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Illustration

A Curious Whale Explores Dry Land in Quirky, Melancholic Illustrations by Xuan Loc Xuan

October 19, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Xuan Loc Xuan, shared with permission

In a whimsical narrative by Xuan Loc Xuan, an adventurous whale named Lucille traverses a bustling urban center, densely populated forest, and other dry-land locales on her search for a new home. The Ho Chi Minh City-based illustrator renders the marine mammal in a range of playful and melancholic scenes, either resting on a bed of flowers or trapped alone in a city as the sun sets. Titled The Whale Gets Stuck, the vivid series chronciles the whale’s journey that’s ripe with nostalgia and longing for her ocean home, a tale Xuan tells in her book Babà la balena in città, which is printed in Italian.

Shop prints of the illustrator’s quirky pieces on Pinlze or at Toi Gallery, and find two of her other children’s books, Giant: A Panda of the Enchanted Forest and Snowy: A Leopard of the High Mountains, on Bookshop. Head to Behance and Instagram to keep up with Xuan’s latest story-based projects.

 

 

 



Design

The Sm;)e Book Celebrates the Decades-Long, Eclectic History of the Smiley Face

October 9, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of DB Burkeman and Rich Browd, shared with permission

From plastic grocery bags to original emojis to household goods and paraphernalia, the yellow smiley face is an iconic mark of modern culture. A new book funding on Kickstarter celebrates the symbol’s decades-long history as it dives into the eclectic uses that range from fine art to graffiti to Hollywood. In 60 pages, The Sm;)e Book compiles work from 70 artists, including Banksy, the Chapman Brothers,  Alicia McCarthy, and James Joyce.

Despite the smiley’s well-known status throughout the mainstream culture, the book is particularly personal to co-creators DB Burkeman and Rich Browd. Burkeman shares with Colossal that his mother was fascinated by the hippie movement and plastered surfaces with smiley face stickers and adorned her clothing with grinning patches and pins. As he grew up and later became a DJ, he noticed the symbol flourishing in the punk and rave scenes as a new kind of countercultural mark. Browd had a similar childhood experience, growing fascinated by the icon in “graffiti, skate graphics, and the Pop Art collection of a wealthy friend’s parents.”

Today, the duo remains enamored with the evolution of the smiley face and its prevalence in seemingly contradictory spaces. “In the history of graphic design, I can think of no other symbol that has ever held such a duality—used simultaneously as both a positive mainstream driver and a counterculture subverter of that very mainstream,” Burkeman writes. He explains further:

Now retired from nightlife and mostly confused by a lot of today’s popular culture, I’ve watched the smiley return with a vengeance. Partly fueled by the prolific use of emojis, but also by the insatiable consumption and recycling of pop culture’s logos and tropes. Today’s youth love and reuse them, regardless of whether the new users know the logos’ origins or not: little girls and celebrities wearing the Thrasher logo who have never read the magazine or skated in their lives, hip-hop kids wearing hair-metal or post-punk band shirts. Does it even matter that they have no idea what these bands sounded like or represented? It’s all part of this strange cultural cannibalism.

Browd and Burkeman are sharing glimpses intoThe Sm;)e Book on Instagram, where you also can follow the collection’s funding progress during the next month. (via It’s Nice That)

 

 

 



History Photography

Eerie Photographs Reveal the Unseen Ruins of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in a New Book

October 6, 2020

Grace Ebert

A tame fox poses in front of the sign pointing the way to Pripyat from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. All images © Darmon Richter/FUEL Publishing, shared with permission

After embarking on both permitted and illegal ventures into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, British writer and photographer Darmon Richter was able to document the ghostly ruins and abandoned structures throughout the hazardous region. He captures eerie Cold War-era relics in a series of mysterious photographs, including a paint-curling mural venerating Soviet heroes and the room where the initial malfunction, which decimated an area now part of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, occurred in 1986. Decades later, the nuclear disaster still is considered one of the worst catastrophes throughout history.

Published by FUEL, Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide encompasses Richter’s unprecedented access to the mysterious zone in its 248 pages. The volume is available from the publisher or for pre-order on Bookshop. Keep up with Richter’s travels on Instagram, and check out his blog for further dives into abandoned history. (via Hyperallergic)

 

Control Room 4, the room where the 1986 disaster originated. Now stripped of many of its fittings and cleaned of dust, it has been declared safe for visitors. Since autumn 2019, the power plant authorities have included it on official tours.

Mural on a residential building, Heroes of Stalingrad Street, Pripyat. This Socialist-realist mural depicts virtuous citizens (a farmer, a firefighter, a police officer, and a Young Pioneer) under a radiant Soviet crest.

Control Room 3, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This room and the associated Reactor 3 remained in use until 1995 when they were put out of service following an agreement with the EU. Now, along with Reactors 1 and 2, it is undergoing a decommissioning process.

202: Control Room 3. The top left of these cube-shaped shielded buttons marked A3-5 – or ‘AZ-5’ – was the ‘scram’ kill switch. This manually operated control would immediately terminate the fission reaction by inserting all the control rods at once. In neighboring Control Room 4, on 26 April 1986 at 1.23.40 a.m., this switch was flicked and a malfunction occurred, causing the meltdown.

Post Office, Pripyat. The mural illustrates the evolution of communication, from stone tablets and scrolls, to mail trains and finally a Soviet cosmonaut.

Izumrudniy’ (‘Emerald’) Holiday Camp, near Chornobyl. Once a popular spot for summer holiday breaks, these rustic wooden chalets, painted with characters from cartoons and fairy tales, were completely destroyed by forest fires in April 2020.

Kindergarten No.7 ‘Zolotoy Klyuchik’ (‘Golden Key’), Pripyat. Discarded artifacts are arranged into unlikely dioramas by visitors.

Abandoned trolleybus, Kopachi, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This highly contaminated village was mostly bulldozed after the disaster. In April 2020 this vehicle was severely damaged by forest fires.

 

 



Photography

A New Volume Compiles Five Decades of the Pudgy, Curious, and Drowsy Pups in Walter Chandoha's Photographs

September 21, 2020

Grace Ebert

Mixed-breed and the photographer’s daughter Maria, Long Island, New York, 1956. All images © Estate of Walter Chandoha, courtesy of Taschen, shared with permission

Dubbed the 20th century’s greatest pet photographer, the late Walter Chandoha was renowned for capturing the unique personalities of furry companions. From black-and-white candid shots to those posed in the studio, Taschen’s new volume, Dogs, compiles five decades worth of capricious, curious, and playful pups. The 296-page book is a sequel to Cats, which similarly collected hundreds of the iconic photographer’s images, and is edited by Reuel Golden.

In his early years, Chandoha served as a combat photographer during World War II. He went on to be prolific across mediums, having written dozens of books and captured more than 225,000 images during his lifetime, many of which were used in magazines and advertisements.

Check out some of our favorite shots of pudgy bulldogs and blue-eyed Weimaraners below, and pre-order a copy of Dogs, which will be released in October, from Taschen or Bookshop.

 

Pugs, Long Island, New York, 1957

Weimaraner, Long Island, New York, 1955

 

 



Design History

A New Book Chronicles the 125-Year History of the Button, Its Design, and Its Role in Cultural Change

September 10, 2020

Grace Ebert

The cover of Button Power. All images © Christen Carter and Ted Hake, shared with permission

If something is “fit for the back of a postage stamp,” it’s generally understood as lacking depth and nuance. A similarly sized object, however, has been upending that saying for 125 years. From political campaigns to punch lines to keepsakes, the button has packed bits of incredibly rich history into just a few inches. “It seems like a niche little object, but it really tells a very general American history,” collector and manufacturer Christen Carter tells Colossal. The wearable item is, in fact, an entry point into the complexities of the past.

Carter recently co-authored the forthcoming book Button Power—which is available for pre-order on Bookshop—with notable dealer Ted Hake, who’s been collecting the objects for around 60 years. Through composed displays and black-and-white photos, the tome delves into the item’s history, spanning its invention in 1896 to contemporary usages. “Early on people were wearing buttons, and mostly it’s a temporary thing. It’s a moment in time,” Carter says. “They connected you to something else. One-hundred-twenty-five years ago, images weren’t as prevalent as they are now.” Button Power compiles a diverse array of notable figures, from Shirley Chisholm and the Ramones to Rube Goldberg and Muhammad Ali, each represented through the wearable item.

 

From the Obama Inauguration 2012

Originally a casual collector, Carter now is responsible for the world’s only museum dedicated to the medium, which is housed in the Chicago-based manufacturer Busy Beaver Button Co. The institution currently boasts more than 40,000 buttons and is accepting donations. Currently, it’s closed because of COVID-19, although a virtual archive of about 9,000 is available to scroll through on its site.

A medium with popularity perpetually in flux, the button has risen and fallen since its creation and notably surged in the 1960s and 1980s as it was used more widely for countercultural movements and protests. Of course, mainstream efforts from political campaigns, public figures, and large-scale events generally still sought out buttons to share their visions. Many of the slogans and broader undertakings of alternative movements that may have evaded popular narratives, however, also are preserved by the object. “It’s a people’s history, too. There are so many things I learned,” Carter notes. One example involved a series centered on transportation. “What is this ‘good road’ stuff about?” she wondered. “I learned that before there was income tax, there was a movement to have infrastructure built.” Telling a story she didn’t learn in school, the buttons offered a glimpse into the advocacy of previous decades.

 

While the manufacturing process and function hasn’t evolved much, the objects’ value has. Carter notes that when they first emerged, people regarded them as collectibles that were prized as a piece of printed matter. Today, they remain a symbol of the wearer’s political affiliations and interests.

Even social media hasn’t eclipsed the ephemeral object. Although the pithy messages and quips prevalent on sites like Twitter function similarly to the sayings of the button, they lack a material presence and are subject to being deleted or lost when a platform folds. The physical item, on the other hand, has a lasting effect. “It creates a momento,” she says. “It’s not something you can as easily forget about like a Tweet or something like that because you’ll come across it in your sock drawer.” They’re also a more intentional medium, Carter notes, due to the design, manufacturing, and distribution processes and the effort those require.

 

From 1981

Overall, buttons are overwhelmingly uplifting, inspiring, or humorous in messaging, even when centered on serious topics or issues. One tells people to “hang in there” while displaying a rendering of a cat clinging to a rope nearby, while another (shown below) simply is emblazoned with the words “I Love Ringo.”  The optimism helps to start the inevitable conversations from a constructive point. “More positive buttons make them more wearable,” she says. “A button you have to stand behind. Where online stuff can be pretty anonymous, there’s something about having some skin in the game.”

Despite the mediums’ changes during the last 125 years, the ability to provoke conversation and inspire change is constant.  “The person-to-person stuff is just so important, and I think it’s something we’re missing. I would love for buttons to help bridge gaps between human beings because I think in the end, we all want a lot of the same things,” Carter adds.

 

From 1964

 

 



History Illustration

A 400-Year-Old 'Friendship Book' Contains Hundreds of Signatures of Historical Figures

August 31, 2020

Grace Ebert

Between 1596 and 1647, art dealer and diplomat Philipp Hainhofer traveled around Europe amassing an incredibly rich collection of signatures in the “Große Stammbuch,”  or “Album Amicorum.” Akin to an autograph book, Hainhofer’s register is replete with the marks of Cosimo II de’ Medici, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, and Christian IV of Denmark and Norway, to name a few. Covered in red velvet, “Album Amicorum” was part of a larger trend to record family, friends, and acquaintances that began in the 16th Century.

Hainhofer compiled the signatures during the course of 50 years, beginning when he was a college student. As he gained religious figures and royalty as clients, he’d ask them to sign his book and commissioned about 100 detailed illustrations to sit alongside. The elaborateness of the illustrations directly corresponds to the signatory’s status and rank in society.

This week The Herzog August Bibliothek purchased the centuries-old tome—which was thought to be lost until it emerged in a London auction in 1931—for about $3.1 million. It’s the library’s second attempt to acquire the historic book after August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lünebur, who was Hainhofer’s friend, failed to buy for the Wolfenbüttel, Germany-based institution in 1648. (via The History Blog)

 

Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II

Left: August II of Braunschweig-Lüneburg , 1613. Right: Ursula Duchess of Württemberg , 1614

Latin poems