was the first time I saw it.

Wintergatan – Marble Machine

It’s just (just??) a large music box, really, but it made quite an impression, to say the least. And as technically astounding as that is, a new-and-improved version is being built, and musician/designer/engineer Martin Molin has been sharing the journey in some detail. It looks and sounds incredible.

Marble Machine X plays drums

As well as showing us his own work, Martin has filmed his favourite music machines from the Speelklok Museum in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. They’re just as bizarre.

100 year old self-playing violin – “The Eighth Wonder of the World”
This amazing instrument is The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina – an Orchestrion with self-playing Violins, Enjoy!

Domtoren Clock Tower plays the Marble Machine song
Malgosia Fiebig surprised me completely by playing the Marble Machine song on the Carillion of the Domtoren clock tower for the whole city of Utrecht!

It’s crazy to think that that 900 year old tower, all 112.5 metres of it, is one instrument.

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A dazzling early-morning commute

Certainly more vibrant and kaleidoscopic than my sleepy 98 bus.

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film
With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame.

Daybreak Express

Life’s ups and downs

Going to any amusement parks this summer? Maybe give this one a miss.

An amusement park-themed animated short by Fernando Livschitz goes off the rails
The fate of riders on roller coasters and ferris wheels takes an unexpected turn in “Beautiful Chaos”, a new short from Fernando Livschitz of Black Sheep Films.

Beautiful Chaos
Chaos it said to be the opposite of order, and order, the basis for beauty. But that doesn’t mean that chaos can’t be beautiful too.

It reminds me of one of my favourite videos, the award-winning Centrifuge Brain Project, from the Institute for Centrifugal Research, by Till Nowak.

The Centrifuge Brain Project
Written/produced/directed by Till Nowak, starring Leslie Barany.

It’s from 2011, but clips from this are still making the rounds on social media, fooling people into thinking these nightmarish constructions are real.

Till Nowak makes impossible possible
“There are actually still people, especially if they see it on the internet, that really think everything is real. To me that is super interesting because the film is also about our reception of media, how we believe everything, how media can manipulate us. I had never expected that a lot of people would believe the whole film. I thought okay, maybe the first half, but then… For me as a filmmaker and my filmmaker friends, it is very obvious. But people who are not working with the media, it is very surprising for me, how much they believe. Sometimes it is a bit shocking – but also an honor and a compliment because it means that the film was convincing,” Nowak comments.

Non-reflecting reflections

We’re continually fascinated by mirrors, the first selfies, regardless of what Borges might sayWired introduces us to the work of interactive artist Daniel Rozin and shows us a few of his mechanical marvels.

This artist makes kinetic ‘mirrors’ that echo your movements
The interactive element is crucial, according to Rozin. “My pieces are very boring when there’s not a person in front of them,” he explains. “But the minute a person stands in front, it takes your image. I try to think that maybe it takes more than your image, that maybe it’s capturing something about your soul and displaying it back to you.”

How this guy makes amazing mechanical mirrors
Daniel Rozin, Artist and Professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU, makes mechanical “mirrors” out of uncommon objects that mimic the viewer’s movements and form.

Daniel Rozin, “PomPom Mirror,” 2015

As well as creating mirrors from fur and hundreds of stuffed toys, what else could you use? Mud?

Interactive sculptures mirror visitors’ movements in shimmering fabrics and cracked clay
In his recent piece Cracked Mud (2019), a mound of clay pieces undulate and upturn in response to visitors’ movements below a low-hanging orb. The suspended light mimics the sun, hovering over the manipulated and cracked earth below. Another piece, Fabric Mirror (2019), uses a digital camera and 400 motors to capture the movements of those who walk past, imitating their gestures in twisting gold and red fabric. Both works allude to how the sun interacts with our bodies and the earth, the former representing a barren future, while the later explores our reflection bathed in shimmering gold.

The global design collection Universal Everything take a similar but more high-tech approach here, with this installation that greeted visitors to The Barbican’s recent AI: More Than Human exhibition.

Futuristic shapes mirror human movement in a responsive animation by Universal Everything
Future You presents a non-human animated figure that wiggles, shifts, and bends in tandem with the user, presenting up to 47,000 possible variations in appearance. The animation also evolves alongside the user, becoming more agile as it learns movements specific to the visitor’s body.

Future You installation at AI: More Than Human, Barbican, London

An accidental typographer

Check out the work of Shuetsu Sato, a Japanese security guard who’s accidentally become a graphic designer and typographer.

Tokyo subway’s humble duct-tape typographer
Walk the bowels of these stations long enough and you may come across Shuetsu Sato 佐藤修悦. Sixty-five year old Sato san wears a crisp canary yellow uniform, reflective vest and polished white helmet. His job is to guide rush hour commuters through confusing and hazardous construction areas. When Sato san realised he needed more than his megaphone to perform this duty, he took it upon himself to make some temporary signage. With a few rolls of of duct tape and a craft knife, he has elevated the humble worksite sign to an art form.

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Another mysterious Da Vinci

Is it a real Da Vinci? And who really owns it? Not questions about the Salvator Mundi, this time.

Family claims quarter share of disputed Isleworth Mona Lisa
The attribution of a painting known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa has been a matter of dispute for more than a century. Its owners say it was an earlier portrait by Leonardo da Vinci of the same woman, Lisa Gherardini, whose likeness hangs in the Louvre. Other experts believe it is a later copy of the world’s most famous painting.

This week it has emerged that the painting’s ownership is also bitterly contested. Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer based in Padua, represents a family who he says owns 25% of the portrait. A civil court in Florence, where the painting has been on show for the past six weeks, has now set a hearing for the ownership dispute for 9 September.

Don’t sweat the details

Two artists, one approach.

Palette knife smudges and heavy brushstrokes form colorful abstract portraits by Joseph Lee
Lee began painting as a way to channel his creativity after a failed acting audition. “After working on a long project, I needed to protect my energy and be selfish with my time,” he told Shape/Shift Report. “I don’t have any formal artistic training and coming from a theater background, human behavior and emotions were the closest references I had to paint.” Describing his process as “a bit of a blur,” Lee says that he shuts off mentally and fully engages with the work. No two days are the same, and that’s the way he prefers it. “I am not conscious of what I am doing much of this time,” he explained.

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Thick brushstrokes form plump songbirds in oil paintings by Angela Moulton
Chickadees, barn swallows, and goldcrest kinglets emerge from impasto oil paintings by Angela Moulton. The artist works in the aesthetic space between realistic and stylized, using natural tones that are slightly keyed up, and following the body and beak shapes of each bird while giving them just a bit of extra plumpness. Thick brush strokes form the birds’ bodies in just a couple of deft swipes.

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Wonky world

Let’s start in Germany.

A partially submerged train car provides a dramatic entrance to Frankfurt’s Bockenheimer Warte subway station
Subway stations are typically just a means to an end, simple structures that allow a large overflow of commuters to enter and exit at will. It is less common for the design to be a destination in itself, like the popular Bockenheimer Warte subway entrance in Frankfurt, Germany. The station, erected in 1986, was built to look as if an old tram car had crash landed into the sidewalk that surrounds the station.

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Then up to Norway.

The world’s largest undersea restaurant
Located 5m below the sea off the coast of Lindesnes, Norway, Europe’s first underwater restaurant serves fresh seafood with a one-of-a-kind view.

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The world’s largest underwater restaurant in Norway

Then across to Scotland.

Mach 1: Arts & event venue made from a tangle of shipping containers
The shape of the new building takes inspiration from piles of rocks on the Fife coastline, the color of nearby Forth Bridge and the industrial heritage of the area. Once completed, Mach 1 will stand 15 meters (about 49 feet) high and stretch 50 meters (about 164 feet) at its longest point. Inside, visitors will find a coffee bar and double-height exhibition space used to showcase the Edinburgh Park masterplan through drawings, information boards and scale models.

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“Shipping containers are really interesting to me architecturally. They are really honest and are also really familiar to people. They also go all over the world. But this will be different to anything else that has been built of them before, which is what you really want as an artist.”

For the love of books

A new advertising campaign from Penguin that nicely off-sets yesterday’s article about unwittingly putting kids off reading — a set of posters celebrating the “life-affirming relationship that forms between a reader and the books they’ve loved over the years.”

Penguin celebrates dog-eared delights in new Happy Reading campaign
“The books are the ‘talent’ in this campaign,” Sam tells It’s Nice That. “Every reader has had the experience of falling in love with one and we wanted to showcase books that demonstrated evidence of these relationships and that told stories beyond those printed on their pages, whether through their cracked spines, dog-eared pages or the furiously scribbled notes in their margins.”

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There’s more info on the Penguin website.

The classics we fell in love with, as chosen by our authors and readers
This summer, we’re celebrating the individual books that readers have fallen in love with. We’ve sought submissions from authors to artists, musicians to booksellers, and from you, Penguin Classics readers.

It’s hard to imagine e-books having the same impact…

This website is so frustrating!

You must check this website out, it’s so bad it’s good.

Behold, the most (intentionally) poorly designed website ever created
Sometimes we take Web and user interface design for granted—that’s the point of User Inyerface, a hilariously and deliberately difficult-to-use website created to show just how much we rely on past habits and design conventions to interact with the Web and our digital devices.

We don’t appreciate how many user interface conventions we take for granted, until they catch us out like this. It’s crammed full of twists and jolts and frustrations. It took me an age to get past just the first page!

Good night Japan

Tokyo is such an evocative place, futuristic yet grounded. No wonder it attracts so many visual artists.

Davide Sasso’s seductive “video game inspired” photographs of a neon-lit Tokyo at night
Inspired by his favourite films – Blade Runner, Akira and Enter the Void – as well as video games like Final Fantasy VII and Snatcher, these photographs are seductive, nostalgic yet manage to capture the modern vibrancy of the world’s largest city.

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Here’s another photographer with a similar idea.

Night photography of urban Japan
Photographer Jun Yamamoto (a.k.a. jungraphy) takes these subdued (but somehow also vibrant) photos of Japanese cities at night.

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And another thing

How often have you thought about your Shift + 7 key?

Ampersands: A beloved character
It began life as a shortcut for scribes and proved just as useful for early typesetters, eventually working its way into the English alphabet as the 27th letter. We collectively dropped it from the ABCs, and the decline of handwriting and manual typesetting made it less useful. But its flexibility and grace have kept it on our business cards and movie posters.

These Quartz Obsession e-mails are typically full of wonderful rabbit holes, and this one’s no exception. Let’s start with a quick introduction.

Where did the ampersand originate?
Developed from the Latin et (“and”), the ampersand, formerly the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet, is a character with a cult following among students of typography.

And not just students of typography — the lowly ampersand can count lawyers, entrepreneurs, movie producers and restaurant owners as fans, if these links are anything to go by.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth saving
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them.

There are practical reasons so many hipster businesses follow the exact same naming structure
There’s also a nostalgic feel to this construction. “At some point in its early history, I’d guess the germ of that trend was an allusion to the common practice in 17th/18th/19th centuries of naming your company after its principals (e.g. Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Marks & Spencer, etc.),” says Simon. “Could be some of your fashion brands want to allude to handcraft, to pre-industrial or non-industrial processes.”

Stereotypography
So far, critical appraisal of the ampersand in Pride & Prejudice has been mixed. On Slate, David Edelstein calls the ampersand one of the “ominous first impressions” that he had to get over in order to like the movie. The Toronto Globe and Mail (or is it “Globe & Mail”?) says the ampersand signals a “contracted, contemporary approach” to the novel. The San Francisco Chronicle finds the typographical choice to be indicative of the movie’s “jaunty approach.” And the Detroit Free Press says “the only thing really new” in the film is “the hip ampersand of the title.”

Contemporary! Jaunty! Hip! That’s a lot of stereotypical baggage to put on a modest piece of punctuation that has been kicking around in one form or another for about two thousand years.

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabet
This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet.

We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

Bring back the Ampersand

It’s fair to say that graphic designers and typesetters are this character’s biggest admirers, though.

Font Aid IV: Coming Together
The Society of Typographic Aficionados is proud to announce the release of “Coming Together”, a font created exclusively for Font Aid IV to benefit the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The font consists entirely of ampersands, to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another. Type designers, graphic designers, and other artists from around the world contributed artwork to the font.

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Design by: Herb Lubalin
Herb Lubalin is best known for his logotypes, or as he called them ‘expressive typography’. One of his most famous works is the Mother & Child masthead he designed for a Curtis magazine, where the ‘O’ in the word mother is a womb for the word child. The use of the ampersand in this design is pure genius.

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Attitudes toward hyphenation and rag settings
In fact, Gill was even more willing to challenge convention than Dowding. Not only did he liberally use ampersands for “and” but he also used contractions (e.g., “tho’”), and superscript letters (e.g., “production”) to achieve even spacing. But most importantly, he advocated that text be set flush left, rag right (though he did not use that phrase) as not only more natural than justified setting, but as the best way to guarantee consistent word spacing. He considered the insistence on justified text to be nothing more than a superstition, remarking that “even spacing is more important typographically than equal length.” In his view justified text existed to satisfy man’s desire for neatness.

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That last link is my favourite, I think. I could read about typography and book design all day. There’s something very calming and comforting in a well set page of text like the one above. Those margins!

So it was a wonderful coincidence to see that today’s Aeon newsletter contained this link about book printing.

What’s as satisfying as a good book? Seeing one made the old-fashioned way, by hand
The director Glen Milner charts each step in the process as bookbinders piece together a new hardbound edition of the memoir Mango and Mimosa (1974) by the British writer and painter Suzanne St Albans. From folding pages to sewing and gluing paper to the leather spine, skilful human hands are front and centre throughout. Milner documents this melding of mechanics and craft with an almost musical rhythm, conveying skills and methods born of centuries of refinements.

Birth of a Book

And would you believe it, that printing and bookbinding company is in Leeds, just 5 miles away from me!

So long everybody

Hell is other people? No problem.

This camera app uses AI to erase people from your photographs
Bye Bye Camera is an iOS app built for the “post-human world,” says Damjanski, a mononymous artist based in New York City who helped create the software. Why post-human? Because it uses AI to remove people from images and paint over their absence. “One joke we always make about it is: ‘finally, you can take a selfie without yourself.’”

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Bye Bye Camera – an app for the post-human era
According to Damjanski: The app takes out the vanity of any selfie and also the person. I consider Bye Bye Camera an app for the post-human era. It’s a gentle nod to a future where complex programs replace human labor and some would argue the human race. It’s interesting to ask what is a human from an Ai (yes, the small “i” is intended) perspective? In this case, a collection of pixels that identify a person based on previously labeled data. But who labels this data that defines a person immaterially? So many questions for such an innocent little camera app. […]

A lot of friends asked us if we can implement the feature to choose which person to take out. But for us, this app is not an utility app in a classical sense that solves a problem. It’s an artistic tool and ultimately a piece of software art.

But, as that Artnome article explains, he’s by no means the first to do this…

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Meanwhile, Italian sculptor Arcangelo Sassolino (is he a sculptor? What’s the reverse of sculpture?) is creating another disappearance.

Dust to Dust: Arcangelo Sassolino’s literal and conceptual erasure of the classical aesthetic
In Arcangelo Sassolino’s ‘Damnatio Memoriae’, a custom-made machine grinds a white marble torso to dust; dematerializing classicism and all that it revered over the course of a four month exhibition period at Galerie Rolando Anselmi in Berlin.

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In this conceptual and literal erasure of the classical aesthetic, Sassolino questions the value of the narrative proposed by the Western canon and asks if we can free ourselves from the rules of the past. While the statue is changed by the process of grinding, it does not disappear—becoming instead fine dust that spreads through the exhibition space like mist. This new form allows the sculpture, and thus classicism, to invisibly permeate the exhibition space. As it settles on the walls and floors of Galerie Rolando Anselmi, and on those who visit the show, the complex reality of extracting oneself from the restrictive idealism of classicism becomes abundantly clear.

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Speaking of classically proportioned behinds.

New art project seeks to reveal the “real size” of modern life’s most famous behind
“The wait is finally over,” we’re told. “Hundreds, potentially thousands of images of the world’s most famous body part have been analysed and carefully measured. Interviews have been read through and words evaluated. Everyone has always known that it’s big, but exactly how big is it?”

Ida-Simon is, of course, talking about Kim Kardashian’s behind. No mere attempt at digital titillation, the pair describes the project, simply titled The Bum as “a commentary on the time we live in.”

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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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