How Algorithms Shape Our World

This beautiful, scary TED talk by Kevin Slavin discusses the power of phantom, unfathomable algorithms to alter human behavior and physically reshape the world that we live in.

Cue up the Pi soundtrack, sit back, and enjoy. [via raindrift]

“Two Against One” By Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi

“Two Against One” from the album Rome, a collaboration between Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi, which came out last year. Featuring vocals by Jack White, it’s been supplied with a spectacularly hallucinatory video directed by Chris Milk and Anthony Francisco Schepperd. Just beautiful work.

Via who killed bambi?

New Larkin Grimm Album Imminent, Free Village Voice Download


Photo by Dese’Rae L. Stage

The powerfully enchanting Larkin Grimm, previously interviewed by Angeliska on the Coilhouse blog and featured in Issue Four of our print issue, has a new album coming out next month! You can read about what she’s been up to recently, and preview/download her song “Paradise And So Many Colors” at the Village Voice website.

Last year, the sartorial site StyleLikeU (oh good gracious, LOVE these ladies) posted a wonderful “Closet Feature” on Grimm. It’s as endearing a portrait of the woman as you’ll find anywhere:

Prints and a Novella by Richard A. Kirk


“The Sinister Game of Paperface” by Richard A. Kirk

Artist and author Richard A. Kirk (who we’ve mentioned twice before on the blog) has just put a bunch of very reasonably priced prints of his recent work into his Etsy store. If you’re shopping for darkly whimsical holiday gifts for your more fae or macabre friends (or just for yourself!) you’ll definitely want to take a look at these intricate, elegant pieces.

Kirk’s phenomenal illustrated novella, The Lost Machine, is also worth checking out– a bleakly beautiful weird fiction story that features ghosts, witches, crows, and enchanted automata. Kirk’s prose is as delicate, finessed and strange as his drawings. Highly recommended.


“The Unaccountable Absence of the Wastrel” by Richard A. Kirk

Smooth ’80s Whistling

Sometimes I forget just how wonderful a thing this Internet is. Were it not for the internet, how many of us would have been able to experience the glory of this footage from some unnamed talk show, circa 1984? What a tragedy it would have been to not behold this man, with his perfectly groomed moustache, bouncing mullet, and Detroit Pistons sweatshirt. What fairness would there have been in the world if only those lucky members of the studio audience that day were able to gaze upon his hirsute visage, twisting and contorting with emotion or, perhaps, the effort of trying to keep from shitting himself, as he belted out the smoothest grooves ever heard?

None, I say. The people there that day, spellbound, their mouths agape, no doubt told stories about that day, but unable to properly convey the sublime magic of those few, short minutes, their words were most likely met with disbelief and skepticism. And really, who could blame them? Such accounts must have seemed ludicrous, the product of feeble minds. Now, though, we can see and hear for ourselves, and we too can be put under that same, powerful spell.

Yes, it truly is amazing, this internet. I will not take it for granted again.

RIP, Ken Russell (1927 – 2011)


Photo via Cinebeats. (Source, anyone?)

“Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn’t for most people, but I am not interested. There’s too much of it about.” ~Ken Russell

Thanks for keepin’ it unreal, good sir. Thank you for everything.

The Fantastical Fairy Tale Art of Sveta Dorosheva


From Sveta Dorosheva’s “More Book Illustrations” portfolio.

Sveta Dorosheva‘s fantastical art could be compared to a brilliant dream collaboration among noted artists, for whom the goal is a visionary book of enchanted tales. Imagine an artistic hybrid comprised of the intricately-lined illustrations of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, the luxurious art deco magnificence of Romain de Tirtoff (Erté) fashion plates, and the beautiful-on-the-verge-of-grotesque visages drawn by the enigmatic Alastair.

But! In this imaginary scenario, the artists realize there is something… some je ne sais quois… missing from their efforts. They entice illustrator Sveta Dorosheva to join their endeavors: she flits in, and with a mischievous smile and a gleam of amusement in her eye, announces “yes, yes, this is all very beautiful… but let’s make it FUN!” Although comparisons to the above-mentioned artists may be obvious upon first glance, the sense of enchantment, whimsy, and joyful wit present in Dorosheva’s work ensures that one not only appreciates they are gazing upon something technically pleasing or beautifully rendered; one also genuinely delights –and even emotionally invests– in the engaging imagery as well.

Though born in Ukraine, Sveta Dorosheva currently resides in Israel with her husband and two sons.  She has worked as as an interpreter, copywriter, designer (be certain to peek at her Incredible Hats or Fashionista portfolios!) , art director and creative director in advertising, and is currently pursuing her lifelong dream of academic training in art. Dorosheva recently spoke to Coilhouse about her lifelong love of fairy tales, and her inspired,  imaginative new project, The Nenuphar Book, which will be published in Russia this autumn.   See below the cut for her illuminating ruminations and a gallery selection of her extraordinary illustrations.


From Sveta Dorosheva’s “Weird and Wonderful: Fairy Tale Illustrations” portfolio.

Friday Afternoon Apathy

No Friday Afternoon Movie today. Instead, we present Jon Lajoie’s hip hop tribute to not giving a fuck. It is absolutely vital that you watch this right now (with headphones if you’re at work as it’s full of dirty, work-inappropriate language). The FAM will return next week. Promise.

On the Occasion of Walter Benjamin’s 119th Birthday

The treasure-dispensing giant in the green forest or the fairy who grants one wish
- they appear to each of us at least once in a lifetime. But only
Sunday’s children remember the wish they made, and so it is
only a few who recognize its fulfillment in their lives. – Walter Benjamin


Benjamin Birthday Cake! Photoshop by Nadya.

There is a Yiddish expression offered on someone’s birthday which is affectionate and contains a subtle blessing: “Bis hundert und zwanzig.” In other words, people are wished a life that extends to their 120th year. So what should we do if someone dear (if not near) somehow turns 120? What are they wished then and each year thereafter? I offer these questions as a point of entry for considering Walter Benjamin, a writer whose life ended in suicide as he contemplated his chances of eluding the Nazi Gestapo some seventy-three years before this question may have become material for those around him.  Today marks the 119th anniversary of Benjamin’s birth – the last time someone could have addressed him with the wish of living to 120.

Walter Benjamin was a literary critic, philosopher, memoirist, and collector during Germany’s ill-fated Weimar Republic. Among his adventures were sojourns from Berlin to Moscow to witness the building of history and to Marseilles to smoke hashish and to Riga to have his love rejected. His last seven years were spent in exile while his works were banned and burned in his native land. Under other conditions, Benjamin’s Francophile desires would have found their easy appeasement in Paris, but the Third Reich cast an increasingly tall shadow and he became, tragically, a prisoner in the country of his dreams. In his forty-eight year life, Benjamin ran with Bertolt Brecht, Rainer Maria Rilke, Asja Lacis, Theodor and Gretel Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Ernst Bloch, Hannah Arendt, Georges Bataille, Leo Strauss, Max Brod and Gershom Scholem. And in many ways, Benjamin’s thought is a playful and poetic montage of the ideas of his associates – a “constellation” of Romanticism, Idealism, Marxism, Surrealism, and Jewish mysticism that is more than its unlikely parts: “Satan is a dialectician, and a kind of spurious success…betrays him, just as does the spirit of gravity.”


Einbahnstrasse by Sasha Stone (1928)

Benjamin brought to this heady mix his fascination, at once childish and insightful, for art and artifacts as relics containing clues to history. The scion of an antiquities dealer, Benjamin discerned an impending revolutionary–cum-spiritual cataclysm by contemplating and indexing paintings, books, and the most banal debris of economic life he could find, regarding them as might wily Detective Columbo if he was prodigiously stoned. As Bloch wrote of Benjamin’s book One Way Street, “when the current cabaret passes through a surrealist philosophy, what emerges into the light of day from the debris of meanings…is a kaleidoscope of a different sort.” The spooky thing is that Benjamin’s apocalyptic vision of lawmaking described in 1921 as “bloody power for its own sake” came to pass in many ways a little more than a decade later.

Walter Benjamin lived in a milieu of such vastly assimilated German-Jewish life that he had little formal understanding of Jewish culture, Yiddish, Hebrew, or even the Jewish religion.  He did, however, harbor an abiding interest in Jewish mysticism and mused furtively over those bits of religion and culture he encountered.  And he certainly seemed to have found spiritual sanction for his already-existing fetishization of objects in the Kabbalist’s meditations on words, names, and numbers.  According to this mystical orientation, influenced by neo-Platonism, reality has multiple dimensions – like a faceted diamond – only a few of which are directly accessible to us. We may approach them only indirectly, as they appear to us as abstract notions like numbers, letters, names, and sentiments. In such times as Benjamin playfully, and perhaps also earnestly, speculated on the mystical significance of language and numbers, he may have come to consider 119 alongside its constitutive outside, the number 120, the last year we can legitimately hope for someone else.  If so, it is entirely likely that Benjamin, a thinker who invited the mystical, would have been intrigued by the delimiting function of 120 and may have further speculated on 121 as a possible portal to other dimensions.  Operating, then, as a detective, Benjamin may have investigated the year 120 as a future crime scene – a time-place where this phrase will be eternally transcended. Looking outward, 119 years of life may have been considered the furthermost edge of his generation, a remote vantage from which to contemplate the eternity of space, like a balcony atop “Saturn’s ring.” Upon returning from such reveries, Benjamin would hopefully have finally mentioned that the actual root of this folk expression comes from the biblical datum that Moses lived to be 120. This, then, could have been followed by an analogy that is possibly both specious and interesting, like noting that Moses and Benjamin never completed their exodus from brutality.

The wish that one live beyond the culturally sanctioned, and quite generous, lifespan of 120 is redolent of the posthumous reception of Benjamin’s work throughout the humanities. The fervent interest in his work throughout the humanities since the 1980s is so unlikely as to seem almost a form of Messianic fulfillment on an individual scale. After all, his life was unfulfilled in most respects. He was a failed academic, a divorcee whose affair was an awkward mess, a minor radio personality whose voice was never recorded, and a writer whose masterworks were unfinished or forever lost in history. Years later, his work even achieved “fame” on its own terms when, in 1969, his most significant essay was mistranslated as “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Harry Zohn. For Benjamin, a work has achieved “fame” when it its translation transmits information not contained in the original. Two generations of scholars and art critics referenced his most significant essay through a misleading title, when now, as if language shifted its tectonic plates under our feet, the essay is emphatically translated as “Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.”  In the digital age, articles like this one are re-posted with attention to errata, such as mistaking today for his 121st anniversary, whereas it is only his 119th.  If only Zohn had used WordPress his translation would have been unfinished and arguably better for it.  Perhaps as the author of that essay – however titled – Benjamin would have come to consider fame in the age of American Idol in terms of having a finger puppet refrigerator magnet in one’s visgage. “All that is holy is profaned,” sayeth Marx. What does familiarity breed? So much for the “aura” of the author, eh?

In his essay on “The Metaphysics of Youth” Benjamin contemplates one’s diary as a temporal domain, an inner life expressed in writing which begins in medias res, with life already in motion, and which can never be concluded by an author whose death occludes continued authorship. The project is never finished and the life, as written in the diary, exists in its own sort of time, like the life the mind, an eternal moment delimited by birth and death, and unable to experience either. Benjamin’s life is thus suspended within the pages of his books, essays, memoirs, and personal effects – as in his Paris address book shown below. Something of his life may sometimes seem to flash in our minds as we read him, just as Benjamin once suggested that art and artifacts can communicate something of their creation in flashes. In this sense, Benjamin’s work has escaped the bounds of the moment in which it was written, although it has yet to allow its readers to tear the fabric of time and usher in the Messianic moment of utter destructiveness in which history is fulfilled and completed.

Of course, I cannot literally wish Walter Benjamin 120 years of existence because I have no known way of communicating it to him. I can, however, wish it for him in spirit, and I do. Whether this wish, now communicated in language, effectively gives him happiness, is beyond the scope of this essay to determine, but my wish that it do so has some affinity with Benjamin’s own work. In his essay, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” Benjamin posits language as constitutive of thought and life as we know it – not merely a conduit for them – as, in his example, a divine speech act once set the universe in motion with illumination: “Let there be light.” Likewise, Benjamin may have noted that the wish that someone live to 120 implies a blessing, as in the Yiddish expression: “From your mouth to God’s ear.” As this is the last time I may properly wish Walter a 120th year,  I am ever-more concerned that it take the form of a blessing where numbers and sentiments are tangible – on the other side of language.

This essay is dedicated to Lionel Ziprin, z”l.

Houdini: Art & Magic – The Wonders Never Cease


via

Yet another Doomsday has mercifully passed us by. Meanwhile, the horrors taking place around the globe stay their course. Corruption, scandal, and greed continue to rocket to the front pages of our newspapers.

Has there ever been a more dire need for magic?

In the shimmering hills that surround Los Angeles, art, wonder and the hope that only a spectacle can birth are being celebrated. The hard-working ghost of Harry Houdini is traveling the country via Houdini: Art & Magic, a comprehensive retrospective chronicling the life of an immigrant Rabbi’s son turned bonafide American showman. On a recent drive back from Malibu, the first stop on my long-overdue west coast vacation, street markers with stiff black flags trumpeting the arrival of Art & Magic at the Skirball Cultural Center had me jumping out of my passenger’s seat.


via

I had first seen the exhibit at the Jewish Museum in March before it closed at the end of the month. That same week, Houdini’s last living assistant, Dorothy Young, died in a retirement community in New Jersey at the age of 103, three days before what would’ve marked Houdini’s 137th birthday. The stars were aligning rapidly before me, and I, a sucker for synchronicity, could not churn out the review I wanted in time for the exhibit to end. I sat among pages of obsessive notes describing what I had seen at the museum, from Houdini’s diaries, to photographs of him with his beloved mother, and his performance trunk curling with worn and cracked brown leather. I swooned over the thin, almost romantic curl to his handwriting, lamented his untimely death, and dug up details from the obituaries of Dorothy, a woman who, at the age of 17, had been selected by the magician from a crowd at Coney Island, and kept her stalwart promise never to reveal his secrets.