Retroactive Records of Fridays #11 / by Mikhail Kim

This post records dispatches from July 2017 through December 2017.


July 7, 2017 - "Flat Friday"

Slat flats are like a dream because I've only seen them in dreams, not IRL. But Murray Fredericks has. He is an Australian photographer who has been working on a series called 'Salt' since 2003, photographing Lake Eyre in the Australian outback. More recently he has also been working on an extension to the series titled 'Vanity', where he hauls a giant mirror with him out to the lake (practical), which both disrupts and introduces a different awareness of the sense of light and space in the images. Lake Eyre is a dried out 3500 sq.mi. lake bed that sits about 50 ft below sea level and is freakin flat. And in the flatness lies the magic. As Fredericks puts it, it is a "landscape without landscape".

Salt
Vanity

 

July 14, 2017 - "A Spacetime Friday"

Time and space are inextricably linked and it turns out you don't need to be Einstein to know it, duh. But it does help to be bilingual, sí. Actually, Spanish and English won't work in this example. How about Chinese, 是 (Shì), which oddly enough sounds loosely similar to the Spanish "yes"... but on to my real point: 

Language affects the way we visualize time which gets described in spatial terms. For example, English (and Spanish) speakers view time as a continuous line, one that is also oriented horizontally, going backwards and forwards (we look ahead to the future, and look back on the past). Chinese speakers on the other hand put time on a vertical linear axis going up and down. Then there are also cultures with volumetric representations of time. These different linguistic and mental models of time affect the way that we actually perceive time. Language is that powerful, at least this is the argument by Panos Athanasopoulos who co-authored a recent study on the subject. Super fascinating stuff!

 

July 21, 2017 - "Coffee Table Book Friday"

Maybe the first question should be, do you have a coffee table? Followed by, do you have any books on your coffee table? Or maybe, who cares.

"Look Inside" is a recent book that is a compilation of cutaway graphics. Or maybe it's a little more like a taxonomy because of its wider scope. It makes the middle school me totally nerd out. It also makes the 30-something me totally nerd out. I don't own it, no this isn't a book promo, although the Wired piece basically is, but at least you get to see some of the eye candy that's in the book, and it is certainly cooool.

 

July 28, 2017 - "Celestial Alignment Friday"

We are getting ready to have a celestial alignment that will temporarily cut a swath of darkness across the country y'all. We are going to have a solar eclipse on August 21, and these events don't occur over easily accessible land that often, especially since only about 30% of the planet's surface area is land, and an even smaller fraction is readily accessible. Thank you Interstate Highway System and the rest of our extensive questionably maintained road network for making it easier to look at things! 

This FiveThirtyEight article features a map of the projected path of the eclipse together with major cities near its path. It touches on some interesting logistics problems. The map is also cool because beyond illustrating the path of darkness and the degree to which a full or partial eclipse will occur, it can also be a map of anticipated congestion -- like a stretched out bottleneck that would temporarily choke off access between two halves of the country... or of a line that will be traced across the country like drawing a line in the sand -- impactful yet fleeting... or serve as a reminder of something that we all share together with all the rest of the strangers out there: a successive series of sunrises and sunsets, all staring up in the same direction. The only thing to not forget though: please don't look directly at the sun, it won't give you superpowers.

 

August 4, 2017 - "Techno Aesthetic Friday"

This guy - Maxim Zhestkov - creates some cool stuff and puts it on his Vimeo channel. I like it. That's it. Bye.

j/k. He is a designer/animator with a distinct minimal-futuristic sensibility. His films are short, atmospheric, futuristic, abstract, but even then there is always a sense of a story line lurking just outside the frame. The soundtracks are also great and complement the visuals well. That's it. Bye.

 

August 11, 2017 - "Sub Friday"

A dispatch from mountain time, thinking about a different kind of mountainscape. We seldomly think about what's below, but sometimes someone like Candy Chan does and beautifully documents parts of a city that are often frustrating, sometimes mysterious, and surprisingly uncharted.

 

August 25, 2017 - "Living Image Friday"

It's not often that an image appears to have a life of its own, but I think Alexey Titarenko has the magic touch. His photographs contain a ghostly life that almost adds a third dimension to the 2d photos. There are old myths about some cultures believing that photographs could steal your soul. Alexey's photographs remind me of these myths, except in addition, they seem to imbue inanimate objects with a shadow of life.

 

September 1, 2017 - "Understanding Friday's Limits"

I have shared links about maps before, I like maps, maps are my friend (like this 'Urban Layers' of Manhattan from some time back). And with maps, as with anything containing any complexity or involving any communication we are forced to reduce, abstract and make decisions about what stays and what goes. And to that end, this blog post does an excellent job of covering the limitations of maps and I will at this point defer to it.

Below is the full text of the post, or you can follow the link above, which leads you to other good reads.
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We have seen before that the map is not the territory — that the description of the thing is not the thing itself. Maps can be exceptionally useful. For instance, we can leverage the experiences of others to help us navigate through territories that are, to us, new and unknown. We just have to understand and respect the inherent limitations of maps whose territories may have changed. We have to put some work into really seeing what the maps can show us.

The Perspective
Maps are an abstraction, which means information is lost in order to save space. So perhaps the most important thing we can do before reading a map is to stop and consider what choices have been made in the representation before us.

First, there are some limitations based on the medium used, like paper or digital, and the scale of the territory you are trying to represent. Take the solar system. Our maps of the solar system typically fit on one page. This makes them useful for understanding the order of the planets from the sun but does not even come close to conveying the size of the territory of space.

Bill Bryson explains in A Short History of Nearly Everything, “such are the distances, in fact, that it isn’t possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale. … On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with the Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away, and Pluto would be a mile and half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you wouldn’t be able to see it anyway).”

Maps are furthermore a single visual perspective chosen because you believe it the best one for what you are trying to communicate. This perspective is both literal — what I actually see from my eyes, and figurative — the bias that guides the choices I make.

It’s easy to understand how unique my perspective is. Someone standing three feet away from me is going to have a different perspective than I do. I’ve been totally amazed by the view out of my neighbour’s window.

Jerry Brotton, in his book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, reveals that “the problem of defining where the viewer stands in the relation to a map of the world is one geographers have struggled with for centuries.” Right from the beginning, your starting point becomes your frame of reference, the centre of understanding that everything else links back to.

In an example that should be a classic, but isn’t because of a legacy of visual representation that has yet to change, most of us seriously underestimate the size of Africa. Why? Because, as Tim Marshall explains in his book Prisoners of Geography, most of us use the standard Mercator world map, and “this, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes.” A world map always has to be distorted, with a bent toward the view you are trying to present. Which has led to a northern hemisphere centric vision of the world that has been burned into our brains.

Even though Africa looks roughly the size of Greenland, in fact, it is actually about 14 times larger. Don’t use the standard Mercator map to plan your hiking trip!

Knowing a map’s limitations in perspective points you to where you need to bring context. Consider this passage from Marshall’s book: “Africa’s coastline? Great beaches – really, really lovely beaches – but terrible natural harbors. Amazing rivers, but most of them are worthless for actually transporting anything, given that every few miles you go over a waterfall.” A lot of maps wouldn’t show you this – the lines that are rivers are all drawn the same. So you’d look at the success the Europeans had with the Danube or the Rhine and think, why didn’t Africans think to use their rivers in the same way? And then maybe you decide to invest in an African mineral company, bringing to the table the brilliant idea of getting your products to market via river. And then they take you to the waterfalls.

The Author/Cartographer
Consider who draws the maps. A map of the modern day Middle East will probably tell you more about the British and French than any inhabitants of the region. In 1916 a British diplomat named Sykes and a French diplomat name Picot drew a line dividing the territory between their countries based on their interests in the region and not on the cultures of the people living there, or the physical formations that give it form.

Marshall explains, “The region’s very name is based on a European view of the world, and it is a European view of the region that shaped it. The Europeans used ink to draw lines on maps: they were lines that did not exist in reality and created some of the most artificial borders the world has seen. An attempt is now being made to redraw them in blood.”

The map creator is going to bring not only their understanding but also their biases and agenda. Even if your goal is to create the most accurate, unbiased map ever, that intent frames the decisions you make on what to represent and what to leave out. Our relatively new digital mapping makes a decision to respect some privacy at the outset and so Google doesn’t include images of people in its ‘streetview'.

Brotton argues that “a map always manages the reality it tries to show.” And as we have seen before, because there really isn’t one objective reality, maps need to be understood as portraying personal or cultural realities.

“No world map is, or can be, a definitive, transparent depiction of its subject that offers a disembodied eye onto the world.” All maps reflect our understanding of the territory at that moment in time. We change, and maps change with us.

The Territory
This leads to another pitfall. Get the right map. Or better yet, get multiple maps of the same territory. Different explorations require different maps. Don’t get comfortable with one and assume that’s going to explain everything you need. Change the angle.

Derek Hayes, in his Historical Atlas of Toronto, has put together a fascinating pictorial representation of the history of Toronto in maps. Sewer maps, transit maps, maps from before there were any roads, and planning maps for the future. Maps of buildings that were, and maps of buildings that are only dreams. Putting all these together starts to flesh out the context, allowing for an appreciation of a complex city versus a dot on a piece of paper. Maps may never be able to describe the whole territory, but the more you can combine them, the fewer blind spots you will have.

If you compare a map of American naval bases in 1947 with one from 1937, you would notice a huge discrepancy. The number increased significantly. Armed only with this map you might conclude that in addition to fighting in WWII, the Americans invested a lot of resources in base building during the 40s. But if you could get your hands on a map of British naval bases from 1937 you would conclude something entirely different.

As Marshall explains, “In the autumn of 1940, the British desperately needed more warships. The Americans had fifty to spare and so, with what was called the Destroyers for Bases Agreement, the British swapped their ability to be a global power for help in remaining in the war. Almost every British naval base in the Western Hemisphere was handed over.”

The message here is not to give up on maps. They can be wonderful and provide many useful insights. It is rather to understand their limitations. Each map carries the perspective of its creator and is limited by the medium it’s presented in. The more maps you have of a territory, the increased understanding you will have of the complexities of the terrain, allowing you to make better decisions as you navigate through it.

 

September 15, 2017 - "Re-drawing the Game Friday"

Last friday I was vacationing in China and I did not bring my computer with me (gasp!) nor did I feel like navigating the possible vpn censorship nonsense that is standard practice there (no gasp) despite their government's finger wagging. Perhaps I will revisit this subject in a later dispatch.

This week I'd like to share a ground mural in Italy by GUE. It is a re-drawing of the basketball court that attempts to inscribe the game's plays and actions into the ground in order to make them explicitly visible. Now if you know me at all, I don't really sports, so I can't relate to these basketball inscriptions on the ground, but I do like the idea of the ground taking a more active role of staging or presaging the action. Any sports field already does this to some degree, and if you are watching the game on tv, the commentators scribbling on the screen is an act of faux inscribing the ground. Perhaps for the players, in first person, the ground does this already.

 

September 22, 2017 - "Real Life Friday"

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy? [virtual?]
...
you know the rest!

This is extravagance (that I want to see with my own two eyes).

On a side note, it is astonishingly difficult to find a video like that Queen one on the US web that is not on YouTube.

 

September 29, 2017 - "Complexity and Contradiction Friday"

I've only breathed the airport air of Hong Kong, and never been to the actual place. I got close. It is on the proverbial list, don't you worry! The main forces attracting me to Hong Kong have been its physical density and geography and the way that the influences of the East vs West have had their impact on the place. That might turn out to be a simplistic impression, but it is one that touches on the contradictions that seem to be embedded in the place. And these complexities are at the heart of a pair of videos (dubbed as 'left channel' and 'right channel') created by Mariana Bisti. The films explore this 'complexity and contradiction', a concept that she borrows from Robert Venturi and which seems to be fitting in this context. Such complexities and contradictions are important at creating a "there" there (to borrow an expression from a former professor), they tease out some things and conceal others. Mariana hints at this in the video description by mentioning the Chinese principle for Hong Kong, which generally translates to "stability and prosperity".

Anyway, the films are done exclusively through a series of drone footage cuts, they are beautiful, drifting between buildings as an alien observer, with some wonderfully framed shots and sequences. O la la. 

 

October 6, 2017 - "Re-rendered Friday"

Frank Lloyd Wright was probably one of the most prolific architectural figures of the last century. He built many buildings, and designed many buildings that never left the realm of paper architecture (not to be confused with architecture made of paper, for ants). Yet some others that did get realized also got demolished after a very short lifespan (but I thought buildings should last a long time). Now, the spirits of some of those demolished buildings have been revived through digital renderings. Being an architect, I've always been drawn to this form of representation, although the medium has lost a bit of its magic at precisely the point when it is becoming indiscernible from a photograph. Oh the irony.

 

October 13, 2017 - "Future Food Fridays"

future food friday.png

One of the images in the diptych above is real (guess which one) and the other is fictional.

The top is a still from Blade Runner 2049, it is depicting a fictional yet not so hard to imagine future. Many of the ideas in the film are not looking forward very far and don't require that much suspension of disbelief. This actually makes them more present and tangible. The bottom image is a photo by Luca Locatelli for a National Geographic Magazine feature about super sustainable farming in the Netherlands. The surreal yellow lights are emanating from greenhouses that are increasing their yield by maximizing their growing time. They are really working those plants 24/7. It is a great read, and the article describes pretty futuristic sounding practices and products of technology-enabled techniques that are being deployed today.

Read the article, and then go watch Blade Runner while eating something.

 

October 20, 2017 - "An Uncanny Friday"

If you've ever watched a movie with digitally rendered characters intended to look like real people, but something about them is not quite right, then you've visited the Uncanny Valley. It's a place that's neither fake nor real, a kind of purgatory. On one side of the valley there are simulated people or objects that are clearly fakes and are not even pretending to be real, so we're cool with that, we like them, we think they're cute! On the other side are fakes that look so real that we can't tell the difference (go watch Blade Runner or West World). But in between, there is this awkward place called the Uncanny Valley and Alan Warburton created a wonderful short film probing not only the valley itself but also touching on other experimental, provocative, and also some mainstream territories that emerged out of this territory in our CGI-filled times.

My favorite segment lives in approximately the middle-third of the film where Warburton talks about "post-truth", "post-cinema", and "theoretical photorealism" as reflections on the current state of media production and consumption. All of this serves as context for musing on what may come next, given that we have now conquered this territory (on screen at least).

 

October 27, 2017 - "Spacey Friday"

I love space. Architectural space, interstitial space, tertiary space, cavity space, claustrophobic space, not bloated space, white space, liminal space, and o u t e r space! Outer space is cool! It inspires generations, and sparks countless imaginations. And for all of our creativity, we still can't imagine all of the things in outer space. Space: 1, humans: 0. 

The race to space did inspire a generation during the cold war. It was the commie soviets vs. the capitalist swine! And it was an inspired race that generated a tremendous amount of new knowledge, discoveries, and technologies that we take for granted today like cordless vacuum cleaners. What if the space race never ended? This is a speculative question that artist/illustrator Mac Rebisz is exploring through his series titled "Space That Never Was". His illustrations depict both real and fictional scenarios and they exist in an ambiguous time space of past/present/future due to the soft visual style and because they are grounded in real technologies. It's a lovely project.

p.s. for all we know, we are entering a new era of a [semi-]privatized space race.

 

November 3, 2017 - "Genre Overload Friday"

Holy musical genre overload! I love music and I suck at music genres (and most anything that is a proper noun) and I can't tell if this creation - named Every Noise at Once - is from a dream or a nightmare. If you click on a name it plays you a tune. Maybe this forest of colorful words representing loud noises is my nightmare.

 

November 10, 2017 - "Grid Friday"

Gerco de Ruijter has been graphically documenting the Jefferson Grid that is spread across a dominant part of the United States. A more boring name for it is the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), please... we'll stick with the more badass name. If you've ever flown across the US and wondered at the straight square patches of land, you were looking down at the Jefferson Grid. It is a system of subdividing land in the most rational way we humans know, squares. The basic unit is a 1x1 mile square, known as a section. Each section can be further subdivided into a 4x4 grid, or alternatively sections can be aggregated into a larger 6x6 group, known as a township. You get the idea.

There is just one problem with overlaying a grid on the earth, the earth is round. Geometry. This creates a gradual shift between rows of squares as you move up in latitude, requiring a correction, and this is where the project "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter wonderfully illustrates this phenomenon. And if you are keen on diving deeper into The Grid, bldgblg has a good post about it. Enjoy The Grid!

 

November 17, 2017 - "Stretching Time Fridays"

Beautiful Dreamer presents a life story of a girl as a series of one-day episodes with her mother. Or, it is a story of a mother with only two months left to live and choosing to stretch out that time in order to watch her daughter grow up. There is are some intriguing ideas of interaction between us and advancing technology and how it can simultaneously connect and separate us. Plus I always love a story that involves an Einstein theory.

 

December 1, 2017 - "Keeping the World's Time on Fridays"

One would think that time is not fickle, but apparently it is. At least this is the case with the construct of time as a socio/economic/political tool. Daylight Savings Time is a perfect example. Its intention is to extend the amount of evening daylight hours during the winter months. But who said that one minute it can be 7:59, and the next minute it's 7:00, or 9:00... what a mindfuck if you really think about it. (a little like flying long distances can feel like time travel). 

Luckily we now have computers that automatically adjust all our clocks... except that there are still people operating the computers that push commands to all the other computers that determine whether to move the clocks forward, back, by one hour, or by 30 minutes, and in which country. Whew.

 

December 8, 2017 - "[un]natural Tapestry Friday"

these images of mines inject awe and fear
the images of fish farms look downright whimsical
and the images of the tulip fields are just as mesmerizing as the ones of the container harbour

These images by Bernhard Lang are of unnatural landscapes, illustrating our tenuous relationship with the natural.

 

December 15, 2017 - "Opulent Fridays"

This is opulence and extravagance. It is also a stunning piece of engineering. What do you think?

 

December 22, 2017 - "Heart Friday"

This is happy
Heart!

 

December 29, 2017 - "Fulfilling Friday"

What is a sustainable, generative and productive kind of work that makes you fulfilled? Only a rare project or work is going to be all that. So maybe we can re-frame the question a little and ask, what feeds you with enough fulfillment that you are willing to work hard past the hardships and the ruts in order to keep going?

Jerry's Map feels like it could be either one, but that's not all. What is magical about it is the constantly evolving nature of the work, that can only be achieved through steady time and effort.

This friday I would like to ask you to respond to me with something that makes you happy. It can be anything, of any scope, duration, seriousness, a thing, or an activity, someone's website, something you do, a personal mini-ritual, or not. It's wide open, as long as it brings a small bit of fulfillment/joy/inspiration to your life. This friday series is a medium for me to share a little of what's on my radar and not every friday is cool and fun, but it's a way to maintain loose contact with you all and it would be wonderful to see a little of what gets your heart beating a little faster.

Happy upcoming New Year!