Yuichi Yokoyama is the most exciting comic book artist I have come across in recent times. His books are visceral action stories, and unlike most comics have a preoccupation with the exploration of landscape, transport infrastructure, terraforming and architectural space.
His work is not widely available outside of Japan, but so far published in English are: ‘New Engineering’, ‘Garden’, ‘Travel’ and most recently ‘Colour Engineering’ (which I have ordered but not read at this stage). This prologue is the first of a series of posts looking at this series of comics. They will contain exerts of the books, but if you are intrigued, I urge you to track down copies from the excellent Picture Box press.
New Engineering is a collection of his shorter projects, published in 2007 and the first english language presentation of Yokoyama’s work. Although an english translation is not strictly necessary in appreciating these comics as they are almost entirely comprised of action and where there is dialogue spoken by the various protagonists populating his landscapes, it is perfunctory and rarely goes beyond a short statement such as “The project is a success” or “Now we are leaving”. The comics consist almost entirely of action and sound effects. And the action itself fits largely within two categories: Making and Fighting.
“History’s Shadow comprises my series of re-photographed x-rays of art objects from antiquity. I have culled these x-rays from museum archives, which utilize them for conservation purposes. Through the x-ray process, the artworks of origin become de-familiarized and de-contextualized, yet acutely alive and renewed.”
The model of the The Valley of the Kings at the visitor centre before you enter the valley is a clear fibreglass topography with the complex of tombs suspended beneath:
Old news now, but: J.G. Ballard’s house in Shepperton is for sale. According to the real estate listing, it has the following ‘features’:
Living Room 14’ x 11’10 (4.27m x 3.61m)
Dining Room 13’1 x 10’1 (3.99m x 3.07m)
Kitchen 9’1 x 7’1 (2.77m x 2.16m)
Bedroom One 14’1 x 11’1 (4.29m x 3.38m)
Bedroom Two 13’ x 9’11 (3.96m x 3.02m)
Bedroom Three 8’ x 6’1 (2.44m x 1.85m)
Front & Rear Garden
Off Street Parking
Timelapse footage of the Hector thunderstorm, by Murray Fredericks:
Nicola Twilley’s account of the division and dispersal of the royal wedding cake is fascinating and the whole idea terribly English.
City Traces. A collaborative city mapping project
The Great Unwashed. Painting by Tzu-chi Yeh:
God Knows. A documentary on ARM up on youtube. Good stuff.
Zimoun sound sculpture: (via @Jack_Self)
Virtual tescos grocery store in Seoul. Customers scan QR codes for items from display shelves lining the subway walls and the groceries are later delivered to their home. Soon: Buy anything from anywhere.
A 1973 guide to Canberra to attract women to move to Canberra. (via @katecrawford)
I like this house in an old theatre by Núria Salvado and David Tapias:
We watched a bunch of Polanski films over the weekend. I like the constrained worlds of his films; the yacht in Knife in the Water, the apartment in Repulsion, and the apartment building in Rosemary’s Baby.
Another great panel from Otomo’s Domu. So good. Apartment building telekinetic warfare:
It is 1996 and on the moon’s great walled plain of Mare Crisius—the Sea of Crises—a selenologist is pan frying sausages for breakfast when in the distance a flicker from the top of a mountain in the Oceanus Procellarum catches his eye. With fellow scientists, he sets out to investigate the source of this ‘metallic glimmer’ in this otherwise mute landscape. The team ascends the 12,000ft tall mountain range, the lunar gravity rendering the climb a relatively easy afternoon’s trek, and on reaching the summit discover a flattened peak, and on this dusty plateau sits a pyramid. The pyramid is perfectly smooth, seamless and without detail. It is surrounded by an invisible force field and all attempts to discover its interior, its purpose, fail. As is the method in such circumstances, an atomic explosion is eventually called upon to crack the thing open, revealing that it is some kind of machine comprised of an unfamiliar, alien technology. Our narrator speculates that the pyramid is a sentinel left by an extra terrestrial intelligent species to act as a beacon to signal humankind’s evolution from the earthbound.
This unpublished story by Arthur C. Clarke—“The Sentinel”—along with another, “Encounters at the End of the World” caught the attention of film maker Stanley Kubrick, who had been in contact with Clarke about his desire to make “the proverbial ‘really good’ science fiction movie”. The result of this collaboration is the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The film concerns the evolution of the human race through the intervention of a rectangular monolith. Like the sentinel from Clarke’s short story, the monolith is a mute, seamless object seemingly without purpose or intention. Its appearance triggers evolutionary leaps for those that come in contact with it, famously from ape to human, and from human to being of pure thought. This is the transformation of a species through the direct intervention of a discrete object, an idea that bares closer attention.
Fortunately Kubrick was a hoarder of his own research and kept an extensive archive on his estate of this material within boxes he notoriously had specially fabricated so that the lid fit snug; just so. This archive is now based at the University of Arts at Elephant and Castle in London and contains a substantial collection of material relating to 2001: A Space Odyssey, however little relating specifically to the monolith, its design or meaning. There are many slides of pre-production artwork for the third monolith circling Jupiter and the archaeological dig on the moon, a single unannotated photograph of a monolith hanging from a crane in the English countryside, sketches of the proposed lighting rig for the monolith, and most interestingly animation plates used in the sequences of the third monolith orbiting Jupiter-V, a moonlet of Jupiter towards the end of the film. During this sequence, the monolith floats in space, scaleless, and barely visible against the vacuum of space, its surface only apparent when the faint light of the sun illuminates its face, before astronaut Dave Bowman having escaped the psychotic computer HAL floats into its surface, and through the stargate. The animation plates are comprised of torn pieces of black and grey cardboard sticky-taped to a board and covered with a black matte. These rudimentary collages, when expertly lit and filmed are transformed from two dimensional cutouts to perhaps the most solid objects in the history of cinema.
Beyond these production artefacts, the best clue to the film makers’ intentions regarding the monoliths may be found in the drafts of the screenplays where we find a series of changing references to the monolith; from tetrahedron similar to that of The Sentinel, to completely transparent crystal cube, to the black rectangular form with the proportion of 1, 4, 9 (the square of the first three prime numbers) that we find in the finished film. While the form of the monolith changes—albeit within a rather limited palette of primitive solids—a consistency may be found in its quality as a seamless, impenetrable object without reflection or surface detail. The characteristic is one of a kind of intense exteriority.
It has no interior and yet as Dave Bowman discovers in the fourth act, is is all interior (“The thing’s hollow - it goes on forever - and - oh my god, it’s full of stars!”).
The monolith shares this quality of intense exterior and infinite interior with the current bias in portable electronic devices. Apple’s current range of MacBookPro and iPad computers, constructed of milled aluminium form seamless, impenetrable enclosures that for the user have no moving parts or interior space yet like all networked devices contain an infinitely permeable interior.
In Giza, the Great Pyramid of Cheops has perhaps the most enigmatic interior of all buildings. It has been sitting in the desert with the extent of its internal reaches unknown for 45oo years. This chastity is infuriating for humans. If a thing has an interior it must be explored and assessed. In order to do so, specialist devices will be developed with ever decreasing diameters that may travel the narrowest of shafts and when these reach their limits, new devices are developed, now weaponised in the hope that they may break through these defences. Consumer electronics again bare this out, one of the immediate exercises performed on the release of a new Apple product is the tear-down; an electro-autopsy where impenetrable objects have their innards exposed, laid out and photographed under the flattering indirect light.
A team from Leed’s University is currently preparing a new robot to be sent into the Cheops Pyramid in an attempt to delve farther than the previous robot that came to an impasse at a limestone door. This new robot, equipped with drills, will cut its way through the doors and make its way further into the weight of the pyramid, and will uncover, more shafts, fantastic chambers, doors, or not. And if it too reaches an impasse and its successors after it, presumably at some point, like Clarke’s lunar Sentinel the mystery too great to leave unanswered will require something beyond the gently gently approach and the kind of weaponised exploration involving the splitting of atoms will be called upon.
The monolith’s mute calm mixed with its agenda of aggressive social and neurological manipulation (it is referred to in the production notes as the “teaching tableaux”, and its visitation of the group of apes as the “lesson”) is its inherent contradiction. It is at once passive and instructive, intensely exterior and infinitely interior. Beguiling and infuriating, it is representative of the idea that an object, a discrete thing, may be transformative purely through its presence.
There are moves underway to replace the much-maligned Australian Pavilion in Venice. The pavilion, designed by Phillip Cox and in his signature 80’s Darling Harbour-white-sweeping-tubular steel style, was never meant to be a permanent solution, but like so many temporary measures took root and has been in place for the last twenty three years.
This would seem to be a pretty good opportunity for an open competition. However according to The Age the plan is that the new pavilion design “will be selected by invitation, from a small hand-selected group of Australian architects”. Better hand-selected than foot-selected, or algorithm-selected I guess.
Christine and Tania from Openhaus have a good writeup of why this approach is a bad idea. They also have a petition up urging the Australia Council for the Arts to procure the building through an open competition. With luck this growing list of names will prove effective, however, if not, and the process continues as a limited competition, then I am proposing an parallel unsolicited version of the competition.
The idea is this. If you are (or work at) one of the offices selected to enter to the competition, leak the competition brief and associated documents assange-style to us. We will then host all of the documentation on our site so that all parties interested will have access to these documents and be able to submit their entry to the official address and following the official submission guidelines.
The NSW Architecture Awards took place last week. Among the winners, our buddies, Tribe Studios for the Milner Schmukler House, Matt Chan won an emerging architects award, Jeremy’s project at TZG for the Australian Indigenous Centre for Excellence took out the urban design award, and Chenchow Little for their Skylight House. Nice work people.
We took a quick walk through 1 Bligh Street, the new office tower in Sydney by Ingenhoven architects. The ultra-ESD (84 Green Star Badges, or something; although there were a ton of lights left on in a mostly empty building when we were there…) thirty story building has a naturally ventilated glazed atrium running through the entire building. The atrium is lined with meeting rooms and lift cars with the overall effect like a hotel lobby, portmanesque. Halfway up the building the service floor sits glazed in like all the other floors, the ducting and machinery visible around the atrium.
From a while back, but I have just gotten around to reading it. An interview with Geoff Manaugh and Liam Young by Rory Hyde on their Thrilling Wonder Stories conference series. Thrilling Wonder Stories looks to science fiction and speculative storytelling to present alternative approaches to the future of architectural discipline. As Liam Young states, “Architects are amazing self-censors. We put the parameters around our profession much more than anybody else does”.
And another old interview, this one between Geoff Manaugh and China Mieville. In my opinion, Mielville has never really reached the heights of invention of Perdido Street Station, but his recent novel The City and The City—a police procedural set in two cities that both occupy the same physical territory—comes close.
The AIA’s student conference, Flux, is on this week down in Adelaide. Speakers include Charles Holland of FAT and Andrew Maynard, Stuart Harrison and so on. The presentations will be live streamed, and the twitter hashtag is #WTFlux.
SVK. A comic where thought bubbles are revealed under UV light. The UV light is kind of a dumb gimmick really, but the interesting thing for me aside from being written by Warren Ellis, is that it is being produced and published by a design consultancy - Berg. It launched today, I just purchased a copy and my order number was #4175, suggesting that they have sold this many copies so far. Mainstream comics—you know the ones with Captain America, Spiderman, Batman all with established fan bases that having been buying comics for decades—sell around 40-50,000 copies each month. SVK is not up to those numbers just yet, but it would be interesting to see how many they ultimately sell. Commercially speaking, comics is a dying medium and disruptive practices like this from Berg are needed if interest in the medium is to move beyond the dwindling fanbase of the underwear perverts.
Intentionally flawed products. Jeremy Hutchinson requests factories to make incorrect versions of their products:
The Elements of Fucking Style. An updated styleguide.
A two panel page from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Domu, where child and old man conduct telekinetic battle through a large apartment building:
A few weeks ago, I mentioned Rory Hyde’s unsolicited architecture studio at Sydney University. One of the projects was ‘Yakult for the City’ in which a number of micro interventions were enacted through the city. Video of the evidence of the antics: