As textile designer and illustrator Lena Corwin points out in the introduction to her new book, Maps: Illustrated Cities, the process of map making involves a “mix of accuracy and fantasy.” For me, the fantasy element is key to the design appeal of Corwin’s maps, whereby she filters her portrayal of each city’s topography through her distinct aesthetic.
Maps features 20 maps of cities in the United States and 20 maps of select cities from around the world that represent over seven years of illustrating cities in a style that takes its cue from vintage books. Providing another perspective on each urban subject, the book also features interviews with shop owners who give their own impressions of their local city. Topographical perfection is irrelevant, these are the maps I want to use to get around. You can grab your own copy of Maps through Other Books.
The multifaceted urban identity of Tokyo has been captured by a plethora of artists in a dazzling array of mediums. Although some creatives choose to focus on one element or characteristic of the city in their work, New York-based photographer James Ryang has not been restricted by one perspective, juxtaposing the serenity of the city’s natural landscapes with the saturated neon of its interiors.
Completely avoiding clichés, Ryang’s imagery is as diverse as the city and beautifully responds to both metropolitan chaos and moments of pause. Ryang’s Tokyo project is only a small part of what is an impressive portfolio, I definitely suggest you stop by and have a click around.
Hong Kong’s history as a port city and duty free mecca has often resulted in the view that it is a city of manufactured copies and international imports with little space for local creative endeavours. This is, of course, far from the truth. At the vanguard of Hong Kong’s local movement is HK Honey, “an organisation of Hong Kong beekeepers, artists and designers that aim to communicate the value of bees and benefits of locally produced honey.” A small network harvesting honey in the tight urban confines and roofs of Hong Kong is not necessarily an idea that would instantly come to mind when thinking about the city, which is what makes it so inspiring – not to mention admirable.
Going behing the scenes with founder Michael Leung, a product designer and beekeeper, the video by Kiku Ohe for Nokia’s E7 Success Redefined global campaign sheds light on the ethos and aesthetic of the organisation, their approach to fostering community, the concept of breaking down the division between producer and consumer and the manner in which the environment of Hong Kong impacts on production. It is a fascinating and uplifting journey.
A special thanks to Charis Poon for kindly passing on the link to the video.
After the brief role swap on Wednesday that saw Bobby posting on the ink drawings of Erika Altosaar and me posting on Hong Kong street art, I have returned to form with the work of Argentinian illustrator Ana Laura Perez. Creating pieces that are distinctly feminine in style with soft and delicate overtones, Perez is inspired by “color palettes and scales, shadows and light, crystals, old nature, encyclopedias, white and gold, sea creatures, textures and shine, moss, draping, darkness and femininity, hidden treasures.”
These motifs shine through in her illustrations that move from fantasy realism to strange abstraction, playfully creating their own mythological narratives and perspectives on a female viewpoint.
My first experience of Hayao Miyazaki did not leave the best of impressions. Clicking through the English-language television channels as a kid in Hong Kong, I happened to switch onto My Neighbour Totoro (1988) at the exact moment when Totoro lets out a massive howl that echoes through the surrounding forest. I was baffled to say the least. And then I was confronted with something even more horrifying: the dubbed dialogue. Deciding that I had seen more than enough, it was not until around twenty years later that I voraciously consumed as many Miyazaki films as I could get my hands on. Choosing just one to write on is difficult (I would recommend almost his entire body of work); however, there is something about Spirited Away (2001) that I find consistently appealing.
Logic is using the front part of the brain, that’s all. But you can’t make a film with logic. Or if you look at it differently, everybody can make a film with logic. But my way is to not use logic. I try to dig deep into the well of my subconscious. At a certain moment in that process, the lid is opened and very different ideas and visions are liberated. With those I can start making a film.
– Hayao Miyazaki
Following the adventures of a young girl, Chihiro, who is unwittingly drawn into a parallel spirit world, Spirited Away is exemplary of the themes and motifs that run through all of Miyazaki’s films, especially the filtering of perception through a childlike perspective. However, this perspective is not only aimed at drawing in young audiences, but also adult viewers. Unlike the Disney animation films that I grew up watching, Miyazaki truly taps into the child’s psyche without relying on clichés or masking harsher aspects of life. Indeed, there are moments in Spirited Away – such as when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs and the presence of a “stink spirit” in the palatial bathhouse – that would be unnerving for some younger viewers.
The beauty within Spirited Away – as in all of Miyazaki’s films – is not only found within the narrative, but the very structure and aesthetics of the animation. In contrast to conventional animation, Miyazaki’s work adopts a flowing, painterly style that appears like a moving watercolour and particularly provides the representation of the spirit world in Spirited Away with a gorgeously vaporous quality. On another level, it also visually signals the fantasy space that Miyazaki creates in the film that serves as a counterpoint to the seemingly banal realities of the everyday life that Chihiro takes for granted.
The serious coming-of-age narrative that stems from Chihiro’s encounters in the film’s fantasy space intriguingly runs alongside environmental and moral concerns that are manifest in the sub-themes of pollution, power and greed. Thankfully, these ideas do not overwhelm the viewer or result in didactic overtones, but enhance the nostalgic thread that is woven into the film. If you haven’t seen Spirited Away, I definitely suggest that you do. Just be wary of any hideous dubbing.
If you have ever wandered through the streets of Hong Kong, it is highly likely that you may have stumbled upon one of the characters by local creative team Graphic Airlines (G.A.L). Championing “the aesthetics of ugly” through their distinctive style, TAT and VI – the collaborative duo behind G.A.L – are represented on urban façades by chubby-cheeked figures with vacant stares and strangely deformed creatures. Plastered on every imaginable vacant surface, they are almost impossible to miss.
What undoubtedly makes their work so appealing is the manner in which it adds a contemporary artistic layer to Hong Kong’s city palimpsest. As G.A.L often present their work in dilapidated and forgotten alleyways and nooks in the city, it creates an evocative tension between old and new culture that exemplifies the richness of the Hong Kong’s urban fabric. A far cry from the homogeneous, streamlined, minimalist aesthetics so often associated with modern Asian cities, observing G.A.L’s work provides an insight into how local creatives engage with their city and play a small role in its transformation.
Not content to create merely within the realms of street art, their work can also be see on tee shirts and accessories, the walls of galleries and, most recently, post-it notes. G.A.L’s next venture is the group exhibition Post-It Show, which will be on at the Atticus Gallery in Barcelona from 5 May to 31 May 2011.
British artist Kate MccGuire begins her artist’s statement with the following proposal: “I gather, collate, re-use, layer, peel, burn, reveal, locate, question, duplicate, play and photograph.” Although this proclamation sheds light on the evocative nature of her practice, it fails to mention the one thing that blew me away when I first viewed one of her installations: she quite often incorporates feathers into the structure of her pieces.
And it’s not just a matter of collecting a few pigeon feathers scattered around urban centres, MccGuire uses the plumage from a diverse range of birds, including mallard, goose, peacock, pheasant, teal, woodcock, woodpigeon, quail, grouse, French partridge, turkey and chicken. Assorting and juxtaposing the quills of these feathered friends, she creates strangely organic and metamorphic works that appear like slithering and writhing creatures. Flirting on the boundary between horrifically creepy and strikingly beautiful, MccGuire’s installations highlight how an unexpected material can be appropriated to produce new modes of representation.
Move over Claes Oldenburg, Australian artist Dawn Tan is giving the soft sculpture medium a contemporary makeover. Artistically appropriating and enlarging the packaging for a number of mass-produced food products, Tan’s most recent work is concerned with “how packaged food is taking over natural, organic food. The idea of consumption becoming obsessive, how traditional made-from-scratch meals are now replaced often by instant colourful packaged food.”
The results of this creative interrogation is her “Soft Friends” and “Homebodies” series of works that playfully shift foodstuffs from the supermarket and kitchen pantry to the art gallery and everywhere in between. The larger-than-life sculptures are a clever comment on the pervasiveness of mass-produced goods, and by enlarging their form to such bizarre dimensions Tan defamiliarises their presence, thereby calling attention to the unnatural aesthetics of packaged food products. Intellectual process aside, it’s also a delightfully cute series. I bet Oldenburg wouldn’t have the sense of humour to walk around in a human-sized packet of Pascall Marshmallows.
Not content to transform food into larger – and sometimes mobile – pieces of art, Tan also illustrates recipes and giant food diaries. You can check out more of her work via her blog and her online shop.