Category Archives: Design

The Artist Who Cut a House in Half- Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974

Both my sculpture and my painting have always been influenced by architecture, but my first exposure to the work of Gordon Matta-Clark changed the way I think about architecture fundamentally. His sculptural work was not only about architecture, but it used existing architecture as its medium much like a stone carver used a block of marble as a medium to carve a statue from. For Matta-Clark, the house itself was the medium to be used to create the work.

For some reason, my brain has always thought in terms of architectural spaces and I think that Matta-Clark’s rupturing of those spaces exposes a lot about the psychology of the public and the private. In all of the apartments I have ever lived in, I’ve realized that the layout had a utilitarian purpose. The bathrooms line up with other bathrooms because of the plumbing and the bedrooms line up with other bedrooms for sleeping purposes. That means that in your apartment, on the other side of your bedroom wall, you may very well be sleeping literally two feet away from someone you don’t know, which has always been something I’ve had to tell myself is perfectly normal when I still think it’s creepy.

Although this video is filmed in silent Super 8, it does capture the hard work involved in cutting an actual house in half and then lowering the back half a few inches so that the entire thing opens up.

Another thing that I find interesting about this piece is  the fact that he cut the four corners out of the house before it was finally demolished… The major point of the entire artwork is the fact that it existed outside the museum, but these were the the few things that the museum could keep as souvenirs, or possibly the “scalps” of the house that was to be demolished within weeks of the completion of the work.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Design, Uncategorized

Marcin Jakubowski: Open sourced blueprints for civilization

From TED:

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).

Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing a set of blueprints for 50 farming tools that can be built cheaply from scratch. Call it a “civilization starter kit.”

I don’t know if it’s specifically a product of the recession or if it’s a periodic generational thing, but I find it very encouraging to see more and more young college-educated people going into these very idealistic endeavors such as sustainable farming at exactly a time when small family owned farms are being put out of business left and right by large corporate owned farms.

I contrast this “be the change you want to see” kind of idealism with the cynicism of my own generation and it makes us Gen X’ers seem like a bunch of pessimistic blowhards. While I do think that the spirit of DIY was very much a part of Generation X, that spirit always seemed to be aimed at criticism and destruction rather than optimism and construction. We had the bad luck of being born at the ass end of a previous age of optimism, idealism and great social change, but the party of the 1960’s was over and Gen X was the hangover.

Recently though, it does seem like there has been another sea-change in the general mood of the entire world. People are angry, certainly, and things are bad, yes, but there is also this feeling that the tiny individual can actually change the world for the better. This is the feeling that was almost completely absent during the formative years for many people from my generation X and I am glad to see it here once more. Whether it be the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, or these young college-educated people buying small farms, I am really glad to see a return of the idea that the individual can make a difference.

Leave a comment

Filed under Counterculture, Design, Politics, Science!

Film psychology THE SHINING: spatial awareness and set design. Parts 1 and 2

Spatial awareness is something that has always been completely intuitive for me. I could probably sit down and draw from memory the floor plan of every house or apartment I have ever lived in with a fair degree of accuracy. So I was naturally fascinated by this spatial breakdown of the set design of one of my favorite films.

How Stanley Kubrick used Escher-styled spacial awareness & set design anomolies to disorientate viewers of his horror classic The Shining. This is a must for serious Kubrick fans and psychology students. Written, narrated and edited by Rob Ager

Visit my website for more film and psychology related videos


Filed under Art, Design, Movies

Bowerbird builds a house of illusions to improve his chances of mating

I have been a fan of Mo Costandi’s blog called Neurophilosophy for a while now. His blog has recently been picked up by The Guardian, so congratulations to him.

As a visual artist, I am interested in why people began making art in the first place, so his recent post struck a particular chord with me. Check out the entire post. But here is a bait to attract your attention:

Male bowerbirds use their intelligence to impress the females, constructing elaborate structures called bowers to attract mates. They are not only master builders, but also accomplished artists. Males of some species decorate their bowers lavishly with flower petals and sparkly manmade objects. The Satin bowerbird even paints the walls of his bower with charcoal or chewed up berries.

Male Great bowerbirds are even more remarkable. Their bowers, which are among the most complex of all, are true marvels of avian architecture. But as well as being builders and artists, males of this species are also magicians – the bowers they build are like a house of illusions, with built-in visual tricks that manipulate females’ perceptions and increase their likelihood of choosing the builder as their mate.

Bowerbirds are a family of twenty species that are native to Australia and New Guinea that are renowned for their unusually complex mating behaviour. The Great bowerbird of northern Australia is the largest species in the family. Males sport brownish-grey plumage build bowers, and spend many months building their bowers. The bowers consist of a thatched twig tunnel forming an avenue of approximately half a metre in length, opening out onto a court whose floor is covered with bones, shells and stones. When a potential mate steps into the avenue, the male stands in the court just by the avenue’s exit, displaying to her the colourful objects he has collected, one after the other.

Two years ago, John Endler of Deakin University and his colleagues reported that the males use visual illusions when constructing their bowers. They do so by arranging the objects covering the floor of the court in a particular way, so that they increase in size as the distance from the bower increases. This positive size-distance gradient creates a forced perspective which results in false perceptions of the geometry of the bower, which is visible only to the female when she is standing in the avenue. From her point of view, all of the objects in the court appear to be the same size. Consequently, she may perceive the court as being smaller than it actually is, and the male to be bigger.

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Design, Nature

Creating Desire Through Good Design – 20th Century Classics

I’m every bit as big a sucker for good design as I am good music.  So when the two come packaged together, I’m a very happy consumer.  Why is it then that so few record labels ever managed to weave together a distinctive musical and design style to create a satisfying package, not just for one album, but for an entire catalog of music?  Blue Note and ECM are the classic examples.  Rune Grammofon and Die Schachtel are two contemporary examples.  But I’m struggling to think of any others.

After running a boutique jazz label for a few years, I understand how hard it is to follow through on an ideal of design purity.  I experienced firsthand the conflicts that occur between established artists and an unproven label as artists demanded their persona be presented in a way that didn’t jibe with the label’s aesthetic principles.  The ensuing compromises made for less than compelling design and obliterated any thoughts we entertained of establishing a recognizable, consistent look.

In the early ’90s, as my hunger for new sounds outside of rock and pop music began its manifest destiny campaign, I  became interested in modern composition.  But unlike jazz, where it’s easy to find a musician you like and explore his catalog and be turned on to other musicians, classical music presented a daunting conundrum to a 20-year-old with no  idea where to begin digging.  Thankfully, there was Deutshche  Grammophon’s 20th Century Classics series.

A collection of Deutsche Grammophon "20th Century Classics" series which ran from the late '80s to the early '90s. Quilted in Photoshop by Edward Stafford.

For a few years, I bought every 20th Century Classics release I could find.  I loved the design at the time and really appreciated that how the artwork made the CDs easy to spot while rummaging the classical section.  Without this series, I would likely have never discovered the work of Luigi Nono, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Berio, or Alban Berg.  Or at least I wouldn’t have discovered it when I did or on my own.  The music was great because DG didn’t skimp on the production.  All the recordings featured the top conductors, orchestras and soloists.  And the design of the sleeve art gave the CDs that “have to have it” quality which seems non-existant today, at least outside of the super-specialty niches.

While I can’t rate the design as high as the classic Blue Note stuff or the other labels listed above, there is a simple elegance to the folded paper and creative lighting and subtle use of color which I think still holds up today.  In a world where owning a physical copy of a record is optional, I have to admit to a creeping, covetous nostalgia as I was putting all the covers into Photoshop.  I know there are probably newer and maybe even better versions of all the works on the CDs pictured there, but they definitely wouldn’t look as impressive on the shelf.  Sadly, the series is discontinued.  Impractical as it is, I’d love to see remastered editions of the entire catalog.  I’m sure they’d sell two or three…


Filed under Art, Design, Music