Horsey Beginnings: Setting the Stage

Wild Horses

Image Credit the Bureau of Land Management

In George Lucas's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo rides a tauntaun out into the frozen wastes of Hoth; he needs to find his friend, Luke Skywalker. In George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones, Deanerys Targaryen, a princess in exile, takes center stage in a ceremony for the sake of her child-to-be. She has to eat a raw, fresh horse heart. In Washington County, a Portland woman and her friend buy a near dead horse, shoot it in the head, cut it open, and take pictures, lots of bloody pictures. The following post does not contain these images (a future post will, though). 

Angst and Paralysis: Visualizing Melancholia from Albrecht Durer to Lars Von Trier

Cranach Melancholia

Lucas Cranach's Melancholia Image Credit: Art Tattler

Last week, I examined how painters of the nineteenth century revised the image of Phillipe Pinel, the famous mental health physician, to contribute to an evolving national mythology and edify the physician's archetypal (as well as vocational) role in fostering mental health. While the representation (as well as the specific job description) of the mental health practitioner has changed drastically over the past five centuries, one cannot help but notice that there are striking continuities to be found in representations of people said to be afflicted with maladies of the mind. Today, we will take a look at some remarkable consistencies to be found linking 16th and 21st century visual representations of one of Western society's most frequently visualized maladies: melancholia.  

Real World Metropolis, Future City on Film: “Almost the Same, But Not Quite” Tokyo in Solaris

I just watched Andrey Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris. The movie’s a whirlwind of mourning, longing, and technologizing. I won’t talk much about the plot here. Instead, I’ll talk about a scene, amongst many, that caught my attention. This scene, in the distant, fuzzy future of the movie’s setting, places us in the passenger seat of a self-propelled car on an impossibly busy highway. In Tokyo, Japan. In 1971. Like Solaris, many TV shows and movies have made use of present-day, real world metropolises to conjure up imagined future cities. In this first segment of a series called “Real World Metropolis, Future City on Film,” Tokyo in Solaris is “almost the same, but not quite” what we’re used to seeing. 

The (Future) Image of Los Angeles: Chris Burden's "Metropolis II"

Metropolis II: Entire Installation

Image credit: Screenshot, "Metropolis II" on YouTube

Los Angeles, the city we all (excluding Randy Newman) love to hate, is the inspiration for Chris Burden’s new kinetic sculpture, "Metropolis II," using 1,080 toy cars, many steep ramps, and a few powerful motors. The sculpture is expected to debut at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) this fall. Despite the sculpture’s not-yet-finished state, it’s already causing quite a buzz in the blogosphere, with coverage in the New York TimesWheels blog, LACMA’s Unframed blog, and GOOD Magazine’s Culture blog.

Abraham Lincoln is Watching Over You: The Strange World of Victorian Spirit Photography

William Mumler, Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln with Abraham and Thaddeus, 1872

For my first viz. post ever, I thought I’d take a look at the Victorian phenomenon of spirit photography.  Truly timely, right?  But in the wake of Errol Morris’s new book on photography, Believing is Seeing, which is concerned with sussing out the relationship between objective truth and the photograph, thinking about this mid-Victorian malarkey suddenly seems more culturally relevant to me than it did, say, a week ago.  After all, the controversy over spirit photographs represents the first serious sustained debate about photography’s truth-telling powers.   But more importantly, spirit photography remains, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun, visually haunting: at its most basic rhetorical level, its wish-fulfilling nature provides access to powerful cultural fantasies.   Read more after the break.

The Synchronicity of Cinema, Phonography, and Writing


The Edison-Bell picturegram from 1927 (in Sound Recordings). The toy illustrates the convergence of sound and image.

As the budding audio recording industry was creating use value by advertising the phonograph alongside writing machines, pens, pencils, and cameras, another convergence was happening as well. The motion picture industry, which developed concurrently with the audio recording industry, sought to synch up the sights and sounds of the body. Talking, singing, dancing, fighting, and falling had been standard in the motion picture industry since it began, but these bodily acts happened silently on screen. It was only a matter of time before the body would be audible on screen.

The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists

Revolutionary by Wadworth Jarrell

 "Revolutionary" By Wadsworth Jarrell Via Howard University

What does 1960s black nationalist art say to us today?  TVLand's recent documentary on the Chicago-based Afri-COBRA movement suggests a few major takeaways.  One is that images created for a community--by a community--inspire revolution. But I'd like to draw out a second theme voiced by former Afri-COBRA members who argue in a variety of ways that change starts with mind, and not the body.

Multimedia Children’s Literature and The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Cover image of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Children’s literature is, practically by definition, a multimedia endeavor. The beloved works of Dr. Seuss, Elsa Holmelund Minarik, Roald Dahl, Frank Baum, and countless others have a drawing at least every few pages, if not on every page. But as the audience grows older and gains reading proficiency, the pictures slowly disappear, an indication that all but the simplest of stories can be told in words alone. The multimodal aspects of children’s literature are, then, little more than a helpful scaffold to engage children while building the skills necessary for reading.

Coding Class Identity and Friendship in The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg, as pictured in The Social Network

Image Credit:  Screenshot from Youtube

If you’re a member of the so-called “Facebook generation,” it’s probably been pretty hard to ignore the recent coverage of David Fincher’s The Social Network, the movie that purports to tell the story of Facebook’s founding in a Harvard dorm-room circa 2003-4.  Websites like Jezebel have critiqued the movie’s treatment of women, writers on Slate have criticized the movie’s portrayal both of Harvard, and others have questioned whether it accurately represents the website's creator Mark Zuckerberg.  When I saw the movie, I was more struck by the ways in which Sorkin uses conventional tropes of class and gender dynamics to ask questions about how Facebook has potentially rewritten these issues, as well as changing identity, social interaction, and the idea of the public sphere.

Save the Words (through Images)

Save the Words

Image Credit: Screenshot of Save the Words

H/T to Elaine and Very Short List

To kick off my return to Viz. this semester, I’m excited to share two artifacts at the intersection of verbal and visual cultures. After the jump: a design savvy website that functions as a Linguistic Extinction List of sorts. Also, a short film that invites viewers to consider the neuroscience of language.

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