It’s Nice That

Eduardo Paolozzi: On a Singular Teacher and His Devil-May-Care Philosophy

“It’s the one with the red motorcycle outside” said David Queensberry as he gave directions to his west London home. The former head of ceramics at the Royal College of Art, and trustee of The Paolozzi Foundation had agreed to meet to reminisce on Paolozzi’s time as a tutor at the RCA…

Eduardo Paolozzi maquettes, photographed by Jamie Stoker
“It’s the one with the red motorcycle outside” said David Queensberry as he gave directions to his west London home. The former head of ceramics at the Royal College of Art, and Trustee of The Paolozzi Foundation had agreed to meet to reminisce on Paolozzi’s time as a tutor at the RCA, after we were introduced by Neil Parkinson, the college’s archivist.


His house is dotted with masterworks, from archive Paolozzi sculptures, to maquettes, ceramics and prints that adorn the walls of almost every room; as well as his own ceramics, and a vast collection of antique and contemporary pieces. When we returned to photograph his collection of Paolozzi’s work, there were recently returned pieces from the Whitechapel show, leant against sofa cushions, beside fruit bowls on the dining table and stacked behind a dolls house and pile of books.


As Aristotle the cat splayed himself prominently across an Eames footstool, we sat with cups of tea in Paolozzi mugs, and Queensberry started at the beginning. “It just so happened that Eduardo, who was a rather famous artist by then, was also one of my best friends. So I said to him, ‘What do you think about working for a bit at the college? It’s a nice environment, and you can do your own thing there’. He said yes, so he shipped up and started coming in. He had a glorious presence, some people found him rather difficult, other people, quite magical.”


In 1959, when David Queensberry was appointed head of ceramics at the RCA, the college had been through an overhaul of approach. “Since 1948, when Robert Darwin took over as rector, there was a drive to go back to its roots and be primarily concerned with design,” Queensberry explains. With his appointment came the decision that “this ought to change, the college’s approach to ceramics should be on a wider spectrum. From pre-Ice Age figurative sculpture, to mugs and high technology ceramics; as well as works that didn’t have any umbilical connection with a pot—objects, or artworks.” The design part Queensberry could handle. “I had great experience in the industry, but we were taking on these students who needed something else.” That’s where, and when, Eduardo Paolozzi came in.

“Eduardo wouldn’t give traditional advice. He wouldn’t say ‘Why does the handle on that cup have such a pedestrian angle?’ Instead he’d ask ‘Why do you need a handle on a cup at all? The Japanese don’t.’ He’d bring in portfolios full of the collage material he’d been working with, and hand it out to people. He could be very, very good for certain students, he was like a conjurer, he could pull a rabbit out of a hat.”


Paolozzi would invite students for dinner at the Meridiana, a now long gone Italian restaurant in South Kensington, where “he had given the guy all these sculptures for their terrace, in exchange for unlimited credit at the restaurant. We’d have a huge table, the students would be wined and dined, and sometimes things would go a bit wrong – he had quite a short attention span, and if he got bored with things, he’d leave abruptly.”


A regular guest at the Meridiana, was product designer Robin Levien, a former student and assistant of Paolozzi’s. Levien recalls: “He was one of my tutors, but tutor in an unconventional sense. We didn’t have formal meetings or tutorials, it was more that he was around. There was one occasion where Paolozzi told a student, ‘Come and see me at my studio at Dove House Street tomorrow’, she said ‘Fine, what time should I come?’ And he told her to arrive at 8am, probably quite provocatively to suggest she ought to be up early if she wants to be a serious artist. So she arrives at 8am, presses the buzzer and just as the door opens, three dwarves came out. When she arrived upstairs, nothing was said.”

“I always thought of Eduardo of a bit of an enigma, he’d be giving things away all the time, but it was surprisingly difficult to give him anything,” Levien continues. “It was a way of keeping everybody at a distance—it adds a performative quality to relationships—and it kept him in control” says Levien. “I got to know him reasonably well, because he was interested in my work. He offered to buy some a few weeks before my degree show, and I said: ‘Eduardo, OK, but I’d rather see how things go at the show before saying yes’. And unlike my BA show, I didn’t sell anything—it was all a bit academic, a bit cerebral—so afterwards I asked if he’d still be interested in buying my work, and Eduardo said: ‘No, too late.’ It was a great lesson about not looking a gift-horse in the mouth…”.


After graduating, Levien returned to the RCA to assist David Queensberry, who ran his ceramics business from the college. “I was still around a bit, and so was Eduardo, and on one day I came back from a job interview with Terrence Conran, which David had recommended me for, and was telling Eduardo about it. All he said was: ‘Another one of my failures’, which was really his sense of humour. Eduardo had taught Terrence at the Central, I suppose it was because he had gone into design and not art.”

“Eduardo would be in the interviews, as would some of the students. There was one occasion where, after the interviewee had left, he just remarked: ‘Evening class, not collected.’ It doesn’t get worse than that, does it? He was very sharp, very succinct”, recalls Levien. “He had a wicked streak too. There was one occasion when he bet a girl in my year £100 to streak around the Albert Hall, and that was a lot of money in the 70s. So half the ceramics department went down to the lobby, she took off her coat and ran, and when she came back to the double doors, he wouldn’t open them! He did give her the £100, though.”


That wicked streak ran through to his dealings with the art world, “When he had the Tate exhibition in 1971, which had probably been his biggest show to date, he suddenly became popular on another level”, says Levien. “The story goes that a couple of rich American women came to his studio—and a lot of the things he was doing at the time were tables with objects on top. He would make the works in wax and if someone wanted to buy one, it would be cast in bronze—and these women were gushing about how fabulous everything was, ‘We love it, it looks so great’ [said in a fittingly exaggeratedly gushy American accent], and then they got around to the price. I don’t remember the exact figures, it might have been something like, ‘it’s £10K’, at which point they said: ‘Oh dear, Eduardo, that’s a little more than we’d really want to spend’. So he took a couple of steps back, went at it, and kicked a lump of wax off the top of the work. ‘OK, that’ll be £8K’, he said. He might as well have just kicked them right up the backside.”

“He never really had a good relationship with an art dealer”, remarks Queensberry, “he was suspicious of them. Of course, it didn’t help him. He was prolific, and varied, there’s no obvious theme, and in a lot of ways, Eduardo’s work is difficult. He stood for something different. His work is alarming, the opposite to decorative”, he says. “A lot of work was left unsigned, and he was always giving it away – no good keeping it in the drawer forever.”


One such instance led to a strange incident involving the exhibition of a series of erotic collages, supposedly attributed to Paolozzi. “Francis Morland, who was a sort-of wannabe artist in the 50s, had latched on to Eduardo”, remembers Queensberry. “He was quite rich—his family ran a business that made sheepskin coats in the West Country—and he built a primitive foundry, in which he made primitive castings. He then went on to get heavily involved with drugs, spending eight years in prison in America when he was apprehended with a massive haul while sailing his yacht.”

“Then about two years ago, a London gallery held an exhibition of Paolozzi’s erotic art. And I, not only I, but a lot of us were pretty bloody sure that he didn’t do it. Not with a view to protecting him, but just on an analytical basis of what we knew he had done. I was Popzi’s best friend, somebody would’ve seen it, something, ‘Just a joke David’, anything. But there was nothing”, remarks Queensberry.

“We then started to analyse the work and were convinced that Francis Morland had done them. We knew that Eduardo had given him a lot of collage material he had used, so Morland would have had a lot of stuff. But the big issue was the signature, Eduardo would often leave his work unsigned. But we got them in the end, the auction houses wouldn’t take them and the gallery had to refund their sales, so we did succeed there.”


Paolozzi had a knack for attracting eclectic groups of people. “He had a way – he was not a social climber at all, people found him rather interesting. He seemed from another world, and he was hugely likeable”, remembers Queensberry. “He was curiously childlike, in a way” says Levien. “Life was entertaining and amusing with Eduardo, he had a fantastic group of people around him, and he’d invite you along to parties. He’d take the role of entertainer, and whether it was all totally genuine or there was an element of bullshit there I don’t know. But I’d forgive him that. You make allowances – never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”


Nicole Fahri met Paolozzi when she was casting her first sculpture work at the RCA’s foundry. “He came around next to me and we started chatting. He invited me to his studio, then he came to see me at home, and little by little, we became very close friends”, she recalls, as we settled down to talk in her studio, which is sheltered among the trees at the far end of her garden.


Fahri had been taking classes with the sculptor Jean Gibson, who taught her how to cast: “She was very much about theory, and when she didn’t like something, if I thought it was not bad, I would bring it home to show Eduardo. By then he was coming for lunch or dinner, and he was very encouraging. Eduardo would teach you to decide for yourself whether your work is good or not. He would say that you are the better judge, and no one could tell you that what you are doing is crap”, she says. “Eduardo taught me how to see, how to concentrate and discover things.”


When Fahri met her husband, the playwright David Hare, she stopped making work for a year: “Eduardo kept saying, ‘Love doesn’t suit your art’, and he decided to come once a week to my studio. He suggested I stop working in clay to get ‘a new buzz’, and I will never forget the day he taught me how to sculpt with wax. He would sit at one end of the table, and I at the other, and for six months we would work. At the end, I went back to clay, which was what he wanted, for me to go back to working.”


It was difficult for Paolozzi to be around people who weren’t excited by life, “Many times, when after dinner had ended he was not enjoying the conversation, he would stand up and say, ‘Who is taking me home?’ He would break the party, that was it. But that was Eduardo, he could be the way he wanted to be, I didn’t care,” Fahri smiles.

“If he really liked you he wouldn’t let you go, but a lot of people who he met throughout his life did not stand the test of time. He would fall in love quickly, and then you had to keep him interested—in what you were doing, or what you were saying—otherwise he would get bored. He couldn’t stand small talk.”

“With me, there were no problems. He’d sit at the end of the table, taking the whole side, so jolly and happy”, Fahri recalls. “When David and I got married, he was my witness. My father had died and he said, ‘I will be your Dad’. He really was like a father, he’d come to my house with his friends and I would cook for him, my home was open to him. We became a big family, because Eduardo was gregarious. He liked people to meet, he always enjoyed big parties and his friends becoming friends.”


Fahri’s home is testament to that, with Paolozzi’s presence felt around every corner. From works lining the walls, to small casts of animals from Noah’s Ark as bookends, and giant feet as doorstops; massive pink ceramic hats sit under side-boards, notes and photographs are slotted into frames and prints are racked up in the downstairs loo and run along the staircase.

“We would celebrate his birthday in our garden. I’d take out all the plaster works that he’d given me, put them out in the garden and we would have a party” says Fahri. “And he was interested in everything, theatre, design, music. The house became like a salon, it was so joyful, a beautiful life. I have a friend who is a flutist, they would play music, and Eduardo would be sat at the end of the table. The king of the party.”


Everything about Paolozzi was larger than life, “He had a big voice and big hands, he’d embrace you and kiss you on the mouth,” Fahri remembers. “Everything about him, his appetite, everything, was charismatic. People who are so open to the world, so giving, of course you are drawn to them. You go towards them, because they open your life, they open your world. It’s a great gift that he had, to be giving all the time. The whole of himself, his knowledge.”

July, 2017

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

AnOthermag

Five Talking Points from Milan’s Annual Furniture Fair

Wisteria climbs and collapses over Milan’s streets in spring, and with the bustle of Salone del Mobile, its terrazzo floors and imposing concrete arches are set aflutter with throngs of design devotees and cherry-red Campari…

Salone, by Mary Gaudin
Wisteria climbs and collapses over Milan’s streets in spring, and with the bustle of Salone del Mobile, its terrazzo floors and imposing concrete arches are set aflutter with throngs of design devotees and cherry-red Campari. Built up around land which had largely been occupied by private gardens and allotments, the city’s palazzos can be quite unassuming from the street – at least in comparison to their opulent interiors and lush gardens which, during Salone, are opened up for exhibition.


Their architecture falls between, and often combines, the styles and practices of the 15th and 20th centuries, due to both the need for restoration and aesthetic whim. One architect who fell on both sides of the restoration process was Piero Portaluppi, who had been particularly popular with the 20th century Milanese bourgeoisie, renovating Casa degli Atellani, Palazzo and Villa Crespi, among others. His most famous work, thanks in part to Luca Guadagnino’s 2009 film I Am Love, is the Villa Necchi Campiglio, which would later be renovated by Tomaso Buzzi, combining Portaluppi’s Rationalism with 18th-century Rococo.


This approach, with its fluctuations and shifts of style and purpose, can be felt across the Salone, where ornament and utility sit both alongside and atop one another, and humour and earnestness in an enthralling to and fro. 


New Ornament


Such contrasting styles can also be seen at the Casa degli Atellani, which played host to Passegginata, an exhibition curated by magazine editor Martina Mondadori Sartogo and hosted by Airbnb. It featured a variety of personal collections from Faye Toogood, Forma Fantasma and Ashley Hicks; of rocks, clay forms and textiles, as well as abstract totems, curiosities and utensils.


Set against the frescoes and grand architecture of Atellani – which once played host to Leonardo da Vinci while he painted The Last Supper at the Santa Maria delle Grazie across the street – these cabinets of curiosity read as both expressions of process and abstract ornament.


Meanwhile, Nobody & Co’s Bibliochaise, exhibited down a garden trail with structures decorated by Toogood, is a chair-cum-library – and in the case of the special edition held at the garden – decorated in gold leaf.


Remake/Remodel


Sustainability and social consciousness as principles and behaviours are difficult to communicate successfully through furniture or product design. At this year’s Salone, there were a number of projects which engaged with those media as a form of resistance, or productive output, as well as advanced applications of re- or up-cycled materials.
In the lower floors of the Fondazione Luigi Rovati, Paul Cocksedge exhibited a series of tables, shelving units and sculptures made, predominantly, from his London studio floor. On being handed an eviction notice, he excavated the site, creating concrete rounds and obelisks which contribute to a comment on the uncertainty and displacement inherent to London’s property market. 


For Danish textile company Kvadrat’s new project, Really, whose aim is to up-cycle end-of-life textiles into solid textile boards, Max Lamb designed a series of benches using waste cotton and wool. Lamb’s benches employed curved edges, wavy patterns, geometric stacks and hover-effect structures in an experimental approach to an everyday material and form.


Play


Equally integral to the fair was a focus on entertainment and design as a playful distraction. At the Palazzo Serbelloni, quartz manufacturers Caesarstone collaborated with artist Jaime Hayon on Stone Age Folk, an exhibition of fantastical furniture including a mask as cupboard, clown faces and carousels.


Another exhibition which exemplified the theme was Marni’s Playground, made up of various shades of sand, rocking chairs, out-of-proportion games and picnic blankets, all in a concrete warehouse; while for Atelier Swarovski Home, Barbara Barry designed a series of multifunctional candle holders and vases in mellow, 70s hues which could be stacked, turned and repurposed.


Layers


Layers of material, layered perspectives, stacks and tiers appeared here as both practical solutions and decorative details. At Matter-Made, there was a variety of flat-colour pastel furniture, which could be stacked, slotted or reformed, doubling up materials and cascades of light. At Calico’s Imagined Landscape exhibition, Ana Kraš designed a wallpaper with a linear pattern which created the illusion of slotting papers, while Faye Toogood combined three paintings – of moors, woodlands and fields – into a single landscape.


At Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades, pieces were woven, spliced and formed into organic rounds and repeat patterns akin to honeycomb. Design duo Fernando & Humberto’s sculptural Cocoon chairs were suspended over the Palazzo Bocconi’s grand staircase, while cheese plants and palms filled each room, collapsing over a variety of chairs and daybeds which were made for lounging, including Patricia Urquiola’s Palaver Chair and Atelier Oï’s Swing Boat.


Narrative


Design and theatre coalesced at a number of exhibitions as immersive multi-sensory experiences, maximalist installations and temporary TV channels. In a fine example of the latter, students and alumni from Design Academy Eindhoven presented a “mashed-up media and design studio” at the Atelier Clerici, which analysed the relationship between design and contemporary media in both high and low culture. 


Another design school working with an immersive approach was ÉCAL, who presented More Rules for Modern Life, an exhibition by the Fine Art and Product Design students that considered the grey zones between the two practices via crispy golden walls, exaggerated forms and elaborate patterns. Milan-based Dimore Studio presented two exhibitions, one of an Art Deco-inspired geometric interior, the other of a plush, surreal veranda, with palms and pastel pink balloons growing out of tiled beds. Like much of this year’s Salone, the Dimore presentation imparted a sense of having stumbled upon a private oasis, works and spaces that held a wealth of elaborate tales.

April, 2017

All text originally published by AnOthermag.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

An Exercise in Style: Interviewing John Morgan

As we ascend the stairs from his subterranean studio, our conversation turns to the subject of design writers. “Are there any? And if there are, why?” A point of contention is, if they do exist, “can [they] write about a subject other than design in an interesting way…

By Jack Davison
As we ascend the stairs from his subterranean studio, our conversation turns to the subject of design writers. “Are there any? And if there are, why?” A point of contention is, if they do exist, “can [they] write about a subject other than design in an interesting way, and is there not someone else who could do it better?” This emphasis on quality is an important one, and something that defines the often indefinable work of John Morgan Studio.


Founded in 2000, the studio has and continues to work with renowned artists, architects and cultural institutions including Four Corners Books, David Chipperfield Architects, Art Review and Tate Britain. A recent project is Pierre’s, the inaugural issue of New York’s The Artist’s Institute magazine. The principle of The Magazine is to take each season at the institute as a point of departure for journalism, fiction, interviews and visual projects to be developed around the work of the exhibiting artist. This season it’s Pierre Huyghe and the issue features topics including science fiction and philosophy, alongside fake adverts designed by John’s newly formed and slightly fictitious London/New York agency Vault Six. Another recent project was their review of the signage and way-finding at Tate Britain. The studio designed a new display typeface; a scheme for the templates of maps, menus, banners and posters; captions, maps and threshold dates cast in metal and sign-painted onto the walls and floor. In the synopsis of the project the process was described as “reducing the presence of signs and promotional material to an ‘essential only’ state… the requirements for a gallery like this [mean] the signage could be less present and more dignified”.


As well as his design practice, John has run projects at a number of design schools over the last 15 years, and the recent history of art education is something of a concern. “It shouldn’t be a transactional relationship” he says, “it’s an issue for tutors and students, and the worst educational model. Survival of the fittest is fine, but not in an education environment. Those who will do well, the people who have the confidence to reach out, will thrive, but they always will. It’s people who come to London, go into college once a week and then back off to bedsit land god knows where, what’s their experience?”


We’ve crossed the street from the studio and sat for lunch at a brasserie close-by. “It’s a nice way to eat, although it’s a faux interior, the element of nostalgia tricks you” John says. “They did certain things very well at the turn of the century – the theatre of it all, the settings and the tablecloths.” In a way, such details are a visualisation of the references and intentions of the people who run the brasserie, and how they want to communicate with their audience. On that subject John says “My real audience is the author or artist I’m working with, and myself. To try to second guess anything else often ends in tears. Like the focus group for a film, a real auteur wouldn’t care and has a focus group ever improved a film? Unlikely.”

“Anyway, books aren’t products, it’s a different territory.” Describing his work with Four Corners Books he says: “sometimes you’re a cinematographer, sometimes a director and then all that falls in between. For most of the Familiars series the artist has chosen the book, so it means something to them and that can be conveyed very subtly or in a more overt way. Sometimes we make a fully integrated object and in other instances the artist will produce photographic or illustrative plates.” Although they don’t often commission illustration, “I think I have a phobia of it because there is such a specific voice”, John says. “When you get something back you have to work with that and it can be far from what you had in mind. I love the illustrations in The New Yorker, there they work perfectly well. With photography you can direct a lot more, and the evidence of the hand is a little less present.”


The question of style is an important one, and in his work John aims more for a sense of atmosphere, for want of a better word. In a conversation with eye magazine’s editor John Walters he described it as “a problematic and woolly word, but it’s the best description of what I aim for in my work. It’s the sensation you find when you walk into a building or space and it changes the way you feel… It’s hard to define what gives a book atmosphere, because it can be found in unexpected places, and many books by attentive designers lack it, but you know it when you see it or feel it.”


At this point our conversation shifts, “without being too self-reflective” John says, “I like the idea of you writing this under the construct of this situation, it’s more fun. Ideally just do the whole thing without even mentioning graphic design directly. Do the whole thing about food – who wants to read about graphic design anyway? I’d rather be reading a novel or something, the more literary this can be the better.” So I ask him what he is reading, “Michel Houellebecq, everything by him. People say he’s a misogynist but I don’t see it that way, a misanthrope maybe – but not that either. In Submission the character is an academic who takes on religion as more of a lifestyle choice than one of faith, like people who send their kids to a Church of England school because it’s the better option, this professor works in a Muslim school because the pay and lifestyle is better for him. Houellebecq is so brutally honest, it’s horrific. I’m also reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, best described as a love story. The author records her life, falling for a transgender artist, her pregnancy and the shifts in their own bodies as well as the relationship itself. Both Nelson and Houellebecq are equally uncompromising in their own way.”


Maggie Nelson also wrote the text for Carolee’s, the forthcoming issue of the magazine of The Artist’s Institute (with Carolee Schneemann and published later this year), designed by John Morgan studio. I ask him whether he sees himself continuing to focus on publishing, or to look more to expanding on projects such as the branding of the city of Llubijana: “working with architects, they have a much greater control of space and influence than we do, but still not the impact you’d imagine, for that you probably need to get into politics or government. And as a designer you can only make a very slight imprint, I think I will continue to work with small gestures” Although, whether he’ll stick to that is another matter: “I have this relationship with fashion where sometimes I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world and sometimes I think it’s ridiculous. And it’s totally okay to think the opposite one day to the next, we are made up of compound sensibilities.”

July, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

Somesuch Stories

The Garden of Celestial Delights

The Galactic Expressway Resort had been in development for just short of a decade when they celebrated their soft launch ‘Leave to Remain’ on that fateful Friday of June 24th, 2016…

by Stéphane Guisard, for the European Southern Observatory
No matter humanity’s advancements, an intergalactic excursion never fails to thrill. A sojourn to the stars. A promenade among the planets. The pace of life measured in light years, makes one feel light as a feather, instantly. Indeed, whatever earthbound scales might read prior to departure, soon you really will be, effortlessly, as there’s no need for spin class when zero gravity does the legwork for you – leaving you free to feast on the finest freeze-dried fare without counting a single calorie.


The Galactic Expressway Resort had been in development for just short of a decade when they celebrated their soft launch ‘Leave to Remain’ on that fateful Friday of June 24th, 2016. The intention had been to establish a viable competitor for Dick Pickle’s Coitus Galactic, a flight service offering unencumbered views of our Earth to its ordinary citizens. But the commendable group behind the Galactic Expressway Resort weren’t satisfied with offering mere moments of weightlessness, and a quick selfie before plummeting friends and fuck-buddies back to reality. They facilitated, instead, a home-from-home, a glorious escape from this torrid planet for anything from a long weekend to a lifetime stay.


The resort, built in the Future-Elizabethan style, currently offers accommodation for 255,700 people, the population of Milton Keynes. And in a shrewd move from their PR representation, the purveyors of the resort have announced that they intend to expand their portion of outer space to offer rooms to all who voted to remain in the European Union – aiming to open at full capacity in time for the triggering of Article 50.


In its current form, the Galactic Expressway Resort’s rooms circle a central island that holds covered parklands, entertainment hubs, wellness facilities, learning lounges and a food village. On entry, opulent, threaded ropes lead guests through a bustling conservatory, planted with genetically modified trees designed to thrive in these bizarre circumstances, and past a grand exhibition of portraits representing stars of the Remain campaign including David Beckham, June Sarpong and Brian Blessed. Due to the lack of gravitational pull, to access your room friends have to glide up the conservatory ropes and along through the complex of residences; each decorated in tasteful, muted tones with contemporary European furnishings complete with tie-down detailing.


The food village recalls peak-Las Vegan simulation, and on the same vast scale, with each Rue, Strasse, calle and ulica offering up a glut of continental culinary highlights so guests can devour everything from l’escargot to Sachertorte; goulash to Pastéis de Nata in enviably authentic settings. And of course, there is also much scope for creative self-catering, popular with committed residents who can purchase nutritionally beneficial and psychologically satisfying Fresch© fruits and vegetables, as well as sterilized beef steak, or perhaps scones, from the spacious hypermarkets which boast designated aisles for items from each member state.


The entertainment hubs comprise shopping centres to entice all guests whether budgets accommodate Acne or Chanel, Balenciaga or Zara, whilst regular resupply missions mean your style stays light years ahead, whatever the season down below. Naturally, there are also multiple cinemas, galleries, museums and theatres with programming at each institution bespoke to the resort, and carefully edited to remain on-message. By curating entertainment in this way, friends stay unencumbered by the stresses of divergent opinions, triggering imagery of post-Brexit Britain and those who propagated the unfortunate result. The Galactic Expressway Resort really does seem to be heaven off Earth for Remainers, or rather those who would have remained, had Britain!


Fittingly, the on-board currency is the Euro (<3), which when you’ve grown sick of retail therapy and gloriously high culture, can be utilised at the wellness facilities. There are spas, saunas, gyms, yoga and meditation studios as well as complimentary counsellors, and educational playgrounds for the little ones. The learning lounges, which host classes as well as housing a huge array of books, films and periodicals, are elegantly arranged with contents floating rhythmically behind glass shutters.

Life on the Galactic Expressway Resort can be likened to a spell on one of Earth’s most luxurious cruises, one similarity being that due to the intricacies of the Outer Space Treaty, the shuttle cannot moor for longer than 14 sidereal days in any spot, so one’s view is ever-changing. A curious outcome being the ‘Overview Effect’, something often experienced by astronauts from a time prior to commercial flights, where the view of Earth from space would transform their perspective on the planet and mankind’s place upon it. On returning to earth, they would often describe a new-found appreciation for the interconnectedness of life, the lack of real boundaries between nations and the importance of caring for our environment.


Joyfully, the whole place is climate controlled to a moderate 23C. Our proximity to the sun makes every day seem like a Finnish summer, 20 hours of sunlight at just the right temperature to play swingball without breaking a sweat. The swimming pool is the only location with its own gravity supply, allowing friends to hone their butterfly or just bob about during a morning chat. For moments when the blackness of space gets a bit too much, guests can also project familiar landscapes from Earth across their windows. There’s everything from the Seven Wonders, through to noisy streets, beach scenes and brick walls; as well as the option to upload your own views from home. This seems to be one of few features that entertains nostalgia, the general consensus being that it is best to leave the specifics of one’s recent past on terra firma. Immersion, and all that.


The pervasive air of superiority on the Galactic Expressway Resort is also appealing. Founded in shared opinions and values it appears there is little to dispute except whose turn it is purchase the next bottle of fair trade Bordeaux! However, one issue that seems to arise, quite literally, is that the lack of gravity causes pages from, or entire books to disappear. This also occurs with film reels, and even paintings. According to Alex – who founded the resort but prefers to not invoke traditional hierarchies of profession or gender, so is simply known by their first name – items are occasionally discovered floating through space, having disappeared through a gap in the system. (And in my experience these gaps may well be floating into peoples memories too – there have been multiple occasions during my stay where the mention of the Tory leadership battle, Stranger Things and even Bake Off has been met with bemusement. It’s as if the population has been brainwashed! In fact, on one evening, a long term resident of a certain age grew positively upset by my conversation, and thus I was informed that I must briskly return up the rope to my suite.)


Addendum


I was unable to complete my stay, or my review, as the next day while floating the aisles of the library I was informed that “Due to unforeseen circumstances, [they] were terribly sorry, but the resort would no longer be able to host me.” I was dispatched home via the return leg of a fruit and vegetable resupply mission, an associate having done my packing, and the whole event was treated with a strange and uncomfortable urgency.


On reflection, it seems that I may have hit a nerve, repeatedly. For the last few months life had been ticking along nicely on the Galactic Expressway Resort, their soft launch had been a roaring success, and in the way that returning to everyday life can cause you to entirely forget a holiday, the friends of the resort seemed to be entirely forgetting their earthly lives.


I was soon contacted by a woman that I had met at one of the evening salons – which had bizarrely been held via a chat service, with each of us sat alone in our rooms while we discussed current affairs – and she informed me she had also been escorted from the resort. It turns out my presence had prompted a shift in the consciousness of the resort, until then they had rather successfully immersed the friends in the culture of life on board, but I had brought along a few too many reminders of life on Earth. A group of dissidents had emerged, challenging Alex and the fellow good friends of the Galactic Expressway Resort on the location of the missing literature, asking probing questions about the development of expansive residences for Alex’s best friends and challenging the long-term safety of the resort’s safe spaces.


It would seem that in all their efforts to create a home-from-home in the heavens for all of us who longed for anything but upheaval, the friends behind the Galactic Expressway Resort had gone and dashed our hopes for moral superiority. What had sounded like absolute heaven turned out to be a rather questionable purgatory; where quality of life was dependent on the degree to which you were willing to fall in line. And soon it transpired that, those unwilling to accept the terms, and adopt every intricacy of the pro-Remain stance of the resort, were informed that they were not Europhile enough, and they would regrettably be advised to leave.


On returning to Earth I took a time out to gather my thoughts and booked a week in Lanzarote, where if you haven’t heard there is a wonderful BBQ restaurant powered by volcanic ash! Anyway, while there I saw what I thought was a shooting star, but transpired to be the Galactic Expressway Resort. A fight had ignited over who would be kind enough to lend an organic match to light a ‘Mindfulness’ candle, and in a truly shocking turn of events the whole place had burst into flames.

October, 2016

All text originally published by Somesuchstories.co. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

AIGA Eye on Design

What Happens When We Reach Peak Magazine?

Issue 01 of Beige, the modern lifestyle magazine for discerning independent thinkers and makers, was released today to a rapt audience of creative influencers the quarterly considers the entire scope of everyday life for the contemporary connoisseur…

by Sophy Hollington
Dear Editors, 


Below is a list of the most exciting modern lifestyle magazines set for release this week. I am sure they would all be a perfect fit for your creative platform. Feel free to share the news with your communities on your vlog, Snapchat, or heavily-filtered Instagram, etc!


Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you need any more info, pics, or would like to interview one of the esteemed editors, who are all available via FaceTime.


Issue 01 of Beige, the modern lifestyle magazine for discerning independent thinkers and makers, was released today to a rapt audience of creative influencers. Delving deeply into l’estétique beige, the quarterly considers the entire scope of everyday life for the contemporary connoisseur; from cerebral photo stories depicting fulfilling domestic life, to details of accomplished creative work, revered high culture, and the cultivation of a capsule uniform that reflects your irreproachable ethics, subtle intellect, and economic acumen. Beige promotes quality of life through studied, curated takes on life, style, lifestyle, and the means of achieving that lifestyle through a tasteful, ‘Elephant’s Breath’ filter. It makes for a brilliant addition to the newsstand, and although its scope may seem niche, as with all great lifestyle publications, it is really made for anyone with access to a coffee table. “Against a backdrop of beige,” says publisher, editor, art director, and interior designer, Rosalie Verbleken, “everything is illuminated.”


Another exciting release is Louse, the modern lifestyle magazine that explores the life and times of the modern metropolitan woodlouse. The editors take a poetic view on this oft-ignored species, with personal essays, inspired editorials, and woodlouse-themed sonnets, as well as brand collaborations with independent jewellers and clothing designers who draw inspiration from the form and features of the urban woodlouse, a nocturnal crustacean who feeds off of dead plant material. Not unlike us – pass the kale crisps!


Before I go on, I’d like to draw your attention to a podcast series that I think your readers would love. The Dinner Game will focus on one modern food lifestyle magazine each week, diving into the harsh business realities of making a modern lifestyle magazine, and food. After all, isn’t food the one thing we all share? The first season is already slated to include Caesar Salad, the modern lifestyle magazine for political influencers, where every interview takes place over a tax-payer-subsidised lunch; Bro-yo, the modern lifestyle magazine for bros who LOVE frozen yogurt; and Kimchi, the modern lifestyle magazine for women who are equally interested in knowing what’s going on in the world of Korean fermentation, as they are getting the hottest gossip and fashion tips from Kim Kardashian, Kim Gordon, and tyrannical despot Kim Jong-un.


The second series is already set to explore magazines about hair—not just hair, but dyed hair. It’s incredible how much editorial inspiration and advertorial innovation can be mined from even the most prohibitively specific briefs. One of the early stars of the nascent genre is Brunette?, the modern lifestyle magazine for creatives with dyed (is it dyed?) brown hair. What exactly is the life experience of the dark-haired, jet-setting elite? Brunette? intends to find out.


Also fresh to the newsstand is Haven, the modern lifestyle magazine for creative influencers keen to stash their cash offshore. There’s always been a lot of negative press about tax avoidance, but Haven tells a different story—one focusing on the beautiful landscapes, architecture, and pleasure yachts that embezzling billions can afford. Issue 01 heads to Andorra, a stunning principality nestled between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains rumoured to be the hot tip for laundering Russian currency in 2017. And the skiing is to DIE for.

Dérive is the modern lifestyle magazine for creative influencers and thought leaders that takes a look at derivative art and design through the lens of the dérive, a practice made popular by the Situationist International. A dérive involves running around, quite aimlessly, and at pace, and in Dérive the interviews are held in this heightened context of breathlessness to deliver maximum authenticity—making even the most mundane interaction seem relevant.


That’s all for this week, but stay tuned for next week’s magazine update, when we’ll be profiling Drip, the modern lifestyle magazine for shy coffee drinkers; Estatic, the modern lifestyle and interiors magazine for creatives living in on-trend housing estates; and Femilist, the modern lifestyle magazine for feminist creative influencers who enjoy listicles. 


And they said print was dead!

April, 2017

All text originally published by eyeondesign.aiga.org. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

The Ulm Model: A School and Its Pursuit of a Critical Design Practice

“My feeling is that the Bauhaus being conveniently located before the Second World War makes it safely historical”, says Dr. Peter Kapos. “It’s objects have an antique character that is about as threatening as Arts & Crafts…

Foundation course exercise, courtesy of HfG-Archiv/Ulmer Museum
“My feeling is that the Bauhaus being conveniently located before the Second World War makes it safely historical”, says Dr. Peter Kapos. “It’s objects have an antique character that is about as threatening as Arts & Crafts, whereas the problem with the Ulm school is that it’s too relevant. The questions raised about industrial design [still apply], and it’s project failed – their social project being particularly disappointing – which leaves awkward questions about where we are in the present.”


Kapos discovered the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, or Ulm school, through his research into the German manufacturing company Braun, the representation of which is a specialism of his archive, das programm. The industrial design school had developed out of a community college founded by educationalist Inge Scholl and graphic designer Otl Aicher in 1946. It was established, as Kapos writes in the book accompanying the Raven Row exhibition, The Ulm Model, “with the express purpose of curbing what nationalistic and militaristic tendencies still remained [in post-war Germany], and making a progressive contribution to the reconstruction of German social life.”


The Ulm school closed in 1968, having undergone various forms of pedagogy and leadership, crises in structure and personality. Nor the faculty or student-body found resolution to the problems inherent to industrial design’s claim to social legitimacy – “how the designer could be thoroughly integrated within the production process at an operational level and at the same time adopt a critically reflective position on the social process of production.” But while the Ulm school, and the Ulm Model, collapsed it remains an important resource, “it’s useful, even if the project can’t be restarted, because it was never going to succeed, the attempt is something worth recovering. Particularly today, under very difficult conditions.”


Max Bill, a graduate of the Bauhaus and then president of the Swiss Werkbund, arrived at Ulm in 1950 – having been recruited partly in the hope that his international profile would attract badly needed funding – and tightened the previously broad curriculum, established by Marxist writer Hans Werner Richter, around design, mirroring the practices of his alma mater.


Bill’s rectorship ran from 1955-58, during which “there was no tension between the way he designed and the requirements of the market.” The principle of the designer as artist, a popular notion of the Bauhaus, curbed the “alienating nature of industrial production”. Due perhaps in part to the trauma of WW2 people hadn’t been ready to allow technology into the home that declared itself as technology. “The result of that was record players and radios smuggled into the home, hidden in what looked like other pieces of furniture, with walnut veneers and golden tassels.” Bill’s way of thinking didn’t necessarily reflect the aesthetic, but it wasn’t at all challenging politically. “So in some ways that’s really straight-forward and unproblematic – and he’s a fantastic designer, an extraordinary architect, an amazing graphic designer, and a great artist – but he wasn’t radical enough. What he was trying to do with industrial design wasn’t taking up the challenge.”


In 1958 he stepped down, having failed to “grasp the reality of industrial production simply at a technical and operational level… [or] recognise its emancipatory potential.” The industrial process had grown in complexity, and the prospect of rebuilding socially was too vast for single individuals to manage. It was no longer possible for the artist-designer to sit outside of the production process, because the new requirements were so complex. “You had to be absolutely within the process, and there had to be a team of disciplinary specialists – not only of material, but circulation and consumption, which was also partly sociological. It was a different way of thinking about form and its relation to product.”


After Bill’s departure, Tomás Maldonado – an instructor at the school, “set out the implications for a design education adequate to the realities of professional practice.” Changes were made to the curriculum that reflected a critically reflective design practice, which he referred to as ‘scientific operationalism’ and subjects such as ‘the instruction of colour’, were dropped. Between 1960-62 the Ulm Model was introduced: “a novel form of design pedagogy that combined formal, theoretical and practical instruction with work in so-called ‘Development Groups’ for industrial clients under the direction of lecturers.” And it was during this period that the issue of industrial design’s problematic relationship to industry came to a head.


In 1959, a year prior to the Ulm Model’s formal introduction, Herbert Lindinger, a student from a Development Group working with Braun, designed an audio system. A set of transistor equipment, it made no apologies for its technology, and looked like a piece of engineering. His audio system became the model for Braun’s 1960s audio programme, “but Lindinger didn’t receive any credit for it, and Braun’s most successful designs from the period derived from an implementation of his project. It’s sad for him but it’s also sad for Ulm design because this had been a collective project.”


The history of the Braun audio programme was written as being defined by Dieter Rams, “a single individual – he’s an important designer, and a very good manager of people, he kept the language consistent – but Braun design of the 60s is not a manifestation of his genius, or his vision.” And the project became an indication of why the Ulm project would ultimately fail, “when recalling it, you end up with a singular genius expressing the marvel of their mind, rather than something that was actually a collective project to achieve something social.”


An advantage of Bill’s teaching model had been the space outside of the industrial process, “which is the space that offers the possibility of criticality. Not that he exercised it. But by relinquishing that space, [the Ulm school] ended up so integrated in the process that they couldn’t criticize it.” They realised the contradiction between Ulm design and consumer capitalism, which had been developing along the same timeline. “Those at the school became dissatisfied with the idea of design furnishing market positions, constantly producing cycles of consumptive acts, and they struggled to resolve it.”


The school’s project had been to make the world rational and complete, industrially based and free. “Instead they were producing something prison-like, individuals were becoming increasingly separate from each other and unable to see over their horizon.” In the Ulm Journal, the school’s sporadic, tactically published magazine that covered happenings at and the evolving thinking and pedagogical approach of Ulm, Marxist thinking had become an increasingly important reference. “It was key to their understanding the context they were acting in, and if that thinking had been developed it would have led to an interesting and different kind of design, which they never got round to filling in. But they created a space for it.”

“[A Marxian approach] would inevitably lead you out of design in some way. And the Ulm Model, the title of the Raven Row exhibition, is slightly ironic because it isn’t really a model for anything, and I think they understood that towards the end. They started to consider critical design as something that had to not resemble design in its recognised form. It would be nominally designed, the categories by which it was generally intelligible would need to be dismantled.”


The school’s funding was equally problematic, while their independence from the state facilitated their ability to independently validate their social purpose, the private foundation that provided their income was funded by industry commissions and indirect government funding from the regional legislator. “Although they were only partially dependent on government money, they accrued so much debt that in the end they were entirely dependent on it. The school was becoming increasingly radical politically, and the more radical it became, the more its own relation to capitalism became problematic. Their industry commissions tied them to the market, the Ulm Model didn’t work out, and their numbers didn’t add up.”


The Ulm school closed in 1968, when state funding was entirely withdrawn, and its functionalist ideals were in crisis. Abraham Moles, an instructor at the school, had previously asserted the inconsistency arising from the practice of functionalism under the conditions of ‘the affluent society’, “which for the sake of ever expanding production requires that needs remain unsatisfied.” And although he had encouraged the school to anticipate and respond to the problem, so as to be the “subject instead of the object of a crisis”; he hadn’t offered concrete ideas on how that might be achieved.


But correcting the course of capitalist infrastructure isn’t something the Ulm school could have been expected to achieve, “and although their project was ill-construed, it is productive as a resource for thinking about what a critical design practice could be in relation to capitalism.” What’s interesting about the Ulm Model today is their consideration of the purpose of education, and their questioning of whether it should merely reflect the current state of things – “preparing a workforce for essentially increasing the GDP; and establishing the efficiency of contributing sectors in a kind of diabolical utilitarianism.”

January, 2017

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

The New Look: Looking Back at Roundel’s 1980s Identity Design for British Rail’s Railfreight

At the launch of the Design Business Association in 1986, John Bateson, a graphic designer and later partner at design agency Roundel, met a product designer who was working with British Rail’s Railfreight on a repainting scheme…

Railfreight icons, Roundel
At the launch of the Design Business Association in 1986, John Bateson, a graphic designer and later partner at design agency Roundel, met a product designer who was working with British Rail’s Railfreight on a repainting scheme. To the comment on their “not really knowing what colour to paint the trains,” John suggested that it really depended on “what they were going to put on them, before they could know what colour to use”.

This was the beginning of Roundel’s identity design commission with Railfreight, a project run by British Rail’s now defunct Architecture and Design division, which was headed up by Jane Priestman. The intention was to convey the success and value of Railfreight, and its various sectors – distribution, petroleum, metals, coal and construction; and Roundel were to communicate that via both an inward and outward facing redesign that would change the perception of, and culture within, the organisation.

“The culture had been ‘dirt’. Steam railways were filthy, stations were filthy, so they were designed accordingly,” John says. “Jane Priestman said no to all that, which is why we now have white floors and white tiling in stations – because it rewards cleaning. We carried that through to Railfreight, the locos and everything. It seems like obvious stuff but it changed the culture.”


Each train belonged to a sub-sector and a depot. The sub-sectors were designed to be recognisable as a family –  with symbols containing the letter “F” which also formed an optimistic upwards arrow that sat within each mark. They rejected the drab, camouflage colours that had often been used, in favour of bright primaries that could be read at speed and from a distance. The inspiration came in part from the Mustang fighter jets employed during WWII, both in terms of markings and the need to express confidence and strength. 
The marks were designed by Roundel and drawn by illustrator and Scraperboard artist Ron Mercer, who produced each element by hand. “The tone and form was the domain of Roundel, I was the artworker. I think that since the advent of the Apple Mac there has been some merging of design and artwork but in my day the two arms were quite separate,” he says.


The major Railfreight depots each had their own mascot, including a rat, horse, and cat – “I recall that the Stratford depot were particularly keen on having the Cockney Sparrow for theirs,” says Ron. They had long been key to their unofficial identities, and as part of Roundel’s identity design they restyled each of the mascots and established them as integral elements of the locomotive livery. They appeared as depot plates on the cab side, as well as on lapel badges, mugs, sports kits and signing.

“The mascots were made in chromium, bolted plates that rewarded cleaning,” says John. “The idea was to build a sense of pride in the work and their environment. The plates clarified that the trains were theirs, and prevented the cabs from becoming dumping grounds. It was all part of the culture change.” Previously, the macho culture at the depots had meant that the trains would go around rather than through the cleaning machines, dirty being the look of the day for locomotives. But the pride of ownership engendered through the depot mascots meant that the trains were maintained and rarely out of service, as were the depots themselves. As well as their symbols and mascots, each site and sub-sector had its own internal stationery, improved seating, televisions, washing machines and crisp, bright paint jobs. All of these small details instilled pride, respect and a sense of optimism in opinions on Railfreight, from both workers and the general public.


As part of the drive to launch the new identity, Roundel produced invitations, menus, “After Freight” mints, Christmas cards and a Railfreight calendar. The calendar was shot at various locations – on main-line bridges, at depots, in stone quarries and in front of power station calling towers. “We wanted to establish the trains as heroes. The drivers thought we’d shot train sets initially because they couldn’t believe the scale of the compositions or the operation. We’d have to shut the main-line and shoot overnight, it cost a tonne,” says John. “We lit the coal chimneys with flood lights on one night, which ended up getting us a visit from the local emergency services because someone thought the whole place was about to go up in flames. We had to say ‘Oh actually no, we’re just taking some pics!’, they weren’t best pleased so after that we only had an hour or so to get the shots.” The purpose was to further demonstrate a sense of heroism, value and pride in the work of and by Railfreight, and be another element of the work towards a culture change.


Roundel’s identity design had been commissioned in response to the changes in the UK’s manufacturing industries, and amongst the threat/atmosphere of privatisation. In an internal pamphlet describing “The New Look”, Railfreight’s director Colin Driver described how the British Rail board had issued a design policy statement stressing that “design, in its broadest sense, is fundamental to the efficiency of every aspect of the railway. From livery to to locos, mess rooms to engine sheds, this applies very powerfully to Railfreight. British Rail’s design director Jane Priestman points out that ‘to remain in business we must persuade very discerning customers of the ability of THIS business to perform better than any other.’”


Further elements of their promotion were a “Strategy and Image” conference and customer brochure. The conference was based on an “airforce theme” – a principle relevant because of the aesthetic inspiration, as well as “the ethos of team spirit, interdependence and pride”. Meanwhile the brochure described the weight of experience, competitive spirit and potential to be “poised for Europe” amongst sci-fi imagery in acid tones, produced using one of the first digital editing programs.


Jane Priestman’s department, British Rail’s internal Architecture and Design resource, was one of the last centralised, public sector design departments. And the Roundel-designed brochure for A&D was fittingly of its time. The imagery was collaged by hand, and appears somewhat abstract and postmodern; the bins look like Corinthian columns, while the arches and landscape architecture reflect amphitheatres and palaces. Design for the stations is described in turn as adventurous, decorative and Classical, and it underlines British Rail’s policy of “good design [as] good business”: “Good design helps sell services, improves staff morale and brings about the clearest visual indication of control and commitment to quality performance,” said Anthony Howard, the design manager at British Rail A&D at the time.


This focus on quality and coherence, of the architecture, interior and graphic design being co-ordinated and driven by not only profit but pride seems archaic in the current climate of embedded or threatened privatisation. “Since privatisation the focus has moved towards marketing and commercial enterprise. Centralised control seems outdated and inflexible because it’s all changed. But now though we have lost much of the design clarity and visual cohesion that made for an integrated network,” says John Bateson. “Centralised control seems spooky now, because it’s all changed.” And while in a lot of ways it feels like a change for the worse, there are positives to be drawn. “Company identities can’t, and don’t need to be long-term anymore. The top-down ‘Chairman says’ stuff doesn’t really fly when a tweet can destroy a brand in a day. They have to listen and evolve, if you want to survive you have to be fleet of foot.”

November, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

It’s Nice That

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia examined the intersections of art, architecture and design with the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s Shown at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis earlier this year, the exhibition was loosely organised around Timothy Leary’s famous mantra, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”…

Spread from Hippie Modernism, published by the Walker Art Center
Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia examined the intersections of art, architecture and design with the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. Shown at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis earlier this year, the exhibition was loosely organised around Timothy Leary’s famous mantra, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” and charted the social, cultural and professional revolutions of the period.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition goes further still, considering practices of radical architecture and anti-design movements that emerged through Europe and North America, as well as the print revolution and new forms of theatre and radical politics. Here we speak with the show curator and editor, Andrew Blauvelt, about the work and impact of the critically under-served movement.


Q: Although art and culture has been so clearly influenced by this period, there have been few major museum shows documenting the counterculture. Why do you think this is, and what did you hope to achieve in Hippie Modernism?


There have been many more focussed shows on discrete aspects of the period, which has really come into art historical fashion over the last decade or so. But generally speaking most major museums wouldn’t touch the material because it’s not squarely in the art camp, or the art canon of the period. Too much “ephemera,” or what we call graphic design.


When we think of the 1960s we typically associate it with many of the other important movements: Pop, Conceptualism, Land Art, Body Art, Minimalism, etc. By doing Hippie Modernism I hoped to focus more attention on these highly experimental practices, and by doing so open new spaces for understanding work from the period that didn’t conform to the canonical narrative. Just as we search for evidence of modernism in far flung geographies now, we can also look at the overlooked closer to home.


Q: Could you elaborate on the term “hippie modernism”?


It seems to be an oxymoron, mostly because of what we think modernism is or was supposed to be. I was attracted to this essential conundrum. However, in the course of making the show and the book it became clearer that the term in fact embodies the contradictions of what would later become known as postmodernism (a critique of modernism). And from today’s vantage point, it might be considered simply as “another modernism,” alternate ways of making art, using technology, and shaping society.


Q: In the introduction to the book you mention the shared sense of struggle and need to “start from zero” in the hippie counterculture and modernism. Although elements of culture and technology have progressed in many ways, we are still bound to the problems and hopes of the period, and much of what is discussed in the book and exhibition still rings true today.


Oh yes: climate change, Black Lives Matter to take just two major examples. Progress can be glacial. Struggle seems eternal. We still struggle for our own utopia. I did not want to buy into the failure narrative of the 1960s, which was after all a history underwritten by the conservative political victories of the 1980s. In my opinion, that victory was fleeting as culture continued on a trajectory set into motion during the 1960s. The struggles continue in no small part because the system transfigures its themes and ambitions. For instance, the communalism of the 1960s has been recast as the sharing economy today: couch surfing becomes Air B&B, and so on.

Q: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”, a phrase published in the Whole Earth Catalogue, was very much key to the counterculture but has now been adopted by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs after Steve Jobs used it in a commencement speech. There is incredible irony in this, when you look back at the ideas of the period – it’s also interesting to consider that the tech industry might now see itself as a counterculture.


Ah, the catchphrase of the entrepreneur. We should remember that in the 1960s computing was the province of large corporations, big government, and the military. The countercultural dream was for personal computing. That computers (and portable video and even television too) could be radically democratic tools to unleash individual creativity and connect people. This was a revolutionary idea. Jobs and Gates were the beneficiaries of this revolution, Zuckerberg and Brin must contend with its legacy.

The cross-disciplinary nature of the work of the counterculture led to what could amount to a whole “lifestyle” – as embodied by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue, would you say that in some ways what was being made was a sort of active sketch of what is possible?


Yes. I say in the book that the counterculture was so successful in its moment because it actively ‘prototyped’ the future it wanted to live. If you want sexual liberation you must live it now not simply ask for it, for instance. Don’t want to work 9-5 in a soulless job, then invent a world or counter economy in which you don’t. Even if it fails, it provides a glimpse and a taste of what is possible and that has more lasting consequence and value.
These ideas have become creatively recharged and recast today, and the point is not about claims to originality but rather ideas of continuity. Why does this past look particularly appealing today?


Q: The architectural group Archigram were one who so brilliantly predicted the tethering of our bodies to digital devices, examples including the Electronic Tomato and Info-Gonks – were you surprised by any of the predictions you came across in your research?


Always. Info-Gonks as Google Glass. The Provo legacy project of the Witkar—an electric car sharing program in Amsterdam in the 1970s and 1980s. Archigram’s Room of a 1000 Delights as virtual reality. Superstudio’s Supersurface as Internet. Heineken’s World Bottle: a glass beer bottle as an upcycled building brick. The Videofreex Lanesville TV project, which prefigured community television and “user-contributed content.” Ant Farm’s Truckstop Network and YouTube. It was a visionary period.


Q: Publishing had a really interesting role, particularly in the sense that it very much took on the idea of the role of publishing as creating or being for a public, which magazines would you say exemplify the time?


Three come to mind and are in the show. Aspen, “the magazine in a box,” which was a thematic publication with a unique art director for each issue. It was an assemblage of material and media: pamphlets, posters, loose images, flexidisks, film and music reels—the message in multiple media. The other discovery was Scanlan’s, art directed by the incredible Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, who was famous for her supergraphics. It was a muckraking-type journal, which gave the world gonzo journalism and was the first to call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. Both were essentially forced out of business ostensibly because they did not conform to postal regulations or were blacklisted by printers. Oz magazine broke ground on both the design and content front. It was subject to censorship.


The book is not like a traditional exhibition publication, in that its focus is on the subject rather than being a record of the show specifically. Could you elaborate on your thinking when putting the book together?


I worked with Emmet Byrne, the design director at the Walker, on the book’s design. We share similar concerns when making a book, on the one hand we are inspired by the content and the period yet we do not want to create a simulation of it. We hope to create something fresh and new but also something that could not have been made without having been influenced by its content.


Materially, physically, it is a mash-up of the heft of a Whole Earth Catalog (including its form as a paperback) and the colouring of the People’s Yellow Pages (a telephone book of free things in the Bay Area). Our initial plan had been to use Helvetica, which was truly revolutionary at that time, but once you see Scanlan’s typography there’s no point trying to emulate that. We needed more hippie in the mix. For the sake of time, we didn’t use rubber stamp type, although it was very tempting. The typewriter and Cooper were deployed instead.


The funky silver paper with color and black and white repros is pure Emmet. These pages function like “ads” for different works in the show, sometimes they simply recreate an actual ad, but often they are fabricated. Here we also diversified the typographic and stylistic palette, Day-Glo was invented in the Bay Area and it hadn’t really been exploited until this period, hence the fluorescent yellow.


My idea was to include the facsimile reprint of “Advertisements of a Counter Culture” that first appeared in Progressive Architecture magazine (and presumably got the editor fired). I wanted to riff on this idea of making ads for a counter culture and extend it. I wish we had time and space to make more of them.


What should the reader take from the use of Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s US Pavilion for Expo 67 caught in flames as the cover image?


Well, when the dome burned in 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, it seemed to signify the end of the countercultural era. All those dreams go up in flames. Or do they? From the ashes of the dome (the metal lattice structure survived, the plastic coating melted away), a museum of the biosphere rose inside it. That seemed like an interesting way to think of the fate and future of hippie modernism.

April, 2016

All text originally published by itsnicethat.com. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

Book Test Unit

“Who Shot J.R.?”

In the closing scene of the third season finale of Dallas, dastardly oil baron J.R. Ewing was shot by an unknown assailant The question of “Who shot J.R.?” plagued viewers until close to a year later, when it was revealed that he was in fact alive, and the assailant had been none other than…

Stills from Dallas
In the closing scene of the third season finale of Dallas, dastardly oil baron J.R. Ewing was shot by an unknown assailant. The question of “Who shot J.R.?” plagued viewers until close to a year later, when it was revealed that he was in fact alive, and the assailant had been none other than his sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin Shephard.

The device of the ‘cliffhanger ending’ has long been popular in television, film and literature; and it now applies in our reading and understanding of news and current affairs, and in an escalated form. The Guardian’s red “Live” box, and its flashing button that accompanied much of 2016 and continues to thrive in 2017—with three potential tabs going on its Minute by Minutes section as I write—has offered live updates and instantaneous reflection on the EU referendum, the US election and the March attack at Westminster. Updating information in fits and starts as events, results, impact and context are understood; establishing strange narratives that shift and change as things unfold, creating sort-of limericks out of world events.

It is not that the reporting of breaking news in the media is a new phenomenon—it has long been applied in radio, television and in newspapers, and is an important service—but live updates, ‘Breaking News’ Twitter profiles, or the BBC app that sends alerts to your phone, exacerbate the potential for ‘cliffhanger endings’ in our understanding of daily life. We can be strung to the page, clicking through as each update arises, the tension mounting when you are only halfway through a note when another part of the story unfolds. Unlike the fans of Dallas who had to wait months on their conclusion, ours are resolved and replaced, sometimes in a matter of seconds.

News, or at least the reading of news, moving predominately online and onto personal devices has, perhaps inadvertently, created a slump in investigative or reflective journalism. We often receive news in a mix, as if we are catching parts of various salacious conversations at orbiting restaurant tables, never quite catching the beginning, or most likely the end, either. Our understanding is with dribs and drabs of context, which will often be fact-checked at a later date, and edited a few times over. The expectation of substance, confirmation, and rigour has made way for news that is immediate, flexible and reactive. As the Blue-footed Booby bird feed undigested, regurgitated fish to their young, we are fed segments of information in bitesize chunks, dependent on the source, but without any particular understanding of it.

Our expectation for instant gratification has led to much-publicised accounts of our degrading attention spans, and think-pieces and advice columns on so-called digital detoxes. If we are to improve our understanding of current affairs, the impact of our decisions and the knock-on effect of events worldwide, a considerable space needs to be marked out for reporting and analysis that surpasses “Whodunnit?”

May, 2017

All text originally published in Book Test Unit, by the Royal College of Art. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.

Somesuch Stories

Bedding the President

Straddling two continents, the opposing strips of land that form the city are split by bustling seas. Lit by candy-floss skies, this 8000-year old metropolis undulates to the rhythm of traffic and construction, its rising population cocooned by smoke and mirrors…

By Claudia Wiens/Alamy
Straddling two continents, the opposing strips of land that form the city are split by bustling seas. Lit by candy-floss skies, this 8000-year old metropolis undulates to the rhythm of traffic and construction, its rising population cocooned by smoke and mirrors. As summer burns, public life recedes to sloping tea rooms, waterfronts and ’ways, the hum of bazaars providing a backing track for calls to prayer. Bridges adorned with 24-hour neon lights suck hard on the electricity supply. A man-made party island ‘for exclusive people’ lies only meters from the western shore; it is awash with hysterical consumption.

On the streets, blasts of sentimental music, old-world street sellers, multinational chains and slogans lost in translation vie for the attention of passers-by – the city thrives on misinformation. As it shifts from a centre for industry to one of finance and servitude, legal controls are abolished in favour of investment and perceived renewal. As Las Vegas’ signs eclipse their structures, so the structures here overwhelm their city. As neoliberalism struck, the foundations and those who had built them were remade and remodelled, while public services floundered; under- and over-water gateways were developed, creating new fissures between the ever-growing community.

Here, the principles of urban planning and building regulations stretch generously in the hands of gold rush tycoons. This elasticity has led to a long game of demolish-build musical chairs, one that retains only a fraction of its ancient landmarks and preys on the homes of the underclasses. Exploiting the city’s propensity for natural disaster, the risk of earthquake damage is utilised to extinguish shantytowns, apartment buildings and entire districts without the consent of homeowners. Social or low-income housing is replaced with luxury, gated complexes – projects on steroids making unjustifiable profits for their well-connected developers.

The city’s parklands are being evaporated in favour of fabricated, climate-controlled versions of the outdoors – monolithic meccas to the passé trope of the suburban American mall. Looping highways jut from the urban sprawl, overlapping to create platforms for floating discs of landscaped land, these sterile spaces assisting the fictionalisation of recent history. Concrete gardens are policed and cleared of any marks of human presence – be that wear and tear, or congregations deemed to be disrupting the sense of calm. Funded as part of the public programme to establish common grounds, the gardens funnel people into dead ends from which they can be collected up by officials – or left to enjoy the vantage.

Bedded tulips line the roadside, dancing in the sea breeze, unaffected by pollutants. Laid fortnightly in ornate compositions, the flowers recall the city’s rich past in international trade – tulips having been an early form of state currency. Planted in shallow soil, the bulbous heads never droop; they hardly have the time with a life cycle so stunted. The responsibility of putting on the flower show falls to government cronies. The shallow graves are designed to hold out for just long enough for the flowers to convey the beauty and horror of the evolving landscape, before friends of the family swoop in to replant and gather the profits from the generous commissions.

In a trance-like state, participating residents marvel at the beauty of the lustrous city before them, captivated by its live-action transformation. As heritage sites are privatised, the remaining public parks are swathed in shade by residential and corporate developments. These monuments to an advancing economy are intended to steal the spotlight from the president’s more fraught endeavours – from constructions steeped in controversy due to adverse geological impact through to the hollowing out of newspapers that refuse to practise ventriloquy. 

As well as being a tool for aggressive gentrification, the up-down dance of construction includes the art of the replica. Residents are relocated and their homes turned to dust, only to be rebuilt in their own image, to a lesser standard and at an increased profit margin for the firms. Doors open wide for thinly veiled charm, expert bargaining or a solicitous “how’s your father?” Permissions are granted to those willing to trade in party favours. Moving at such a rate, plans become outdated before they find fruition. Open lots and gaping holes dropping over 100 feet dot the city. With the last of the past century’s relics teetering on the edge, concrete is filling every gap, as if the streets are a game of Tetris. 

Planned as a location that could sustain 5 million people, the city now boasts a population of 15 million and it continues to rise. Bursting at the seams, the only way is up – or out. A new airport, due to be the largest in the world, is rising amid formerly protected wetlands, its connections requiring the levelling of millions of trees. Hills that had been preserved for recreation, as well as providing a substantial catchment for the metropolis’ water supply are overrun. One of few remaining public lands, this combined forest and wetland has now been assigned for commercial business. As well as airport services, hotels and shops will line the stretch from the monumental structure. Investment, its pace set by the offer of build-own-operate leasing, is monopolised by those close to the ruling class. Initial development was soon isolated from international interest by a corruption investigation into the firms’ senior executives – which was swiftly halted by government intervention, casting talk of the airport in hyperbole and the rhetoric of empire. “It’ll be the largest in the world!” is the rallying cry, alongside promises that more roads and more structures will ease, rather than encourage the overcrowding. 

As public space vanishes, the haphazard freedoms of social life are ever more curtailed. With views restricted so that all one can see is the show, the captive audiences either sent into waking comas or pitched into palpable unrest. Public space is eroded Revellers and protesters alike gather, celebrating and commiserating the lost world on rooftops, in past palaces, basement flats and peripheral playgrounds. As unrest brought tears of gas, small victories were soon over-ridden by force of government will. Shifting from the busy streets to the shade of overhanging trees, plans for urban revolution are shaped in a quiet hum. Games of cards and catch provide the setting for ground-up change in response to the top-down conversions. As a reflection of society, the city tremors as it is pulled in contradictory directions, stretched to its outer limits. Rapid fire burns public buildings, heritage sites become locations for financial speculation and the megalopolis rages on towards the multifarious conclusions of simulated life. 

May, 2016

All text originally published by somesuchstories.co. All images courtesy of magazine and artist. All text copyright Billie Muraben.