I’ve always thought the visual presence of disobediance was an indication of a functioning, healthy city. Too much is obviously bad, but too little is also disturbing. Graffiti, and other sorts of non-violent expression, indicates a certain amount of vibrant contrarian thinking and improvised, unauthorial artistic expression. This balance between authority (planner/designer) and improvisation (participant/user) was the driving force behind some of my earliest architectural projects.
So it is with a certain amount of disappointment, dismay, and resignation that I heard about the graffiti cleanup that is occuring right now along the new High Line in New York. I have mixed feelings about DS+R and Field Operations‘ design for the High Line, despite my high regard for both firms (I feel like there were better proposals from other firms), and I’ve written a little about the High Line before, but it is sad to me that there is still a lack of discussion in the public sphere about the merits of this sort of “street art,” despite the efforts of a few high-profile artists over a few generations now: Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 70s and 80s, but more recently Banksy, Dash Snow, and other contemporary “graffiti artists.”
Photo: Matt Chaban
I guess the best we can hope for at this point is that somebody does document what is literally being painted over as we speak.
新世紀エヴァンゲリオン End of Evangelion
1997, 87 minutes
directed by: Hideaki Anno
Some people have pinned it on religion as the reason why the Japanese are so much more quick to adapt to and be comfortable with technology; because their native religion, Shinto, attributes a living spirit to all objects in the world. This is as opposed to Judeo-Christians, who believe that humans are distinct from and fundamentally different from everything else. Whatever the reason, it may be the first impression upon a visit to certain places in Asia that their culture offers a more sophisticated and mature exploration into the complex relationship of mankind with technology. It is on display on every street corner, window display, technical and artistic endeavor, and adorned all over the youth of certain Asian cities. Japan makes movies like End of Evangelion, we make movies like The Terminator and Robocop.
What Japan seems to understand intuitively is that technology is simply an extension of human nature. It is not an alien thing, diametrically opposed to nature in that binary way Euro-centric societies tend to view everything. This “man-versus-machine” perspective can be seen in European films as early as Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Later on, certain films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explored a much more subtle and meaningful theme, which wasn’t whether human would prevail over machine, but instead where the line was between the two. Much in the way that everything that happens in nature is by definition, natural, such it is that everything humans create, including technology, is an extension of human nature.
End of Evangelion was a film that culminated twenty-six television episodes of an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion, an extraordinarily popular and critically successful series that still supports a huge sub-industry involving manga (Japanese comic-books), action figures, video games, and, uh, hentai based around the characters of Eva, as the series is known for short. In fact, the image of an Evangelion can be still be considered the iconic image of Japanese anime and was the de facto subject of a Greg Lynn studio here at Yale two years ago titled “Giant Robot.”
The imagery in this movie is stunning. As one can probably infer from the convoluted and indecipherable title alone (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion), this movie fuses biological, religious, military, and scientific themes into a dense mix filled with cultural allusions that are ambitiously diverse. The story involves a military project that may or may not be trying to fuse humans and robots to usher in a new theological era. This results in some of the most startling, imaginative, and just plain weird visual sequences I have ever seen, juxtaposed with an equally diverse soundtrack (Frank Sinatra plus Pachabel plus J-pop, anyone?), on top of some of the most refined and beautifully drawn anime ever done.
On another note, the director, Hideako Anno, spent several years of his life essentially isolated in his room reading comic books and playing video games in a particularly Japanese affliction known as “otaku.” Otakus are defined by William Gibson as, “the passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects. . . Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.”
- quang truong (originally written February 11, 2008)
I don’t know what this has to do with anything, but there’s something I haven’t been able to get out of my head for the past week. You’ve already heard about her, probably, as she’s the viral video of the moment (some 50 million Youtube viewings as of this writing). If not, check out the video here.
A lot of people writing about her bring up the discrepancy between her looks and her voice; to me, that isn’t the issue at all. The issue is the fact that such a voice exists at all; it is “the most beautiful, pitch-perfect, goosebump-making voice,” as India Knight wrote in her beautiful piece for New York Magazine,called “Life Worth Living: Why Susan Boyle is the First Big Star of the Global Recession. ”
She sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables by Andrew Lloyd Weber:
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die”
And it really can’t be described much better than the way India Knight wrote it: “Everything terrible about these shows—everything ghastly and cheap and cruel, everything that harks back to Victorian freak shows—fell away. And the thing that’s supposed to happen but never really does—the blossoming of a person, and of their audience, through the transformative power of beauty and, yes, art, even if it’s a sappy show tune—did.”
Really, Susan Boyle is just a pure artistic talent. No packaging, no pretense, no ego, no theory. Just a beautiful voice with an indescribable depth of emotion and musical sophistication behind it.
It reminds me of the last scene in the movie Basquiat (dir. Julian Schnabel, 1996), where Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) tells the story of a sound that is so beautiful that it made everybody who heard the sound lift their hands to the air and weep with joy. It’s one of the clumsier scenes in an otherwise pitch-perfect movie (the clip is above), but it was one of many vignettes and metaphors about the power of beauty and art in that movie, and it’s one of the only ways I can think of to describe Susan Boyle’s beautiful sound. The first measure of “I Dreamed a Dream,” as sung by Susan Boyle, is as close to a perfect sound as I have heard.
My friend Elijah Porter has a beautiful set of photographs of some material studies (water jet and plasma cut steel) he’s done for a class at the Yale School of Architecture. Check out all of his photos here. Via BLDGBLOG.
For several reasons, I have to draw attention to this article from the New York Times about banh mi sandwiches. What I love about this article (and about Vietnamese food in general) is that it points to the myriad influences and histories that shape Vietnamese cuisine–even just a list of the ingredients in a typical banh mi invoke a compendium of twentieth century ideas and theories: including colonialism and globalization, socialism and capitalism, geography and environment, landscape and politics. All this in a layered medium of petit-French-baguette, roast pork, Vietnamese sausage, pickled daikon and carrot, pâté, cucumber and cilantro.
From the New York Times: “. . . it’s not hard to feel a curious dissonance between the two places. There’s the tangible New York of concrete and smog, and there’s what the film historian James Sanders has called the ‘mythic New York,’ the dreamy celluloid landscape of a thousand crisscrossing fictions.”