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Page 1


SEPTEMBER

in the postwar period, with the

experienced a significant growth

monumental multi-use Alexandra Road

in revenue. To quote Michele:

Designing against natural disasters

estate near London’s Swiss Cottage

“I literally destroyed everything

In August and September, Hurricanes

one of his most ambitious schemes.

and created something new.”

Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated

The site features dramatic stepped

Houston, the Caribbean and Florida

concrete terraces containing

Keys and Dominica, while monsoon

some 500 homes, as well as shops,

Gentrification squared

floods in Bangladesh killed at least

a community centre, a special needs

Residents in New York’s Chinatown,

1,299 and affected more than 41

school, a children’s centre, a care

already beset by the bulldozer-like

million people. Extreme weather

home for young people with learning

forces of gentrification, had insult

conditions present numerous challenges

difficulties, and a 16,000sqm public

added to injury this October when

to architecture, not least because

park. Post-Grenfell, Brown’s

Israeli artist Omer Fast unveiled an

rapid urbanisation exacerbates their

nomination felt like an

installation coinciding with his show,

effects: a 2017 report by the European

acknowledgement of the importance

August, at the James Cohan Gallery.

Commission found that by the end of

of good-quality social housing at

Located on Chinatown’s Grand Street,

the century, 152,000 people in Europe

a time when the UK is consistently

the gallery had been transformed,

alone could die each year as a result

under-funding and mismanaging

internally and externally, into

of weather extremes. Such statistics

affordable-housing schemes.

a shabby shopfront with plastic

demand a response. Kudos then to MIT's

plants, broken cash dispensers and

Urban Risk Lab, which launched an

fold-up chairs. “I wanted to erase

open-source platform to track flooding

the passage of time,” said Fast, “and

caused by Hurricane Irma using data

to recreate what the space looked like

from social media – a small gesture,

before the gallery moved in.” The

but an important one nonetheless.

installation is no replica, however. It’s Fast’s fantasy version of a Chinatown shopfront, replete with

The Sandberg Rebellion

exoticism and stereotypes. Chinatown

“UUGH!” Thus began an open letter by

Art Brigade and other groups were

students of the prestigious Sandberg

quick to respond, descending on

Institute in Amsterdam in protest at

the gallery and protesting what

the school’s decision to host the

they perceived as “poverty porn”,

University of the Underground (UUG), an MA experience design programme

dished out by precisely the sort of

OCTOBER

establishment – an art gallery – that

Left to right: Courtesy of Martin Charles / RIBA Collections; courtesy of Chinatown Art Brigade.

founded by designer Nelly Ben Hayoun.

has been pricing out local residents.

Launching a detailed critique of the

Burberry in the trenches?

UUG, the writers accused the programme

Having joined Burberry in 2001 and

of promoting “total state defunding

served for eight years as its chief

of arts education”, “stunt-casting”

designer, Christopher Bailey announced

its faculty and deploying “counter-

in October that he is to exit the

cultural capital […] to promote

brand. As with the rumoured departure

a course which is principally funded

of Phoebe Philo from Céline, Bailey’s

by multinational corporations”. Ben

exit has been termed “the end of

Hayoun responded quickly, challenging

an era”, leaving gossipmongers

what she saw as inaccuracies and

scurrying to suggest replacements

falsehoods, and criticising the

who might continue the fashion houses’

students’ decision to publish without

aesthetics with minimal disruption.

having discussed their concerns with

Whether this is the right approach,

her first. One suspects that the

however, is debatable. Marco Gobbetti,

The Piccadilly Lights will see you now

Sandberg Institute will not be a

Burberry’s CEO, has already commented

“If you strike me down, I shall become

harmonious place over the coming year.

that “Only innovation will entice

more powerful than you can possibly

[consumers] to buy” and the brands

imagine.” In January 2017, the

might look towards Gucci as the most

Piccadilly Lights advertising boards

Neave Brown awarded RIBA Gold Medal

recent beneficiary of reinvention:

at London’s Piccadilly Circus were

The announcement of US-born architect

since Alessandro Michele was

shut down. Nine months and a Fletcher

Neave Brown as recipient of the Royal

appointed creative director in

Priest-overseen revamp later, they

Institute of British Architects

2015 – transforming the house’s

have returned more vilely invasive

(RIBA) Gold Medal 2018 was a timely

output into a cacophony of embroidery,

than ever. The Lights’ new 4K LED

vindication. Brown pioneered high-

heirloom aesthetics, snarling panthers

screen is equipped with cameras that

quality social housing in the UK

and disco – the luxury company has

technology supplier Ocean Outdoor

Timeline


What if a Lamp Stole Another Lamp’s Hat? Introduction Oli Stratford Script Alexandre Humbert  Images Teresa Giannico

“Oh-oh, I can’t see anything. Can someone help me?” says Kathrine Barbro Bendixen’s Inside Out lamp, a design made from 50m of cleaned, inflated intestines taken from the belly of a cow. Two eye-like lights on Renske Rothuizen’s laboratory-esque Lemonade Factory click on. “I may have a solution,” says Lemonade Factory, “but it will take a while.” Lemonade Factory immediately begins making lemonade to no avail. “Oh shit,” concludes Inside Out. So runs the dialogue in one of designer Alexandre Humbert’s Object Interview films, a series of cinematic shorts in which inanimate things talk to one another. In discussion, the objects share their hopes and fears; their ludicrousness and playfulness; their obsessions and vanities. “Object Interview isn’t focusing on the story or process of an object,” says Humbert. “It’s about the post-process after an object is born and what is happening in its daily life. The designer creates an object and then I try to find its personality.” Humbert’s project applies narrative to designed objects, suggesting interior lives so as to provide a new way for society to come to terms with the richness of our material world. “Objects have stories to tell, but there are a lot of ways of telling those stories,” says Humbert. “People care about the emotions that an object can really produce in their daily lives. I thought it was important to bring back attention to objects that people don’t look at in this way.” In the pages that follow, Disegno is delighted to launch Object Interview Hors-série n°1, the first time in which an Object Interview has existed outside of film and instead moved into a print format. For this first dialogue, Humbert imagines a meeting between Front’s Horse lamp for Moooi and Nicholai Wiig Hansen’s Night Owl lamp for Fritz Hansen – two old friends who enjoy a chance meeting in the street.

Object Interview


Reviews Found in Translation Words Mimi Zeiger Blade Runner 2049 Words Ilona Gaynor Super Mario Odyssey Words Alex Wiltshire Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their Trellick Tower studio Words Johanna Agerman Ross

Review


Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 Words Mimi Zeiger

When Robert L. McKay, the architect best known for designing and founding the first Taco Bell, died in early October, news of his passing spread nationwide on the AP Wire. The Los Angeles Times ran an obituary, as did Fox Business and news outlets in Kansas and Nebraska – places that were unlikely to have flocked en masse to hard-shell tacos before McKay opened his doors in 1962. In 2015, McKay’s original building was moved from the Los Angeles suburb of Downey to Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, California. Images from that migration reveal his early vision for a haciendatype fast-food eatery: mission-style arches across the facade, red Spanish tile roof. Riding down the freeway – doublewide on the back of a flatbed truck – the lowly taco stand merged dogged American entrepreneurship and classic Mexican design. Taco Bell is not on the curatorial checklist of Found in Translation, an exhibition about the design influences between LA and Mexico on view until April 2018 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), but it could be. And, given how a fast-food restaurant best-known for stoner Meximelt binges and questionable slogans – “Make a run for the border” – transmitted Mexican design imagery across the country, it should be. The show is one of five the museum has mounted as part of The Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. This sprawling initiative explores Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles and takes place in some 70 cultural institutions across southern

California. Found in Translation is one of few entries into that dialogue that tackles the design and architectural implications of this cross-border exchange. Assembled mostly from LACMA’s large collection of design objects, architectural drawings, furniture and graphic design, it is also one of the most polite and non-polemical exhibitions of PST: LA/LA. By contrast, The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility is on view just a block away from LACMA at the California Craft and Folk Art Museum, featuring activist artists and designers, such as architect Teddy Cruz. Continuing a curatorial interest in feminist practice, meanwhile, the Hammer Museum presents Latina and Chicana artists in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985. In the context of LA/LA, disobedient subjects are the norm, not the exception. The same week that Taco Bell’s McKay passed away, President Trump created an immigration Catch-22 by demanding that any legislation addressing the country’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients – people who entered the US illegally as children but essentially grew up in the country – also include funding for his plan for a wall between the two nations. A border town a few hours from the US/Mexico crossing in San Ysidro, Los Angeles is a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state, meaning that governmental bodies will offer support to protect immigrants who are there illegally, while also providing limited assistance to federal US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Although Wendy Kaplan, curator and head of LACMA’s Decorative Arts and Design department, and Staci

162

Steinberger, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, argue that geographic, cultural and economic connections between California and Mexico transcend modern political borders and go back centuries, at this point in Los Angeles’s history the city is a place where looming administration crackdowns darken any discussion of exchange. Found in Translation is an audience‑friendly exhibition broken into four clear-cut sections: ‘Spanish Colonial Inspiration’, ‘Pre-Hispanic Revivals’, ‘Folk Art and Craft Traditions’ and ‘Modernism’. Visitors may marvel at an intricately carved mission bench or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan textile blocks (in our current moment likely most familiar as a major inspiration behind Syd Mead’s set design for Blade Runner); yet the choice to divide the exhibition by historical style dulls the experience into a chronological slog. This decision is no real surprise – it’s the default for the museum’s curators on the rare occasions when LACMA explicitly focuses on architecture and design, as evidenced in the 2011 PST exhibition California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way and the expansive Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000. And so with Found in Translation we begin not in Los Angeles or Mexico, but in Chicago with the origins of the mission revival and the California State Building designed by architect Arthur Page Brown with Willis Polk and A.C. Schweinfurth for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Here, as with our Taco Bell, we see white-stucco walls, endless arches and red roofs.

All photographs courtesy of LACMA.

As border-wall prototypes spring up in San Diego, an exhibition at LACMA seeks to illuminate a troubled history of cross-border design exchange.

Dorio De Larios’s mid-1960s Warrior, on display as part of Found in Translation:

Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 at LACMA in Los Angeles.

Review


Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 Words Mimi Zeiger

When Robert L. McKay, the architect best known for designing and founding the first Taco Bell, died in early October, news of his passing spread nationwide on the AP Wire. The Los Angeles Times ran an obituary, as did Fox Business and news outlets in Kansas and Nebraska – places that were unlikely to have flocked en masse to hard-shell tacos before McKay opened his doors in 1962. In 2015, McKay’s original building was moved from the Los Angeles suburb of Downey to Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters in Irvine, California. Images from that migration reveal his early vision for a haciendatype fast-food eatery: mission-style arches across the facade, red Spanish tile roof. Riding down the freeway – doublewide on the back of a flatbed truck – the lowly taco stand merged dogged American entrepreneurship and classic Mexican design. Taco Bell is not on the curatorial checklist of Found in Translation, an exhibition about the design influences between LA and Mexico on view until April 2018 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), but it could be. And, given how a fast-food restaurant best-known for stoner Meximelt binges and questionable slogans – “Make a run for the border” – transmitted Mexican design imagery across the country, it should be. The show is one of five the museum has mounted as part of The Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. This sprawling initiative explores Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles and takes place in some 70 cultural institutions across southern

California. Found in Translation is one of few entries into that dialogue that tackles the design and architectural implications of this cross-border exchange. Assembled mostly from LACMA’s large collection of design objects, architectural drawings, furniture and graphic design, it is also one of the most polite and non-polemical exhibitions of PST: LA/LA. By contrast, The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility is on view just a block away from LACMA at the California Craft and Folk Art Museum, featuring activist artists and designers, such as architect Teddy Cruz. Continuing a curatorial interest in feminist practice, meanwhile, the Hammer Museum presents Latina and Chicana artists in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985. In the context of LA/LA, disobedient subjects are the norm, not the exception. The same week that Taco Bell’s McKay passed away, President Trump created an immigration Catch-22 by demanding that any legislation addressing the country’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients – people who entered the US illegally as children but essentially grew up in the country – also include funding for his plan for a wall between the two nations. A border town a few hours from the US/Mexico crossing in San Ysidro, Los Angeles is a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state, meaning that governmental bodies will offer support to protect immigrants who are there illegally, while also providing limited assistance to federal US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Although Wendy Kaplan, curator and head of LACMA’s Decorative Arts and Design department, and Staci

162

Steinberger, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, argue that geographic, cultural and economic connections between California and Mexico transcend modern political borders and go back centuries, at this point in Los Angeles’s history the city is a place where looming administration crackdowns darken any discussion of exchange. Found in Translation is an audience‑friendly exhibition broken into four clear-cut sections: ‘Spanish Colonial Inspiration’, ‘Pre-Hispanic Revivals’, ‘Folk Art and Craft Traditions’ and ‘Modernism’. Visitors may marvel at an intricately carved mission bench or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan textile blocks (in our current moment likely most familiar as a major inspiration behind Syd Mead’s set design for Blade Runner); yet the choice to divide the exhibition by historical style dulls the experience into a chronological slog. This decision is no real surprise – it’s the default for the museum’s curators on the rare occasions when LACMA explicitly focuses on architecture and design, as evidenced in the 2011 PST exhibition California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way and the expansive Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000. And so with Found in Translation we begin not in Los Angeles or Mexico, but in Chicago with the origins of the mission revival and the California State Building designed by architect Arthur Page Brown with Willis Polk and A.C. Schweinfurth for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Here, as with our Taco Bell, we see white-stucco walls, endless arches and red roofs.

All photographs courtesy of LACMA.

As border-wall prototypes spring up in San Diego, an exhibition at LACMA seeks to illuminate a troubled history of cross-border design exchange.

Dorio De Larios’s mid-1960s Warrior, on display as part of Found in Translation:

Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 at LACMA in Los Angeles.

Review


A series of early 20th-century earthenware tiles, produced by the Batchelder Tile Company in Pasadena, California.

But how to interpret this translation? Brown, an Anglo, would later introduce this style to Santa Barbara, setting off a citywide romance with mission or Spanish revival designs. This aped architecture, a mash-up of motifs lifted from the Franciscan missions that stretch up and down California’s 600-mile long El Camino Real, was meant to present a bold new identity for the state – one that would separate it from its western neighbours. As the style was adopted in the US for public buildings and residences, however, the darker side of Spain’s colonial history dropped

away, leaving what the curators call a “fantasy heritage”. By the time of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego – a fair that architecturally celebrated the most baroque expressions of the Spanish revival – any symbolic overtones suggesting the violent spread of Christianity and erasure of indigenous populations had been bleached from the architecture, as had widespread discrimination against people of Latin American descent. The curators of Found in Translation point out that in postrevolution Mexico, this same revival was called neocolonial and served as

164

a mechanism to forge a common identity (as in California), as well as act as a foil to the rise of European eclecticism. Frequently, the repeated stylisation of mission and Spanish revival designs is less about what is found in translation, and more about what is lost. Included in LACMA’s exhibition is a construction drawing by architects George Washington Smith and Lutah Maria Riggs of the wall and entry gate of Meridian Studios in Santa Barbara, a series of artists’ studios opened in 1923. Rendered carefully in graphite on tracing paper are two sentry pillars, as well as an elaborate ironwork

gate. A lone figure seemingly draped in a serape and topped with a sombrero features prominently in the elevation. His presence – more than the fairly generic historicist architecture – alerts us to the cross-cultural lifting. The exhibition’s wall text tells us that in 1922 Smith and Riggs travelled to Mexico, where Riggs took hundreds of photographs for reference. Riggs outlived her mentor by several decades and during that time her own practice produced an abstracted version of the revivalist aesthetic: a proto-modernism. Critic Esther McCoy would later write of Riggs, “Removed from the excesses of the Italian and French eclecticism, she came to depend more on proportion, on light and shadow, than applied ornament.” Walls became blanker, arches and windows more elemental. This act of translation from Mexico to California played out similarly throughout the 20th century. The exoticism of neocolonial architecture, pre-Hispanic artefacts (in the case of Wright and his Mayan revival residences), or indigenous rituals and handicraft (witness the 1957 film the Eameses and Alexander Girard made about Dia de Los Muertos for the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico) are repeatedly lifted and abstracted. The extent of mutation from original sources can be seen in one gallery at LACMA, where the iconic black-and-white graphic from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and an opening-ceremony costume are placed alongside three colourful cardboard sonotubes from the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. The designs from both games follow a narrative of a non-Mexican designer mining local culture for inspiration and then extrapolating motifs into a contemporary character. New York City-based Lance Wyman and Peter Murdoch won the competition for the design of the ’68 games after travelling to Mexico City and seeing a graphical link between the Aztec and Mayan stone reliefs on view at the Museum of Anthropology and the 1960s craze for OpArt. Graphic designer Deborah Sussman, who created the motifs of the ’84 games, had worked in the Eames Office and had been the photographer in the research group that toured Mexico to research the Day of the Dead film.

By her own account, it was her travels in the country, as well as in India and Japan, that inspired the celebratory colours of the games: vivid shades of aqua, magenta and vermillion that speak as much to the postmodern aesthetic of that time as they do to any cross-cultural fiesta. Although works by famous Mexican architects Luis Barragán, Juan O’Gorman and a few others hang in the LACMA galleries, Found in Translation can’t seem to help but give off condescending whiffs in its treatment of Mexican design. Too often the exchange privileges the northern state. Perhaps this is the nature of translation, where one language is considered more authentic. Or maybe it is typical of a cross-border dialogue – especially one as touchy as US/Mexico, when, at this moment, eight prototypes for a fortified border wall stand in San Diego as ominous sentries while they

Maybe it is typical of a crossborder dialogue – especially one as touchy as US/Mexico – that one side ultimately exploits the other. undergo testing – that one side ultimately exploits the other. This condition is hardwired into the exhibition, regardless of the fact that the museum has translated its wall texts into Spanish in an attempt to broaden its audience. Still, there are moments where there is more equivalence. These points occur when both mother tongues are reckoning with a third language: modernism. The designer and editor John Entenza, working with McCoy, produced not one, but two issues of Arts & Architecture dedicated to Mexican modernism. McCoy, who was clearly a fan of the country and the designers she befriended there, was the subject of an exhibition at Museo Jumex in Mexico City earlier this year. Titled Passersby 02: Esther McCoy, the show unpacked her uncanny connections to the landscape around Cuernavaca via her friendship with artist and botanist Helen O’Gorman. Unlike the expansive Found in Translation, this smaller exhibition allowed for mediation on the complex interweaving between countries vis-à-vis personal connections and design ideologies. Both LACMA and

Review

Museo Jumex feature versions of Clara Porset’s butaque chair, first created by the Cuban-born designer for a home by Barragán. McCoy tried to find a US producer for Porset, and saw in her furniture and domestic designs a radical mixing of Mexican history and craft with the tenets of modernism. In the eclectic work of architect Francisco Artigas (one of the few Mexican architects to build in the US), McCoy identified the influences of LA émigré architects Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler, writing, “[Artigas’s] form of expression did not gradually evolve, but rather expressed parallel trends in time and separated in space.” Neutra visited Mexico frequently during the 1930s, a time when he was still beholden to the modernist movement’s continental dictum and not yet embracing what would later be called California modern. In his travel writings he noted that different strains of modernism developed in the two places – the expression of the “prima donna” architect in LA and the more revolutionary socialist styles of producing form in Mexico. To document this shared search for a regional expression, Found in Translation offers up a Spanish edition of Survival Through Design, Neutra’s 1954 treatise on building with nature. His influence is seen in Jardines del Pedregal, the Mexico City garden suburb planned by Barragán. The collection of sleek residences with large glass facades that open onto generous outdoor patios, not unlike the Case Study houses that dot Los Angeles, represents modernism at its most domestic and aspirational. In preaching the good life for those who can grasp it on both sides of the border, Found in Translation finally gives us a common architectural language. Yet that gospel comes at a price: the reduction of political sensibilities to an Esperanto-esque singular style. Maybe the history of design exchange between Mexico and Los Angeles isn’t about what is lost or found in translation, but rather Spanglish – a language of friction and opportunistic borrowing, like the culinary mash-ups on the menu at Taco Bell. Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 runs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until 1 April 2018.


A series of early 20th-century earthenware tiles, produced by the Batchelder Tile Company in Pasadena, California.

But how to interpret this translation? Brown, an Anglo, would later introduce this style to Santa Barbara, setting off a citywide romance with mission or Spanish revival designs. This aped architecture, a mash-up of motifs lifted from the Franciscan missions that stretch up and down California’s 600-mile long El Camino Real, was meant to present a bold new identity for the state – one that would separate it from its western neighbours. As the style was adopted in the US for public buildings and residences, however, the darker side of Spain’s colonial history dropped

away, leaving what the curators call a “fantasy heritage”. By the time of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego – a fair that architecturally celebrated the most baroque expressions of the Spanish revival – any symbolic overtones suggesting the violent spread of Christianity and erasure of indigenous populations had been bleached from the architecture, as had widespread discrimination against people of Latin American descent. The curators of Found in Translation point out that in postrevolution Mexico, this same revival was called neocolonial and served as

164

a mechanism to forge a common identity (as in California), as well as act as a foil to the rise of European eclecticism. Frequently, the repeated stylisation of mission and Spanish revival designs is less about what is found in translation, and more about what is lost. Included in LACMA’s exhibition is a construction drawing by architects George Washington Smith and Lutah Maria Riggs of the wall and entry gate of Meridian Studios in Santa Barbara, a series of artists’ studios opened in 1923. Rendered carefully in graphite on tracing paper are two sentry pillars, as well as an elaborate ironwork

gate. A lone figure seemingly draped in a serape and topped with a sombrero features prominently in the elevation. His presence – more than the fairly generic historicist architecture – alerts us to the cross-cultural lifting. The exhibition’s wall text tells us that in 1922 Smith and Riggs travelled to Mexico, where Riggs took hundreds of photographs for reference. Riggs outlived her mentor by several decades and during that time her own practice produced an abstracted version of the revivalist aesthetic: a proto-modernism. Critic Esther McCoy would later write of Riggs, “Removed from the excesses of the Italian and French eclecticism, she came to depend more on proportion, on light and shadow, than applied ornament.” Walls became blanker, arches and windows more elemental. This act of translation from Mexico to California played out similarly throughout the 20th century. The exoticism of neocolonial architecture, pre-Hispanic artefacts (in the case of Wright and his Mayan revival residences), or indigenous rituals and handicraft (witness the 1957 film the Eameses and Alexander Girard made about Dia de Los Muertos for the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico) are repeatedly lifted and abstracted. The extent of mutation from original sources can be seen in one gallery at LACMA, where the iconic black-and-white graphic from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and an opening-ceremony costume are placed alongside three colourful cardboard sonotubes from the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. The designs from both games follow a narrative of a non-Mexican designer mining local culture for inspiration and then extrapolating motifs into a contemporary character. New York City-based Lance Wyman and Peter Murdoch won the competition for the design of the ’68 games after travelling to Mexico City and seeing a graphical link between the Aztec and Mayan stone reliefs on view at the Museum of Anthropology and the 1960s craze for OpArt. Graphic designer Deborah Sussman, who created the motifs of the ’84 games, had worked in the Eames Office and had been the photographer in the research group that toured Mexico to research the Day of the Dead film.

By her own account, it was her travels in the country, as well as in India and Japan, that inspired the celebratory colours of the games: vivid shades of aqua, magenta and vermillion that speak as much to the postmodern aesthetic of that time as they do to any cross-cultural fiesta. Although works by famous Mexican architects Luis Barragán, Juan O’Gorman and a few others hang in the LACMA galleries, Found in Translation can’t seem to help but give off condescending whiffs in its treatment of Mexican design. Too often the exchange privileges the northern state. Perhaps this is the nature of translation, where one language is considered more authentic. Or maybe it is typical of a cross-border dialogue – especially one as touchy as US/Mexico, when, at this moment, eight prototypes for a fortified border wall stand in San Diego as ominous sentries while they

Maybe it is typical of a crossborder dialogue – especially one as touchy as US/Mexico – that one side ultimately exploits the other. undergo testing – that one side ultimately exploits the other. This condition is hardwired into the exhibition, regardless of the fact that the museum has translated its wall texts into Spanish in an attempt to broaden its audience. Still, there are moments where there is more equivalence. These points occur when both mother tongues are reckoning with a third language: modernism. The designer and editor John Entenza, working with McCoy, produced not one, but two issues of Arts & Architecture dedicated to Mexican modernism. McCoy, who was clearly a fan of the country and the designers she befriended there, was the subject of an exhibition at Museo Jumex in Mexico City earlier this year. Titled Passersby 02: Esther McCoy, the show unpacked her uncanny connections to the landscape around Cuernavaca via her friendship with artist and botanist Helen O’Gorman. Unlike the expansive Found in Translation, this smaller exhibition allowed for mediation on the complex interweaving between countries vis-à-vis personal connections and design ideologies. Both LACMA and

Review

Museo Jumex feature versions of Clara Porset’s butaque chair, first created by the Cuban-born designer for a home by Barragán. McCoy tried to find a US producer for Porset, and saw in her furniture and domestic designs a radical mixing of Mexican history and craft with the tenets of modernism. In the eclectic work of architect Francisco Artigas (one of the few Mexican architects to build in the US), McCoy identified the influences of LA émigré architects Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler, writing, “[Artigas’s] form of expression did not gradually evolve, but rather expressed parallel trends in time and separated in space.” Neutra visited Mexico frequently during the 1930s, a time when he was still beholden to the modernist movement’s continental dictum and not yet embracing what would later be called California modern. In his travel writings he noted that different strains of modernism developed in the two places – the expression of the “prima donna” architect in LA and the more revolutionary socialist styles of producing form in Mexico. To document this shared search for a regional expression, Found in Translation offers up a Spanish edition of Survival Through Design, Neutra’s 1954 treatise on building with nature. His influence is seen in Jardines del Pedregal, the Mexico City garden suburb planned by Barragán. The collection of sleek residences with large glass facades that open onto generous outdoor patios, not unlike the Case Study houses that dot Los Angeles, represents modernism at its most domestic and aspirational. In preaching the good life for those who can grasp it on both sides of the border, Found in Translation finally gives us a common architectural language. Yet that gospel comes at a price: the reduction of political sensibilities to an Esperanto-esque singular style. Maybe the history of design exchange between Mexico and Los Angeles isn’t about what is lost or found in translation, but rather Spanglish – a language of friction and opportunistic borrowing, like the culinary mash-ups on the menu at Taco Bell. Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915-1985 runs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until 1 April 2018.


Blade Runner 2049 Words Ilona Gaynor

The much-anticipated Blade Runner sequel offers a return to the richly layered and visually dense world of the original, but does the dystopianism of its universe move beyond that of our own? shifting dynamic between a “centred sense of subjectivity, and an autonomous one”, as argued by the cultural theorist Scott Bukatman. As an audience, we are in a constant state of disorientation, and the legitimacy of the images, objects, places and people we are presented with must be subjected to scrutiny. Not only is this required by the theme of the film – to distinguish what is real from what is artificial – but it also aligns with the characters’ motivations to determine the reality of their world. Eyes are central: in part because they are the metaphorical “window to the soul”, but also because in an artificially soulless world they are an externally manufactured, commodified object used to identify replicants. They are objects that are given (designed), as if by a deity, by Dr Eldon Tyrell, the head of the corporation responsible for the manufacture and sale of replicants. Eyes are also taken away through brute force by the very replicants Tyrell creates, as in the scene in which Batty cups Tyrell’s head in his hands, plunging his thumbs deep into his eye sockets and crushing his skull. The film’s recently released sequel, Blade Runner 2049, however, fails to move quite so fluidly between what is seen and what is not. Instead, it presents a more self-referential silhouette of Scott’s original vision – a world so densely cultivated and imaginatively fertile that it will be forever redrawn and reheard, like images permanently burnt onto the retina. Directed by Denis Villeneuve of Sicario and Arrival fame, Blade Runner 2049 launches us back into the murky elevations of Los Angeles 30 years after the events of the previous film. The plot

166

centres around K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner replicant tasked with “retiring” the Tyrell Corporation’s vestigial android models. These androids still exist after a worldwide “data blackout” that led to the firm’s bankruptcy and subsequent buyout by the Wallace Corporation. Along the way, K learns that a baby was born from a relationship between Deckard and Rachael, a discovery that forces K to question his perception of reality as he receives orders to search, investigate and destroy any evidence of the child’s existence before Wallace (Jared Leto) can exploit it. Science-fiction has always been predicated upon the idea that a world’s narrative will alter over time. Its films provide a reactive visual correspondence to profound shifts in actual political, philosophical and technological change, grounded in what Fredric Jameson, in his book Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, termed the “estrangement and renewal of our own reading of the present”. But unlike most contemporary examples of the genre, the original Blade Runner was a film that refused to explain itself – the viewer was forced to make constant inferences in order to understand its detailed world. Its brilliance, like that of Alien before it, lay in its dense visual layering – a symptom of postmodernism relayed through an inexhaustible and complex accumulation of surfaces and textures, and a spatial treatment that was both shocking and vast enough to be explored across repeated viewings. The tour de force of Blade Runner 2049, like that of Scott’s 1982 film, is its howling cityscape. It’s a cacophony of nostalgia and dystopian prophecy that

Joi, played by Ana de Armas, operates and should be read as an object throughout Blade Runner 2049. A holographic AI, she exists to satisfy the needs of others, serving as the symnbolic promise and failure of technology.

All photographs courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Despite its legacy in shaping the photographic and material literacy of the sci-fi world-building genre, Ridley Scott’s epic Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s android-hunting novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) required seven cuts over the course of 10 years before it was accepted as a masterpiece. Upon its original release in 1982, the film was critically dismissed as an exercise in meditating upon vast emptiness: a series of gazing images, layered under rationalising voiceovers delivered by the film’s protagonist Deckard (Harrison Ford). It was not until 1992, after Scott gave his approval, that a director’s cut was released in theatres. The final film print was stripped of both Deckard’s narrative descriptors and its happy ending, an absurd scene in which Deckard and the replicant Rachael (Sean Young) drive into the sunset. When interviewed about the director’s cut, Ford stated that “they haven’t put anything in, so it’s still an exercise in design”. Nevertheless, it was this reduction and conclusive reframing that launched Blade Runner to a level of critical acclaim that allowed it to sit comfortably alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) as an exemplary historical work in Hollywood’s extensive sci-fi repertoire. “If you could only see what I’ve seen through your eyes,” says the replicant Roy Batty in the original Blade Runner, speaking to an engineer at Eye Works, a genetic engineering lab. Blade Runner was as much about the areas that occupy our vision as it was about the inferred spaces out of sight. This has always been apparent in the film’s

captures a mood of melancholy which is to be endured and perhaps even enjoyed. Scott and Villeneuve may have conjured a vision of hell, but it would be one hell of a place to visit. Although K and Deckard are the chief protagonists of the films, the city itself is the more prominent figure, reducing the two Blade Runners to neon-silhouetted tour guides.

Blade Runner 2049 opens with a tracking shot that tails K’s self-flying car, moving unimpeded over the landscape. We see dead, chalky Los Angeles: now an earthly corpse whose land can only cultivate worms. These worms are the world’s protein source and the visual contrast at work is presumably meant as commentary

Review

on the film’s thematic emphasis on biological reproduction. At first, the terrain appears unusually flat – not unlike images from Soylent Green (1973) or Logan’s Run (1976). Then a slight camera shift reveals another dimension that offers possible clarity: the city still exists, but is buried below the crusted surface and compacted


Blade Runner 2049 Words Ilona Gaynor

The much-anticipated Blade Runner sequel offers a return to the richly layered and visually dense world of the original, but does the dystopianism of its universe move beyond that of our own? shifting dynamic between a “centred sense of subjectivity, and an autonomous one”, as argued by the cultural theorist Scott Bukatman. As an audience, we are in a constant state of disorientation, and the legitimacy of the images, objects, places and people we are presented with must be subjected to scrutiny. Not only is this required by the theme of the film – to distinguish what is real from what is artificial – but it also aligns with the characters’ motivations to determine the reality of their world. Eyes are central: in part because they are the metaphorical “window to the soul”, but also because in an artificially soulless world they are an externally manufactured, commodified object used to identify replicants. They are objects that are given (designed), as if by a deity, by Dr Eldon Tyrell, the head of the corporation responsible for the manufacture and sale of replicants. Eyes are also taken away through brute force by the very replicants Tyrell creates, as in the scene in which Batty cups Tyrell’s head in his hands, plunging his thumbs deep into his eye sockets and crushing his skull. The film’s recently released sequel, Blade Runner 2049, however, fails to move quite so fluidly between what is seen and what is not. Instead, it presents a more self-referential silhouette of Scott’s original vision – a world so densely cultivated and imaginatively fertile that it will be forever redrawn and reheard, like images permanently burnt onto the retina. Directed by Denis Villeneuve of Sicario and Arrival fame, Blade Runner 2049 launches us back into the murky elevations of Los Angeles 30 years after the events of the previous film. The plot

166

centres around K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner replicant tasked with “retiring” the Tyrell Corporation’s vestigial android models. These androids still exist after a worldwide “data blackout” that led to the firm’s bankruptcy and subsequent buyout by the Wallace Corporation. Along the way, K learns that a baby was born from a relationship between Deckard and Rachael, a discovery that forces K to question his perception of reality as he receives orders to search, investigate and destroy any evidence of the child’s existence before Wallace (Jared Leto) can exploit it. Science-fiction has always been predicated upon the idea that a world’s narrative will alter over time. Its films provide a reactive visual correspondence to profound shifts in actual political, philosophical and technological change, grounded in what Fredric Jameson, in his book Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, termed the “estrangement and renewal of our own reading of the present”. But unlike most contemporary examples of the genre, the original Blade Runner was a film that refused to explain itself – the viewer was forced to make constant inferences in order to understand its detailed world. Its brilliance, like that of Alien before it, lay in its dense visual layering – a symptom of postmodernism relayed through an inexhaustible and complex accumulation of surfaces and textures, and a spatial treatment that was both shocking and vast enough to be explored across repeated viewings. The tour de force of Blade Runner 2049, like that of Scott’s 1982 film, is its howling cityscape. It’s a cacophony of nostalgia and dystopian prophecy that

Joi, played by Ana de Armas, operates and should be read as an object throughout Blade Runner 2049. A holographic AI, she exists to satisfy the needs of others, serving as the symnbolic promise and failure of technology.

All photographs courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Despite its legacy in shaping the photographic and material literacy of the sci-fi world-building genre, Ridley Scott’s epic Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s android-hunting novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) required seven cuts over the course of 10 years before it was accepted as a masterpiece. Upon its original release in 1982, the film was critically dismissed as an exercise in meditating upon vast emptiness: a series of gazing images, layered under rationalising voiceovers delivered by the film’s protagonist Deckard (Harrison Ford). It was not until 1992, after Scott gave his approval, that a director’s cut was released in theatres. The final film print was stripped of both Deckard’s narrative descriptors and its happy ending, an absurd scene in which Deckard and the replicant Rachael (Sean Young) drive into the sunset. When interviewed about the director’s cut, Ford stated that “they haven’t put anything in, so it’s still an exercise in design”. Nevertheless, it was this reduction and conclusive reframing that launched Blade Runner to a level of critical acclaim that allowed it to sit comfortably alongside Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) as an exemplary historical work in Hollywood’s extensive sci-fi repertoire. “If you could only see what I’ve seen through your eyes,” says the replicant Roy Batty in the original Blade Runner, speaking to an engineer at Eye Works, a genetic engineering lab. Blade Runner was as much about the areas that occupy our vision as it was about the inferred spaces out of sight. This has always been apparent in the film’s

captures a mood of melancholy which is to be endured and perhaps even enjoyed. Scott and Villeneuve may have conjured a vision of hell, but it would be one hell of a place to visit. Although K and Deckard are the chief protagonists of the films, the city itself is the more prominent figure, reducing the two Blade Runners to neon-silhouetted tour guides.

Blade Runner 2049 opens with a tracking shot that tails K’s self-flying car, moving unimpeded over the landscape. We see dead, chalky Los Angeles: now an earthly corpse whose land can only cultivate worms. These worms are the world’s protein source and the visual contrast at work is presumably meant as commentary

Review

on the film’s thematic emphasis on biological reproduction. At first, the terrain appears unusually flat – not unlike images from Soylent Green (1973) or Logan’s Run (1976). Then a slight camera shift reveals another dimension that offers possible clarity: the city still exists, but is buried below the crusted surface and compacted


Reality is questioned in Deckard’s casino penthouse, which mixes modernist furniture

K, played by Ryan Gosling, is nominally the film’s protagonist, but as in the 1982 original,

and holographic recordings of long dead performers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

it is the cityscape through which the characters move that proves to be the film’s most prominent element.

into its gridded crevices. The streets, still slick with rain and occasional snow, shimmer under the glow of neon signs, curvaceous billboards (still advertising Coca-Cola and Atari products) proclaim their messages, while giant R-rated VR women tiptoe through the crowds. What is striking about this “update” to Blade Runner’s cityscape is the visual shift from images of corpocratic techno‑monuments – such as the Tyrell Corporation’s giant Aztec pyramid – that punctuated the landscape in Blade Runner’s vision of 2019 Los Angeles, to one of fractal abundance. The L.A.P.D headquarters, for example, is now located in a helipad tower. Its interiors are white – similar to those in George Lucas’s THX118 (1971) – whereas previously it was shrouded in darkness with nothing but the glow of forensic monitors to light the actors’ faces. Wallace’s headquarters, meanwhile, echo Tyrell’s, but only vaguely. In a nod to the latter’s Aztec pyramid, Wallace’s walls are constructed of sloped marble, intentionally temple-like and lit with rippling reflections of undulating water. The place also appears to have no windows – unlike the office of Tyrell, which was designed to exaggerate its panoramic views. Perhaps this is simply a way to draw our attention to the fact that Wallace is blind, interlacing his fate with that of Tyrell. But what becomes

apparent throughout the film’s exploration of the city’s elevations and its hidden interiors, is Villeneuve’s decision to move away from Scott’s stylistically retrofitted, postmodern facades and towards a more modernist interpretation of slickly rendered zones of light that conceal the sublime fortresses which lie within them. In a heady contrast to these depictions of a multiplexed future city, 2049’s Las Vegas desert sequence stands out for its blinding alteration of the cinematography that dominates the rest of the film and its symbolic reversal into the memory of a past era, both in its reference to the 1982 original and beyond. We are led cautiously through a burnt-orange smog, at first via the mechanistic viewpoint of a drone. This then cuts to a wide-angle shot that frames K, before trailing him as he proceeds carefully into the toxic landscape to search for his predecessor Deckard. As he advances, K discovers that the region is littered with nude statues of fallen women, protruding over a curious beehive. The statues evoke images of the Korova Milk Bar women from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), as well as the female silhouettes from Bond-film title sequences. The bees perhaps reference a Blade Runner scene in which Deckard asks Rachael what she would do if a wasp were to land on her shoulder: “I’d kill it,” she responds.

168

When a bee lands on K’s hand, he stares at it with curiosity, reinforcing the idea that Rachael blurred the boundaries of what it is to be human, while K does not. Deckard’s desert refuge similarly echoes the past. It is located in the penthouse of an abandoned casino, one that speaks of Charlton Heston’s luxurious apartment in The Omega Man (1971), furnished with glimmering bottles of vintage whisky, decadent (although modernist) furniture and a strangely “real” pet dog – perhaps a reference to Tyrell’s baroque penthouse, which was also home to his bio-engineered pet owl. “I know what’s real!” Deckard proclaims, but the meaning of this statement dissipates over time and it feels particularly ironic, given that he is not only living in a casino, but is also surrounded by the holographic ghosts of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. While there are a lot of objects to draw out of the film (particularly the endless amount of devices designed for forensic analysis), the two most prominent are undoubtedly Joi (Ana de Armas), K’s holographic AI girlfriend, and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), Wallace’s “best” replicant. These two female characters are treated as objects, both figuratively and literally. We are first introduced to Joi when she is projected from a console that is attached to a moving rail on the ceiling of K’s spartan apartment. Although she’s a commercially available

AI product, she is designed to project the needs and fulfilment of “anything you want” (as it states on the various billboards throughout the city). This is demonstrated by Joi’s ability to change her attire from Lauren Bacall to Bond Girl in seconds, while lighting K’s cigarette and projecting a three-dimensional steak onto a bowl of grey jelly – allowing K to imagine that his meal was made by a woman, rather than slid out of a packet. While it’s clear that Joi fulfils the role of servant, housewife and target for K’s sexual desires, she is also to all intents and purposes the loving girlfriend. Joi is both the symbolic promise of technology and its failure. While we are prepared to acknowledge the joylessness of her existence, we must also acknowledge that she is the mirror of K’s own – a man with no soul, genetically engineered out of requirement, who is unable to establish a sense of purpose, other than to obey his superiors. In a narrative landscape where the boundaries between what is real and what is artificial have been blurred for so long, it is fair to assume that the androids in 2049 have become viable and technologically advanced living beings who harbour feelings, desires and dreams (assuming of course that androids do dream), despite their role as the enslaved labour force on whose backs this civilisation is run. In contrast to Joi as the subservient object, Luv is

the more dominant and perhaps the more interesting. She is a replicant who is not only designed to fulfil the role of Wallace’s personal assistant, which is how we are first introduced to her, but also his deadly proxy. As the prime antagonist of the film, Luv is a killing machine whose central motivation is to demonstrate her technological superiority, strength and cunning over others – man, woman or machine. This becomes clear in a fight sequence, from which she emerges as the victor, kissing K’s bloodied lips, while declaring, “I am the best,” in a spritely tone that is both charming and terrifying. Her kills are swift and mechanical; she crushes and breaks her victims with an accuracy and conviction that becomes almost humorous in its speed. Not unlike Batty in the 1982 film, Luv’s brute strength – despite being unmatched – is fraught with neuroses and a sense of fragility. She cries as she watches Wallace slice open the empty womb of a prototype replicant who stands naked and shivering before him. Luv’s existential conflict is intrinsically tethered to her relationship with Wallace, but unlike Batty she betrays her own kind in order to become exceptional. The original Blade Runner was a visually designed assemblage untainted by Hollywood didacticism – one that was fortunate enough to escape the imaginative shortcomings of today’s

Review

big-budget films. Blade Runner 2049, although visually sumptuous – if not over-engineered in terms of plot – has been delivered, however, at a moment when we are facing the material and political consequences of both a moral and climate crisis. Donald Trump is president of the United States. As a result of global warming, hurricanes, floods and droughts threaten our existence, and while it’s not implausible that our food supplies will eventually diminish, nuclear war pings on the periphery. The way ahead seems more uncertain than ever. Blade Runner 2049, although terrifying, offers us nothing but a time to come quarantined in the present. It has no future; there are no cautionary tales left to tell. Preoccupied with its homage to Scott’s 1982 classic, like us it can only look back or stand still, lacking the political and economic vision to construct a world in which we can live. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, was released in cinemas in October 2017.


Reality is questioned in Deckard’s casino penthouse, which mixes modernist furniture

K, played by Ryan Gosling, is nominally the film’s protagonist, but as in the 1982 original,

and holographic recordings of long dead performers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

it is the cityscape through which the characters move that proves to be the film’s most prominent element.

into its gridded crevices. The streets, still slick with rain and occasional snow, shimmer under the glow of neon signs, curvaceous billboards (still advertising Coca-Cola and Atari products) proclaim their messages, while giant R-rated VR women tiptoe through the crowds. What is striking about this “update” to Blade Runner’s cityscape is the visual shift from images of corpocratic techno‑monuments – such as the Tyrell Corporation’s giant Aztec pyramid – that punctuated the landscape in Blade Runner’s vision of 2019 Los Angeles, to one of fractal abundance. The L.A.P.D headquarters, for example, is now located in a helipad tower. Its interiors are white – similar to those in George Lucas’s THX118 (1971) – whereas previously it was shrouded in darkness with nothing but the glow of forensic monitors to light the actors’ faces. Wallace’s headquarters, meanwhile, echo Tyrell’s, but only vaguely. In a nod to the latter’s Aztec pyramid, Wallace’s walls are constructed of sloped marble, intentionally temple-like and lit with rippling reflections of undulating water. The place also appears to have no windows – unlike the office of Tyrell, which was designed to exaggerate its panoramic views. Perhaps this is simply a way to draw our attention to the fact that Wallace is blind, interlacing his fate with that of Tyrell. But what becomes

apparent throughout the film’s exploration of the city’s elevations and its hidden interiors, is Villeneuve’s decision to move away from Scott’s stylistically retrofitted, postmodern facades and towards a more modernist interpretation of slickly rendered zones of light that conceal the sublime fortresses which lie within them. In a heady contrast to these depictions of a multiplexed future city, 2049’s Las Vegas desert sequence stands out for its blinding alteration of the cinematography that dominates the rest of the film and its symbolic reversal into the memory of a past era, both in its reference to the 1982 original and beyond. We are led cautiously through a burnt-orange smog, at first via the mechanistic viewpoint of a drone. This then cuts to a wide-angle shot that frames K, before trailing him as he proceeds carefully into the toxic landscape to search for his predecessor Deckard. As he advances, K discovers that the region is littered with nude statues of fallen women, protruding over a curious beehive. The statues evoke images of the Korova Milk Bar women from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), as well as the female silhouettes from Bond-film title sequences. The bees perhaps reference a Blade Runner scene in which Deckard asks Rachael what she would do if a wasp were to land on her shoulder: “I’d kill it,” she responds.

168

When a bee lands on K’s hand, he stares at it with curiosity, reinforcing the idea that Rachael blurred the boundaries of what it is to be human, while K does not. Deckard’s desert refuge similarly echoes the past. It is located in the penthouse of an abandoned casino, one that speaks of Charlton Heston’s luxurious apartment in The Omega Man (1971), furnished with glimmering bottles of vintage whisky, decadent (although modernist) furniture and a strangely “real” pet dog – perhaps a reference to Tyrell’s baroque penthouse, which was also home to his bio-engineered pet owl. “I know what’s real!” Deckard proclaims, but the meaning of this statement dissipates over time and it feels particularly ironic, given that he is not only living in a casino, but is also surrounded by the holographic ghosts of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. While there are a lot of objects to draw out of the film (particularly the endless amount of devices designed for forensic analysis), the two most prominent are undoubtedly Joi (Ana de Armas), K’s holographic AI girlfriend, and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), Wallace’s “best” replicant. These two female characters are treated as objects, both figuratively and literally. We are first introduced to Joi when she is projected from a console that is attached to a moving rail on the ceiling of K’s spartan apartment. Although she’s a commercially available

AI product, she is designed to project the needs and fulfilment of “anything you want” (as it states on the various billboards throughout the city). This is demonstrated by Joi’s ability to change her attire from Lauren Bacall to Bond Girl in seconds, while lighting K’s cigarette and projecting a three-dimensional steak onto a bowl of grey jelly – allowing K to imagine that his meal was made by a woman, rather than slid out of a packet. While it’s clear that Joi fulfils the role of servant, housewife and target for K’s sexual desires, she is also to all intents and purposes the loving girlfriend. Joi is both the symbolic promise of technology and its failure. While we are prepared to acknowledge the joylessness of her existence, we must also acknowledge that she is the mirror of K’s own – a man with no soul, genetically engineered out of requirement, who is unable to establish a sense of purpose, other than to obey his superiors. In a narrative landscape where the boundaries between what is real and what is artificial have been blurred for so long, it is fair to assume that the androids in 2049 have become viable and technologically advanced living beings who harbour feelings, desires and dreams (assuming of course that androids do dream), despite their role as the enslaved labour force on whose backs this civilisation is run. In contrast to Joi as the subservient object, Luv is

the more dominant and perhaps the more interesting. She is a replicant who is not only designed to fulfil the role of Wallace’s personal assistant, which is how we are first introduced to her, but also his deadly proxy. As the prime antagonist of the film, Luv is a killing machine whose central motivation is to demonstrate her technological superiority, strength and cunning over others – man, woman or machine. This becomes clear in a fight sequence, from which she emerges as the victor, kissing K’s bloodied lips, while declaring, “I am the best,” in a spritely tone that is both charming and terrifying. Her kills are swift and mechanical; she crushes and breaks her victims with an accuracy and conviction that becomes almost humorous in its speed. Not unlike Batty in the 1982 film, Luv’s brute strength – despite being unmatched – is fraught with neuroses and a sense of fragility. She cries as she watches Wallace slice open the empty womb of a prototype replicant who stands naked and shivering before him. Luv’s existential conflict is intrinsically tethered to her relationship with Wallace, but unlike Batty she betrays her own kind in order to become exceptional. The original Blade Runner was a visually designed assemblage untainted by Hollywood didacticism – one that was fortunate enough to escape the imaginative shortcomings of today’s

Review

big-budget films. Blade Runner 2049, although visually sumptuous – if not over-engineered in terms of plot – has been delivered, however, at a moment when we are facing the material and political consequences of both a moral and climate crisis. Donald Trump is president of the United States. As a result of global warming, hurricanes, floods and droughts threaten our existence, and while it’s not implausible that our food supplies will eventually diminish, nuclear war pings on the periphery. The way ahead seems more uncertain than ever. Blade Runner 2049, although terrifying, offers us nothing but a time to come quarantined in the present. It has no future; there are no cautionary tales left to tell. Preoccupied with its homage to Scott’s 1982 classic, like us it can only look back or stand still, lacking the political and economic vision to construct a world in which we can live. Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, was released in cinemas in October 2017.


Super Mario Odyssey Words Alex Wiltshire

A new game starring Nintendo’s mascot reveals a decades-long history of the exploration of space and video games’ capacity to play with movement. his leaps giving him joyful control over space that no game anchored to gravity can hope to match. With no need to follow streets and traffic laws, Mario has little interest in the urban environment. So it’s immediately jarring that with New Donk City, Odyssey seems to be attempting to catch up with Grand Theft Auto. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice that the metropolis’s walk signs are the traditional blocks that Mario jumps into to win a coin, while the bonnets of taxis are jump pads. The New Donkers are intentionally bizarre jazz-age

Rising standards and ambitions have led to games becoming more thrilling, more varied and more inclusive, and here that message is written into the soaring architecture of a modern city. mannequins, faces fixed as they sit on benches, stroll along the sidewalks and stand in crowds in celebration of your achievements, eternally looping a single animation cycle. They’re no more alive than the other elements of Mario’s furniture, like the plump bushes in the background of Super Mario World (1990) or the screw-cornered boxes in Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988); they are there to be run past and jumped on, but nothing more. The one figure who’s truly alive is squat little Mario, with his hyperexpressive cartoon face and falsetto whoops, because he’s the player: dynamic, enthusiastic and never tired. Rather than an imitation of games outside Mario’s world, New Donk City is a celebration of where Mario came from. After beating a monster who has plunged the city into darkness, Mario goes down into the sewers – a throwback to Super

170

Mario Bros. – to restore the electricity supply so that the celebrations of his victory can get under way with a swing band playing the game’s title track, ‘Jump Up, Super Star!’ So begins a dazzling sequence in which the character is transformed into an 8-bit, two-dimensional version of himself so he can run across New Donk’s skyline, as if he were part of a series of pixellated animated billboards. He dodges barrels and disappears down pipes only to reappear further up another building, now with gravity reversed, and more platforms and barrels to contend with, until he faces Donkey Kong himself, defeats him, and joins the band for his reward. This is a recreation of Mario’s first game, reversed so there’s no damsel to save (here, Pauline is the mayor and she’s fronting the band), and played through a modern remix of the physics and design established in the game that made Mario’s name. It embodies the iterative and progressive nature of video-game creation, and its history of constantly rising standards and ambitions. These have led to games becoming more thrilling, more varied and more inclusive, and here that message is written into the soaring architecture of a modern city. Mario performs many more commemorations of himself in Odyssey, but they’re just one of the game’s many aspects. The appearance of his worlds is really just a surface, their visual design a mere theme that gives a sliver of context for your actions and the opportunity to shower you with novel sights. Even in the early hours of the game, you’ll bounce from a Tim Burtoninflected world of sentient hats living in hat-shaped houses built on black-felt ground (Cap Kingdom) to a primordial land of waterfalls, rocks and a vast,

Mario, freshly suited, moves through New Donk City, Mario Odyssey’s approximation of New York.

All images courtesy of Nintendo.

While many video games have bent Moore’s law to the project of rendering reality, Mario has always jumped the other way. His worlds are full of pipes, cheerful turtles, mushrooms and distant hillsides dancing with smiling faces. But they are far more functional than surrealist – playgrounds with playground logic. The mushrooms? Fundamental to Super Mario Bros. (1986) is Mario’s ability to double his size, thereby letting him smash blocks and take damage his lesser form couldn’t – the entire process being set in motion by an object that acts as an obvious Alice in Wonderland reference. The pipes, meanwhile, were originally suggested by the clash of the pixels in Mario’s clothes. If his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, was to animate Mario’s arms swinging as he ran, he needed a differently coloured body against which they could contrast. Thus the character was born into blue-collar dungarees, originally as a carpenter in Donkey Kong (1981), before settling into his career as a plumber as he battled creatures emerging from the New York City sewers in Mario Bros. (1983). Hence pipes. And so we turn to New Donk City. One of the levels featured in Mario’s latest adventure for Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, New Donk is a metropolis of skyscrapers, where taxis glide past street-side cafés. What’s more, it is peopled with – could it be? – people with normal-people proportions. Does this mean that somewhere in Mario’s canonical universe there is an older city called Donk? Who is really human – the New Donkers or Mario? Mario’s games were never surrealist, but they rejected reality in favour of the creative liberty that comes with not having to adhere to real-world laws and logic. His is a freedom of movement,

sleeping T. Rex rendered in almost photorealistic detail (Cascade Kingdom). You’ll soon know to expect constant change. Styles flip as you visit a world about cooking (Luncheon Kingdom), where sentient forks live on islands emerging from delicious-looking pink gloop, and then move to a Japanese castle in full celebration of an impending wedding (Bowser’s Kingdom). The visual invention is fantastic; across the whole game the areas’ styles are chaotic, but in themselves they’re harmonious and closely observed. In Bowser’s Kingdom, roofs of green kawara tiles sit above plain plaster walls, bearing shining gold decorations and flying red flags with Bowser’s symbol on them. In the Luncheon Kingdom, everything, whether savoury or sweet, shines in soft pastels. For all the threat posed by Bowser and his goombas and koopas, Mario’s worlds are designed to be enjoyed. They’re places to linger, encouraging exploration

and experimentation through their sheer appeal. Appropriately, Nintendo’s graphics programmers are good at surfaces. The shaders they write – algorithms which colour and shade objects on the screen – give the worlds physicality. Raindrops splash on asphalt, translucent jelly wobbles, bright moon rock looks cold, metal glints: every surface looks as though you can feel it. Mario’s movement on them helps communicate their substance, from the skittering sound of his feet to the way he slides on ice and skids as he changes direction. The close bond between gamepad button, Mario’s movement and the way his environment reacts to him has been one of the defining features of all the Super Mario games. Their physics pull him down and their mechanics – the bounce-pads that send him flying; the blocks that smash as he hits them – provide a great deal of the player satisfaction.

Review

Naturally, Odyssey’s space is designed just for Mario. It never recreates anything outside its own ludic logic. The distances between platforms and the heights of walls are tuned to provide different layers of challenge: close platforms along a long path are for less able participants who only use Mario’s jump; an upper level that more skilled players can access might provide a shortcut or lead to hidden coins. But while the world is highly designed, it’s surprisingly organic. Mario’s moveset is so flexible and wide, and the skill ceiling so high, that there’s no sense that his dimensions restrict the spatial design. He’s no Vitruvian plumber and he does not dictate the space around in him in the way that Lara Croft’s physical dimensions defined how high and far she could jump and therefore also the layouts of the levels in the original Tomb Raider (1996). Watch skilled Odyssey players and you’ll see them scaling


Super Mario Odyssey Words Alex Wiltshire

A new game starring Nintendo’s mascot reveals a decades-long history of the exploration of space and video games’ capacity to play with movement. his leaps giving him joyful control over space that no game anchored to gravity can hope to match. With no need to follow streets and traffic laws, Mario has little interest in the urban environment. So it’s immediately jarring that with New Donk City, Odyssey seems to be attempting to catch up with Grand Theft Auto. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice that the metropolis’s walk signs are the traditional blocks that Mario jumps into to win a coin, while the bonnets of taxis are jump pads. The New Donkers are intentionally bizarre jazz-age

Rising standards and ambitions have led to games becoming more thrilling, more varied and more inclusive, and here that message is written into the soaring architecture of a modern city. mannequins, faces fixed as they sit on benches, stroll along the sidewalks and stand in crowds in celebration of your achievements, eternally looping a single animation cycle. They’re no more alive than the other elements of Mario’s furniture, like the plump bushes in the background of Super Mario World (1990) or the screw-cornered boxes in Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988); they are there to be run past and jumped on, but nothing more. The one figure who’s truly alive is squat little Mario, with his hyperexpressive cartoon face and falsetto whoops, because he’s the player: dynamic, enthusiastic and never tired. Rather than an imitation of games outside Mario’s world, New Donk City is a celebration of where Mario came from. After beating a monster who has plunged the city into darkness, Mario goes down into the sewers – a throwback to Super

170

Mario Bros. – to restore the electricity supply so that the celebrations of his victory can get under way with a swing band playing the game’s title track, ‘Jump Up, Super Star!’ So begins a dazzling sequence in which the character is transformed into an 8-bit, two-dimensional version of himself so he can run across New Donk’s skyline, as if he were part of a series of pixellated animated billboards. He dodges barrels and disappears down pipes only to reappear further up another building, now with gravity reversed, and more platforms and barrels to contend with, until he faces Donkey Kong himself, defeats him, and joins the band for his reward. This is a recreation of Mario’s first game, reversed so there’s no damsel to save (here, Pauline is the mayor and she’s fronting the band), and played through a modern remix of the physics and design established in the game that made Mario’s name. It embodies the iterative and progressive nature of video-game creation, and its history of constantly rising standards and ambitions. These have led to games becoming more thrilling, more varied and more inclusive, and here that message is written into the soaring architecture of a modern city. Mario performs many more commemorations of himself in Odyssey, but they’re just one of the game’s many aspects. The appearance of his worlds is really just a surface, their visual design a mere theme that gives a sliver of context for your actions and the opportunity to shower you with novel sights. Even in the early hours of the game, you’ll bounce from a Tim Burtoninflected world of sentient hats living in hat-shaped houses built on black-felt ground (Cap Kingdom) to a primordial land of waterfalls, rocks and a vast,

Mario, freshly suited, moves through New Donk City, Mario Odyssey’s approximation of New York.

All images courtesy of Nintendo.

While many video games have bent Moore’s law to the project of rendering reality, Mario has always jumped the other way. His worlds are full of pipes, cheerful turtles, mushrooms and distant hillsides dancing with smiling faces. But they are far more functional than surrealist – playgrounds with playground logic. The mushrooms? Fundamental to Super Mario Bros. (1986) is Mario’s ability to double his size, thereby letting him smash blocks and take damage his lesser form couldn’t – the entire process being set in motion by an object that acts as an obvious Alice in Wonderland reference. The pipes, meanwhile, were originally suggested by the clash of the pixels in Mario’s clothes. If his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, was to animate Mario’s arms swinging as he ran, he needed a differently coloured body against which they could contrast. Thus the character was born into blue-collar dungarees, originally as a carpenter in Donkey Kong (1981), before settling into his career as a plumber as he battled creatures emerging from the New York City sewers in Mario Bros. (1983). Hence pipes. And so we turn to New Donk City. One of the levels featured in Mario’s latest adventure for Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, New Donk is a metropolis of skyscrapers, where taxis glide past street-side cafés. What’s more, it is peopled with – could it be? – people with normal-people proportions. Does this mean that somewhere in Mario’s canonical universe there is an older city called Donk? Who is really human – the New Donkers or Mario? Mario’s games were never surrealist, but they rejected reality in favour of the creative liberty that comes with not having to adhere to real-world laws and logic. His is a freedom of movement,

sleeping T. Rex rendered in almost photorealistic detail (Cascade Kingdom). You’ll soon know to expect constant change. Styles flip as you visit a world about cooking (Luncheon Kingdom), where sentient forks live on islands emerging from delicious-looking pink gloop, and then move to a Japanese castle in full celebration of an impending wedding (Bowser’s Kingdom). The visual invention is fantastic; across the whole game the areas’ styles are chaotic, but in themselves they’re harmonious and closely observed. In Bowser’s Kingdom, roofs of green kawara tiles sit above plain plaster walls, bearing shining gold decorations and flying red flags with Bowser’s symbol on them. In the Luncheon Kingdom, everything, whether savoury or sweet, shines in soft pastels. For all the threat posed by Bowser and his goombas and koopas, Mario’s worlds are designed to be enjoyed. They’re places to linger, encouraging exploration

and experimentation through their sheer appeal. Appropriately, Nintendo’s graphics programmers are good at surfaces. The shaders they write – algorithms which colour and shade objects on the screen – give the worlds physicality. Raindrops splash on asphalt, translucent jelly wobbles, bright moon rock looks cold, metal glints: every surface looks as though you can feel it. Mario’s movement on them helps communicate their substance, from the skittering sound of his feet to the way he slides on ice and skids as he changes direction. The close bond between gamepad button, Mario’s movement and the way his environment reacts to him has been one of the defining features of all the Super Mario games. Their physics pull him down and their mechanics – the bounce-pads that send him flying; the blocks that smash as he hits them – provide a great deal of the player satisfaction.

Review

Naturally, Odyssey’s space is designed just for Mario. It never recreates anything outside its own ludic logic. The distances between platforms and the heights of walls are tuned to provide different layers of challenge: close platforms along a long path are for less able participants who only use Mario’s jump; an upper level that more skilled players can access might provide a shortcut or lead to hidden coins. But while the world is highly designed, it’s surprisingly organic. Mario’s moveset is so flexible and wide, and the skill ceiling so high, that there’s no sense that his dimensions restrict the spatial design. He’s no Vitruvian plumber and he does not dictate the space around in him in the way that Lara Croft’s physical dimensions defined how high and far she could jump and therefore also the layouts of the levels in the original Tomb Raider (1996). Watch skilled Odyssey players and you’ll see them scaling


Visual styles vary dramatically across Odyssey’s levels and environments, including a world populated with photo-realistic dinosaurs and fossils alongside Mario’s usual cartoon enemies.

vertical walls with a series of moves that defy your understanding of Mario’s physics: throwing his cap, bouncing on it to jump off the wall, then diving to bounce off it again. The styling of Odyssey’s levels also helps express their core gimmicks. Odyssey’s big bullet-point feature is Mario’s ability to possess certain enemies and objects and take on some of their characteristics, transforming the way he interacts with and moves through the world. Cascade Kingdom’s prehistoric setting gives a thematic nudge to large rocks which lie around it. By incorporating that sleeping T. Rex, Mario can smash them to pieces to reveal hidden items and passages. In Wooded Kingdom, an industrial flower garden tended by robots under a Buckminster Fuller dome, he can possess uproots, strange rotund plants that stretch up their roots, springing with the most perfectly judged little extra leap when released. They allow Mario to

access new heights, opening up areas you might have assumed you were never meant to reach. As you come across these new skills, learn what they offer and master their controls, you feel the game expand. This is the deep promise of video games: that there’s always another dimension to explore, another layer of possibility above the one you’ve just mastered. Super Mario Odyssey continually delivers on it. And why do you master Mario? For rewards. Nintendo has a virtuosic command of audio-visual feedback – from the classic two-note chime of a coin being collected to the sudden cut from the typical game to a close-up shot of Mario and his hat friend, Cappy, playing out a little celebration at being awarded a moon, Odyssey’s core collectible item. Moons power up Mario’s airship, allowing him to travel to new levels, and with more than 500 to find they are more prevalent than in previous

172

Mario games. They first appeared in Super Mario 64 (1996) in the form of power stars. This was the moment Mario burst from the confines of 2D, and the game’s designers had to solve a plethora of problems that came with making a game about navigating in all directions. In 2D, the object was always simply to run from left to right. So how could they provide goals in 3D space, in which players could run anywhere? Super Mario 64’s solution was placing stars in its levels, hinting at where they were and then telling participants to go there. Back then, collecting each star was a considerable challenge, but the rhythm of reward in Odyssey is far tighter and faster. To play it is to experience a nearconstant shower of challenge and catharsis, engineered so that every few minutes you’ll find another moon: behind a waterfall; above a tall tower; buried below a strangely glowing bulge in the ground. You did it! Again! It doesn’t feel

repetitive because Nintendo is careful to punctuate the cadence with “multi moons” to mark and reward particularly challenging or dramatic segments. Long before you feel you’ve finished exploring a level, you’ll have collected enough moons to reach the next, and the game quickly invites you to sail on into the stratosphere. Odyssey doesn’t give moments of rest, much less boredom. It’s attention-deficit play, but still manages to be joyful rather than purely compulsive. Besides, it would be exhausting if it weren’t so flowing and fundamentally powered by your own curiosity and pleasure in controlling Mario. The increased number of moons encourages free-roaming exploration across the levels, rather than the linear following of a path to a known goal. All the time, the game reassures you that it’s OK to go crazy: it was all designed for you anyway. Odyssey is part of a new trend in Nintendo’s game design. Along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was released earlier this year, it explicitly directs its players far less than many other recent Nintendo titles. With the popularity of its Wii, which sold in tens of millions to families who’d never normally consider buying a video-game console, Nintendo developed something

It’s attention-deficit play, but it manages to be joyful rather than purely compulsive. It would be exhausting if it weren’t so flowing and fundamentally powered by your own curiosity. of a reputation for hand-holding, anxious not to leave anyone confused even for a moment. Every novelty was accompanied by a series of dialogue boxes explaining its use. But Breath of the Wild, part of a long-running series about a boy exploring a large and open fantasy world, bucked that philosophy in favour of trusting the player to learn for themselves. Instead of telling, it simply asks you to walk out into the world, to experiment, make mistakes and to feel your way towards completing the quests. In return, hundreds of valuable items are hidden throughout the lands – often tucked under objects that look misplaced, or revealed when a rock

An uproot emerges menacingly behind a stretching Mario. The ability to possess different enemies with unique forms of locomotion, opens up environments for further exploration.

is returned to a circle of stones with one missing – there to reward whomever cares to notice and wonder, and remind them that they’re not alone out there. Nintendo isn’t the only game maker focusing on exploration. Many big-budget series, from Assassin’s Creed to Batman, have eschewed discrete levels and contained spaces, opting instead for large, so-called open worlds. Their promise of allowing you to go anywhere and play on your own terms goes some way to fulfil long-held video-game dreams of escapism and immersion; but publishers have also learned that products that offer fewer hours of self-directed play in open worlds, instead of tens of hours of designer-directed play in enclosed ones, simply sell better. They might not be as well paced, and they may not have as many rich details or storylines as games set on linear paths, but what’s lost is often made up for with the chance to choose and set your own priorities. Super Mario Odyssey’s levels aren’t as open as Breath of the Wild’s, but they are just as much about exploration. In rewarding the observant and curious, they reinforce “good” play through their configurations of space and the bonuses seeded through them. They’re non-linear and yet tightly directed to ensure every player experiences Mario at his best. Built on decades of iterations of the

Review

video-game form, Odyssey’s blend of retrospective and future-facing is Nintendo explicitly reminding you of how it has learnt to create playgrounds that give players an intoxicating sense of control and freedom, and that the real magic of video games lies in the way it directs them with the subtlest of hands. Super Mario Odyssey is published by Nintendo for Switch (RRP £49.99).


Visual styles vary dramatically across Odyssey’s levels and environments, including a world populated with photo-realistic dinosaurs and fossils alongside Mario’s usual cartoon enemies.

vertical walls with a series of moves that defy your understanding of Mario’s physics: throwing his cap, bouncing on it to jump off the wall, then diving to bounce off it again. The styling of Odyssey’s levels also helps express their core gimmicks. Odyssey’s big bullet-point feature is Mario’s ability to possess certain enemies and objects and take on some of their characteristics, transforming the way he interacts with and moves through the world. Cascade Kingdom’s prehistoric setting gives a thematic nudge to large rocks which lie around it. By incorporating that sleeping T. Rex, Mario can smash them to pieces to reveal hidden items and passages. In Wooded Kingdom, an industrial flower garden tended by robots under a Buckminster Fuller dome, he can possess uproots, strange rotund plants that stretch up their roots, springing with the most perfectly judged little extra leap when released. They allow Mario to

access new heights, opening up areas you might have assumed you were never meant to reach. As you come across these new skills, learn what they offer and master their controls, you feel the game expand. This is the deep promise of video games: that there’s always another dimension to explore, another layer of possibility above the one you’ve just mastered. Super Mario Odyssey continually delivers on it. And why do you master Mario? For rewards. Nintendo has a virtuosic command of audio-visual feedback – from the classic two-note chime of a coin being collected to the sudden cut from the typical game to a close-up shot of Mario and his hat friend, Cappy, playing out a little celebration at being awarded a moon, Odyssey’s core collectible item. Moons power up Mario’s airship, allowing him to travel to new levels, and with more than 500 to find they are more prevalent than in previous

172

Mario games. They first appeared in Super Mario 64 (1996) in the form of power stars. This was the moment Mario burst from the confines of 2D, and the game’s designers had to solve a plethora of problems that came with making a game about navigating in all directions. In 2D, the object was always simply to run from left to right. So how could they provide goals in 3D space, in which players could run anywhere? Super Mario 64’s solution was placing stars in its levels, hinting at where they were and then telling participants to go there. Back then, collecting each star was a considerable challenge, but the rhythm of reward in Odyssey is far tighter and faster. To play it is to experience a nearconstant shower of challenge and catharsis, engineered so that every few minutes you’ll find another moon: behind a waterfall; above a tall tower; buried below a strangely glowing bulge in the ground. You did it! Again! It doesn’t feel

repetitive because Nintendo is careful to punctuate the cadence with “multi moons” to mark and reward particularly challenging or dramatic segments. Long before you feel you’ve finished exploring a level, you’ll have collected enough moons to reach the next, and the game quickly invites you to sail on into the stratosphere. Odyssey doesn’t give moments of rest, much less boredom. It’s attention-deficit play, but still manages to be joyful rather than purely compulsive. Besides, it would be exhausting if it weren’t so flowing and fundamentally powered by your own curiosity and pleasure in controlling Mario. The increased number of moons encourages free-roaming exploration across the levels, rather than the linear following of a path to a known goal. All the time, the game reassures you that it’s OK to go crazy: it was all designed for you anyway. Odyssey is part of a new trend in Nintendo’s game design. Along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was released earlier this year, it explicitly directs its players far less than many other recent Nintendo titles. With the popularity of its Wii, which sold in tens of millions to families who’d never normally consider buying a video-game console, Nintendo developed something

It’s attention-deficit play, but it manages to be joyful rather than purely compulsive. It would be exhausting if it weren’t so flowing and fundamentally powered by your own curiosity. of a reputation for hand-holding, anxious not to leave anyone confused even for a moment. Every novelty was accompanied by a series of dialogue boxes explaining its use. But Breath of the Wild, part of a long-running series about a boy exploring a large and open fantasy world, bucked that philosophy in favour of trusting the player to learn for themselves. Instead of telling, it simply asks you to walk out into the world, to experiment, make mistakes and to feel your way towards completing the quests. In return, hundreds of valuable items are hidden throughout the lands – often tucked under objects that look misplaced, or revealed when a rock

An uproot emerges menacingly behind a stretching Mario. The ability to possess different enemies with unique forms of locomotion, opens up environments for further exploration.

is returned to a circle of stones with one missing – there to reward whomever cares to notice and wonder, and remind them that they’re not alone out there. Nintendo isn’t the only game maker focusing on exploration. Many big-budget series, from Assassin’s Creed to Batman, have eschewed discrete levels and contained spaces, opting instead for large, so-called open worlds. Their promise of allowing you to go anywhere and play on your own terms goes some way to fulfil long-held video-game dreams of escapism and immersion; but publishers have also learned that products that offer fewer hours of self-directed play in open worlds, instead of tens of hours of designer-directed play in enclosed ones, simply sell better. They might not be as well paced, and they may not have as many rich details or storylines as games set on linear paths, but what’s lost is often made up for with the chance to choose and set your own priorities. Super Mario Odyssey’s levels aren’t as open as Breath of the Wild’s, but they are just as much about exploration. In rewarding the observant and curious, they reinforce “good” play through their configurations of space and the bonuses seeded through them. They’re non-linear and yet tightly directed to ensure every player experiences Mario at his best. Built on decades of iterations of the

Review

video-game form, Odyssey’s blend of retrospective and future-facing is Nintendo explicitly reminding you of how it has learnt to create playgrounds that give players an intoxicating sense of control and freedom, and that the real magic of video games lies in the way it directs them with the subtlest of hands. Super Mario Odyssey is published by Nintendo for Switch (RRP £49.99).


Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their Trellick Tower studio Words Johanna Agerman Ross

As Barber and Osgerby releases its third book, Disegno takes a closer look at a portrait of the studio’s founders that photographer Kevin Davies captured in 1998.

or a special launch? Even if they are shot by recognised photographers, they more likely than not end up as disposable and get used once. They sometimes find a second life on the portfolio pages on photographers’ websites, eventually generating more of the same for the next client, the next magazine. This particular photograph, however, is not as clear-cut in terms of its purpose. It’s an image that Barber and Osgerby return to again and again, both in presentations and in publications; clearly it’s an important element of the way in which the designers wish to present themselves, and it is therefore fair to analyse it as part of a critical evaluation of their studio. In fact, it’s one of the few images of the duo that is published in Barber Osgerby Projects and it’s by far the most evocative. It seems to hold a certain nostalgia, a story of which the designers themselves are fond, within its composition. And although the picture is now long out-of-date – the studio has moved several times since it was taken, the designers have aged 20 years, and their work and team have expanded significantly – it captures an important moment that hints at both the past, the present and the future. Just as John Berger did with the oil painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein from the 16th century, one can of course read photographs and the objects within them. Berger writes about The Ambassadors: “The painted objects on the shelves between them were intended to supply – to the few who could read the allusions – a certain amount of information about their position in the world.” And although the objects selected to appear in the Barber Osgerby portrait

174

haven’t been subject to the same scrutiny of symbolism, their inclusion is nevertheless significant, as are the many things not included. At first glance, the photograph seems fly-on-the-wall and documentarylike. Davies has simply captured two designers at work in their studio, so busy that they are not even looking to camera. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that Davies has considered the composition closely. Instructions for what the designers and photographer could or couldn’t do had most probably been discussed before the session started. The focal point is neither of the designers, but instead a closed loop of plywood hanging from a screw on the wall. This is no coincidence, of course, as this piece of material is an early prototype of the bending and bonding process of Barber and Osgerby’s first product: the Loop table, produced by Isokon Plus. As the book’s essay on the Loop Table explains, this product became central to the designers’ development. Although both studied architecture at the Royal College of Art in London, it was this particular table that moved them into the realm of furniture and product design. As Scholze’s text reveals, the table was released in 1996 and then served as the centrepiece of an exhibition stand that Barber and Osgerby created for Wallpaper* in 1997. It was there that the Italian producer Giulio Cappellini first saw their work and asked if he could start producing the table with his eponymous company Cappellini. In 1998, when the picture was taken, the Loop Table’s significance to the designers was well-known. It’s fitting that Davies makes it the first thing you look at.

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their Trellick Tower studio, photographed by Kevin Davies in 1998.

Photograph by Kevin Davies.

On page 22 of the new book Barber Osgerby Projects by Jana Scholze, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, is a photograph of Barber and Osgerby. In it, Osgerby looks up from his desk and seems deep in thought. Meanwhile, Barber is on the landline, jotting something down in his notepad. The caption reveals that it was shot in their then-workspace – flat 167 in Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, London, in 1998 – two years after they founded their studio. Turning to the image credits, you learn that the photographer is Kevin Davies, a London-based practitioner who has since become well-known for capturing designers at work, dedicating, for example, a whole book to images of the milliner Philip Treacy in his studio. While film directors, fashion designers and musicians often have their portraits scrutinised and analysed (just consider the many posts on Beyoncé’s Instagram pregnancy portrait by Awol Erizku earlier this year), readings of how designers portray themselves or are portrayed are virtually non-existent. If we consider the purpose of such portrayals – as a promotional document of a person or studio often for use in magazines – this might not be so surprising. They are a fairly throw-away material, there to support a particular text and a specific moment. Similarly, they are often executed again and again, given that most magazines wish to have their own unique photography of the same subject or context. This practice has led to a never-ending treadmill of image-generation, of which Disegno is as guilty as anyone else. But what does it all add up to? What are these specially commissioned images outside of the context of a magazine or a press release

Review


Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their Trellick Tower studio Words Johanna Agerman Ross

As Barber and Osgerby releases its third book, Disegno takes a closer look at a portrait of the studio’s founders that photographer Kevin Davies captured in 1998.

or a special launch? Even if they are shot by recognised photographers, they more likely than not end up as disposable and get used once. They sometimes find a second life on the portfolio pages on photographers’ websites, eventually generating more of the same for the next client, the next magazine. This particular photograph, however, is not as clear-cut in terms of its purpose. It’s an image that Barber and Osgerby return to again and again, both in presentations and in publications; clearly it’s an important element of the way in which the designers wish to present themselves, and it is therefore fair to analyse it as part of a critical evaluation of their studio. In fact, it’s one of the few images of the duo that is published in Barber Osgerby Projects and it’s by far the most evocative. It seems to hold a certain nostalgia, a story of which the designers themselves are fond, within its composition. And although the picture is now long out-of-date – the studio has moved several times since it was taken, the designers have aged 20 years, and their work and team have expanded significantly – it captures an important moment that hints at both the past, the present and the future. Just as John Berger did with the oil painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein from the 16th century, one can of course read photographs and the objects within them. Berger writes about The Ambassadors: “The painted objects on the shelves between them were intended to supply – to the few who could read the allusions – a certain amount of information about their position in the world.” And although the objects selected to appear in the Barber Osgerby portrait

174

haven’t been subject to the same scrutiny of symbolism, their inclusion is nevertheless significant, as are the many things not included. At first glance, the photograph seems fly-on-the-wall and documentarylike. Davies has simply captured two designers at work in their studio, so busy that they are not even looking to camera. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that Davies has considered the composition closely. Instructions for what the designers and photographer could or couldn’t do had most probably been discussed before the session started. The focal point is neither of the designers, but instead a closed loop of plywood hanging from a screw on the wall. This is no coincidence, of course, as this piece of material is an early prototype of the bending and bonding process of Barber and Osgerby’s first product: the Loop table, produced by Isokon Plus. As the book’s essay on the Loop Table explains, this product became central to the designers’ development. Although both studied architecture at the Royal College of Art in London, it was this particular table that moved them into the realm of furniture and product design. As Scholze’s text reveals, the table was released in 1996 and then served as the centrepiece of an exhibition stand that Barber and Osgerby created for Wallpaper* in 1997. It was there that the Italian producer Giulio Cappellini first saw their work and asked if he could start producing the table with his eponymous company Cappellini. In 1998, when the picture was taken, the Loop Table’s significance to the designers was well-known. It’s fitting that Davies makes it the first thing you look at.

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their Trellick Tower studio, photographed by Kevin Davies in 1998.

Photograph by Kevin Davies.

On page 22 of the new book Barber Osgerby Projects by Jana Scholze, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, is a photograph of Barber and Osgerby. In it, Osgerby looks up from his desk and seems deep in thought. Meanwhile, Barber is on the landline, jotting something down in his notepad. The caption reveals that it was shot in their then-workspace – flat 167 in Ernö Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, London, in 1998 – two years after they founded their studio. Turning to the image credits, you learn that the photographer is Kevin Davies, a London-based practitioner who has since become well-known for capturing designers at work, dedicating, for example, a whole book to images of the milliner Philip Treacy in his studio. While film directors, fashion designers and musicians often have their portraits scrutinised and analysed (just consider the many posts on Beyoncé’s Instagram pregnancy portrait by Awol Erizku earlier this year), readings of how designers portray themselves or are portrayed are virtually non-existent. If we consider the purpose of such portrayals – as a promotional document of a person or studio often for use in magazines – this might not be so surprising. They are a fairly throw-away material, there to support a particular text and a specific moment. Similarly, they are often executed again and again, given that most magazines wish to have their own unique photography of the same subject or context. This practice has led to a never-ending treadmill of image-generation, of which Disegno is as guilty as anyone else. But what does it all add up to? What are these specially commissioned images outside of the context of a magazine or a press release

Review


The proportions and size of the plywood prototype, and the way it’s suspended from the wall, send the mind to another plywood product released more than 50 years earlier – the Leg Splint that Ray and Charles Eames developed for the United States Navy during the Second World War, utilising their experiments with moulding plywood in three directions. This parallel seems less of a coincidence if one casts an eye just to the right of the plywood loop, where there is in fact a photograph of the furniture that Ray and Charles Eames created immediately following the success of the leg splint. The Storage Unit, the LCW chair and the Moulded Plywood Screen form a neat ensemble in the small picture and were all developed with Herman Miller, cementing the Eameses as some of the most influential post-war designers in the world. The explicit connection with such a wellknown design studio and such a significant part of design history is most probably not a coincidence. It’s a sure and certain reference (not to say a confident assumptio) of the pictured pair’s position within the hierarchies of design and the space they wish to inhabit. Below the Loop prototype, on the floor, stands a Flight stool. In 1998, it would have just been produced by Isokon Plus for an interior project that Barber and Osgerby did for the Soho Brewing Company that same year. However, this particular version has a new appendage – the backrest of a plywood desk chair attached to its back. Experimentation with existing forms is a method we can recognise when, later in the book, the development process for the Tip Ton chair for Vitra reveals the same technique of chopping up furniture and recomposing the parts into new forms. It’s a hands-on and active approach that reveals the designers’ deep interest in making. Apart from firmly establishing the duo as furniture and product designers, this central axis of the photograph also serves as an important compositional device, as it allows each of them to inhabit the centre of each half of the picture. They are portrayed as a working duo, but also as individuals, independent of one another but existing in a mutually beneficial symbiosis. The white phone that Barber speaks into, anchored to a landline by a cable

that trails in the foreground, firmly dates the photograph. Bar that, there is nothing that significantly reveals the period of its creation. Barber and Osgerby’s haircuts are fashionably styled in the sort of new-mod look championed by musicians Damon Albarn, Liam and Noel Gallagher, and Ian Brown, but they also look fairly timeless, as do their clothes, which are utilitarian and functional in muted colours. There is a distinct lack of technology in the shot: there are no computers and only the suggestion of the white plastic body of a printer on the left-hand side of the frame. Instead, a document drawer of the type that many architecture firms used to have in their offices takes up the foreground and Osgerby sits at an architect’s drawing table with a pivoting

While film directors, fashion designers and musicians often have their portraits scrutinised and analysed, readings of how designers portray themselves are virtually non-existent. tabletop, all of which carry a certain nostalgia for the role of the designer as a person working with pencil on paper. The iMac, Jonathan Ive’s first product for Apple, came out the same year as the picture was taken and mobile phones were becoming ubiquitous, so it seems unlikely that all modern technology would have been absent from the space. Then again, the pair have maintained a similar set-up to this day. Despite expanding Barber and Osgerby’s team and moving to bigger premises – as well as setting up Universal Design Studio for interior and architecture projects, and Map for industrial-design and branding work – they have continued working side-by-side and often without any technology at first. Talking and sketching still seem to be the starting points for many projects, while the dynamic between the two propels ventures forward. The book’s introduction reveals that the designers describe their studio set-up as a “campus”, comparable to an art-school context, where many disciplines converge. This campus feeling is strongly present in this photo: scattered images on the wall, a series of shots of airplane windows, some alluring graphics and

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a Polaroid of an early Flight stool. It all speaks of creative and open-ended endeavours, and serves as a comfortable backdrop against which an audience can look at design and understand what the job of designing entails. This is what “doing design” looks like. What isn’t clear from the picture, shown in isolation in a book, is how drastically different it was from other contemporaneous portrayals of the profession. Davies’s photograph does not glorify the designers, nor even portray them confidently looking to camera. Rather, they’re aloofly going about their business. The photograph was captured at a time when Photoshop had begun to spread and photographers such as Nick Knight had started to play around with its effects on fashion photography. Björk released albums in which she looked part-robot, part-human; French designer Philippe Starck released a book with Taschen, in which his naked torso was emblazoned with outlines of his most well-known designs; and the American designer Karim Rashid would only appear publicly in pink suits and white spectacles (or vice versa). Therefore, an image of a couple of blokes wearing nondescript clothes and sitting in their studio in a council flat – long before the Trellick Tower got the hipster connotations it has today – was as far away from the image of design as one could get at this particular time. Shot on film, the grain visible, it’s an image that is thoroughly anchored in the tradition of analogue photography. Nowadays, there is a glut of creative-studio shots, existing across printed and digital media. These serve as casual behind-the-scenes snaps in magazines such as Apartamento and websites like Sight Unseen, but the fly-on-the-wall character of Davies’s image – capturing creatives at work, steeped in nostalgia for the tools of their trade – was a good 10 years ahead of its time. Barber Osgerby Projects by Jana Scholze, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby is published by Phaidon (RRP £59.95).


Profile for Disegno

Disegno #17  

Gareth Pugh’s costumes for the Dutch National Opera; an analysis of universal museums at the Louvre Abu Dhabi; a roundtable discussion about...

Disegno #17  

Gareth Pugh’s costumes for the Dutch National Opera; an analysis of universal museums at the Louvre Abu Dhabi; a roundtable discussion about...