A long wait for John Malkovich’s next movie

Neither in business nor in cinema, these days, do we expect the long game to be played. Both seek a fast turnover and a near-immediate return on investments. That makes it doubly surprising that John Malkovich‘s new film, sponsored and produced by Louis XIII cognac, went directly to the vault, unseen. It is scheduled for release in 2115.

Marketing gimmick? Sure. The obvious tie-in is that “100 Years” is both the film’s title and is the age of at least some of the brandy blended in Louis XIII (bottles of which currently fetch around $3000). The film itself may or may not be a vast exercise in product placement (trailers released thus far suggest that, but it’s not even clear that the footage we’re seeing is part of the completed film).

Lacking any expectation of ever seeing the final product, we’ll withhold judgement as to whether this is a film to be taken seriously, or an expensive commercial for expensive booze. Either way, and granting the gimmicky-ness, you have to admire the ingenuity, not to mention the patience.

In 2011, research firm Bloomburg BNA asked about three hundred CEOs and CFOs if they were willing to make an investment that would make their companies more profitable and sustainable in the long term, but would cause them to slightly miss their next quarterly earnings projections. Eighty percent said they would not. Long-term thinking is completely alien in the current business environment. Even a “business cycle”—roughly six years—is too long. Business planning is now nothing more or less than the maximization of profits, and it is measured only in weeks and months.

None of this is to say that producer Louis XIII, director Robert Rodriguez, or writer/co-star John Malkovich have ushered in any new paradigms in business or film-making. At worst, they’ve done something a little different, a little unexpected. In business, and in film-making, that’s to be admired but it hardly guarantees success.

On the other hand, maybe they’ve gone completely against the grain as to how films get made, and products get sold. Success might still be elusive, but you can argue that it’s a little more deserved.

“100 Years: The Movie You Will Never See” is not coming soon to a theater near you. Best we’ll be getting this century are these handful of gorgeous glimpses. Behold:

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To rebuild a Colossus

It’s been more than 2,200 years since the monumental statue of the sun god Helios, the Colossus, stood as sentry at the mouth of the harbor of the Greek island of Rhodes. Built of iron and bronze by Chares of Lindos to celebrate a military victory over Cyprus; it was completed in 280 BCE after twelve years of construction. It stood for 54 years before an earthquake snapped its knees and brought it tumbling down. It was never rebuilt.

Until…now? The Colossus of Rhodes Project is a consortium of young European architects, engineers, even economists intent recreating the Colossus as a modern cultural center, and as a tribute to European unity and resiliency. Their plan is to emulate Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, who began construction on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia basilica in 1883 (it’s still incomplete). Gaudi created and sold subscriptions to help fund the project, which led to a sense of ownership and pride among the townspeople as they watched their shared dream rise from the ground.

A similar dream might reinvigorate Greece and other regions of eastern Europe, as they continue to recover from the lingering economic crisis and now work to accommodate waves of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. The Project team envisions the new Colossus as a symbolic triumph over these and other hurdles, and as a physical declaration of pride of history and hope for the future. The interior of the statue is to include gallery spaces and libraries; the exterior will include solar panels and will be topped with a lighthouse. It is to be nearly 500 feet tall.

As yet there are no estimates of the final costs of the project. It will no doubt be vastly expensive. But it can be done, and it should be done. The purpose is noble, and the outcome will be gorgeous and thrilling to behold. If and when it’s crowdsourced, it will be an opportunity for all of us to share in history.

Solicitations haven’t started yet; I urge you to stay tuned and be ready to donate as soon as the Project is ready to commence. In the meantime, enjoy these videos as a hint of what’s to come:

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Culture of oppression: Moscow gallery forced to close after benefit for political prisoners

The Marat Guelman Gallery, a nexus of the Moscow art scene since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, has been evicted following an October 18th art auction to benefit twelve anti-Putin protesters imprisoned since 2012.

Gallery owner and director Marat Guelman says he was served eviction papers on Oct. 20th by the the owners of the Vinzavod (winery) Art Center, which houses the gallery. The eviction cited past-due rent; Guelman disputes this. He told the Moscow Times “There weren’t any [debts], and my accountant informed them of that.” The art space management company then asked Guelman to sign an agreement to not host any more political events, which he did. Nevertheless, the company quickly reneged and ordered the gallery out of the space.

“I wrote it and signed it. … An hour later they replied: ‘Vacate the premises by Nov. 5,’” Guelman posted to social media.

We reached out to friend of the Deconstruction and frequent correspondent, artist Petro Wodkins, for his reaction. He responded by email to let us know he’s not currently in Moscow but was aware of these events. “Marat Guelman is a great man and one of the central figures in the Russian art scene,” Petro writes. He said that the Vinzavod “lost much more than gained” by evicting Guelman. Still, Wodkins doesn’t seem to want to condemn them, saying that displays of loyalty to the state  are “the only way to stay in business, even if it’s art-connected business.”

Petro Wodkins has relayed to us before some grim insights on contemporary Russia. He expanded on that in light of these events: “Businesses are not confident in their future and don’t want to be even close to anything beyond mainstream vision. It’s not about art or freedom. It’s about showing loyalty.” It is, he said, a matter of survival.

The Deconstruction joins Petro Wodkins in wishing best of luck and a quick rebound to Marat Guelman, and indeed to all artists, writers, and creators working under conditions of political oppression. Hang in there, friends—art always trumps thuggery in the end, and you’re already doing everything you need to do to bring those punks down.

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Happy little trees on demand: Bob Ross on YouTube

From January 1983 to May 1994 the face of oil-painting pedagogy was surmounted by a ginger ‘fro, and the voice of the same was as calm and soothing as bottled Zen. Bob Ross came to PBS to share The Joy of Painting, but what he delivered was a public-television classic and a cultural landmark. Not to mention innumerable happy little trees.

Now let there be rejoicing, because Bob Ross has come to YouTube. Season 1, episode 1 is imbedded below, and every moment of it is awesome to behold—from his low-ball prediction for the series’ run (13 weeks, he says. Ha!), to his description of his easel, his pallet knife, and indeed every student’s paintings as “almighty.” Bob Ross looked us in the eye, and told us there is an “artist hid in the bottom” of us all. He said all was needed was “a vision in our heart” and the will to put it on canvas.

Bob Ross died way too young, aged 52, on the Fourth of July 1995. He is sorely missed, but thanks to the streaming web, he’s surely not forgotten.

Bonus Bob Ross funfacts: prior to his art career, Bob Ross was a 20-year Air Force veteran; he retired as a Master Sergeant. He’d started painting during his downtime, and opted to retire when he found that his art sales were outpacing his Air Force salary.

It is estimated that Bob Ross completed 30,000 paintings during his lifetime. Roughly four percent of those were donated to PBS stations for fundraising auctions while The Joy of Painting was on the air. What has become of the other 28,000 or so Bob Ross originals? No one knows.

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Rage against Renoir

You just don’t see many arts-related popular movements these days, least of all ones that inspire partisans to man the barricades. But there’s one a-brew right now, replete with picket lines forming outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The issue? Fire-breathing hatred of the art of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Their critique of the Impressionist’s oeuvre is pretty direct, and is advertised right there in the org’s charter: Renoir Sucks at Painting. Armed with that declaration, they’ve begun confronting leading museums with demands that they divest themselves of their Renoir stock, and have created a White House petition calling for removal of all Renoir paintings from the National Gallery.

If Renoir Sucks at Painting (RSAP) has a mouthpiece, it’s Max Geller, who calls the artwork in question “indefensible swathes of poorly rendered treacle,”  and deems it “aesthetic terrorism” that museums display Renoir paintings instead of, well, literally anything else.

There’s an undercurrent of humor here (even though, perhaps inevitably, one pro-Renoir counterprotestor recently informed the RSAP cadre that they were nazis), but the criticism seems heartfelt, and perhaps even valid. We’ve long been force-fed the assertion that Renoir was a founding father of the Impressionism movement, and a Very Important Artist. But then you take a look at his paintings, take a good look, and everything that RSAP rabble is saying starts to make a whole lot of sense….

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Babylonian tree-hugger: The lost verses of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh of Uruk, great king and itinerant seeker, priest of Kullab and bosom-friend of Enkidu, we thought we knew ye.

Well, we should have figured. The Epic of Gilgamesh, history’s first great narrative poem and mankind’s inaugural piece of literature, has (in modern times at least) always been a cobbled-together affair. The story we know today is the average, so to speak, of dozens of slightly varying versions, written over a period of about a thousand years or so, and unearthed from Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian sites throughout the Middle East. Between the 1850s and 1930s the Gilgamesh tablets were collected, translated, and assimilated into the now familiar account of a melancholy king’s search for immortality.

But there was always that chance that just one for fortuitous turn of the spade might amend the story. And yep, sure enough, that has happened.

Archaeology and warfare have always been strange bedfellows, and this has surely been true throughout culturally rich Iraq. The tumultuous years since the 2003 U.S. invasion have seen countless sites and artifacts plundered and destroyed. Yet there have also been opportunities, doubtless impossible under Saddam’s regime, for the recovery of treasures which otherwise would have disappeared into private hoards. The Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, has been privately negotiating with smugglers, and buying back loot before it could spirited out of the country.

In 2011, for the bargain-basement price of $800, the museum purchased this clay tablet. A cursory translation revealed it to be part of the Gilgamesh story, a familiar “chapter” about Gilgamesh and his friend, the wild-man Enkidu, battling the god-monster Humbaba in the Forest of Cedar. The tablet was placed on display, with a short description card describing the story fragment and the language it’s written in.

Not long ago, the museum took another go at the translation, and discovered something truly ground-breaking: an additional twenty verses to the story that had never been seen before. These included some lyrical embellishments—descriptions of the sights and sounds, the flora and fauna of the Forest of Cedar—as well as an unprecedented glimpse of archaic ecological awareness. In all versions of the story, after Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay Humbaba, they lay waste to the forest, chopping down and burning the trees. In the Sulaymaniyah tablet version, they immediately feel remorse and recognize that such destruction is evil. They also discuss their fear of the wrath of the gods for their actions, which foreshadows the traditional end of the chapter, in which the earth-god Enlil rages at them, “Why did you do this thing? From henceforth may the fire be on your faces, may it eat the bread you eat, may it drink where you drink.”

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Artists at work (that we never thought we’d see)

Sydney professor John Hall is to be heartily commended (hat tip also to Huffington Post’s Priscilla Frank for spreading the word) for helping to preserve some amazing century-old glimpses of artistic giants at work.

Ever seen (or ever imagine you would see) Claude Monet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting? Or Auguste Rodin sculpting?



I never would have thought so either, but here we are.


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Upcycling writ large: Dutch designer clears the air

Upcycling is perhaps our most progressive response to ecological mismanagement. It is, in every sense of the term, turning trash into treasure; by rescuing and repurposing material otherwise bound for the trash-heap, upcyclers are at the vanguard of resource preservation—which just happens to be a twenty-first century eco-practice that just might save the planet.

So (for all our sake) take that to the extreme. Daan Roosegaarde did, with a project intended to not only clean the very air we breathe, but to also turn the particulate pollution—the stuff you’d rather not think about, but is gumming up your lungs as we speak—into existentially grim yet unexpectedly compelling jewelry.

The mechanism for this atmospheric metamorphosis is a 23-foot cantilevered tower, acting as catalyst and centerpiece for Roosegarde’s Smog Free Project.

Like any good potential planet-saving idea, this one is elegant in its simplicity—it works much like the air-purifier you might have in your home or office. Powered by green-energy sources, the system positively charges its 264 exterior horizontal plates, which attracts and holds the negatively charged particulate matter in the air. It can, in its silent and diligent way, clean 30 cubic meters of air per hour.

Above and beyond this functional design, the Project goes one step further: by isolating, compressing, and affixing as jewelry the collected soot, it upcycles a stark, tangible reminder of the actual and potential states of our life-sustaining atmosphere.

The prototype tower is currently churning out a bubble of breathable air in Rotterdam, and is the subject of plans for a world tour—stops in mega-polluted Mumbai and Beijing are in the works. Great idea, but here’s a better one: Why don’t we just replicate this simple, beautiful idea, and put one of these on every block?

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A century of the absurd – Looking back on Dada

It was roughly a hundred years ago (the dates are hard to pin down) that one of history’s most vibrant, innovative, and influential art movements was born. Dadaism dominated the scene for a scant twenty years, spinning off from the fin de siècle Cubism of Picasso and Cezanne, and maturing at last into the Surrealism of Dali and Magritte. Dada was a brief, bright flare; with a brevity perhaps not planned by its progenitors, but certainly in accordance with their common philosophy. As anti-art, Dadaism was pre-programmed for suicide, and if it had resisted that urge it would have necessarily devolved into self-parody.

More than anything else, Dadaism was a response to and a child of war. It appeared toward the mid-point of the First World War, as it became globally clear that the conflict was to be no grand adventure, but rather the ruthless culling of a generation. Dadaism was, as a result, peculiarly political, and it’s interesting to note that it first appeared in then-neutral countries, the United States and Switzerland, but its adherents were primarily combat veterans and refugees from the belligerent nations, especially France and Germany. As soon as the war ended those nations, and many others, embraced Dada in a way that can almost be described as a frenzy, with Paris, Berlin, Cologne, and Zurich as the artistic centers of gravity.

Reactionary though it was, Dada had difficulty defining itself, its goals, its ideology. More often than not, in accordance with its nihilistic roots, it was described only in terms of opposition—it was anti-bourgeois, anti-statist, and in terms of art as it was understood in the day, it was anti-art.

Today, Dada is best remembered as visual art forms—the paintings of Francis Picabia, the “Ready Made” sculptures of Marcel Duchamp, and the collages of Max Ernst. In its day, though, Dada refused such easy categorization, and embraced a universe of expression. Poetry, in particular, was integral to early Dadaism, even if some of its experimental efforts haven’t stood the test of time (Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara, for example, pioneered both nonsense verse—rhyming syllables with no inherent meaning, and ‘simultaneous poems’—cacophonous readings by two or more poets at the same time). Photography and film were also important Dadaist media; and all of it, during the Dada heyday of 1915 through 1925, tended to be presented in massive, chaotic, barely planned Dada happenings, which in of themselves might be thought of as proto-performance art.

The word “Dada” is, naturally enough, part of the absurdist package that formulates the movement’s counter-manifesto. It is essentially, purposely meaningless, yet it hints at meaning. In English-speaking cultures, it’s often a child’s first word. In the Slavic nations, it means “yes, yes.” And in colloquial French, it refers to a hobbyhorse. It is a melange that defies precise definition, much like the art and artists we call Dadaist.

In the United States, where (arguably) Dadaism first expressed itself, the impetus wasn’t just political, it was also an artistic backlash. The American art scene was still coming to grips with the legendary Armory Show of 1913, which all but forced the country to accept the relative new waves of Cubism and Post-Impressionism. Certain artists living and working in New York, like photographer Man Ray and expatriate Frenchman Marcel Duchamp, thought they could bring even more pressure to bear, by presenting America with art that was avant-garde to the point of folly. Duchamp, for example, turned a urinal upside-down, named it “Fountain,” and called it sculpture. Ray glued tacks to a flatiron and photographed it. Both pieces, simple and absurd constructions, have become iconic Dadaist representations.

New World Dada was to meet the Zurich-born (whence the name “Dada” was coined) stripe after the war, and like weather-fronts colliding, the amalgam was both creative and destructive. It flourished in this collaborative form for just a few more years before disintegrating. Was it the internal competition, perhaps deep-seated incompatibility, that brought it down? Or was it the lull of peace-time, and a lack of a counterpose to confront and ridicule, that made it irrelevant?

Either way, it was gone, but surely not forgotten. The direct descendants of the Dadaists were the mid-century Surrealists, but the current hardly stopped there. Politically provocative performance art, poetry slams, even punk rock owes a debt to the Dadaists who blazed their trails a century ago.

However Dada died, and in whatever forms its genes live on, its central tenet is as relevant today as it was during the dark days of Verdun: Art needn’t be static and it mustn’t be silent. Art should carry a message, even if that message is a wordless scream of rage and anguish.

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The Labor Movement: still working for us all

Saw some social-media ignorance on display this Labor Day weekend—which surprised me more than it reasonably should have. In this case it was a picture of flag-draped military coffins, with the guilt-inducer: “Just In Case You Thought It Was About A 3-Day Weekend.”

No. That’s Memorial Day you’re thinking of, and as near-sacrosanct as that holiday is and should be, it’s not Labor Day. Those are separate and distinct celebrations.

On Labor Day we honor the U.S. labor movement, and in a very real way it is about the three-day weekend. It’s about weekends in general, about personal time, time away from the job—things we wouldn’t have were it not for organized labor.

Labor Day honors the ability of the working class to strive toward the middle class—and it celebrates the fact that in doing so labor builds our infrastructure, sustains our industry, and powers our economy.

And traditionally, labor does all this with very little credit, and even less respect.

As a result, labor as a cultural and political force is in decline. Has been for some time. In a digital economy, where derivative finance is considered to be the most viable engine for growth, industry is seen as anachronistic, and organized labor as a throwback and a threat.

What that viewpoint fails to take into consideration is labor’s ongoing and irreplaceable contribution to our society. Like many things that are taken for granted, its worth is only appreciated when it’s interrupted. So, as always, the laborer will only get the respect he deserves when he lays down his tools.

That, possibly, is a fight for another day. The struggle goes on (history seems to suggest it’ll never end). This weekend, labor—and the rest of us—are invited to cease our toils peaceably, in fellowship and cooperation. The Labor Movement sacrificed mightily to earn us this respite, so it’s only fitting that we take just a moment of it to reflect on all its contributions, and on all its many sacrifices.

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Artist / provocateur Petro Wodkins makes Putin’s head explode

Petro Wodkins is by now an old friend of the Deconstruction—we chuckled with him back in May ’13 when he hijacked Belgium’s beloved Mannekin Pis (and replaced it with himself). And we thrilled with him in the following year when he (artistically!) took  on Zimbabwe’s perfidious strongman, Robert Mugabe.

Petro’s political evolution continues, and this time he’s picked a formidable target indeed—one all too able (and more than likely, willing) to strike back….

As part of a larger performance project called Sound of Power, in which busts of world leaders are fitted with audio speakers (“Play the people who play the world,” says Petro Wodkins), a likeness of Russian president Vladimir Putin was today blown up—after first playing some jaunty tunes of course. Actually, a trio of Putin heads were exploded, and in a gesture to cement the political message in play, they sequentially emitted the colors of the flag of the Russian Federation.

Word from Petro’s camp is that the gesture was noted and denounced in Russian media. I couldn’t independently verify this, my Cyrillic skills being what they are (non-existent), but I did notice, and took it as significant, that the YouTube upload of the performance has been intermittently hacked throughout the day. I’ve imbedded it below, and it was working at post-time, but if you have any trouble viewing it, you might just assume that Bad Vlad doesn’t want you to.

I managed to reach out to Petro (or whatever his real name is) and passed on a few questions. To begin with, I wondered, did he worry about backlash from Putin or his regime?

Putin looks too beautiful as a bust-speaker and likes fireworks. So I think it’s nothing to worry about.

Noting that the Sound of Power project has already gained some press, I asked what other heads we might see in the spotlight soon:

It’s big and complex project, that lasts over the year already. We’ll keep you posted.

I took the liberty of comparing Wodkin’s politically conscious performance art to the all-too-brief Dada movement of the early twentieth century. I asked if he thought that was a fair comparison, and whether we were seeing with him and other artists a flowering of a kind of neo-Dada:

A lot of crucial things are happening…we’re definitely experiencing something. Let’s wait [to give it a name].

Finally, at the risk of not Letting the Art Speak for Itself, I asked Petro what message he was imparting with this performance. Was there, I asked, a message for Putin in particular?

Russians consider him too serious, he is everywhere in our life. Sometimes you are afraid to see him even when you turn on your favourite porn. If people start thinking about Putin as a function, in the way they think about their furniture or bikes, being able to put him aside at any time for any reason, things are going to change. Hopefully once we’ll treat people of power as serious as teddy bears left in a closet years ago. Putin himself doesn’t need any messages from this side of the wall. He thinks he is almost God. It’s not about him. It’s about us.

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Strandbeests – The Uncanny Valley isn’t just for androids anymore

Theo Jansen is a kinetic sculptor—yet that seemingly innocuous title hardly does credit to his signature creation, the Strandbeest.

A Strandbeest—literally, a “beach animal”—has an organic appearance only with the most liberal stretch of the imagination. They’re an amalgam of wood, PVC, canvas…and that’s exactly what they look like. As a product of artistic engineering, they have a rugged sort of industrial beauty. But do they in any way seem alive?

They move…either under force of wind or by human nudging…and yes, oh my yes, they are surely alive.

Until now, the Deconstruction’s fascination with the Uncanny Valley has been limited to solely the anthropomorphic kind. The Strandbeest has put paid to that. Watching a sculpture scuttle across the sand in the manner of a massive and massively misshapen hermit crab has widened the valley. And that valley shall never close.

A wary welcome then (wary only in terms of unsettled appreciation) to Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests, which are now set to inhabit American shores. The Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts is hosting “The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen” from September 19th to January 3rd.

But what if they like it here? What if they refuse to leave?

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Detroit is your playground – artist misplaces his tiger in the Packard Plant ruins

If you think it’s cool to play fast and loose as an urban artiste in the ruins of a once great American city–where, by the way, people still have to live–then you might be an elitist jackass.

British photographer David Yarrow defines himself as an artist AND conservationist, which is nice and all, but it’s hard to say what higher purpose he was serving when he showed up for a photo shoot this week at Detroit‘s famously ruined Packard Plant…with a tiger, two wolves and a bobcat.

The Packard Plant itself, in operation between 1903 and 1958, has been in a more or less accelerating state of decay since at least the late 1990s, positioning it as a sad and eerie microcosm for greater Detroit. But in an even more depressing development, the plant has become ground zero for ruin porn a cottage industry giving a degradingly new low definition for ‘slumming it.’

Apparently oblivious to the notion that places like Packard are not just graveyards for a once thriving blue-collar middle class, but also, again, unfortunately situated near peoples’ homes, photographers, would-be adventurers, even wedding parties (for fuck’s sake), are enjoying some kind of weird atavistic thrill by spelunking and shutter-snapping their way through monuments to past industriousness and urban abandonment.

From an historical viewpoint, it has to be admitted that some of the images are fascinating—the name Packard, after all, went in less than half a century from being synonymous with luxury to being, at least in this context, a byword for urban decay. But it’s hard to see how many of these self-styled explorers are connecting with the stories of the people and the industries that rose and fell in these places. One suspects that they are merely voyeurs to the epilogue.

And while I won’t try to unpack Yarrow’s motivation from afar, I’ll simply observe that it’s hard to see what, exactly, pictures of wild animals roaming broken hallways were supposed to signify.

Artistic vision aside, let’s just agree it was the height of irresponsibility–especially when the inevitable happened, and the goddamned tiger got loose.

Cut to the spoiler: no one was hurt, and the big cat was recaptured (turns out that in Detroit, you use a weed wacker to catch tigers. Who knew).

All’s well that end’s well? Sure, this time. Have we learned anything? Likely Mr. Yarrow learned something about animal handling, at the very least. If we’re very lucky, he and maybe some others learned that if you’re visiting a city that people call home, even if it isn’t a very pretty one, please don’t be a pretentious asshole.

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Earth Overshoot Day – we’re in ecological debt

2015 is 255 days old – less than 2/3 complete. And yet as of today, August 13th, we  as a global species have already used up one year’s worth of our planet’s resources.

This means that as far as renewables—plants and animals, not to mention carbon absorption—between Jan 1. and sometime today, we’ve already consumed more than our biosphere is capable of replenishing in one calendar year. For the remainder of 2015 we’re in ecological debt, not-so-metaphorically consuming our seedcorn.

At our present rate of consumption we require the resources of 1.6 planet earths to support our lifestyles. But we don’t have 1.6 earths, do we?

As 2015 winds down, and as we go on borrowing resources from a very uncertain future, let us spend a little time, and hopefully a little effort, on working our way back toward global sustainability.

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World’s oldest art manual now available for your review

Kudos and thanks going out to the Cambridge University Library for inviting us all to enjoy a 17th-century Chinese manual for artists and calligraphers, which had previously been deemed too fragile to open. The book has now been fully digitized, with all 388 pages viewable online.

It’s called the Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (or Shi zhu shai shu hua pu), originally published in 1633 by Nanjing’s Ten Bamboo Studio. The book’s breathtaking illustrations, while created by at least 50 separate artists, can largely be credited to Ten Bamboo’s innovative printmaker, Hu Zhengyan, who developed the process that brings the book’s hundreds of prints to life.

The technique was called douban, and now is more familiarly known as polychrome xylography. It is the meticulous re-printing of each illustration’s woodcut with successive layers of ink, resulting in multi-color pictures that resemble, more than anything else, hand-painted watercolors.

Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu is the earliest known manuscript to include polychromatic mechanical printing. It represents a milestone in art, publishing, and Chinese culture. It was nearly lost to us—or was at least no closer than a book we couldn’t open. But thanks to more current milestones in those same arts, and thanks to the good folks at the Cambridge University Library who were willing to leverage them on our behalf, this gorgeous book has opened for us once again.

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