Sunday, 26 September 2010

Shiny cyborgs

I really like to daydream about cyborgs. I plot out stories about them, imagining what will happen if cybernetic modification is taken on by a whole community, as a preposterous but stylish solution to the challenges that face developed economies and postmodern societies. I love to try and to figure out what my imaginary cyborgs should look like.

Obviously, cyborgs would kick ass, and few imaginary future societies kick as much ass as the Borg. However, the Borg are problematic. Firstly, they are basically communists. Secondly, they are evil outsiders with whom the imagined viewer of Star Trek is not supposed to have any sympathy. My cyborgs are individualistic, libertarian capitalists with an entrepreneurial streak, and as the protagonists of the plot I'm imagining, are not evil so much as foolish but well-intentioned, and kind of afraid of dying. Not really Borg-like at all.

Also, the Borg look unfinished - many wires and circuits are left exposed. This is probably because they don't have to use product design to communicate with people, because all they do is assimilate and destroy. In a market-driven world, cyborgs have to look friendly. For example, let's say it's the future, and you want stronger legs, because you're now 80 years old and you're not as fit as you used to be, or because you're one of the few people left in the world who is under 60 and your job is to carry 90-year olds around a care home. Maybe you'd want your mechanical leg-enhancers to look like this:

This product already exists. As reported by the Economist, the designer, Yoshiyuki Sankai, is having trouble getting his government to accept its use in hospitals, because they are still unsure about its safety.

White is the colour of the future, the colour of wishes and possibilities, the colour of new frontiers. Which is all very nice, but new frontiers are risky. They might be full of aliens who want to kill you, or assimilate you into their murderous hive. New technologies such as stronger legs are safer in that they protect you from occupational hazards. But like a cutting-edge, unsinkable ship crashing into an iceberg, an unexpected obstacle could be disastrous when you're carrying pensioners.

So I haven't settled on an answer yet to the question, 'what do cyborgs look like?' How do you make modifications to the human body look safe? Apparently not by making them shiny and white.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Few and Far

Today I went to a design shop called Few and Far, which was hosting an exhibition of handcrafted wooden chairs and tables. Near the door they had a pile of blank white papers and a net hanging from the ceiling. Visitors were asked to write their wishes on the blank page, fold it into a plane and make it fly into the net. I wished for hypoallergenic kittens.

Paul Cocksedge: a gust of wind

Last night I was at the V&A museum, at an amazing, completely free event with music, art installations, lectures and all sorts of fun things. I walked away with a limited edition work of design art, and my taking it home with me was part of the art installation. I can't wait to see what is in store at next month's friday late event.

The thing I went home with was one of the 'bits of paper' that made up Paul Cocksedge's installation, 'A gust of wind.' 300 pieces of Corian, moulded into the shape of curved papers blown by the wind, were hung from the ceiling to look like a moment frozen in time: a moment of graceful flight, or alternatively a moment of chaotic disaster as your cherished work is blown away from you. At the end of the evening, each piece was given to a visitor to use as an tray for unfiled, 'wandering' papers to gather. They are imprinted with the words, 'ideas tray,' so it's also a place where wandering ideas that might have become lost can be kept safe. Perhaps so that possibilities can be captured and processed into creative work. Although the trays are a way of collecting scattered things, they are themselves scattered pieces of what was once an art installation, as their curvaceous, asymmetrical form reminds you.

The future that never was

Photographer Mariela Paz Izurieta
A while ago, during a very inspiring day in which I finished painting my furniture (except for one little square that I forgot) and met a friend who I hadn't seen in years, I picked up a copy of a new magazine called Oh Comely. I'm not usually attracted to magazines, but this one had a huge amount of white space on the cover, some grey cursive handwriting and a little portrait photograph of an artist on the cover, so I thought it looked promising. Sure enough, it turned out to be like a lifestyle magazine for cheapskate dreamer types like myself, with an article on balancing the need to make money with the need to pursue your creative projects, another on a chinese dance group who try to embody calligraphic designs, and one in which illustrators were asked to draw something about loss. 'Loss' took on a range of meanings, from the disintegration of personality and cognition in Alzheimer's sufferers, to imaginary curator-elves who collect all the objects that the illustrator loses in her lifetime.

I felt like all three of these articles took on an extra layer of meaning simply by virtue of being printed with such wide margins of white space. The first one is a bit obvious I suppose - that sense of spaciousness that you have to cultivate in order to balance a busy life and still feel emotionally fulfilled, illustrated very well by a gorgeous accompanying photograph of a girl relaxing on a couch. The second two were connected for me. I'm not a calligraphy expert by any means, but I feel like when you're faced with a blank page, brush in hand, the white space almost vibrates with possibility. My eye picks out among the imperfections in the paper the impressions of strokes that could have been painted. Actually drawing a character on the page brutally closes down infinite possibilities, but even after the character is finished, the fact that the white space doesn't disappear makes the piece more alive and real, because the memory of a future that never was haunts it.

The chinese dance group draw a similarity between calligraphic characters and human characters. Although a character is static and inanimate, a well-drawn character appears fluid and dynamic, as though the smooth, breathless movements of the calligrapher were being repeated each time someone's eye passes over the result. It is the impression left behind by the painting process, a process that continues as reading. In the same way, although a personality is a dynamic process, a movement of thoughts and feelings that pass so quickly that most of them are disregarded and unrecognised, society forces us to take on an identity, to give an impression left by our mental processes and our behaviours. A chinese character can be drawn in countless different ways, and the same goes for our social identities. Yet we have to give some consistency, other wise we, like calligraphy, are illegible. But like white space behind black ink, all of the things we haven't said, all of the people we could have been and all of the things we chose not to do, haunt our memory and vibrate with possibility.

The fulfillment will be ours

'...And we made our way sadly round the showcases, ashamed of our impotence. Every epoch had its own style, and ours alone should be denied one? By style people meant ornamentation. But I said, "Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfillment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, Heaven's Capital. The fulfillment will be ours."' -Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908

Saturday, 18 September 2010

London room: furniture before and after

My room is getting close to completion now. Photos of the whole room will come when I'm finished mounting art on the walls and when I have a nice divan sheet (I know the perfect one is out there, so I'm still holding out). For now, here's before and after shots of the furniture!

My Mum found most of the furniture in a second-hand shop, except for the bookcase which was a hand-me-down from a family friend. In total the whole set cost £70, plus the cost of paints which I have lots and lots left over of. Unfortunately I still need to touch up the paint job in some places, but once that's done I'll get hold of a nice camera and take some really beautiful shots!

So here's the before:

First of all, the dressing table had a blotchy stain on it, so needed repainting anyway. Also, I'm really not into the antique-effect pine look. Finally, the cabinet was pretty revolting: with the random hovering cupboard and ill thought-out s-shaped transition from large lower section to small upper section, the tudor-effect window right next to the flowery panels and the fact that it was covered in knots and holes, it really needed some TLC.

Here's the after:

So, the first thing to get out of the way: the bookcase fits almost perfectly on top of the chest of drawers, so that seemed like an obvious decision. I promise that by the time I show photos of my room again I will not only use a better quality camera, I will also have reorganised these shelves so they look less messy! Never mind. One important point is that the bookcase and the mirror unit for the dressing table both have furniture pads underneath them to limit damage to my paint work. Definitely a necessity.

I was going to go for full-on 2009 colour of the year Pantone-style turquoise, but my Mum talked me down and had me go for this colour, which Dulux call 'inky pool.' She was completely right to do so - it's much more relaxing and looks particularly lush on the curvy legs of the dressing table and buffet. I went for a bright, snowy cream because glossy, pure white would look too cold against the turquoise, but a more yellowish shade of cream might have clashed with the walls. I'll write a post about what went right and what went wrong with my painting methods later on.

Aside from paint colours, I also had to choose a new fabric to recover the buffet. I didn't have a major problem with the yellow cover from before, but I absolutely love the reupholstery jobs featured on blogs like Design*Sponge that involve dramatic prints and I wanted to try my hand at something similar. In the end I didn't go for a print with contrasting colours, but I'm still very chuffed with this big, leafy design on soft, cream fabric that almost matches the paint.

Finally, the cabinet. I knocked out the small cupboard from the top and replaced it with glass shelves, which look much less fussy. In the process of getting rid of the cupboard some of the flowery panels were removed, but I've kept others because they actually look kind of sweet in cream. I knew all along that I was going to put that massive, red book in front of one of the s-curves, but I didn't know that the cabinet would fit so well in the corner of the room that the curtain would conceal the other curve - that was a massive stroke of luck. Finally, I put some little wicker baskets on top (they don't really show in the photo) to use more the height of the room for storage. Now the parts of my teapot collection that are not in daily use can sit proudly in the corner of my bedroom!

Thursday, 9 September 2010


A bumper crop of posts are coming soon. In the meanwhile here's a bit of strange 1am musing

I had just been reading Ennui by Sylvia Plath alongside her annotated page of the Great Gatsby (above) when an email from Groupon came into my inbox. I quickly learned that advertising is much more entertaining after a good dose of poetry. Try reading the following aloud in a dark room, in near-perfect RP with a strong drink in hand:

Drink, dine and dance
at the Best New Bar
of this year,
with an amazing selection

of blended beverages and tasty
nibbles. Enjoy the amazing
Chargrilled Beef Burger
with delicious handcut chips

or deep fried goats
cheese with cranberry
Not just another bar,
Aquum focuses on quality

and giving you
a fantastic individual

Obviously Drink, dine and dance is about the way that materialism dehumanises us, strips us of our individuality and is the root cause of the paralysis experienced by young people faced with too many options to choose from.

This is what happens when you study humanities.