Ellie Balk makes public art projects with community organizations across the country. Each year for the past three years, she's run a project for a Pi-themed mural, each one visually depicting some aspect of Pi, and done in collaboration with students. Her third project, currently live, is Visualize Pi: Perspective.Read more
Welcome back to our twice-fortnightly rundown of some of the lesser-known things that've been happening in and around our world. Right now the weather around the office is half-decent and everyone’s officially calmed down about that whole dress thing, so this update is coming from a very positive place. The week’s highlights:
Genuine Ugandan action movies! Wakaliga is a small district in Kampala, Uganda. In that district lives a guy named Isaac Nabwana. Isaac Nabwana makes action movies — genuine Ugandan action movies, with martial arts, shoot-em-ups, drug gangs, commandos, and high-octane special effects put together on low-octane built-from-parts computers.
Nabwana’s films are, by all reports, a big smash around Kampala. We like them, too. For one thing, who doesn’t want to see an action flick Kampala style, with local jokes, local characters, local color? For another: you know that joy that comes from watching people make ambitious things with whatever tools they have around? All that glee, verve, and sheer creativity that comes out when someone makes a $20-million-style movie for just $200? Nabwana’s work is neck-deep in that stuff. Try watching the trailer for Who Killed Captain Alex — or the full film, now with English subtitles and a VJ — without marveling.
A few years back, some filmmakers ran a project to make a documentary about Nabwana’s work. Now his company, Ramon Film Productions, is reaching out to develop its studio, upgrade equipment, and maybe even let you do a death-scene cameo in Kampala’s next action blockbuster via phone footage.
Whoever's handling their email is a pretty chilling copywriter, too.
The future of breakfast: We need to talk to you about pancakes. A significant portion of the world appears to be flipping out over Pancakebot — the batter-based printer that can whip up a pancake in any form you like. (It’s so cool that we’re willing to bet you would not immediately use it for any of the juvenile things you think.) Between this and the Keyboard Waffle Iron, we’ve been thinking a lot about griddled breakfasts, which inevitably remind us of a novel by Donald Antrim entitled The Verificationist, in which a psychoanalyst drops into a lengthy and pretty amazing riff on both the appeal of the pancake (“a childish pleasure,” “eating as a form of infantile play,” an “escape from loneliness”) and their emotional dark side (“we crawl back to pancakes again and again”). Recommended. The book and the bot.
Anyway: between robo-printed pancakes and our old friend Bartendro, it kinda feels like we’re circling steadily in on Rosie-from-the-Jetsons territory. Some of us are considering doing our part to create a more swinging future by backing a project to develop zero-gravity cocktail glasses — because you can’t toast with an amoebic blob of liquid, and someone needs to figure out the fluid mechanics of this stuff.
Best “testimonial” quotes: Dear Mr. Lebon, in which an English retiree writes letters to pop stars about their lyrics, has a row of star comments that reads like a geek’s treasury of British pop: Billy Bragg! Roland from Tears for Fears! Inspiral Carpets! The singer from Republica! Plus Neil Hannon, Ian McNabb, Howard Jones, Vic Godard, members of the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, and more.
Drones should not be good at physical comedy: People love drones — personal-type drones, anyway — but they are certainly not perfect. Sometimes they run into stuff. Sometimes the stuff they run into is water. Solutions are coming: projects are hard at work on obstacle avoidance and being waterproof.
Friends: Eric Migicovsky from Pebble stopped by the office to chat about their newest smartwatch project, which we’re pretty sure will get funded. We got to put up this video of recent visitors Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, who found an old copy of the New York subway’s graphic design manual in a basement locker, republished it as a gorgeous hardcover, and dropped by to walk us through the printing process. Some office supplies I ordered showed up. Really solid week.
A source of internal dissent: Is the video for Style Otter Belts hilarious, terrifying, brilliant, offputting, or what?
Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, also known as the collaborative conceptual art duo Ligorano/Reese, describe their work as striving to "communicate, to provoke conversation, to engage the public." One of the ways in which they do just that is by making huge ice sculptures and melting them down in public places; their Kickstarter project from last year funded a huge sculpture of the words The Future, which the two melted down in Manhattan during the UN Climate Summit.
In March, we're celebrating Art at Kickstarter, so we asked Marshall Reese, one half of the duo, to tell us a bit more about how and why these sculptures come to be.
Ice sculptures in general are interesting because everyone has an experience with them, and they’re very popular. People see them at family occasions and corporate events. But Nora and I are not making them for a logo. We’re making them because we want them to disappear. We want them to become immaterial.
The most interesting thing about ice sculptures is that they change and diminish, and they get very fragile. We live in an immaterial world — we’re generally on the internet, looking at some sort of screen. But ice sculptures are really physical. They’re cold, they have a temperature and a scale, and they’re responsive. They change over time. People can relate to that, and I think they want to. I think people are missing things in the world, so to make something so physical that it has its own transformative power is really significant.
First my partner Nora makes a mockup on the computer, usually in Illustrator or Photoshop, and we tweak the settings to make sure it will look the way we think it will look. As for making them — we hire ice carvers. In New York, we’ve worked with the same ice carver on all the projects. The sculptures are words, so we make a design of the words in a sans-serif font, Arial or Futura, and send it to the carvers. They carve the letters out of 300-pound blocks of ice, and then they put it in their freezer and bring it to the site in a truck for us.
We met the ice carvers we currently use because we were looking on the internet, and they had a nicely designed site. We went to their studio, and they were in Long Island City — at that time they were near the Noguchi Museum. They opened their freezer door, and inside were seven life-size Buddhas. So we said, OK, we’re going to work with these people.
When we’re making these sculptures, we have a very short timeline. We’re doing these at national security events. You can’t just walk in to a convention site and say, “Oh, I’ll do it there” — it’s hard to get permits, and everything will thwart you. There are a lot of moving parts to these projects.
I’m not even sure if our reputation as artists helps. Take Tampa in 2012, for example. When a city offers themselves to the political party as a convention site, they give them everything. The party is buying the whole place, the whole city. They have access to everything. In Tampa in 2012, they were reserving a few sites for the public to use, and it was going to be by lottery only. So, we had a ten-thousand dollar project, and we weren’t even sure we were going to get the site because it was by lottery. It’s weird and hard. In New York with the "Future" carving, we didn’t know if we had the site until a week and a half before. It was a matter of cost that time.
The ice carvings happen at definitive times, but it’s also the kind of words we’re using. In 2008, we melted down the word Democracy at the convention in St Paul. That was a key time — we’d just had eight years of the Bush administration, and people were worried about where government was going and where the idea of democracy was going.
Then on the 79th anniversary of the Great Depression, we melted down the word "Economy." That captured everything — people were so unsettled, but nobody had a way to express it. Then we melted the "Middle Class" down in 2012. And most recently, we melted the word "Future." In debates about global warming and climate issues, what is lacking is the idea that the future is disappearing as well. To come up with a sculpture of a future that's going to cease to exist — that’s very heavy. Nora and I were going through some worries. It was not easy, psychologically.
These ice sculptures are not just the sculptures. There’s streaming happening on the internet, there’s a blog, we take photographs, and we do time-lapse videos. In the video, the present is zipping by the future. Some people are acknowledging it, but most people seem to be taking their pictures with it. These things are also theatrical and a spectacle. And what people were really interested in — and it’s kind of a sad commentary — is taking a photograph of themselves in front of "The Future." I don't know what they were thinking. Maybe they’re thinking the future is disappearing, but maybe they just want to have a nice photograph of themselves in front of it.