Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Geometric Genius

Andy Gilmore, based in Rochester, NY, has a stunning portfolio. Simple.

You can see more of his work at Space Collective; here’s his Flickr photostream.

And if you’ve been paid yet – I sure know I haven’t – you might head over to Etsy and buy the man’s prints.

Well worth putting aside a few dimes. He’s a geometric genius.

More geometric design:

– Manolo Guerrero’s Optica Normal type

– Olympic op art: Mexico 68

Reversing: A White Van Story

I wish my wife was this clean. Also available in soot grey. Not phrases you’ll have seen written on a white van.

When a white van is pristine clean, no one writes “clean me” on it. It would be criminal damage without a meaning to the message (except to a postmodernist).

Written on a dirty van, it makes a lot more sense. It’s a form of reverse graffiti or dust tagging.

Two of the world’s most famous dust taggers are the UK’s Paul “Moose” Curtis and Brazil’s Alexandre Orion.

Last year, Alexandre Orion dust tagged São Paulo with hundreds of skulls. He attacked the sooted walls of the underpass between Avenida Europa and Avenida Cidade Jardim as a protest.

He wanted city authorities to recognise the level of road pollution and do something about it. They did. They spray-cleaned the walls to remove his skulls. But he kept moving, and they had to keep cleaning.

In April this year, Paul Curtis dust tagged San Francisco’s Broadway Tunnel. Using stencils of plants and wildlife indigenous to the region, he created an elaborate mural. It cleaned the surfaces it adorned.

It was a project commissioned by Clorox Green Works cleaner: a commercial product that uses plant-based ingredients for “natural cleaning”. So still makes sense, right?

I saw this advert today for Bacardi on the streets of Farringdon today (click the map for an exact location).

Now London’s got pollution. No doubt about it. But when you see how faded the stencil is, you’ll guess the soot underfoot isn’t inches thick. There’s been no need to spray it off.

So is Bacardi an organic product, guerilla-styling its green credentials? Not unless Vinnie Jones has taken to tugging on green stems since we last saw him.

These kinds of reverse graffiti ads are popping up all over the place now. Sometimes they champion an anti-pollution issue. But more often they don’t.

Companies like Street Advertising Services are offering their high-pressure steam and stencils to polish the good corporate buck.

I don’t mean to diss SAS. Their heart’s in the right place. But this advertising is not.

To my eye, it looks like a white van spray-painted “clean me”. Somehow things have got a bit back-to-front. (Thanks to Giles for the original tip-off).

More on reverse graffiti at Environmental Graffiti.

More on ads cleaning streets at Springwise.

Fascist Fashion in Berlin

There was nothing thinly-veiled about it. When Tønsberg set up shop in central Berlin, they meant to get right up the people’s nose.

Tønsberg stocks a variety of clothes that incorporate neo-Nazi insignia. One of their brands, Thor Steinar (above), has been punished under new anti-racism legislation and litigated by the Norwegian government.

So pitching up on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße, the street bearing the name of Germany’s great Marxist revolutionary, was a clear blue-eyed stare of intent.

Shop owners, social activists and artists have responded. At the tip of the road you’ll find a clear manifesto (above – click to read the detail).

Tønsberg’s presence on this liberal fashion strip is misleading to consumers. It’s bad for the street’s reputation. And, if reports of a “resident baby pitbull bred to eat baby Jews” are true, it could be a direct platform for hate crime.

Two aspects of this story grabbed me as I walked down Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße a few days ago.

Firstly, the well-campaigned and well reasoned response of the Left. But secondly, more compellingly, was the creative assault against the neo-Nazis.

Slap bang on the doorstep of Tønsberg, there’s a silo dedicated to anti-right street art. The posters and paintings get regularly refreshed. Some of it’s not great, of course. But the better bits get the brain-cogs turning faster than any well-oiled manifesto.

And Mitte Gegen Rechts are as strong online as they are in the field.

With an efficient search you’ll find their blog and various Flickr pools. It’s got press in The Economist and in-depth coverage at Gridskipper.

There’s even a slick docu-spot for Watch Berlin posted on YouTube (in German).

So – an insidious weave from the neo-Nazis gets a swift media jab from the Left, right?

Keep hold of your ticket stubs, mein freund. The sum of the bricks is less than the whole, and the finish isn’t as fast as the smart bet might have it.

In this ciy of love and reunification, the clash has yet to end in a kiss.

Tønsberg still stands on Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße. Just more battered and splattered than before.

Campaigners have taken to smashing their windows and hurling paint.

This happened larger in Leipzig not long ago when another shop opened. The video of the riot has been stripped from YouTube, and it must have got ugly.

Well-reasoned, multi-platform, creative campaigning for a noble cause. Ends in violence. Can’t get history off repeat after all.

So: the challenge. How would you campaign to stop Thor Steinar?

How to VJ #5

To recap: you should be (1) gathering and making material; (2) figuring how it moves; (3) getting it in time – understanding how it works in the fourth dimension.

Now to performance specifics – and the third dimension. All good VJing has a strong and nuanced understanding of layers.

If you’ve got decent Photoshop skills then you’ve got one up on me. And you’ll certainly understand layered composition.

What VJing can do is manipulate different layers in different time (according to the software and mixer you use). I’ll give you a very simple example with screengrabs from Henry Stead’s poem ‘Earth, Too Soon’.

1. Cut Out

When you’ve got a cut-out detail, i.e. the background is cut out as a block colour, you’ve got more versatility. This detail is from a painting by Elisa Muliere.

The detail was kept static as a video clip. But the same applies to moving footage. Think green screen.

2. Background layers

In this case, we had the background from the original painting. I could fade that background in manually on the night, in time, by making this my second clip. Just mixed from channel A to channel B.

So the background of the painting faded in from black, with the foreground figure staying present throughout – because it retained exactly the same position in the 640×480 frame.

3. Multiple layers

At the next stage, we introduced a new video layer but also preserved the background painting beneath it.

In After Effects, I composed the clip so video of worms in soil slotted in between the foreground figure and the background of the original painting.

By reducing the opacity of the worms video clip, you can still see the integrity of the original painting beneath. We mixed this in and out over the full painting (screengrab 2 above).

Mixing media is a lot easier if you do it in layers. Otherwise you chop around too hard and fast. Your fingers will get tired, and you’ll hurt your audience’s eyes.

Although it can work great in edited compositions, it won’t always suit live mixing.

4. Overlaying

At the end of this piece, I started to overlay a clip of snow. This came in on top of the painting, so the black sky darkened everything underneath it as we faded to a close.

This was a standard cross-fade. The same as 100s of edits you’ll see every day on TV. Nothing in the pre-editing, just executed live with a V4 mixer. The snow came over the painting, creating depth.

Some rules

1. Live layering is easier with at least some cut-outs. You can develop more complex textures when you reduce the content of the frame.

2. Not everything has to be moving. You can keep some bits still. Different elements can move at different speeds – think about how the music’s composed and what’s suitable to match it.

3. You can layer many things at once, but only with control. Otherwise it’s a mess. You’re creating orchestration, so you should aim to reflect that in the live mixing.

4. Even when you mix into a new section, there’s no necessity for a hard cut. Bashing between clips can work for a tough, alternating beat. Using a BPM sync, it can be smart way to keep time.

But with layers you can get into the melody. That’s where you’ll pull off the most impressive performances.

Previously: #4 You know the type.

Burger’s Gonna Get Ya

Smart work by Olle Hemmendorff, commissioned by Nike in Sweden. Gloppy junk food on your feet? It’s strong and nippy thought.

Reminded me of a TV spot for Reebok – ‘Belly’s Gonna Get Ya’. Worth watching again, if you don’t have instant recall.

So what’s more compelling: having the cause of obesity splattered all over your feet or a big, fat belly chase you down the street?

Either way, the answer is in a pair of new sneaks.

Clouds vs. Adverts

Round 1 São Paulo, January 2007 (photos by Tony de Marco)

The general public terrorised by aimless, drifting clouds. Where still, stately adverts once filled billboards on highways and street corners, the hoardings now stood bare.

São Paulo banned outdoor advertising. And, joking aside, there weren’t many complaints. (Advertisers aside.)

Sure – some folks lost landmarks that helped them navigate the streets. Outdoor ads can have this auxiliary function when they stay put long enough. But the reduction of visual noise was and has been appreciated.

For the record, here’s a glimpse of what São Paulo was like before:

Round 2 – Tel Aviv, January 2008 (via Treehugger)

The central “Ayalon” highway was the battle ground. And once again, on New Year’s Eve, ads lost.

A 40 year-old law won – ensuring that “fields and hills will not be stained as well with objects foreign to them.” First shroudings were broadcast live on TV (see below).

Round 4 – Buenos Aires, August 2008 (via The Anti-Advertising Agency)

It’s not happened yet, but it will do soon. Original story (for Spanish readers) from Clarín, reported at length by Treehugger and remixed for your leisure here.

Buenos Aires will remove 40,000 billboards that are infracting the city’s code. That amounts to 60% of the city’s outdoor advertising. It’s projected to result in something that looks like this. But it won’t be illustrated. It’ll be so real your camera can taste it.

The billboards were causing a hazard to drivers. With the digital flashes and cavalier cab-driving of the capital, this move could match the pleasure of finding a seat belt.

Better still – the new codes insist that different types of signs are tailored to each district’s visual style. Now that’s personalisation. Localisation, for the literal-minded reader.

Round 5 – Atlanta, sometime in 1951 (photo via)

The lights are turned off. Not even the messaging of the sky to mist this scene.

Just two signs catch my eye: Coca-Cola and Club Perchtree.

Club Perchree has a strapline I wish I’d written: “Dine and Dance”. That’s all you need to know, isn’t it? I’d go if I was hungry and wanted to move my feet after the eat.

And Coca-Cola? Well – it’s Atlanta. Colonised by Coke as a 20th-century sugar plantation. The first brand flag stabbed into the landscape by its native conquerors.

Incidentally, although Butler’s Shop is highly visible it doesn’t interest me. What kind of shop? Don’t know – so I’ll go for a dine and dance instead. Maybe drink a Coke while I’m there.

Points Score

The judges give a unanimous victory to simplicity in the city.

I’m an advertiser who lives in the city. So where does this leave me?

Content, for one. Excited, for two.

Because if you can reduce and organise, as John Maeda would say, you’re off to a start. Proceed with integrity – you’re communicating to other people – and you’ll be heading somewhere.

Not a billboard on your cobblestone highway.

Re-Splice Your Weekend

Got a split-second this weekend? I envy you. But I can happily spare a recommendation.

Go to Now Showing at the Cosh Gallery, Soho, London.

Some spectacular reinterpretations of classic film posters on show. Above, works by Kako/ Carlos Bela and Pietari Posti/ Underware, below by James Joyce and David Johnston/ David Ellis.

The prints look exceptional. And I’m busy with some reinterpretation myself, so I guess that explains why this grabbed me.

I’ll be VJing for Jungle Drums at The Egg on Saturday. If you’re coming down, pop over and say hi. We did a bunch of these Brazilian shows last summer and people seemed to like the vibe. So I’m re-editing what felt goodest.

On Thursday next week, I’ll be re-performing two poetry pieces with Henry Stead, and trotting out to new ones. Swing by The FleaPit Cafe on Columbia Rd for London Poetry Systems 02 if you’re feeling floaty and curious.

And whatever you’re doing over the weekend, and the week to come, I hope you enjoy every minute of it.

Bathtime in Clerkenwell

Award-winning animation by Alex Budovsky, to a soundtrack by The Real Tuesday Weld. Alex was born in St Petersburg and studied in New York. I clocked this through the happenstance of working in Clerkenwell (or thereabouts), so it’s a crazy little cuckoo world.

Thought I’d heard the song before, but didn’t realise it had been so loved by animators. This second interpretation is a short piece by Ori Toor. Couldn’t find much out about Ori (sorry, Ori) but I think he’s Israeli and he’s definitely a talented illustrator.

If you enjoy this kind of modern swingbeat jolly, and you happen to be in London, you should have a gander at The Correspondents. Congrats to Ian and Tim on their record deal! A lot of hard work, and I’m sure the good people at the Innocent Village Fete were duly treated this weekend past…

Lifehacking Saves Your Soil

Nothing like a Credit Crunch to get people recycling. And I don’t mean going to the bottle bank.

TV channels, media producers and advertisers have less to blow on booze and bad suits, so they’re busy repurposing. Mass cultural recycling. Compost the old ideas and content in the hope of new fertility.

And while the media business reseeds for new platforms, where does that leave the salt-of-the-earth punter? We need new love and energy in the old machine. If it’s the same old shit, it needs to work better for us. So we lifehack.

Take Danielle Aubert’s Excel art (above, via). Why not lifehack your spreadsheet? Puts some new spectacles on the prospect of staring at a computer screen. Or transform your hardware, Steampunk style.

OK – so Steampunk isn’t an everyday solution. But it’s fun. It’s surprising. It’s bringing fresh personality back into invention.

And every once in a while, as the vehicles move faster than the ideas, you’ll see someone’s remembered there are people behind the wheelbarrow. We’re not just shovelling out recycled thoughts to fill a hole.

I liked these playful 404 pages, because they’ve given a personal expression to an experience that normally has none. It’s reassuring in a cyberspace that connects and alienates in equal spadefuls.

So whether you’re pimping out your cabbage patch or hacking your iPhone, keep at it.

We weren’t put here to sponge up recycled ideas or accept impersonal, inhibitive design without so much as a whimper. There’s a simpler, more playful way of living. And sometimes you’ve got to tinker to get it.

(N.B. Wikipedia defines lifehacking differently from its application in this post. If you want to speak impeccable geekish, check it out. What can I say. I was repurposing.)