Archive for January, 2010

Augmented Reality

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

As far as using digital media as an inquiry into space and experience, I think this video by Bartlett M.Arch candidate Keiichi Matsuda is right on the money. Many of you have probably heard of “augmented reality,” a name given to the convergence of wireless media and location-based technologies. In a way, this video reminds me of the work of Thomas Demand (see below), whose photographs of paper constructed environments speak to the uncanny connection between our constructed, physical worlds and the parallel world created by our visual technologies. More information on Matsuda can be found here. What do you think of the difference between this video and the one by SO-IL in the post before this one?



Monday, January 25th, 2010

Here is a video of the winning 2010 PS1 competition by SO-IL (Solid Objective – Florian Idenburg/Jing Liu). The other entrants in the competition included Freecell (Brooklyn), Easton + Combs (Brooklyn), William O’Brien, Jr. (M.I.T.), and BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group (Netherlands).


What do you think?
Via the A/N blog.

Visitor Q

Friday, January 22nd, 2010


Visitor Q
2001, 84 minutes
directed by: Takashi Miike

Visitor Q is a movie from the prolific, controversial, and successful Japanese director Takashi Miike. It promises to be, in a film series that has certainly already featured some weird films, to be even weirder. For Miike is known for two things: 1) making a lot of movies and, 2) sometimes making some unbelievably weird movies. A number of his films have been remade by American production companies, one of the most recent of which was The Eye, starring Jessica Alba. Time magazine called Visitor Q “meta-weird,” which, depending on how you look at it, is either slightly intriguing or mildly depressing. In either case, it makes me completely sick of the prefix ‘meta-.’


Now, a few of the films selected for this “Future is Asian” series were intended to emphasize the current spate of extremely shocking, disturbing, and taboo-breaking films that are coming out of some parts of Asia, primarily Japan, and to a lesser extent South Korea. The general idea was that these uninhibited explorations of the fringes of human behavior could possibly provide some otherwise unavailable humanistic ideas. Maybe these relatively nascent cinematic cultures could utilize the dominant medium of film in a new way that would make all else obsolescent. In short, maybe something new could come of it. Maybe, somewhere in all of this weirdness, is the shock of the new—the Future. And there are few intentionally, deliberately, and successfully weird films as Visitor Q.


But in a sense, these “extreme” Asian films may be a perfect manifestation of what Paul Virilio was talking about when he wrote about “the vulgarization of techno-scientific progress” as being the driving force of history since the age of Gutenberg’s printing press. To summarize: in an age where techno-scientific progress is the primary goal of the people, it naturally follows that the extremes are the points of interest. Thus, it is the hallmark of the Modern age that the mass media would reward any “revolutionary abnormality.” Some people have seized upon this train of logic to explain our cultural fascination with industrial tycoons, serial killers, pro athletes, celebrities, scientists, and terrorists. For when an idea of progress is the goal, the only thing worth talking about is that which is better/faster/stronger/more extreme than what came before it.


Looking at these ‘Asian extreme’ films in the light of Paul Virilio, it becomes clear that these Japanese films, far from being the future, could be seen as stolidly Modern. Although any visit to Tokyo is likely to make you think you jumped into the future, if you think about it, maybe the reverse is true. You see, Japan, as savvy as it is with engineering and robotics, is still operating an industrial economy where manufactured cars and consumer electronics are keeping them afloat. The advances that are occurring that could possibly be post-Modern, in the realm of wireless communication, internet software, information technology, Web 2.0, and the like, are being made largely on the coasts of California. Tokyo, then, is the future as we imagined it 50 years ago.


Of course, this is all assuming that the Modern age is bound to be over soon, if it isn’t already, as some writers and thinkers like Mario Carpo suggest. Carpo says that what ended the Modern age was a shift of dominant media, from mechanically reproducible identical images to digital variance. If we then take Virilio’s ideas of modernity into account, then it would seem to argue for a future that is based in something other than primarily military-industrial, techno-scientific progress, which in turn would then seem to imply a shift away from the fetishization of transgression.

In conclusion, if you are a country with a strong, conventional military, well-manufactured electro-mechanical products, and really weird movies, then maybe you are not the future.

-    quang truong (originally written February 19, 2008)

Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

A funny take on our relationship with technology (which I wrote a bit about here). . .

“Everything is amazing and nobody is happy”
by Meowbay

Artifice, Avatar, and Anthony Bourdain

Monday, January 11th, 2010

ArtificeAvatarAnthonyI didn’t do much over the break, content to lie on the couch, play with my dog, and hang out with good friends. But I did read three books: Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I also managed to see James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar.

Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential was published in 2000, at the beginning of this decade, and the changes it precipitated or anticipated in the restaurant world are tough to underestimate. The idea of celebrity chefs (of which Bourdain is now one) back then was unheard of, and the Food Network was in its relatively unwatched infancy. Most people know of this book even in small part simply because Bourdain was the first to publicize the minute day-to-day of most restaurants–the maxim you hear today bandied around about never ordering fish on Monday is due to this book. But Bourdain’s book, like any good book, is more than one small revelation. Part of what was inspiring about this book is the way he details the work that goes into cooking–mostly unseen and underappreciated, for the love of a craft. I’ve written about how this sort of work ethic and process in cuisine is uncannily similar to architecture (an expanded article was published recently in the magazine Blueprint Asia). Bourdain, in particular, does an extremely good job of bringing the reader into the world of a chef. Bourdain says he’s a New Yorker first and foremost, (though in the epilogue he says he now spends most of his time in Southeast Asia), and brings to his writing and cooking a brash, assertive, and unapologetic sensibility that I find in inspiring and unique to New York. Bourdain and New York are, in a way, just so punk (punk being the definition that Geoff Manaugh took me to task for–the comments in his post are especially juicy).


Malcolm Gladwell‘s most recent book (Outliers) has only received tepid praise from critics. This, I feel, may be due to the fact that his first couple of collections of nonfiction have sold wildly, the title of one of them became solidly incorporated into contemporary lexicon (the phrase tipping point, a feat only the most important books have done–think Catch-22). I guess at this point, most reviewers are, out of a variety of reasons, wont to spend most of their time pointing out various shortcomings Gladwell may have in his method or his conclusions. They decry the seeming ease and simplicity of his conclusions in the face the daunting amount of information he sorts through. But this criticism is no matter. It is like looking at a Cezanne and pointing out all the things in the world he didn’t paint. Outliers may be one of Gladwell’s most interesting books, and his primary gift is still intact and developing; and that is his ability to tell a story and write the most beautiful, fluid, and elegant paragraphs in support of that story. He tells immensely entertaining stories that weave together an incredibly wide spectrum of information (in particular I liked the story of Asians and how their purported affinity to math was linked to the irrigation patterns of rice).  This is why Gladwell can write about mustard and extrapolate it to read like a insight into life and the nature of free will itself, and why other writers like Chuck Klosterman can write about American football and make it seem like an elegant illustration of both systems information, cultural proclivities, and statistical analysis. This is the power of writing and there are few who do it as well as Gladwell, Klosterman, and Bourdain. You can write about anything–food, sports, irrigation patterns, white teeth–and if it’s done well, then it feels as if the whole world is contained within. In fact, if there’s one fault in Gladwell’s writing, it’s that he’s gotten a little cocky (“I’m going to write about mustard and you’re going to like it!”).


Zadie Smith reminds me a lot of Jonathan Franzen, another ambitious novelist and essayist, because both of them fully believe in the idea of the novel. This makes them relatively rare. It’s an idea of a novel that is very different from J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Michael Crichton, Don Delillo, or any number of contempary writers. It’s very different from writers even like David Foster Wallace. In fact, they remind me much more of writers like Nabokov (b. 1899 d. 1977)–not in terms of talent, necessarily, but in terms of their congruent goals. With D. F. Wallace, at least, you got the sense that he realized the transitional period that the idea of the novel was in and was either trying to fight his way out of it or invent a new form for it. There was a tension in his novels that you also got in his short-form pieces. You see, the weird thing is, Zadie Smith, just like Jonathan Franzen, is able to convey her ideas and ambitions much more eloquently, forcefully, and succinctly in essay format. Yet this very fact may paradoxically undermine all of their ambitions. For their ambitions are resolutely tied to the idea of long-form writing, i.e., the novel.


I’m not going to get into it any further, because I am out of my depth in this arena. But I’m going to use the novel to bring up the idea of artifice. Perhaps the ambitions of Smith and Franzen were wrought through the medium of the novel, a media that depends on a sort of universal cultural artifice that no longer exists. This is why it is much easier to read and understand them when they are writing about these same ideas through the relatively artifice-less medium of the short story or essay. In a sense, Bourdain represents this also. Bourdain was writing at a time when the idea of fine dining meant curtseying at a Francophilic-maision of unapproachable refinement. But Bourdain broke that down. Which is why chefs like David Chang (an upstart Korean prick with a East Village noodle bar who won 2 Michelin stars) today are important, because he brought that kitchen full of tattoos and Led Zeppelin out into the open, dispensing with the artifice of fine dining (linens, career wait staff, chairs with backs), and gave us ambitious, erudite food without the artifice. It’s also why it’s so easy to see Bourdain traipsing around the world, capable of enjoying both a dinner at Per Se as well as on a street corner in Vietnam. The cultural structures that support the difference between “fine dining” and “street food” are less valid today, as well as those same structures that support the difference between a “Novel” and “writing.” If there’s one thing I think this previous decade stood out for, it was the failure of artifices. It started with the failure of our democratic electoral principles (Bush v. Gore), followed shortly by an attack on a pure symbol of global commerce (WTC), the fallibility of our financial institutions (Enron, Madoff, Lehman), and ended with the most unassailable athletic and performative character in the world being, well, assailed (Tiger Woods). Really, the 00′s were about the failure of artifice.


I also watched Avatar over the break, but I actually feel there’s very little to say about this movie. The technology is wonderful, and James Cameron is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a bit of a shame that the story of Avatar is basically Dances With Wolves all over again, since there are lingering colonialist assumptions running through the entire film, like the slight char of burnt garlic in an otherwise good dish. I wish he had kept to a simpler story and themes, along the lines of his best films, Terminator (fight the  robot from the future!) and Titanic (love is good, even if you’re from different socioeconomic classes, and especially if you’re on a sinking ship!). But the less said about Avatar the better, I feel–nobody likes arguing about colonialism anymore, and quite frankly, colonialism is still being unabashedly practiced today by those who do or don’t know better (or don’t care). There’s an okay article published in about this, if you really must. My best advice is to go see Avatar in 3d, and 3d only, wear the silly glasses, forgive the silly story, and be entranced by the beauty of a world so vividly imagined and depicted it makes you wonder at which point in the future all media will be subsumed by the kind that Cameron is developing, where it’s all artifice once again.