26 September 2010

Machines Should Work

In 1967, IBM commissioned Jim Henson to produce an industrial/promotional film for their new product, the MT/ST (apparently a precursor to the word processor). Electronic soundtrack provided with assistance from Raymond Scott. (And as one Youtube commenter pointed out, that looks and sounds like Frank Oz making a quick cameo just past the 3:10 mark).

(Thanks to A Sound Awareness.)

25 September 2010


Via Between Channels.

22 September 2010

Sacrificial Economies

Funny how some songs continue to remain relevant years after the fact,


21 September 2010

Spectral Resonance

Via the Pontone site, theorist and author Mark Fisher (aka K-Punk) offers his own curated mix set. Titled "The Metaphysics of Crackle," the set not only sports a certain moody undertow but a thematic intent, as well. The residuum or blurred and faded memories and half-forgotten feelings, the patina of age on weathered documents, ghosts of ephemera past, with audio interference and surface noise via "outmoded" technology of left in unfiltered place as a recurring liet motif.

Featuring Philip Jeck & Gavin Bryars, William Basinski, The Caretaker, Danger Mouse with Sparklehorse and David Lynch, Position Normal, and quite a few artists associated with the U.K. "hauntology" sub-genre/not-genre. Fisher notes:
"The mix is best listened to loud, and after dark. For the most part, you will have to lean in to pick out the fragile melodies, but some songs – parched gnostic blues, painfully sad Edward Lear-like nonsense ballads and hobo-hazy recollections of long-lost sunny afternoons – intermittently loom out of the audio fog."
Quite good, especially if listened to in the advised manner. Odd thing is, I had been contemplating doing a similar mix for upload, myself. Oh, well.

Available here.

Outside the Trains Don't Run on Time

About 14 years ago when I was in grad school, one of my seminar classes hit the streets and made a circuit of certain galleries along the northern stretch of downtown Chicago. At one point, as we were making our way up Michigan Avenue, the professor had us take a small detour, sidestepping into the foyer of the newly-opened storefront of Niketown. As we stood just inside the entrance, he directed us to pause and study the interior architecture. A high and open vertical space, pilasters guiding eyes and attention in an upward sweep, sleek and shiny black surfaces aplenty, all with a boldly elegant balanced ratio of the curvilinear and blocky elements. "This," he finally commented, "is an outstanding example of fascist architecture." It was funny at the time, because similar comments had been making the rounds about the recently unveiled new digs of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art which sat just a few short blocks up the road.

The "fascist" model in question here is more of the early Italian model -- the variety that became the official national(istic) style under Benito Mussolini throughtout the 1930s.1 Whereas the Third Reich had purged the German cultural landscape of all "degenerate" vanguardist influences and claimed a retrograde neo-classical style for its architecture of the centralized, totalitarian state, Italy had (for a time, at least) opted to go in the opposite direction. Mussolini, as is known, had been a huge admirer of the Italian Futurists in his younger days. Proclaiming that a new age required new forms, he decreed that the architecture of fascist Italy project the image of a society that was dynamic, bold, forward-thinking.2, 3

The images above come from a new book Fascismo Abbandonato by photographer Dan Dubowitz and architect Patrick Duerden. The photos were taken while the two artists were touring sites along the coasts of northern Italy, photographing the remains of various fascist-era colonia. As Duerden explains in his accompanying text, much of the architecture of the Mussolini regime was deliberately razed at the end of WWII:

"The regime's building programmes were prodigious and internationally acclaimed, yet now with a few well known exceptions the buildings are generally forgotten; their architects often condemned to obscurity. ... Others have become derelict, including a disproportionately large number of colonie di infanzia 'holiday' camps constructed for the fascist youth organisations. There are a number of reasons why this latter group of buildings has survived. The overarchingly fascist programmes for which they were designed often made their adaptation for new uses impractical as well as unconscionable, whilst the remoteness of the locations in which they were built has made them easier to ignore than to demolish."

Irony abounds, here. Designed and erected to embody the power and grandeur of the state and to "look good in ruins," the architecture in question -- when it escaped the fate of the wrecking ball -- often didn't fare so well against the elements. As Duerden points out, the reliance on hasty construction and cheap building materials resulted in many of these buildings (much like Albert Speer's stadium at Nuremberg) soon starting to degrade and crumble in a most mundane and unglamorous fashion.

I suppose if this thing'd been published 15 years ago, one could expect that the text would have been obligatorily provided by Paul Virilio. As it is, the entire book can be viewed and read here.

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1. In the case of Niketown, its interior architecture prompted me to think of this item...

As far as the Chicago MCA was concerned, it probably didn't help that, when the museum first opened, its security staff was suited in all-black uniforms that sported a tailored cut that could only be described as semi-paramilitary.
2. In this instance, part Art Deco, part Bauhausian "International Style;" a combination and a look that is -- oddly enough -- not a far cry from the style of architecture that would become popular in Miami in the 1950s.
3. One (perhaps obvious) ironic aspect of all of this occurs in the domain of revisionist "cultural heritage." By embracing the neo-classical style, the Third Reich (in keeping with its claims as protectorate of Western civilization) adopted an imperial style that had its roots in the ancient societies of the Mediterranean -- a heritage to which the Germany could lay no legitimate historic claim. At the same time, with the conceptualizing of a "Third Rome" in the new age of Italy, the Italian fascists largely turned their backs toward their own (legit) claims to this same cultural heritage, opting instead for a Modernism that was "progressive" and deliberately anti-anachronistic.

20 September 2010

'Who Moved My Cheese?' vs. 'There Is No Spoon'

What Ehrenreich is talking about here is very akin to something that I noticed as a child in the 1970s -- to a mindset that was common among certain scattered Southern evangelical flocks. It would become much more prevalent among such groups a couple of decades later, and commonly be referred to as "the gospel of prosperity." About the same time, other variations began to seep into the cultural landscape -- both via a general sort of popular self-help mentality, as well as into the corporate setting by way of M.B.A. lit and various office motivational hoo-hah. And within the past decade, we finally saw it filter into American politics, via the "transformationalist" thinking of the previous administration. ("We're an empire now, and when we act we make our own reality.") And as Ehrenreich demonstrates, it played a significant role in landing us where we currently are; and she's far from being the only one to argue this point in the past two years.

But, hey -- pragmatists never tell people what they're wanting to hear; so to hell with 'em, right?

At any rate, the same artist has a number of similar videos up, each illustrating a different recent socio-economic text. Alos worth viewing is this one of Slovaj Žižek discussing a portion of his book First as History, Then as Farce, which is a lot more visually dense than the one above and moves at about four times the speed.

17 September 2010


Selections from Douglas Coupland's "A Dictionary of the Near Future":

BLANK-COLLAR WORKERS - Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that.

DESELFING - Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible. (See also Omniscience Fatigue; Undeselfing)

IKEASIS - The desire in daily life and consumer life to cling to “generically” designed objects. This need for clear, unconfusing forms is a means of simplifying life amid an onslaught of information.

LYRICAL PUTTY - The lyrics one creates in one’s head in the absence of knowing a song’s real lyrics.

MEMESPHERE - The realm of culturally tangible ideas.

PROCELERATION - The acceleration of acceleration.

13 September 2010

Post-Futurist Manifesto (of Sorts)

Or, as another bit of verse had it...

"Roma di travertino
Rifatta di cartone
Saluta l'imbianchino,
Il suo prossimo padrone."

Or: Rome of marble, /re-made with cardboard, / salutes the housepainter / who will be its next ruler.

Clip by way of Lina Wertmüller, circa 1975.

08 September 2010


Diving Board. Salton Sea, California. 1983

Submerged Trailer. Salton Sea, California. 1983

Desert Fire #249. 1985

Drive-In Theater. Las Vegas, Nevada. 1987

Outdoor Dining. Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. 1992

Shrapnel. Wendover Air Force Base, Nevada. 1989

Hazardous Waste Containment Site, Dow Chemical
Corporation, Mississippi River, Plaquemine, Louisiana. 1998

Swamp and Pipeline, Cancer Alley, Louisiana. 1998

Playground and Shell Refinery, Norco, Louisiana. 1998

Battleground Point, #20. 1999

Massacre Dry Lake, 10.3.97, 6:38PM. 1997

Photographs by Richard Misrach.

Short Shelf Life

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:: GRAB ::

Catch as catch can.

07 September 2010

Towards an Aesthetics of Entropy, Part I

The dust jacket blurb for this vintage 1969 Pelican paperback states:

"Land in Britain is scarce and socially precious. Yet large areas of the North and West are now useless, scarred by a century of industrial plundering -- vast lunar landscapes pockmarked with craters and slag-heaps, soilless, enervated and hostile to humanity. Why was this allowed to happen? And how can we free ourselves for this detritus of twisted girders and blighted lives?

In this angry, important book John Barr takes a close look at out industrial wastelands and examine what can and should be done to redeem them. ... His book is a vigorous indictment of ruthless, profit-seeking industry, of central and local government indifference, and of public apathy."

Its innards provides illustrations of this variety:

Judging from this article on "The Wastelands of Britain" from a 1982 edition of New Scientist, it appears that it took some time before any concerted efforts at redemption of the affected regions would get underway....

What strikes me about the photos above is how much they remind me -- once again -- of Robert Smithson's famous essay "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey."1 Smithson's text was a more-than-slightly-sarcastic response to utopian High Modernist ideas concerning architecture, civic planning and progress that had dominated in the past two decades. More specifically, the artist was also addressing suburban expansion and sprawl and the then-novel and popular notion of the "nonplace urban realm."2 And the illustrations that Smithson provided to accompany the "Passaic" text uncannily prefigure those of Barr's tome:

Wandering the ramshackle, scarred and half-developed landscape, Smithson ironically presented the debris that he encountered as glorious archeological achievements of modern society. As he would note in another essay of the same year, "The slurbs, urban sprawl, and the infinite number of housing developments of the postwar boom have contributed to the architecture of entropy."3

Smithson's parodical travelogue sported a double edge. Yes, was primed to cut against certain triumphalisms of post-war/-industrial America; but it also cuts against a recurring trope in the history of Modernism in the 20th century; especially in the way it perversely echoes -- in its own deadened (dead-end?) way -- the Italian Futurists' brut glorifications of modern technology and industry from early in the 20th century. Describing he and his Futurist companions' motoring through city streets and along urban perimeters in his "The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism" of 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti bombasted:

"And on we raced... Death, tamed, went in front of me at each corner offering me his hand nicely, and sometimes lay on the ground with a noise of creaking jaws giving me velvet glances from the bottom of puddles. ...

I turned sharply back on my tracks with the mad intoxication of puppies biting their tails, and suddenly there were two cyclists disapproving of me and tottering in front of me like two persuasive but contradictory reasons. Their stupid swaying got in my way. What a bore! Pouah! I stopped short, and in disgust hurled myself — vlan! — head over heels in a ditch.

Oh, maternal ditch, half full of muddy water! A factory gutter! I savored a mouthful of strengthening muck...

As I raised my body, mud-spattered and smelly, I felt the red hot poker of joy deliciously pierce my heart. ... Then with my face covered in good factory mud, covered with metal scratches, useless sweat and celestial grime, amidst the complaint of staid fishermen and angry naturalists, we dictated our first will and testament to all the living men on earth."

And then among the tenets that follow in the manifesto proper...

"We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds."4

All hail King Sludge!!

As anyone who remembers the cyber-gaga days of the 1990s will tell you: Times of rapid technological change are often long on overheated rhetoric and inflated expectations -- often to the point where science is presented in a form that more resembles science fiction. As with the days of industrial expansion, so to with the modern cultural landscape of postwar "Atomic Age" America. And it is ironically worth noting that Robert Smithson, as an erudite and voluminous reader, was quite fond of the science fiction genre. Many of his writings about the "atopia" of modern post-industrial society mirror ideas that turn up in the dystopic novels of J. G. Ballard; and it's of no small significance that the descriptive name he gave his works of the years that followed his Passaic travelogue -- "earthworks" -- was lifted from the title of a book by British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss.5

Smithson's own art-making practices would change radically in 1967 and the years that followed, with the "Passiac" text (and others that he authored at the time) revealing a pivotal shift in the artist's mode of exploring and articulating his own artistic theories. Many of these texts chart oblique trajectories and prove difficult for many readers to follow -- often esoteric to the point of quasi-mysticism, filled with hopscotch theorizing, uncanny connections and dialectical juxtapositions of elements from the past and the present. But with these texts, Smithson was striving to formulate his own speculative critique of the art and society of the modern(ist) era. That critique was as much inspired by profound doubt and ambivalence as it was by artistic rigor or restless dissatisfaction. It is to this latter point that I will return in the second post on this topic.

{ End of Part I. }

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1. Originally published in Artforum magazine, 1967. Reprinted in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 1996, University of California Press.
2. The idea of the "non-place urban realm" was first introduced by urban theorist/planner Melvin M. Webber in his 1962 publication "Urban Space and the Non-place Urban Realm." The concept -- as well as its accompanying theory of "communities without propinquity" -- were effectively glorifications or increased suburbanization and urban decentralization of the post-WWII years. Some have argued that Webber's ideas were not only adopted by civic planners as a carte blanche advocacy for suburban sprawl, but also helped indirectly incite some of the most harmful and destructive "urban renewal" projects of the era.
3. "Entropy and the New Monuments," originally published in Artforum, c. 1966. Reprinted in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, p. 13.
4. Reprinted in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, 1992, Blackwell Publishers, pp. 146-147.
5. Coincidentally enough, Smithson mentions purchasing a copy of the Aldiss paperback in the first paragraph of the "Passaic" essay.

Yah Yah, Industrial Estate

Just poetry over a bass and some guitar. And some peculiar and ornery Northern punter at the front ranting away. "Yeh, everybody went to that gig. I did, too. So, like so fuckin' wot?"

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