Friday, July 30, 2010

Phantom Presence

In my essay Sculpture, Imaginary Worlds and Home Exercise Equipment I discussed the ideas of contrived human "presence" and "metaphorical worlds" as they relate to figurative sculpture. On a fundamental level the placement of a figurative sculpture within a space is to create the presence of "others".

A series of sculptures currently on display in Manhattan's Madison Square Park got me thinking about these ideas again.

The identical bronze nudes stand upright, arms at sides, looking straight ahead. The uniformity and formal stance remind one of aliens, the "little green men" type you see in old sci-fi movies. The alien-like quality is further reinforced by the placement of the sculptures. In addition to the four that are near entrances to the park, others have been placed on building rooftops in the visible area surrounding the park. The feeling conveyed is "invasion".

It's worth considering the context that these sculptures have been placed in. Madison Square, like many parks, is home to other bronze figurative works, memorials to Admiral Farragut, Secretary of State William H. Seward, Roscoe Conkling, Chester Alan Arthur and Admiral David Farragut. This is another example of figurative sculpture creating "presence". In this case it is about preserving the lives and memory of these historical figures and most importantly, the ideological significance they represent.

Parks are, after all, spaces where people go to congregate, to spend time in the presence of others even though they may not be interacting with one another. Memorial sculptures aren't placed on the sides of highways the way billboards are, so that the maximum number of people might be exposed to them. They are placed in environments where they might be considered, reflected upon and visited with.

You can see the ideological use of figurative sculpture to create a metaphorical world on the Supreme Court Building across from the park. These representatives infiltrate public space in a effort to shape reality in accord with the values they represent. They're like Jehovah Witnesses except they don't go door to door they wait for you in civic and public places.

Using figurative sculpture in this way has fallen out of favor for the most part. I like to think of it as a forgotten or abandoned technology. Emperors understood very well the importance of extending presence to preserve one's place in the world and to this day their images persist.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Colony Experience

The Colony Experience is a recently launched project I worked on at Campfire Media to promote the second season of The Discovery Channel’s show “The Colony”. This augmented reality, online storytelling experience taps into users' Facebook accounts to simulate a world struck by a global pandemic.

I am particularly proud of this project. Most uses of Facebook Connect we've seen over the past year simply access users photos or photo galleries to do clever tricks with images, with The Colony Experience we went way beyond that, using the details of users accounts and details about friends to create a personalized, immersive narrative experience. Additionally, we developed online videos, galleries, news stories and media updates and to bring this innovative project to life.

Enter The Colony Experience on

Season 2 of The Colony premiers on The Discover Channel on Tuesday, July 27th at 10PM.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Visual Literacy Reading List

I am developing a project about visual literacy/interpreting images/universal stories/archetypes and have powered through several books related to the subject over the last month. I thought I'd share that list and a quick take on what I've read.

The Culture Code: An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do
- Clotaire Rapaille
By far the most interesting book on the subject of "culture" I've read in a long time. A very enjoyable read.

Reading Pictures: What We Think About When We Look at Art
- Alberto Manguel
An excellent read for those with a strong interest in art and art history.I recommend his lecture on Picasso (video) before picking up his book.

All Consuming Images
- Stuart Ewen
I've reread this book several times over the years. A must read for any serious student of media and culture.

Subliminal Seduction
-Wilson Bryan Key
A classic. A bit heavy on conspiracy theory but some of the the ad deconstructions are fascinating. You have to give it props, Marshal McLuhan wrote the introduction.

Ways of Seeing
-John Berger

About Looking
-John Berger
A classic on the subject of visual literacy.

The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man
- Marshall McLuhan
One of McLuhan's lesser read books and one of my favorites. The book is primarily a collection of 2 page essays, many deconstructing advertisements or aspects of media.

Decoding Advertisements
-Judith Williamson
A very serious semiotics perspective on advertising. I wish the writing style wasn't so academic but the deconstructions are excellent.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

@ Barney's 7.16.10: Whimsy & Violence

Why are there shoes on the mannequin's heads? This says carefree whimsy. This says let yourself go. It's ok to be frivolous, to be silly. There are no rules, go ahead, put shoes on your head. While you're at it, needlessly spend piles and piles of cash.

In contrast to the whimsy was a theme of violence on the floor.



Chicks with sticks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Disaster Biopics & The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector

Wednesday evening I saw The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector at New York's Film Forum, the latest documentary in the genre I refer to as the "disaster biopic". I would include in this category the 2008 documentary Tyson, the thoroughly postmodern film JVCD (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and the E! True Hollywood series. (I highly recommend both Tyson and JVCD.)

The Agony and Ecstasy is a sloppy piece of documentary filmmaking. Much of it consists of music playing over courtroom video with captions describing the music or it's production. A bit disjointed and hard to form any opinion of the murder based on the film. What is amazing are the one-on-one interviews with Phil Spector himself, a true musical genius who's prolific output in the 60's and 70s is mind blowing. He's also out of his mind. His, sometimes justified, egomaniacal quips, his impression of John Lennon and his gripes with Tony Bennett and Paul McCartney are endlessly amusing.

One of the most interesting and bizarre revelations is that the crazy hairdo Spector sported in court was a tribute to (former Detroit Piston) Ben Wallace.

Related Post: Postmodernity Now

Film Forum website: The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Norman Rockwell (Steven Spielberg and George Lucas)

I've never been a big fan of Norman Rockwell's work. The earnest American ideals and the 40's/50's sentimentality has never held a strong appeal for me. The narrative makes me suspicious as well. Are these reflections and idealizations of existing values or scripts with sociopolitical agendas to live by? On a related noted, I always viewed "Sex in the City" as being a contemporary form of Norman Rockwell. Narratives about characters pursuing idealized lives which, more than reflecting contemporary society, supplied an updated script for people to live by, replete with props (drinks: cosmos, shoes: Manolo Blahniks) settings (Meatpacking District) and vernacular slang.

Despite my personal preferences there is a lot to be said and much to think about when considering Norman Rockwell's work. His paintings are masterpieces of storytelling and art direction. It seems that Rockwell thought of himself as a movie director, painstakingly casting the models he used as reference and selecting the props and clothes himself. He would go so far as to buy clothes from people on the street to get the right piece for a painting. In essence, he meticulously crafted single frame stories.

American directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are avid collectors of Rockwell's work. Their collections are on display at the Smithsonian in an exhibit titled Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The podcast on the Smithsonian site features interview's with both. Their breakdowns of the pieces in the exhibit are great, the kind only a director could give you.

Below left: "Freedom from Fear" by Norman Rockwell. Right: A tribute to Rockwell and still from Spielberg's film "Empire of the Sun".

Below: 3 stills from "Minority Report". Moments of idealistic Americana appear often in Spielberg's films. In this scene a classic family at the dinner table moment is punctured by the action of the film. (Tom Cruise's character Tom Anderton, clinging to a police officer wearing a jet pack, pounds and then bursts through the floor of the dining family's apartment.)

Related Links: Spielberg, Lucas Celebrate Rockwell's Iconic America

Vanity Fair Article: Norman Rockwell's American Dream.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Clotaire Rapaille on Reptilian Marketing and Nike's "Just do it" as American philosophy.

French psychologist and research marketer Clotaire Rapaille on Reptilian Marketing, SUVs and dominance and Nike's "Just do it" as American philosophy.

Clotaire Rapaille doesn't appear until about the mid point of this video but his observations on intellectual alibis and the "reptilian hot button" of dominance with regards to SUVs are quite interesting.

I've been doing a lot of reading on universal stories, archetypes and visual thinking. Clotaire Rapaille's book, The Culture Code (An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do) is up next.

The Poetry of Destruction: Exploding H-Bombs In Outer Space