Originally published at Mental Floss on Christmas morning 2015. Of the many curious holiday traditions (figgy pudding? wassailing?), one of the oddest has to be spraying down small trees with a mixture of adhesive and cellulose fibers to satisfy our longing for a white Christmas.
That’s what’s happening when you adorn a tree with artificial snow, otherwise known as flocking. And yet, when decorated and lit up, there’s something beautiful and warmly nostalgic about a well-flocked Christmas tree. Here’s how professionals manufacture this Christmas miracle. Read More
Originally published on Blue Ant, August 31, 2015.
Victorian English literature is filled with angst about what chaos lies behind proper and unassuming exteriors. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow says Brussels always reminds him of a “whited sepulchre,” a biblical reference to hypocrisy by which things “appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
William Gibson’s London puts a psychedelic twist on this notion, with all manner of sinister weirdness lying in wait behind plain facades. This is most true in Cabinet, the hotel and private club that serves as home base for our heroes in Zero History.
Cabinet is “(h)alf the vertical mass of an eighteenth-century townhouse, one whose facade reminded her of the face of someone starting to fall asleep on the subway,” with the interior decor “ragingly, batshit insane.” Read More
Originally published on Mental_Floss, Dec. 24, 2014. For a short window in the 1960s, aluminum Christmas trees gleamed in living rooms nationwide—but this glorious, glittering reign would be all too brief. Within the decade, they were relegated to the curb as aesthetic tastes shifted. But nostalgia has fueled an aluminum tree renaissance in recent years. Here's a brief history. Read More
Originally published at Curbed on June 18, 2014.
Due to plummeting enrollment and a troubled district, vacant school buildings—heck, just vacant buildings—are none too rare in Detroit. After 19 years of abandonment, the Nellie Leland School, however, is no longer vacant—it, as abandoned urban buildings are want to do, is back in session as condos. When it first opened in 1919, vacancy was far from anybody's mind; in fact, demand was so high that it had a waiting list for admittance, and two years after opening had to build an expansion that more than tripled its enrollment. The reason Leland was such hot property? It has little to do with the economy, and everything to do with the fact that it was the first opportunity most local students with disabilities had for a public education. Read More
First published in American Forests magazine spring/summer 2014. |
In the 1820s, America's cities had a problem: People kept dying, and church burial grounds were filling up. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased. This “rural cemetery,” or “garden cemetery,” movement not only temporarily solved the problem of where to put the dead, but it also gave us the nation’s very first parks.
Over the decades, cemeteries fell out of vogue as cultural centers, but their fall from favor was not to be permanent. Today, the practice of using cemeteries for outdoor recreation is bubbling up once more, as urban dwellers seek out nature in the city. Read More
Originally published on Futures Exchange. | Imaginative minds are exploring some strange and audacious solutions to our worst environmental problems. They are not, however, for the faint of heart, particularly if you have a strong attachment to the human body as it currently exists.
Biologists have already been toying with the idea of engineering endangered species to make them more resilient, or even resurrecting certain extinct species. But there’s a set of artists and scholars taking the concept of green bioengineering much further, imagining new species of synthetic, beneficial creatures and even biologically modified humans that leave a lighter footprint on the planet. Read More
| Essay originally published on Futures Exchange, via Medium, on October 22, 2013.
Bill McKibben was firing up a rally of climate activists in Cambridge, Mass., this past summer in preparation for a protest and mass arrest at one of the state’s coal-fired power plants:
“The message we need to keep sending all the time is, there is nothing radical about what we’re asking,” he said. “All we’re asking for is a world that works the way the one we were born into worked. That’s not radical. That’s actually kind of conservative.”
This is a shrewd point, and just one part of a pretty powerful overall talk, but as an environmentalist, I found the sentiment troubling. If the green movement’s rallying cry is to keep the world the way it was when we were born, isn’t it fairly doomed? Sounds like a stodgy, if not pointless cause. I would argue that, for environmentalism to stay vital in decades to come, it’s going to have to stop being so resistant to change, and dive into a far more imaginative conversation of what our future might hold. Read More
Originally published in Souciant Magazine on December 12, 2012. The back cover and spine of Punk: An Aesthetic are almost entirely white, with a clean, black typeface. Seen from a distance on a bookshelf, it could be any modern art book. But the front cover — punk cartoonist Gary Panter’s illustration of the singer for The Screamers — is another matter, a large, low-quality print of a black-and-white face fixed in what looks like a scream of rage, befitting the book’s innards.
Look inside and you’ll see a riot of images: hand-scrawled political rants, shredded clothing, swastikas, pornography, violent photomontage and hundreds of others from the 1970s punk movement. That screaming face on the front cover gives you the feeling the content inside doesn’t want to be contained. Read More
An underground comic book artist at heart, it’s clear that Adrian Tomine isn’t quite comfortable in the role of highbrow magazine illustrator. And a Sacramento-born Californian at heart, he isn’t entirely comfortable identifying as a New Yorker either. And yet, he’s achieved a great deal of notoriety and success as both. Tomine (pronounced toh-mi-neh) just finished a book tour in support of his new collection of beloved illustrations for The New Yorker from the past decade. While he’s spent the greater part of his career focused on his excellent comic Optic Nerve since he was a high school zinester, the overwhelming majority of attention his work receives is in response to his body of work as an illustrator for the esteemed (let’s face it, worshipped) The New Yorker magazine. Read More
How do you camouflage an inflatable mylar drone in the shape of a penguin? You really can’t, but for the climax of Zero History, one character opts for a disruptive paint job known as “dazzle” as a way to break up its gestalt.
“The result wouldn’t conceal the penguin against any background at all, particularly the sky, but broke it up visually, made it difficult to read as an object.”
Dazzle, or “razzle dazzle” is a form of camouflage invented in World War I by British artist and naval officer Norman Wilkinson. The Royal Navy, unable to conceal its ships, went for something altogether different by painting them with loud, irregular black-and-white patterns. The result was a floating Picasso, certainly visible, but hard to make out its size, shape and speed. German submarines needed to know all three to successfully calculate a hit with a torpedo, so turning British ships into a series of discordant shapes did a far better job of protecting them than trying to make them blend into their surroundings. Read More