14 December 2008

Going with the flow

I love typography in movement, text used as moving image.
This is a beautiful example of interpretation of text, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made by the Human Rights Action Center, over their campaign for Burma and for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an important and inspiring text, it had to be toned down to accommodate a consensus of the first countries who signed it in 1948. It reminds me that I should write one day of the Declation of the Rights of Men and Citizen of 1793, a text that never got to be implemented in the turmoil of the 1st French Republic but that was far more ambitious than the one of 1789. It stated in its first article the common welfare - as in "well-being", "happiness" - as the aim of society: "Le but de la société est le bonheur commun". The overall tone of the Declaration is also quite libertarian: insurrection against a government that violated the rights of its people becomes a right and a duty.

The text of the 35 articles in French and in English.


05 December 2008

An indispensable testimony

A 8.13 minutes video seen on theguardian.co.uk follows a correspondant in the territory of Walungu, in eastern Congo : "Rape in a lawless land. Leah Chishugi, a nurse and survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, travels into the heart of eastern Congo to record the testimony of more than 400 women and girls abused by marauding militias".

Please forward as much as you can.

The war on terror should start there.

-- Joëlle.

29 November 2008

"Flirting across a distance"

This is the title that the editors of the Stanford-based publication Ambidextrous chose for the article about Passages published in the current Fall/Winter issue, which theme is about "Getting it on"... This issue is somewhat a follow-up to the CHI '06 workshop 'Sexual Interactions: Why we should talk about sex in HCI' organized by Johanna Brewer, Joseph 'Jofish' Kaye, Amanda Williams and Susan Wyche. I was truly happy to have participated to this workshop which was attended by an eclectic and refreshing panel and which surprisingly wasn't easily accepted by the academic community - clearly talking about sex still makes people blush.
I'm glad this workshop continues to propagate echoes and so 2 years later, the organizers' perspective on this subject is also featured in this Ambidextrous issue.

I wouldn't have spontaneously chosen the title "Flirting across a distance" for my article, but it's growing on me. It evokes actually nicely the unclear, unsatisfactory and blurry touch of the Passages experience which is then assimilated with that one of flirting with someone.
I shall thank warmly Amal Dar Aziz for working on this article as my brilliant editor, Lilly Irani as my early correspondent and Amanda Williams for offering me the opportunity to publish an article in this modern and very well designed magazine I discovered while working at Distance Lab.

-->The PDF version of this article is available here for download.
Or you could as well support Ambidextrous by subscribing!

-- Joëlle.

23 November 2008

Carpe diem

Last Thursday, as I was leaving work to my climbing wall, I listened to a message on my answering machine. It was telling me that Wes Anderson would be at the militant cinema theatre Meliès in Montreuil the very same evening for a talk with director Peter Bogdanovitch.
At first, I hesitated because I really wanted to go climbing as I couldn't go there the week before. And I did go to the climbing wall. But then in front of the wall, I realized hey my favorite contemporary director is 10 mn away from here, what am I thinking. On my MySpace profile, I answered to the question "who I'd like to meet": "Wes and Owen". So it'd be a bit silly to miss on that one unexpected chance. So I hoped on my bike and rode to the cinema. There was a retrospective on Bodganovitch that week that I didn't hear about and for his open invitation to a director of his choice to present and chat with, he asked for Wes Anderson. So that evening, the cinema presented two movies by each director: the Royal Tennenbaum (Bogdanovitch's pick) and Saint Jack (Anderson's pick). In between the movies, they talked for about an hour and it was just great to be there. The audience was offered to ask questions, and surprisingly, I was the only one to raise my hand. I took the opportunity to ask Wes about his use of music as a narrative in his movies. I was interested to know what was his writing process around pop songs. Of course there wasn't as much time to go through this subject as I would have liked but during an intermission I went to see him directly and talked a few more minutes about it. I felt quite shy and clumsy but it was still nice to approach him. He was very kind and patient with the few people around him. After the talk, I stayed to see Saint Jack, a movie that Anderson mentioned as an inspiration for the Royal Tennenbaum. The connection is not obvious, but still it was interesting to watch this curious, sensitive, picturesque movie, following Ben Gazzara in every scene, as a pimp in Singapour.

The 2 directors with translator.

-- Joëlle

16 November 2008

Setting the tone

Since the 6th of November and until the 22nd, Abstract is exhibited at the Théatre de l'Agora, Scène Nationale d'Evry et d'Essonne. Yesterday, a special event "Circuit Ecléctique #3" took place that would take people through a number of art pieces, closing with a concert. I was there with some friends to attend the event and observe the participants in the installation.
It's the 3rd time Abstract is presented, after the Gallery Ef exhibition and the festival Nuits de l'Ososphère last year. So I was able to experience a different context and make comparative notes. I must say that although it was a nice and interesting setting yesterday, it couldn't beat the Japanese one. I realized that Abstract cannot be shown in any kind of context. I fantasize about my works being able to be presented globally, whether in a theatre, or in a gallery or in an undefined public space. I think I'm being naive there.
What I try to achieve with Abstract is a strong immersion cutting the participant from his reality and daily environment. But the interaction itself is not enough. The staging has to be part of it. And I'm not sure it can be done in the context of a new media show where many constraints have to be taken into account to share the space with other pieces, and with a timing that get people to go from one experience to many other ones in say an hour time.
I learned yesterday that if the conditions to show a piece are not exactly the ones you need then it's better not to go with it at all. It's what making the difference between a "nice" experience to an "impacting" one. I cannot do approximation anymore. It's not easy for me to accept that because I tend to be enthusiastic, I like trying collaborations, I want to say yes to all the opportunities I get and I'm always hopeful and curious about the outcomes even if they're not what I had in mind. I like the randomness about the process. But I shouldn't do it anymore at all costs. I'm very grateful that the theatre team wanted to show Abstract and they did a good work mounting a black box and putting a lot of efforts to follow some of my instructions but the isolation was not there, and therefore I think due to that and few other reasons the incitement to stay a long time was not there.
All these observations are great to help me build a stronger experience for next time and it's also confirming the crucial importance of scenography, an art that I don't master well yet.

-- Joëlle.

09 October 2008

Feeling 1929-depressed?

In the era of depression, one thing that, for good or for bad, is keeping people hopeful and dreaming has to be entertainment in general and cinema in particular.
The golden era of Hollywood in the Thirties chose to address the issue of depression with glam, lights and wit. Interesting perspective. It would become the place of solace and comfort, for the time of a movie, a place to hide and forget your troubles.
And if you watch those movies nowadays, they still hold the same function of making you feel better without arrogance.
The great thing about the Internet is that you can get to watch some of these movies for free, and legally.
The site "Movies found online" lists all the movies in the public domain, free of rights that you can watch online, mostly on Google videos. And surprisingly a lot of them are actual masterpieces.

My suggestions:

His Girl Friday (1940) - Howard Hawks at his best, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel
Second Chorus (1940) - a very nice musical with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - hardly needs an introduction
Meet John Doe (1941) - Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwick in a minor Capra movie
Animal Crackers (1930) - with the Marx Brothers
The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss (1936) - with Cary Grant

That's just a tiny sample: in there you can also find Chaplin's The Gold Rush or The Kid, Buster Keaton's shorts, Fritz Lang's M, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Freaks, Hitchcock's Secret Agent and Sabotage, silent cult movies Battleship Potemkin, The Andalusian Dog (couldn't get myself to see it yet), Intolerance, post-war era Scarlet Street, The Third Man, Rashômon and even "closer" to us, joyful Help! and amazing Yellow Submarine. There are also many more movies that I never heard of with tempting names like "Colossus and The Amazing Queen", "Gayniggers from Outer space", "The mystery of the leaping fish", etc... If you like documentaries, there are a bunch too. Who needs Mininova anymore?
It's surely not DVD quality but it's available right away.

Strangely the site has not listed one of my all-time favorite that you can find directly on Google, My Man Godfrey (1936) by Gregory La Cava, with Carole Lombard playing the irresistible lovable funny whiny spoiled rich girl you want to spank.

-- Joëlle.

03 October 2008

THE UPGRADE! PARIS #18 with Etienne Mineur

This evening, the amazing interaction designer Etienne Mineur is giving a talk within the context of The Upgrade! Paris. He's going to present his experimental work carried out for major international companies, like Issey Mikaye. Etienne is one of the few people I know who's able to be edgy, ambitious and explorative within a web commercial context. In his blog, My-Os,he regularly presents his work and reviews with a sharp eye things he likes or dislikes (mostly anything related to the French national train company SNCF's communication).
I've first met him as my teacher at the Fine Arts school almost ten years ago and he's still the same humble and enthusiastic person that he was then. I'll be happy to moderate this talk this evening at the invitation of Julie Morel, who organises The Upgrade! Paris with Incident.net.

-- Joëlle


Etienne Mineur / at Beton Salon, Paris - 3 oct. 08, 7pm
(English below)

• Beton Salon
9 esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet.
Rez-de-Chaussee de la Halle aux Farines.
75013 Paris.
Underground station: Bibliotheque F. Mitterand

For the last 3 years, Etienne Mineur has developed www.my-os.net. The blog’s aim is to enquire about the relation between graphic design and technologies. For Upgrade! # 18, he will present his interactive projects, focussing on his experiments for Issey Miyake.

Born in May 1968. Art director for many independent agencies such as “Hyptique” (Paris) and “Nofrontiere” (Vienna, Austria), Etienne has also co-founded “Incandescence” and work there as the artistic director.

Moderation: Joelle Bitton. Joelle Bitton is an artiste, an interactive designer, and the founder of Superficiel.org.


Thanks to Melanie Bouteloup & Beton Salon Team.

19 August 2008

My tips on Japan - Part 1

My friend Karen is going soon to Japan. Of course, as soon as I heard about it, I couldn't help but drawn her in multiple suggestions of what to do, what to see, where to go and what to buy. So in order to make it easier for her and other people interested I thought it might be better to write all my tips down.

My first post would be about fashion in Tokyo.
They are stores everywhere of course. But to make my life easier I usually go to one main place where there's the essence of Japanese prêt-à-porter. This place is also right in the middle of Omotesando and Harajuku districts, where all I could want fashion-wise is there anyway for me to grab. And I go there during the 1st days I'm in town, this way I can move on to other things and I know how much I've spent.

This dream place is called La Forêt.
This fashion store is to Tokyo what used to be Hyper Hyper to London before it closed down. But bigger, trendier and way cheaper. 5 floors of young designers for every taste. The more you go up in the store, the cheaper it is, although it's worth looking at the first floors as well as they often have bargains.
My favorite designers in this place are Chelsea (2F), the chain Olive des Olive (4F I think), Ehyphen gallery (3,5 or 4F), Par Avion (3,5F) and few others. Top Shop also has a small location there, but they only display the most experimental and edgy clothes of their collection.
The building is designed by the English collective Tomato.

The way I get there is I usually get off at the Omotesando subway station and then go up the main avenue, after a must-stop at Andersen bakery because they have these delicious plum pastries.

On my way there or back, I also stop at Kiddyland for Miyazaki movies merchandising (it takes most of the 2nd floor). How about a key-ring in the shape of Totoro? Or a tea towel, or a bento box, or chopsticks?

In this area, you should also of course stroll in Harajuku where you can get a peek at what are the latest trends among the teenagers crowd but where you can also come across great affordable designs, that are inspired by current collections from Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto but without the price tag obstacle.

But if you want a peek at those great Japanese brands anyway, along with Rem Koolhas' Prada store, it's also in the area.

Plan a day in this district if you're, like me, a fashion addict.

For more fashion, the second-hand way, especially for great shoes, go to Shibuya station. The stores are hidden in the back streets, just few meters off the subway station, behind the famous Times-Squarish crossing that is shown in all the movies featuring Tokyo (lots of people, sound and giant LED screens). You can't miss the stores if you walk towards Uniqlo.


01 August 2008

2 weeks

Tomorrow, I'm leaving for London and then Sardinia. 2 weeks of vacations to empty my brain, and do nothing. The concept of vacations takes an all new meaning for the salarywoman. Up until now, except for brief periods in my life where I had been previously contract-tied to the business world, I was mixing vacations and work somehow. I wasn't really aware of that specific rhythm where you look forward to a break, as I was defining when and how I would manage my own time. Now it's imposed upon me, but I don't resent it really, at least for now. It's a different experience of pace, leisure and energy.
I have to come up with a concept for an interactive art piece in the next few weeks. I'm the artist-in-residency for the Siana festival next year, taking place in Evry, France. Of course, in the last months, my work as a designer and project director took up all my brain activity. But soon, I'll have to add to the mix artlife. For me, it's a way to get back into research mode. But after this time away from it, I'm completely out of the blue. I hear here and there sounds of what's going on, through my friends who are still in the loop but I feel like I have a lot to catch up.
The theme that I'm starting to approach for this new piece is unsurprisingly: work. And it might actually be a good lead. The festival conference has chosen to center around the subject of my DEA thesis: the imaginary of technologies. I developed in my study the subject within the context of 19th century industrial revolution, when the new technologies of that time were related to early mechanization and the transformation of the world through mass production as we know it. So it might make sense as my current life is deeply influenced at the moment by the rhythm imposed by the structure of a working day that I reflect upon this in my next project. As I empty my brain during this summer break, inspiration might come to take me further into that path or into something completely different.


23 July 2008

Empty dumpty

I'm exhausted. I still haven't found the right balance between my work life and the rest.
My work is great but it's sucking up all my energy. I spend around 9 hours a day at my work place - 9 hours in a fast track of a Tresor compilation, not quite the Buddy Holly deal: no time to stand back, no time to stay still, no time to do anything else but to focus on my daily tasks.
Thankfully, I can walk home at the end of the day - I don't have to take the nasty subway. But by 7pm, I'm more often than not brain dead. I manage every week to go to a yoga class, to the swimming-pool or to see people but I'm in fact secretly tempted to just do nothing, to sleep.
Week-ends are always too short to get a life back. Last Saturday, I went shopping for Japanese ingredients. That's how I get my fun. And it's a lot of fun because it means cooking. So Sunday, after the market, I spent most of my day cooking. We got a dozen of cute red peppers for €1,50 and as we were wondering what to do with all that, I decided to make some sort of relish/chutney that turned out to be quite amazing. I also cooked some tofu panned in kuzu, with carrots in a sweet shôyu-pine nut sauce. But my final treat was the most playful of all: making my own seaweed gomasio with the Muji mortar and pestle I bought in Japan 2 years ago. All it took was sesame seeds, some Nori shreds and a pinch of salt but the smell, the taste, the look make it one of the most delicious ingredient to have at hand, one that can turn your out-of-the-box fried tofu into a first class meal.

18 June 2008

The Party Girl

To get the full range of Cyd Charisse motions, 3 movies are essential: The Bandwagon, the best Hollywood musical, Brigadoon, another one of Minelli's masterpiece and The Party Girl, a colourful film noir by the genius Nicholas Ray.
Charisse was just a perfect evidence that brought out of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly the best of them. Whenever you'd feel blue, she'd give you sun. Whenever you'd feel happy, she'd get you at another level of life perception.

-- Joëlle

26 May 2008

Before June or a remake

Time... time... time... such a true cliché..
Today i read Madjid's blog and it made me think of my current situation, it's not completely similar but we've taken up a new job at about the same time and we both disappeared from our blogs around then as well. Recently, he wrote that he was reading Balzac and so I was as well. It's an interesting way of keeping in touch, of keeping a social link, it's very ambient, very backgroundish. I'm aware of what he's up to, I can relate to episodes of his life, without even voicing it to him, without active friendshiping. Same as when I read Cati's blog. It's all done in some strange silence, echoing in a common memory.
Some weeks ago, I got a Facebook request from a high-school friend - we haven't been in touch for 15 years or so. But we didn't send each other any specific messages. We're on each other friends' list and somehow that's enough. We know we're "there".
On my AIM list, I see people everyday, I don't talk to them but they're there. It's soothing and frustrating at the same time. Or rather, it's soothing some times and frustrating at others.
I thought for a while that I could do art, research, design, earn money, have a rich and diverse social life, travel, live with my sweetheart, learn how to sing, practice yoga, take care of my home, be there for my family and friends, cook, blog, go to exhibitions, keep on learning, have kids, stay fit, keep my promise of putting up a website for the records I got for my 33rd birthday, volunteering for the Dorkbot, read, sleep at night, altogether in a harmonious and successful way. Instead, when I feel this is not possible, I surf for HOURS on the web, or I watch delightfully tons of movies and Buffy episodes because it's the easiest and quickest way to relax.
Of course, this is my modern Western privilege to have. My job isn't in any way breaking me as a human being, and I just have to work more or less 8 hours per day, for the right pay. In another time and place, I could be working just to survive, to support my family, to hope that it would take my kids further up the social scale. Something about misery my grandparents and, on a smaller scale, my parents did experience. Something that makes me think our president hasn't got the closest clue to what is work.
Then of course, that's when you wonder about progress, hope, existence, purpose.

30 April 2008

Before May

Well, today is the 30th of April - I feel compelled to publish a post before tomorrow, so I can tell myself I still blog regularly, or at least once a month!
I must say it's been hectic in the past weeks - many things to juggle with, including a brand new office hours job, which has been fun so far but that definitely put a strain on my schedule habits.
I have to find the time for doing many things and I must say that at least 2 beloved activities like cooking and blogging are still in need of me adapting to my new life... While another beloved activity that is... shopping does enjoy very well the perspectives of regular income.


24 March 2008

17 March 2008

Lost word

Last week, I went to see the new Gondry's masterpiece, Be Kind, Rewind. In all of his works, what strikes me the most is the brightness of his ideas, of his imagination. In that particular movie, I was touched by his reading of the (hi)story of cinema and of popular culture. But moreover, he subtly demonstrates how we need fiction to function, how we create narratives to make sense of reality and how we tell each other stories in order to connect, to live together (as in a polis) and to get a sense of belonging to a community/a family.
While I was watching the movie, I thought on another brilliant inventor, John Cage. I was then reading a book of conversations between Cage and Daniel Charles, called "Pour les Oiseaux" / "For the Birds" (a wordplay around the birdcage). What got me to think of him was a word that came back often in Gondry's movie: "sueded". In Be Kind, Rewind, the owners of a video club are shooting their own versions of movies like Ghostbusters, 2001, A Space Odyssey, Rush Hour 2, Boyz in the Hood and many more. They qualify their "remakes" as "sueded" because, as they explain, the tapes are "imported from Sweden". In an interview for the LA Times, Gondry said he "wanted a name that meant nothing". And from that he created a verb that means re-doing/re-interpreting/re-creating/re-composing just about anything, including webpages (in the movie's official site, you can find samples of Goolge and MyFace).
But the thing is what are the chances of coming across a word that doesn't exist twice in a week in 2 different contexts? In For the Birds, Cage uses that exact same word in its French verb form "suédé". So of course, after the movie, I go back home and start browsing the book in search of the paragraph, to compare the 2 meanings. But I browsed it again and again, 4 or 5 times, but I lost it. I can't find that word again. I thought for a bit that I dreamed it, that it's all a mix in my head, a Cage-Gondry conspiracy. But I'm convinced I did read it, because I remember thinking what the hell is that word "suédé"? what's the concept behind it? Maybe one day, when there's a digital copy of the book, it'll be easier to look into it. For now, I prefer to play around more obvious concepts addressed all over the book: silence, nothing, void, space, ecology, technology, references to Thoreau, Fishinger and Backminster Fueller..
In a last associated thought (who said again that the brain functions with associations?), reading Cage made me think about a wonderful project that Cati blogged about: "OTTO" created by Duncan Wilson and Manolis Kelaidis at the Royal College of Art.
An excerpt of the description: "OTTO (Greek for ‘ear’) is a device that makes hidden sounds audible. (...) Every object and surface in our environment has a whisper; subtle tremors and vibrations that are usually undetectable to the human ear, produced by the activity and movement of daily life. What if these sounds were audible? How would that change our aural awareness, perception of space and attitude towards objects? Would it be possible to ‘compose’ our own soundtrack using our walls and objects as a new form of instruments?"
For me this is more or less achieving as a standalone technology what Cage elaborated in his theories and his compositions: a way for us to hear the silence, the sound of objects, of our environment and make a sense of it: being an audience and a composer at the same time.

-- Joëlle.

13 February 2008

Bare Chemicals

Bare Minerals offers a range of foundations, in the form of powders, based only on minerals, free of preservatives, talc, oil and fragrance which is genuinely an achievement, as even organic make-up brands like Sante and Couleur Caramel can't get there - they both contain talc and fragrance in their compact powder range.
The minerals used are the ones you find in most of existing foundations and tinted creams: mostly iron oxydes (like CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499), zinc (CI 77947, CI 77950) and mica (CI 77019) except that they make in the case of Bare Minerals the only ingredients in the composition and the core of their marketing communication.
Yet, when you make the step to buy the product, you're strongly advised if not enticed to buy a kit that will contain on top of the powder you're looking to get, a cream base, an extra shade of the foundation, a terracotta, a translucent finishing touch powder, 3 different brushes and a how-to DVD. If you buy only the powder it costs you 22€, add one of the brushes and it's another 22€ but if you buy the kit, it's 65€ - it's difficult to argue. You can use only the foundation of course, but the guide mentions that perfect make-up is achieved when you follow all the steps: the base, the foundation, the terracotta, the final touch (the "Mineral Veil"). Each of the 3 brushes has a purpose in that process, that turns out to be quite fun to go through. I also appreciate that it doesn't feel like the other heavy and sticky foundations that grim your face and that I avoided using, going rather for the lighter sensation of tinted moisturizers.
But out of the kit, I'm leaving out for sure the base, that strangely the company avoids to mention in their chemicals-free discourse, even though it will "smooth your skin's surface prior to the foundation application".
In this base, you'll find PPG-14 Butyl ether (chemical emulsifier bad for the environment), Methyl Gluceth-20, Cetyl Dimethicone (very bad for the environment), Peg-100 Stereate, Diazolidinyl Urea (a highly toxic preservative releasing formaldehyde), Tetrasodium EDTA (toxic and polluting preservative), Propylene Glycol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben (controversial preservatives), Phenoxyethanol (controversial ether glycol). Incidentally, their powder "Mineral Veil" also contains Methylparaben and Propylparaben.
I find it a pity that Bare Minerals spoil their credibility by carrying these products and by avoiding to address their compositions in their perfect marketing plan.
In the current market of cosmetics, it's a perfect example of the confused discourses that surround us . It's not an organic brand but they use "bare minerals", it's "bare minerals" but 2 of their main products bear chemicals. It reminds me of the situation The Body Shop is in, or L'Occitane. And now L'Oréal just bought Sanoflore, so I think we're heading for even more confusion. The more popular organic ingredients will be getting, the more we'll be facing such contradictions. All the better reason to read carefully the notice on the packaging. "La vérité sur les cosmétiques" (the truth about cosmetics) was one of the 1st books to list, explain and range all the ingredients that can come into the composition of cosmetics. It's followed now by "La vérité sur les cosmétiques naturels" (the truth about natural cosmetics), which shows a public concern about being able to make better choices as the organic market expands.


10 February 2008

Are we dumb!

The Story of Stuff is a wonderful 20 minutes animation movie about the chain of links behind our modes of production and consumption, and its impact on the environment. It explains clearly some economic and marketing concepts, like "externalized costs", "planned obsolescence" and "perceived obsolescence", that keep this chain going by way of our gullibility and our self-depreciation.
Every time I buy something, even if it costs 50 cents, I wonder who I buy it from, where it was made, at what costs, if I really need it, why I buy it, for how long I will use it and how I will dispose of it. Some times, I do buy things on a whim, or because I do need to feel better about myself for few minutes and it's easy to do so with shopping or just because it's fun. But I try to always question my purchases and never take them for granted. It brings a stronger awareness each time, and eventually I get to ask the same questions to the people I buy the stuff from, even if they don't have the answer - at least, it puts me back in the active part of the chain - where I can consciously exert my "consumption power".
I like the idea of buying second hand goods, of recycling jam pots for my cooking spices and herbs, of giving, lending and borrowing books, of renting DVDs, of downloading music, of sending ecards, of looking for unique handmade crafts around the world, of not caring to get the latest plasma screen (or any TV for that matter) and of staying away as much as possible from plastic, processed food, waste-generating products and chain stores / major brands items. It's not always easy, but it's actually a lot of fun because I get to play around with my habits, my temptations and my imagination.
I read an interview of Starck today in Le Monde where he addresses harsh criticism against [product] design and defines it as "useless". I don't think we should understand that point in a very literal way but I agree with him when he says "We don't need more. We need less and better." It's probably one of the greatest task designers will ever have to undertake. We have so much already, how do we think creation, production and use when we don't need more and we shouldn't make more?


01 February 2008


I love this video that Jonah sent me. This improv group reminds of me the excellent Prangstgrüp already mentioned in that blog.


17 January 2008

Sweet Tooth

I have a problem with sugar. I'm addicted to it. I don't drink alcohol much and it's usually wine, I smoke cigarettes very occasionally, I love to cook and eat healthy food, I practice yoga regularly, I never drink coffee or sodas and instead all day long, I drink water and green tea (without sugar of course) and yet, almost every day, I have to have my hands on something sweet, since I'm a child. My teeth and I share the history of that relationship with sugar. And now I have to stop. I think this addiction (not mine, in general) should be acknowledged as a wide public concern. The health problems related to sugar consumption in western society are known and becoming more and more serious (the main ones are tooth-decay, itself being an underestimated major health risk as a whole, diabetes, and obesity). Sugar has started to be used more prominently in cooking in the 18th century as it became widely popular. Today, there's hardly any refined food that doesn't contain massive amount of it. Just take a look at some of your stuff in your kitchen cupboard, even the salty stuff. You don't need to get your daily fix of candies to get the dose. Which is why people are so hooked up on refined food actually.
In his book Anticancer, the doctor David Servan-Schreiber shows that in 1850, a westerner would consume 10 kg of sugar per year, in 1920, it would be 30 kg and in 2000, it would be 70 kg. In this essay, he establishes a relationship between refined sugar consumption and cancer, as cancerous cells "feed" on sugar.
As I'm thinking about all this, an article I read some time ago comes back to mind. The writer Nick Tosches wrote last year for Vanity Fair a wonderful article, "If You Knew Sushi", taking a glance at the recent popularity of sushi in America. I had never made the connection he made but it makes a lot of sense:
"America is addicted to sugar, but it seeks increasingly to veil its addiction. Power Bars. Sounds healthy. Main ingredient: fructose syrup. Almost 25 percent sugar. The guy, Brian Maxwell, who got rich selling these things, selling sugar as nutrition, swore by them and croaked at the age of 51. Eat a Power Bar and nobody gives a glance. Run up a bag of dope and people look at you funny. I don't get it. How about a nice, large Tazo Chai Frappuccino Blended Crème from Starbucks? Sounds healthy—I mean, after all, chai—and classy too: crème? Sugar content: 17 teaspoons.
A killer sugar addiction, a preoccupation with health, no matter how misguided, and pretensions, or delusions, of worldly sophistication. Sushi perfectly satisfies them all.
In a nation that never ate much fresh fish, it's interesting that eel sushi is so very popular. I mean, from fish sticks and Filet-o-Fish sandwiches to conger eels? "Mommy, Mommy, I want eels, I want eels." This can't be understood other than in light of the fact that the sauce, anago no tsume, used in confecting eel sushi is a syrupy reduction made with table sugar, sake, soy sauce, and the sweet wine called mirin, and that during this reduction caramelizing causes the browning sugar to grow in mass through the formation of fructose and glucose. [...]
As for the other types of sushi, they are all made with rice to which both table sugar and sweet rice vinegar have been added. Gari, the pickled ginger served with sushi, is also made with rice vinegar and table sugar. If it's cobalt pink rather than pale rose in color, it has been treated with a chemical bath of dye and extra sweetening agents."

And just so you know, if you like your tomato-sauce pasta and your pizza so much, be aware that most of time, the acidity of the tomato has to be compensated by... sugar, which is what makes the sauce so good of course (you can replace it by bicarbonate if you want). And the bread we eat from the bakery,.. also another issue..., is a lot of time filled with sugar even though it's not even a sweet bread.
So there you go, the sweet tooth hides in everyone of us.
But if it's harder to track the sugar in the common savoury stuff we eat, I should be able to get rid of the more obvious stuff.
So I categorized (I like to categorize) sweet food in 7 groups - with levels of difficulty on how to get rid of it to help me get aware of what are the things I really can't do without.
The 3 easiest groups to get rid of by far - for me - are 7. snacks, whether sweet or - falsely - salty (because they're so junk), 6. refined/frozen desserts (because they're not so good, except some recently discovered soya-based creams, not too sweet for once), and 5. desserts in restaurants (fairly easy to get over them, because unless the restaurant is really really good, they tend to always be disappointing),
The other 4 groups are trickier: 4. "pâtisseries" and "viennoiseries" (cakes and croissants from the bakery - the fact that bakeries tend to be of lower and lower quality in France helps but what do you do when you pass by Ladurée and you see that pistachio macaroon waiting for you or when your darling comes back on Sunday morning with freshly baked croissants?) 3. candies and toffees (they are so junker than all the other junk but the repetitive / compulsive action in the eating action is so rewarding somehow), 2. cookies (extra tricky because some industrially-made cookies are amazingly good: I get instant gratification for instance with the "petit beurre" that is topped with a milk nut chocolate bar and I even get to have 12 of them in one pack!), 1. homemade cakes and cookies (by my mum, my friends and myself - I am tempted often and this is where I can never resist temptation - at least, I try to avoid cooking them even though it's the funniest stuff to cook).
addendum: breakfast cereals that literally make my day are just impossible to take out of my diet but I notice that some of them are swamped in sugar (if you ditch the Kellog's line at least, that's a better step). Oh and of course ice-creams in the summer are quintessential (but I do love naturally the ones where the maker cares more for flavor than for sugar)...

I tried to stop my compulsive behavior before, but I failed many times. If you want to withdraw effectively from a drug, the best way is to stop taking even the smallest amount of it for the rest of your life. But sugar is not like the other drugs, if you're addicted to tobacco - it's easy to identify what you have to do. But sugar is everywhere, in almost everything we eat and comes hidden in hundreds of different shapes and even behind our best friends, like honey or fruits. And so as you start the day innocently with a freshly mixed fruits juice, the body sends you the signal: "fructose is a good start, now where's the real stuff?"

10 January 2008

Art without Money

Radio Libertaire is broadcasting on the French FM since 1981 - it's the radio of the Fédération Anarchiste, functioning as they say "without a god, without a master and without advertising" (what better would you want?). You could think it's an obscure channel, that only 23 seventy year-old anarchists listen to but its audience is actually quite decent, cosmopolitan and diverse, thanks to open, activist and indeed free-spirited programs. Even people, like me, who are not really radio listeners have a bit of affection for this atypical media (another one like that is Radio Aligre).

This Monday, 14th of January, I'm invited to chat with other people about interactive art, on the Radio Libertaire bi-weekly art show "Muzar", hosted by the curator Nathalie McGrath, between 9.30 and 11 am.
So tune in on 89.4!

With me, will be talking:
- Muriel Ryngaert, in charge of the audience and cultural policy at the MAC/VAL
- Jérôme Delormas, director of Lux Valence, and director of the future "centre Gaîté Lyrique des arts numériques et musiques actuelles"
- Stéphane Maguet, director of the digital art gallery Numeriscausa
- Antoine Schmitt, artist

05 January 2008


The fun of New Year's wishes has started for few days, and I receive all kind of nice things, by SMS, email or in Facebook... Hardly with postcards anymore, although there's always one or two that manage to survive the electronic way. I saw on TV last day an archived news report from the Seventies that was mentioning the booming industry of Xmas / New Year's wishes cards in France, following the success of Hallmarks and the sort in the States. The illustrations on the cards were particularly over cute and way too sweet, with cats or littles girls and boys or flowers... I don't think I miss them too much. But it was interesting to be able to compare the old connection modes with the new ones.
I got a really nice card last year from Yaeko, a woman I had met randomly in Kyoto (a bike story). In Japan, indeed, there's still a strong tradition to send your wishes by way of cards and available for that are amazing designs, sometimes using origami, paper cuts, depths and embosses.. a beautiful selection can be found at Ito-Ya in Tokyo Ginza, the temple of paper products.
But with the expansion of means of communication and the number of possible contacts that come with it, it's time consuming - and expensive - to write and send letters to hundreds of people. Yet, electronically, I have a lot of fun trying to come-up with something creative. I think it's Anne with her look at that kind of work, which for her sets the tone of her social communication, who made me want to have a go at it.
So there it is, with a mix of two pictures I took with my Lomo camera in september 2001 - one was in the fields of the Fontevraud Abbey and the other one at a party in Karlsruhe. I wanted to get across the idea of lights for this year, in a peaceful and vivid reverie setting, in a way to wish to my friends peace of mind and freedom of imagination.

03 January 2008

The year of the Rice

For my birthday, David offered me (besides a "33 Tours" of course) a Cuisinart rice cooker. Some could argue it's not very birthdaypresenty nor romantic nor passionate, but the truth is it's gradually changing my life for a better and higher spiritual dimension in which food takes yet another turn - I started to use it just few days ago and I immediately wondered afterwards how it was that I could be 33 and never have used a rice-cooker before? It's not only one of the most perfect tool ever invented to facilitate daily life but it also induces creativity, benevolence and pleasure.
The grace with which you get to prepare simple food, whether it's rice, broccoli or salmon makes you a better person. Because you not only feel like you have a greater respect for the ingredients that come into your meal, but you also get to enjoy a super yummy dish at the end. And I who thought a rice cooker was just a steam + dull food maker! How naive and prejudiced...
Among all the fun I have with the cooker, one is more inspiring that the rest: it brings rice more frequently into my life, and when I say rice, I say Basmati, sticky, Thai, Arborio, red from Camargues, Japanese for sushi or onigiri, etc... The world at my table! Of course, you can also cook other cereals, like quinoa, boulgur, semolina and most of all the beans, vegetables, fishes and some meats, with just some cups of water and pressing a button. I'm looking forward to try dozens of recipes I've put aside, mainly from Japan and Thailand. Personally, I couldn't start the year better than with the expectations of eating creatively, healthy and mostly deliciously (with a minimum cooking effort). Ah when technology meets food... the history of the world cultures lies just there...