Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baltimore Street Art

St. John (2010). By Gaia.

My latest "Letter from Baltimore" post for the Metropolis Web site profiles street artist, Gaia.

Baltimore, like most urban environments, is lousy with graffiti. The culture of tagging is well established here. Street art, though, is just starting to take off. In the last few years, wheat-pasted posters and hand-painted imagery have been popping up on abandoned buildings, sidewalks, and light poles. These works of art—and these are art—evoke the likes of Banksy and Swoon, with subject matter that arrests us in our daily travels and reminds us to again see and question the city we occupy. READ MORE HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Material Girl

Felt Bag designed for the ICFF booth

Congratulations to Inna Alesina, industrial designer and teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and her students for taking the editor's pick at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this weekend. Inna and her students were selected as one of just four colleges and universities to have a booth at ICFF and of those four, they were selected as the favorite. This year's ICFF Editors Awards Committee was quite distinguished: Arlene Hirst, Anniina Koivu of Abitare, Jessica Johnson of Azure, Stefano Casciani of Domus, Sam Grawe of Dwell, Gilda Bojardi of Interni, Chantal Hamaide of Intramuros, Susan S. Szenasy of Metropolis, Benjamin Kempton of Wallpaper*.

Alesina, who is the co-author with Ellen Lupton of the new book Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects, worked with students to make basic materials from scratch. It was a low-tech approach to understanding the true nature of material. For the bag pictured above, student Sunny Chong made her own felt. Here's how she explains the process:

The felting process requires pressure, water, and friction to transform wool fibers into a compact nonwoven textile. According to the legend of Saint Clement and Saint Christopher, the men packed their sandals with wool to prevent blisters. At the end of their journey, the movement and sweat had turned the wool into felt socks. We packed wool with water and soap in large zipped bags and attached it to the car seat. After several days of driving while sitting on this bag, the wool got felted. This process can create any flat object. We chose to show a bag as an example. This project is about journey-made objects: the two saints travelled by foot, we travel while sitting on our butts. The result can be very similar.
Click here to read what writer Michael Silverberg of Metropolis had to say about the exhibition.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

As You Like It

On a bulletin board in my office I've tacked a postcard given to me by a good friend several years ago. Blue and black block print on heavy card stock, it was produced near Stratford-on-Avon in England where my friend sometimes travels. The front includes a quote from Shakespeare's As You Like It.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

It is Shakespeare at his pastoral best. Safe from the perils of urban life, those in exile find redemption in the natural. "Here, the corruptions of life at court are left behind in order to learn the simple and valuable lessons of the country," explains one literary guide to the work.

Escape to the woods for enlightenment. Retreat to the country.

I am reading a new memoir from a talented writer and she describes leaving New York post 9/11 and heading for the hills, so to speak. A simpler life away from the city. A place to slow down and mine the inner world.

I live in one of a cluster of modest stone homes built in the 1840s to house workers for the then-thriving mills of Baltimore. Back then the nearby Jones Falls River rushed from its source in the mountains of western Maryland, down through the plains and over the geologic break called the fall line, creating rapids before ultimately emptying into the Patapsco River. A few industrious men created a mill district along the banks, capturing the mighty flood to drive the equipment inside their factories. They fabricated cotton sailcloth for the famous Baltimore Clippers, the speedy and nimble ships that outwitted the British during the War of 1812. My street is named for the mill race, the canal created to divert the water to the mill wheel.

Now the Jones Falls is a polluted trickle, damned and rerouted, covered in places. A red sign on its shoreline reads "Danger. Polluted Water. Keep Out."

Today I took a walk to watch the water. There is a platform, built by a developer a few years back, that allows you to sit perched at the water's edge, hovering over a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. The manmade grabs my attention first. The graffiti on the benches, the plastic bottles bucking about in the water's froth, a mylar balloon—long deflated—caught in the branches of a tree.

Then I hear the birdsong. And see a flash of red. A cardinal. Upstream, a male and a female duck move with the current, floating side by side like an old married couple taking a stroll. Across the falls, a gray bird suddenly distinguishes himself from the concrete retaining wall behind him. His head is white and black, and he looks like a small heron of some sort. The bird is rapt, staring at the water. He looks like he might be stalking something and then, suddenly—was it five minutes, was it 15?—he takes off in flight and follows the river downstream.

The yin and the yang of rural and urban. Nature spoiled by man. This is no pristine wood, this is no pastoral sanctuary. The public haunts of man are everywhere; the corruptions that Shakespeare illuminated are palpable. There is something valuable, though, in not retreating from that. I could seek my Walden, but for now I stay rooted here intent on learning the lessons to be found by not running from the city.