25 April 2017

design disruption

There was a screening of Design Disruptors this afternoon up on campus. It is a documentary by invision about "the transformative power of design." The emphasis is on the user experience and mostly about how to make it seamless, effortless, intuitive. Some of the things I scribbled in the dark as the film rolled: design sprint; saving time is sexy now; obvious is not easy, great is still hard; iterate iterate; design thrives on constraints. Facebook HQ has 2G Tuesdays where designers and other staff use FB with a 2G connection to get a taste of how some of the bells and whistles work with a slow connection. Lots of good stuff to think about including packaging your ideas.

I was thinking about library cataloging software as I listened and watched. In the past decade or so, I have used several brands of cataloging software: Geac Advance; ALEPH from Ex Libris; III Millennium; Voyager from Ex Libris; OCLC Connexion. Each of them has quirks. I wonder how this software can be so clunky as I'm adding a new field or subfield, or editing the fixed fields, or putting in delimiters. Why do we put up with it? Most of the groovy library catalog developments have been on the user experience end of things, with discovery interfaces and one-box searching, usually with follow-up faceting. Maybe the back-end of some of the applications in the film are as clunky as the library programs. We only saw what Etsy looked like from the user side, not how the data on available objects is created. Still, I cannot imagine that inputting your objects on your Etsy site could be as clunky as the current library systems.

I also have used LibraryThing over the past decade. It is a website where you can catalog your personal books (or "wanna-reads" or "would-love-to-owns") and tag them and put them in collections. It's quite a lot more straightforward than the library systems, at least on the cataloging side of things. The library systems also try to control circulation and acquisition information. Our libraries also have mountains of legacy data.

23 March 2017

build from strength

Maurice Cox is the planning director of Detroit, Michigan, and the recipient of this year's Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal. He was just interviewed by critic Blair Kamin at the opening plenary session of the 105th annual conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in Detroit. Kamin's picture show ended with aerial views of Detroit and Toronto. Cox looks to Toronto for inspiration. Build from strength. Cities are composed of neighborhoods, or cities within cities. Transit-oriented development. Varying scales. Building the connections. After listening to Cox's inspirational and aspirational comments, a Detroit more like Toronto seemed reasonable. Different but rich nonetheless.
 (Detroit photo by Alex S. MacLean for the New York Times)

(Toronto Skyline 2016, by www.peakaerials.com)

13 March 2017

listening to the natives

Some years ago, I read Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia, the company town and rubber plantation developed by Henry Ford in the Amazon. Ford wanted a midwestern utopia where the workers didn't drink and there were cement sidewalks, where Ford Motor Company could get the rubber it needed. Fordlandia was not a great success for a variety of reasons. Utopian attempts are nonetheless interesting. I was reminded of Fordlandia by a recent article in The New York Times by Simon Romero: Deep in Brazil's Amazon, exploring the ruins of Ford's Fantasyland.
(Bryan Denton for the New York Times)

It wasn't the first time today that I read something about attempts to build in relatively inhospitable climes and not use the local and native methods. I was indexing the December 2016 issue of Metropolis and there was an essay by Lola Sheppard and Mason White based on their forthcoming book Many Norths: building in a shifting territory (Actar, 2017). "The growing cities of the Canadian Arctic are contending with decades-old planning mistakes that ignored indigenous settlement patterns and building knowledge." I was surprised to read that "Canada's North is home to the fastest-growing population in the country, with more than 115,000 people living in small, dispersed, and isolated communities." Ralph Erskine and others designed megastructures and microclimate bubbles while the Inuits preferred to build near the shore for proximity to fishing and hunting sites. The Inuits also avoided wind screens because the wind helped clear the snow and wind screens result in drifts. (Tonight and tomorrow, we may get up to 15-18 inches of snow. I wonder if it will drift.)

P.S. A few days later, the New York Times published a review of "Architecture of Independence--African Modernism" at the Center for Architecture in New York City. The exhibition started at the Vitra Design Museum, the "640-page doorstop" catalog was published then. The author of the review, Justin Farago, mentions the small size of the Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster photographs in the show. It is, after all, the 50th anniversary of Complexity and contradiction in architecture, by Robert Venturi, famously illustrated with small images.

14 January 2017

walking and eating

The day before yesterday, I was meandering (walking) around the website for the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, a museum in Lincoln, Mass., that I have visited several times. I was lucky enough to meet DeWitt Godfrey's work there before I met him on the CAA trip to Cuba in 2015.
This work was on display in the summer of 2014. I came across the listing on the deCordova website for a summer 2015 exhibition entitled "Walking Sculpture 1967-2015."
Sorry I missed it, particularly because I am fond of the art of Francis Alÿs among others. And I really like to walk so why not make art of it? The show included Bruce Nauman's Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square, 1967-1968 (illustration on the exhibition webpage, linked above).

My supper reading today included "Bruce Nauman, art provocateur, returns. Are you ready?" by Randy Kennedy from the New York Times last September 11, a review of shows opening soon after that at Sperone Westwater and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The principal work was "Contrapposto Studies" which revisits a 1968 video work entitled "Walk with Contrapposto." Circling around, always.


Randy Kennedy reports that during his interview with Nauman at his home in Galisteo, N.M., Nauman served a lunch of supermarket rotisserie chicken with cheese, bread, and apples. I happened to be eating bread, cheese, and apple as I read. My bread was probably more mundane than Nauman's (Wegmans multi-grain with peanut butter).

11 January 2017

colorful neighbors

These happen to be next to each other in my Flickr photostream:

Saint John's Living, for seniors
(Highland Park, Rochester, NY)

Società Concordia Partanna
(corner of Forest Ave. and Palmetto St., Ridgewood, Queens, NY)
(We stopped in Partanna, March 2013.)

Spencer Finch: A Certain Slant of Light
(installation at Morgan Library & Museum, New York City)

08 January 2017

medieval modernism

"Art out of time" has long intrigued me, and perhaps all of us. The way that art and culture play with and against art and culture from another moment, whether near or far in time. In a profile of Steve Reich at 80 in the New York Times (October 2, 2016), he is quoted as saying "I'm not a Luddite, but I understand the Luddites."

After I got back from paper and pancakes this morning, I was sitting at my desk and realized the stack to the left of my computer was annoyingly high and I pulled the issue of Visual Resources (first issue for 2016) since it was the fattest item. An old cataloging trick: do the fat books and your backlog shrinks in size (and generally increases in complexity). The issue was devoted to "Medieval modernity" and I'd bookmarked the article by Graham Smith on "Rauschenberg's modern infernos for Life magazine" for potential inclusion in the queer art bibliography I maintain on Zotero. It grew out of the newsletter of the Queer Caucus for Art that I co-edited for a dozen years. The article doesn't seem to have any particular queer aspect (what? you expect me to really read rather than just peruse it?) but is intriguing as are a number of other articles. cf table of contents

As I was looking through the issue, I remembered that I'd bought a book with a similar title a few years ago: Medieval Modern: Art Out of Time, by Alexander Nagel, published by Thames & Hudson, 2012. I've borrowed the subtitle for the opening of this post. The verso of the title page includes a quote from Walter Benjamin which starts "Historicism is content with establishing a casual connection between various moments of history. A fact can be a cause but it is not therefore historical." (Hmm, why did "fake news" fly through my brain?)

I also was given a start by seeing "Christian Huemer" in the list of advisors to Visual Resources. Now I'm thinking of Christina Huemer, who I met at Cornell in 1970 and who was the librarian at the American Academy in Rome for many years before her retirement and death. She loved Rome, one of those places where the medieval and modern rub up against each other, and the ancient and the whole (western) shebang.