Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tibetan Mandala

When watching the documentary 10 Questions for Dalai Lama, the making of a Tibetan Mandala aroused my interest. Using colored sand, the monks make intricate patterns out of colored sand, which represents a microcosm of the divine powers at work. What impressed me is not just the beautiful patterns they created, but rather the way they deal with the finished piece: instead of hanging it on the wall of the temple, they place the artwork in a river and let it decompose with the flowing water. This sense of temporality is key to the Buddhist belief. An immediate association is the artworks of Andy Goldsworthy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blade Runner 25 Years

Blade Runner final cut will be in Drexel early next year. Made 25 years ago, Blade Runner remains my all-time favorite sci-fi because of its imagination on future city and architecture, prevision on environmental problem and globalization, reflections on life and humanity and extraordinary cinematography.

I've watched both original version and director's cut on DVD. After searching online, I found that the final cut is very similar to the director's cut. Ridley Scott didn't have full control of the so-called director's cut, so this final cut is said to be the real director's cut. I wonder if there will be another version in 10 years. Anyway I'm tempted to watch this masterpiece on big screen for a better sight and sound experience.

Blade Runner Final Cut trailer

Libeskind in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is an amazing city in terms of architecture. Besides Zaha's CAC and several cool buildings at UC, there's one more exciting piece being added in the greater Cinci area: The Ascent Riverfront Condo by Daniel Libeskind, located just south of the Ohio River and Cincy in Covington, KY. The building will be in use next month.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Michel Gondry's trick

Learned about this cool video from a Michel Gondry forum: Michel Gondry solves Rubik's cube with his feet.

If you can't figure it out, like me, here's the solution -

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The World of Andy Goldsworthy

I’m a big fan of Andy Goldsworthy. Then I found this documentrary Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy working with time in the library. After watching it, I realized that his works have to be appreciated in real time. Although photos did capture some powerful moments, his sculptures are truly 4-dimensional. He is more like a film director, and nature plays a starring role. He has the vision to discover the best actors in nature, and put together a scenario under the best natural light and timing, then let these characters improvise. Using nature as raw material, Andy superimposes something on nature which feels just proper and perfect. This way nature is elevated, for the sense of divinity and temporality is fully revealed. His works only made me realize that nature by itself is not enough.

Both the creation and destruction of his works happen so naturally, that you enjoy the whole process just like appreciating the peaking and fading of fall foliages. The death/birth dichotomy is a repetitive theme of his work, such as his interpretation of a black hole. This also explains his obsession with rivers and tides, the beauty within natural cycles. It’s a deeper understanding of the essence of nature and the essence of life.

The movie is quite a success. With frequent use of long takes and track shots, it brings us so close to Andy’s works and mind. It’s a mesmerizing experience, both cinematic and artistic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Boy with A Balloon

I chose to watch two movies with similar themes the other day, The Red Balloon and Little Fugitive . They both tell a story about a little boy, and both were made in the 50’s. The Red Balloon presents us a poetic passage through the old Paris; while Little Fugitive offers a joyful tour of New York's Coney Island.

The Red Balloon is a French film telling a simple and magical story between a little boy and a red balloon he picks up one day. With no dialogue, we enter a visual world by following the boy through many streets of old Paris. We cannot hold our eyes back from the delightfully bright red balloon against the grey cityscape. Hope and warmth rises as all the balloons in Paris fly to the boy after his red balloon is killed by naughty boys.

Little Fugitive doesn’t look like an American movie, for its noticeable European artistic and subtle style. This time, we follow a little boy Joey to Coney Island, the closest fantasy land for New Yorkers. Interesting enough, Little Fugitive has a scene where Joey is holding a balloon in his hand. Thus these two films are linked by a common image: a little boy with a balloon.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Inland Empire

Inland Empire, Lynch’s lastest film, runs exactly 180min. I sat through the credits and was completely overwhelmed. God, it’s wild and brilliant! Compared with Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr, Inland Empire is the wildest with a more complicated storyline and more creepy and hallucinatory atmosphere. Wonder what Zizek would say on this one. Lynch also got more experimental this time: the film was shot in DV, also without a complete script.

Lynch is perhaps the best filmmaker who can visualize our unconsciousness, making dream and desire as alive as reality. I can see a lot of patterns from these three movies, but I definitely need to watch Inland Empire again to clarify my thoughts and catch more details. The movie has been haunting me since I watched it. As someone who can make such films, Lynch is absolutely CRAZY – and thank him for driving me crazy!

Happy Birthday, DEGINE!

DEGINE is 1 year old today! There were 114 posts in the past year, not too bad, right? Knowing I'm not a very persistent person, keeping this blog is a real challenge. I noticed my categories keep expanding, from the original design field to almost anything that interests me. I like this transition since the world of design is a living and integrated sphere. So don't be surprised to find DEGINE grow into a hybrid monster in the future!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Arup Lighting

Arup is no doubt the world's leading design consulting firm. Besides their innovation in structural engineering and sustainable design, their lighting design is also outstanding. After reading a Metropolis article, I found out that many of my favorite buildings couldn't have been so great without Arup's lighting design. Rogier van der Heide, the 37-year-old director of Arup Lighting, is the leading guy on the following famous projects -

Galleria Department Store, UN Studio

Hotel Castell, UN Studio
De Young Museum, H & de M

Prada, H & de M

Webb Bridge, Denton Corker Marshall and Robert Owen

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The One-Man Band

Orson Welles: The One-Man Band is an awesome documentary on Orson Welles’ unfinished projects during the last 20 years of his life. Surprisingly, the opening scene shows Welles performing as a professional magician. Later I understood the purpose of this: it’s not merely a demonstration of his versatileness, although we know he did have great talent in so many things: directing, acting, writing, editing, producing…Metaphorically, his fascination with magic also refers to his self image, as pointed out in the film that one of Orson Welles’s most famous tricks is his silhouette: a disguise, an abstraction of his self, or simply a game.

Renowned for his early career fame such as his 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds and films like Citizen Kane, Welles is taken by the critics as a burned-out genius who had done nothing during his late years. However, this film shows us some “behind the scene” of Welles’s unknown life and works, offering more understanding to the tricks he played. Oja Kodar, his long-time companion, also the leading actress in his independent film projects, takes us through these precious footages and sketches by Welles. I’m so impressed with the amount of works he had accomplished during those years, although they never got finished due to mostly financial problems. He worked so independently that he did scripting, shooting, acting, set design and editing all by himself.

Among all the footages shown, two of his films particularly aroused my interest. F for Fake, a Criterion Collection release, seems to be very clever and satirical. His 1972 unreleased film The Other Side of the Wind, probably his most experimental film, is another one I’m highly anticipating. It’s said to be released late next year. His superb acting in many of these films also completely conquered me - There is something deep inside him that feels much more sublime and moving than Citizen Kane or The Third Man.

The One-Man Band is a short movie in which he played several different characters. As he joked: I, myself, have always been the “one-man band”. Despite constant financial problems and rejections from mainstream, he never gave up his dream. He used money from acting and commercials to fund his own projects, one after another. Like he said to the audience when receiving Lifetime Achievement Award from AFI in 1975, “I use my own work to subsidize my work. In other words, I’m crazy. But not crazy enough to pretend to be free.”

Welles’s struggling life is a typical one for any real artist. Fortunately, his voice always sounded loud and calm, as if saying he is UNBEATABLE. His life and works, like his signature silhouette, always remains an icon and a legend in cinema.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The World

I often start something but can’t find time to finish, like this review on Jia Zhangke’s The World which I started at least a year ago. The World seems to be the least cheered film by Jia Zhangke’s Chinese fans, however, is much more appreciated by western viewers including Jonathan Rosenbaum. I still think it is a great one. Jia’s narrative style reminds me more of documentary than drama, while The World lacks this character but rather works like a typical story-telling movie. This does not necessarily mean mediocre, since it does offer more. Compared with the purity in his earlier works, The World exhibits more richness through its insightful metaphors, exploration of the complexity in social conditions as well as the variety of filming technique.


The World theme park in Beijing acts as a perfect setting for many metaphors: for the migrant workers, either construction workers or dancers, the park IS their dazzling world which fulfills their fantasy about traveling around the glode as well as achieving better living. Like Disneyland, the World theme park creates a perfect place to project the visitors’ dream, while the real world, what’s behind the clean and happy scenes, are supposed to be kept invisible to the audience. However, Jia chose to show us this hidden world: the hardship and struggles within the dancers and workers’ everyday life.

There’s an ironically funny effect every time we see the characters moving against the miniature attractions. The dilemma lies in their ability to migrate physically v.s. their inability/immobility to find a proper position in society. The question remains: Is there a proper identity for any of us in today’s hyperreality? What is left to be real?

Complex Social Conditions of China

Relationships became fragile and vulnerable in today’s complicated social environment in China. The sense of feeling lonely and lost is found in most characters. The security guy’s constant desire to possess his girlfriend’s body results in a frivolous and ambiguous relationship with Liao, a lonely woman whose husband stowed away to France ten years ago. The naked mannequin at Liao’s studio somehow suggests the place for fulfilling the male fantasy.

The friendship between Xiao Tang and the Russian woman is well conveyed. Sharing the similar fate brings the two women close to each other; language is no longer the obstacle in communication. The scene where the two meet at the restroom of the club is so powerful, simply heartbreaking. This recalls Jia’s documentary Dong, where the story flows from the construction workers at Three Gorges Dam to the prostitutes in Bankok – different people are connected not only by a river surrounding them, but also their way of making a living on their bodies.

The cheap life of migrant workers is fully revealed especially through a young guy’s tragic death. He writes down something before passing away in the shabby hospital. Jia didn’t show us what’s on the note immediately. Instead, after we hear the crying, the camera leads us to the blank wall with text gradually appearing: the dead worker’s last words are simply a list of amount he owed to his co-workers. In Dong we experienced another construction worker’s death and even followed to his extremely poor home. Such things are happening all the time in China and workers’ lives are worth much less than an economy car.

Use of Flash animation

A short Flash animation is used to portray characters’ strong desires aroused by each emotional phone message. The use of Flash is by no means Jia’s trick to get fancy or to copy Run Lola Run; it feels quite natural here since both Flash and cell phone message are digital media. The surrealist images and vivid colors of the animations are in sharp contrast with the grey tone of the filmic reality, an almost romantic and utopian expression of the characters’ feelings and desires. The similar contrast can be seen between the dancers’ splendid appearance in the show and their ordinary daily looks.

Open Ending

The open ending of the movie is quite successful. The ending scene offers different readings: Is it truly an accident or a planned suicide? At the very end, with the blackout of the screen, we hear the short conversation: “Are we dead?” “No, we’ve just started.” This raises another question: are they still alive, or that’s just some kind of unconsciousness? My reading is on the positive side:)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Milwaukee Art Museum

Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the only Calatrava building I’ve visited, has the unspeakable charm to me. The first time I was there, I was on a class trip and the pavilion just opened to the public. The incredible elegance of the structure and space took my breath away. I remember standing in the reception hall for minutes with my eyes fixed on the beautiful roof structure. The second time I was there with my parents and husband only a few days ago - the same sunny day, the same blue sky, of course the same shock by the stunning beauty of the design!

The suspended pedestrian bridge links downtown Milwaukee directly to the museum. The pavilion functions as a connector to the old museum, an energizer for art appreciation, and a new landmark for the city. It also enhances the view from both Mason street and the lakefront. The wing-like sunscreen opens up or closes down during the day to adjust the interior light and temperature. These movable wings just resemble a giant seagull resting by the lakeshore.

Always amazed by Calatrava’s organic form, innovative engineering and romantic imagination and sensitivity to the site –
Rather than just add something to the existing buildings, I also wanted to add something to the lakefront. I have therefore worked to infuse the building with a certain sensitivity to the culture of the lake - the boats, the sails and the always changing landscape. - Santiago Calatrava

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dog Heroes

Dogs are no doubt man's best friends. During my visit of the US Air Force Museum, this dog with a parachute on his back caught my attention. This small exhibit honors "Vittles," the forgotten dog hero of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift. Vittles accompanied American planes on 131 missions to deliver aid behind the Iron Curtain.

Our next dog hero is a Japanese. Before going to Tokyo, visiting Hachikō statue at Shibuya station was already on my list. I learned about the touching story of this faithful dog from Chris Marker's genius documentary Sans Soleil. Hachikō statue is a very popular meeting spot. When I found Mr. Hachikō by the station one night, I was surprised to see how small he appears to be and how he was buried by the crowds around.

A natural connection is the13-Dog Statue at the entrance of Tokyo Tower, erected by Japan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1959. An incredible story goes behind it: 13 sled dogs (Sakhalin huskies) were left behind in Antarctica by a Japanese research expedition in 1958 due to an emergency evacuation. Almost a year later a subsequent expedition arrived and found two of the dogs still alive! This true story probably inspired the Disney movie Eight Below.

Aircraft Nose Art

I visited National Museum of US Air Force in Dayton OH this Sat. The museum has an amazingly comprehensive collection of aircrafts from the Wright Brothers time, thru. First and Second World War, Vietnan and Korean War, to the outerspace exploration. Besides those obvious attractions such as B-2 Spirit, Fat Man atomic bomb, the unique design of each memorial outside the museum, one thing I found interesting is the nose art for each military aircraft. Although used for cruel warfares, most of the aircrafts had its own unique and eye-catching graphic. As exclusively an American tradition, aircraft nose art expresses the strong individuality, personalization, itimacy and sense of humor attached to each crew.

Cartoon theme

Erotic theme

The well-known Chinese "Flying Tigers" (飞虎队)

There's also a display of pilot's uniforms from 1910s to the late 20th C. I found the earliest design actually quite stylish: the boots, gloves, hat and leather coat - could be the coolest winter dressing style!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

MUJI and CB2 Opened in SoHO NYC

The famous Japanese home design store MUJI just opened its first USA store at SoHO NYC. MUJI is everywhere in Tokyo. With its minimalist modern style, it products range from clothing, furniture, homewares to food. I really love the simplicity of its design, but most stuff are beyond my price range. IKEA is much more affordable. My favorite Chicago-based contemporary furniture and home accessories store CB2 also opened a store at SoHO. Should check them out next time I go to NYC.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Who Killed The Electric Cars?

I finally watched this documentary recommended by several co-workers. The disclosed facts were quite shocking: There used to be hundreds of electric cars, EV1 by GM, running on the roads in California and Arizona since 1996. Within 10 years, they were all stripped from their leasers and destroyed in the junkyard by GM. It's pretty painful to watch those beloved fabulous cars being crushed and then shredded into pieces...It was no different than dumping fresh milk into sewers! Thanks to this film, more and more people will learn about the history which the authorities have been trying hard to bury.

Who on earth killed the electric cars? The oil industry, the car companies, the government, the consumers...None of them can get away with the murder. After all, it was our human weakness we have never overcome: the short-sightedness targeting only at short-term profits.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Nanook's Igloo

Watched Nanook of the North, an influential documentary on an Inuit family's everyday life, made by Robert J. Flaherty around 1920. Although Flaherty was criticized for deceiving the audience by staging actions and distorting Inuits' real lifestyle, the film still offered valuable insights into Inuits' world and opened a whole new ground for documentary filmmaking at that time.

Even today, some knowledges on Inuit traditional living skills seem fresh to me, esp. the construction of igloo - the first time I saw the process on TV. It's quite amazing how fast an igloo was done by Nanook: using a sea lion's teeth as the snow-cutting tool, applying the stable dome structure, the igloo was built in less than an hour! The smarter part is replacing a snow block with an ice block as window and putting the snow piece perpendicular to the window to reflect sunlight. Like to try it one day :)

From A Short Animation to Steven Holl Buildings

Just found out the animation for Kunek's song posted here is a French animation called L' Enfant de la haute mer. This short animation was so beautifully done, and I could watch it over and over again. It's very phenomenal and perceptual by catching the flickering moments of light and shadow, rendering the tangibility and subtlety of familiar textures, and thru. the usage of palpable and emotional watercolors. All of the above reminds me of Steven Holl's work: his phenomenal approach in creating space, his enthusiasm in natural light, and his signature watercolor sketches.

I was a big fan of Steven Holl in school years ago, however, I didn’t get to see his built works until recently. I made my first trip to Seattle this past Sept, visiting his St. Ignatius and Bellevue arts museum certainly appeared at the top of my to-do list.

I have to say St. Ignatius is PERFECT. Built ten years ago, the trace of time can be easily read thru. the beautifully weathering skin accompanied with lively vines.

Different colors and shapes of light arrest your eyes soon after you step into the chapel. The interior is perfectly carved to create exotic lighting effects. The sense of devinity is felt everywhere.

Love the exquisite design of the door. The door knob has such allure that you want to touch it, feel it and hold it.

I was quite disappointed to see how Bellevue works in reality: Holl's original idea was to introduce natural light to both lobby and galleries. Unfortunately, the three big light wells are permanently covered, as well as the clerestories along the gallery walls for a much more controlled interior lighting. The random pattern of the recessed downlights inside the galleries were also altered to evenly spaced track lighting.
The hanging curvy stair tube made of translucent glass remains the only highlight of the museum. It felt like stepping into a weightless space, a space blurred and softened by sunlight.

During my last visit of Beijing, I saw the construction site of Linked Hybrid, a sustainable high-rise residential community right off the 2nd ring road of the city.

Years back in NYC, I walked around Little Italy looking for Holl's storefront gallery . It took me quite some time to recognize the building. With all the revolving panels closed, it looked really austere and blended into the surrounding environment.

Now I look forward to visit his new art museum in Kansas City. With the cheap airfares from Skybus, it would be an easy weekend trip :)

Camper's Wabi

I learned about Camper's environmental shoe Wabi from the latest Metropolis magazine. Wabi means "to ask for forgiveness" in Japanese, which reflects Camper's motto: healthy for the feet and clean for the planet. Besides its environmental-friendly components (made of a recycle rubber ousole, a biodegradable insole made of coconut fiber and wool, and tow liners), Wabi also respects the natural shape of human feet which offers more comfort and pleasure in taking a walk. Finally the both organic and sleek look of the shoe just makes it irresistable - I want to get a pair of Wabi and go for a walk now!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stamps Featuring Famous Dutch Design

A series of stamps featuring Dutch design and traditional icons were designed by Amsterdam creative agency staat.
From top-left to bottom-right:
1) the guild glasses of Andries Copier

2) the revolt chair by Friso Kramer
3) Heineken’s Longneck bottle
4) the Bugaboo stroller by Max Barenburg
5) Tea kettle Lapin by Nicolai Carels
6) Milk bottle lamp by Tejo Remy
7) the bakfiets (the Dutch cargo bike)
8) the Philips eco-lamp
9) the smoked sausage by and for Unox
10) the tulip

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

La Jetée

I saw an exhibition of Chris Marker's photography not long ago at Wexner Center, which made me more eager to watch his masterpiece La Jetée (1962)composed of still images. Finally saw this 28-min long sci-fi on YouTube and was totally overwhelmed! It keeps lingering in my dream. I was amazed by the idea in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, now I know it is just a mainstream movie version of La Jetée.

Rather than feeling inside the filmic time, the viewer remains in a more detached position due to the use of still images. Time gets fragmented and frozen, catching the most memorable images, memory and impressions from the characters, which results in an incredible sense of melancholy, poetry and haunting. The movie is an extreme montage, something between film and photography, between narrative and documentary.