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The Thing The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object

Miranda July and Jonathan Lethem discuss their contributions to the conceptual subscription service's interpretation of an art book

by Nara Shin in Culture on 23 September 2014

John Baldessari, Jonathan Lethem, Miranda July, The Thing Quarterly, Artist Collaborations, Art Books, Creative Writing

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Writers aren't the only ones who turn to paper pages as a creative canvas—George Maciunas' Fluxus Editions, Tom Phillip's Humument's "A Humument," and Tauba Auerbach's "RGB Colorspace Atlas" are all examples of artists who have explored the infinite potential of the book form. The Thing Quarterly's interpretation of an "art book" or even "book as object" is unlike anything you've ever let collect dust on your coffee table—and has a good dose of saucy humor, too. The object-based periodical's founders Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan convinced some major names in the contemporary art and design worlds to each contribute a little something, resulting in a part-anthology and part-found-object called "The Thing The Book"—literally leaving no part of the book untouched, from the endpapers to the ribbon bookmarks to the index.

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Parts of bookmaking that have become forgotten—an epigraph by conceptual artist John Baldessari, a bookplate from the aforementioned Ed Ruscha himself, a colophon by Guinness World Records-obsessed documentary filmmaker Sam Green—are supported by essays, photographs, drawings and even a flip-book and reading guide. It's as if Herschend and Rogan have invited a diverse group of more than 30 people over for a potluck dinner, at which guests—inspired by one another—entertain and inform for a memorable night. In her essay "The Artist as Bookmaker," professor of art history Gwen Allen sums up the The Thing's endeavor well: "...we can't be satisfied with fetishizing books as collectors' items or antiquated curios; we need to think about how the activities of editors, designers, artists, writers, and—not least—readers create meaningful and worthwhile experiences, whether on or off the page or screen."

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"We think of The Thing as a publication. We publish objects and the book is an object, so it just seemed like a natural progression," co-founder Herschend tells CH. (The Thing Quarterly isn't taking even a short break from its conceptual subscription service; the super top secret Issue 24, created by fashion designer duo Rodarte with some help from Todd Cole and No Age, will be released this Thursday). "It's also important to note that both Will and I come from a background where books played an essential role. He was a librarian at SFAI for five years, and I taught high school English Lit in SF for five years. We see The Thing as a physical conversation with literature and art, and the book for us is the ultimate delivery vehicle for both. We also like the fact that the physical book carries history with it. I have a bookshelf at home that sometimes feels like the way a tree is supposed to work when you count its rings. It's a physical history of my life in books."

This book is very conscious of the fact that it's more than just reading material, and takes up physical space in the real world. A humorous video highlights its multiple different functions: cheese plate, beer coaster, even an eye mask to block out the light. Whether you start reading from the back or use a page as some kindling to start a fire, there's no right or wrong way to read THE BOOK.

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I don’t know how the author of the original text feels about the "swelling clit" stuffed between pages 44 and 45, I’m sure I’ll meet him at some point and we’ll discuss it.

Two recognizable contributors are Miranda July and writer Jonathan Lethem, who embraced their specific assignments and took advantage of their physical (and theoretical) limitations. "I had a kind of deferred, but embarrassed excitement about footnotes. I'd always wanted to do something with them, but they just belonged too completely to Baker and Wallace. So I needed an assignment to free me," Lethem tells us. "I just liked the idea of an erratum—meant to correct a mistake—that was itself a mistake," July says. "And then it was fun to think of what the most egregious correction might be—perhaps an erratum that insisted that perfectly tame text was meant to be pornographic. I don’t know how the author of the original text feels about the 'swelling clit' stuffed between pages 44 and 45, I’m sure I’ll meet him at some point and we’ll discuss it."

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I've always responded to books as prosthetic extensions of my body, and my sense of wanting to spend so much time around them—and to create them—is intensely physical.

We spoke further with Lethem as he was in the midst of unpacking his office after nine months of sabbatical and travel—trying to fit his newly acquired books onto his already-bursting shelves and deciding which others to rearrange or purge. "I've always responded to books as prosthetic extensions of my body, and my sense of wanting to spend so much time around them—and to create them—is intensely physical," he muses to CH. "This might be rooted in my life as a painter's son and as an art student, before I began writing: culture as object-oriented. Thinking about a book I want to write often has a lot to do with an intuition about proportion: how much do I want it to weigh? Should it be a short- or a tall-trim volume? The short disquisitions on 'Fear of Music' and 'They Live' were also absolutely grounded in their tiny proportion and their fate as paperback originals. Back-pocket objects."

"My unpacking work today also reminds me that I think the overlooked conversation, when people talk about the change in the physical reality of books, is less the paper-and-cloth object versus the reading device than it is the room full of books versus the room that lacks them. At 50, I still feel the weight of my parents' bookshelves looming over me, with their power of mystery and implication. And I've spent my entire life in a charged relationship to these environments—libraries, bookstores, great private collections—and, for me, especially, used bookstores—which seem like collective brains, energizing chambers I compulsively seek out. And then there are the thousands of hours I've spent tending my own accumulations, an activity more like meditation, and masturbation, than it is ever given credit for. Rooms of books are the larger prosthetic, the exoskeleton—the internet of intertext."

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"The Thing The Book" is available today, 23 September 2014, for $40 from the website as well as Amazon. Cool Hunting is happy to invite readers to the book's official NYC launch party (we're a proud co-sponsor) on 26 September 2014 at Story, 144 10th Ave New York, NY. The Thing will also have a booth (F03) at the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 that weekend; a massive signing party will take place at 1:00 PM on 27 September, featuring Starlee Kine, Rick Moody, Laurel Nakadate, Matthew Higgs, Andrew Hultkrans, Gwen Allen and more.

First two and last images courtesy of The Thing, all others by Cool Hunting

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London Design Festival 2014: New Highlights

Exhibition debuts, product launches and new collectives at this year's annual affair

by Karen Day in Design on 23 September 2014

LDF 2014, London Design Festival, Exhibitions, Fairs, Furniture, Student Work

Each year the London Design Festival joins together a city already bubbling with creativity to celebrate the best in design happening both at home and in studios abroad. While festival staples like DesignJunction, The Shoreditch Design Triangle, the V&A and many more always provide a healthy amount of visual and mental stimulation, sprinkled around are several new exhibitions, product launches and forward-thinking collectives that make each year feel fresh and unique. Below are a few highlights from those that made 2014 their year to shine.

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Austurland: Designs from Nowhere

Tucked away on a small street near the V&A museum was a multi-layered exhibition curated by Icelandic filmmaker Karna Sigurðardóttir and British design researcher and pundit Pete Collard. Dubbed "Designs from Nowhere," the small show explored the creative potential found within the East Iceland town of Austurland. Designers Max Lamb, Þórunn Árnadóttir, Julia Lohmann and Gero Grundmann were linked with local practitioners, who helped them learn more about the area's raw materials while in turn the designers presented new ideas on how they could be used.

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Árnadóttir worked with a net-making factory in Eskifjörður and created a colorful range of bags, hula hoops, jump ropes and other accessories; Lamb worked in Djúpivogur with local nature scientist Vilmundur Þorgrímsson to create a desktop accessory that accurately reflects the geology of the local volcanic mountain; Grundmann scavenged the forest and beach to find driftwood, reindeer antlers and pieces of local wood to create a series of toy trains with carpenter Þórhallur Árnason; Lohmann set off in search of seaweed and, through meticulous research and discovery, she found many examples of how certain types can become valuable materials for the area. You can see some of the time the designers spent in their unique environment through a a set of images documenting their process.

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Ventura London

For LDF 2014, Ventura Projects brought the fever found at their annual Milan showcase to the Big Smoke in an exciting international display on view at Designjunction. Young designers from all over the UK, Brazil, Europe, the US and even New Zealand took part, and their collective energy showed a focus toward sustainability, design ingenuity and natural materials.

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Standouts from the group included textile designer Gemma Kay Waggett, who applied her bold patterns to metal furniture and wall-hangings, and the group from Lund University, whose Lo-Fi Washer and Emergency Porcelain Hammer are a modern updated on time-honored objects.

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The Saturday Market Project

Launched in the spring of 2014, London- and NYC-based Saturday Market Project aims to provide high-quality tools and materials with budding craftspeople. In their Shoreditch space during LDF, they hosted a range of makers who helped visitors learn how to do things like forge a pair of scissors, mold leather, make a speaker, use conductive ink and build a Swedish Himmeli sculpture. The enterprising group is one to watch as they continue to document various creative fields through insightful videos, and add new craft kits and products to their online shop.

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J Hill's Standard

A dinner hosted at the studio of Martino Gamper celebrated the launch of J Hill's Standard, a new crystal company founded by Anike Tyrrell (CEO of Ireland's Waterford County Enterprise Board). Both London-based Gamper and Amsterdam-based duo Scholten & Baijings added their contemporary touches to a range of tumblers, decanters and stemware—all hand-cut and hand-polished using artisanal techniques passed down over generations of glass craftsmen. We enjoyed a dinner with the crystal, which wasn't used solely for drinking (although a sure highlight was putting our lips to the refined crystal for a dram of Teeling Whiskey—interestingly, the team behind Italian food collective Arabeschi di Latte also cleverly used the range of glasses to cut out shapes for elements of every dish. (Keep an eye on Cool Hunting for the full story when J Hill Standard's collection hit stores next month.)

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Super Stimuli

On view in the lobby of the Ace Hotel Shoreditch was Super Stimuli, a show curated by the newly launched Modern Design Review magazine. Featured works included installations by Fabien Cappello, Martino Gamper, Michael Marriott and Bethan Laura Wood.

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In addition to Marriott's architectural range furniture inspired by the Antonello da Messina's 1475 painting "Saint Jerome and His Study," other highlights included Wood's series of flower vases and not only Gamper's Recto Verso chair, but also his donuts.

Images by Karen Day

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Song of the Car: Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione

An exhilarating, high-speed lap with a professional driver invokes an equally thrilling song by Flying Lotus

by Tamara Warren in Design on 23 September 2014

Car Design, Cars, Ferarri, Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione, Song of the Car, Racecars

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When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (architect of the Futurist movement) wrote, “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,” he may have imagined a place where Italian super cars produced feverish, delirious speeds, the kind of speed where all cares in the world vanish in the rear view mirror—the kind of automobile such as the Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione.

Spawned from the wicked and curvilinear Ferrari 458 Italia, the Challenge Evoluzione takes corners at 120 miles per hour and breezes down the straightaway at speeds well over 200 miles per hour. At least, that’s what we saw when we peeked at the speedometer during an exhilarating 3.4-mile lap at Watkins Glen International with professional driver Anthony Lazzaro. For Lazzaro (who took us for the ride between qualifying sessions and the finals of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli), this kind of performance is part of a day’s work: he races a Ferrari 458 in the SCCA World Challenge and has a long, winning history in NASCAR, GT racing and open-wheel racing.

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Lazzaro peels away, taking no mercy on the apexes of the corners as we observe his quick maneuvers from our snug position in the two-seater. The engine really sings as he revved the throttle. “I hope you enjoyed it,” he says as he nonchalantly pulls over. Lazzaro makes racecar driving look easy, but it’s not. Raw talent, instant reflexes and hours of practice are required to maneuver a racecar in clean lines and graceful turns.

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That’s what the Ferrari Challenge is about for the amateurs that participate. The Ferrari Challenge was founded in 1993 as a real world racing experience for customers who buy Ferraris in order to use them as they were intended: to go very, very fast. The series is divided into three regions—North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, culminating in the Finali Mondiali in Abu Dhabi scheduled in December. Aspiring drivers come together to hone their skills and exercise their competitive edge There were 25 competitors at Watkins Glen, the seventh race of the season before the final North American race in Austin next month.

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There’s a sense of being alive when it all comes together, when you find that success. When you come out of a racecar, it’s the same sensation.

Drivers invest considerable training to vie for pole position. Ross Garber (a rookie in the Ferrari Challenge) seemed slightly dazed, but happy on Saturday evening. He walked away with a top podium finish and the fastest lap time in his Coppa Shell class. He describes himself as “an accidental driver” who stumbled upon Formula One racing several years ago. He compares racecar driving to the high of launching a successful tech company—which he did in the 1990s in Austin, Texas. He co-founded the start-up Vignette, one of the dotcom boom’s most fruitful IPOs, which he says has afforded him the privilege of racing Ferraris for fun. “There’s a sense of being alive when it all comes together, when you find that success. When you come out of a racecar, it’s the same sensation,” he tells CH.

This sensation is what propels the competition—it’s also a sensation felt when listening to "Never Catch Me" produced and written by Flying Lotus and featuring the percussive flow of lyricist Kendrick Lamar. A great-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane, FlyLo's (aka Steve Ellison) musical pedigree and left-field productions dazzle and stun in a cacophony of beats. "Never Catch Me" is found on his new album You’re Dead set for release 7 October on Warp Records. We suggest tuning in and daydreaming about driving a Ferrari to victory as the lyrics fly by:

“I got mind control when I’m here / you gon’ hate me when I’m gone / Ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear/I got hope inside of my bones…”
“Say you will never ever catch me, no, no, no.”

Song of the Car matches music with automobiles, old and new. Appearing fortnightly on Cool Hunting, each feature takes a look at a car's distinct personality and pairs it with a suitable song.

Second image by Jessica Diaz, all others courtesy of Ferarri

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