When the director of Pixar’s Up (which beat independent animation studio Cartoon Saloon for an Oscar) first saw the competition’s The Secret of Kells he said he “recognized a countercultural force.” The director’s name is Pete Docter.
The wide world views Pixar as near the apex of animation skills. Substantial money has poured into 3D animation technologies — the realistic wave that swallows a peaceful beach, the quirky growth of a sunflower as it rises toward sun. Algorithms. The math that makes motions feel realistic, a babydoll round and cherubic and faced with a plastic you can tell is slightly soft to the touch.
Cartoon Saloon piled up four Oscar nominations with its unPixar-like techniques. Described by Docter, “At the time… [animation] was all about 3-D, and Cartoon Saloon were instead embracing the graphic. They were embracing flatness—not only the flatness of an animation tradition, but also of Celtic design, and merging these things together in ways that were really unexpected but also very sophisticated.”
Cartoon Saloon is an independent Irish studio that Wikipedia reports as currently hiring 300 animators. Their goals are idiosyncratic to them, their themes localized, their artistic style informed by Irish art.
This insight into artistic strategy is a chewy one for the art world.
“A man, perhaps the artist himself, has set down his calligraphy brush and reaches to extinguish a lamp. Once darkness falls, the demons will appear.”
To Signify: A Tincture of Pink
Night Parade of One-hundred Demons was created in 1890 by the great Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai. He is considered a father of modern Manga. Wildly inventive, energy on a high boil, a Mad Magazine sensibility with rampant gift. The Public Domain Review featured this work recently and I was struck by one of the tropes. Although this artist’s palette can often be robust, in this series of horrors he employs almost nothing but pastels. Notably pink, with a few blood-red exceptions.
Why? We can’t ask him but can still make observations. Maybe he’d agree.
I think it’s to slyly invoke creepiness via contrast. Where you’d expect garish you get pastel. But a monk with his eyeballs hanging down his cheeks? Pastel? Instead of robust primaries or blue-note tertiaries?*
The hundred demons we’re promised come with all manner of talons, claws, indefinitive blobbiness. Huge, bitty, flying, running, bludgeoning. Japan is rich in demons. But Kawanabe presents them in dressing-Cinderella colors.
Before the demons come there’s first a scene of a winter family huddled around a brazier waiting for ghost stories. A mild pink cloud hovers toward the ceiling. Next we see an artist stretching in strange elongated posture to extinguish the last lamp. The pink cloud now droops directly above him, close to the page bottom. (Both images above. I regret that the subtle pink clouds appear some degrees less telling here.)
Only now does the demon parade begin its romp.
The parade is a book, bound on the right, in which the postures on one page lead naturally to those on the next.
As with much of Kyōsai’s very best work, the luridness doesn’t come from any single source so much as the accumulation of fine, sickly details—like the pink, almost pornographic tongue dangling from the horse-man’s mouth. First these details creep up on you, then they overpower you.
“Skeleton soldiers, a horse with the head of a man, and other monsters advance in the growing darkness.”
In the sweet tones of candied almonds.
A work of visual art.
Compare words. Words exist expressly for humans to signify to each other. Anyone who has diagrammed a gnarly sentence appreciates how grammar rules — like baseball rules — bring structure, stave off ambiguity. Not so in the visual arts. Imagine if English, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Bantu and Norwegian were used in one communication. To start — whose grammar would you use?
In art you can even throw in the kitchen sink. No one gets to cry out “That’s not what’s in the dictionary!” Art’s meaning can never be pinned down in a words. Even Moby Dick — because it’s words plus art.
Little truths are like artworks. They’re opinions, ways of seeing, possible but not ironclad Truths. Here’s another way to think about pink.
* Primaries are the familiar red, yellow, blue; tertiaries are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet.
They remind me of garden wind-chimes tuned to the moody blue notes. (Blue notes are used in many blues songs, in jazz, and in conventional popular songs with a “blue” feeling, such as Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather”.) Wikipedia
Michael Hansmeyer and the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. weforum.org
Sounds like fusion in cuisine and music, yes? Aspects of globalism, compass points converging. The tendency in modern practice to both hyper-focus and intermingle like a red sweatshirt in a laundry of white. In hyperfocus a medical doctor becomes an internist becomes a cardiologist becomes an expert on heart arrhythmia. The push-back tendency is for artists to work fruitfully with doctors, doctors to probe brains with physicists, physicists and musicians to learn things together.
You may think that the parer-downers have difficult work and complexifiers have it easy. Throw in a bunch of newts, some old silver dollars and onion soup mix. Complexity! We need to understand that mindless complexifying can be done by a dog undigging bones in a nice lawn. Don’t even need a human. But brilliant complexifying takes imagination and rigor.
An installation by Martin Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
Michael Hansmeyer, Computational Architect, is among the elite who think about reasons to wantonly complexify rather than to simplify. This unique corps of thinkers buck the trend of paring off the dross to find something pristine and spit-shined inside.
He has taken a platonic solid (think sphere > cube > pyramid >…dodecahedron) and designed a way to create thousands of unique versions. (The Hansmeyer site says if you have 3d glasses the forms will come out to meet you.)
Hansmeyer’s goal in complexifying is toward the discovery of brand new and hitherto unknown forms. Often their geometry is more complex than humans have been able to conceive before computers. Hence the computational in his job description. In a TED talk the artist shows a diagonal fold in a sheet of paper. His Platonic Solids and the elaborating columns that followed grow and morph based on that one fold. Innies and outies pushed to a paroxysm of expression.
Platonic Solids by Michael Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
All of the forms shown are generated using the same single process, Only the variables that control the process’ division operation are allowed to change. This single process affects both the form’s topography and topology. It influences attributes such as the degree of branching, porosity, and fractalization – just to name a few. Hansmeyer, Platonic Solids.
Origami, the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, has become a hot topic in mathematics and engineering. The father and son duo at MIT, Eric Demaine and his father Martin have famously pushed the study forward. “It’s very cool to make something that doesn’t exist,” says Martin.
The installation Murquanas by Michael Hansmeyer, courtesy the artist.
His fabrication information is well-sifted. You can learn plenty in a few short paragraphs.
Of Muquarnas (above): To articulate the the tiles of the original design, 15,000 individual hollow aluminum tubes were inserted into the tiers and glued into place. Specific tubes were custom fabricated in order to minimize their weight. Muqarnas, Fabrication
This is a mind that starts at computers and gets from algorithms to totally unique computer-controlled manufacturing. Abstract digits, touchable renditions. Imagination assisted by computers works out the practicalities of design. Plus people recognize the strangeness and bend their curiosity to understand.
Once the math has had its say the architect in Hansmeyer takes over to devise a visual form and make the airy math palpable. One thing I love about his work (I was a museum guard once) is that he invites viewers to touch. In one installation of columns each pillar was up-lighted in a small circle so that those who asked questions with their hands reached into a spotlighted space. The human encounters with his strange work seem another layer in his strategy.
A delighted viewer. Photo by Kyungsub Shin of Michael Hansmeyer columns installation, courtesy Michsel Hansmey
He obviously experiments with materials and architectural problems like gravity and force flows.
And architects need a crew of experts — with forms that no one has created before, they need wised-up experience.
You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” … Brick says to you, “I like an arch.” If you say to the brick, “Arches are expensive, I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that brick?” … Brick says, “I like an arch.”
The question today is: What would a grain of sand like to be?
(Hansmeyer on beginning a new project that will be of cast sandstone.)
There’s a wealth of information in multiple formats, but sly little arrows reveal other whole troves. Like a clever mirror of complexity as a phenomenon, the volume keeps on expanding.
The variety of Hansmeyer’s endeavors can be found on his Projects page. You see his scope, from columns of evolving complexity to an encircling room of lace to a stageset for the Zauberflöte.
• Meaty quote about Eric and Martin Demaine, the MIT origamists:
[The Demaines]…built the piece by starting with a three-dimensional hexagon they folded from paper. They then inputted the shape into a computer and virtually erased all of the paper, so that only the creases remained. Next, they turned back to the tangible and created a dynamic piece of art, using aluminum rods, locked together at the joints with plastic spheres, to represent each crease.
“We took something real and virtualized it, and then made it real again,” says Martin.
Gerard Justin Ferrari Orphaned Teapot: Water Fowl Teapot, terra cotta, 2004. via gerardjustinferrari.
Once you see the ceramic hybrids of Gerard Ferrari, they may wander in the back of your mind for weeks. He promiscuously combines beastie elements (web feet, tail) with mechanical elements (gas pump nozzle artillery muzzle).
Ferrari’s Machine Age forms stand their ground assertively. Zoomorphic and not, harbingers of a transhuman future, possibly transduck. I suspect he’s learned a lot from comic books and cartoons.
I find he has his simplified low-chroma pieces under better artistic control — as opposed to controlled by a jolly sense of the ridiculous. One feels worthwhile as art, the other can roll off into cutsie-pie kitsch. I love him most as a sculptor of bold and elegant shapes.