Saturday, 29 December 2012

In the belly of a ruin: Sutton Scarsdale Hall

I went on a little adventure with a friend this week to a crumbling pile in Derbyshire. Sutton Scarsdale Hall is a strange entity and not what you'd expect from a country ruin.

Though the site has been occupied from Saxon times, the present structure really began to take shape in 1724. It was an elegant Georgian Neo Classical country house intended to rival nearby Chatsworth. However, its construction was the ruin of the then owner, and it passed through several hands until, in 1919 after years of neglect it was purchased by local businessmen who asset-stripped the place. They sold all the furniture, tore out the wooden wall paneling and the roof was removed in 1920. Thus all that remained were the bare walls. In 1946 Sir Osbert Sitwell bought the wreck with the aim of preserving what remained and in the 1960s it was passed to English Heritage.

This article astutely points out that the fate of the Hall reflects the changes in society it witnessed. It was built by the English gentry, inherited by 'the richest commoner in the country', eventually bought by businessmen of the mercantile class and now, under English Heritage, is open to all. The fate of the wooden paneling is strange. The pieces were bought by the American newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst for use in Hearst Castle, but later passed to Pall Mall Films for use in sets during the 1950s. The panels are now incorporated into the decor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What is unique about this ruin is how, barely one hundred years ago it was a beautiful working house. Photographs still exist of the interiors from the likes of Country Life magazine and the floorplans are available. One can quite easily navigate around the house and imagine the rooms as they might have been early last century. In my post about the fate of Wallaton Hall I bemoaned the municipal-ising of grand buildings now in public hands. With its curiously rain-worn stones, rotting plaster work and quiet chimneys I rather feel Sutton Scarsdale has paid a high price but perhaps retains more dignity than some of its siblings.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Cyberpunk 1984

Two things have given me cause to think more about Cyberpunk of late; my very belated embarkation on reading Gibson's Blue Ant trilogy and the announcement that a certain cyber-world will be making a big come-back in 2013. So far it seems the latter is replete with art that, to be honest, doesn't really float my boat. The images feel like an unhappy blend of ideas from the early 90s rendered in a modern, digital style. I was therefore given to thinking what the genre means to us today and how could it still be explored in a relevant way.

Although Cyberpunk is still valid, it's no longer part of our zeitgeist. The proliferation of derivatives and even the coining of the term 'Postcyberpunk' is a clear indication that Cyberpunk is no longer a notch on the barometer of the cutting edge. Lawrence Person pointed out in a Slashdot essay that it is partly a product of the genre being nearly thirty years old. Today's authors grew up reading Cyberpunk and it is therefore just another flavour of sci-fi to them and not the revolutionary force it was to older generations. The genre has, of course, transpired to be uncannily prophetic. We are now living amongst the things Cyberpunk predicted. The ubiquitous world wide web, black market trading of data, drone warfare and virtual religions are now staples of our tabloid headlines. Cyberpunk is no longer near-future. It's now.

How, then, could one continue to explore Cyberpunk in a way that's relevant? TRON Legacy did a good job of this. It eschewed the plot of the original TRON of a man trying to escape from a computer and instead made Kevin Flynn and his son freedom fighters concerned with the overthrow of an autocratic regimen (AKA a corporation). The Matrix looked at the philosophical side of our virtual existence by asking the question, 'what is real?'.

I am most interested in Cyberpunk as an aesthetic movement and I feel it can be mined for its value as a retro vision of the future. In the same way as we might compile pulp covers and ephemera from the 50s to understand the invasion-fearing sci-fi of that era, so we can understand Cyberpunk's vision better with equivalent collections. Such a compilation would also timely. The children of the 80s are having their decade in the creative limelight. We are seeing endless remakes of 80s kids' TV shows and the fashions of the day re-hashed without remorse. Consequently an exploration of Cyberpunk would seem fitting at this juncture.

Thus I am embarking on a little personal project I dub 'Cyberpunk 1984'. It's an exercise in submersion of the early-mid 80s visual culture with Cyberpunk at the narrow end, sci-fi in the middle and pop culture of the period at the wide end. I am not sure what form it will take (possibly a Gimme Bar library or maybe an out-of-place artifact as per Beyond the Black Rainbow) or how long it will be sustained for, but I am looking forward to it. Most of all, I am excited by what you readers think and what you might dig up for me!

Oh, by the way, it's '1984' not because it's Orwellian, but because that was when Neuromancer was published.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Stunning modern ecclesiastical architecture

My Modern Met has just posted a wonderful collection of amazing modern church interiors. Below is a small selection - click here to see the full post.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow

After a conversation at work during which I slated lots of modern films, a colleague asked me which recent movies I actually liked. Embarrassingly I was hard-pressed to answer and could only cite The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from my last year of viewing. Well, I am pleased to say that another movie has floated my boat - Panos Cosmatos' Beyond the Black Rainbow.

The first thing to say about this movie is that it certainly won't appeal to everyone. This is reflected in the very mixed reviews it has received (some judging it to be quite dire). It is, however, right up my street. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the ordeals of a girl incarcerated in a dubious pharmacology institute because her existence is a threat of epic metaphysical proportions. More importantly the movie is a loving homage to the straight-to-VHS nasties from the early 80s. Think THX 1138, Silent Running and Solaris shot through with plenty of vintage Kubrik, Cronenberg and Lynch. I say 'homage' but, as this astute article at Cinema Scope points out, the film is so faithful in its rendering and so obsessive in its detail that it is less a pastiche and more an out-of-place artifact. The details are just amazing - fictional vintage clothing labels, drugs from Benway's laboratory, biro-scrawled thrash metal audio tapes and badly printed pseudo-scientific notebooks.

Much in the same way as my Girl with the Dragon Tattoo experience was heightened by Trent Reznor's awesome soundtrack, Black Mountain keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt augments ...Rainbow with a menacing, throbbing synth-mix inspired by John Carpenter. Alas the soundtrack does not seem to be available as a complete entity.

I'll end this post by quoting this reviewer who summed up the film better than I ever could: it's like Matthew Barney and Trent Reznor remade 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The sinister engineer who appears briefly in the movie. I was thrilled at his Daft Punk-meets-TRON costume. His stance and posture are very direct nods to the xenomorph in Alien.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Stunning watercolours by Maja Wrońska

This 21 year old student is horribly talented. Her amazing architectural watercolours have been doing the rounds of late on the interwebs. There is a good article on her processes at Creativation Space.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Justin Oaksford does Perdido Street Station

Back in 2011 super-talented concept artist Justin Oaksford did a whole batch of designs for China Miéville's seminal Perdido Street Station. Although he admits in his post that his renderings are perhaps not the closest to Miéville's descriptions, I think they're very definitely in the spirit of them. I love his vision of Lin, the insect-headed protagonist. It's a difficult design to render convincingly but Oaksford's tack works very well.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Killers VS Tim Burton and Winona Ryder

Behind-the-scenes footage of the of The Killers' new promo directed by Tim Burton and starring Winona Ryder.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The art of Christopher Conn Askew

Mr Askew does awesome 1930s-goth-Day-of-the-Dead inspired illustrations. Born in 1970 in California he worked as a tattooist for many years before moving to traditional illustration techniques. I love his use of gold leaf in some of his work.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Anita Sarkeesian at TEDxWomen 2012

When Anita Sarkeesian proposed a Kickstarter project to deconstruct and examine female stereotypes in video gaming culture she was subjected to an horrific campaign of abuse and intimidation. In the video below she describes her ordeal and how she came to beat the mob and perform what must surely count as a very epic win.

She is one impressive woman! Go Anita!!!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Slavitza Jovan AKA Gozer

Slavitza Jovan was a young Yugoslav model working in both Europe and the US when, in 1983 she was cast as Gozer in Ghostbusters. In this interview she talks about her experiences on the magnificent set of the ethereal temple which is home to the film's finale. From the sounds of things, the skin-tight costume, red contact lenses and wire-work means the experience was not necessarily a comfortable one. However, Gozer has well and truly entered the geek pantheon, and I vote that she also be awarded a prize for The World's Most Awesome Cheek Bones.

Jovan later went on to play a bit-part in the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Insane animal armour by Jeff De Boer

De Boer builds intricate and detailed suits of armour for small animals. What's even more astounding is that these objects are made from metals (ranging from steel to bronze) and are not simply resin casts. They are whimsical, beautiful and surreal in equal measure.

Check out his full website to see his other creations too.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tigress Reign - full film!!!

A while ago I posted the teaser trailer for Ada Zanditon's Spring / Summer 2013 women's wear collection. The full film has been unleashed in all its Tarantino-esque glory (complete with gold hot-pants!) All those images of hot landscapes just make me want to book a holiday to Cyprus.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

2199 Space Battleship Yamato

2199... is a remake of the seminal 1974 Japanese anime TV series Space Battleship Yamato. Having not seen the original I have no idea what's going on in the trailer below, but it looks awesome!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Beautiful drawings by Marco Mazzoni

Marco Mazzoni has an eye-wateringly beautiful tumblr of his Moleskine sketches. I love the way the drawings ignore the centre-fold of his notebook and run across the stitches. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Squids are one of my favorite animals. I think it's because they're alien, ridiculous and terrifying in equal measure. For me they embody a lot of primal fears about the ocean. They are so very different from us land mammals with their boneless bodies, ability to change colour, tentacles and beaks (yes, they have BEAKS!). In recent decades the stories of giant monstrosities capable of sinking ships have been proven to be more than tall tails. Architeuthis Dux has been captured on camera and the females of the species can grow up to nearly 50ft. It's bigger brother, the Colossal Squid is fast becoming an accepted scientific reality. How long before evidence of more gargantuan tentacled beasts is found?

It's not surprising that those with a penchant for fantasy have been enamored with our cephalopod comrades. Many an alien has featured tentacles, bulbous eyes and beak-like maw (I am looking at you here, Metaluna Mutant). Lovecraft was writing at a time when technology was first allowing humans to explore the deeps and the fossil record was starting to show that all life came from the sea. His visions of pulpy, amorphous elder gods laid many of the foundations of today's tentacle-horror.

At last weekend's Hoplite Association event, my friend Nikarete whipped up some calamari. She started from scratch with a pile of whole squids. I was fascinated by their layers of transparent flesh and took the snaps below as they were dissected. I was particularly interested in the construction of their beaks, which are formed from two separate boney hooks that mesh together in the muscles where the tentacles converge.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Hoplite Association winter Symposium

Last weekend saw the Hoplite Association gather for one of their regular Symposia. These are weekend retreats where we socialise, work on our projects and generally make merry.

Our society reenacts life in and around Ancient Greece in the fifth century BC (known as the "Classical" century). At this time there was no cotton - the Greeks only discovered the plant in the later Hellenistic period. Therefore all clothes would have been linen, wool or possibly silk. Iron was now available and used for weapons but bronze was still used for armour. Because of the restrictions on materials and because there are so few groups focusing on this period, there is little kit available off-the-peg from reenactment traders or craftsmen. We therefore have to make or commission most of what we use. My weekend was spent making a pair of sandals from leather. I am pleased to report this went very well and I'll post about them soon.

I'll leave you with a few of my favorite snaps from the weekend.

Our mascot is Fraser the Hoplite bunny- also known as "Lunch"

Friday, 23 November 2012

Custom vinyl wraps for cars

So, it turns out while I wasn't looking there's now a bunch of folk who are doing awesome custom vinyl wraps for cars. Gone are the days when proud owners would airbrush slightly dodgy portraits of Native Americans onto their bodywork. The new digital techniques mean that high-quality custom graphics can wrap over surfaces seamlessly. Plus the vinyl protects the paintwork and can be peeled off when you're board of that digital portrait of a Native American.

Admittedly many designs are hideous, but I think the scope they allow is fascinating.

Via This Blog Favorite

Thursday, 22 November 2012


A friend was telling me about ARTEMIS, a LAN game simulating starship combat. A group of comrades gather and connect to a LAN. Each takes the helm at a particular station (weapons, engines, science etc) while one acts as the captain. They have to cooperate in order to complete the mission at hand. Of course, this is all blatantly ripped from Star Trek but that doesn't stop the fun.

What's more fun for the rest of us are the videos that are emerging on YouTube of the "crews" playing the game.

Rainbow-vomiting-Polar-Bear (not his real name) made the astute point that it may not be long before we see licensed versions of the game using things like the Battlestar Galactica intellectual property.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Mouse & Cat

The super-talented GMUNK, who did some awesome interfaces for TRON: Legacy, has teamed up with Sony for their Skyfall tie-in ad. GUI heaven!

vis hudsandguis

Sony - Mouse & Cat from Joseph Chan on Vimeo.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

White pens

About a year ago I blogged about using a white pen - a Uni-Ball Signo to be precise. Since then I've used a few white ink gel and paint pens so I thought I'd share my experiences.

The first two are ball-point pens, while the second two are paint pens. I've rated these according to how well they meet my desire to have a fine but opaque white line for use over ink-washed paper surfaces.

1. Uni-Ball Signo (6/10) c.£3.00
This was my first foray into white-pen territory and I was pretty satisfied. This is the pen Ben Templesmith mentioned using in a profile I read about his work. It's a roll-ball which has some drawbacks - you need a surface which offers a good purchase in order to get the action started. Sometimes I try and draw onto a surface over which I have washed inks. If the inks aren't totally dry the pen tip will 'skid' across the surface and the tiny ball bearing won't roll (and so no ink comes out). This is not a huge problem with this Signo, just an occasional niggle. What's a bit more annoying is that the pen will start to run out even when I can still see ink in the barrel. These things really have to be stored tip-down in the last months of life or the white ink (which needs to be thick in order to make it opaque) won't flow to the tip. I got the fine-tipped version and the line weight is second only to the next entry on this list.

2.  Uni-Ball??? (3/10) c.2.70
This was my second pen. It's another roller ball from Uni-Ball and I think it's also called a Signo (possibly a Signo Pastel). The reason I am slightly hazy on this is because I threw the damned thing away. It's a smaller nib-size than the Signo mentioned above, and the ball bearing refuses to roll waaaaay too frequently. It also suffers from the same ink-flow problem. That said, when it works it does produce a nice line which is the finest of all those I've tested. This model is the one I see more frequently in shops in the UK.

3. On The Run 165 (5/10) c.3.50
My third pen is a paint stick bought from a rather funky graffiti shop (such places are, I suspect, the preserve of middle-class white folk with Mockney accents who are the only ones who can afford the price charged for Montata spray... much like myself). The shop patron boasted about its ability to write on any surface. While this might be true, I have found the ink rather transparent. Furthermore, the solvents used sometimes pick up the colour of whatever's being scrawled onto. It works by a pump method, where one shakes the barrel then pumps the tip to charge it. This avoids the 'slipping' problem of ball-points as the ink will flow even onto the most glassy surface. In this case, the tip seems to be stiff fibres which allow the paint to run through them. Although I bought the variety with the smallest tip, it produces the thickest line of all those pens I've tried. This is a pain for me, but might not be a huge worry for someone else.

4. Uni Paint Marker (7/10) c.£3.00
Another pump-pen this time from UNI. I got this baby yesterday and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. It's a pump model so there's no slipping, the ink is really opaque and flows well. It's line is finer than the On The Run, but worse than either of the two ball-points. The tip looks like its solid, in contrast to the On The Run model which might explain why the line is narrower.

None of those I've tried are perfect but so far, it's number four that's my weapon of choice. The Signo Paint Marker would rank higher if its tip was thinner. I really like the reliability of the pump pens as the skidding and ink problems of the ball-points just annoys the hell out of me. Something that worries me is whether their stiff tips will ever wear with use and so increase the line weight. I have not used one for long enough to find out.

[edit March 2013 - I've now used the Uni Paint Marker (number 4 in the list) and it's actually pretty bad on absorbent surfaces including most papers. The ink seems to seep into the paper fibers readily and it's only good for harder surfaces, or those which have been thoroughly coated beforehand. I've gone back to the Uni-Ball Signo (number 1) but getting them seems to be harder these days]

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology

This is a shameless re-post of an excellent set of links recently uploaded by { feuilleton } (AKA the very talented illustrator and designer, John Coulthart). Mr C compiled a set of extended mixes from sound artists who have sampled occult themed 70s films and TV shows. The Wicker Man, Blood on Satan's Claw, Children of the Stones and The Stones Tape are the order of the day.

I particularly like The Ephemeral Man's Samhain Science.

Click here for { feuilleton }'s full list.