In Bloom

I awoke this morning to the smell of the blooming tree outside my window. While lying in bed my husband informed me that daylight saving time starts this weekend. Taken together, the tree and the time, I realized that an early spring break was called for. Guess that means we’ll be off celebrating spring instead of writing this week’s blog.

We’ll be back next week with a new post. Until then I encourage you to download a copy our book, “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Girl With A Pearl Earring: Looking Beneath The Surface

Earlier this week a team of technicians and researchers armed with some of the most advanced equipment available began an extensive examination of a small oil painting dating from the mid-1600s.

The painting is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of those iconic images that nearly everyone knows. It’s often called the Mona Lisa of the North or the Dutch Mona Lisa because it rivals DaVinci’s famous portrait as a recognizable image.

Johannes Vermeer's oil painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Like Mona Lisa, Girl with a Pearl Earring has captured the public’s interest as a portrait imbued with mystery. Unlike Mona Lisa, however, most art historians do not believe this is a portrait of a specific person. They think it is a “tronie,” a somewhat stylized and/or composite image representing a type of character or a type of painting. Some think that Vermeer’s oldest daughter may have served as the primary model for what is essentially a study of facial expressions and costume.

Johannes Vermeer is known for his meticulously organized and carefully painted compositions. He worked slowly and methodically, demanding perfection at every step of his creative process. As a result we have only 34 paintings today that scholars accept as Vermeer originals.

For nearly 200 years after his death Vermeer was considered just an artist from Delft. Girl with a Pearl Earring stayed in private collections and was not particularly revered. In 1902 it was donated to the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Holland.

In the late nineteenth century Vermeer was “rediscovered” and a growing number of scholars started to see him as an important figure. When twentieth century historians learned more about him Vermeer became widely recognized as one of the premier masters of Dutch painting.

In the 1990s Tracy Chevalier wrote a best selling novel titled Girl with a Pearl Earring that was turned into an Oscar nominated movie of the same title. Shortly after that the painting was featured in high profile exhibits in the United States and Japan.

Vermeer’s rediscovery, combined with media and artworld attention, helped make Girl with a Pearl Earring one of the best known images in the world.

That brings us to February of 2018 and this current effort to examine the painting in depth.

The last time Girl with a Pearl Earring underwent intense scrutiny was in 1994 when it was examined using what were then state-of-the-art techniques. Scholars studying the work even removed a few pinpoint specks of paint and did chemical and microscopic analyses of the samples.

In contrast, today’s state-of-the-art tools are completely non-invasive yet much more revealing. There will be no need to remove any paint samples.

Mauritshuis scanning equipment used to scan "Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Just a few of the highly advanced processes being used this time are: Macro x-ray fluorescence scanning, multispectral infrared reflectography, infrared and visible reflectance imaging spectroscopy, and optical coherence tomography. State-of-the-art indeed.

Some of the things the researchers expect to learn include: The steps Vermeer took to create this work, how specific pigments are distributed across the painting, and detailed information about paint layers including translucent glazes. They also expect to develop a high resolution 3D topographical map of the painting.

In addition to analyzing and mapping the painting, researchers will scan its entire surface with microscopes capable of enlarging details 7,000 times.

When the process is complete the team hopes to create an accurate digital version of what the painting looked like at the time Vermeer finished it. What we see today has been altered by time and multiple restorations. The painting’s background, for example, was originally a dark greenish black but now appears as a simple black with no color cast.

Because Girl with a Pearl Earring is so popular with museum visitors all of this scanning and analysis must take place quickly once the painting is removed from the wall. It will all happen over a two-week time period – working 24 hours a day – before the painting is put back on exhibit.

glass partitions used with Mauritshuis scanning equipment used to scan "Girl with a Pearl Earring"

All of the scanning and most of the analysis will happen behind a temporary set up of glass partitions in an upstairs gallery. This will allow visitors to watch the activity as it occurs.

At the end of the two weeks Girl with a Pearl Earring will be one of the most examined and documented paintings in the world. We should know much more about Vermeer’s process and the materials he used. We should also have an amazing digital record of this beloved masterpiece.

Posted in Artists and Designers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mending The World With Gold

Two weeks ago I wrote about the use of gold by artists and designers. I discussed “America,” an interactive sculptural installation by Maurizio Cattelan. Today I want to talk about two contemporary artists, Yeesookyung and Rachel Sussman, who use kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and gold.

Kintsugi, also called kintsukuroi, translates to golden joinery or golden repair. It is part of a celebration that values age and a history of use. Instead of throwing away a broken object it makes it even more valuable. Rather than hiding the repair it emphasizes it. Kintsugi can be seen as an extension of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi – the aesthetics of the “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

Kintsugi is the art of carefully applying multiple layers of lacquer along the broken edge between two pieces of pottery. The process is time consuming, involving meticulous sanding between each layer of lacquer. Additional layers of lacquer mixed with gold dust are then added until a fine golden seam joins the broken pieces.

Yeesookyung Translated Vases ceramic and gold joinery

Korean artist Yeesookyung is a conceptual artist who works in a variety of media. The pieces I want to look at are part of her ongoing series titled “Translated Vases.” You could call these kintsugi on steroids. Instead of joining parts from a single broken piece of ceramics she joins together pieces from multiple sources, creating organic and bulbous forms that resemble rampantly mutating cells.

Yeesookyung Translated Vases an installation of ceramic and gold joinery

Korea has a long ceramic tradition in which craftsmanship is supreme and even slightly imperfect works are destroyed. Yeesookyung has been able to collect the broken shards from ceramic workshops that specialize in fine historic reproductions of pottery from the Goryeo (918–1392) and Joseon (1392–1897) dynasties. She then reassembles them using epoxy and 24 karat gold. Her larger sculptures are built around a metal armature which  adds structural strength.

Yeesookyung Translated Vases of ceramic and gold joinery

About the work Yeesookyung says, “From the moment of destruction, I obtain a chance to intervene and fabricate new narratives with my own translation… I am attracted to failed, broken or ephemeral things. Things in a broken state provide me with a chance to intervene. It is not about fixing or mending, but about celebrating the vulnerability of the object and ultimately myself. This broken state allows me to explore new narratives which are not bound by hierarchy. The narrative gives rise to a real world, even more concrete that this existing world, built by art practice and filled with countless endeavors to reach sublime beauty.

Rachel Sussman study for Sidewalk Kintsukuroi photograph, enamel paint and metallic powder

Like Yeesookyung, Rachel Sussman has taken a traditional process and recontextualized it. Her series, “Sidewalk Kintsukuroi,” contains both installations and photographic studies – the studies consist of photographs embellished with enamel paint and metallic powder. Aging and deteriorating roads and walkways have been mended by applying the technique of kintsukuroi. The juxtaposition of thin lines of precious gold with the industrial and utilitarian materials that are part of our infrastructure is startling. The unwanted cracks have been transformed into something of extreme value, drawing our attention to a history we usually overlook.

Rachel Sussman study for Sidewalk Kintsukuroi photograph, enamel paint and metallic powder

Sussman’s work has long centered on ideas about time. She became famous for her photographic (and book) project “The Oldest Living Things in the World,” which documented organisms that are at least 2000 years old. About the time she finished that project she became aware of kintsukuroi and thought it meshed with many of her ideas about time and impermanence.

I had spent 10 years looking at ancient organisms who have withstood the test of time. I was already connected to the aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi inherent in the work and the organisms themselves: quiet and imperfect, bearing the proud patinas and injuries of age, while flirting with the boundaries of permanence.

Rachel Sussman Sidewalk Kintsukuroi installation of gold and lacquer into cracks in museum floor

The cracks in our roads and sidewalks become markers of the passage of time. With age and use pristine surfaces succumb to entropy. Sussman’s repairs emphasize this change. Even they will be worn away, nothing more than slight hints left of their presence. Sussman sees this all as part of a natural process. With her work she hopes to get us to slow down, to weigh our sense of personal time with “cosmic time,” to appreciate the beauty in decay, and to understand our place in the natural cycles of life.

Posted in Artists and Designers, Design in the World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black And White: The Hyundai Pavilion By Asif Khan

One of the most dramatic cultural offerings at this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea is a pavilion commissioned by Hyundai and designed by the English architect Asif Khan. The structure is 10 meters (33 ft.) high and 35 meters (115 ft.) long. Its walls form gentle parabolic curves sloping in toward the center from each corner.

The structure is all black on the outside and has dozens of thin rods projecting out from its walls. On the end of each rod is a small light.

Asif Khan's Hyundai Pavilion, exterior view

The black exterior is special because it is the first time a large scale piece of architecture has been coated with the hi-tech substance Vantablack VBx 2, one of the darkest materials in existence. Regular readers of this blog will remember our post last year about the development of the original Vantablack and its connection to the artist Anish Kapoor.

The original Vantablack is without question the darkest material ever developed. It captures 99.96% of all the visible, infrared and ultraviolet light that shines on it. That’s pretty much all the light we can and cannot see. As a result it is impossible to perceive any surface variations on an object coated with the substance. Viewers can only determine the object’s outside shape.

The original version of Vantablack is made from millions of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes that are 3,500 times thinner than a human hair. Coating an object with this version of Vantablack requires a painstaking chemical process and is currently limited to relatively small objects and surfaces.

Recently Surrey NanoSystems, the company that makes Vantablack, developed a new version of the product that captures 99% of only the light that is visible to human eyes. Instead of a chemical process and carbon nanotubes this new product uses a sponge-like micro base and can be applied by spraying it on an object or surface.

It’s this second generation Vantablack that covers the Hyundai pavilion.

Asif Khan's Hyundai Pavilion, detail view

As visitors approach the pavilion they see dots of light from the projecting rods floating in front of a field of impenetrable blackness. Asif Khan says, “From a distance the structure has the appearance of a window looking into the depths of space. As you approach it, this impression grows to fill your entire field of view. So on entering the building, it feels as though you are being absorbed into a cloud of blackness.”

Asif Khan's Hyundai Pavilion, interior view

Once viewers are inside the pavilion everything changes. All the interior surfaces are made of white Corian, a synthetic stone-like product manufactured by DuPont and usually used for table and counter tops. The floor of the pavilion gently slopes to the middle of the room and is engraved with a complex network of narrow, shallow channels all leading to that central point.

Asif Khan's Hyundai Pavilion, interior view

25,000 individual droplets of water are released into these channels every minute from tiny, computer controlled spigots located around the room. The droplets of water are released in response to haptic sensors that monitor the movement of visitors walking through the space. As the droplets navigate their way to the lake at the center of the floor their journey looks surprisingly like an aerial view of an urban landscape with the channels acting as streets and the water drops serving as automobiles and buses.

Asif Khan's Hyundai Pavilion, interior view

Khan says of the pavilion’s interior, “The water installation visitors discover inside is brightly lit in white. As your eyes adjust, you feel for a moment that the tiny water drops are at the scale of the stars. A water droplet is a size every visitor is familiar with. In the project I wanted to move from the scale of the cosmos to the scale of water droplets in a few steps.

In addition to the visual poetry of this architectural installation Asif Khan has created a subliminal message that gently celebrates Hyundai’s research efforts to develop a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The black facade and star-like lights suggest the universe – the source of all hydrogen. And, as Khan says, “The droplets contain the same hydrogen from the beginning of the universe as the stars.”

Here is a short video tour of the pavilion created by the folks at the online architecture and design magazine

For those of you reading this in e-mail you can see the video here.

Posted in Artists and Designers, Design in the World | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Golden Thrones

At the start of every week I begin to investigate a topic for my Thursday post. Usually I’m at a loss for an idea and just as I’m ready to panic one emerges. On Monday, after several hours searching online for inspiration I realized I had hit a wall and the best solution was to go on a long walk. As I waited for my walking partner to get ready I leaned against the wall in my living room and stared mindlessly into space. That was when I noticed the small shaped wooden panel wrapped in lead and partially covered in gold leaf. Made by an artist friend, I’ve had it for years and like all things that become familiar I’d forgotten how much I like it. Gold and lead. Heaven and earth. Alchemy.

Here was an idea – the use of gold, either cast as solid metal or used in fine sheets. There is a long history of the use of gold – employed and revered by ancient civilizations, found in religious paintings and manuscripts, topic and material in conceptual works of the 20th and 21st centuries. A year’s worth of blog postings would barely scratch the surface. Time to narrow my focus. I could look at an artist like Yves Klein or perhaps discuss Joseph Beuy’s performance piece, “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.” Maybe the solution would be an investigation of Indian miniatures.

roll of gold leaf toilet paper

I began to type into the google search bar variations such as “art and gold” and “gold objects.” Still too broad. Things got interesting when I entered “odd gold objects.” That was when I found a roll of toilet paper worth over a million dollars – can this be true? What else? A solid gold coffin. Numerous edibles, from pills to cheese. Solid gold shirts costing close to half a million dollars.

From all this wealth of information and imagery I’ve plucked one contemporary artwork to discuss today. More will follow in a future post.

artist Maurizio Cattelan's 18-karat functioning gold toilet

After showing you an image of gold leaf toilet paper, which may have been an advertising ploy, it’s only natural that I’d select artist Maurizio Cattelan’s “America,” a fully functioning 18-karat gold toilet, for further discussion.

Cattelan is known as a joker who uses biting humor to interrogate difficult social and political situations. He conceived of “America” in 2015, about the time Donald Trump decided to run in the presidential election. It’s not clear if this project was a direct response to Trump, who is famous for his bad taste – gilded and gold objects everywhere, including a private jet with solid gold sinks and faucets (the Guardian has even described his Trump Tower penthouse as “something that King Midas threw up after a big night out on the shandies”). Regardless, the timing of the piece, like that of much of Cattelan’s work, was perfect, appearing to predict and respond to the future.

The toilet cost millions of dollars to produce and was designed as a year-long installation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Available for public use and installed in a gender neutral restroom with a guard outside the door, over 100,000 people stood in long lines to make use of this golden throne. Cattelan called the toilet “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent.”

There is an excellent article about the project written by Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector, which I suggest you read, but I want to include this short excerpt – “America,” like all his greatest work, is at once humorous and searing in its critique of our current realities. Though crafted from millions of dollars’ worth of gold, the sculpture is actually a great leveler. As Cattelan has said, “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.”

The story doesn’t end with the deinstallation of the piece. Like many Presidents before him Trump requested the loan of an artwork from the Museum, to be hung in his private quarters in the White House. Being Trump he wanted an exorbitantly valuable painting, “Landscape With Snow,” by Vincent van Gogh. Spector politely informed him that the painting was already committed to another show and was overwise not allowed to travel. Generously, she offered him Cattelan’s “America,” the perfect reflection of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” philosophy.

Ballsy. Makes me believe that maybe good and great things can happen in America again if we all stand up whenever and wherever we can and yell, “You are an obscene and ignorant fool who needs to be removed from office!” Let’s unseat him from his golden throne.

Posted in Artists and Designers, Design in the World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IKEA Update

Yesterday on a walk with a friend she told me about a recent purchase of a new lamp. She was less than pleased and thus began a discussion of what went wrong. She’d purchased the reading light from a retail chain known for cheap prices but good design. In ads the items always look great but in person the materials used and the production quality tell a different story. The products are often versions of pricier things found in better stores. This led us to a discussion of the difference between this store and one like IKEA, which also produces inexpensively made goods.

In thinking about why one works when the other doesn’t I realized that in one instance an attempt is made to copy the style of an existing object while in the other the design is closely linked to the materials and the means of production. In this latter instance the works don’t mimic more expensive items. Thus, there’s no comparison made and the piece stands on its own.

After returning home I took a hot shower. Warm and clean I sat in my most comfortable chair, actually from IKEA, pulled out my iPad and discovered that Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, had just died. And that leads us to today’s post, a re-post of an article we published in June.

A Brief Look At IKEA Design

Editors Note: This may seem like an ad for IKEA but for those of you interested in the field of design this post will give you an idea of the design concerns of one company. Aesthetics are only part of the picture. Issues of resourcing, global economies, and environmental impact are of equal concern.

Whenever I drive on the freeway, north out of Oakland, I pass a giant IKEA store with its instantly recognizable blue and yellow exterior.

I’ve spent hours inside this Emeryville IKEA wandering along their convoluted pre-determined shopping path on my way to the big warehouse and checkout area. Over the years I’ve come to own a fair number of their items – large and small and they are in nearly every room of my house.

exterior view of an IKEA store

So that brings me to the point of this blogpost… Lets take a quick look at IKEA and its design vision.

They were founded in 1943 in Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad (the “I K” of IKEA).

There are approximately 200,000 employees and over 390 stores located in 48 countries. In 2016 IKEA generated nearly $39 billion USD (34.2 billion Euro) in sales.

The company’s products are so ubiquitous in Europe it has been estimated that 1 out of every 10 people living there was conceived on a bed sold by IKEA.

IKEA is also the third largest consumer of lumber and wood byproducts in the world (behind Home Depot and Lowes but ahead of Walmart).

The overall esthetic of IKEA’s products is minimalist, inspired by Scandinavian Modern Design. Their items celebrate functionality and downplay embellishment. They have uncluttered lines, basic patterns and simple color/value combinations. The metal, wood, plastic or fabric used to make a typical IKEA product is never disguised, but rather featured as a main component of the design.

IKEA desk and chair

This sparse, straightforward look helps give the company’s products a universal appeal. With few exceptions, what they sell in China and Australia is the same as what they sell in France and the United States.

The clean functional look of IKEA furniture also helps individual pieces fit into a wide range of home decor styles. My house, for example, is furnished with an eclectic mix of antiques, collectibles, original artworks and purely functional objects my wife and I have acquired over the years. The clear acrylic chairs and the bold black and white rug we purchased from IKEA are perfect counterpoints to a large traditional dining room table we inherited.

Although the overall design of most IKEA products is consistently spare and functional the company works with in-house and freelance designers to keep their inventory fresh. They regularly produce a PS Collection of more adventurous items and this year they are collaborating with costume designer and fashion activist Bea Åkerlund (think Madonna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga) to produce accent and display objects.

In order to keep their design and marketing efforts on track IKEA sends teams of researchers into the field to conduct home visits with customers. During their visits the team asks about a wide range of topics that might include how the customer interacts with their own home, what new products would make their daily life more productive or rewarding, and the customer’s impression of their last visit to an IKEA store.

In 2015 IKEA produced a report titled Life At Home. This document is based on a survey of over 8,000 people in eight cities around the world. It found – among many interesting insights – that morning is the most stressful part of the day for urbanites and that New Yorkers prefer to select their next day work clothes the night before. It also found that 52% of the people surveyed enjoyed cooking in the company of other people. The results of the survey have already influenced the development and design of new products.

This concern for how a product fits into the real world also influences the way IKEA approaches the sourcing of raw materials and their general emphasis on sustainability. For example, IKEA uses recycled PET plastics from disposable bottles to make quilts and pillows. They use bamboo when possible to create a hardwood alternative for furniture. They also design and sell water-saving kitchen faucets and energy-saving appliances. All of the lighting IKEA sells is LED that uses 85% less energy and lasts up to 20 years.

IKEA kitchen design

One part of IKEA design that gets a lot of attention is their flat packaging. It originated in the 1950s when an employee removed the legs from an end table in order to fit it into their car. Compacting the form of a piece of furniture for shipping and handling soon became a major goal.

Today when you buy a piece of IKEA furniture from their store it comes in a plain rectangular cardboard box. Inside the box is the unassembled piece of furniture and necessary hardware arranged in the most efficient way imaginable. The packaging is so efficient there is never a need for extra padding. It is a brick.

In addition to the furniture and hardware in the box there is an assembly instruction sheet that uses hieroglyphic style diagrams. Using the diagrams as a cryptic guide customers work their way through the assembly process and become active partners in creating their new piece of furniture.

The picture-only instruction sheet is one more concession to IKEA’s international marketing efforts and efficient use of resources. It is also the inspiration for many stand-up comedians and online commenters both positive and negative.

The emphasis on affordable, minimalist design influenced by customer input – what IKEA calls “democratic design” – combined with sustainability and efficient packaging/handling is a complex endeavor. I think IKEA does a spectacular job of orchestrating and managing all these design challenges.

Posted in Design in the World | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Design of Movies

Everybody loves movies. They entertain us. They transport us in our imaginations to exotic and adventurous places and times. And nearly everyone has a particular movie or two that will always be associated with some life-defining experience.

Commercial movies shown in theaters around the world are usually multi-million dollar projects created by enormous teams of talented collaborators. Because of their scale, complexity and star-studded casts it’s hard to compare a movie to other artworks created by relatively obscure individuals working on a modest scale with only a reasonable budget.

But it is possible to find some commonalities between movies and conventional artworks. We can also learn to see movies in ways that are similar to how we look at paintings and sculptures.

In this blog post let’s look at two websites that can help movie goers recognize the use of design and other specific elements in big budget feature films. The videos at both sites are easy to understand and enjoyable to watch. If you love going to movies I’m sure you’ll like what these sites have to offer.

The first site is 35mm – A Group for Cinephiles moderated by Andris Damburs, a Latvian cinematographer. The group has 18,000 members and the site offers over 3,000 videos for you to watch. Here you’ll find video essays and analysis of a huge variety of classic films and current releases. There are also videos discussing ground breaking television series such as Game of Thrones.

Let’s look at a few examples…

In the video below you can see how the director Guillermo del Toro uses color harmonies to reinforce the intent of particular scenes in his popular movies. This video was made by the folks at who create and sell project management software for video and film makers.

Mastering the Movie Color Palette: Guillermo del Toro from StudioBinder on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

Here is a link to an article written by studiobinder that contains additional information.

The next video by Zackery Ramos-Taylor superimposes a diagram over a series of brief clips to demonstrate the use of symmetry in the Amazon TV series “Patriot.”

Patriot – The Symmetric Frame from Zackery Ramos-Taylor on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

Our final example is by Fabriccio Diaz and illustrates the use of shifting selective focus to make a single camera setup serve multiple purposes. It’s a technique unique to movies and a very effective way to incorporate the design element of space into a scene.

Depth of field (Montage) by Fabriccio Díaz from Fabriccio Díaz on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

The second website is Every Frame a Painting. This is really a YouTube channel created by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou. It consists of 28 short video essays that they made between 2014 and 2016. Although Ramos and Zhou are no longer adding to their collection the channel currently has over a million subscribers and is considered one of the best sets of cinema critiques available online.

Here are two examples…

In this first video we see the sophisticated use of dividing a single visual frame into quadrants and then using the subdivisions as smaller movies within a movie that interact with each other. The film being critiqued is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.”

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

The final video focuses on the use of music in movies, particularly films made from Marvel comic books. It’s interesting to note that some movie music is memorable and other scores are merely functional.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

These are just two websites that explore the components of movies in ways that are similar to how we examine and consider studio art. When you focus on the contributions and techniques of specific artists/craftsmen who have contributed to a movie you get a much more intimate view of the process.

If you are interested in exploring this topic in more depth, both Vimeo and YouTube have dozens of options to watch and enjoy.

Posted in Design in the World, Elements and Principles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amsterdam Light Festival

Here in the northern hemisphere it’s Winter with cold temperatures and long nights. This is a perfect time for a festival celebrating art and light, and that’s exactly what the city of Amsterdam hosts every year from the end of November to the end of January.

This year’s Amsterdam Light Festival marks the sixth year for the event. Each year a different group of artists, designers and architects create light-based sculptures and installations that are exhibited along the canals in the center of the city. Some artworks float in the water, some line the banks, and others span over the waterways.

For the first time, this year’s festival also includes sculptures and installations exhibited beyond the canals. Of the 36 total artworks included in the official event, 15 pieces are exhibited on dry land at Marineterrien, an historic naval dock located on an island a short walk from Amsterdam’s Central Station.

Every year the Amsterdam Light Festival has a theme and this year’s theme is “Existential.” Next year the theme will be “The Media Is The Message.”

Let’s look at the work of a few artists…

Included in this year’s festival are artworks by the Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei, the Sri Lankan/British artist/designer/engineer Cecil Balmond, and American artists Lauren Ewing and Ben Zamora.

Ai Weiwei has created a 6.5 kilometer red line that runs though the exhibition area. The piece is titled “thinline” and is a statement about borders that mark the outside edges of things as well as borders that separate people and places.

Ai Weiwei 6.5 kilometer line that runs through an outdoor art exhibition

Cecil Balmond is represented by a partially submerged floating pyramid titled “Infinata.” The form appears to be fractured revealing a crystalline interior. It poses the question: Does the essence of existence lie exclusively in what we can see and touch or is there more beneath the surface or hidden inside?

Cecil Balmond outdoor art installation of submerged floating pyramid

Lauren Ewing’s sculpture “Lightwave” rests on the bank of a canal. Ewing has long been interested in global warming and other environmental issues. This sculpture suggests water rising from its current level until it covers the banks and obscures its surroundings – a particularly poignant statement in a country already largely below sea level.

Lauren Ewing outdoor light sculpture

Ben Zamora’s computer controlled sculpture is titled “Myth.” It consists of a tight grid of short horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. The lines of light turn off and on in random sequences that start slowly and build to a frenetic pace. The sculpture suggests language in a variety of forms from petroglyphs to the printed page to graffiti.

Ben Zamora computer controlled outdoor light installation

Here is a short video by showing more of the festival’s artworks. In the video you can see the sculptures and installations as a visitor to the festival would see them. For those of you reading this blog post in e-mail click here to see the video.

Follow this link to learn more about the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Posted in Artists and Designers, Design in the World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Design Exercise:Texture

In several recent posts we’ve discussed artists who use the design element of texture. I’m asking you to put the new knowledge you’ve gained from those posts to use.

The best way to begin to do this is by reviewing Chapter 5 (Texture) in our book “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.” In addition, at the end of today’s blog I’ve included links to some prior posts that you may find useful. I’ve also included images in this post of several art works by professional artists who use texture in unexpected ways.

Meret Oppenheim fur lined teacup and fur lined spoon

Meret Oppenheim

I am proposing that you create two responses to this exercise, one using real three-dimensional objects, and the other using two-dimensional media (drawing, painting, or collage) and simulated texture.

Mona Hatoum welcome mat made of straight pins

Mona Hatoum

Working with a three-dimensional object change its nature, and or function, by altering its texture. The fur-lined teacup shown above might feel smooth and sensual against your lips but wouldn’t be very useful for sipping tea. And that carpet made of pins is hardly welcoming. Both of these examples have shock value because they are so foreign and defy our expectations. At the same time, they help us see the true nature of the original unaltered object by negating its function.

Ann Hamilton performance in toothpick suit

Ann Hamilton

Think carefully about what object and new texture you combine. See if you can do more than just surprise us. Would a rug made of pumpkins be as effective as one made of pins? Probably not. Ask yourself, what is the essence of the object? How can I negate or reinforce that? What am I trying to say i.e. do I want to make a political statement or one about aesthetics?

Vera Lehndorff trompe-l'oeil body painted to blend into decaying building

Vera Lehndorff and Holger Trulzsch

The collaborative piece shown above is a combination of actual and simulated textures. Vera Lehndorff’s body has been meticulously painted in a trompe-l’oeil fashion, camouflaging her and allowing her to hide in plain sight. (The final work is presented in photographic form.)

In the first part of this exercise you work with actual texture. In this second part you’ll use simulated texture – which can include trompe-l’oeil and faux finishes. You will work on a two-dimensional surface using paint, drawing media or collage – or a combination of these mediums.

Istvan Orosz print of globe with the surface of a brain

Istvan Orosz

You can use any of the three types of simulated texture we discuss in our book – objective, abstract or invented. Do you want to alter all of the things shown in your drawing or only select items? If your intent is to create a fantasy environment then maybe everything should have unique textures, for example, a world where the land is made of candy. If you want to make a political statement changing only one primary element in a scene might be the answer.

IC4Design colored print of a cityscape made of candy, pencils, and toys with cotton candy trees


Please share what you make with us on our Facebook page.

And now for some links to past posts:

Texture As Material And Metaphor

The Art of Carving Food

Fool The Eyes: Artists Who Use Their Skills To Challenge Our Perception (Part 2)

Fool The Eyes: Artists Who Use Their Skills To Challenge Our Perception (Part 3)

Time and the Construction of an Uncanny Beauty

The Mystery of the Mundane: The Art of Tara Donovan

Jelly Buildings and Waterfalls of Chocolate: Bompas and Parr

Eat Your Art

Posted in Artists and Designers, Elements and Principles, How-To | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Texture As Material And Metaphor

In several recent posts we’ve discussed the design element of texture. I want to add to that discussion by presenting the work of two additional artists, Alexandra Kehayoglou and Sigalit Landau.

Alexandra Kehayoglou handwoven runway carpet based on nature

Argentinian artist Alexandra Kehayoglou is known for her elaborately tufted works that utilize traditional rug making techniques. Born into a famous carpet making family, Kehayoglou has branched out, producing nature inspired works that, as she states, reflect her “interest and consciousness about the environment – full of endangered species, and our cultural heritage.

Alexandra Kehayoglou handwoven floor and wall carpet made to look like a forest scene, includes a swing

Working with a “tufting gun” and yarn remnants from her family’s carpet factory Kehayoglou creates work that mimics the textures and patterns found throughout the natural world. What makes her work so powerful is the disconnect that occurs when lush forested environments are transferred to man-made interior spaces.

Alexandra Kehayoglou and MVRDV large indoor installation of woven textiles that mimic a forest

detail, Alexandra Kehayoglou and MVRDV large indoor installation of woven textiles that mimic a forest

The images shown above represent her collaboration with the Danish architecture firm MVRDV (whom we profiled in an earlier post about the Tianjin Binhai Library in China). Created for the Jut Group in Taipei the project has been called “a green dream” that brings the natural world into the urbanized center of the city. This soothing green oasis functions on multiple levels, one of which is to act as a natural acoustic modulator that dampens the external sounds in this space designed as a lecture hall.

Sigalit Landau salt encrusted tutu

If Alexandra Kehayoglou can be seen as a type of trompe l’oeil artist who fabricates replicas of nature, then Israeli artist Sigalit Landau should be viewed as an interventionist who uses natural processes to make highly metaphorical works of art.

Sigalit Landau salt encrusted tutu

Landau was raised overlooking the Dead Sea and it has continued to capture her imagination. It embodies both her personal memories and those found in cultural myths and history. She has used the lake as a site for performances and photographs, and to make densely salt encrusted sculptural objects.

Sigalit Landau process of creating salt encrusted objects in the Dead Sea

Using the hyper-saline environment of the Dead Sea, Landau suspends objects on elaborate armatures in its waters. It is not as straightforward as it may seem. First, the extreme saturation levels of the salt make things float so she has had to develop a system to keep the objects completely covered by water. Once suspended, nature takes over and becomes a collaborator in the making of the work. Salt crystals begin to form on the object’s surface and after several months of immersion the work is ready to be removed. At this point another problem presents itself. The sculptures have become both extremely heavy and very delicate. Some works are photographed in place over the months of their creation and cannot be moved while others survive as intact sculptures.

Sigalit Landau, gallery view of her salt encrusted sculptures

Salt is a magical material. It destroys and preserves. It’s necessary for life, but too much can be deadly. It is found in cleansing rituals in a diverse array of cultures. It has been the subject of myth – we all remember the story of Lot’s wife who was turned into a pillar of salt. With salt there is an alchemy at work that transforms ordinary objects into bejeweled wonders.

Landau has alluded to the submersion of objects in the Dead Sea as a baptism. On her website she states, “Baptizing profane objects in its waters, Landau relies on the Dead Sea to breathe life into inanimate objects, which emerge from their submersion as if belonging to a different time system, a different logic, or another planet yet their transformation unveils the divine and the eternal in nature.

Siglait Landau, two photographs from her installation series The Bride

The photographs above are from Landau’s series “The Salt Bride.” To read more about this specific project click on this link to a useful article in the New York Times.

Texture is an integral part of many works of art. In the work of the two artists just discussed, it is essential. In one case it is part of an illusionary recreation of the natural world while in the other it structurally knits together material and memory.

Posted in Artists and Designers, Elements and Principles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment