Discover the First Modern Kitchen–the Frankfurt Kitchen–Pioneered by the Architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1926)

Nearly 100 years after it was introduced, architect Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky‘s famous Frankfurt Kitchen continues to exert enormous influence on kitchen design.

Schütte-Lihotzky analyzed designs for kitchens in train dining cars and made detailed time-motion studies of housewives’ dinner preparations in her quest to come up with something that would be space saving, efficient, inexpensively pre-fabricated, and easily installed in the new housing springing up in post-WWI Germany.

Schütte-Lihotzky hoped that her design would have a liberating effect, by reducing the time women spent in the kitchen. Nothing is left to chance in these 1.9 by 3.44 meters, with the main emphasis placed on the well-traveled “golden triangle” between worktop, stove, and sink.

The design’s scientific management honored ergonomics and efficiency, initiating a sort of household dance, but as filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, who directed eight dancers on a painstaking facsimile of a Frankfurt Kitchen, below, observes:

…as with any progress, there is friction and pressure. As women gain more rights (then and now), are they really just adding more to their to-do list of responsibilities? Adding to the number of plates they need to spin? They haven’t been excused from domestic duties in order to pursue careers or employment, the new responsibilities are additive.


(Note: enter your information to view the film.)

Choreographer Zoé Henrot, who also appears in the film, emphasizes the Frankfurt Kitchen’s design efficiencies and many of its famous features — the drawers for flour and other bulk goods, the adjustable stool, the cutting board with a receptacle for parings and peels.

At the same time, she manages to telegraph some possible Catch-22s.

Its diminutive size dictates that this workplace will be a solitary one — no helpers, guests, or small children.

The built-in expectations regarding uniformity of use leaves little room for culinary experimentation or a loosey goosey approach.

When crushingly repetitive tasks begin to chafe, options for escape are limited (if very well-suited to the expressive possibilities of modern dance).

Interestingly, many assume that a female architect working in 1926 would have brought some personal insights to the task that her male colleagues might have been lacking. Not so, as Schütte-Lihotzky readily admitted:

The truth of the matter was, I’d never run a household before designing the Frankfurt Kitchen, I’d never cooked, and had no idea about cooking.

Singer-songwriter Robert Rotifer is another artist who was moved to pay homage to Schütte-Lihotzky and the Frankfurt Kitchen, a “calculated move” that he describes as something closer to designing a kitchen than “divine inspiration”:

I sat on the train traveling from Canterbury up to London… I was about to record a new album, and I needed one more uptempo song, something driving and rhythmical. While the noisy combination of rickety train and worn-out tracks suggested a beat, I began to think about syncopations and subjects.

I thought about the mundane things nobody usually writes songs about, functional things that defy metaphor—tools, devices, household goods. As I listed some items in my head, I soon realized that kitchen utensils were the way to go. I thought about the mechanics of a kitchen, and that’s when the name of the creator of the famous Frankfurt Kitchen flashed up in my head.

There, in the natural rhythm of her name, was the syncopation I had been looking for: “I sing this out to Grete Schütte-Lihotzky.” Writing the rest of the lyrics was easy. The repetitive element would illustrate the way you keep returning to the same tasks and positions when you are working in a kitchen. In the middle-eight I would also find space for some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen over the decades, such as the way her design isolated the kitchen worker, i.e. traditionally the woman, from the rest of the family.

Rotifer, who also created the paintings used in the animated music video, gives the architect her due by including accomplishments beyond the Frankfurt Kitchen: her micro-apartment with “a disguised roll-out bed,” her terraced houses at the Werkbundsiedlung, a housing project’s kindergarten, a printing shop, and the Viennese Communist party headquarters.

It’s a lovely tribute to a design pioneer who, reflecting on her long career around the time of her 100th birthday, remarked:

If I had known that everyone would keep talking about nothing else, I would never have built that damned kitchen!

Museums that have acquired a Frankfurt Kitchen include Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Oslo’s National Museum.

Learn more about the Kitchen Dance Project in this conversation between filmmaker Maribeth Romslo, choreographer Zoé Emilie Henrot, and Minneapolis Institute of Art curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Street Artist Creates an Optical Illusion That Lets People See the Art Inside a Shuttered Museum in Florence

The pandemic will end, but the coronavirus could become endemic, most virologists believe, “meaning that it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come,” as Nicky Phillips writes at Nature. The disease will pose much less of a danger to us over time, yet the problem of its persistence raises a question many of us are asking ourselves as precautions drag into another year: what kind of world will we step into when this is (mostly) finally over?

Many restaurants, theaters, and music venues are shuttered for good, while the impact on the art world has been devastating. According to an Art Basel report, sales contracted 36% in galleries worldwide in 2020.

Daniel Langer predicts that up to 40 percent of galleries will close after the pandemic, even as the high-end “‘luxury’ art market is growing during the pandemic” as wealthy investors “look to art as a long-term value play.” The coronavirus has only exaggerated conditions in which “99 per cent of all artists are paid miserably, while the top 1 per cent enjoys a celebrity status and can sell their art with enormous premiums.”

French artist JR is one of the few who has done well over the past year, exhibiting his large-scale trompe l’oeil photographic installations in Paris and São Paulo. In his most recent installation in Florence, JR makes a striking visual commentary on “the adversities that cultural institutions — including museums, libraries, and cinemas — have faced over the past year,” writes My Modern Met. Called La Ferita (“The Wound” in Italian) and “measuring 28 meters high and 33 meters wide, this optical illusion creates a ‘crack’ in the exterior” of the Palazzo Strozzi, “so that viewers can see masterpieces like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera.”

In JR’s Instagram posts, you can see the piece being installed “as Italy entered another lockdown that will last until April 6, closing the doors of all cultural institutions once again.” Though it functions more as a memorial to what feels like a lost world than a political statement, JR has accompanied his Instagram posts with public commentary: “They say the museums are closed,” he writes, “but it’s up to us to open them. Here is Florence, the city of Botticelli, Donatello, Machiavel, and Dante, we opened the Palazzo Strozzi.”

JR concludes on a wan note of hopefulness: “we still have the freedom to dream, to create, to envision the future,” he writes. “Maybe it’s not much, but we have that!” Maybe we’ll also have more public art installations in place of indoor galleries and museums, and more artists bringing their work to the streets, “the largest art gallery in the world,” JR has said, and one that can’t be locked down or put out of business by a virus or the ravages of the market.

via My Modern Met

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Yo-Yo Ma Plays an Impromptu Performance in Vaccine Clinic After Receiving 2nd Dose

After getting his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Yo-Yo Ma “took a seat along the wall of the observation area, masked and socially distanced away from the others. He went on to pass 15 minutes in observation playing cello for an applauding audience,” writes the Berkshire Eagle. You can watch the scene above, which played out at Berkshire Community College this weekend. And read more about it here.

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Archaeologists Find the Earliest Work of “Abstract Art,” Dating Back 73,000 Years

Image by C. Foster

Art, as we understand the term, is an activity unique to homo sapiens and perhaps some of our early hominid cousins. This much we know. But the matter of when early humans began making art is less certain. Until recently, it was thought that the earliest prehistoric art dated back some 40,000 years, to cave drawings found in Indonesia and Spain. Not coincidentally, this is also when archaeologists believed early humans mastered symbolic thought. New finds, however, have shifted this date back considerably. “Recent discoveries around southern Africa indicate that by 64,000 years ago at the very least,” Ruth Schuster writes at Haaretz, “people had developed a keen sense of abstraction.”

Then came the “hashtag” in 2018, a drawing in ochre on a tiny flake of stone that archaeologists believe “may be the world’s oldest example of the ubiquitous cross-hatched pattern drawn on a silcrete flake in the Blombos Cave in South Africa,” writes Krystal D’Costa at Scientific American, with the disclaimer that the drawing’s creators “did not attribute the same meaning or significance to [hashtags] that we do.” The tiny artifact, thought to be around 73,000 years old, may have in fact been part of a much larger pattern that bore no resemblance to anything hashtag-like, which is only a convenient, if misleading, way of naming it.

The artifact was recovered from Blombos Cave in South Africa, a site that “has been undergoing excavation since 1991 with deposits that range from the Middle Stone Age (about 100,000 to 72,000 years ago) to the Later Stone Age (about 42,000 years ago to 2,000 years BCE).” These findings have been significant, showing a culture that used heat to shape stones into tools and, just as artists in caves like Lascaux did, used ochre, a naturally occurring pigment, to draw on stone. They made engravings by etching lines directly into pieces of ochre. Archaeologists also found in the Middle Stone Age deposits “a toolkit designed to create a pigmented compound that could be stored in abalone shells,” D’Costa notes.

Nicholas St. Fleur describes the tiny “hashtag” in more detail at The New York Times as “a small flake, measuring only about the size of two thumbnails, that appeared to have been drawn on. The markings consisted of six straight, almost parallel lines that were crossed diagonally by three slightly curved lines.” Its discoverer, Dr. Luca Pollarolo of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, expresses his astonishment at finding it. “I think I saw more than ten thousand artifacts in my life up to now,” he says, “and I never saw red lines on a flake. I could not believe what I had in my hands.”

The evidence points to a very early form of abstract symbolism, researchers believe, and similar patterns have been found elsewhere in the cave in later artifacts. Professor Francesco d’Errico of the French National Center for Scientific Research tells Schuster, “this is what one would expect in traditional society where symbols are reproduced…. This reproduction in different contexts suggests symbolism, something in their minds, not just doodling.”

As for whether the drawing is “art”… well, we might as well try and resolve the question of what qualifies as art in our own time. “Look at some of Picasso’s abstracts,” says Christopher Henshilwood, an archaeologist from the University of Bergen and the lead author of a study on the tiny artifact published in Nature in 2018. “Is that art? Who’s going to tell you it’s art or not?”

Researchers at least agree the markings were deliberately made with some kind of implement to form a pattern. But “we don’t know that it’s art at all,” says Henshilwood. “We know that it’s a symbol,” made for some purpose, and that it predates the previous earliest known cave art by some 30,000 years. That in itself shows “behaviorally modern” human activities, such as expressing abstract thought in material form, emerging even closer to the evolutionary appearance of modern humans on the scene.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear a Prehistoric Conch Shell Musical Instrument Played for the First Time in 18,000 Years

Photo by C. Fritz, Muséum d’Histoire naturelle de Toulouse

Brian Eno once defined art as “everything you don’t have to do.” But just because humans can live without art doesn’t mean we should—or that we ever have—unless forced by exigent circumstance. Even when we spent most of our time in the business of survival, we still found time for art and music. Marsoulas Cave, for example, “in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, has long fascinated researchers with its colorful paintings depicting bison, horses and humans,”  Katherine Kornei writes at The New York Times. This is also where an “enormous tan-colored conch shell was first discovered, an incongruous object that must have been transported from the Atlantic Ocean, over 150 miles away.”

The 18,000-year-old shell’s 1931 discoverers assumed it must have been a large ceremonial cup, and it “sat for over 80 years in the Natural History Museum of Toulouse.” Only recently, in 2016, did researchers suspect it could be a musical instrument. Philippe Walter, director of the Laboratory of Molecular and Structural Archeology at the Sorbonne, and Carole Fritz, who leads prehistoric art research at the French National Center for Scientific Research, rediscovered the shell, as it were, when they revised old assumptions using modern imaging technology.

Fritz and her colleagues had studied the cave’s art for 20 years, but only understood the shell’s peculiarities after they made a 3D digital model. “When Walter placed the conch into a CT scan,” writes Lina Zeldovich at Smithsonian, “he indeed found many curious human touches. Not only did the ancient artists deliberately cut off the tip, but they also punctured or drilled round holes through the shell’s coils, through which they likely inserted a small tube-like mouthpiece.” The team also used a medical camera to look closely at the shell’s interior and examine unusual formations. Kornei describes the shell further:

This shell might have been played during ceremonies or used to summon gatherings, said Julien Tardieu, another Toulouse researcher who studies sound perception. Cave settings tend to amplify sound, said Dr. Tardieu. “Playing this conch in a cave could be very loud and impressive.”

It would also have been a beautiful sight, the researchers suggest, because the conch is decorated with red dots — now faded — that match the markings found on the cave’s walls.

The decoration on the shell looks similar to an image of a bison on the cave wall, suggesting it may have been played near that painting for some reason. The conch resembles similar “seashell horns” found in New Zealand and Peru, but it is much, much older. It may have originated in Spain, along with other objects found in the cave, and may have traveled with its owners or been exchanged in trade, explains archeologist Margaret W. Conkey at the University of California, who adds, writes Zeldovich, that “the Magdalenian people also valued sensory experiences, including those produced by wind instruments.

Many thousands of years later, we too can hear what those early humans heard in their cave: musicologist Jean-Michel Court gave a demonstration, producing the three notes above, which are close to C, C-sharp and D. The shell may have had more range, and been more comfortable to play, with its mouthpiece, likely made of a hollow bird bone. The shell is hardly the oldest instrument in the world. Some are tens of thousands of years older. But it is the oldest of its kind. Whatever its prehistoric owners used it for—a call in a hunt, stage religious ceremonies, or a celebration in the cave—it is, like every ancient instrument and artwork, only further evidence of the innate human desire to create.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the Food for Love Benefit Concert: David Byrne, The Chicks & Many More Raise Money for New Mexico Food Banks

Ever since COVID-19 struck, poverty levels have reached a crisis point in New Mexico, so much so that New Mexico food banks have become overloaded with requests, and they can’t keep up with demand. To provide assistance, a star-studded lineup of musicians banded together this weekend to stage the Food for Love Benefit Concert. Featured in the five hour performance were David Byrne (he gives a dance lesson), Jackson Brown, Shawn Colvin, The Chicks, Lyle Lovett, Kurt Vile, and many more. This video (above) will be available for a limited time–until midnight MST on Monday, February 15. Donations to support New Mexico’s food banks can be made here. To date, they’ve raised $704,000, or enough to provide 2.8 million meals.

The “Academic Tarot”: 22 Major Arcana Cards Representing Life in the Academic Humanities Under COVID-19

“Speculations about the creators of Tarot cards include the Sufis, the Cathars, the Egyptians, Kabbalists, and more,” writes “expert cartomancer” Joshua Hehe. All of these suppositions are wrong, it seems. “The actual historical evidence points to northern Italy sometime in the early part of the 1400s,” when the so-called “major arcana” came into being. “Contrary to what many have claimed, there is absolutely no proof of the Tarot having originated in any other time or place.”

A bold claim, yet there are precedents much older than tarot: “A few decades before the Tarot was born, ordinary playing cards came to Europe by way of Arabs, arriving in many different cities between 1375 and 1378. These cards were an adaptation of the Islamic Mamluk cards,” with suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks, “the latter of which were seen by Europeans as staves.”

Whether the playing cards invented by the Mamluks were used for divination may be a matter of controversy. The history and art of the Mamluk sultanate itself is a subject worthy of study for the tarot historian. Originally a slave army (“mamluk” means “slave” in Arabic) under the Ayyubid sultans in Egypt and Syria, the Mamluks overthrew their rulers and created “the greatest Islamic empire of the later Middle Ages.”

What does this have to do with tarot reading? These are academic concerns, perhaps, of little interest to the average tarot enthusiast. But then, the average tarot enthusiast is not the audience for the “Academic Tarot,” a project of the Visionary Futures Collective, or VFC, a group of 22 scholars “fighting for what higher education needs most,” Stephanie Malak writes at Hyperallergic, “a bringing together of thinkers who ‘believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.’”

To that end, the Academic Tarot features exactly the kinds of characters who love to chase down abstruse historical questions—characters like the lowly, confused Grad Student, standing in here for The Fool. It also features those who can make academic life, with its endless rounds of meetings and committees, so difficult: figures like The President (see here), doing duty here as the Magician, and pictured shredding “campus-wide COVID results.”

The VFC, founded in the time of COVID-19 pandemic and “in the midst of the long-overdue national reckoning led by the Black Lives Matter movement,” aims to “trace the contours of things that define our shared human condition,” says Collective member Dr. Brian DeGrazia. In the case of the Academic Tarot, the conditions represented are shared by a specific subset of humans, many of whom responded to “feelings surveys” put out by the VFC in a biweekly newsletter.

The surveys have been used to make art that reflects the experiences of the grad students, professors, and professional staff working the academic humanities at this time:

VFC artist-in-residence Claire Chenette, a Grammy-nominated Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musician furloughed due to COVID-19, brought the tarot cards to life. What began as a three-card project to complement the VFC newsletter grew in spirit and in number. 

“In tarot, the cards read us,” the VFC writes, “telling a story about ourselves that can provide clarity, guidance and hope.” What story do the 22 Major Arcana cards in the Academic Tarot tell? That depends on who’s asking, as always, but one gets the sense that unless the querent is familiar with life in a higher-ed humanities department, these cards may not reveal much. For those who have seen themselves in the cards, however, “the images made them laugh out loud,” says Chenette, or “they hit hard. Or… they even made them cry, but… it needed to happen.”

Struggling through yet another pandemic semester of attempting to teach, research, write, and generally stay afloat? The Academic Tarot cards are currently sold out, but you can pre-order now for the second run.

via Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Life Lessons From 100-Year-Olds: Timeless Advice in a Short Film

And therefore my opinion is, that when once forty years old we should consider our time of life as an age to which very few arrive; for seeing that men do not usually last so long, it is a sign that we are pretty well advanced; and since we have exceeded the bounds which make the true measure of life, we ought not to expect to go much further. —Michel de Montaigne

After his retirement at age 38, renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne devoted several pages to the subject of mortality, as pressing an issue for him as for the classical philosophers he adored. And no less pressing an issue for us, of course. The brute fact of death aside, the quality of our lives has little in common with those of Cato, Seneca, or Montaigne himself. We meet needs and wants with commands to Alexa. We are beset by global anxieties they never imagined, and by remedies that would have saved millions in their time. Even in the age of Covid-19, life isn’t nearly so precarious as it was in 16th century France.

But whether we set the threshold at 40, 80, or 100, “to die of old age is a death rare, extraordinary, and singular,” Montaigne argued. Few attain it today. “It is the last and extremest sort of dying… the boundary of life beyond which we are not to pass, and which the law of nature has pitched for a limit not to be exceeded.” For these reasons and more, we look to the very aged for wisdom: they have attained what most of us will not, and can only look backwards, seeing the fullness of life, if they have clarity, in panoramic hindsight. Such vision is the subject of the 2016 short film above, in which three uniquely lucid centenarians dispense advice, reflect on their experience, and reminisce about the jazz age.

“I have always been lucky,” says now-108-year-old Tereza Harper. “I’ve never been unlucky.” No one lives to such an advanced age without facing a little hardship. Harper immigrated to England from Czechoslovakia during World War II to reunite with her father, who had been a prisoner of war. She lived to witness the many horrors of the 20th century and the many of the 21st so far. And yet, she says, “Everything makes me happy. I love talking to people. I like doing things. I like going out shopping. Once I go out shopping, I don’t really want to come back…. I’m not going yet. I’m still strong. I’m very very strong. I never realized how strong I am.” ”

What is the source of such strength and joy in the ordinary repetitions of daily life? A profound contentment marked by a sense of completion, for one thing. “I don’t think there’s anything that I really need to do,” Harper says, “because I’ve done practically everything that I’ve ever wanted to do in the past.” Likewise, 101-year-old Cliff Crozier, who died last year, remarks, “I think I’ve done all that I wanted to do.” Later, he adds some nuance: “I don’t have many failures,” he says. “If I’m making a cake and it fails it becomes a pudding.” (He also says, “It always pleases me that I can keep robbing the government with my pension.”)

Are there regrets? Naturally. 102-year-old John Denerley, who passed away in 2018, says ruefully, “If I’d have been more attentive at school in my early life, I’d have studied more, and harder…. Well, I didn’t do too bad in the end. But I think the sooner you start studying the better.” Crozier expresses regrets over the way he treated his father, a relationship that still causes him grief. These three are not, after all, superhumans. They are subject to the same pains as the rest of us. But they have achieved a vantage from which to see the whole of life from its limit. Whether or not we achieve the same, we can all learn from them how to make the most of the “extraordinary fortune,” as Montaigne wrote, “which has hitherto kept us above ground.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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