may 07



Yesterday, I saw the Edward Hopper retrospective at the MFA.


By now we all have several Hopper paintings etched in our minds – the solitary figures, 20s architecture, warm sunlight; Americana to the core. He’s Norman Rockwell for the realists

Peter Schjeldahl wrote “Hopper’s is an art of illuminated outsides that bespeak important insides. He vivifies impenetrable privacies. Notice how seldom he gives houses visible or, if visible, usable-looking doors; but the windows are alive. His preoccupied people will neither confirm nor deny any fantasy they stir; their intensity of being defeats conjecture. Imputations, to them, of ‘loneliness’ are sentimental projections by viewers who ought to look harder. They may not have lives you envy, but they live them without complaint.”

And I have to agree. Unfortunately, the MFA exhibit included interpretation-heavy descriptions, finding “unmet eroticism” and “loneliness” in ambiguous situations


His etchings were by far my favorite, as it was like discovering an entirely new artist – pared down, colorless, and harsh. A couple on a train seem entirely more bleak and ominous in sharp-stroked ink.


It is Edward Hopper’s strong sense of an unanswerable narrative that makes the pictures so universally loved. Rorschach blot interpretation is pretty much futile. I was reminded of the recent story in Smithsonian Magazine (via) tracking down the girls in William Eggleston’s photograph, revealing prosaic boy trouble and freshman year anxiety was what made them take such a haunting shape


If you’re looking for an Edward Hopper fix, but can’t make it up to Boston, check out Tsai Ming-liang’s film What Time is It There? , the best tribute to Hopper I can think of.

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From Yahoo Astrology:

If something about that certain someone is giving you pause – whether it’s their feeling on a topic that’s important to you or just an offhand remark on their profile page – be sure not to ignore it.

What’s next, fortune cookies dispensing Facebook “poking” wisdom?


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Natalia Ilyin has got no love for passionate design – because she’s a designer. Here’s what she has to say in Metropolis:

The describing of oneself as “passionate” is pretty much a given these days if you’re in any sort of business. We get junk mail about passionate state representatives running for office, brochures from accountants passionate about filing our taxes; we find passion in plumbers and tree surgeons, and where I live we commute on the ferry with literally hundreds of passionate software engineers, sitting quietly in their clean jeans and fleece vests and Helly Hansen parkas typing away on their laptops. It’s a cliché, okay, but it is a particularly ironic cliché in the design professions, for if there is one single thing that our design language was created to eradicate, it is passion.

Passion is not enthusiasm. It is not love. It is not enjoyment, and it is not flow. Passion is an unstoppable overflowing of emotion that destroys in its satisfaction, that torpedoes lives and marriages and nations, that shoots husbands or coworkers or strangers in rage…

Sure, we all have our consuming interests. We’ve all snatched that “I’m loving this” moment out of the air. But do we abandon logic and hand the reins of self-control over to the limbic brain because of our desire for good design? Do we step away from the well-buttressed conventions of our “designer’s life”? Do we miss a meal over it? It’s true: sometimes we like to give the impression of wild abandon à la Pierre Bernard—we design an edgy poster, use a disgusting photo to make a point, design a building that looks like a torso, string a cable in a weird way. But is that passion? Or is it calculation of the highest order—about exactly what will communicate our ideas to whom? Focus is one thing. Passion is another.

It’s a great essay, the funny thing is she doesn’t really talk about this in terms of customer relations, but more as the reserved “porcupine” nature of designers. Is that why all the designers I know are Aquariuses or Scorpios?

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I’ve been loving Sundance chanel’s series The Green. A recent episode featured Tom Szaky the 25 year-old founder of the plant fertalizer TerraCycle made, very proudly, of “worm poop.” Now MiricleGro is claiming trade-dress infringement and false advertising because, its not-yet-profitable rival uses the colors yellow and green in its packaging.

One doesn’t have to know the Pantone color chart by heart to argue that what MiricleGro is calling “yellow” and “green” is of a signfigantly more electric family than TerraCycle’s muted colors:

Right now TerraCycle’s defense is collecting evidence of green and yellow packaging for agricultural products prior to 1995. “Possible sources: advertisements in old gardening magazines, books and catalogs; state Department of Agriculture fertilizer registration label files.”

Scotts also objects that TerraCycle says its plant food is as good or better than “a leading synthetic plant food” and is refusing Scotts’ demands that TerraCycle hand over its scientific tests conducted at the Rutgers University EcoComplex to Scotts’ scientists and lawyers. Scotts refuses to turn its tests over to TerraCycle.

TerraCycle doesn’t even make its packaging – but instead simply reuses old plastic soda bottles and milk cartons. They’ve set up a website SuedByScotts proudly using this lawsuit as proof the company has made it.

One of the commenters at Amy Alkon’s site explains why this and other silly lawsuits happen so frequently, “In trademark law, it’s been established that in order to retain the full effect of your trademark protection, you have to vigorously defend ALL potential infringements, no matter how trivial. Regardless of how ridiculous this action looks, and how much bad PR Scotts picks up because of it, if it didn’t bring action, it would be easier for the next (legitimate) infringer to claim that Scotts didn’t do all it could to protect the trademark.”

That episode of The Green is worth watching for – among other things – the new resturant Blue Velvet in Los Angeles, planting an entire garden (expected to provide 60% of the resturant’s ingrediants) on its roof

It reminded me of “vertical gardener” Patrick Blanc, who was recently featured in the New York Times (”All His Rooms are Living Rooms.) I saw as many people taking snapshots of his Musée du Quai Branly wall, as any other landmark in Paris. Here are some of his most exquisite designs:




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As the fifty or so dead journalists in recent years demonstrates, Russia is the king of passive-aggressive tactics to silence its opposition. And now there’s a new nasty trick up its sleeve. About a week ago, technorati was going nuts with links to that Guardian report on the Russia-Estonia cyberwar. The trouble was, no one really knew what it meant. Today, Slate’s Cyrus Farivar explains what is really going on. It’s a distributed-denial-of-service attack, loading state-run website with 100 times the traffic they are used to, thereby preventing the websites from running at speed –or even at all. This is a little different from the seriously scary critical infrastructure debate that went one right after 9/11, when our government feared terrorists would hack into our “critical” systems to disable electricity – or worse.

First of all, it’s unlikely (although, not highly unlikely – it is Russia, after all) that these attacks came from the Russian government. It’s more plausible that some very nationalistic computer-savvy individuals are responsible for it. But, given the nature of the attacks, it’s damn near impossible to figure out whose responsible: they can identify the offenders IPs as Russian, but it was botnet “zombie-computer” business that can’t be fingered:

Even in the absence of the physical evidence generated by traditional warfare—charred remains, bombed-out infrastructure—we’ve still learned a lot about the nature of online terrorism in the last few weeks. For one thing, cyberwarfare is efficient. Even the smartest of smart bombs takes out adjacent buildings and kills innocent bystanders. When you wage war online, there doesn’t have to be collateral damage: It’s possible to target a single Web site at a time.

It’s also elementary to focus a cyberattack on the upper crust. In targeting Estonia’s online seats of political and economic power, the perpetrators sent a threatening message to a country where cabinet-level discussions happen online, and documents are signed by digital signatures. Linnar Viik, the architect of many of Estonia’s e-government services and now a government IT consultant, told me that there have been no panicked calls by politicians to completely shut down these online services. If these attacks had happened during March’s national elections, however, a lot of bureaucrats might have rethought the country’s dependence on e-government…

Perhaps in some sense, it’s good that Estonia was the patient zero for cyberwarfare. The small, tech-savvy country has provided a good blueprint for what to do to keep these attacks at bay.

I was in Tallinn about seven years ago, and it remains in my memory one of the most bizarrely adorable cities – all rotting spiered and embellished buildings in cotton candy colors, fading and chipping, as if maintained by lazy elves – and one of the most wired cities. In 2001, most cities had a handful of internet cafes, but there, they seemed to outnumber fruit stands. Now, “you can pay for your parking meter via cell phone, access free Wi-Fi at every gas station” and even their last election allowed online voting.

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I’ve got a new article in Brainwash about Save Darfur’s divestment campaign.

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My favorite books in middle school were So Far From the Bamboo Grove and My Brother, My Sister, and I. Both were penned by Yoko Kawashima Watkins, who lived on Cape Cod and was a friend of my grandmother’s before she passed away. I met her once, and she signed my copies “Joanne, sweetness, so cute!” which made my day, because at 13, I felt neither cute nor sweet

Now Yoko Kawashima Watkins is the local equivelency of James Frey. So Far From the Bamboo Groove describes WWII atrocities experienced by a Japanese family in Korea. Naturally, at 13, I didn’t know enough about history to raise an eyebrow. But plenty of Korean-Americans have objected to including the book in public school libraries. Carter Eckert, a Korean history Harvard professor argued in the Boston Globe that “context and balance are important. While Yoko’s story is compelling as a narrative of survival, it achieves its powerful effect in part by eliding the historical context in which Yoko and her family had been living Korea. That context, simply put, was a 40-year record of harsh colonial rule in Korea, which reached its apogee during the war years of 1937-45, when Yoko was growing up. While some Koreans fared better than others, many were conscripted for forced labor and sexual slavery to serve the Japanese imperial war machine, while the colonial authorities simultaneously promoted a program of intensive, coercive cultural assimilation that sought to erase a separate Korean identity on the peninsula. Watkins was a small girl as these events were unfolding and can hardly be blamed for them, let alone held responsible for the occupation itself. But the story she tells is unfortunately incomplete, if not distorted, by the absence of this larger context.”

Yoko Kawashima Watkins says when she visits schools she always apologizes for the suffering caused by the Japanese government.

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As much as I loathed semiotics in college, it’s hard not to read/problematize/question the signifier the hell out of this from the new Anthropologie catalog:


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Your kids will wish you had picked up some Banksy prints just like you wish your parents bought some Warhol…but not cause it will pay for their college. He welcomes reproduction, even including a free store of images to download on his website: “Serving suggestion: Prints look best when done on gloss paper using the company printer ink when everyone else is at lunch.”And that’s pretty characteristic of the Banksy wit: anger without cruelty, inclusion valued over exclusion.

It’s no surprise that the two most famous street artists here in the States – Mark Jenkins and “BORF” – come from the art-allergic District of Columbia: graffiti is by nature a political act. But Banksy’s seems the most authentic and true. He spraypaints to city walls what we wish we could scream from the rooftops.


In February Wooster Collective had post called The Banksy Effect, saying, “While we’ve always been unabashed (and unapologetic) fans of Banksy, we now see Banksy as the single greatest thing that has happened not only to the street/urban art movement, but to contemporary art in general.” The rest of the post goes on to explain that “sweepingly broad statement that is likely to get us in trouble,” pointing out he’s an entryway to the subculture and one who “almost single handedly redefined what art is to a lot of people who probably never felt they appreciated art before.”

Lauren Collins, in a very thorough article in the New Yorker, got to email him, after a year of seeking him out. When asked about the record sales at snooty auction houses – some topping half a million dollars – Banksy is noticeably uncomfortable, but nevertheless genuine, “I have been called a sellout, but I give away thousands of paintings for free, how many more do you want? … I think it was easier when I was the underdog, and I had a lot of practise at it. The money that my work fetches these days makes me a bit uncomfortable, but that’s an easy problem to solve—you just stop whingeing and give it all away. I don’t think it’s possible to make art about world poverty and then trouser all the cash, that’s an irony too far, even for me”

The article gives a great example of the ephemeral nature of street art. A couple outside of Bristol tried to sell one of his tags “with house attached for free.” Sometime later, the graffiti was covered in red paint.

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Tao Lin interviewed by Bookslut:

Okay, how fun is it correcting people’s spelling on a book called Eeeee Eee Eeee?


Really fun. My friend Kobo Abe misspelled it Eeee Eeeee Eee and I corrected his spelling.

He also says Marco Roth “called me on the phone and I pitched him an essay on statutory rape to promote my next novel.” It gets better on his blog.

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If all it took to be happy in this crazy, mixed-up world was to dump your girlfriend, quit your job, hop in the car and drive west, then California wouldn’t be filled with therapists and plastic surgeons. – Heather Havrilesky

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The cover of the New Yorker April 30th issue (a couple looking at a digital camera capture of the painting before them) reminds me of the Prado museum-goers flocking around Thomas Struth’s “Making Time” photographs of people looking at paintings. They spent more time looking at the photographs than the actual paintings – sometimes right next to them!


It’s sort of like how, when you see a live performance with a close-circuit video, most heads in the crowd will tilt toward the TV. Too bad Susan Sontag isn’t around to comment on this…

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