As part of the City As Material series, after being our special guest for the Underside event and helping to co-ordinate the resulting collaborative eBook, Layered, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was asked to produce an individual effort. She created Deep City, an attempt to “extract the individual elements we see in cities over and over again, to help me develop some sort of vocabulary for the cities I know and love, building blocks that make them all melt into one another”. Containing striking photographs of streetscapes, skylines and various nooks and crannies, accompanied by Alexandra’s thoughts and observations, Deep City is an ode to the cities we live in and their commonalities that we discover over time.
A series of four eBooks created by Giles Lane, “Fragments towards an anarchaeology of Belo Horizonte” showcases photographs taken during walks around the city, as part of the arte.mov festival and symposium in 2009. The books focus on certain features of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, such as its Street Art, the Corners of the city, and it’s Waves (waveforms in Brazilian design). Giles describes them as a “very cursory engagement with Belo Horizonte, its people and life. However, the patterns discerned and organised into thematic eBooks perhaps give a taste or hint of what could be revealed in a deeper anarchaeology” – peculiar niches of the city that might have otherwise been taken for granted, are collected as a body of evidence that highlights their significance, as in Waves. They show some extraordinary examples of Belo’s elaborate architecture and graffiti – download, make and see for yourself here.
A recently published Diffusion Highlight, The Thetford Travelling Menagerie by Lisa Hirmer and Andrew Hunter of Dodolab, is one of the few eBooks so far to use the A5 landscape format, the end result being particularly striking and accomplished. It stands out amongst the Proboscis bookshelves, aided in part, by the lovely illustration on its cover – a procession of silhouetted creatures in all manner of shapes and sizes.
“The goal of The Thetford Travelling Menagerie is to use stories and images of local animals (past and present, real and imagined) to inspire people in the community to share their perceptions of Thetford today. Our stories and images of animals are offered to trigger memories and tales, a menagerie of beasts to conjure up stories of Thetford, its history of change and its current state of flux. What belongs, what’s been lost, what keeps people away, and what draws them in? What can we learn and share about migration, displacement, settlement and change from the creatures and natural world around us?”
It would be great to see more eBooks taking advantage of this larger format – it allows for greater design and really lends the publication a sense of value. It’s perfect for landscape photography, perhaps even for mini coffee table books if using high quality paper and a capable printer, or the Publish and Print On Demand service.
Tim Wright joined Giles and I for our second City As Material outside of London on Tuesday, as we took a trip to Norwich, where Tim spent his early years.
The train from London seemed distinctly commuter-free compared to our journey to Bristol, with only a handful of people in our carriage. We bagged table seats, and sat down to some much needed coffee, battling against the dreary weather outside. Mucky, sepia-tinted windows gave the landscape outside a grainy, nostalgic vibe, the perfect accompaniment to tales of Tim’s childhood in Norwich.
Arriving there, after setting up the GPS tracker and sound recorder Tim had brought, we walked down the main stretch of tacky nightclubs and kebab joints, possibly not the best introduction to the city. However, we soon spied Norwich castle, a curious structure, almost too uniform and perfect considering it dates from the 11th century. Tim said it looked like a fairy-tale castle, a manifestation of the first thing you’d see when you heard the word “castle”. Next to it, a space-age cylindrical lift ferried visitors to and from the lower levels – a bizarre combination.
We descended to the city centre, passing the market, towards Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with houses and shops dating from the Tudor period. This amazing street is home to the Strangers Club, set up to entertain those from outside Norwich, and where Tim’s father regularly took him to lunch. I couldn’t resist a peek through a lofty window, and was greeted with the sight of a woman carrying flagons from the kitchen, hastily ducking before she noticed. Further up, the window of an antique and curiosity shop in a side court displayed Crowley-esque goat horns and all manner of surreal exhibits.
After passing through the beautiful cathedral and it’s ornate cloisters (and a hilarious sign outside which read “We apologise for the untidy appearance of these ruins”), we popped into the Writer’s Centre, recruiting Chris Gribble briefly as our tour guide. He mentioned that Norwich was barely affected by the industrial revolution, apparent in the structures pre-dating it which are so common. We cut through the shopping centre, past the cinema where Tim first saw Star Wars, and arrived by a huge derelict building adorned with a giant graffiti mural; originally zoned for development, but now a victim of the property crash. A dystopian counterpart to the medieval niches of the city.
Before departing, Chris recommended The Window, the “world’s smallest coffee shop” (appropriately next to the “UK’s best pizza and kebab” shop – a dubious claim). After lunch in the refreshingly different Cinema City dining rooms (housed in a building where parts date back the the 14th century, yet the courtyard is sheltered by a modern glass roof), we stopped by. It resembles a tiny kitchen, with only a small bench and a chair or two to perch on, but has a great atmosphere. We chatted with the owner and several locals, and left with the after-glow of a dynamic and friendly venture trailing behind. Tim’s previous statement that nothing much had changed since he left, and that the pulse of the city was definitely on the slow side, had a small, yet charming, contender.
All day we had noticed plaques underneath various street signs, some with slightly vague origins; the phrases “may have been named because” and “could be” were used an awful lot. Paired with peculiar names, such as “Rampant Horse Street” and “Tombland”, these gave us the idea of perhaps creating some Storycubes with street-sign images, and fictional explanations on the other side, which could be fun. We were also interested in using GPS data and sound recordings from the day for an eBook output, particularly Tim’s childhood memories, and the peaks and lulls in conversations when passing through certain areas, so that we could contrast the physical experiences with raw data, examining the correlations and disparities. We’ll be starting work on those soon, so keep an eye out on Diffusion.
Caroline Maclennan, a student at Lancaster University who worked with Alice Angus on her As It Comes project, created this eBook to document the research and people involved whilst exploring independent shops and traders in Lancaster. It’s composed of images printed from a mobile pogo printer and sketches, as well as newspaper clippings, tracings of maps and handwritten notes – all contrasted against a rustic brown paper sketchbook, which has been scanned and converted into an eBook with bookleteer. This lends a wonderful handcrafted aesthetic, letting the reader see a personalised account of a project examining human interactions and community, and serves as the perfect accompaniment to the work Alice has produced.
I mentioned this set of Storycubes briefly in one of my first ever blog posts, “Comics, Cubed”, but it’s elaborate concept deserves another shout-out. Warren Craghead, an artist and curator, created ten Storycubes depicting a fictional autobiography, each representing a decade of his life (the last, in a touch of dark humour, simply shows an urn). Starting with his birth in 1970, and ending with his “death” in 2060, the cubes are drawn in different style and tones, the surreal, abstract illustrations portraying the world view and imagined future of a man who, in his own words, “is constantly drawing”. Warren’s cubes have received some pretty positive reviews from the comic scene as well – Matthew Brady described it as “a sweeping, fascinating portrait of a life” on his blog.
Download and make “A Sort Of Autobiography” for yourself here.
During research visits to Riejka, Croatia, Andrew Hunter of Dodolab took the photographs of signs and graffiti that adorn this set of four double sided Storycubes. Accompanying the Icons Of Rijeka eBooks, they display some peculiar and amusing images, and are given a bold physicality by the three dimensional form of the cubes – almost as if someone has excavated a chunk of wall! I particularly like the sign which shows several figures appearing to clamber over a car, but what it denotes I have NO idea.
Download, make and decipher them for yourselves here.
Rob Annable, an architect at Axis Design Architects, used bookleteer to create this eNotebook whilst visiting Germany to study Passivhaus design principles. Using a blank eBook complete with trip itineraries and QR code web links, he wrote down observations, and placed in photographs taken and printed on site with a Polaroid PoGo printer. It was then scanned and uploaded it for anyone to view and use. This custom notebook, combining essential trip information and a means to record data in a single artifact, avoids carrying excess documents, and allows for easier cross reference.
This was created alongside cartoonist Seth‘s model city installation, “Dominion”, shown at the Dundas Museum & Archives in Ontario, Canada. Seth constructed a scale cardboard city, inspired by the aesthetic of Canadian cities and towns like Hamilton and Dundas, infused with a detailed fictional narrative and history. The eBook showcases a selection of buildings from Dominion, alongside exhibition notes and a biography of the artist. It’s main purpose however, was to encourage visitors to recount their own tales and memories of Dundas, record them in the book, and leave it with the Museum to be read and shared. Sparking the imagination of readers, by relating the fictional Dominion to their experiences, this eBook allows the Museum to enrich it’s knowledge of Dundas and it’s inhabitants.
Next in the Songs trend is “Sea Shanties” – two volumes of songs sung at sea, selected and introduced by Francis McKee. He states “Beyond society’s canons of literature there are the outlaws – songs and stories that survive in the wild.” It seems these songs are memorised and passed on through their performance alone, rarely being recorded on paper, so it’s unlikely they would be heard outside of sailing circles. Shanties are work songs, the rhythms in time with sailors hauling, and barely sung today due to modern rigging changes. This compilation ensures these tales are not lost to time; these eBooks can be downloaded and reproduced anywhere – perhaps even on deck!