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Ginckels & Vogel

December 8, 2008

Quite an elegant project: Pieterjan Ginckels and Cristian Vogel collaborated to produce this edition of 500 7-inch records. Each record is embedded with a single infinitely looping beat, yet when played on different turntables with different amplifiers, the tone of the beat varies. Ginckels describes it like this:

The record can be played on a normal turntable. They are used in the installation “1000 Beats” on various players, through several mixers, amplifiers and loudspeakers, all borrowed from friends and people connected to the art institute. All gear has its own characteristics (speed differences, equalisation, volume) making the whole installation sound unique anytime, and anywhere in the space, with the tiny loop as its basic material.

The album and sleeve were designed by Grandpeople. Ginckels is currently in Beijing developing a project with Theatre in Motion.

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Jelly Theory

December 5, 2008

Since I’m mentioning Wieden-related activities, Jelly Helm presented a lecture at Rontoms a couple of nights ago. I appreciated his humble approach to his role as MC, but had a few issues with the general argument. The talk was titled Conversation/Advertising, which sounds relevant to much current discussion about networks of communication, interaction, audience participation, etc. So I was a bit surprised to hear that Jelly’s notion of conversation (which was demonstrated via an exercise that required 5 minutes of passive intense listening to one’s neighbor) is awfully close to the classical TV model: A speaks to B who receives – but does not respond to – A’s message.

Jelly went on to present a diagram of what he calls post-consumer brands. These include Apple, Toyota Prius, Wii, Facebook, Nascar, Google and Barack Obama. I’m a bit perplexed by the use of the term “post-consumer” to describe these brands. What is it about buying an iPhone or a hybrid car or a gaming system that disrupts the model of production and consumption? Maybe I’m dickering about semantics, but economies are by definition about the production and consumption of goods, services and resources. All engagement equals consumption – an attempt to interiorize something outside oneself. That process in part shapes and defines the various identities associated with a person.

Jelly stated that what he means by a post-consumer brand is one “where experience trumps advertising.” But are the two really divisible? Jelly’s use of the Toyota Prius – and not the Honda Civic Hybrid – as an example is significant. Both are solid cars with roughly the same real-world miles-per-gallon performance/carbon-footprint-reduction effect. So why is the Prius an emblem of post-consumption, but not the Civic? Why is there a months-long waiting list to purchase a Prius, while the Civic hybrid hasn’t experienced that kind of demand? I have a feeling that the explanation has much to do with the same desires for goods of distinction that were diagnosed by Thorstein Veblen in the late 19th century, the same desires that have guided human consumption for, well, probably for as long as there has been human competition. People buy more Priuses not because the experience of driving this car trumps advertising, but because the experience allows for an invidious distinction to be bestowed upon its possessor. The terms of that distinction (its “cool” quotient) are shaped and enhanced by the advertising and marketing invested in the product.

What’s interesting to me is how transparent it has become that much brand marketing is performed today not by paid agencies, but by individuals who use technologies old and new to enhance their own self-concept through brand advocacy. Advertising isn’t something that we passively receive; it’s something that all of us are constantly engaged with through the process of telling others who we are. So, pace Jelly’s theory, I would venture that advertising isn’t dead; rather, we’re just starting to realize that it’s advertising all the way down.

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MVRDV Gwanggyo City Center

December 4, 2008

Below are images of MVRDV‘s winning proposal for the to-be-established city of Gwanggyo (sited 35 km south of Seoul). The stacked towers look like a cross between giant termite hills and the stepped rice terraces common in China. The city is projected to house 77,000 residents and is currently undergoing feasibility studies.

(More pics and info at Bustler.)

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Mad Women

December 3, 2008

I’m not a fan of the AMC TV series Mad Men, and here’s why: it portrays women in advertising as feebleminded coffee-brewers whose idea of advancement is sleeping with a powerful exec. The stereotype is, no doubt, couched in an appeal to period authenticity (the show is set in the world of 1960s New York), but how authentic is this portrayal?

The Dec/Jan issue of Bust magazine features an illuminating article on the women who out-Drapered the Don Drapers of Madison Avenue and rose to the top of the ad business – so much so that by 1969 the highest paid ad executive in the US was a women, Mary Wells Lawrence (who, btw, developed the I [heart] NY campaign for which Milton Glaser often seems to get all the credit). Yet this minor narrative of women in powerful positions is conveniently absent from today’s TV drama, which, sadly, stands in for historical fact and, I fear, shapes the way that advertising is viewed – both internally and externally. Case in point: the Nov 23 Times Magazine featured a piece titled “Multiscreen Mad Men,” a roundtable discussion with three of the leading men in digital advertising. Two points I’d like to make about the piece: 1) Would it have been difficult for the Times to find female exec in advertising to sit in on the panel? If you answered “yes,” I’ve got a few names I could throw your way. 2) A quote from the piece: “It used to be really easy for us to advertise anything because consumers had no idea what they were buying. We could basically sell them whatever we wanted. But the Internet has made everything so transparent.” I can’t be the only person surprised by the frank arrogance of that statement. It seems almost like a lament – nostalgia for days of yore. Or perhaps Lars has just been watching too much Mad Men.

Note: Unfortunately, the Bust article (“Man Women” by Erin DeJesus) is not available online.

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The Portland Building

December 2, 2008

We’ve been staying a block down the street from Michael Graves’ Portland Building – considered one of the first and enduringly iconic large-scale expressions of stylistic postmodernism. The building was completed in 1982 and supplemented with Raymond Kaskey’s copper-clad Portlandia statue in 1985. The proportion of the statue to the entrance below coupled with the facades’ aqua blue concrete garland is definitely whimsical, but the functional interior space has been reviled over the years for featuring poor lighting, small windows and cheap finishes. (Though Brian Libby attempts to find redeeming qualities in the work in this Architecture Week review from 2002.

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Photo | South Bronx

A few years after Howard Cosell announced that the Bronx was burning, Ray Mortenson took his camera to the burned out neighborhoods of East Tremont, Mott Haven and Morrisania to document the silence one could experience in these semi-abandoned districts. A selection of his images are on display at the Museum of the City of New York. (via the NY Times)

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