stefan sagmeister: the happy show.

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Ask any good parent what their ultimate hope is for their child and the answer is usually the same: they want them to be happy. As adults, it’s the beginning of a new year, everyone is back at work and our resolutions – everything that seemed so possible mere weeks ago – are already being tested. While we strive to improve ourselves, in little and large ways, I think that if we distilled all of our resolutions into one succinct, combined, communal wish it would be “I want to be happier.” Don’t all personal roads we yearn to travel really lead to a place where we simply like ourselves more? And that’s why my visit last weekend to Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show at Design Exchange came at exactly the right time.

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Sagmeister’s hand-written style lends itself perfectly to the energy of the entire exhibit. It’s more like a note passed in class than a formal letter. We’re not sitting down to study the official manual of happiness; we’re wandering, loosely, through the thoughts of someone that admittedly isn’t any more sure of the answers than we are. But he’s trying – and that’s what matters. From the hands protruding out of the wall offering Sagmeister’s favourite ginger candies (I took one) to the first 14 minutes of his eventual feature length documentary “The Happy Film” (I watched it twice), all of it gleaming in a beckoning coat of sunshine yellow, there was a feeling of wandering, like Alice, into an over-sized handwritten journal with past lessons come to life in a serene, contemplative Wonderland. 

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The show is a balance between information and experience. The walls in the first section are covered in stats and figures revealing truths and examining how we, as a society, define the idea of happy and how we all strive to get there. The other aspect is interactive, offering mini-challenges that, in the case of the “Happiness Instructional Card Dispenser” where a card shot out of the wall telling me to text a joke to a number I’d never heard of, don’t really seem to have any goal greater than the fact that you allowed yourself to follow your curiosity and just do it. The “Gumball Personal Happiness Survey”, while delightfully retro, is more than just an easy attempt at interaction. The world’s psychologists do much of their research in the exact same way: they ask. Sagmeister writes “This seemed laughable to me until I learned that when freshly interviewed people were put into an MRI scanner, the data matched neatly. When their family & friends were also questioned, ditto, it all conformed.” (For the record, I took mine from #8.)

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And if we could find happiness, what would it look like exactly? As part of crowd-sourcing visual ideas of hand-drawn happy by collecting them at the exhibit and asking for them to be submitted to The Happy Show’s TumblrI just started drawing and didn’t think about it too much. Apparently happiness for me is being on a boat with a husband (sounds about right). That little nugget next to the sail is either a small child or a large dog – haven’t figured that part out yet. Clearly I’m much better at writing about art than drawing it, but my jellyfish (lower right) is pretty bad ass.

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At the risk of sounding delusional, I felt like a bit of a kindred spirit with Sagmeister. Creative types probably have some of the same psychological hurdles and the things that obviously resonated enough for him to become part of the show struck me plainly. His explanation behind “Trying To Look Good Limits My Life”, while ironically also an exercise in really good-looking typography, felt like it could have been written by myself had I had the right moment of lucidity to get it out:

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But my favourite moment of the entire show was “Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increased My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” In the middle of the room sat a white bicycle on a metal riser, with instructions to ride it. My first thought was that it would be too embarrassing to hop onto a bicycle for an unknown reason in a room full of strangers. Then I asked a Docent if I was really allowed to ride the bicycle (so Canadian of me…) Then, brilliantly, across from the bicycle, I saw that Sagmeister had written: “Every single time I think ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should do that’ and then don’t follow through and actually do it, the uncompleted action creates a little nagging but otherwise empty space in my mind. I’ll also miss out on the satisfying feelings that comes with the completion of a project.”

He caught me! After that, there was no way I could live without getting on the damn bicycle. So I rode, and as I did the unlit matrix of neon tubing, in four simple phrases, taught what for me was the most significant insight of the day:

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If you don’t feel uncomfortable sometimes, you’re not doing anything worth doing. Lesson learned. It happened so simply and the sensation of realizing it so implicitly was a bit like getting up too quickly and seeing stars. I had one of those moments that you stop after and say to yourself “try to remember this.” It was fulfilling and invigorating and as I walked out of the exhibit onto the street I felt something palpable and tangible and easily defined. I was happy.

The Happy Show runs until March 3, 2013 at Design Exchange.

quasi-objects: lorenzo oggiano.

I’ve always loved the intersection of the digital and the organic, and how the hyper-depiction of seemingly natural subjects can be rendered so realistic that they border on seeming fake. Working in both video and 3D-generated visuals, Lorenzo Oggiano works inside a high-def macro world where his images play with polarity. Beginning his study in 2003 and still on-going, his “Quasi-Objects” series is obviously beautiful, but glistening grotesque; informed by the laws and evolutions of nature but not actually formed by them. Up-close, I can see flower stamens that resemble insect eggs and, with a blink of the eye, smooth skin that becomes scales and water drops mirror light like multi-faceted eyes. There’s a line where attraction and disgust run almost parallel, and he’s walking along it a spine-tingling way.

From Oggiano’s site: “Quasi-Objects” is an art project consisting of 3d generated videos and prints, a practice of “organic re-design” – started in 2003 and still in progress – that aims to stimulate thought and dialogue on the progressive relativisation of natural forms of life as a result of techno-biological evolution. “Quasi-Objects” regards data actualization, the production of biologically non-functional organisms and ecosystems as transient output of an operative practice: aesthetics of process.

Life is a real and autonomous process independent from any specific material manifestation.”

Via But Does It Float

nacho ormaechea / le carnet noir.

I’m a major fan of collage. Ever since I first discovered and fell in love with the work of Canadian artist Paul Butler years ago, I’ve been particularly fascinated by the way artists appropriate and juxtapose existing images (and our assumptions of their meanings) into brand new works. Lately I’ve noticed floods of new digital collage styles on Tumblr. As with anything, some are a bit more well done than others. All are art, but particular ones excel, and I’ve been especially excited by the work of Matt Wisniewski, Beth Hoeckel, and Dessi Terzieva.

Now I’m happy to add the gorgeous digital collages of Nacho Ormaechea’s Le Carnet Noir to the list.

A Spanish-born freelance Art Director and Graphic Designer working in Paris, Ormaechea’s work remove the urban dwellers from his obviously European backdrops and replaces them with colourful, incongruous images ranging from the organic – fruit and flowers – to the urban mundane – industrial hallways and electric signs. While his visual collisions might not have as much of a literal play on meaning or political subtext as others I’ve seen, they’re incredibly eye-catching in a straight forward, high def, casually bombastic way. And I can’t get enough of them. If you can’t either, then they’re all up for grabs over at Big Cartel.

kris tate.

I like the collision of colour and greyscale, and also of forms that are literal with those that aren’t. Which is a fancy way of saying that I like it when deer wear bad 80s sweaters and lasers shoot out of cats’ eyes. Which is all an elaborate lead-up to the fact that I really dig these illustrations from British graphic designer Kris Tate. Even better, she’s got some gorgeous prints for sale online at Society 6, and if one of them could magically appear on my wall that would be mint.

matt wisniewski.

Like a mad chemist mixing potions, collage is a brand new elixir divined from ingredients we all know into a brand new kind of magic. I find that the art of collage can sometimes fall victim to the “my kid could do that” attitude of modern art; the assumption that piecing existing imagery together is somehow easier than creating something from scratch. The point that they’re missing, obviously, is that, like so many things, the amalgamation is a brand new creation that exists wholly unto itself. Particularly, I find myself inspired by the work of: Tierney Gearon, Greg SheglerPaul Butler, and Christian Hückstädt. Today, happily, I can add Matt Wisniewski to the roster of collage awesomeness.

[Read more…]

matt pyke & friends: super-computer-romantics.

Any time Matt Pyke is about to release new work feels like Christmas Eve. My favourite digital artist and motion designer ever, Matt’s simply unbeatable at creating innovative, organic and jaw-dropping work for his own studio, Universal Everything, and some of the world’s biggest brands. (You may have heard of them: Nike, Chanel, Nokia, MTV and the London 2010 Olympics. Whatever. NBD.) He’s also the mastermind behind my favourite motion design project ever, the inimitable Advanced Beauty. If you haven’t seen it, get it. Buy it. Find it. Watch it. It’ll change your life.

One of my fave facets of Matt’s work is how it never seems forced or even “created” – somehow it feels like everything he does (“organic digital” is what I like to call it) just comes into being. It flows as easily as if it washed up on a shore or floated in on a breeze. Plus I’ve emailed with Matt a few times and he’s also a really stand-up guy and a class act all around.


In his first ever solo show, Matt’s taking over Paris’ La Gaîté Lyrique with Super-Computer-Romantics. Guest-curated by Charlotte Leuozon and with sound design by Matt’s brother and frequent collaborator, Simon, the exhibition features 8 separate environments covering more than 26,000 square feet. Pyke says “The approach is one of a romantic view of technology and of really kind of being optimistic about what you can do with technology and how you can create beauty with super-computers, how you can create pieces of video work and pieces of audio-visual work.”

Reading La Gaîté Lyrique’s extensive info on the event, I started to get light-headed and giddy: “Here, a 3 meters high walking monster, endlessly transforming itself. There, a monolithic block invites viewers to peek into a singular experience – witness the birth of materials at a molecular level. On the mezzanine, stands a crowd of generative living sculptures, grown from code. Facing them, a huge projection of a never-ending procession of bodies, struggling against a hurricane of sound. Each piece can be considered a supercomputing beauty seeking emotional sensations and feelings whose magic breaks with rational functionalism. Remixing primitivism, minimalism, pop culture and 19th century landscape painting, the exhibition Matt Pyke & Friends takes us to a romantic theatricality reaching a subtle and meaningful relationship between technologies and the viewer.”

Opening this Thursday and running until May 21, 2011, the show will also feature a full-sized theatre screen with a retrospective of all of Pyke’s commercial and artistic work to date as well as a public lecture, from Matt himself, on the subject of “creation.”

Getting me all hot and bothered for the upcoming show, today Nowness debuted a stunning teaser vid for “Supreme Believers”, one of the installations from Super-Computer-Romantics. The Universal Everything Vimeo channel has also released a teaser for the exhibition. Both are classic Pyke and I want more, more more.

Here’s a video of Matt himself talking about his vision for the exhibition (and giving some visual glimpses into what he’s got planned). 

I need to see this show. I NEED IT. If anyone would like to take me to Paris to see Super-Computer-Romantics, I’m not above begging. I’m a pretty decent conversationalist, I sleep well on planes and I know some French. I’ve also never met an escargot that I didn’t like. Just putting that out there.

If you want more Matt Pyke (and why wouldn’t you), here are past posts on Forever, a video installation for the Victoria & Albert Museum; the new brand identity they created for MTV International; their gorgeous 2010 reel; and here’s one of Universal Everything’s most recent works, a series of digital installations for Chanel:

+ via @universalevery

marc quinn: self.

I’m fascinated by the limits to which some artists push the envelope. Not only the message or appearance of their works, but also the possibilities for finding new extremes to use as the medium itself. A contemporary of Damien Hirst and one the legendary YBAs of the early 90s, the work of British sculptor Marc Quinn makes Hirst look like nothing more than a really enthusiastic taxidermist.

Most recently getting media and art-world buzz for his solid gold sculpture of Kate Moss in a revealingly contorted (and sublimely absurd) yoga pose, Quinn has long-since gone to an extreme of using his physical body as material that would make Marco Evarissti proud. Quinn’s famed 1991 work “Self” is a frozen sculpture of his own head, made from 4.5 litres of his won blood which was slowly taken from his body over a 5-month period. Now that, calling a spade a spade, is really fucking hardcore.

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Sure, I get that there’s an immediate, visceral reaction to something made from human blood. The sculpture itself, though well done, is fairly unremarkable except for the material it’s made of. But that’s precisely the point: the brilliance of the statement is in heightening the meaning of our desire to catalogue and honour and document our physical selves from clay and marble to our very own blood. A sculpture from our own DNA.

Then the over-reactions begin: it would be easy to freak out, be grossed out, and call Quinn crazy. But why? This is a study of how the medium of a work of art can not only equal the statement of the work itself, but completely eclipse it. And why should we be so repulsed by something that flows so critically and intimately inside each of our bodies anyway? Similar to the use of shit or piss in art (though I would defend it as equally meaningful as a statement if done by an artist of this calibre) the use of bodily fluids as an artistic medium usually raises similar ire. The difference for me is that those are things our bodies regularly gets rid of. Aside from menstruation, our bodies never intentionally discrete our own blood (and even then I’d argue there’s a difference between the monthly cycle of menstruation and the over-riding vitality of our regular blood). Blood is vital and universal and holds our entire health within it. Blood is as natural as tears, yet still people can have such abhorrent reactions to seeing it.

Kept in a refrigerated case where it must be constantly maintained at -12˚ Celsisus, “Self” was sold to an anonymous U.S. collector in 2005 for £1.5 million. Not a bad profit for its first owner – global advertising legend, renowned art patron/gallery owner and husband of Nigella Lawson, Charles Saatchi, who reportedly first bought “Self” in 1991 for “only” £13,000. That’s an 8666% return on investment. Not too shabby. Not that he does it for the money… I’m just sayin’.

Since 1991, Quinn has cast a new version of “Self” every five years. That means that there are 3 out there and one more (hopefully) on the way in the near future. And, with any lucky, many, many more to come… long live the art, and blood, of Mr. Marc Quinn.

ryan mcginley + nowness: entrance romance.

I first started following photographer/artist/wunderkind Ryan McGinley more than 2 years ago, when I posted about his gorgeous (and still my favourite) photo exhibition “I Know Where The Summer Goes.” Since then McGinley has blown up huge and deservedly so. Expanding his visual scope from photography, he moved into film last year with a short for fashion house Pringle of Scotland starring Tilda Swinton.

Last weekend, in collaboration with LVMH-branded website Nowness, McGinley released an incredibly hot looking short film (shot partially by a Phantom Camera at 1500 fps) called “Entrance Romance (It Felt Like A Kiss).” I’m a big proponent of art not necessarily needing to be “about” something, so this is right up my alley. In the short, supermodel Carolyn Murphy shoots hairspray at a lighter, makes out with a wet dog, and has a few glass objects thrown against her head. I fucking loved it. What’s it about? Don’t know, don’t care. It seems so gleefully confident in it’s abject weird nothingness that I fully bought it.

Though the whole concept of filming shit being thrown at people isn’t original (the work of New York City-based photographer Meg Wachter comes to mind) the production value is through the roof and, plus, Murphy is simply incredible to look at. The look of serene intensity she maintains while knowing, somewhere, that a bowl full of goldfish is hurtling towards her is somehow completely fascinating. However, it’s the sly wave of sadomasochistic discovery that spreads across her face after being drilled in the head with a bottle of Heineken that really makes this worth the price of admission. Except that it was free… but you get my point.

Via Towleroad.

félix gonzález-torres: portrait of ross.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the different ways people try to attribute “value” to art. If something looks complicated to make, then more people seem more easily willing to accept its worth. A still life, for example, or hyper-realistic drawing; things that not everyone can easily do. Then there’s the shallow judgment of the “my kid could paint that” crowd, the anti-Pollocks, operating on the assumption that because something, at first glance, appears simple that there’s no way that a deeper meaning could possibly make it more complex.

For me, the visual layer of art is just that: a layer. It’s a facet of a whole. And like any thing where that whole is greater than the sum of its parts, there is an entire other realm of art where it’s the intention and meaning, and not necessarily the immediate visual complexity, that make a piece unforgettable.

Félix González-Torres‘ “Portrait of Ross” is exactly that type of work.

This is as much a pile of candy as Warhols are pictures of soup cans and Rothkos are blocks of colour. This is a statement on the loss of love so profound that I broke into tears when I first read about it.

González-Torres was a Cuban-born sculptor and installation artist who worked in New York City in the 80s and early 90s. He was part of the “process art” movement, where the experience of creating and re-creating a work is as intrinsic a part of it as the “finished” product (part of the ideal being that, really, the piece can never be finished as its intent is to constantly re-create itself).

Ross Laycock was Félix’s partner, and when he was diagnosed with HIV his doctor set his ideal weight at 175 pounds. “Portrait of Ross” is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy set in a pile. The candy is unguarded, the purpose being for the viewer to take some of it from the mound. Each and every day, the remaining candy is removed, weighed, and more is added until it weighs exactly 175 pounds. Then it’s set back out again.

The candy is both a representation of Ross’ physical weight and a metaphor for the very best and worst of his struggle with AIDS. As the disease takes away, the person’s size may dwindle, but the weight of the spirit – the intent to remember and replenish, the power to celebrate – brings it back each morning.

To me this is meaning so pure and exquisitely expressed that I take it thoroughly personally. Being handed this sort of raw offering, Félix’s life becomes mine. I’ve been entrusted by him to help share the memory of his partner. And in doing so, my love becomes his. His loss becomes mutual. How else to try and explain to another person, who’s never met your love, the weight and importance of their being; all the things that you’d loved about them but which are impossible to relate without a universal measure that we both can adhere to?

I put myself in his place and wonder how I would possibly convert the best of things about someone I love into terms we’d both understand: the lumens of light held in their eyes; the decibles of their morning whisper; the pressure of their hand on your back; the groundspeed of their walk.

…Or their exact weight in a pile of candy. The heaviness that represents everything they are and ever were – every molecule, every scar. True, the soul is intangible and only encapsulated in the body for a time, but there’s no way to deny the meaning of the body as the vessel of all that the soul contains.

I think that here the value can be determined not by the skill it takes to pile candy in a corner – to evaluate “Portrait of Ross” like that would be intentionally small-minded. Here the value is not just in the experience shared, but in the sacrifice for González-Torres to share his most intimate pain. The immense strength of the human soul, not brush to canvas or hand to clay, is the genesis here.

I think of the holes life leaves us with and how we try to fill them. Some days we succumb to the smallest parts of ourselves and let them be filled with sadness. Some days we find the bravery to try to fill them with joy. With memories of light and moments so special and sweet that to recall them is a feeling not unlike the crinkle of remembrance, like pastel-dipped cellophane, untwisting itself within us like the opening of a piece of candy.

To me it speaks to the ways we try, and fail, to hold ourselves together. And when you need help there can be a polite request to take your own loved one and pass their memory into the collective consciousness. A never-ending public memorial. Not grand or tangible or even physically permanent in any way, just as our bodies are not, but just as our souls are: translucent, mercurial, airy, travelling. With every person who carried a piece of candy home, so went a  precious piece of memory and a transferral of duty. All humans remember those who we loved who are gone. And with this work, Félix asks us to help remember them both. We remember for those who cannot.

Life is not fair, but true love is. And when we celebrate it, a moment in the pale shadow of its grace brings us together.  Even strangers are more connected, and we are closer to each other and elevated to a purer version of ourselves.

Ross died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1991, as did Félix in 1996. Though I never met them, never knew of either during their lifetime, their lives have led to a story that has changed mine forever. I am different for “Portrait of Ross” having existed, and I will never forget them.

Via Now My Butt Hurts

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erin hanson: reminders.

I’ll admit it; I’m a huge sucker for projects utilizing photograph and text. The possibility for creating a double-meaning between the supposed emotion of the image and the ostensible meaning of the words is like a big ol’ playground. Plus any image that involves cut outs that look like real life old skool refrigerator alphabet magnets is good by me.

Some of my other fave projects in the same vein focus more on emotional depth or existentialist questioning:  Kotama Bouabane’s “Melting Words” is a lonely play on sentiments of love and loss at the end of a relationship, while the large outdoor works of Nathan Coley offer more questions that answers about us, our meaning, and our place in the world.

Taking a totally different route, Erin Hanson’s “Reminders” series is filled with  flashes of our most unremarkable thoughts. Banal, boring, and inconsequential, like little snapshots of the things that run through our minds during a normal day and, more often than not, are dismissed and discarded before we’ve even had a chance to realize we thought them.

To me, though, our hopes and fears can be revealed by piecing together the inconsequential things. Often we push aside everything we don’t feel strong enough to confront into the mundane, and these small thoughts are like after-shocks from much larger quakes. What does our vanity say about our true sense of self-worth, what does our sense of obligation or disconnection to our family say about our sense of home, and what does the need to remind ourselves to wake up or go outside say about our lethargy and our over-willingness to connect and live digitally instead of physically?

Via Share Some Candy

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