It’s fair to say this post is a little behind-the-times, but I finally want to get round to recording the story behind my “Get Excited & Make Things” image – and also releasing the files, which was always my intention…
I was a little frustrated with myself and the world one day, and went to sit in Hoxton Square to do the Guardian crossword as a remedy.
Flicking through the G2 section I came across a short article about the “Keep Calm & Carry On” WW2 poster phenomenon.
It occurred to me that this was exactly the wrong sentiment for this age – and in fact the stoicism it recommends was been viewed ironically in the main by those who purchased it.
I started sketching on the paper a contrary statement, where stiff upper lip was replaced by a stiff upper arm from soldering…
The royal crown was replaced by one made of spanners (or wrenches, for our yanqui friends) – and Get Excited & Make Things was born.
I posted it to flickr, where to date it has had over 90k views. It got turned into t-shirt of the week by my friends at Howies (and became their fastest selling shirt ever, apparently!) with the proceeds going towards their Do Lectures.
Then, an art print by Jen and friends at 20×200 – with proceeds going to Creative Commons.
I only mention it’s success (though gratifying personally, obviously – and I’m very happy that it’s provided some small contributions to good causes) – because it seems that it has resonated with so many people.
And that’s the really amazing thing – that there might be a determination, en-masse – to really get the blood pumping and make our way out of the messes we’ve created.
With that in mind, I’m offering the original files under a CC-non-commercial, attribution, share-alike licence.
If you want to use the images for commercial means, we can talk of course – about you giving some donation to a good cause in exchange. I say that, as it’s cropped up in a few places being used without prior permission for commercial ends…
So here they are.
Thank you to everyone so far who has bought a shirt, a print – or just printed it out and stuck in up in their work place or college.
Please stay excited, please stay making.
On the (27 hour) plane ride back from New Zealand, I watched a lot of movies, some unremarkable – some wonderful. Watching Happy-Go-Lucky was painful for some reasons, and beautiful for others – but it definately hit me with the pink laserbeam between the eyes.
Watching classics like The Apartment and Manhattan made me wonder at the romances we’d write about some cities, and Slumdog Millionaire bizarrely seemed like a continuation of that: a romance of the maximum-city.
But, beside that – everytime a movie finished, the entertainment system reset to it’s main menu, with one of those airline entertainment system pseudo-radio stations playing on a loop.
And I hit the same point in the loop everytime.
And at that point in the loop played the same song everytime.
The song was a romance of the city.
A romance of electricity and colour and life and density of opportunity.
Electricity so fine Look and dry your eyes
The song was “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson.
Go and listen.
I’ll stay put.
In recent months I’ve definitely fallen into a Collapsitarian rut of sorts.
We - Are young but getting old before our time
This won’t do.
“Pessimism is a luxury of good times. In difficult times, pessimism is a
self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence.”
That’s where the action is, where the flow is felt, and where design wrangling of the sweetest kind can be done.
So, more wrangling, less hand-wringing.
Big bets should be made.
It took at 27 hour flight to realise that 27 years ago in 1982, Joe Jackson knew this and planted a time capsule into culture to help me with 2009.
It’s The Anti-Collapsitarian Anthem.
We - So tired of all the darkness in our lives With no more angry words to say Can come alive Get into a car and drive To the other side
That’s some foresight, right there. So if you are feeling a little collapsitarian, try stepping out.
You - Can dress in pink and blue just like a child And in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile We’ll be there in just a while If you follow me
I saw Sir Ken Adam, production designer of numerous Bonds, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and Dr. Strangelove amongst other movies, interviewed by Christopher Frayling at the V&A last Friday, as part of their current Cold War Modern exhibit.
As a result, Frayling concentrated the conversation on those iconic Cold War images of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, and the numerous lairs for Bond Villains he had designed.
Frayling described these lairs with a lovely turn of phrase, paraphrasing Corbusier’s “houses are machines for living in” – that they were “Machines for being a meglomaniac in”.
Adam responded that his intention was to make the Bond Villain a contemporary creature. They should embedded in the material culture of the times – albeit with the resources of a meglomaniac millionaire or billionaire – and also able to reach a little bit beyond into a near-future as those resources allow.
Although rather than maintaining a purely high-modernist aesthetic, Adam’s villains were ostentatious, status-seeking magpies, with their old masters from a daring heist, siberian tiger rugs and priceless antiques on display next to their Eames recliners and Open-plan freestanding fireplaces.
“Gantries and Baroque” might be the best name for the look though, as this finery was, of course, all inside the ‘sanctum-sanctorum’ of their lair – generally they would have maintained such a well-appointed apartment somewhere within a more massive and industrial death-dealing facility staffed by uniformed private armies.
Frayling pointed out this repeating formula in the 60s and 70s Bond movies to the audience. A hidden fortress, that had to be discovered, infiltrated and destroyed with a girl/goddess as guide – but not to be destroyed before we could take in some of the fine lifestyle touches that supervillainy gave as rewards.
But then in an almost throw-away aside to Adam, he reflected that the modern Bond villain (and he might have added, villains in pop culture in general) is placeless, ubiquitous, mobile.
His hidden fortress is in the network, represented only by a briefcase, or perhaps even just a mobile phone.
Where’s the fun in that for a production designer?
Maybe it’s in the objects. It’s not the pictures that got small, but the places our villains draw they powers from.
Perhaps the architypical transformation from gigantic static lair to mobile, compact “UbiLair” is in the film Spartan, where Val Kilmer’s anti-heroic ronin carries everything he needs in his “go-bag” – including a padded shooting mat that unfolds from it to turn any place into a place where he holds the advantage.
Move beyond film and I immediately think of my favourite supervillain of the year, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Stane from Matt Fraction‘s masterful run on the comicbook Invincible Iron Man.
As Fraction puts it:
Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist, he has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn’t want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He’s the open source to Stark’s closed source oppressiveness. He has no headquarters, no base, and no bank account. He’s a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile. That absolutely flies in the face of Tony’s received business wisdom and in the way business is done. There are banks and lawyers and you have facilities and testing. Stane is a much more different animal. He’s a much smarter, more mobile and much quicker to respond and evolve futurist.
Zeke has no need for specialised infrastructure beyond commodity gear than he can improvise and customise. He doesn’t need HeliCarriers or giant military-industrial infrastructure like Tony Stark. He just needs his brain and his hate. As Fraction says in an interview:
I was trying to figure out what a new Iron Man would look like, and I figured, well, there wouldn’t be a suit anymore. The user would be the suit. I just started to riff on that, on cybernetics and riffing on weaponized bodymod culture stuff. Tony’s old money, old world, old school and old model manufacture. So where would Stane, a guy that had no manufacturing base and no assembly facilities, get his tech? Everything would need power sources, so how would that work? Where would the surgeries be performed? How would he pay for it? What’s his ideology? I started reading up on 4G war and warfare. And on and on until I understood Stane’s reality, and how Stane would wage war on Stark Industries and Tony both.
So – for a “4th generation warfare” supervillain there aren’t even objects for the production designer to create and imbue with personality. The effects and the consequences can be illustrated by the storytelling, but the network and the intent can’t be foreshadowed by environments and objects in the impressionist way that Adam employed to support character and storytelling.
But – what about materialising, visualising these invisible networks in order to do so?
Dan Hill just published a spectacular study of his – into the ‘architecture’ of wifi in a public space. They make visible the invisible flows of the network around tangible architecture, and the effect that has on how people inhabit that tangible space.
Interesting, deeply-interesting stuff.
Me, I just think that’s what’s fluxing and flexing around the 4th Gen Bond Villain.
That’s what could telegraph to us, the audience their bad intentions. That’s what communicates their preference, and their potency. Could it do it as effectively, immediately, seductively as Sir Ken could with Cor-Ten and Cashmere?
Probably not. Yet.
The visualisations he’s made Dan freely admits make more than a nod to Cedric Price‘s Aviary at London Zoo. Price himself being no stranger to creating intangible, mobile, flexible architectures – I bet he would have been bursting with ideas for 4th Gen Bond Villain UbiLairs…
In the mean-time, in the real world of all-controlling superpowers, we seem to be coming full circle, architecture professor Jeffrey Huang has been investigating the all-too-tangible architecture of what we rather-wishfully call the cloud: server farms.
These hydropowered, energy-guzzelling megastructures seem to have all the ‘Gantry’ but not a lot of ‘Baroque’ panache to qualify as good old-fashioned Bond Villain SuperLairs.
But, perhaps Larry and Sergei are working on it…
This summer, Google put a patent on floating data centers cooled and powered by the ocean.
Sir Ken was always ahead of his time.
Bond is captured – manacled and attached to a slab of cold steel bracketed by lasers and buzzsaws, suspended high above a pool of sharks.
Out of the shadows cast by the harsh arc-lights illuminating his base hewn from the caldera, steps The Bond Villain of the Long Now.
He straightens his Nehru jacket, adjusts his monocle to better see the figures scrolling past on it’s HUD and clears his throat.
Bond suppresses a chuckle.
Time for the speech.
“Now Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
and all of us.”
He takes a step closer to a suddenly frozen Bond.
He kisses his cheek with a brotherly tenderness the agent has never known.
And cuts him free.
12 years later. A park bench in Cambridge.
A dishevelled man in a raggedy tuxedo idly burns tiny marks in the wooden slats with his laser watch and stares into the middle distance.