Randomness #156D

The work of this underground group is unbelievable.

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Read more: Guardian | Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark’s clock

Reminds me of the artists who furnished a room in a shopping mall and lived there over 4 years undetected. But they weren’t as altruistic.

Speaking of vigilante do-goodism, there’s reverse graffiti. Street art by cleaning. See Alexandre Orion’s striking short-lived “Ossario” (Ossuary).

(Does everything come back to Jan Svankmajer)?

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A friend suggested that I look up Mnemonic by Complicite. Sounds great, but I wish there were footage of the performance.

Then the piece glides seamlessly into a series of fragments. There is the story of Virgil, whose lover Alice has left him and disappeared for months. And there is Alice’s story as she heads east across Europe in search of the father she has never known. A broken Russian watch found in her dead mother’s drawer offers the only clue to his origins or whereabouts.

Interwoven with these stories, and other smaller stories, is an account of the discovery of the Ice Man, a 5,500-year-old corpse found on a 3,000m alpine peak in 1991. Who was this man who froze to death alone on an icy mountain all those centuries ago? Why was he there? How many songs did he know? What is the thread of collective memory that links him to me?

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Detailed report of a panel on a newly-published compilation of interviews with W. G. Sebald, hosted by the Mercantile Library.

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Arden is an open source, online world based on the works of Shakespeare. Alas! I can’t join in — no Mac support.

Being fair to “Vanity”

Tom Stoppard comments in Vanity Fair on his latest hit play Rock ‘n’ Roll, inspired by Syd Barrett:

The realization that this was Syd’s play, too, is not as bizarre as it might seem. The lineaments of the unwritten play included a Czech rock fan and an outlaw band, the Plastic People of the Universe, so rock and roll was already part of it. As for the English Communist professor, Cambridge would do nicely for him. Syd’s last gig, in 1972 at the local Corn Exchange, was reviewed by Melody Maker: “A girl gets up on stage and dances; he sees her, and looks faintly startled.” So let’s give the professor a daughter who was that very girl, and let’s see why Syd looked faintly startled. Willis’s short, exemplary book recounts, too, how the student daughter of Syd’s first real girlfriend was walking to lectures one day, wearing one of her mother’s Barbara Hulanicki coatdresses from 30 years before, when “this bald man on a bike pulled up to the kerb.” The man said, “Hello, little Lib.” “Hello,” said the girl and moved on. It was a few seconds before she realized that the man had called her by her mother’s name, and when she turned round, he’d gone. So while Czechoslovakia is going from Prague Spring to Velvet Revolution, let the Cambridge professor’s flower-child daughter have a daughter who grows up and …

Agree with Grumpy Old Bookman — I’m starting to take Vanity Fair seriously as a current affairs publication.

It all started when I was asked to look for a feature by William Langewiesche on how a criminal gang systematically disrupted crucial infrastructure and brought Sao Paulo to a standstill (Also see John “Brave New War” Robb’s blog entry), and pausing in my note-taking when I heard the source. Vanity Fair?

Incidentally, I never managed to find a copy of the May 2007 issue and the feature — “City of Fear” — according to the Table of Contents isn’t online. If you have one could you please send it to me?

Now I just have to find the time to read it. I thought I might try an issue of Monocle: Tyler Brûlé’s experiment in design-infused current affairs journals. It’s visually very nice but the articles are a bit too niche for me.

“…the anatomical blueprint of some alien and crab-like creature.”

I came across these alien geometrical graphics via Bibliodyssey (oh how I can wander that blog for days and days):

They’re plans for fortresses.

Such complexes of fortifications, said Austerlitz, concluding his remarks that day in the Antwerp Glove Market as he rose from the table and slung his rucksack over his shoulder, show us how, unlike birds, for instance, who keep building the same nest over thousands of years, we tend to forge ahead with our projects far beyond any reasonable bounds. Someone, he added, ought to draw up a catalogue of types of buildings, listed in order of size, and it would be immediately obvious that domestic buildings of less than normal size — the little cottage in the fields, the hermitage, the lock-keeper’s lodge, the pavilion for viewing the landscape, the children’s bothy in the garden — are those that offer us at least a semblance of peace, whereas no one in his right mind could truthfully say that he liked a vast edifice such as the Palace of Justice on the old Gallows Hill in Brussels. At the most we gaze at it in wonder, a kind of wonder which in itself is a form of dawning horror, for somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them, and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

Animation Nation 2007: 23 Nov – 1 Dec

Tickets on sale now. The festival is in its fourth year, and the lineup just gets better (thanks to the hard work of Dave and his team!). But you can judge for yourself:

Animation Nation 2007 is proudly presented by Singapore Film Society, with the generous support of the Media Development Authority of Singapore. Part of the Asia Media Festival. Featuring 80 films from more than 30 countries, showcasing the possibilities of animation and the best the animation world has to offer.

With seminars and workshops helmed by world renowned animators such as DreamWorks animators Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, former Disney Animator Nancy Beiman, Kompin Kemgumnird, Auchara Kikanjanas and Sonny Liew.

Highlights include

Tekkon Kinkreet, from the producers of the Animatrix
Khan Kluay, an award-winning Thai animation by Kompin Kemgumnird
– Documentaries on the creative process – The Pixar Story and Moebius Redux
– Oscar winner The Danish Poet
My Love by Aleksandr Petrov
– SIGGRAPH winner Ark
– Katsuhiro Otomo’s Freedom Project
– The Best of Ottawa 2007

Venue – National Museum of Singapore, library@esplanade and *scape

For details of ticketing and schedule of screenings, seminars and workshops, please visit
http://www.sfs.org.sg/animation/an2007/index.html

100 Suns; Arsenals of Folly

I’m having some difficulty writing about 100 Suns. This is the collection of photos documenting above-ground nuclear explosions selected and compiled by Michael Light. On the one hand I’m fascinated by the images and on the other repulsed by all the horror they imply.

How easy it is to aestheticise the photos. Form, colour, texture – there’s much to play with. And the usual moral questions apply: in writing about these images do you cheapen them? Sanitise them?

Let me try:

Each explosion is unique. Most are variations of the “mushroom cloud” trope, but a few that look different: a milkdrop, a lump in a lava lamp. A few are simply flashes. Even within the “mushroom cloud” types there’re details worth noting. For example, one cloud lies absurdly dead-center in a targeting sight. Another occurs far in the distance in the sky, above a row of palm trees along the bottom of the photo, calling to mind the “one thousand suns” reference from the Bhagavad-Gita (via Oppenheimer, upon observing the first explosion) and also reminiscent of a descending deity.

Michael Light put the more apocalyptic images at the end of the book. These are truly hellish – full of blacks, reds, oranges – radiating an implacable anger.

I was also struck by some photos which showed soldiers observing explosions. It seems that the US Army actually ordered troops to observe above-ground nuclear detonations at various distances, and then conduct exercises at or near the blast site right after detonation.

(Richard Rhodes’s new book Arsenals of Folly has one of these photos from 100 Suns on the cover:

Not the first time nor the last in history that leaders knowingly ordered their people to certain doom, driven by Mengele-like reasoning.)

Many of these soldiers turned away from the blast – ultimately futile. But there’s one picture of waiting troops, seated and smoking to while away the time till they had to move, staring out of the photo. All of them were enraptured. They had no protective gear whatsoever.

But I don’t think higher-ranking officers had much more protection. In another photo, a group of military observers sit comfortably in wooden chairs, possibly on the deck of a ship, watching an explosion. All of them are wearing oversized sunglasses of some material. The shades are futile too, and hint at the ominous reach of the radiation. But the whole setting absurdly looks like they’re all on holiday, sunbathing or watching a movie.

Doesn’t this say it all? Organised insanity.