Archive for June, 2007

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The trustees of the Sir H. K. Stephenson Travelling Studentship in Architecture have announced that they will be awarding this research project the maximum possible amount allowed by the fund.

The Studentships are open to men and women of British Nationality who have gained admission to the Final Year for either a Degree or Masters in Architecture at the University of Sheffield. Two Studentships are offered every year to the value of £300 each.  They are to be used wholly to meet the costs of travel and study in Britain and abroad undertaken during the long vacation prior to the commencement of the Final year of study and related to the subject of the candidate’s thesis.

The financial support provided by this generous studentship will allow me to travel to the Netherlands and the USA to undertake at least two interviews and original research leading to the final dissertation. I hope to thank the trustees of the fund personally in due course, but until then I use this message to offer my sincere gratitude for their interest and faith in this project; I am honoured to have been chosen to receive this support.

Details will follow soon about the people I’m going to be meeting and interviewing.

Was lucky enough to nab a ticket to one of the advance previews of this film, which opens across France and Belgium on 27 June. A release in English is previewed for later this year. During the Q&A after the film, Marjane Satrapi was asked whether she would like to see the film released on the big screen in Iran. She said yes, but appreciated that with many Hollywood films, pirate DVDs are in circulation in the Middle East within 24hrs of the film opening in the USA, with unofficial dubbed copies appearing soon after. When pressed on whether she was advocating the pirating of her film so that it could be seen in Iran, she said (my translation) “only if the dubbing is done well”.

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Regular readers might already be aware of my fondness for the meandering monologues of Garrison Keillor on his weekly radio show A Praire Home Companion. The lingering sense of nostalgia for simpler times and closer communities draws an audience of hundreds of thousands every weekend.

While beavering away at some deathly dull drawings for unrelated work this weekend, I’ve been listening to a similar-yet-entirely-different show from the CBC Radio network in Canada. The Vinyl Café is broadcast on the airwaves of CBC Radio One and a number of networked stations in the USA. As yet there’s no podcast, so if you want to catch it online you’ll need to watch the CBC schedules and work out your time difference. The show blends live performances by Canadian musicians with tales of “Dave and Morley” as told by host Stuart McLean. Once again, the radio waves seem to be the perfect media for nostalgic tales and tightly rooted music.

Even though I don’t speak German, I’m kicking myself for not finding out about this conference sooner. Thanks to Matteo Stefanelli on the Comix Scholars Discussion List for bringing it up though… as with all the others, maybe I’ll make it next year.

Comic und Stadt (Comics and the City: Urban Space in Print, Picture and Sequence) 7-9 June 2007, Berlin, Germany.

Instead I’m going to Paris for the weekend, and I’m hoping not to be as sick as last time.

What follows is an email posted by myself to the discussion list of the University of Florida Comics Studies programme earlier today:

I’ve been lurking for a few weeks on this list, and this is my first post – I’ll try to keep the introduction brief. I’m studying towards a Masters in Architecture at the University of Sheffield in the UK (http://www.shef.ac.uk/architecture). If all goes to plan, this will hopefully conclude in the summer of 2008. I’m also studying for one semester (via the Socrates-Erasmus programme) at the école nationale superieur d’architecture de Strasbourg in France.

My dissertation is provisionally titled ‘The Comic Architect’. It begins with the relatively established assertion that architecture is very poorly represented in the books, journals, magazines etc that are primarily used to promote and discuss it (see ‘This Is Not Architecture’, ed. by Kester Rattenbury for a good primer on this discussion). ‘Official’ photographs and images of buildings are usually made before the building is occupied by its intended users, and are usually sterile, timeless and people-less images that elevate the building from functional space to high art. There are even arguments for saying that some buildings (such as the Case Study Houses by Schulman and others in fifties California) were designed for their representation, since they were competing to be included in a popular magazine.

So, if architectural photography lacks time, narrative and a sense of character, can comic illustration techniques better represent architecture?

The dissertation will be submitted in November 2007, although I am extremely interested in taking it further, perhaps to a phd starting in 2008 or 2009. It will be an interdisciplinary study, but it will fundamentally attempt to examine the possibilities of one form of narrative representation in another context.

The project is being logged online at:

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/

and I invite you to browse the blog and post comments wherever you feel the urge.

“Martha Kuhlman” <mkuhlman@______.edu> wrote:

2) I like the articles in MFS winter issue, and I’d be eager to hear some reactions to them. In particular, what do people think of the article on Chris Ware? (Comics Architecture, Multidimensionality, and Time by Thomas Bredehoft). If you don’t have this issue or article, I would be interested in your opinion of Daniel Raeburn’s book on Ware published by Yale. Anything at all on Ware would be interesting, in fact.

Firstly, to Martha Kuhlman, thanks for flagging up an article and journal that had escaped my attention. My university has access via MUSE, so I’ll read the article over the weekend, but I can cerftainly comment on Raeburn’s book. More extensive thoughts on the book and my own subsequent thinking re: my project are blogged here:

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/2007/03/12/reading-daniel-raeburn-on-chris-ware-part-one/

https://nowordsnoaction.wordpress.com/2007/03/25/reading-daniel-raeburn-on-chris-ware-part-two/

Raeburn writes with the impression of some authority, and to me one of the most interesting points is the parallel between music and comics.

What you do with comics, essentially, is take pieces of experience and freeze them in time,” Ware says. “The moments are inert, lying there on the page in the same way that sheet music lies on the printed page. In music you breathe life into the composition by playing it. In comics you make the strip come alive by reading it, by experiencing it beat by beat as you would playing music…”

Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (Monographics)

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 25

Note also how Ware carefully controls the pace at which we experience the passage of time by the use of ‘silent’ panels, or repeating images that slow the pace right down. There’s a review of Ware’s ‘Acme Novelty Library #17’ in the recent April 2007 issue of the Comics Journal by Adam Stephanides which makes a similar observation.

This combination of irregularity with regularity, producing an almost Mondrian-like effect, creates a sense of rhythm, much more so than in Jimmy Corrigan or [Acme Novelty Library] # 165. In contrast, a page showing Alice looking for the bathroom is divided into 12 equal-sized panels, giving a feeling of stasis, as do two pages divided into six equal-sized panels, depicting Alice’s homesick memories of her old home and best friend. In a way, issue # 17 is a return to Ware’s early short comics, which were often about rhythm as much as anything else, but Ware’s approach to rhythm is much more sophisticated than in those comics.

Adam Stephanides, The Comics Journal no. 282, April 2007.

For me, it’s this control of the underlying ‘rhythm’ of a comic than interests me… could architects better explain or describe their buildings using these techniques than in traditional plans and sections, or photographs and renderings?

I categorise posts on this blog as ‘off-topic’ with caution, since nothing is can be so off-topic not to influence what I’m thinking about or do. Professor Ruth Morrow at the University of Ulster in Belfast has recently uploaded the entirity of the pamphlet Building Clouds Drifting Walls, which describes the experimental design studio that she and others implemented in the first year of the Bachelors in Architecture programme at the University of Sheffield between 2000 and 2003. I followed this programme as my first year studying architecture between 2001 and 2002, and I can honestly credit it with forming my interest in the way that architecture is taught, discussed and represented.

Follow the link and click on the individual pages to open a full page scan. Double points if you can spot the very first architectural model I  built during my first week at Sheffield, which is feature in one of the illustrations.

http://buildingclouds.blogspot.com/

Youtube discovery of the week is this trailer for an ‘upcoming’ (someone smack the director with a dictionary) film, including an interview with Ben Katchor, author of Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District.

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This is the second installment of my thoughts on Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District. You can find the first part here… I’ve uploaded it very much as a finished piece of work in progress; that is to say I could go on re-reading, editing and changing it for weeks, but I want to record this point in my thinking now before it gets overwritten with subsequent thinking.

My intention on this sunny Sunday afternoon was to walk from my apartment, in the centre of Strasbourg, to a grand old bistro on the other side of town where students, families and married couples all find a place on shiny stainless steel pavement furniture; where extra toxic French cigarettes send trails of smoke into the air; and where the imminent descent of Monday morning is not remembered. It’s the perfect place to read and work, especially when you’ve got two comic books to flip through. But with the weather being so nice, I kept on walking, and kept on going until I reached Germany (don’t worry, it’s not far). The late afternoon sunlight is now falling through the dense leaves of the old trees in Kehl’s town square. The gold painted numbers and arms of the church clock are sparkling, and across the sandy square from water is spraying out into a liquid sphere from the dozen of pipes that make up a recently installed public fountain. I have also managed to order a coffee and piece of apfelküchen. In developing my French to level which is just acceptable for studying in France, I have seemingly erased almost every word or phrase I once knew in German.

Comics Journal Messageboard user billym put me onto Ben Katchor, and also recalled a lecture that Katchor gave at McGill University’s Architecture Department in Montréal in 2002.

The name of the talk is “The Great Museum Cafeterias of the Western World.” The profession of the speaker is A) an architect B) a food critic C) a comic book artist.

The answer is C, but Ben Katchor is no ordinary graphic novelest. The creator of “The Jew of New York” and “Julius Kniple, Real Estate Photographer” is lauded internationally for his wry examinations of daily life.

With a regular strip in the design-focused Metropolis Magazine and a book titled Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay, Katchor’s preoccupations are somewhat different than purveyors of spandex-clad “zock! pow!” narratives.

“There’s a growing interest in the architecture field for his work,” said Greg Hildebrande, an architecture master’s student who, along with fellow student Jan Schotte, invited Katchor to speak at McGill as the William Hobart Molson lecturer.

“Architecture texts tend to be very dry – what’s refreshing about his stories is that he deals with things that architects think about all of the time.”

Hildebrande isn’t entirely sure what approach Katchor will bring to the topic of museum cafeterias – Katchor seems to be rather spontaneous in his lecture style.

“It’s an examination of art theory and the effects of cafeteria design and the consumption of food on the appreciation of art,” said Hildebrande. “I’m really looking forward to what he has to say. He seems unpredictable.”

As to why a comic book artist was chosen for an architecture lecture? Hildebrande admits that he’s a fan, but also felt that Katchor could bring a new perspective.

“That’s something we want to do more of – get more cross-pollination between disciplines,” he said.

McGill Reporter: On Campus
http://www.mcgill.ca/reporter/35/05/campus/ retreived 4.6.2007

In my earlier musings I’ve already touched on Katchor’s subtle toying with nostalgia, and the powerful and effective way in which this can reach a reader. His interest in museum cafeterias, however, takes this one step further. In much the same way that Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer ends with The Evening Combinator, the second compilation of single or multiple page Julius Knipl stories (The Beauty Supply District) concludes with an extended story of the same name. In it we meet some inhabitants of Katchor’s fictional city who enjoy descending the stairs to the basement cafeteria of the Tenfoyle Museum of Art. For one character in particular, it’s a very special place that nurtures his vital skills of aesthetic appreciation.

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It was this particular subterranean environment, with its clacking of dishes, laughter of guards, small of steam-table food and slightly dank, coffee-soaked floors, that instead of distracting him, permitted him to enter into unique relationship with the object of his choice.

Ben Katchor, The Beauty Supply District
New York City: Pantheon Books 2003, page 94

Later in the same story, two unrelated characters jump in a cab, telling the driver “To the Tenfoyle Museum – and step on it! They close at nine”, where they seek out pound cake, cherry pie and tapioca pudding.

“It was,” he proclaimed,”the perfect point from which to mediate the longstanding hostility between subject and object – a point situated directly between the appetive urge to consume a work of art and the disinterested gaze of the cafeteria patron choosing his lunch.”

Ben Katchor, The Beauty Supply District
New York City: Pantheon Books 2003, page 94

I can only imagine a museum cafeteria such as this one existing in the nostalgic tales of Julius Knipl. It is, in fact, a complete opposite of the art gallery eateries one normally finds, where financial pressures (imagined or not) have turned art gallery canteens into trendy cafés, and dusty museum bookshops into boutiques. Even remembering the sublime Art Institute of Chicago, or the vast Tate Modern in London, I can’t help but think that the art gallery of today is now largely patronised by a public that gazes with disinterest at the art, and which consumes in the museum’s gift shop with an ‘appetitive urge’.

The Beauty Supply District charts the rise and fall of that neighbourhood in Katchor’s imagined city. Time passes, luck runs out, and businesses close for good. The urban landscape changes subtly, each erosion contributing to an imperceptible yet unmissable evolution. Yet more reasons to hunt down those out-of-print copies of Katchor’s earlier book Cheap Novelties: The Pleasure of Urban Decay.

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Returning to The Evening Combinator in Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, we meet the architect Selladore. Whereas in The Beauty Supply District we witness the gradual evolution of the urban fabric, here we get to see a brief glimpse of a ‘visionary’ architect. After almost three decades of buidling almost nothing, he’s starting work on his greatest project: a massive mixed use development that will tower over the city, where residents will travel to and from their apartments by means of elevated railways that pass directly through each and every residence. The troubled architect finds his building plans scuppered when The Evening Combinator (a nightly journal of the city’s dreams) publishes perverted tales from Mr. Selladore’s strangest dreams.

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The depiction of the architect as a mad and disconnected visionary with unworkable designs on his city is nothing new in popular culture (see the Fountainhead for one), but his situation in Katchor’s parallel universe makes him somehow more believeable and more receptive to our pity. I want to come back to Selladore the architect in due course, but I’d appreciate some alternative interpretations of his character – is he a figure of mockery or sympathy? He – or rather his imagination of the what the city could be – seems somehow at odds with the loving feel of the tired and jumbled city that Julius Knipl usually explores.

Part three will follow in the next couple of weeks, but feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

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The French comic book publisher Glénat has just released this new book, Capitales Européens en BD. Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that created the European Union, it collates a large number of excerpts from recent comic books that are set in European capitals.

Citizens of some of the E.U.’s newer member states might be disappointed not to see their cities represented; the collection omits a few states without explanation. I’m pretty sure that if the editors had looked hard enough, for instance, they could have found small scale local artists depicting Sofia or Ljubljana. Ultimately the collection offers snapshots of Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Bucarest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Nicosia, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Talinn, Warsaw and Vienna. The emphasis remains largely on the known centres of European comic book publishing, with the largest entries for Brussels, Paris and London. The majority of artists included seem to be of western European origin, a shame considering the potential this book had for showcasing central and eastern European talent that might be unknown to a wider audience more used to the artists and authors included.

Fans of these Franco-Belgian albums will enjoy the collection, but it does unwittingly offer perhaps the strongest argument yet for non-European commentators to fall into the trap of describing a single ‘European’ style of comics illustration. The complex classical architecture of western Europe is beautiful rendered by the precise line drawing of authors such as Tito or Borile, Rivière and Carin. All four seasons of Paris, past, present and future are rendered full of atmosphere and some dark flashes of mystery. Occasional sparks of artisitic independence and brilliance emerge, such as the views of Madrid drawn in striking monochrome by Cava and Bel Barrio.

You can order the book direct from Glénat (€14.99, with prefaces in French, English and German, ISBN: 9782723457842). The caveat I suggest is that you should at least flip through a copy before buying, so as to not be disappointed by what is largely an ‘old-Europe’-centric album. I had naïvely hoped to have seen Slovenian artists included, even if they were young and outside the mainstream of European comics publishing. Is there really not one Hungarian comic book illustrator who could have shown be Budapest?




  • ABOUT THE PROJECT

    "no words no action" was an experiment in academic blogging. The blog recorded the progress of reading, research and investigations that lead to a Masters in Architecture dissertation at the University of Sheffield in autumn 2007. You can find out more about the author's interest in blogging here.

    To find out more about the thesis, download the original dissertation proposal (pdf format) from February 2007 or the semi-formal first chapter (pdf format) from April 2007.

    Further research projects are in the works, and their dependence on human interaction and networking suggests more blogging will be inevitable when the time comes.


  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    At the time that this blog was created, James Benedict Brown was a fifth year Masters of Architecture student at the University of Sheffield. James' personal blog is here.

    James graduated in 2008 and now lives and works in Glasgow.


  • ABOUT THE TUTOR

    This project was supervised by Renata Tyszczuk at the University of Sheffield


  • ABOUT YOU

    If you want to correct me on something, offer an opinion on a particular artist or building, or if you'd like to recommend someone or something to find out about, please feel free to leave a comment. Just click on 'Comments' under the headline of the relevant post...


  • BOOKSHELF

    Click here to browse James' bookshelf, and to purchase books being used in this project.


  • CONFERENCE DIARY

    I've managed to miss almost half a dozen compelling conferences around the world so far this year, simply because I have no (more) money to travel and no time to escape my studies in Strasbourg and Sheffield. However, if I had a magic plane ticket and plenty of time, here's my selection of essential conferences to attend. Hopefully I'll be there for more of them next year... click here for the diary (updated every time I miss another one).


  • NOTE

    All images are used for illustrative purposes only, and the copyright remains with the artist and/or creator. Please contact me if I have misappropriated an image or incorrectly credited it. Thanks... JBB


  • SOME RIGHTS RESERVED

    Creative Commons License
    The content of this blog is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.


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