The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge: Part 3




Editor’s Note: MIT Open Learning’s Peter B. Kaufman has just published The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge, a book that takes a historical look at the powerful forces that have purposely crippled our efforts to share knowledge widely and freely. His new work also maps out what we can do about it. Generously, Peter has made his book available through Open Culture by publishing three short essays along with links to the corresponding freely licensed sections of his book. Today, you can read his third essay “The Republic of Images” (below). Find his first essay, “The Monsterverse” here, his second essay “On Wikipedia, the Encyclopédie, and the Verifiability of Information” here, and purchase the entire book online.

In November 1965, after some hondling between the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, a senior executive from Carnegie called former president of MIT James Killian with an invitation. Would Killian be interested in assembling a commission to study educational television with an eye toward strengthening the American system of learning on screen, and could he start right away? Killian jumped; a commission was formed; and two years, eight meetings, 225 interviews, and 92 site visits later, the Carnegie Commission’s report comes out, a bill gets written, the bill becomes law, and President Johnson is signing the 1967 Public Television Act to create public television and radio.

At the signing ceremony, Johnson said, “Today, we rededicate a part of the airwaves – which belong to all the people – and we dedicate them for the enlightenment of all the people. We must consider,” he said, “new ways to build a great network for knowledge – not just a broadcast system, but one that employs every means of sending and storing information that the individual can use.”

Heady stuff.  But it gets even better:

Think of the lives that this would change:
The student in a small college could tap the resources of a great university. [. . .]
The country doctor getting help from a distant laboratory or a teaching hospital;
A scholar in Atlanta might draw instantly on a library in New York;
A famous teacher could reach with ideas and inspirations into some far-off classroom, so that no child need be neglected.
Eventually, I think this electronic knowledge bank could be as valuable as the Federal Reserve Bank.
And such a system could involve other nations, too – it could involve them in a partnership to share knowledge and to thus enrich all mankind.
A wild and visionary idea? Not at all. Yesterday’s strangest dreams are today’s headlines and change is getting swifter every moment.
I have already asked my advisers to begin to explore the possibility of a network for knowledge – and then to draw up a suggested blueprint for it.

The system he was signing into law, Johnson said, “will be free, and it will be independent – and it will belong to all of our people.”

A new network for knowledge.

Imagine.

Fifty years later, totally (seemingly) unrelated, then MIT president Charles Vest went on to speak of something else, something that became MIT Open Courseware.  Together with new foundations – this time the Hewlett Foundation and the Mellon Foundation led the way – Vest envisioned “a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced:”

A meta-university that will enable, not replace, residential campuses, that will bring cost efficiencies to institutions through the shared development of educational materials. That will be adaptive, not prescriptive.  It will serve teachers and learners in both structured and informal contexts.  It will speed the propagation of high-quality education and scholarship.  It will build bridges across cultures and political boundaries. And it will be particularly important to the developing world.

Today, in our time of severe truth decay, our great epistemic crisis, it might be time again to envision another intervention, formative and transformational as the establishment of public broadcasting, imaginative and daring as the launch of open courseware and the open education movement.  Indeed, something as breathtaking as the events above, and their own vital forbear over a century ago – the founding of a network of public libraries across America and other parts of the world (which also happened with Andrew Carnegie’s financial support).

The original Enlightenment brought us Newton’s physics, Rousseau’s political philosophy, Linnaeus’s taxonomies, Montesquieu’s laws, the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man – it was the Age of Reason.  Its founders – as we noted in [Parts 1 and II on] Open Culture – comprised between themselves what became known as the great Republic of Letters.  They were all men, though; and they all were white; while they had access to their own means and to the mean of media production, and they delivered new systems of thinking much of the modern world is based on today, their circles were limited; their imaginations were not our imaginations.

Today we have a chance to do more – to take advantage of the cultures and communities that have arisen in the centuries and from the struggles since that time, to launch a new Enlightenment, and to realize perhaps in bolder and more secure ways this new network for knowledge.  Video, more than text now, has taken over the internet; video is a new key to our networked world. The company Cisco Systems – which makes many of the devices that connect us – deploys a forecasting tool it calls the Visual Networking Index (VNI). The latest VNI tells us that there were 3.4 billion Internet users on the planet in 2017, almost half of the planet’s current population of 7.7 billion people. By 2022, there will be 4.8 billion Internet users: 60 percent of the planet, and more people in the world will be connected to the Internet than not. By 2022, more than 28 billion “devices and connections” will be online. And – here’s the kicker – video will make up 82 percent of global Internet traffic. Video is dominant already. During peak evening hours in the Americas, Netflix can account for as much as 40 percent of downstream Internet traffic, and Netflix – Netflix alone – constitutes 15 percent of Internet traffic worldwide. All this forecasting was completed before the pandemic; before 125 million cases of Corona virus; before 3 million deaths worldwide; before the explosion of Zoom.

We are living in a video age. What will be our next media intervention?  How do knowledge institutions secure their deservedly central place in search and on the web?  We need to look over our rights vis-à-vis the government and the giant companies that increasingly control our Internet; we need to look at the growing power we have to contribute to access to knowledge and share our wealth especially in the online Commons; we need to make sure that the public record, especially video (and especially video of all the lies and crimes, and of all the outrageous falsehoods leaders circulate about COVID) is all archived and preserved. We need to strengthen how much of the network we own and control.

What’s important is that we have begun to reach toward the point where there is equity in the leadership of our knowledge institutions. No longer are white men and only white men in charge of the Library of Congress, for example, or the Smithsonian Institution, or, and thus by extension, of our new Enlightenment. New and diverse study and action groups are being formed specifically to address our information disorder. But many more of our leading knowledge institutions – and, critically, foundations and funding agencies again – need to lead this work.  This is a 20th-anniversary year for MIT Open CourseWare, for Wikipedia, and for Creative Commons; indeed, MIT OCW starts to celebrate its birthday this month. Many other like-minded progressive institutions and their supporters are on the move. That network for knowledge is coming again: this time, our new Enlightenment moment will belong to all of us.

Peter B. Kaufman works at MIT Open Learning and is the author of The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge

Artist Makes Micro-Miniature Sculptures So Small They Fit on the Head of a Pin




The jury remains out as to the number of angels that can dance on a pin, but self-taught artist Flor Carvajal is amassing some data regarding the number of itty bitty sculptures that can be installed on the tips of matchsticks, pencil points, and — thanks to a rude encounter with a local reporter — in the eye of a needle.

According to Tucson’s Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, where her work is on display through June, The Vanguardia Liberal was considering running an interview in conjunction with an exhibit of her Christmas-themed miniatures. When she wouldn’t go on record as to whether any of the itty-bitty nativity scenes she’d been crafting for over a decade could be described as the world’s smallest, the reporter hung up on her.




Rather than stew, she immediately started experimenting, switching from Styrofoam to synthetic resin in the pursuit of increasingly miniscule manger scenes.

By sunrise, she’d managed to place the Holy Family atop a lentil, a grain of rice, the head of a nail, and the head of a pin.

These days, most of her micro-miniature sculptures require between 2 and 14 days of work, though she has been laboring on a model of Apollo 11 for over a year, using only a magnifying glass and a needle, which doubles as brush and carving tool.

In a virtual artist’s chat last month, she emphasizes that a calm mind, steady hands, and breath control are important things to bring to her workbench.

Open windows can lead to natural disaster. The odds of recovering a work-in-progress that’s been knocked to the floor are close to nil, when said piece is rendered in 1/4” scale or smaller.

Religious themes provide ongoing inspiration – a recent achievement is a 26 x 20 millimeter recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper — but she’s also drawn to subjects relating to her native Columbia, like Goranchacha, the son the Muisca Civilization’s Sun God, and Juan Valdez, the fictional representative of the national coffee growers federation.

See more of  Flor Carvajal’s micro-miniatures on her Instagram.

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

A 900-Page Pre-Pantone Guide to Color from 1692: A Complete High-Resolution Digital Scan




There’s ahead of its time, then there’s Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau — or, in its original Dutch title, Klaer Lightende Spiegel der Verfkonst, a 900-page book of paint colors made before any such things were common tools of the artist’s, scientist’s, and industrial designer’s trade. Author and artist A. Boogert created one, and only one, copy of his extraordinary manual on color mixing in 1692. Appearing on the threshold of modern color theory, and featuring over 700 pages of color swatches, the book draws on Aristotle’s system of color rather than the new understanding of the color spectrum, fully elaborated by Newton in his Opticks over a decade later.

It would be another hundred years before a flood tide of color books began to make the theory more practical: from Goethe’s 1810 Theory of Colors and Werner’s 1814 Nomenclature of Colour to the dream of color standardization realized: the Pantone company, launched in 1963.




But if A. Boogert had much influence on the theory or practical application of color in his day, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for it. Of course most of the Dutch masters had died when the book was completed, and it seems unlikely that those still working in 1692 would have been familiar with its single copy.

Instead, the book was meant to educate watercolorists, hence its French title, which refers to “water-based paint.” (A literal translation of the Dutch runs something like “clearly lighting mirror of the painting art.”) Medieval historian Erik Kwakkel found the book in a French database, “and it turns out to be quite special,” he writes, “because it provides an unusual peek into the workshop of 17th-century painters and illustrators.

In over 700 pages of handwritten Dutch, the author, who identifies himself as A. Boogert, describes how to make watercolour paints. He explains how to mix the colours and how to change their tone by adding ‘one, two or three portions of water.’… In the 17th Century, an age known as the Golden Age of Dutch Painting, this manual would have hit the right spot.”

The book is currently housed at Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, where you’ll find full-page, zoomable, hi-resolution scans. “Beyond being informational, the images from the book are stunning and addictive flip through,” notes Refinery29. “They resemble page after page of Pantone color chips, except without the household name.” One wonders if “A. Boogert” would have become a household name had his book been printed and distributed. But his color system was already passing away in the Newtonian age of color spectrums and wheels, until paint chips finally came back in style. Visit the color manual online here.

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Goethe’s Colorful & Abstract Illustrations for His 1810 Treatise, Theory of Colors: Scans of the First Edition

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colour, the 19th-Century “Color Dictionary” Used by Charles Darwin (1814)

The Vibrant Color Wheels Designed by Goethe, Newton & Other Theorists of Color (1665-1810)

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

The World of Wong Kar-Wai: How the Films of Hong Kong’s Most Acclaimed Auteur Have Stayed Thrilling

I’ve just seen the future of cinema.” So declared the American film critic Peter Brunette after stumbling, “still dazed,” from a screening at the 1995 Toronto International Film festival. “Oh,” replied TIFF Cinémathèque programmer (and respected authority on Asian cinema) James Quandt. “You’re just coming from the Wong Kar-wai film?” Brunette includes this story in his monograph on Wong’s work, which was published in 2005. At that point, his pictures like Days of Being WildChungking Express, and In the Mood for Love had already torn through global film culture, inspiring cinephiles and filmmakers alike to believe that an intoxicating range of cinematic possibilities still lay unexplored.

What’s more, they seemed to do it all of a sudden, having come out of nowhere. Of course, they came out of somewhere: Hong Kong, to be precise, a small but densely populated and economically mighty soon-to-be-former-colony whose distinctive cultural and industrial mixture produced a kind of modernity at once familiar and alien to beholders around the world.




Or at least it felt that way to those beholding it through Wong Kar-wai movies, which created their very own aesthetic world within the context of Hong Kong. That “neon-drenched” world in which “lonely souls drift around, desperately trying to make a meaningful connection, no matter how fleeting,” is the subject of the new BFI video essay at the top of the post.

As a part of Hong Kong’s “second new wave,” Wong found his cinematic voice by telling “highly atmospheric stories of restrained passion, using dazzling visuals, memorable songs, and unconventional narratives,” all the while “pushing the boundaries of Hong Kong genre cinema to create something fresh and inventive.” The West got its first big dose of it in 1994 through Chungking Express, whose worldwide release owed in part to the enthusiasm of Quentin Tarantino. In the clip above Tarantino does some enthusing about it and the rest of Wong’s oeuvre up to that point, which “has all that same energy that Hong Kong tends to bring to its cinema, but he’s also taking a cue from the French New Wave” — and especially Jean-Luc Godard, who showed how to “take genre pieces and break the rules.”

None of Wong’s films has made as much of an impact as 2000’s In the Mood for Love, the tale of a man and woman brought together — though not all the way together — by the fact that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, analyzes the movie’s power in the video essay “Frames within Frames.” Watching it, he says, “you can’t help but feel that you’re in the hands of somebody in complete control.” By restricting his cinematic language, Wong “echoes the restriction of action that plagues Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan in 1960s Hong Kong.” The recent 20th-anniversary restoration of In the Mood for Love and those of Wong’s other work are even now being screened around the globe. Having caught one such screening just last night, I feel like I’ve seen the future of cinema again.

Note: The Criterion Collection now offers a Wong Kar-wai box set that features seven blu-rays, including 4k digital restorations of Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, Happy Together and more. Find it here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Tina Turner Delivers a Blistering Live Performance of “Proud Mary” on Italian TV (1971)

John Fogerty once said that he conceived the opening bars of “Proud Mary” in imitation of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. It’s an unusual association for a song about a steamboat, but it works as a classic blues rock hook. Most people would say, however, that the song didn’t truly come into its own until Tina Turner began covering it in 1969.

“Proud Mary” helped Turner come back after a suicide attempt the previous year. Her version, released as a single in January 1971, “planted the seeds of her liberation as both an artist and a woman,” Jason Heller writes at The Atlantic, bringing Ike and Tina major crossover success. Their version of the CCR song “rose to No.4 on Billboard’s pop chart, sold more than 1 million copies, and earned Turner the first of her 12 Grammy Awards.” See her, Ike, and the Ikettes perform it live on Italian TV, above.




It’s a sadly ironic part of her story that the success of “Proud Mary” also helped keep Turner in an abusive relationship with her musical partner and husband Ike for another five years until she finally left him in 1976. She spent the next several decades telling her story as she rose to international fame as a solo artist, in memoirs, interviews, and in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It.

The new HBO documentary, Tina, tells the story again but also includes Turner’s weary response to it. Asked in 1993 why she did not go see What’s Love Got to Do With It, Turner replied, “the story was actually written so that I would no longer have to discuss the issue. I don’t love that it’s always talked about… this constant reminder, it’s not so good. I’m not so happy about it.”

Like all musicians, Turner liked to talk about the music. “Proud Mary,” the second single from Ike and Tina’s Workin’ Together, came about when they heard an audition tape of the song, which they’d been covering on stage. “Ike said, ‘You know, I forgot all about that tune.’ And I said let’s do it, but let’s change it. So in the car Ike plays the guitar, we just sort of jam. And we just sort of broke into the black version of it.”

She may have given Ike credit for the idea, but the execution was all Tina (and the extraordinary Ikettes), and the song became a staple of her solo act for decades. Now, with Tina, it seems she may be leaving public life for good. “When do you stop being proud? How do you bow out slowly — just go away?” she says.

It’s a question she’s been asking with “Proud Mary” for half a century — onstage working day and night — a song, she said last year, that could be summed up in a single word, “Freedom.”

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

The Rules of 100 Sports Clearly Explained in Short Videos: Baseball, Football, Jai Alai, Sumo Wrestling, Cricket, Pétanque & Much More

When you get down to it, every sport is its rules. This leaves aside great historical weight and cultural associations, granted, but if you don’t know a sport’s rules, not only can you not play it, you can’t appreciate it (the many childhood afternoons I thrilled to televised 49ers games without having any idea what was happening on the field notwithstanding). What’s worse, you can’t discuss it. “There is a shared knowledge of sports in America that is unlike our shared knowledge of anything else,” as Chuck Klosterman once put it. “Whenever I have to hang out with someone I’ve never met before, I always find myself secretly thinking, ‘I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports.'”

Klosterman is a cultural critic, a position not at odds with his sports fanaticism, and he surely knows that his observation holds well beyond the U.S.: just consider how deeply so much of the world is invested in football. Despite its relative simplicity, many Americans never quite grasped the workings of what we call soccer. But thanks to a Youtuber called Ninh Ly, we can learn in just over four minutes.




Ly’s explanation of association football/soccer is just one of nearly 100 such videos on his channel, each of which clearly and concisely lays out the rules of a different sport. An American who watches it immediately becomes not just able to understand a game, but prepared to engage with the cultures of football-enthusiast countries from Mexico to Malaysia, Turkey to Thailand.

Though British, Ly just as cogently explains sports from the United States, even the relatively complicated ones: basketball, for instance, or what most of the world calls American football (as well as its arena, Canadian, and twice-failed XFL variants), a game whose devoted fans include no less acclaimed-in-Europe an American novelist than than Paul Auster. Previously on Open Culture, we featured Auster’s correspondence with J.M. Coetzee on the subject of sports, wherein the former probes his own enthusiasm for football, and the latter his own enthusiasm for cricket. “If I look into my own heart and ask why, in the twilight of my days, I am still — sometimes — prepared to spend hours watching cricket on television,” writes Coetzee, “I must report that, however absurdly, however wistfully, I continue to look out for moments of heroism, moments of nobility.”

Anyone can enjoy such moments when and where they come, but only if they know the rules of cricket in the first place. Ly has, of course, made a cricket explainer, which in four minutes fully elucidates a sport as obscure to some as it is beloved of others. He’s also covered much more specialized sports, including fencing, curling, pickleball, jai alai, axe throwing, and sumo wrestling. (Unable to “ignore the overwhelming demand,” he’s even explained the rules of quidditch, a game adapted from the Harry Potter books.) After a couple of hours with his playlist (embedded below), you’ll come away ready to ascend to a new plane of appreciation for sportsmanship in all its various manifestations. If you’re anything like me, you’ll then revisit your earliest education in these subjects: Sports Cartoons.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ Sung in the Indigenous Mi’kmaq Language

To raise awareness of her native language, 16-year-old Emma Stevens sang a version of The Beatles’ 1968 classic “Blackbird” in the Mi’kmaq language, an Eastern Algonquian language spoken by nearly 11,000 in Canada and the United States. A member of the Eskasoni First Nation, the Nova Scotia student sang lyrics that were painstakingly translated by Katani Julian, a teacher who works in language revitalization. Julian told WBUR. “My language is very different from other ones.” “There’s a lot of syllables in ours. And there’s a lot of long words that translate into something really easy in English.”

You can find the lyrics below and the song above.

Pu’tliskiej wapinintoq
Kina’masi telayja’timk
tel pitawsin
eskimatimu’sipnek nike’ mnja’sin

Pu’tliskiej wapinintoq
Ewlapin nike’ nmiteke
tel pkitawsin
eskimatimu’sipnek nike’ seya’sin

Pu’tliskiej…layja’si
ta’n wasatek poqnitpa’qiktuk

Pu’tliskiej…layja’si
ta’n wasatek poqnitpa’qiktuk

Pu’tliskiej wapinintoq
Kina’masi telayja’timk
tel pitawsin

eskimatimu’sipnek nike’ mnja’sin
eskimatimu’sipnek nike’ mnja’sin
eskimatimu’sipnek nike’ mnja’sin

——————————————————–

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk
dell-bit-ow-sin
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike’ mn-jaw-sin

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq
ew-la-bin nike’ num-mid-deh-geh
dell-bit-ow-sin
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg say-ya-sin

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba’q-ik-tuk

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge, lie-jaw-see
don wassa-deg poq-nit-ba’q-ik-tuk

Boo-dull-ees-kee-edge wobbin-in-toq
Kee-na-ma-see dell-I-jaw-dimk
dell-bit-ow-sin

ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike’ mn-jaw-sin
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike’ mn-jaw-sin
ess-gum-mud-dum-oo-sup-neg nike’ mn-jaw-sin

via BoingBoing/WBUR

 

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5 Free Online Courses on Marx’s Capital from Prof. David Harvey

Geographer and Marxist scholar David Harvey did not set out to become a Marxist. He didn’t even know what a Marxist was. He simply started to read Marx one day, at the age of 35, because all of the other social science methods he had applied in his study of the housing market and social unrest in US cities “didn’t seem to be working well,” he says in a Jacobin interview. “So, I started to read Marx, and I found it more and more relevant…. After I cited Marx a few times favorably, people pretty soon said I was a Marxist. I didn’t know what it meant… and I still don’t know what it means. It clearly does have a political message, though, as a critique of capital.”

The word “Marxist” has been as much a defamatory term of moral and political abuse as it has a coherent description of a position. But ask Harvey to explain what Marx means in the German philosopher’s massive analysis of political economy, Capital, and he will gladly tell you at length. Harvey has not only read all three volumes of the work many times over, a feat very few can claim, but he has explicated them in detail in his courses at Johns Hopkins and the City University of New York since the 1970s. In the age of YouTube, Harvey posted his lectures online, and they became so popular they inspired a series of equally popular written companion books.

Why study a dead 19th-century socialist? What could he possibly have to say about the world of AI, COVID, and climate change? “I think Marx is more relevant today than ever before,” says Harvey. “When Marx was writing, capital was not dominant in the world. It was dominant in Britain and Western Europe and the eastern United States, but it wasn’t dominant in China or India. Now it’s dominant everywhere. So, I think Marx’s analysis of what capital is and its contradictions is more relevant now than ever.”

To illustrate, and exhaustively explain, the point, Harvey announced by tweet recently that he’s made 5 courses freely available online as videos and podcasts. Find links to all 5 courses below. Or find them in our collection: 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume 1 with David Harvey – 2019 Edition

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume I with David Harvey – 2007 Edition

Reading Marx’s Capital Volume 2 with David Harvey

Reading Marx’s Grundrisse with David Harvey

Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason

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

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.

Related Content: 

Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe

The Politics & Philosophy of the Bauhaus Design Movement: A Short Introduction

Visit the Homes That Great Architects Designed for Themselves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius & Frank Gehry

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

Why Do Wes Anderson Movies Look Like That?

The dominant form of Hollywood and/or mainstream filmmaking has been realism, the sense that even in our wildest fantasy, sci-fi, and superhero films there’s still an attempt to hide the camera, the crew, and the lighting, and that what we’re seeing just *is*, that nothing has been constructed for us. Despite the tricks that editing and non-diegetic sound (music, etc.) play on us, we are still willing to believe that we are seeing a thing that happened.

There’s very few filmmakers that explicitly resist this and still make popular and successful Hollywood films, and Wes Anderson is one of them. Hence the above video essay from Thomas Flight, who recently visited Anderson’s films to pull out the more esoteric of his references.




Flight’s thesis runs thusly. Anderson chose to use real fur on the stop-motion puppets in the Fantastic Mr. Fox not despite the hair moving from the animators’ hands’ manipulation, but *because* of it. Showing the fingerprints as it were of the creators within the film itself is a constant stylistic choice in his cinema, and one that is also reflected in his use of flat, diorama-like frames. This is what critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who has written several beautiful coffee table books on Wes Anderson, calls Planimetric Composition. But it’s also there in the titles, use of theater curtains, of the numerous storybook and comic book references that shape Anderson’s work.

This is not new of course, if you follow any writing on Anderson. It’s a key to understanding his aesthetic. But Flight goes further to ask why. Why construct something so artificial and risk alienating audiences?

Flight comes to the point: it’s a risk worth taking. It’s a moment in childhood—he compares it to a parent reading a bedtime story. A parent is present, often the focus of the child’s attention (there might not even be a book) but at the same time so is the story. Words unfold in speech and also unfold in a child’s mind. Both exist in the same space, the artificial and the real.

So many Anderson films unfold like storybooks—we often see a hardback book with the same title in the film itself, or in the case of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a series of stories and books, all nestled inside each other. Flight doesn’t make the comparison, but it is worth doing so: Anderson’s films are like epistolary novels of the 19th century, such as Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights, stories within letters within stories.

But here’s the interesting part: when Anderson has a moment of heightened emotion in his films, where characters let down their guard and speak from the heart, the director will give us the classic realist shot/reverse shot. It’s fleeting but it’s there.

And that works exactly because Anderson holds off on revealing it to us until that one moment. The storyteller knows it’s special and knows we’re going to find it special. At a time when the auteur theory is under attack from critics on one side and the capitalist machine, it’s good to know there’s a director like Anderson who doesn’t give us what we want, but gives us what we so sorely need.

Related Content:

Wes Anderson’s Shorts Films & Commercials: A Playlist of 8 Short Andersonian Works

A Complete Collection of Wes Anderson Video Essays

Wes Anderson Releases the Official Trailer for His New Film, The French Dispatch: Watch It Online

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

On “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” and the Female Buddy Comedy–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #87

The buddy comedy is a staple of American film, but using this to explore female friendship is still fresh ground. Erica, Mark, Brian, and Erica’s long-time friend Micah Greene (actor and nurse) discuss tropes and dynamics within this kind of film, focusing primarily on Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, the 2021 release written and starring Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo as a couple of middle aged near-twin oddballs expanding their horizons in a surrealistic, gag-filled tropical venue.

While male pairings of this sort (Cheech and Chong, Bob and Doug McKenzie, Beavis and Butthead et al) stick to silly jokes, Barb and Star base their antics around their evolving relationship toward each other. As with the 2019 film Booksmart and many TV shows including Dead to Me, PEN15, and Grace and Frankie, the trend is toward dramedy as the dynamics of friendship are taken seriously. We also touch on Bridesmaids, Sisters, The Heat, BAPS, I Love You Man, and more.

A few relevant articles:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.





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