art i like

A replica of a keystone nativity, by Theodore Barbarossa, from the National Cathedral.

This modern nativity dates from the 70s. It was executed by Boston artist Theodore Barbarossa, and is featured on a keystone at the National Cathedral. Religious content completely aside, I find it a very tasteful expressionist/modernist reworking of a classical theme. The nativity, it seems to me, is really about the primal contentment of a father and mother upon having successfully reproduced, and in this sense the appeal of the tableau is archetypal and cross-cultural. It doesn't matter if the child is literally the Son of God or not; here the newborn family is simply at peace in the afterglow of birth.

The hoodbird from a Pontiac firebird.

A variant of the "hood bird" design that Pontiac began to apply to their Firebird series in 1973. Totally bitchin'.

Radiation and biohazard trefoil warning symbols.

The familiar radiation and biohazard trefoils have been appropriated everywhere by pop culture. Consider, for example, the profligate use of the radiation symbol in the visual design of any of a number of video games: Duke Nuke'Em, Half-Life, Area 51, etc. It also has the habit of turning up on some unlikely consumer products:

Don't let the warning fool you.  This is not an atomic clock.

The biohazard symbol, which is historically newer than the radiation trefoil and is obviously derived therefrom, has seen just as much abuse. I once saw a frat boy at the beach with a huge biohazard sign tattooed on his back. It must have been 12" in diameter. (I wonder how he'll explain that to his grandkids? If he'd drowned and washed up on the South Jersey shore, would the law require that he be incinerated?)

One of Stanley Marsh's ridiculous road signs in Amarillo, TX.

I, myself, have a lunch box that has a biohazard sign on one side and a radiation sign on the other. When I'm not toting a PBJ around, I use it to store my cesium isotopes and my anthrax spores. Future designers of hazard signs should take note: the design should not be so visually appealing as to invite misappropriation and consequent mis-labeling of all kinds of nonhazardous objects.

Lunchbox of death, obverse. Lunchbox of death, reverse.

In the late 70s, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme," which, loosely, describes a nonbiological unit of inheritance analogous to a gene. Put simply, memetics is the analysis of culture in terms of evolutionary biology, and a (relatively unsophisticated) application of the concept is to speak of ideas or texts (i.e. memes, in the argot) as pathogens. Ideas, in short, can be thought of as viruses: Some are more infectious than others, some are more dangerous to their hosts than others, and some are more successful than others, based on how effectively they reproduce themselves and on how far and how fast they spread through the host population. We can analyze religious dogma or urban legends or Britney Spears songs as memes. (How far do we want to carry this metaphor? What, for example, is the memetic equivalent of Ebola? Of HIV? Of the common cold?)

Given the analogy between concepts and pathogens, the synthesis of this parody "hazard symbol" is straightforward: If ideas are biohazards and biohazards require a warning symbol, might not ideas also require a warning symbol? Thus we have "PSYCHOHAZARD," with all kinds of clever puns playing the language of philosophy off against that of epidemiology ("EPISTEMOLOGICIDE," "ONTOLOGICAL WASTE," etc.), and a motif which clearly evokes the biohazard symbol while implying a distinct visual regime (5-fold instead of three-fold radial symmetry, linear instead of curvilinear forms, etc.) for memetics.

And once you've knocked-off the biohazard symbol, working backwards to the historically- and visually-related radiation symbol is the next obvious step. Might as well keep the 5-fold radial axis, too, to reinforce the cultural/biological distinction, so that the two parodies clearly resonate with each other.

Here's one that visually sums the radiation and biohazard trefoils to create what the author describes as an "ideohazard" sign. It's rather a dull knockoff of the more clever parodies seen above.

This one is out-and-out weird. I forget what website I found it on, but the author, in all seriousness, was promulgating a system of "psychic hazard" warning symbols. The blue square trefoil, again an aping of the radiation symbol, is joined by a numeric value indicating the level of "psychic hazard" on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the mildest (say, a visit to the Holocaust museum) and 10 being the most severe (say, a room full of angry Scanners).

Little ant is concerned.

What can I say? I just think it's funny.

'Creamy Supreme,' by Aaron Parazette.  Oil enamel on canvas, 84 x 60 inches.

This oil on canvas by Aaron Parazette is titled Creamy Supreme. It measures 84 x 60 inches and is dated 2000. I saw it a couple of years ago in a joint showing at the Austin Museum of Art.

Crude graffiti motif combining cross and scales.

A bit of graffiti I photographed somewhere in Austin. It struck me probably because of my conservative religious upbringing: the ideas of salvation (the cross) and judgement (the scales) are deeply linked in my unconscious, I suppose. (Although the fact I can't say that means it's not really unconscious, doesn't it?) Note that the scales seem slightly tilted to the left, at least from the point of view of an observer. The political implications of this imbalance, which was probably caused by a slight unsteadiness in the hand of the artist rather than by design, are interesting to contemplate. They are diametrically opposite depending on whether the interpreter considers him- or herself as participant (crucified) or observer (Roman).

Herman Van Goubergen's remarkable 'Skull,' a difficult origami which only reveals its true form when rested on top of a mirror.

This is Herman Van Goubergen's Skull, which is the coolest origami I have ever seen. It is, of course, a model of a skull. However, the folded model is really just the top half of the skull, and the whole image only appears when it is rested on a mirror. In other words, the skull only appears when the folded model and its mirror image are viewed together at the proper angle.

Goubergen's skull, with the reflected parts of the image tinted red.

The directions for Goubergen's Skull appear in the OrigamiUSA Annual Collection 1999, which I'm fairly certain is no longer being published. In order to promulgate this remarkable work and to preserve it for posterity, I am making them available as a .PDF file.

This mosaic portrait features various types of over-the-counter pills as tiles.

Here's a mosaic made from over-the-counter pills--vitamins, medicines, and so forth. A clever gimmick that I was entertaining for a project of my own before I noticed this piece in the background of a catalog photograph.

General Motors Terrain Walker. McCauley Walker. Burton Damnthing. Christopher Warbot.
Cuiver (Greedy Nick) Warbot. Critter's Gateway Warbot. Quicksilver Warbot. 2nd Alakar.

These delightful illustrations are redrawn from Larry S. Todd's story The Warbots appearing in the now-anachronistic Body Armor: 2000 collection edited by Joe Haldeman and published by Ace Science Fiction in 1986. Note the resemblance between Todd's early walkers and the armored fighting suits of Kow Yokoyama's Maschinen Krieger universe.

One view of the 'Babel' arcology from Soleri's 'Arcology: The City in the Image of Man.'

If urban planning is a science, then it must have its science fiction, with Paolo Soleri weighing in as the foremost exponent thereof. Trained as an architect under Frank Lloyd Wright, Soleri dreams on an unprecendented scale; while most architects spend their time reimagining buildings, Soleri plans whole cities. He coined the term arcology, meaning an enormous human habitat or "hyperstructure" of extremely high population density. In 1969 Soleri published his seminal book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, which is a visually stunning collage of his own illustrations of his designs, many of which are shown overlaid on maps of modern cities (e.g. Chicago) of equivalent population to emphasize the land savings achieved. While the book's text leaves much to be desired, the drawings are both inspired and inspirational, with a beautiful complexity and visual density that would do Ed Tufte proud. Soleri's originals are executed on massive sheets of butcher paper from a roll, and my edition of Arcology included 2 free sheets of the same stuff as front- and end-pieces. The message is clear: draw your own dreams. And by the time you've finished with Soleri's book, you'll want to. Maybe even need to.