Author Archives: BB

The Geek Atlas

The Geek Atlas has rounded up 128 great candidates from around the world. The Atlas calls them “places where science and technology come alive.” I think of these destinations as places that make you think. The possibilities run the gamut from birthplaces of famous inventors and scientists (yawn) to really cool tours of working technological systems (a nuclear power plant, a dam turbine, a solar furnace) to a spectrum of interesting but little known museums, to just cool places like the prime meridian. A lot of these destinations are in the US and UK, but a fair number hail elsewhere. In addition to a description of a destination, author Graham-Cumming writes up a page explaining the key concept behind each spot. I’ve visited a dozen of these science hot spots and they are well worth a short detour, or in some cases a trip just for the purpose. You could probably fill another volume of brainy tourist traps missed by this book: I predict a sequel.



La Mano Dell’Architetto / The Hand of the Architect (8.25 x 11.75)

The Hand of the Architect (La Mano Dell’Architetto) is a limited edition Moleskine book filled with drawings from 110 internationally renowned architects. The compilation is a tribute to Piero Portaluppi, who in 1932 designed Villa Necchi Campiglio, located in the heart of Milan. The participating architects donated a total of 378 signed sketches. These were then exhibited in Milan and auctioned to raise funds for the maintenance of Villa Necchi Campiglio, which is now open to the public.

Get a glimpse into the sketchbooks of visionaries like Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid, Piero Lissoni, Kengo Kumo, Mario Botta, Tadao Ando, and many more. From whimsical to philosophical, simple sketches to elaborate renderings, the images in this book are a source of inspiration that will make you think, smile, and create.

Then, capture your own ideas with the companion special edition blank journal – this set includes the hardcover 272 page Moleskine Folio filled with architectural sketches, and an A4 Cahier with 120 blank pages for you to fill up!

Picture 2

An Artist and a Citizen


Theaster Gates is an artist living and working in Chicago. Labeling him an artist certainly does not capture who he is and what he does, though. He is often referred to as an activist, community organizer, and performer, among other things. When asked about his art practice and all the labels attached to him, he responds by saying he is a problem solver. His interests are broad, and his solutions lead him into a variety of genres and material. Lately, he has been giving public lectures and presentations. Many times, his work is presented in exhibitions.

Gates’s work often takes place in the public arena with public gatherings or lectures. When asked what draws him to this method of engagement, Gates’s response is that, “there is a type of power in the public”—either in the ability to voice one’s opinion and know that it is being heard, or through the social aspect. As he explains, “I accept that the byproduct of me getting people together is that people might call it art or call it an activist moment, and that’s just fine. The part I’m trying to concentrate on is this: if I have a set of relationships that are broad and wide, how can I bring those relationships into conversation with each other when necessary or when I’m curious?”

To that end, Gates’s latest project confronts a variety of issues through gathering people around a meal. Gates and I spoke on October 28, 2009 by phone to discuss this developing project. His upcoming projects include Theaster Gates: Resurrecting Dave the Potter at the Milwaukee Art Museum (April 15-August 1, 2010) and an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Kelly Huang: Food has been a reoccurring subject in your work. Back in the spring, we spoke about a soul food project that you will be hosting on the South Side of Chicago in the near future. You describe how food is an important part of every culture—how it shapes people’s memories of place, speaks to history, and has the power to bring people together. Could you tell me more about the project you are working on and how you first conceptualized it?

Theaster Gates: I was approached by Stephanie Smith (Curator of Contemporary Art, Smart Museum), who was thinking about a project called Feast: Radical Hospitality and Contemporary Art. Feast was to be an attempt at surveying the history of food practices in contemporary art. She asked me pretty simply, “What would you want to do?” And I said, I am feeling pretty good about doing things outside of museums and I would like to try and relocate a food space outside of your museum, and concentrate on soul food, because it has such a rich history on the South Side. I decided to acquire a building on my block and over the next one and a half years, slowly build out that space into a sort of soul food temple, where—in the spirit of critical discourse on art practices and social practices—one could eat really good food.

But, it’s not just about food to the extent that food is a signifier of certain cultural behaviors, rituals. Food acts as a material I can play with to tease out certain rituals inherent in black people, Koreans, Chinese, white people, middle Americans. I think that the project has always been my labor and I will benefit from the fact that there are museums and other types of museums that are interested in what you call the “gastro-arts.”


The Berlin wall had to fall, but today’s world is no fairer

Mikhail Gorbachev in the Guardian:

Twenty years have passed since the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the shameful symbols of the cold war and the dangerous division of the world into opposing blocks and spheres of influence. Today we can revisit the events of those times and take stock of them in a less emotional and more rational way.

The first optimistic observation to be made is that the announced “end of history” has not come about, though many claimed it had. But neither has the world that many politicians of my generation trusted and sincerely believed in: one in which, with the end of the cold war, humankind could finally forget the absurdity of the arms race, dangerous regional conflicts, and sterile ideological disputes, and enter a golden century of collective security, the rational use of material resources, the end of poverty and inequality, and restored harmony with nature.

Another important consequence of the end of the cold war is the realisation of one of the central postulates of New Thinking: the interdependence of extremely important elements that go to the very heart of the existence and development of humankind. This involves not only processes and events occurring on different continents but also the organic linkage between changes in the economic, technological, social, demographic and cultural conditions that determine the daily existence of billions of people on our planet. In effect, humankind has started to transform itself into a single civilisation.

At the same time, the disappearance of the iron curtain and barriers and borders, unexpected by many, made possible connections between countries that until recently had different political systems, as well as different civilisations, cultures and traditions.

Naturally, we politicians from the last century can be proud of the fact that we avoided the danger of a thermonuclear war. However, for many millions of people around the globe, the world has not become a safer place. Quite to the contrary, innumerable local conflicts and ethnic and religious wars have appeared like a curse on the new map of world politics, creating large numbers of victims.


Zak Smith in Conversation With Alexandros Vasmoulakis

90% of my street work has been made in Athens/Greece. The political and social situation there is pretty loose and that gives room for anomie of all sorts. It is not necessary to get a permission to paint in the public domain.

Zak Smith: First–for the people who don’t know–who are you, where are you from?

Alexandros Vasmoulakis: My name is Alexandros Vasmoulakis, I was born in Athens, Greece in 1980 and studied painting at the university. Currently I live in Berlin.

Smith: Like a lot of early 20th century artists like Balthus or Modigliani, your work almost always features these people who have a certain kind of face.  This sort of dark, kind of deep-eyed faces–like Kafka’s family or something.  Where do these faces come from?  Are they Greek faces?

Vasmoulakis: The process starts first of all by ripping pages from magazines, collecting fragments of other faces, mostly from glamorous ads.

The next step is the selection of the proper elements (mouths, eyes, noses) and the mix of them with my own drawing.

Actually it is a collage but it is not that obvious in the final project because it is all made just with ink and acrylic. The very first idea is to create something through the destruction of something else.

Smith: You use a lot of techniques associated with commercial art and illustration, but you pervert them away from their original purpose and message.  A lot of artists do that, but then they usually pervert it towards some other message.  It almost seems like, instead of trying to show the audience a simple, understandable, message–like advertisements and most fine art–you’re trying to destroy the idea of a simple message and just leave people with a picture.  Is that right?


Gaza thirsts as sewage crisis mounts


Gaza’s aquifer and only natural freshwater source is “in danger of collapse,” the UN is warning.

Engineers have long been battling to keep the densely populated strip’s water and sewage system limping along.

But in September the UN Environment Programme warned that damage to the underground aquifer – due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, conflict, and years of overuse and underinvestment – could take centuries to reverse if it is not halted now. Monther Shoblak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipality Water Utility, sniffs the air at the Beit Lahia water treatment plant and smiles.

“I’m happy when I smell sewage,” he jokes, “it means the turbines are working.”

Propellers are agitating the frothy sludge in one of the lagoons, aerating it to help bacteria digest it.

He says the machinery sometimes falls silent during the power cuts that plague most of Gaza.

But the mirror-smooth pond next to it is a perpetual concern.

The plant is handling twice its capacity and is only able to partially treat the sewage.

Lagoons designed to allow treated clean water to infiltrate through Gaza’s sandy soil back down into the aquifer are instead funnelling sewage straight back into the groundwater

In addition, with several years of drought and the digging of hundreds of illegal, unregulated wells, the UN Environmental Programme says at least three times more water is extracted than is replenished each year.


L’Europe, une passion turque

L’écrivain turc publie «D’autres couleurs», un recueil d’essais, et parle des rapports intenses et conflictuels entre son pays et l’Europe par Orhan Pamuk prix Nobel de littérature 2006

Le Nouvel Observateur.Vous avez grandi à Istanbul, dans une famille bourgeoise occidentalisée. Pour vous, c’est l’Occident qui a inventé le roman, l’art selon vous le mieux apte à dire le monde. Comment avez-vous concilié votre passion pour le roman occidental et votre héritage turc ?
Orhan Pamuk. – Maintenant que les années ont passé, le moment est venu de revenir sur ma jeunesse, lorsque je formulais des théories sur ma double identité turque et européenne et sur l’enrichissement mutuel qu’étaient censés représenter, aux yeux de nombreux intellectuels turcs, les échanges entre ces deux traditions. Mon enthousiasme d’antan a malheureusement décliné : non seulement mon enthousiasme politique, mais aussi culturel pour cette affirmation spectaculaire d’une double identité. Pourquoi ? Parce que, lorsque j’ai développé ces idées, vers l’âge de 25 ans, avant de les exprimer plus tard dans mes livres, la Turquie était à l’époque un pays très introverti, tout comme moi ! J’ai visité la Suisse quand j’avais 7 ans, mais je ne suis ressorti de Turquie qu’à l’âge de 33 ans. En ce sens, j’étais un Turc typique : provincial, vivant en autarcie et satisfait de mon sort. Mais c’est justement ce provincialisme qui me faisait rêver de l’Europe, comme mon père avant moi, comme Dostoïevski, Tanizaki et tant d’autres dans leur jeunesse. Une Europe imaginaire, idéalisée, que j’essayais de rendre palpable par mes livres et mes réflexions, et qui a nourri après une lente maturation «le Livre noir», «le Château blanc» et par-dessus tout «Mon nom est Rouge». Je réfléchissais sans cesse à ces rapports entre Turquie et Europe, toujours ? en dramatisant leurs différences, ce qui m’a aussi permis de mieux saisir mon identité turque. Mais si j’y rendais hommage à notre tradition culturelle, je célébrais aussi le caractère inévitable de l’occidentalisation. Aujourd’hui, je vois les choses différemment. Tout d’abord, la Turquie n’est plus aussi provinciale : elle est sortie de son placard, elle a fait son coming-out, si j’ose dire. Et elle est sur toutes les lèvres, car elle représente un défi pour l’Europe en l’obligeant à définir sa propre identité, qu’elle finisse ou non par entrer dans l’Union européenne. La Turquie est devenue plus visible, exhibant ses beautés comme ses zones d’ombre, qu’il s’agisse des violations des droits de l’homme, du traitement infligé aux Kurdes (malgré des progrès notables) ou du rapport problématique à son histoire passée. Ce pays naguère fermé connaît une évolution lente mais tangible. Les jeunes générations sont plus perméables à l’Europe, voyagent beaucoup plus à l’étranger. Je n’ai donc plus autant besoin de promouvoir l’Europe comme construction ou réalité culturelle, car elle est bien présente, même si tous les Turcs n’y voient pas un idéal.

N. O.– Dans «D’autres couleurs», vous dites que la schizophrénie culturelle rend intelligent...
O. Pamuk. – J’ai été nourri de Borges, de Calvino, de Kundera, de Naipaul, plus tard de Paul Auster… Mais je lisais aussi les mystiques musulmans du XIIe siècle, «les Mille et Une Nuits», la poésie ottomane… Et dans mon oeuvre j’ai mélangé tout cela de façon éhontée ! Du coup, mes ennemis en Turquie m’ont traité de postmoderne, ce qui pour eux était une insulte. On m’accusait de manquer de respect envers notre tradition. Or ce sont justement mes antinomies qui ont fait mes livres. La créativité, dans l’art et la culture, consiste à associer deux choses différentes et jusque-là séparées, ce qui représente un défi lancé à la tradition, aux pères, à toute autorité, qu’elle soit esthétique, intellectuelle et universitaire, politique ou religieuse. Ce geste dégage toute l’énergie et la tension d’une décharge électrique, et c’est ce que j’ai tenté de faire dans «le Livre noir» ou «Mon nom est Rouge». Cela m’a enrichi, mais m’a aussi donné l’assise nécessaire pour me réapproprier la tradition culturelle islamique, dans une démarche laïque et littéraire, en éludant sa dimension strictement religieuse, donc sans la mettre sur un piédestal comme le font les fondamentalistes. Et cela m’a permis de toucher le lectorat turc, qui tend à négliger cet héritage culturel. Ma démarche a donc des implications politiques. Mais toutes les cultures font de même : il faut sans cesse réinventer la tradition à la lumière de la modernité pour ne pas l’oublier. ()