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Animation History Illustration

An Exhibition Unearths Rare Production Drawings from the Futuristic Neo Tokyo of the Anime Classic ‘Akira’

June 9, 2022

Grace Ebert

Akira, cut #1, Final production background detail, Toshiharu Mizutani, poster color on paper, 93 x 53 centimeters. All photos from AKIRA (Movie), based on the graphic novel AKIRA by Katsuhiro Otomo. First published by Young Magazine, Kodansha Ltd. © MASH • ROOM / AKIRA COMMITTEE, shared with permission

Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 sci-fi classic Akira has had an unparalleled influence on anime and film, and an exhibition at the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin showcases the original drawings that brought its futuristic cyberpunk setting to life. Akira – The Architecture of Neo Tokyo features 59 production backdrops, layouts, concepts, and image boards, many of which have never been shown publicly. The collection includes now-iconic works by art director Toshiharu Mizutani and collaborators Katsufumi Hariu, Norihiro Hiraki, Shinji Kimura, Satoshi Kuroda, Hiromasa Ogura, Hiroshi Ōno, Hajime Soga, Tsutomu Uchida, and Takashi Watabe.

Otomo first released the dystopian story as a manga series in 1982 before turning it into the highly influential action film a few years later. The narrative follows characters Shōtarō Kaneda, the telekinetic Tetsuo Shim, and their friends, who navigate the imagined Japanese metropolis of Neo Tokyo with its neon streetlights, crumbling infrastructure, and unrelenting post-apocalyptic vibe.

Ahead of the exhibition, curator Stefan Riekeles also released the book Anime Architecture: Imagined Worlds and Endless Megacities. The volume contains fantastic scenes from various animated classics including Ghost in the Shell and Metropolis. You can see Akira – The Architecture of Neo Tokyo through September 4, and according to It’s Nice That, the show might travel to London next.

 

Akira, pattern no. 182, final production background, Toshiharu Mizutani, poster color on paper, 55 x 42 centimeters

Akira, pattern no. 2211, final production background, Hiroshi Ohno, poster color on paper, 50 x 36 centimeters

Akira, pattern no. 2204, picture board, Toshiharu Mizutani, poster color on paper, 25 x 35 centimeters

Akira, pattern no. 700, final production background Toshiharu Mizutani, poster color on paper, 26 x 37 centimeters

Akira, pattern no. 214, final production background, Toshiharu Mizutani, poster color on paper, 25.5 x 37 centimeters

 

 



Art History Science

Interview: Heidi Gustafson Recounts Establishing an Archive Preserving Hundreds of Humanity’s Oldest Art Materials

June 7, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Heidi Gustafson, Early Futures, shared with permission

The word ochre tends to be associated with the warm brownish-yellow color, although it also refers to the physical substance that once removed from the earth, crushed, and combined with liquid, becomes paint. In a new interview supported by Colossal Members, we speak to forager, artist, and researcher Heidi Gustafson, who established the Early Futures Ochre Sanctuary in 2017 and has since amassed hundreds of samples of these pigments.

When you get into the nature of color (akin to tracing food from farm to table), you start to realize color symbolism has a lot of direct, solid foundations in geomorphology. Red that feels “intense or energizing” is often made of 500 million-year-old ancient volcano spew. Yellow that is “sunny” might be ochre made by spring sunlight interacting with microbes to create fresh iron hydroxide. Blue that feels “mournful or spiritual” could be made from vivianite (iron phosphate) forming in dead bodies.

In this conversation, Gustafson speaks about Early Futures, its evolution, and what it’s meant to work with a substance with such a rich and lengthy history. She discusses the multi-sensory and sometimes uncanny nature of her process, the threat the climate crisis poses to the earth’s stores, and how ochre’s legacy reaches far beyond its alluring color.

 

 

 



Art History

Five Prehistoric Cave Drawings Uncovered in Alabama Are the Largest Discovered in North America

May 13, 2022

Grace Ebert

Anthropomorph in regalia, with a rayed circle in the midsection, 0.93 meters tall. All images courtesy of Jan F. Simek, Stephen Alvarez, and Alan Cressler in Antiquity

Hidden in a narrow cavern extending less than two feet from floor to ceiling, five cave drawings are the largest of their kind discovered so far in North America. Three anthropomorphic figures and two rattlesnakes are etched into the mud surface of 19th Unnamed Cave in Alabama—the name is intentionally vague to protect the exact location—with the most sizable glyph measuring nearly 11 feet. The renderings are thought to be from the Early and Middle Woodland prehistoric periods, or between 133 and 433 CE when populations began to shift from primarily nomadic hunting and gathering to settling and establishing agricultural production.

Although the cave is known to house hundreds of Native American drawings, the combination of the small, tight space in this area and the size of the glyphs made it previously impossible for archaeologists to view the works in their entirety. This part of the cave is so limited that even the artists would have had to work on these pieces in segments. Since 2017, though, a research team of Jan F. Simek, Stephen Alvarez, and Alan Cressler has been using photogrammetry, a process that entails capturing overlapping images (approximately 16,000 in this case) and assembling them into a 3D model, to create composites that reveal the full drawings.

The trio published their findings in Antiquity earlier this month with images showing elaborately outfitted figures and diamondback rattlesnakes, a sacred animal to some Indigenous populations that occupied what is now Alabama. Although it’s unclear what exactly these renderings represent, it’s likely that they have a spiritual association:

Native Americans in the Southeast built mounds, by which they could ascend to the spirits of the upper world for religious interaction. Decorated caves represented the opposite: gateways to the worlds below. We know that Native Americans modified their landscapes on very large scales in order to connect the living with the natural and supernatural worlds and to the varied elements of those worlds. The large figures drawn in 19th Unnamed Cave therefore probably represent spirits of the underworld, their power and importance expressed in their shape, size and context.

In addition to the five drawings and smaller sketches of birds and insects, archeologists also found eight pieces of broken ceramics, which are thought to be from five vessels brought into the space. They did not recover any stone tools or bones, meaning the cave was likely used for a limited range of activities. (via Hyperallergic)

 

Enigmatic figure of swirling lines, with a round head at one end and a possible rattlesnake tail at the other, 2.12 meters wide

Anthropomorph in regalia, 1.81 meters tall

A) Coiled serpent figure with head in the center, 0.50 meters in diameter. B) Wasp with head to the left and abdomen to the right, 0.35 meters across. C) Bird, 0.4 meters across. D) Anthropomorphic figure surrounded by swirling lines, 0.20 meters tall

Anthropomorph in regalia, 2.08 meters tall

Serpent figure, 3.3 meters long

The ceiling of 19th Unnamed Cave

 

 



History Photography

Colorized Footage Travels San Francisco’s Market Street Four Days Before the Devastating 1906 Earthquake and Fire

May 3, 2022

Grace Ebert

The Miles Brothers were cinematic trailblazers, who, in 1906, filmed the historic “A Trip Down Market Street.” Traveling from 8th Street to the Embarcadero, the 13-minute journey documents San Francisco’s environment from the perspective of a cable car, showing the busy strip full of horse-drawn carriages and vehicles alongside the buildings and fashions of the time.

What makes the black-and-white footage particularly notable is that it captures the city mere days before that same landscape underwent a massive transformation. A 7.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the California coast in the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, in a shock that was so intense it ignited fires around the city. The original devastation and subsequent blazes killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed 80 percent of San Franciso’s architecture and infrastructure.

A new colorized version of “A Trip Down Market Street” returns to the pre-disaster scene in an incredibly clear and bright view of the city. Restored by NASS, the reimagined footage increases the speed from 15 to 60 frames per second, upgrades the resolution, and adds a soundscape to mimic the noises that residents might have heard around the turn of the century. While adding a creative flourish to historical documentation, NASS’s update offers a glimpse of the city and its people before it was irrevocably altered.

Prelinger Archives, San Francisco has the original 35mm footage, which you can watch on Internet Archive, and visit on YouTube for more of NASS’s restorations. You also might enjoy this footage from 1902 of a “flying train” in Wuppertal, Germany. (via My Modern Met)

 

 

 

 



Animation History Music

A Short Film Collages Chicago’s Past and Present in a Profound Look at the City’s History of Activism

April 19, 2022

Grace Ebert

A palimpsest of history, politics, and art, a short film by Lisbon-based director João Pombeiro is an ode to the Midwest’s largest city and its people. “Chicago” travels across time periods and neighborhoods in a poetic collage of community and culture: cutout photographs of children sit in front of reconstructed streetscapes, animated snippets depict cars from today and decades earlier driving next to each other, and the El runs through the background.

Created as a music video for Lance Skiiiwalker, the layered imagery mirrors the composition, which infuses audio clips from civil rights-era speeches, police sirens, and news broadcasts into Skiiwalker’s otherwise soft, jazzy track. Opening on the South Side and traveling downtown, “Chicago” is a profound, nostalgic consideration of the activism, pride, and compassion that have shaped the city.

Pombeiro frequently works in this style that melds analog and digital, and you can watch more of his films on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Art Craft History Photography

Embroidery Adds Textured Narratives to the Subjects of Flore Gardner’s Stitched Photographs

April 14, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Flore Gardner, shared with permission

With a background in medicine, Edinburgh-based artist Flore Gardner fosters a creative practice that explores the body and its untapped potential. She works in an array of mediums from printmaking and ink-based illustrations to mixed-media installations and fiber, pushing the limits of human anatomy into the realm of the absurd or subversive. No matter the material, each work centers on a primary interest in drawing and utilizes the same techniques and principles that fill the pages of her notebooks.

One of Gardner’s series, titled (Her)Stories, overlays vintage, black-and-white photographs largely sourced from flea markets with vibrant stitches. As the name suggests, the collection focuses primarily on women, and the embroidered elements obscure faces with dense patches, add dimension to a subject’s body, or highlight their figures by drawing a contrast to the backdrop.

Revitalized with color and texture, the portraits and posed group shots take on a new narrative with the artist’s thread drawings and “modify the ‘reality’ of the photos, revealing hidden things underneath (eg. unseen naked bodies under wedding clothes, invisible haloes, hidden thoughts) or on the contrary hiding certain details (threads shroud the inevitably dead figures or ‘ghosts’).” She explains further:

The needle is an instrument for hurting and for healing—a photograph (or human skin) can be damaged by its treatment and simultaneously repaired/recreated. This needle makes hundreds of little holes in each photograph, once a precious object, and these, along with the threads, transform the flat, smooth, untouchable photographic support into a relief surface, which can be touched and even, in a certain way, read like Braille.

Gardner currently is working on a publishing project funded by Creative Scotland and a collaborative performance that will be presented at Edinburgh Fringe this August.

 

 

 

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