Thursday, January 21, 2010

Glamour girl

Glamour used to mean "a magic spell".

That was a century ago. Today glamour is that elusive essence shared by famous people and beautiful objects. Cary Grant. Marlene Dietrich. Arches with stained glass windows. Apple electronics with not a cord in sight. Sleek powerful motor cars. Flights to exotic destinations.

Wearing a pair of sunglasses, which is, of itself glamorous, Virginia Postrel, explores what contributes to this elusive quality.

Glamour is about transcending the everyday, to live in a different world, a little distant. That's why the subject is looking elsewhere in glamorous photographs and paintings. A bit above and beyond the ordinary. But not too far above, so we can still identify with the subject.

Glamour can be the myth that grows up around the founding of an empire in a garage, like Hewlett Packard. Or the stunning beauty and expanse of outer space. The sleek, sweeping lines of a locomotive or airplane. Retouched. Stylized. Sometimes in false colors. As in fabulous books. Or architectural photography. Or stark landscapes.

It's falsification for a purpose. To illuminate. Glorify. Idealize. Dramatize. To create an illusion. Perhaps a little dangerous, because the magic spell is not in your interest. Or Sprezzatura, the art that conceals art.

So here is a workshop to explore the world of glamour:

1. What for you are the qualities of glamour? e.g. perfect beyond belief.
2. If "glamour" is about transcending "the everyday", to live in a different world, to be mysterious, a smidgin beyond the ordinary, in an idealised perfect place, explain how each one of these is glamorous. Nicole Kidman. Cary Grant. Tiffanys. 5th Avenue. Aspen. Airline pilot. Couturier.
3. Describe a holiday destinaton that is glamorous.
4. What lifestyles/work are glamorous, extraordinary, exotic and perfect and why?
5. Choose a product that could benefit from some glamor. What can you do to make it more ideal, extraordinary or mysterious with sleeker lines and a perfect skin.
6. One of the original meanings of glamour was "a magic spell". If you could cast a spell over your life so it was more glamorous, what would you be/do?
7. Recall and describe a landscape or cityscape that felt glamorous when you were there.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The seventh kingdom

For someone who writes about technology, Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, seems somewhat ambivalent, especially when he takes the cynical view that "technology is anything invented after you were born" or "technology is anything that doesn't quite work yet."

To better understand technology he poses the question "what does technology want?", the topic of his forthcoming book, and asks us to think about the parallels between technology and life.

At the Big Bang, everything was squeezed together so much there was no room for any difference, but as the universe expanded, the space for variation increased dramatically. Life has explored these emerging possibilities, and is now found everywhere on earth, even in cores of deep-drilled rock, under miles of ice or in the driest deserts.

He presents a concentric model of evolution on planet earth. More like the spreading ripple on a pond. Each and every organism highly developed. Not the climb-the-ladder-of-life model which leaves our simpler cousins on the bottom rungs.

Each form of life has experimented to the same degree about "how to do life". Our fellow organisms have explored every possible nook and cranny. They have developed a seemingly endless variety of body designs that range from the simple to the complex, the bizarre to the beautiful and from the minute to the gigantic. Each has developed it's own specialized way of earning a living or reproducing.

There are six kingdoms - plants, animals, fungi, protists, bacteria and the archae bacteria. Archae bacteria were first detected in extreme environments such as volcanic hot springs, but have since been found in many other environments. Protists are simple cellular organisms such as single-celled protozoa which are animal-like or plant-like such as algae, or fungus-like such as slime-molds.

As life has evolved it has become more sociable. Rather than merely living off an inanimate substrate most life forms are now surrounded by and interact intimately with other life forms as symbiants, hosts, predators and prey.

Kelly explores how technology has evolved and shows that just as life experiments with new possibilities, technology allows us to do the same and has the same general features. Technology is everywhere humans go. From the simple personal to the complex planetary-wide. Tools have become adapted to all kinds or human needs. And just like life, tools designed for yesteryear, live on alongside more complex and powerful technologies. And from new combinations of the old and the new, new stuff emerges.

He argues that technology should be regarded as the seventh kingdom as life and technology share five key features - ubiquity, diversity, specialization, complexity and socialization. A powerful cosmic force that helps us accelerate evolution. That obliges us morally to invent new technologies so everyone can express their "true difference: with others. And become more than we could otherwise be.

So here is a workshop to explore some of these ideas:

1. If technology is anything that was invented after you were born, what is technology?
2. If technology is something that does not quite work yet, give examples of technology?
3. If we look at the world through the eyes of technology, what does it want?
4. Ubiquity: Make a list of all the different kinds of technologies in your home or office, think doors, beds, toasters, pens, photocopiers etc.
5. Complexity: Give examples of how technologies for cooking, writing, travel OR entertainment have evolved and become more complex.
6. Specialization: Give examples of how technologies have become more specialized e.g. different kinds of technology for entertainment, travel, conducting/observing experiments.
7. Socialization: Give examples of how technologies depend on their connections and interaction with other technologies for their existence e.g. motor car, freeways, gas station, shopping mall, hotel/motel.
8. If technology is becoming more sociable, forecast some of the consequences of this e.g. machines talking directly to other machines, exchanging information.
9. If technology can be regarded as an accelerator of evolution, what might be in store for the human race?