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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Flying Saucers Over the Art Department!

September 13, 2016 | by

How the book designers of the fifties and sixties tackled alien invasions. 

A still from Forbidden Planet, 1956.

It’s impossible to know what sort of cover design will make a book fly off the shelves. Through timidity, this often leads to a certain monotony in covers, especially when they’re genre specific—“If it worked before, it’ll have to work again, eventually.” At times the uniformity is comical: it’s hard for book people of a certain age not to remember, say, the gothic romance subgenre without bringing to mind the same cover that was on every one by the end of the sixties—a woman, at night, dashing (often in a white nightgown) from a darkened mansion in sinister woods. Familiarity bred contentment; every reader knew what to expect when they saw the lady running.

Flying saucers as a phrase entered the modern English vocabulary at the end of June 1947, immediately after the initial sightings by Kenneth Arnold in Washington State—which, as it happened, turned out to be the first of thousands of such sightings. The subject was becoming more popular by the week, and publishing houses such as Henry Holt, Fawcett, and Citadel were quick to recognize the need for books on it. But what kind of a cover should go on a book about flying saucers? At the outset, there was no consensus as to what the saucers even actually looked like: they were described as blinking lights, purple blobs, flying wings, boomerangs, shiny metal balls, floating kerosene lamps, pie plates, hubcaps from an old Terraplane; in photos, during the first ten years, the most popular model resembled either the top of a chicken incubator, or part of the casing of a 1937 Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Read More »

Now I Have to Rewatch Melrose Place, and Other News

August 10, 2016 | by

Stills from Melrose Place, featuring works by the GALA Committee. Image via ARTNews. Courtesy Melchin.org.

  • Ask any Joe on the street and he’ll tell you the best thing about Melrose Place was Heather Locklear. He’d be wrong, though. The best thing about Melrose Place was that it served as a secret gallery space for a collective called the GALA Committee, led by the conceptual artist Mel Chin. By agreeing to work for free, Chin brokered a deal with the show’s producers that gave him essentially carte blanche to insert his art into the show. As M. H. Miller writes, “The project was titled In the Name of the Place, and will be the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Red Bull Studios in New York this fall … Chin said of about 200 works that the group produced, roughly 70 percent were accepted. In one episode, when Alison gets pregnant, she wraps herself in a quilt that has printed on it the chemical structure of RU-486, the morning after pill … In one scene, Kimberly holds a Chinese takeout box, which has written on it, in Chinese characters, the words ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Turmoil and Chaos,’ a nod to the different interpretations among the West and China of the Tiananmen Square protests.”
  • At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, meanwhile, a show called “The Camera Exposed” features more than 120 photographs with cameras in them. It’s better than it sounds, Simon Willis says: “What emerges from the exhibition is a complicated bond. In one picture, an elderly Paul Strand carries a large box camera in his arms, holding it like an infant jealously guarded. In another Eve Arnold photographs herself in a distorting mirror, her figure and those on the street around her blurred and elongated. It’s a self-portrait that seems to take a wry look at the act of photographing, and how it can record the truth but also bend it out of shape. In fact the show examines not just the relationship between photographers and cameras, but also the guises that cameras have assumed.”
  • The Olympics provide a great occasion for fantasizing about space—specifically, for fantasizing about the Olympics in space. But few among us would dare, as Chip Rowe has, to delve into the specifics of space sports: “Modern athletes pride themselves in their ability to withstand boiling temperatures and frozen terrain. But it wasn’t until explorers mapped the planet Gliese 436b that competitors got the chance to tackle both extremes at once. Roughly the size of Neptune, Gliese orbits far closer to its sun than Mercury does to ours, making its surface a balmy 820 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, you’d think the planet would be all gas. In fact, immense pressure in Gliese’s interior compresses water into an exotic phase of ice known as Ice X, in much the way pressure in Earth’s interior turns carbon into diamond. The result is a world cloaked in ‘hot ice’ and bathed in steam. A decade ago, 10 tenacious hockey teams flew the thirty light-years to Gliese for the first of what has become an annual tournament. The flaming puck makes the action easy to follow.”

Steer Clear of the Hotel Know-It-All, and Other News

July 26, 2016 | by

It’s this easy!

  • I’m tired all the time, which is why I’m so popular. Reviewing Anna Katharina Schaffner’s new Exhaustion: A History, Hannah Rosefield unpacks the durable notion of exhaustion as a status symbol: “Many critics, even as they call for a cure, frame exhaustion as a mark of distinction. This idea dates back at least to Aristotle. ‘Why is it that all men who have become outstanding in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry or the arts are melancholic?’ he wonders in Problemata … The associations of exhaustion with prestige have crystallized in the form of burnout. First used in the 1970s to describe exhaustion suffered by workers in the social sector, burnout was characterized by increased cynicism and apathy, and a decreased sense of personal accomplishment. Since then, its application has widened to include all worn down, overburdened workers, especially in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, where burnout is a subject of regular media debate. Burnout, caused by workplace conditions rather than by a worker’s mental and physical composition, is depression’s more palatable, more prestigious cousin.”
  • I’d long assumed that one could never enter one’s average house cat in a pageant. Only the purebreds could know the thrill of the blue ribbon, I thought. The calicos and tabbies of this earth were doomed to the mundane. But I was wrong, as Omar Mouallem taught me: “I got over the stench of piss at the Edmonton Cat Show pretty quickly. It’s not so much my nostrils that adjusted but my eyes, to rows and rows of beautiful creatures. Plump British shorthairs smiled in their sleep and regal sphynxes owned their ugly … [The International Cat Association] has been showing and awarding titles to non-purebred domestic cats—even the maligned black ones—since its 1973 beginnings. It’s a stark contrast to the practices of the 110-year-old Cat Fanciers’ Association, which for decades didn’t even bother hosting the category. The association now emphasizes it like TICA, and in the last three years finally started giving non-purebred cats Grand Championship titles equal to pedigrees. The hope is that it will curb the cat fancy world’s declining entries and revenues.”
  • Today in old advice that’s still good advice: If you, an aspiring artist, want to take the road to success, don’t stop off at the Hotel Know It All, the Mutual Admiration Society, or the Always Right Club. Tunnel through Lack of Preparation Mountain and for God’s sake watch your step around the Holes of Illiteracy and Conceit. A 1913 allegorical map called the Road to Success “turns the figurative journey towards artistic triumph into a cartographic depiction of an actual climb towards victory … Taking shortcuts won’t get you anywhere except to the bottom of the River of Failure, which threatens to sweep away anyone who’s not up to the challenge of putting in hard work. And don’t just blow hot air, or you’ll end up in the clouds.”
  • Here’s the time-tested way to gin up your crummy sci-fi flick: pretend it’s a western. In Star Trek Beyond, writes Richard Brody, “the words Republic and Federation are intoned like mantras to position the mission in quasi-American terms; the name Yorktown links the space combat of Star Trek Beyond to the existential, the primordial, and the revolutionary—the fight to retain independence in the face of a force that would snap it back in, engulf it in a dictatorial order, and milk it as a mere source of sustenance … The self-celebration of a legacy property’s sequel has rarely been framed in such starkly civic terms: the link between the historical continuity of the American federation and the personal continuity of family is the cultural continuity of Star Trek and pop music—and, for that matter, of classic Hollywood. Buy a ticket, keep America safe and free.”

Bloodthirsty Billboards, and Other News

July 11, 2016 | by

As integral to the landscape as the horizon is.

  • Come to Catullus for the hunger and heartache, stay for the dick jokes: “The verses Catullus addressed to male rivals, or to friends who he felt had let him down, often pullulate with rage and obscenityPaedicabo ego vos et irrumabois his gloriously defiant reply to two companions, Furius and Aurelius, who had criticized the indecency of his writings: ‘I shall fuck you in the ass and I shall fuck you in the mouth.’ His fearless attacks on his enemies, even revered public figures, teem with anuses, penises, stinking armpits—one man, a certain Rufus, is said to have a wild goat living beneath his—and graphic sex acts either given or received. The saltiness of these poems has thrilled many a beginning Latin class, but their power extends beyond mere shock value. With his freewheeling aggression, his willingness to let fly at the slightest provocation, Catullus evokes the modern Beat poets; the ‘neoteric’ school to which he belonged was just as daring as theirs in breaking with literary tradition.”
  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, reviews Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between, which finds Matar returning to Libya for the first time in thirty-three years, after Qaddafi’s fall: “His memoir is set in this honeymoon of the revolution, the brief window between the dictatorship and the current civil war. ‘Anything seemed possible,’ Matar writes of this hopeful interim, ‘and nearly every individual I met spoke of his optimism and foreboding in the same breath.’ In the memoir’s most rapturous passages, which recall Albert Camus’s essays on his Algerian childhood, Matar evokes his rediscovery of the Libyan landscape, the luminous Mediterranean coast and the austerity of the interior, where the earth ‘stood as all the unpeopled landscapes of Libya stand, clean and witnessing.’ ”

The Typefaces of Blade Runner, and Other News

June 27, 2016 | by

From Blade Runner.

  • Eliot, Auden, and Yeats all praised David Jones’s 1937 In Parenthesis as a masterpiece, the best long poem to come out of World War I—so how come no one reads it anymore? “Fuelled by direct experience, but highly composed, with a frame of reference that reaches across centuries, In Parenthesis works at the level of poetry, yet isn’t verse, nor, I’d argue, a poem. Multiple narrative possibilities are deployed throughout, fragmented lyricism giving way to sections of prose, dialogue, stream of consciousness, slang and song. The flow between these modes and registers never feels anything less than organic, and yet the work is built upon a parenthetical structure of mathematical precision; a subterranean architecture of image, pace and movement that provides a governing background rhythm to the multiple transitions of voice, perspective and cadence … In the seventy years since its publication it has been too rarely read, or even known, though it has maintained an influence on writers and poets working in its wake.”

Echo

May 11, 2016 | by

Miao Xiaochun, Triumph of Death, 2015, acrylic on linen, 13' x 13'.

Miao Xiaochun’s new exhibition, “Echo,” is at Galerie Paris-Beijing from May 12 through June 18. A Chinese digital artist, Xiaochun specializes in what he’s called “algorithmic painting,” recasting work from a religious European tradition—famous canvases from the likes of Bosch or Brueghel—as vibrant, science-fictional virtual worlds. These dreamscapes are “populated,” as the gallery puts it, “by strange cybernetic beings, with no clothes, character, or expression.” See more of his work on Art Radar.
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