Two things to learn from this video: 1) No matter how fascinating the subject, nearly all videos benefit from a voiceover narrative and an appropriate soundtrack, both lacking here. 2) Although the term “industrial design” did not emerge until the 20th century, the design and engineering skills to produce incredible objects that utilized the principles of applied science and engineering existed long before then. Centuries before CAD systems and 3-D modeling devices, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David (1743-1807), made ingeniously engineered and mechanically complex cabinetry that incorporated drawers that opened automatically at the touch of a button, hidden compartments, and drop-down writing surfaces – all behind elegantly decorated panels. This walnut-veneered masterpiece was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 18th century and is housed today in the Kunstgewerbe museum in Berlin.
This skit from “Burnistoun,” the comedy sketch show broadcast by BBC Scotland, reminds me of all the devices that, at first, seem like marvelous inventions, but still need work. An example is a recent exchange with that annoying automated iPhone twit, Siri. She keeps calling me “Del-fiend-E,” even though I’ve corrected her multiple times. Last week I asked Siri for the cross street of Gump’s, San Francisco’s venerable luxury home décor and jewelry store. Everybody in the Bay Area knows the 150-year-old Gump’s — except Siri. She said, “There are three dumps in San Francisco, which one do you want?” I enunciated more slowly, spelling out G-u-m-p-’s. She ignored me and started telling me the addresses of the local dumps. I finally asked a passerby for directions.
When this museum’s main attraction is a shawl, its ingenious to drape one in a way to form the logotype “M”, as Moscow designer Vova Lifanov did for the History Museum of the Russian Shawl in Pavlovsky Posad. The colorful, lavishly patterned shawl is a national symbol of Russia. Like Russia itself, the shawl traces its roots to a mix of East Asian and European influences. Centuries ago trade with Persia popularized the wearing of Persian shawls bearing decorative patterns that looked strikingly similar to Persian rugs. The word “shawl” itself is of Persian origin. When Russia began producing its own shawls, it integrated its own Russian ornamentation into the design. Lifanov captured all this for the museum by creating a flexible identity program that allows the use of different patterns and colors on objects ranging from business cards to shopping bags and coffee mugs.
The Tate Britain in London is now showing the official posters of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which kick off their opening ceremony tomorrow evening. As the host city, London commissioned 12 leading contemporary artists to impart their own unique visual perspective to the Summer Olympics – interesting, but in some cases, quite obtuse.
Typically, the observation platforms of landmark buildings are designed to offer breathtaking views of the city, not vice versa. At the ARoS Museum of Modern Art in Aarhus, Denmark, the recently completed viewing tower on the roof is its own work of art. Designed by renowned Danish/Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the circular glass walkway is a multi-colored halo crowning the brick cubic structure built in 2003 by Aarhus-based Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.
Known locally as “Your Rainbow Panorama,” the museum’s walkway invites visitors to see the city through curved colored glass arranged in the color spectrum. Explaining his intent, Eliasson says, “I have created a space which virtually erases the boundaries between inside and outside – where people become a little uncertain as to whether they have stepped into a work or into part of the museum. This uncertainty is important to me, as it encourages people to think and sense beyond the limits within which they are accustomed to moving.”
You don’t have to live in San Francisco to be awestruck by the cityscape built by artist Scott Weaver entirely out of toothpicks. It took him 35 years and more than 100,000 toothpicks, and he says he intends to keep on refining and adding on to his creation. Replicas of every San Francisco landmark, monument and scenic attraction, including Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Palace of Fine Arts, the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district, and even the baseball park with its iconic wire baseball mitt, are rendered in intricate detail. As if that isn’t mind-blowing enough, Weaver one-upped Rube Goldberg by using ping pong balls to turn his sculpture into a kinetic experience. On his website, Weaver explains that he used different brands of toothpicks depending on what he was building. “I also have many friends and family members that collect toothpicks in their travels for me. For example, some of the trees in Golden Gate Park are made from toothpicks from Kenya, Morocco, Spain, West Germany and Italy.” Somehow after seeing this, hearing about Lego sculptures seems like unsophisticated child’s play. Weaver is a staff artist with The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s renowned Exploratorium, the museum of science, art and human perception.