Posts Tagged ‘Surrealism’
When Ferran Adrià, the Spanish maestro who is undisputedly the most influential chef of the last two decades, gave up cooking at his restaurant El Bulli, he announced that he was going to be starting a number of projects. One of them is intended to be a foundation dedicated to the study of himself. Another was a collaboration on the subject of food and science with Harvard. I think quite a few people, on first hearing about that, scratched their heads and wondered what a joint venture between the two might be like. On the one hand, seawater sorbet and ampoules of reduced prawn head bouillon (two Adrià signature dishes). On the other, Helen Vendler. Outcome not obvious…
What we outsiders didn’t know is that all undergraduates at Harvard are required to take at least one class in science. As a result, the university offers some courses designed to be appealing to the kinds of student who wouldn’t be studying science unless they had to. Once that’s known, it makes a lot of sense to involve Adrià, who is rock-star famous in the world of food, in a course designed to appeal to the clever and curious and artily-minded young. So here it is: SPU27, an acronym standing for Science of the Physical Universe 27. Spelled out in English, the name of the course is Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science…
Once upon a time, to take a course like SPU27, you had to be young enough and lucky enough in all the relevant ways to get to Harvard. Today, all you need is to be lucky enough to have access to a computer with an internet connection. SPU27 is part of a remarkable experiment in open access university education called EdX, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT, which gives away entire courses, online, for free…
I registered for EdX and sat down in front of SPU27x (which started on 8 October; you can still sign up and do the course in time to get a certificate). My intention was to ‘audit’ it, i.e. do as much of it as I felt like without subjecting myself to anything too obviously worky. Also, the science of cooking is one of my interests, and I was quietly confident that I knew most of it already. That turned out not to be the case. Looking at the review materials before starting the course, I found myself trying to remember how to calculate the volume of a sphere – it’s (4/3)πr3, in case you too have forgotten – and crunching logarithms in an attempt to answer e3.5=x (answer, x=33.12, obv).
The lectures are broken up into segments of about ten minutes, followed by multiple choice questions which you can do at your leisure, or not, and submit your answers towards a certificate of completion, or not. (Certificates you have to pay for. Everything else is free.) In the first lecture Adrià showed off a few culinary tricks; the second quickly had us working with Avogadro’s constant to determine the number of molecules in a given amount of matter. Homework involves an experiment to calibrate the accuracy of your oven, and some calculations to ascertain the number of various molecules in a recipe for aubergine with buttermilk sauce. Then there’s a test: ‘Estimate the concentration in mol/L of protein using the fact that the average protein is 300 amino acids long and the average amino acid has a mass of 110 amu.’ Er … I think I’ll phone a friend on that one. All this was by way of working with ‘the equation of the week’, which is how SPU27 is structured: it teaches, both by lecture and by hands-on demonstration, the profound and endlessly satisfying mystery of how mathematics penetrates into matter.
In summary, the course is more rigorous, and more educational, than I’d thought it would be… MOOC’s [Massive Open Online Courses] like this one offer something simpler, and in its way purer: education for its own sake. They are purely educational, in the way that so much education increasingly isn’t, as it goes further and further in the direction of box-ticking and teaching to the test. Although it’s already possible to extract a great deal of use from MOOCs, as in the comp sci example I mentioned, I suspect a lot of the good they bring to the world won’t be in the form of anything useful. Instead they offer anyone who can be bothered the chance to learn things just for the sake of learning. As lifetimes get longer, there’s less need for people to stop learning, and less need for the experience of education to be something confined to ghettos of the young. Avogadro’s constant, which is used to tell you the number of molecules in a given amount of matter, is 6.022 x 1023. Isn’t that cool? And now I’m off to calibrate my oven by observing the melting point of sugar. I see in the course notes that the full protocol for doing that comes from a book called Cooking for Geeks.
As we wear our lab coats into the kitchen, we might send surprising birthday greetings to Rene Magritte; he was born on this date in 1898. Magritte made a living as a draftsman and an advertising artist before putting together the paintings (largely impressionist and futurist in style) for his first show in his native Belgium… at which critics heaped abuse on his work. Disheartened, Magritte moved to Paris, and fell in with Andre Breton, who helped him become the integral part of the Surrealist Movement that he became.
Australian artist Jeremy Geddes creates oil paintings that are astonishingly– dangerously– counterintuitive, at the same time that they’re astoundingly photo-realistic. Geddes’ describes his process in this 2011 interview with Empty Kingdom.
[TotH to Laughing Squid]
As we look away then back again, we might spare a thought for Jean-François Lyotard; he died on this date in 1998. A co-founder (with Derrida, Châtelet, and Deleuze) of the Collège International de Philosophie– the bastion of Postmodernism– Lyotard was a philosopher, sociologist, and literary theorist. As a champion of “the sublime”– in Lyotard’s rehabilitation of an ancient aesthetic concept, the pleasurable anxiety that one experiences when confronting wild and threatening sights– he would surely have approved of Geddes’ work.
For generations, most of the photographs housed in the newsroom archive of The New York Times — known affectionately as “the morgue” — have been hidden away from the public eye in filing cabinets and manila folders.
There are exceptions, of course. The newspaper runs archival photographs every day. Then there are those photos Lens has featured in “The Lively Morgue,” an occasional series we introduced in September 2010. So far, we’ve published 17 collections, ranging in subjects from saucy publicity shots to the art of washing windows.
But we haven’t even made a dent. If we published 10 of our archival images everyday, it would be at least the year 3935 before we’d shown off the entire collection. That’s one of the reasons we launched “The Lively Morgue,” an all-archives, all-the-time feed on the social blogging site, Tumblr…
The Lively Morgue is here.
As we express our gratitude to the Gray Lady, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that a less successful editorial venture launched in New York City: Man Ray published the first (and only) issue of TNT an anarchist journal. An aspiring artist, he had been moved by the famous 1913 Armory Show, and had befriended Marcel Duchamp. For the next six years or so, Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky) had done his best to marry his political convictions with his creative impulse (e.g., contributing illustrations to Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth). But with the failure of TNT, Ray turned more fully to art; his next whack at publishing was New York Dada, a collaboration with Duchamp. That too failed to make a second number– and Ray departed for France… where he became part of the Surrealist circle– and an important practitioner of and influence on fine art photography.
Salvador Dali and Man Ray in Paris (source)
click here for video
From Alex Pasternack on Motherboard:
Before he was Kermit, Jim Henson was Brunel.
With apologies to Man Ray and Busby Berkley and many others, I submit that argument and this hypothesis: the amount of time you spent as a child watching Sesame Street and the Muppets is directly proportional to your taste for the comic, the avant-garde, the absurd and the surreal. Jim Henson, the lead instructor of this viewers-like-you-fueled education, would have turned seventy-five this week had he not died in 1990, sucking away a collective head trip that was, ultimately, firmly planted in a felt flowerbed of weirdness.
Pasternack offers plentiful– and delightful– evidence, including this remarkable 1974 appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show:
… and this “collaboration” with Orson Welles:
Many more mesmerizing examples at “Jim Henson Was America’s Greatest Surrealist.”
Special Minimalist Bonus!:
As we proclaim Henson the (Du)champ, we might wish a stony-faced Happy Birthday to “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies” (quoth Roger Ebert); Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton was born on this date in 1895.
As a young vaudevillian, Keaton met silent star Fatty Arbuckle. Keaton borrowed Arbuckle’s crew’s camera, took it back to his boarding house, disassembled and reassembled it, then returned to ask for a job. He was hired as co-star and gag man on “The Butcher Boy”– and soon became Arbuckle’s “second director” and his entire gag department. Keaton soon earned his own unit, and began churning out two-reelers. Leo McCarthy (director of Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and others) recalled, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!”
From 1920 through 1929, Keaton made Our Hospitality, The Navigator, Sherlock Jr., Seven Chances, Steamboat Bill Jr., The Cameraman, and The General– gems all. Indeed, Henson collaborator Orson Welles considered The General to be, “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.”
With the advent of sound, Keaton’s career took a sideways turn. While he appeared in a number of feature films, guested on many television series, and even served as an advisor to Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, he was never again the monster star that he had been on the silent screen… which adds to the power– and the poignancy– of his penultimate role: the lead in the only movie written by Samuel Beckett, the (nearly) silent Film.
Your correspondent is bound for the City of Dreaming Spires. The time-zone differential being what it is, regular service will be interrupted until October 10 or so. While there may be an occasional missive in the meantime, readers can trustworthily amuse themselves with the films of Buster Keaton, streaming (for free) on the wonderful Archive.org.
Luis Gispert was photographing car interiors when he stumbled upon a kitschy white Cadillac Escalade, its seats upholstered in fake material from Takashi Murakami’s 2009 collaboration with Louis Vuitton. While the owner showed off his pimped-out ride, the wheels turned in Gispert’s head. “I figured there had to be so many cars with counterfeit interiors”…
This inspired a two-year “obsessive quest” to document a subculture of people crafting custom designs from counterfeit materials. Gispert attended car shows across the country and captured interiors bedazzled with logos, from a Burberry-upholstered BMW to a Gucci-themed Mercedes. Honing in on the culture itself brought Gispert to more-intimate spaces, like the home of a Florida-based drug dealer, whose bedroom was decorated with Versace’s signature Greek Key motif. Gispert’s photographic journey is the subject of an upcoming solo exhibition, Decepcion, at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York [open now]…
He spent a year capturing cars before turning his lens on the owners themselves—many of whom had closets filled with backpacks, sneakers, and jackets custom-made from fake designer materials. Gispert’s project evolved to incorporate portraits of men and women modeling counterfeit fashion, such as a DJ clad in a pleather MCM jumpsuit…
Designer customization was born in the early 1980s, when a haberdasher named Dapper Dan began selling one-of-a-kind Louis Vuitton boots and $8,000 custom Gucci jackets out of his boutique in Harlem. “He was likely cutting up actual Gucci bags and using the materials to make jackets and luxury car interiors,” said Gispert. Dapper Dan’s clientele consisted of drug dealers—until LL Cool J and Mike Tyson took the street trend mainstream…
Unlike Canal Street vendors, Gispert’s subjects aren’t trying to pass off their creations as authentic. “These people are appropriating the material, the actual logos and fabrics, but they’re not trying to mimic high fashion,” he explained. One photograph from the series features a woman wearing a Louis Vuitton dress that Gispert described as “some kind of nightgown, flamenco hybrid.” It looks nothing like Louis Vuitton couture, yet it’s splattered with the designer’s cult logo. “In a way these people are hijacking signs of wealth, bastardizing logos and turning them into something completely unique.”
As we reckon with the collision of High and Low, we might wish a fashionable Happy Birthday to Coco Chanel’s greatest rival, Elsa Schiaparelli; she was born in Rome on this date in 1890. Schiaparelli, who collaborated with artists including Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, and Alberto Giacometti to dress socialites (like Daisy Fellowes) and celebrities (like Mae West) was frequently dismissed by Chanel as “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” While Schiaparelli is not as well remembered as Chanel, Schiaparelli made lasting contributions to fashion: she created wraparound dresses decades before Diane von Furstenberg and crumpled up rayon 50 years before Issey Miyake’s pleats and crinkles; she created the first evening-dress with a jacket and the first clothes with visible zippers. But her most fundamental contribution to couture was surely the sense of fun– of playfulness and “anything goes”– that she shared with her Dadaist and Surrealist friends.