Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for “art”

Inspecting Indian Vogue

VogueIndiaCover

As I was shedding my last bunch of rupees at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi, I quickly snagged a copy of Vogue India to read on the plane. I was curious to see how different it felt from the American version, especially after spending two weeks crisscrossing Northern India.

One thing I’d been warned about before arriving is that women on the street do not – I mean DO NOT – wear the kind of revealing clothing that you see in Bollywood films. Head to toe covering is the standard; even short sleeves are pretty rare. Even when it’s hot. Scorching hot.

Billboards and TV ads in India reflect the bodacious Bollywood ideal, but I can’t recall seeing anybody dress like that in even the glitziest restaurants and hotels in Delhi.

Much of the recommended clothing in the editorial portions of the magazine also defied street conventions, including shorts, short skirts, form-fitting or whisper thin dresses (a big no no, I was told), and long skirts (OK) with equally long slits (absolutely not OK). There was also a gorgeous swim suit spread, but I had to wonder: where in India could they be worn? As far as I could tell, Western-style hotel swimming pools would be the only acceptable place.

Similar to American Vogue, the Indian version featured profiles of successful women, including a comedienne, a radical novelist, and a slough of Indian art collectors in Dubai. The issue had a very global feel – it was, for instance, the first place I glimpsed Adidas’ fresh new World Cup garment collection, which they concocted in collaboration with The Farm Brand, a Brazilian fashion label.

I wasn’t surprised by the insane number of jewelry ads; women in India are often not allowed to have bank accounts or real estate assets, but the jewelry is often all theirs (check out this NPR piece about Indian women’s obsession with gold). Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion & Originality on the TED Radio Hour

TEDRadioHour

Guy Raz interviewed me about the culture of copying in the fashion industry in what he called “maybe our best show ever.” During the TED Radio Hour, we discussed the cult of originality and the fashion industry’s constant creative incursions into the archives of fashion. The show also includes Steven Johnson on where ideas come from; Mark Ronson on sampling in the music industry and Kirby Ferguson on the ubiquity of remixing. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Tracking “Culture”

culturetrack

I’ve been ODing on data about the arts and culture sector lately, participating in an event at the NEA and another at Disney Hall last week (you can watch the video here). I think that the arts are seriously undervalued in the U.S. and so I’m always looking for data that helps us better understand how and why humans are attracted to certain melodies, visuals and stories, and what they think they’re accomplishing when they settle into a cushy seat to soak up an opera, a ballet or a  concert.

At Disney Hall, a packed house heard top line results from Culture Track, a 13-year tracking survey of arts and culture audiences in the U.S. There’s a huge amount of data here: the 2014 survey (you can download a report) includes responses from over 4,000 people in all 50 states who are “culturally active” – they already attend some array of museums, theaters, music, dance or opera programs.

I’d say the big take-away for me is that arts audiences are not particularly loyal to arts institutions any more – they’re loyal to their own taste. Instead of subscribing to a museum or a theater, they prefer to pick and choose from the options available. Arthur Cohen, who presented the findings, described audience members as “culturally promiscuous:” they’ll have a good night at a theater and then never call for a second date.

I think that new media plays a big role in this sea change. People who use the Internet (and a vast majority of this group does) have become accustomed to seeking out what interests them rather than sitting back and being told what they might like. And so one thing you see in the Culture Track report is that attendance is down, people are going less frequently, but they are visiting a wider array of cultural offerings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Measuring the Impact of Art

audience

Last week I attended a high-caliber symposium co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the UK’s Cultural Value Project. They brought together a dizzying array of researchers (demographers, cognitive scientists, arts policy wonks, “recovering” academics, etc.) to discuss how we ought to measure participation in arts and culture on the local, regional, national and global scale.

“Participation” and “engagement” are key metrics for arts institutions and their funders. But the inquiry often ends right there. I think the vast majority of people in the arts – including artists and administrators – take it as a given that art has a beneficial effect on society. I happen to agree with them. Wholeheartedly. But many powerful people in this world – including those who hold the purse strings – are not necessarily convinced. Funding for the arts is paltry compared to expenditures on science, where, lo and behold, we have a lot of convincing evidence about the importance it holds for humanity. Read the rest of this entry »

Myth Girls & the Art of Making Books

For several years now, I have been on the board of an experimental literary press where we have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to keep the printed book vibrant and alive. At Les Figues Press, we decided to publish books in unique dimensions and we coupled each author’s work with the visual work of another artist, hoping against hope that the resulting physical object would convince even the most cyber-savvy readers to purchase our special little hunks of pulverized tree.

So I contantly keep my eyes peeled for efforts to revitalize interest in the printed book. My most recent encounter with an inspiring innovation was in Medellin, Colombia, where the intrepid forces behind Proyecto Liquido – a group that explores the overlapping territory in fiction, art, science and technology – had transformed an online short story published 18 years ago into a surprisingly layered tactile experience.

With a black rubberized cover (not unlike the one on my iPad), Kij Johnson’s Chicas Miticas (Myth Girls) feels more like a machine than a book.  Everything inside is dual: from the bilingual translation (Spanish and English) to the double-sided format (the book is basically composed of two pamphlets facing one another). While one side is devoted to a disturbing tale about the terrible cost of freedom, the opposite renders the story into sleek, hyper-polished illustrations by Oscar Gonzalez, one of the five collaborators who transformed Johnson’s story into this unique material object.

If the book were simply illustrated, and bound in this surprising way, it would have been arresting enough. But three pages into the lushly animated version of this stark tale, you finally see a depiction of the main character, but only from behind, and rendered on vellum, so that you can see her ghost-like presence in two inhuman vistas, extended by a trifold. A few pages further in, you reach the material heart of the work, where lush illustrations bleed into layered vellum inserts and – I kid you not – a ripped quilted jacket is sewn directly onto the page. Read the rest of this entry »

When Life Meets Art: Dinah Lenney at TEDxUSC

One of my favorite performances at TEDxUSC this year was by the actress and writer Dinah Lenney, who explored the connections between life and art. I can’t help but think that her training as an actress has made her a bit more sensitive than the average writer is about the “reality” of fiction and the visceral connections it forges between representation and material existence. Through a series of poignant and funny tales, Lenney explains why it is that she is more awestruck by a painting of a tree than the tree itself. To her, it’s the human intervention, the longing to capture in art something that simply occurs in nature, that gives her a sense of awe.

I was reminded of Jean Baudrillard‘s infamous formulation of the simulacrum: he argued that a really compelling representation of something (a picture of a sunset, for instance) may all too easily become the primary referent for the real thing (e.g., the actual sunset). Whenever you find yourself saying, “Hey! That looks just like a postcard!” then you have become subject to the allure of the simulacrum. But while Baudrillard bemoans the dehumanizing aspects of this displacement — this re-placement, as it were — Lenney celebrates it. She sees how important the witnessing of that sunset actually is: a human tried to tell us about it through a postcard, and the message was received.

Viva la simulacra!

Core 77 Design Awards

I’m really excited to be a judge for the Core77 Design Awards this year. The marvelous Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder and Vice President of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design,  is our jury chair for the Educational Initiatives category. The deadline is April 10, 2012: so submit now!

This year’s program presents 17 categories of entry, providing designers, researchers and writers a unique opportunity to communicate the intent, rigor and passion behind their efforts. The top professional and student entries receive the Awards trophy and the opportunity to attend a celebration in New York City, and all honorees will be published in the Awards Gallery, across the Core77 online network and in the awards publication. Early registrants receive a limited-edition 2012 poster designed by Studio Lin.

The Internet Knows What You Want

When Juliet Webster, a professor at the Open University of Catalunya, shared this cartoon with me, I couldn’t get over how well it captures the calculated, seductive power of the Internet. Like the most effective femme fatale, the Internet is increasingly optimized to give us what we want . . . even when we didn’t know we wanted it.

Oh what I’d give for an essay by Lacan on desire and recommendation engines . . .

Mash-Ups in Fashion, Music & Literature

Mashup Compilation from Eduard Minobis on Vimeo.

When I think about mash-ups, I can’t help but think about Julia Kristeva and her notion of intertextuality.

The term has been used in many, many different ways since she first coined it, but, quite generally, she was using it to talk about literature and the way that it exists within not only a network of language but a network of texts. Every text, even something you wrote on a sticky note, is in dialogue with the entire linguistic system – you’ve just selected a few words from that system. Those words, of course, are weighted with meaning: they have a long history of being used by lots of other people, for lots of different purposes – both constructive and nefarious.

Now a literary text – something that’s trying to assert or achieve the status of a cultural object that deserves a reader’s consideration (something more refined than your sticky note) – is part of a network of language and also a network of previous texts. Kristeva was very interested in how it is that the meaning of a piece of literature is produced in the mind of a reader, who cannot help but situate their understanding of that text in a larger context, one that includes what they’ve read before and what the writer is both self-consciously and unconsciously referencing.

If you think about it, the process of writing anything could be described as the process of sampling. Read the rest of this entry »

Haute Couture & Haute Cuisine

I’m certainly not the first to point out the similarities between haute couture – rarefied apparel that no normal person would have an occasion to wear – and haute cuisine – exquisitely prepared food that costs a fortune and simply disappears by evening’s end. This last July, the French Ministry of Culture sponsored a posh event at the Palais Royale that celebrated two of France’s most respected exports: in justifying the dual focus, organizers argued that

Though the raw materials may be different, artisans in both trades must master techniques, a “savoir-faire
and possess a vision to reach the height of their craft . . .

But most foodies and fashionistas don’t realize that there’s an even more elemental connection between cuisine and fashion: neither have a great deal of copyright protection.

In my research on the role that copyright plays in the fashion industry, I came across a few articles mentioning the similarity between recipes – which cannot be copyrighted – and fashion designs, which don’t qualify either. I thought it was fascinating that such creative industries managed to innovate and stay fresh even though fashion designers and chefs have no control over the appropriation of their work by others. The same cannot be said of painters, sculptors, photographers, graphic designers, musicians or writers.

So, as a foodie and a fashion lover, I was delighted to be invited to a unique conference in Barcelona, co-sponsored by Telefónica, Spain’s most prominent telecommunications company, and the El Bulli Foundation, Ferran Adrià’s effort to perform cutting edge research about food and innovation. Gastronomy & Technology Days (check out the Twitter hashtag #gastrotechdays) brought together an incredibly diverse international group of writers, researchers, software engineers and hard-core food bloggers to discuss the intersection of food and technology.

The talks were occasionally mind-bending (e.g., “Hacking the Food Genome”) and participant Rachael McCormack tweeted that the conference was “like TED but with better coffee.” Video will be available soon I’m told, but until then, I thought I’d lay out some of the key points from my keynote speech about the similarities between fashion and food. Read the rest of this entry »

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