stefan sagmeister: the happy show.


Ask any good parent what their ultimate hope is for their child and the answer is usually the same: they want them to be happy. As adults, it’s the beginning of a new year, everyone is back at work and our resolutions – everything that seemed so possible mere weeks ago – are already being tested. While we strive to improve ourselves, in little and large ways, I think that if we distilled all of our resolutions into one succinct, combined, communal wish it would be “I want to be happier.” Don’t all personal roads we yearn to travel really lead to a place where we simply like ourselves more? And that’s why my visit last weekend to Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show at Design Exchange came at exactly the right time.


Sagmeister’s hand-written style lends itself perfectly to the energy of the entire exhibit. It’s more like a note passed in class than a formal letter. We’re not sitting down to study the official manual of happiness; we’re wandering, loosely, through the thoughts of someone that admittedly isn’t any more sure of the answers than we are. But he’s trying – and that’s what matters. From the hands protruding out of the wall offering Sagmeister’s favourite ginger candies (I took one) to the first 14 minutes of his eventual feature length documentary “The Happy Film” (I watched it twice), all of it gleaming in a beckoning coat of sunshine yellow, there was a feeling of wandering, like Alice, into an over-sized handwritten journal with past lessons come to life in a serene, contemplative Wonderland. 


The show is a balance between information and experience. The walls in the first section are covered in stats and figures revealing truths and examining how we, as a society, define the idea of happy and how we all strive to get there. The other aspect is interactive, offering mini-challenges that, in the case of the “Happiness Instructional Card Dispenser” where a card shot out of the wall telling me to text a joke to a number I’d never heard of, don’t really seem to have any goal greater than the fact that you allowed yourself to follow your curiosity and just do it. The “Gumball Personal Happiness Survey”, while delightfully retro, is more than just an easy attempt at interaction. The world’s psychologists do much of their research in the exact same way: they ask. Sagmeister writes “This seemed laughable to me until I learned that when freshly interviewed people were put into an MRI scanner, the data matched neatly. When their family & friends were also questioned, ditto, it all conformed.” (For the record, I took mine from #8.)


And if we could find happiness, what would it look like exactly? As part of crowd-sourcing visual ideas of hand-drawn happy by collecting them at the exhibit and asking for them to be submitted to The Happy Show’s TumblrI just started drawing and didn’t think about it too much. Apparently happiness for me is being on a boat with a husband (sounds about right). That little nugget next to the sail is either a small child or a large dog – haven’t figured that part out yet. Clearly I’m much better at writing about art than drawing it, but my jellyfish (lower right) is pretty bad ass.


At the risk of sounding delusional, I felt like a bit of a kindred spirit with Sagmeister. Creative types probably have some of the same psychological hurdles and the things that obviously resonated enough for him to become part of the show struck me plainly. His explanation behind “Trying To Look Good Limits My Life”, while ironically also an exercise in really good-looking typography, felt like it could have been written by myself had I had the right moment of lucidity to get it out:



But my favourite moment of the entire show was “Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increased My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” In the middle of the room sat a white bicycle on a metal riser, with instructions to ride it. My first thought was that it would be too embarrassing to hop onto a bicycle for an unknown reason in a room full of strangers. Then I asked a Docent if I was really allowed to ride the bicycle (so Canadian of me…) Then, brilliantly, across from the bicycle, I saw that Sagmeister had written: “Every single time I think ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should do that’ and then don’t follow through and actually do it, the uncompleted action creates a little nagging but otherwise empty space in my mind. I’ll also miss out on the satisfying feelings that comes with the completion of a project.”

He caught me! After that, there was no way I could live without getting on the damn bicycle. So I rode, and as I did the unlit matrix of neon tubing, in four simple phrases, taught what for me was the most significant insight of the day:


If you don’t feel uncomfortable sometimes, you’re not doing anything worth doing. Lesson learned. It happened so simply and the sensation of realizing it so implicitly was a bit like getting up too quickly and seeing stars. I had one of those moments that you stop after and say to yourself “try to remember this.” It was fulfilling and invigorating and as I walked out of the exhibit onto the street I felt something palpable and tangible and easily defined. I was happy.

The Happy Show runs until March 3, 2013 at Design Exchange.

matt pyke & friends: super-computer-romantics.

Any time Matt Pyke is about to release new work feels like Christmas Eve. My favourite digital artist and motion designer ever, Matt’s simply unbeatable at creating innovative, organic and jaw-dropping work for his own studio, Universal Everything, and some of the world’s biggest brands. (You may have heard of them: Nike, Chanel, Nokia, MTV and the London 2010 Olympics. Whatever. NBD.) He’s also the mastermind behind my favourite motion design project ever, the inimitable Advanced Beauty. If you haven’t seen it, get it. Buy it. Find it. Watch it. It’ll change your life.

One of my fave facets of Matt’s work is how it never seems forced or even “created” – somehow it feels like everything he does (“organic digital” is what I like to call it) just comes into being. It flows as easily as if it washed up on a shore or floated in on a breeze. Plus I’ve emailed with Matt a few times and he’s also a really stand-up guy and a class act all around.

In his first ever solo show, Matt’s taking over Paris’ La Gaîté Lyrique with Super-Computer-Romantics. Guest-curated by Charlotte Leuozon and with sound design by Matt’s brother and frequent collaborator, Simon, the exhibition features 8 separate environments covering more than 26,000 square feet. Pyke says “The approach is one of a romantic view of technology and of really kind of being optimistic about what you can do with technology and how you can create beauty with super-computers, how you can create pieces of video work and pieces of audio-visual work.”

Reading La Gaîté Lyrique’s extensive info on the event, I started to get light-headed and giddy: “Here, a 3 meters high walking monster, endlessly transforming itself. There, a monolithic block invites viewers to peek into a singular experience – witness the birth of materials at a molecular level. On the mezzanine, stands a crowd of generative living sculptures, grown from code. Facing them, a huge projection of a never-ending procession of bodies, struggling against a hurricane of sound. Each piece can be considered a supercomputing beauty seeking emotional sensations and feelings whose magic breaks with rational functionalism. Remixing primitivism, minimalism, pop culture and 19th century landscape painting, the exhibition Matt Pyke & Friends takes us to a romantic theatricality reaching a subtle and meaningful relationship between technologies and the viewer.”

Opening this Thursday and running until May 21, 2011, the show will also feature a full-sized theatre screen with a retrospective of all of Pyke’s commercial and artistic work to date as well as a public lecture, from Matt himself, on the subject of “creation.”

Getting me all hot and bothered for the upcoming show, today Nowness debuted a stunning teaser vid for “Supreme Believers”, one of the installations from Super-Computer-Romantics. The Universal Everything Vimeo channel has also released a teaser for the exhibition. Both are classic Pyke and I want more, more more.

Here’s a video of Matt himself talking about his vision for the exhibition (and giving some visual glimpses into what he’s got planned). 

I need to see this show. I NEED IT. If anyone would like to take me to Paris to see Super-Computer-Romantics, I’m not above begging. I’m a pretty decent conversationalist, I sleep well on planes and I know some French. I’ve also never met an escargot that I didn’t like. Just putting that out there.

If you want more Matt Pyke (and why wouldn’t you), here are past posts on Forever, a video installation for the Victoria & Albert Museum; the new brand identity they created for MTV International; their gorgeous 2010 reel; and here’s one of Universal Everything’s most recent works, a series of digital installations for Chanel:

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+ via @universalevery

félix gonzález-torres: portrait of ross.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the different ways people try to attribute “value” to art. If something looks complicated to make, then more people seem more easily willing to accept its worth. A still life, for example, or hyper-realistic drawing; things that not everyone can easily do. Then there’s the shallow judgment of the “my kid could paint that” crowd, the anti-Pollocks, operating on the assumption that because something, at first glance, appears simple that there’s no way that a deeper meaning could possibly make it more complex.

For me, the visual layer of art is just that: a layer. It’s a facet of a whole. And like any thing where that whole is greater than the sum of its parts, there is an entire other realm of art where it’s the intention and meaning, and not necessarily the immediate visual complexity, that make a piece unforgettable.

Félix González-Torres‘ “Portrait of Ross” is exactly that type of work.

This is as much a pile of candy as Warhols are pictures of soup cans and Rothkos are blocks of colour. This is a statement on the loss of love so profound that I broke into tears when I first read about it.

González-Torres was a Cuban-born sculptor and installation artist who worked in New York City in the 80s and early 90s. He was part of the “process art” movement, where the experience of creating and re-creating a work is as intrinsic a part of it as the “finished” product (part of the ideal being that, really, the piece can never be finished as its intent is to constantly re-create itself).

Ross Laycock was Félix’s partner, and when he was diagnosed with HIV his doctor set his ideal weight at 175 pounds. “Portrait of Ross” is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy set in a pile. The candy is unguarded, the purpose being for the viewer to take some of it from the mound. Each and every day, the remaining candy is removed, weighed, and more is added until it weighs exactly 175 pounds. Then it’s set back out again.

The candy is both a representation of Ross’ physical weight and a metaphor for the very best and worst of his struggle with AIDS. As the disease takes away, the person’s size may dwindle, but the weight of the spirit – the intent to remember and replenish, the power to celebrate – brings it back each morning.

To me this is meaning so pure and exquisitely expressed that I take it thoroughly personally. Being handed this sort of raw offering, Félix’s life becomes mine. I’ve been entrusted by him to help share the memory of his partner. And in doing so, my love becomes his. His loss becomes mutual. How else to try and explain to another person, who’s never met your love, the weight and importance of their being; all the things that you’d loved about them but which are impossible to relate without a universal measure that we both can adhere to?

I put myself in his place and wonder how I would possibly convert the best of things about someone I love into terms we’d both understand: the lumens of light held in their eyes; the decibles of their morning whisper; the pressure of their hand on your back; the groundspeed of their walk.

…Or their exact weight in a pile of candy. The heaviness that represents everything they are and ever were – every molecule, every scar. True, the soul is intangible and only encapsulated in the body for a time, but there’s no way to deny the meaning of the body as the vessel of all that the soul contains.

I think that here the value can be determined not by the skill it takes to pile candy in a corner – to evaluate “Portrait of Ross” like that would be intentionally small-minded. Here the value is not just in the experience shared, but in the sacrifice for González-Torres to share his most intimate pain. The immense strength of the human soul, not brush to canvas or hand to clay, is the genesis here.

I think of the holes life leaves us with and how we try to fill them. Some days we succumb to the smallest parts of ourselves and let them be filled with sadness. Some days we find the bravery to try to fill them with joy. With memories of light and moments so special and sweet that to recall them is a feeling not unlike the crinkle of remembrance, like pastel-dipped cellophane, untwisting itself within us like the opening of a piece of candy.

To me it speaks to the ways we try, and fail, to hold ourselves together. And when you need help there can be a polite request to take your own loved one and pass their memory into the collective consciousness. A never-ending public memorial. Not grand or tangible or even physically permanent in any way, just as our bodies are not, but just as our souls are: translucent, mercurial, airy, travelling. With every person who carried a piece of candy home, so went a  precious piece of memory and a transferral of duty. All humans remember those who we loved who are gone. And with this work, Félix asks us to help remember them both. We remember for those who cannot.

Life is not fair, but true love is. And when we celebrate it, a moment in the pale shadow of its grace brings us together.  Even strangers are more connected, and we are closer to each other and elevated to a purer version of ourselves.

Ross died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1991, as did Félix in 1996. Though I never met them, never knew of either during their lifetime, their lives have led to a story that has changed mine forever. I am different for “Portrait of Ross” having existed, and I will never forget them.

Via Now My Butt Hurts

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abstract:groove: building urban motion.

Milanese design and production shop abstract:groove created this amazing temporary outdoor video installation on the side of  of the Hotel St. George, in Viale Tunisia, Milan.

Described by the creators as “an audiovisual experiment of perceptive transformation in architecture, through abstract narration, which will show the building as a screen and protagonist simultaneously. Imagine the façade of a building could have a brain and a conscience; consequently it could sleep and dream. Imagine that these surreal forms of life have a characteristic to let loose, during the REM sleep period, a visible transposition of their dreams.”

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Via No Fat Clips!

robert seidel: vellum.

German animator, motion designer, and artist Robert Seidel is one of my all time faves. For me, he mixes the organic with the technologic in way no one else does. It’s like retro-futurist, his work often feels like a highly-advanced digital society remembering or re-interpreting the biological. His stuff is so far ahead it’s come back again. 


I recently posted about the new compression artifact technique datamoshing. Always a visionary, Seidel was playing around with what we’re know starting to call datamoshing  in his video (and one of my fave videos of all time) for Zero 7’s “Futures”… back in 2006. The vid was rejected at the time for being too futuristic and outside of the box. Clearly, Seidel is way, way ahead of the curve. 

In his latest work, “Vellum”, Seidel has created a large scale video installation for the COMO/Nabi Art Center in Seoul. A huge, multi-LED screen world, the visuals are aching and secretively beautiful. Like a lot of Seidel’s work, he brings to life an alluring but almost unnerving feeling; of things that seem familiar and comfortable – flowers, seeds, bones, feathers, earth – but which are behaving in ways we don’t understand. Again, with his hallmark air of an altered organic; of mutations and evolutions and natural elements that we think should be completely understood by us but which, for some reason, are behaving just outside of our experience. So intimate, but so alien. 


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Seidel says of the work “The perceived interpenetration f skeletal architecture and unrolled landscapes reveal textures of the man-made restructuring of nature. Their different granular perspectives create a fibrous volume of possibilities fusing past, present and future. In their flatness the visible sculptural slices are reminiscent to our accelerated life, shifting into technology and transcending the physical body. The perceived transformation is based on the sculpture wandering through the building seen from a fixed point of view. In vellum motion is form and form is motion…”

Via Feed

philip beesley: hylozoic soil.

This is insane. Hylozoism is the philisophical doctrine that matter is inseparable from life, which is a property of matter. (I had to look it up, I’m not going to even pretend that I knew that off the top of my head…). With that idea in mind, that at the core of all matter is an undeniable essence of life, Toronto digital media artist and experimental architect Philip Beesley created “Hylozoic Soil.”


The installation is so eerily organic and minutely-detailed it’s almost hard to believe it was designed by a person and not borne of nature. It’s like it should be living in a cave somewhere. It’s exciting yet freaky, fascinating but a little dreadful. You have to watch this vid to believe it…

“Hylozoic Soil” won first price at the VIDA Awards, an international competition fostering works of art created with artificial life technologies. The text describing the project on the VIDA website is absolutely amazing. Here it is in it’s unedited glory:

“The glass-like fragility of this artificial forest, built of an intricate lattice of small transparent acrylic tiles, is visually breathtaking. Its frond extremities arch uncannily towards those who venture into its midst, reaching out to stroke and be stroked like the feather or fur or hair of some mysterious animal. In keeping with Beesley’s own description, his enchanted environment complies with the laws and cycles that determine the millenial assembly of a coral reef, with its cycles of opening, clamping, filtering and digesting. Capacitance-sensing whiskers and shape-memory alloy actuators create a diffuse peristaltic pumping motion, luring visitors in to the eery shimmering depths of a forest of light.

Hylozoic Soil implements a distributed sensor network driven by dozens of microprocessors, generating waves of reflexive responses to those drawn into its vast array of acrylic fern stalagmites. Different levels of programmed activity encourage the emergence of coordinated spatial behaviour: thirty-eight controller boards produce specific responses to local action, while a bus controller uses sensor activity collated from all the boards to command an additional “global” level of behaviour. The forest thus manifests a haunting, breathing organicity, as it stirs to envelop and charm its human explorers. In keeping with the tradition of biologist artist Ernst Haeckel’s Riddle of the Universe (1899), which traced actions of organic and inorganic nature alike back to natural causes and laws, Beesley’s Hylozoic Soil stands as a magically moving contemporary symbol of our aptitude for empathy and the creative projection of living systems.”

Holy shit. Anything with “capacitance-sensing whiskers and shape-memory alloy actuators” is more than fine by me

Via Come Up To My Room

new work from levi van veluw.

I’ve gushed about my love for the work of Dutch conceptual artist Levi van Veluw before. He’s one of my favourites; he thinks outside the box and is fearless in his examination of the human face as a sculptural canvas.

His new work expands his exploration of the mingling of the physical and non-physical on the most extremely personal of mediums: van Veluw’s own face. With “Natural Transfers” he shifts from covering how own face with materials pulled from the Earth (straw, stone) to a material from the human body: hair. Fluid and serpentine, the hair, though growing from the crown of the head, becomes a mask, almost an invasion. Hair that wishes it could become skin.




With “Light” he moves the image into an entirely new entity all together. Trading tangible, physical entities for the geometric possibilities of light-emitting foil, photographed in blackness, as it glows and takes form across the invisible blackness of his now unseen face. As van Veluw explains on his site: “Light becomes form and it stands free from any ‘original’ subject. It is this ‘invisibility’ of the production processes that creates the freedom in this image.”


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In addition to the new photgraphs, Van Veluw will also be showing a new sculpture, “Monere”, at Art Rotterdam from February 5 to 8.

michael flückiger: pandora’s box + typographic spiderweb.

Swiss artist and computer wiz Michael Flückiger combines installation, text art, and computer program design to create interactive text/projection works. I really dig these.

First is “Pandora’s Box.” There was a moment at the beginning where all I could think of was Kubrick’s iconic line “My God… It’s full of stars!” I’m pretty sure it’s saying something about the myth of Pandora. If anyone out there can read German, I would love to know what it says….

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Equally cool is “Typographic Spiderweb.”

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chris o’shea + cinimod studio: beacon.

I’m a huge fan of kinetic sculpture and interactive art; taking the experiential aspect of art from a visual/psychological realm into a literal physical partnership. Your movement creates the art as the art simultaneously encourages and inspires you to move.


UK artist Chris O’Shea, in collaboration with Cinimod Studio, created “Beacon”, a geometric array of emergency lights laid out on the installation’s floor. Using a custom designed computer system and thermal imaging cameras, the beacons detect people’s placement in the room and move in tandem with their bodies.

If you’re into this, you’ll probably also like the kinetic architectural installation of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and also check out Fabric’s “Perpetual Sunshine.”

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bethany bristow.

I’ve never seen anything quite like these small-scale public outdoor installations by New York artist Bethany Bristow. They basically look like glass-bodied rainbow-feathered birds who’ve been run over by a cab, and yet they’re gorgeous. Beautiful, multi-hued drinking cup bird remains… occasionally dripping corn syrup blood. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but that’s what’s amazing about art. Created on the streets of New York City and Singapore, I love how the shapes seem sometimes like a living creature at rest and sometimes like something that once was living but is now dead. And the anatomy of the creature itself is so foreign to us we can’t really be sure which…








Via Fabrik Project