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Tag Archives: art

I write a bit about information spaces, both physical and virtual, and the play between the two of them.  I’ve been sketching enough lately that I think I’m drawing the same things I’m writing.  I don’t paint to illustrate ideas, I paint to explore them and see what happens.  Its a discovery process, not a publishing tool.  Anyways, I’m excited to have established this kind of synchronicity between a couple of different creative outlets.  Here’s my latest drawing.


Here’s another drawing, this one a little more recent.

Here’s a few drawings I made not too long ago. I like to slap a piece of paper on the wall, usually something pretty good sized at head/chest level so that I feel like I’m confronting it, and then draw a diagram of my thoughts. Its really sketchbook type stuff, but for whatever reason when I’m confronted face-to-face with paper it transitions from simple thought diagram to simplified information landscape. I find it strangely satisfying to make these things.

In the study of decorative arts, furniture is often referred to as microarchitecture. Perhaps one of the most literal examples of furniture emulating an architectural style is the “skyscraper furniture” of Paul T. Frankl. I had the good fortune of buying a Frankl-attributed piece some years back, and sadly the time just came to pass on this amazing bookshelf to a new owner. Below I’ve posted a picture of this exceptional piece of microarchitecture (in order to publicly immortalize it before it becomes a treasure in someone else’s private collection), a scan from the cover of Frankl’s 1928 classic book “New Diemnsions”, and links to a few resources about Frankl.

1) Christopher Long’s book about Frankl from Yale University Press

2) A collection of images of Frankl’s work from Architonic

3) Search Abebooks for Frankl’s writing, New Dimensions (1928), Space for Living (1938), and Form and Reform (1930). Space for Living is a real treasure in terms of modernist graphic layout- this book is a piece of design history in and of itself.

Design and the Elastic Mind, currently on display at the MOMA is without question the best design show I’ve actually been to in person. There was a review in the NY Times which had one sentence I’d like to expand upon a little bit:

“As revolutionary in its own way as MoMA’s “Machine Art” exhibition of 1934, which introduced Modern design to a generation of Americans, the exhibition is packed with individual works of sublime beauty.”

I really believe that we are now entering this “information age” where technology, art and design are cooperating and informing each other in much the same way that they were in 1934. We are on the verge of a technosocial shift, a pivotal moment when the way that human/object and human/human interactions are redefined by the technologies we have created. Curator Paola Antonelli cites the Eames film “Powers of Ten”as an influence in this exhibit, and I would take that a step further to suggest that “Powers of Ten” is the lens through which we have gone from a macro-investigation of natural geometry in design (1934 Machine Art exhibition) to our new micro-investigation of natural geometry in design (2008 Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition). Computing power has magnified scientists, engineers, designers, and artists ability to harness the power of natural organization for constructive uses. The excellent essays in the catalog expand upon this, but to better illustrate the comparison of these two shows,

Here’s an excerpt from the 1934 Machine Art catalog:

“Machines are, visually speaking, a practical application of geometry. Forces which act in straight lines are changed in direction and degree by machines which themselves are formed of straight lines and curves. The lever is geometrically a straight line resting on a point. The wheel and axle is composed of concentric circles and radiating straight lines. The watch spring is a spiral. Sphericity and circularity are the geometrical characteristics of a ball bearing. Screws, bearing springs, and propellers are various- and variously beautiful- applications of the helix and helicoid.”

Here’s an image from the 1934 Machine Art catalog:


Here’s an excerpt from the 2008 Design and the Elastic Mind catalog:

“Biomimicry is the strategy that designers and engineers use to observe and learn from nature’s sophisticated designs and implement these lessons in artificial objects. The lilly impeller is a mixer ‘designed using the elegant and effective geometries found in natural fluid flow,’ explains the designer. Its shape, based on the logarithmic curve known as the Fibonacci spiral and found in such objects as the nautilus shell and whirlpools, allows liquids to flow centripetally through it with little friction. As a result the device is capable of circulating millions of gallons of water with a minimal amount of energy. Used in municipal reservoir tanks, the mixer prevents drinking water from stagnating, reducing the need for disinfectant additives.”

Here’s picture from the 2008 Design and the Elastic Mind show:


Go see this show. I’ve been twice and I’m not done yet. Better yet, get the catalog, read it, then go look at what is there- there is a LOT to digest in this exhibition.

Found this absolutely beautiful booklet the other day at a junk store. $6. Cover design by John Milligan. Wow.



Last Friday I went to Nextcity: The Art of the Possible, a Rhizome event at the New Museum. Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, artist/designer/educator Christian Nold, and artist/architect J. Meejin Yoon of Howler & Yoon all spoke with Adam Greenfield of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. This was their agenda:

“Emergent digital technologies are rapidly changing both the face of our cities and our daily experience of them, whether invoked in the production of architectural form, the representation of urban space, or our interface to the locative and other services newly available there. Dynamic maps update in real time; garments and spaces deform in response to environmental, biological and even psychological conditions. We find our very emotions made visible, public, and persistently retrievable. Somewhere along the way, we find our notions of public space, participation, and what it means to be urban undergoing the most profound sort of change.”

Though I get pretty excited about emerging technologies, particularly when they are approached from a philosophical stance, I was most interested in how this panel would address public space. It seems clear that public space will be defined differently in the rapidly approaching era of ubiquitous computing. Adam spoke briefly of Starbuck’s business model being based on Ray Oldenberg’s concept of “Third Places”: places that are neither home nor work, but places where people can publicly interact. Christian came right out and said we don’t really have many true public spaces left at this point. I, the public librarian, sat in the audience, squirming in my seat when the conversation turned in this direction.

Public Libraries are the best examples of public space (or public place, if you want to get technical) in America that I can think of. Public libraries are places of information exchange, places where knowledge is created, shared and dispersed. Libraries are the front line, they are cultural centers where anyone can bring any query and they can be answered or directed appropriately. I find it fascinating to listen to developers of open source software and data visualization projects talk about the way their work makes publicly available information accessible, manipulable, and usable for anyone and everyone. Those developers really work with the same mission public libraries do, yet somehow they represent “the future” and libraries are stuck with this archaic image as book repositories. We really need to coordinate these efforts and work together. Previously, technologies have  challenged the public library as a relevant institution because it has been so costly to invest in the flavor-of-the-month. The dramatic shift away from the home PC, the move of processing power into portable units and the environment, and the shrinking costs of memory and connectivity suggests that public libraries are in a very good position to offer information access to more people in better ways than ever before. How does these changes redefine public space? How do our behavioral patterns associated with these technologies reshape public space?

I’m excited as hell to meet with Adam next week and to talk with him about where the urban public library fits into the Nextcity. I had a forward-thinking professor at Pratt institute, David Walczyk, who said at one point to a classroom full of soon-to-be librarians that if we don’t take a strong creative roles and define the direction in which our libraries are going to grow, then some consultant will get the job and you’ll just be stuck doing what you should have told the library to do years before. I’m convinced that librarians need to look outside their profession to find the future of their libraries. We need to get off our reference-desked asses. Lets take those creative roles and define the Nextlibrary. I’m not going to let a consultant do it*.

*parties interested in hiring me as a consultant feel free to email me with offers 🙂

Every time I go back to the DIA Beacon I have different kickass experience. For starters its an architecturally incredible space. In fact I think it is such a good space that you can view art there that would otherwise be totally boring and inane, but once you see it in the context of this enormous renovated factory space with plentiful natural light and breathing room it becomes transcendent. Nice trick. I’m not going to go picking on the pieces that I find boring and mundane, I think it is more constructive to focus on that which was inspiring and thought provoking. Keep in mind the fact that I’m no art historian (well, maybe an amateur art historian) and I haven’t researched the artists’ intent in these instances. That is one of my favorite things about that 60s minimalist or conceptual art in general though- it really makes itself available to the viewers interpretation. I’m always happy to throw my interpretation around so here you go.

On this trip to the DIA I was taken by three different things. Blinky Palermo, Robert Ryman, and Lawrence Weiner.

Blinky Palermo’s “To the People of New York City” series really caught my attention on this visit, mostly because I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about visual literacy, visual rhetoric, and visual narratives. His canvases were remarkably icon-like and reminded me of the graphic innovations of someone like Ladislav Sutnar, arguably one of the grandfathers of modern-day interaction design rhetoric. Apparently Blinky had no real intention of creating a pattern-driven vocabulary, but his German flag-inspired sequences of four panels certainly had me thinking about that. How can one create a specific narrative from color fields? Is the vocabulary of a visual narrative so culturally embedded that it cannot be specifically referential without some kind of defined cultural parameters of knowledge for the viewer, like a key for a map, or a glossary for a technical volume? Thanks to Blinky for getting me thinking about such fun stuff. Btw, Blinky Palermo, your name suggests that you were a rat wearing a sombrero.


Robert Ryman got me going too, and that’s kind of fun considering he is Mr. White Canvas. Technologist and futurist Adam Greenfield (I wonder how he’d feel about these labels) writes about seams and seamlessness as we move into the era of ubiquitous connectivity. Adam places great importance on that moment in which you lose reception as you are talking on your cellphone and then move underground onto the subway platform and either keep a continuous signal (not here in NYC), lose it briefly and have to call back, or just lose the signal. These seams become important moments where you recognize your humanity in relation to the media you are connected to: consider the moment in the Matrix when Keanu Reeves realizes that humans are all just batteries. That is all of the ramifications of seamlessness taken to an extreme. Nobody had any idea they became batteries. So how fun is it that Ryman plays with the seams of physical art objects, that he completely negates the content of the art and just takes your attention to the seams, the edges of a canvas, a board, the screws that mount it to a wall, or the mirror ground upon which a field of white extends nearly to the perimeter? My favorite piece was series of hollow core doors, displayed about 3 feet from a wall, lined up side by side. When examined from the back, the means by which they are attached and made plumb are clear: holes were cut from the thin ply exposing the framework construction of the doors, and then bolts were run through connecting them to each other. In a typical carpenters markup, lines were drawn on the back describing how the panels should be aligned. But regardless of the near-perfect lineup from the back view, close inspection from the front revealed the imperfections. The seams were still apparent. Did Ryman prophesize the importance of seams in ubiquitous digital connectivity by accident when he exhibited the seams of his physical art objects years ago? What is the relationship between the “seams” in physically interactive architectures and the “seams” in interactive virtual architectures?


Finally, Lawrence Weiner. The show at the Whitney Museum is not to be missed, but the piece at the DIA, the “5 Figures of Structure”, sums it all up since it is far more accessible. Roberta Smith of the NY Times recounted an important quote in her review of the Whitney show: “In 1969 Mr. Weiner issued a well-known statement of intent describing the three conditions in which his works could exist: they could be constructed by him, fabricated by someone else or not built at all.” In the “5 Figures of Structure”, Weiner takes three walls and 5 long, large sentences to describe a series of slabs and their relationship to one another. Then, on a fourth wall, in a very simple diagram, arguably a simple information graphic, he says the same thing in far less space. This is a powerful statement, demonstrating visual communication is a simple, direct tool to describe the spatial relationship of objects, and that words, poetic as they may be, grow confusing. Or… is it a powerful statement, demonstrating words as a vehicle for the imagination to work as a visual tool, an interpretive force with which the mind can create its own visualizations?


I haven’t written much in the past few days because I’ve been slammed with work. Readers can expect a flurry of activity now that I’m emerging from my pile of projects.

Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Pratt Institute called “Tipping Points: Art, Politics, and Civic Engagement”. I really expected a packed house for this discussion, but I think the democratic debate had many people otherwise engaged. The program was moderated by Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine. Some of the speakers really had excellent things to say. Check out the panel:

• Letitia James = City Councilwoman; Brooklyn, District 35
• Wendy Feuer – Asst. Commissioner for Urban Art and Planning; DOT
• Laurie Kerr – Mayor’s Office for Long Term Planning and Sustainability
• Blaise Backer – Director, Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project
• Sean Meenan – Habana Outpost
• Deborah Marton – The Design Trust for Public Space
• Eva Hanhardt – professor/coordinator EMS planning

Letitia James was the first one to bring up the carbon belt and the health problems associated with living by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I felt that one: I live by the BQE, only further north in Brooklyn. She spoke about the city’s aging infrastructure and the need to update it. She also brought up the fact that we can’t really go with congestion pricing

I was interested in Blaise Backer’s commentary. As the director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, he has to encourage business owners to think about sustainability in their practices while he supports them in their quest for profits and success. Sometimes it is not easy to do this. For example, there was an initiative to plant new trees all along Myrtle Avenue. You would think that everyone would immediately support something like that, but to a business owner the tree represents a potential liability to passers-by. It also obscures the awning of a ground level store, making it harder to bring in foot traffic.

I was exceptionally impressed with Deborah Marton and the work of The Design Trust for Public Space. If I understood correctly, Marton’s work involved taking the design innovations and breakthroughs from the private investment and development, where money often abounds, translating this information into a format that the Department of Design and Construction can use for public agencies with building projects, and then serving as something of a link between the DDC and the public agency to ensure that the job gets done efficiently. I’ll have to read more about this, but what a great mission: to act as a non-profit that brings private innovations to public agencies.

Finally, Sean Meenan of Habana Outpost was great. That restaurant is awesome, and he brought a real down-to-earth, lets stop talking about all of this, do it, and have fun the whole time attitude to everything. Habana Outpost is solar powered, and only uses corn plastics for their cups and silverware. They have worked with architecture and design students from Pratt so they reclaim all of their water. Sean was exactly the kind of guy you would want to bring in to talk to a bunch of teenagers or kids about these issues, because he was the kind of guy they’d respect. He even drives a car the that will run on the used fry oil from his restaurant. I’ll be looking into getting him to a do a program at the Brooklyn Public Library some time.

Finally Chris Jordan showed us his “Portraits of American Mass Consumption” which demonstrate just how much  junk we go through every day. Cell phones discarded, stack and stacks of computer paper, disposable beverage cups… Great stuff.