Having got busy with the Cold War Modern show at the V&A, we got to thinking about all the fantastic movies and TV programmes that connect with the period (some of which are featured in the exhibition).
There's Dr. Strangelove, Sleeper, Solaris, and 2001. All brilliant.
But the one we really think captures the spirit of the show is the TV series The Prisoner: quite simply one of the best television programmes ever made.
So here's the opening credits for your viewing pleasure.
The show looks at the decades after the Second World War, when the two super powers were locked in a constant battle of one-upmanship. Not content with just having bigger and better missiles, they tried to outdo each other in every area - leading to an explosion of fantastic art and design. As the blurb from the show points out "Modern life after 1945 seemed to promise both utopia and catastrophe".
The major strength of the exhibition is its sheer breadth. It pulls in Dieter Rams's beautiful designs for Braun (which still exert a powerful influence on the some modern day classics); paintings by Gerhard Richter, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Hamilton; Archigram's Walking Cities; Otl Aicher's lecture posters; as well as bits from Eames, Corbusier, and Buckminster Fuller. Deeply brilliant.
The show runs until 11 January, but heck, why wait?
Regular readers of this blog will know that we've been mixed up in a fantastically engaging online campaign by a group called 7thSyndikate.
We were initially sent an email from them at the beginning of September:
"Don't turn away from your screen; they may already be watching. We like your type. You came to our attention while demonstrating your observational skills in finding what you need inside zone six, as well as having contacts further a field. In the next couple of days someone from our organisation will be in contact. If you don't hear from us by then, destroy all evidence of our correspondence. For now, it doesn't matter who we are, suffice to say we're a state-funded organisation interested in your skills."
The page had a hidden link on the word 'bright', which opened up a new window:
And so, the game was afoot.
A series of cryptic emails arrived in the following days, including one which said:
"Place the following message in a public communication to your comrades – dim3 ak7ion – this communication is sensitive, but shouldn't place you in direct danger."
This led us to make this post which then led to another email saying that we'd been activated as an agent, with the code-name TrouinVI-302. There were a few more online hoops to jump through, and one offline one, where a classified ad was placed in the London Lite newspaper:
The phone number led to a strange voicemail with heavy breathing and a protracted scream, but that was a bit of a red herring, as the text 'B1-Lancer' was a password to the next area of the website. You were then asked to find images tagged with your agent name on a selection of photo sharing websites, and these images were tagged with URLs of Google maps, indicating a secret rendezvous for all the agents, in the vicinity of the Albert Memorial.
Agents were asked to turn up in shades and a hat, carrying a newspaper under their arm; and to wait for a man in a bowler hat, a tan mac and dark shoes. They were then to follow his every move.
So at this point, we were thinking, well, it's been fun, but what's going to happen now that we're switching to the real world? There was a lot of online chatter about who was behind the campaign, and after a little careful digging we worked out who was behind it all.
So we turned up, along with a gang* of 30 or so other bloggers, all looking a tad perplexed in shades and hats. After a brief while, the mysterious man showed up.
He led the group (at a brisk pace) on a brief walkabout through the streets of Kensington, eventually arriving at an imposing front door:
And so, the masterminds behind the game were revealed - the V&A.
The whole thing was a rather brilliant word-of-mouth campaign, or alternate reality game, from the folks at 1000 Heads, who'd been working for the V&A to drum up a bit of noise about their new Cold War Modern show (we'll be adding to that noise ourselves very shortly).
It's the first time the V&A has done something like this, so we expect they were feeling more than a tad nervous about how it might turn out. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, which pulled in bloggers and got them playing on a dedicated site, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google maps, on Flickr, and a host of other places; and it felt like it fitted in perfectly with the style of the exhibition.
Hot on the heels of the gargantuan (and slightly overwhelming) London Design Festival comes the far more intimate and friendly northern version, Design Event, which gets busy from 9 to 26 October 2008.
We nipped up there this summer to get a feel for the city, and had a grand old time – read all about it on our Design Guide to Newcastle.
The full line up for the festival has just been released. Helpfully, Newcastle is the perfect size for walking round, and you can wander from show to show in minutes – so we thought we'd create a walking tour for your pleasure and perambulation.
This year's event is arranged around the theme of Northern Design, looking right across Northern Europe to see what's cooking from BALTIC to the Baltic states.
First up, there's a trio of shows at King's House, just near the station, all running from 10-25 October.
Hidden in Plain View is a group show from designers across Northern Europe, who've looked at the tradition of steganography (the art and science of writing hidden messages) which is apparently traditionally popular on Scandinavian postcards, and they've created their own selection of postcards for viewers to decipher.
Staying at King's House, the folks from If you could have put together a showcase of the latest raw design talent spilling out of Sunderland, Teeside and Northumbria Universities, exhibiting alongside some ex-students who've gone on to make it big. They're all confronting the question: If you could do anything in the North, what would it be?
Just up the short walk away you'll find the fantastic Electrik Sheep shop and gallery, which will be showing a stack of new work from Eelus (above). If you're up in that part of town already, the show opens on Thursday 2 October at 6pm.
Sticking with the illustration vibe, across toward the centre of town is the Tradition show from the Lobster Foundation, featuring work from ten of the bestest designers and illustrators kicking around in Scandinavia, including the ever wonderful Stina Persson (above).
Heading south from there, the Designed & Made Gallery is putting on show called MadeNorth, looking at cultural similarities and differences between Scandinavia and north-eastern England.
Keep going south to catch the fantastic Lighten Up show from the folks at [re]design, fresh from its success at the 100% Design. There are some delicious bits in the collection, and they're exhibiting in the Tyne Bridge Tower, so it should be fantastic. And keep an eye out for more sustainable lighting cleverness from the folks at We Make, with their Beryl and Friends collection of lights popping up round town.
Nip along the river past the Gateshead Millennium Bridge to Baltic, where you'll find the Design Event Mart, selling a vast selection of work from the brightest and the best of the local talent, including Alex Underwood's brilliant Speaker Buddies, fresh from their trip down to the London Design Festival (and yep, we've shown you them before, but come on, they're great!)
So, this is interesting: an article in this weekend's Observer suggests that the Department of Health is considering plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell their cigarettes in plain unbranded packets.
The article is based on a DOH consultation document - the consultation ended on 8 September, and the findings are due back in about three months time (you should be able to find them on the response page of the DOH site around mid December). The document's purpose was to work out ways to reduce the number of people smoking, to help smokers quit, and to stop kids from thinking that fags are cool, man.
Amongst its many suggestions and questions, the document asked:
"Do you believe that plain packaging of tobacco products has merit as an initiative to reduce smoking uptake by young people?"
They defined plain packaging like this:
"Plain packaging, also known as generic, standardised or homogeneous packaging, means that the attractive, promotional aspects of tobacco product packages are removed and the appearance of all tobacco packs on the market is standardised. Except for the brand name (which would be required to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be required to be plain coloured (such as white or plain cardboard) and to display only the product content information, consumer information and health warnings required under the law."
Which is fascinating. They'd be taking one of the most carefully branded products in the world, and de-branding it. And since they've already banned tobacco advertising, cancer sticks don't really have much else left except their branding. They'd be stripping them back to just their name, taste and cost.
The document looks at the pros and cons of doing this, suggesting that on the plus side it would break the link between any old memories we might have from past advertising campaigns, but that on the down side, tobacco manufacturers might start to compete on price alone, so cigarettes would get cheaper (but they then note that they could just whack up the tax).
What's the betting the tobacco companies are already looking at ways to make their cigarettes look totally unique in some new way - coloured cigarette papers perhaps, or coloured foils inside the packs... desperately trying to something, anything, to retain some semblance of individuality. Maybe they'd launch entirely new brands, where it was all about the name - perhaps using a really short name, or a really really long one...
Either way, it's going to be really interesting to watch what happens. The Observer article says the DOH "received even more responses than the 55,000 it got before last year's public smoking ban. Most respondents supported the plans, including plain packaging." So it could happen sooner rather than later.
Jeepers it's busy in London lately. Seems you can't hardly turn a corner without tripping over some kind of cultural event that's as eager as a puppy to show you something brilliant and exciting. And leading the pack is the London Design Festival, now in its 6th year, and going from strength to strength.
We knew we were only going to make it to a fraction of the 128 (or so) exhibitions, so decided to stick to the big guns: 100% Design (and its siblings, 100% Materials and 100% Futures) at Earls Court; Tent London over at the Truman Brewery, and Designersblock, which was getting all fancy-pants this year in Covent Garden.
We scooted over to 100% Design first, which felt much groovier than normal - we reckon it might well have stolen some of the fun stuff away from the other shows.
We totally loved the Squirrel Wall Lamps from Alex Randall at Jericho Hands. Alex explained that she'd teamed up with an ace taxidermist to create the lamps from actual dead squirrels, and pointed out that they had excellent environmental credentials as they're effectively recycled vermin. Which is nice.
We also got excited by Alex Underwood's Speaker Buddies, exhibited as part of a Northumbria University group show. They stand 50cm tall and are moulded from recycled expanded polystyrene. Deeply wonderful.
We also loved the latest show from the folks at [re]design, Lighten Up, which collected together some stunning lights and lamps, all with a focus on sustainability. We particularly loved Anna McConnell's gorgeous Non Standard Lamp. Anna takes existing lampstands and breathes new life into them by adding ball bearing hinges, rewiring them, and adding a weighted base for extra stability. Smart.
Having walked eight (or nine?) miles up and down the aisles of Earl's Court, we jumped on a tube and made our way to Tent London. There was a fair amount to see there, but the one thing that really stood out for us was Andrew Ross's Bone Watch. It's still in a very experimental stage, but we think it's lush.
Next up was Designersblock, once again in a fantastic location, No1 The Piazza at Covent Garden - lots of exposed brick and temporary scaffolding. And it was there that we found our pick of this year's show, the sublime Neo Monuments series (top and below) by Mikael Alacoque. Exhibited as part of Kith Kin's Pah-ah show, Mikael describes them as "a playfully sinister bastardization of familiar objects", which we reckon is spot on. We had to be physically restrained from stealing one for the studio. Utterly brilliant, and incredibly iconic.
All in all, a pretty fine collection of work. (There are a few more pics from our wanderings over on Alistair's LDF 08 Flickr set.)
We'll just sign off by making one request - can the powers that be see if they can schedule Open House London and the LDF on different dates next year? There's only so much design goodness you can squeeze into a weekend...
They've led us a merry modern dance, which even took us via the classified ads of a London newspaper. Sometimes it felt like we were getting warm, but more often it felt like we were getting cold. But they made us smile in the process, so we're not gonna get too grumpy.
We could tell you who they are and what it's all about, but if you're still caught up in the game, it would rather spoil things.
And we're looking forward to seeing what happens next - we've fallen under their sphere of influence, and heck, we like it.
Our friends at OneInThree have just finished this promo for the new single Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants by Wild Beasts, and we think it's lush.
It uses a version of the Droste Effect, which is based on an uncompleted lithograph that Escher made in 1956. (The name comes from Dutch cocoa brand Droste, whose packaging featured a nurse holding a tray with a packet of Droste, on which there was an image of a nurse holding a tray with a packet of Droste, on which...)
To realise the promo, OneInThree adapted some software created by Josh Sommers, and borrowed seven extra Macs from their nearest and dearest. They now had nine computers, and ran them 24 hours a day for five days, working in shifts to make sure it ran as smoothly as possible. (They still had over 400 crashes during the 1080 computer hours, and ended up with 2 terabytes of data.)