Metabolic City

October 10, 2009

In my final year in graduate school I learned about a group called the Situationist International and I became fascinated with their imaginative imagery that drew from architecture and art. I was interested in their concepts of urbanism, the city and Marxism as a creative apparatus. Like the artists in the Chance Aesthetics exhibition, the work and their concepts are rather playful and I think are a reaction to the horrors of the destruction of cities and deaths of millions during World War II. This was their vision of post-war utopia.

Metabolic City focuses on mainly three different groups working at relatively the same time; 1950s-1970. The British architectural group, Archigram, the Japanese Metabolists, and the Situationist International (SI) (mainly Constant Nieuwenhuy).  The exhibition consists of montages, diagrams, architectural rendering, videos that are projected on glass while you sit in a cockpit type module, and models.

All three groups think of the city as a living organism that is flexible, mobile and expandable. They all had their views on economic systems that seemed to permeate their work. They all seemed to embrace technology as a way to make life better. For example, Archiagram and the Metabolists embraced consumerism and mass pop culture. Whereas the SI was very critical of capitalistic society. Their goal was to revolutionise space and mass culture through Marxist revolution. They wanted to liberate man from the confines of capitalism and mass culture. They envisioned urban space as an experimental arena for human interaction and self-realization. In simple terms, let’s think of the SI as socialists and Archigram and Metabolists as capitalists.

The Metabolists

After WW2, Japan was going through social, political and cultural changes. They drafted a new constitution and made dramatic changes in regard to land use. Looking for a positive identity and individual rights led to visions of he city based on metaphor of life cycles. They proposed new territories of inhabitation such as the ocean and social spaces gained prominence. There work defiantly has a biological and natural element to it. Some of it looks like part of living creature or is just closely tied to the natural environment.

Those included are Kisho Kurokawa, Fumihiko Maki and Arata Isozaki

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Kisho Kurokawa diagram

Fumihiko Maki model

Fumihiko Maki model

Arata Isozaki photomontage

Arata Isozaki photomontage


This was a British group in which the members were fresh out of school. They were not too interested in politics and were more enthusiastic about the social aspects of built space and broader issues of urban livability. They were brough up in a time when destroyed cities were being rebuilt in short spans of time and lacked a sense of the vitality found in a living city. Seeing this and the desire for a better life spurred them to push the limits of architecture. Their proposals embraced emerging technologies and commerce to advance individual freedoms and enhance the lives of individuals. Their cities had a patterned look with a lot of alien-like spaceship-like pods that look like they are from some thing of Sci-Fi movie.

Those included are Peter Cook,Dennis Crompton, Michael Webb, Ron Herron.

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Peter Cook's Plug-in City

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

Dennis Crompton's Walking City (not in show)

SI (Constant)

This group was mainly based in the Netherlands and in France. Constant was from the Netherlands and like the Japanese and the British they were hit hard by the horrors of WW2. Constant’s most famous project was New Babylon. It was a sample of what maybe a Situationist city could look like. It focused on the city as an emphasis on the individual, social interactions and the presence of art as part of the environment. The city was an urban framework in which the occupants would be able to create, reconfigure and control their sensory environments.

Others associated with the SI are the activist, Guy Debord and artist, Asger Jorn

Constant's  New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon project drawing

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram

Constant's New Babylon drawing/diagram


Drawing for a Donation

September 10, 2009

Make a donation of 10 dollars or more,  I will make a 4″ x 6″ postcard size drawing and send it to you in the mail. The drawing will be a surprise and I will send the drawing within 2 weeks of the donation. The procedes of the money donated with go to assisting my mother with her rent, utilities and food. To find out why I am doing this please visit

As I make the drawings, I will post them on here.

Ways to Donate:

1.  You may either pay by credit card or through your checking account.

2. I will accept checks through the mail. Please contact me at so I can give you my mailing address.

So….Put me to WORK!!

To donate:

For more information about Artassistance:

Can Artists Save Malls?

May 2, 2009

Artist have had a way of coming in and setting up studios and galleries and depressed areas of inner cities due to rents being cheap and space being a plenty. Then the same area becomes hip and and undergoes gentrification. Real Estate values go up and space becomes more scarce. Thus, eventually pushing the artist out to find new pastures to work.

I was listening to Cityscape on KWMU yesterday. I didn’t listen to the whole show but they were talking to the people from Crestwood Court and ArtSpace.

The mall concept that was quite popular in the 70s and 80s and into the 90s has been in a general state of decline in general. Many malls are dying or have died. Northwest Plaza is a great example of a spectacular failure. It was a hugely successful mall and was once the largest mall in the US. However, in recent years, this mall in St. Ann (St. Louis suburb near Lambert Airport) has become an empty shell of its former self. Empty store fronts are common place and some malls are going bankrupt. This is probably partially due to the bad economy but outdoor shopping areas that are sort of a mix of strip mall and downtown main street have been becoming popular.

To explain, Crestwood Court (used to be Crestwood Mall) has been a mall in decline. This aging mall had had its problems lately. Most recent, Macy’s has closed as part of a series of layoffs and store closings because of the economy.

So what to do with all the empty space in malls? Open it up to artists. ArtSpace is part of Crestwood Courts plan to offer studio and gallery space to artists and art groups. The rent is inexpensive and there are plenty of amenities such as running water, heat and electricity. Plus, having this space in a mall makes art more accessible to people who are not as likely to go into the inner city (fears of crime and feeling like a fish out of water) to visit a gallery or may not have had much interest in art. Can the mall transform from just a shopping mecca dedicated to pop culture, whatever fad is in at the moment and consumption to a place where people can get some a cultural experience that enriches the public in a more meaningful way?

Can artists make the mall hip? Will retailers become attracted again to malls? Can the mall become a mixed use center that is not just for shopping, but is a place were people can live and get some culture? If this is successful and the mall can be revitalized, what will happen to the artists?

Memphis Art Museum and uses for Tyvek

March 28, 2009

While in Memphis last week,  B and I visited the Brooks Art Museum. This is right next to the Memphis College of Art in Overton Park. The museum was OK but I have been to many art museums in NYC, London, Chicago and of course the St. Louis Art Museum so the Memphis museum can’t really compete. I am not saying I didn’t see anything that I liked. There was plenty of good works.

They had a small exhibition of art that was considered controversial at one point in history but when one sees the same work today, the work seems rather tame. They had stuff by Cezanne to Serrano. I thought that one featured some interesting works.

They also had a suite of prints by faculty from the Pratt Institute if I remember correctly. That sort of made me want to explore prints again. I took a picture of a relief print made on Plexiglas. I wouldn’t mind trying something like that. Maybe get the Dremel tool out. I wonder how well wood carving tools would do on that material? 


plexiglas relief print

plexiglas relief print


What really interested me the most was a hanging cut-paper piece. Actually the paper was Tyvek. I mean this work could have easily just have been made from regular paper. Why Tyvek? Well, I found out it is the same material used to make the envelopes you can get at the post office for express mail. These envelopes are free by the way. Tyvek is also used as a construction material. It is used as a a covering over the insulation that protects it and the inside of the building from the weather elements. It is waterproof. It is also used for tarps, protective clothing, printing graphics. Also Tyvek is a product made by DuPont. Still that doesn’t explain why the artist may want to use this material.

Well, it is really hard to tear. It is really strong. So when this person made this piece complete with all these intricate cuts, the Tyvek proves to be very durable and the artist didn’t have to worry about tearing the paper. This is really smart. 

Here is a close-up picture:





















I was thinking, “hmmmm….what would it be like to use this to draw on?” Also, I could do this for free. So I went to the post office and grabbed some larger envelopes (11″ x 14″ approx.) and cut the edges off. This produces a sheet of paper. One side has printing on it but the other side is bone white. I thought I could also run this stuff through my ink jet printer too. 

I tried drawing on it. Pencil is OK. It is OK enough to get a rough but getting smooth value gradations is hard. It doesn’t handle an eraser too well. Pen and marker work good. However, it bleeds (or the ink spreads some). 

I remember doing some work in graduate school that included cut paper as an element and this stuff would have been perfect.

This is “recession paper” for me.

The Sketchbook Project: Accessibility and Art

March 15, 2009

The Sketchbook Show I haven’t been to any art openings in a little while. It is mostly because I have to work on Fridays and Saturdays. It is unfortunate. I saw there was an opening on a Wednesday so I had to jump on it. In addition, I have never been to the venue it was located.

I decided to visit the Soulard Art Market to see the opening of the Sketchbook Project. It is a traveling exhibition of sketchbooks made by a variety of artists from around the country. The whole project is spearheaded by Atlanta’s Art House Co-op Gallery and virtually anyone could participate in this project, just as long as you paid a small fee to the Gallery.

As I expected the quality of the works were going to be hit-or-miss. Some were extraordinary and some were rather horrid. Some were rather clever in how they interpreted the theme, “Everyone We Know”, and some interpreted it in a rather straightforward way….like a traditional sketchbook.

There was no way to look at all of them in one night. It is something to go see over a period of days because there are so many of them. Plus, they were all in one area and that caused a problem. There were so many people jockeying to look at the sketchbooks and many people just hung out at the table where all the books were at, they blocked others from getting to the books. I just found myself grabbing a stack and going to another part of the gallery to page through the books. I found the people camped in front of the collection irritating because they were preventing people from looking at the sketchbooks. This problem could have been prevented by maybe spreading the books about a bit.

The show got me to think about art and the idea of a democratic art form or at least art that is accessible to a large number of people.

For the most part the seeing of art is actually very accessible in that most galleries do not charge admission to look at an artist’s work. The food and drinks are usually free. Museums might have a small fee or ask for some donation. Of course, to find out about shows and when and where they take place does take some initiative and research. That is sometimes a problem for some people.

Buying art is a different story. Of course, it does depend on the person’s work you are buying, the market, the medium and other factors but art is usually not very cheap. I was listening to Robert Storr on Cityscape (it is the St. Louis radio program on the local NPR station that focuses on the arts). Robert Storr is an art critic and was dean of the Yale School of art, a curator for the MOMA, and was a director for the Venice Biennale in 2007. He was in St. Louis to give a lecture at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Anyway, he talked some about collecting art. There seems to be an assumption that only the rich, well-to-do people buy art. He says that is not really true anymore. In recent years more and more middle class people have been able to buy art. Of course, they are not buying the blue-chip stuff but there is art out there that is affordable.

As for the making of art and getting it seen is an issue for most artists. As an artist you have to find a market, find the right gallery to show the work, and in general market yourself well and hopefully you will get seen. There is never a guarantee. Curators and gallery art directors make the decision about who will be shown. It is very selective and not everyone can be accommodated. This is assuring the quality of the work is high to generate interest and sales.

So where does the Sketchbook Project fit in? Well, all an artist has to do is pay a fee to submit work and it is included. So there really is no selective process. Everyone gets in. When the show goes up and people come in to look, the audience becomes the curator so to speak. The attendees go through the work and select what they like or don’t like, some of the “better” work seems to get more visibility. There is this “natural selection” thing going on. The viewers have the power.

This lack of selectiveness leads to unevenness in terms of quality but I am not sure that is always the point of some shows. I think the people who organized the show wanted to see all the different ways a theme can be interpreted and people wanted to see the ideas people have. Through a sketchbook you do get an insight about who the artist is, their personality, and some information about their lives. In a way, it is rather voyeuristic. The sketchbook is usually personal; it is where an artist thinks and tests out ideas before they are ready to be seen. I think that is part of the reason people, including myself, went to see the show. We get to look into another person’s life.

In a world where people are Twittering about what they are doing constantly, putting a lot of personal information of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and keeping in touch though constant text messaging, there seems to be this need to let-it-all-hang-out. People want to constantly be connected. The line between personal and public is becoming blurred and people have chose to blur those lines. It is getting easier and easier through social networking and the advancement of 3G networks. In a sense, people do not want privacy. I think the Sketchbook Project fits into this new era rather well.

Research to Feed Your Visual Mind

January 16, 2009

I like to say, to find inspiration, one should take a look around. What is surrounding you? In that space, what is interesting? Then take notes, pictures, or do sketches.

Another thing to do is to do research. Yes, look at books, magazines, the internet, newspapers, for that matter – any printed media, and TV. I suppose you could add other sources. 

In my goal to learn more about graphic design, I am doing some research. Who and what is behind the images we see today. Who created the images that influenced the images we see today. How their work help me? How do I find work to emulate and process to feed my creativity?

1. Get books. Go to the library and find books on graphic design. Browse and check ones out that seems to have some interesting content. Take down the names of the designers that you like and ones that seem to have a huge importance. 

2. Research the designers that you took notes of. Are their books out there one them? Do an internet search. Find images. Heck scan or download images and make a library. 

3. Ask questions. What do you like about a design? What about their style makes them stand out? Who and what are their influences? 

4. Find books and magazines that you own and pick out the covers and/or layouts you like. Who did them?  Repeat 2 and 3. 

5. Don’t just look at the visual imagery. Read. In a sense graphic design goes back to the first examples of written language. The term itself was not invented until 1922. However, there has always been some type of organization to images and words. What are some types of organizations used in the past? Are they culturally specific? How have conventions changed? Where where their radical shifts? It may seem banal to learn about the history of the alphabet and the evolution of letters, but the information can be useful. If you like typography it has to be useful. 

6. Be critical. What kind of design conventions don’t you like? Are there designers out there that create work you do not like? Ask  yourself why? Take down names and research them in the same way you researched the ones you do like. 

So this is what I am currently trying to do. It is easy and probably more fun to research what you like. However, find out about what you do not like. Find sources (such as magazines you have no interest in) and look through them and process the information. There is so much out there. In a way you are learning about yourself and this will influence and feed your creativity.

Drive-Thru Projects

January 6, 2009

I was thinking about this statement I made in my last blog, “It would be interesting if the restaurant could find some use for these windows. Hmm..why not a “venue” to display art?”. I made this statement in regards to this picture.


Bank Drive-Thru

Bank Drive-Thru










Well, why not? There are three of these teller booths and each one could be the home to a monthly site-specific (or not) project. Artists could submit project ideas. There is a decent amount of space that is covered even though it is not enclosed. The receptions could be held in the open space. 

I think it could be another reason to go to Collinsville, specificlly to downtown Collinsville. I also think it was be nice if the projects could be illuminated so they could be seen in the evening…until maybe 10 pm. Downtown really doesn’t have much going on after 5 pm. There are some bars and that is about it. 

It can be not-for-profit since sales would be hard to come by. Anyway, it is an idea that is sticking right now. Really, what if? Could this work?