I am slowly making my way through a list of ~12,500 things I’ve previously noted as seeming potentially interesting and worth finding out more about (see the spreadsheet below!). Some of these things are brilliant and become a subject of an article, lesson or some other outcome, and some are not really worth pursuing. I want to publicise both the good and the bad because these evaluations are totally subjective and, because of a lack of time, usually pretty uninformed, and I don’t want to hide any part of this flawed process. If you’d like to help look stuff up, or notice any mistakes, please send me an e-mail. More information here.
Boston inventor, lecturer and engineer known for his kinetic sculptures, many of which are presented at the MIT Museum, where he also hosts the Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction, , a community event in which families and students of all ages assemble a giant chain reaction. He has invented children’s toys like the ‘Toobers & Zots’ foam construction set and Cat-a-pult chain reaction toys. There are many kinetic sculptors now but Ganson is set apart for the way he frames his machines, with a balance of fun and philosophy, and filmed as choreography. They are a rare example of an object that balances maths, sculpture, play, humour, a unique aesthetic and philosophy in a way that fascinates people of all different ages, from all sorts of backgrounds. There seems to be something essentially fascinating about these sorts of structures, and Ganson’s particular approach seems to elevate this even further. He explains: “I like to think of the machines as the intersection of my eternal consciousness and a viewer’s eternal consciousness. The physical object is just the in-between point that allows for the infinite in both me and the viewer to meet.” I will include the DVD ‘Arthur Ganson Presents A Few Machines’.
Pioneering “loner-rebel” English folk guitarist. A key influence on the British folk revival of the ’60s, though quite radical in comparison to many of his contemporaries. Davey took influence from musical forms from all over the world and any historical period. His travels in North Africa and oud playing influenced his development of the DADGAD tuning, which is now widely used by acoustic guitarists. He also effectively invented the folk guitar instrumental with his now-standard ‘Angi’. Alongside English folk styles, his playing incorporated Indian ragas, Arabic maqams, Western European classical, Romanian dance tunes, Irish pipe jigs, American blues and jazz conventions. He occasionally collaborated with other musicians but preferred to play solo. His idolisation of jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker led to his “deliberately” becoming addicted to heroin, and this affected his performance. During this time, he taught guitar and worked for mental health charities such as Mind. Despite such enthusiasm from other musicians and many critics, he never achieved much commercial success and faded from public view, performing less and focussing on learning many languages (Gaelic, French, Greek and Turkish) and collecting poems and folk songs. He died in 2008 of lung cancer. Rather than co-opting forms of other cultures, Graham studied them and explored them through his perspective as an English (/Guyanan/Scottish) guitarist, and this reinvigorated the English folk scene, which had become stale through its own purism. Not content with shifting the path of the folk lineage, he continued feeding this global interest through poetry, folk stories and languages, occasionally demonstrating the new influences these had on his playing in free-wheeling live explorations. I will include ‘Folk, Blues and Beyond’ – his first properly unbounded solo exploration on record.
English children’s book author and illustrator. He had no formal training as an artist, working as a road-sweeper, rubbish collector, postman, and a factory worker. An interest in landscape painting led him to buy a set of wood engraving tools in 1982, and to teach himself how to use them. His first commercial book, An Alphabet of Animals, published in 1990 won that year’s Graphics Prize at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair. He has since published and done some design work for Adnams Brewery and Aston Villa Football Club. Wormell’s illustrations are direct but atmospheric. When his stories are good, they are imaginative, witty and right-on without being overly moralistic, but this is not always the case. He has published a lot of books and some of them are more exciting than others. When it works, however, it’s really glorious. I will include ‘The Sea Monster’, because I think it is the most magical of his books, conjuring the mystery of rockpooling and coastal exploration, a perfect combination of his evocative illustration and the small scale but large themes of his writing. I will also include ‘A New Alphabet of Animals’, which is a contemporary-but-timeless, aesthetically-pleasing contribution to that genre of alphabet books. And ‘The Wild Girl’, an immersive story about early humans that doesn’t misrepresent that period of human history (no dinosaurs FFS!).
German professor, general secretary of the Berlin Geographical Society, and, despite his Jewish mother, advisor to the Nazi “alternative foreign ministry”, Dienststelle Ribbentrop. With this insight to Nazi politics, he joined the German Resistance, using his position to secretly work against the regime. He was discovered in 1944, thrown into Moabit prison and released on April 23, 1945, fifteen days before V-E Day. As he left the prison he was shot and killed by the SS. A collection of poetry he had written during his imprisonment, ‘The Moabit Sonnets’, were found in his breast pocket. A line of one of these is now written as a memorial on the preserved walls of the prison. Haushofer’s sonnets have been described as “a poetic compendium of the soul of Germany as he knew it. Using mythology, symbolism, historical parallels and metaphor, Albrecht Haushofer offers us a brutally honest account of the guilt and horror which surrounded and confronted him. At the same time he offers us his belief in the inherent goodness of humanity.” I will include them.
Autobiographical documentary film made by American filmmaker Jonathan Caouette from over 20 years of hundreds of hours Super 8 footage, VHS videotape, photographs, and answering machine messages to tell the story of his relationship with his mentally ill mother Renee. The film was edited on iMovie and apparently cost $218.32 to initially make. It was picked up by John Cameron Mitchell and Gus Van Sant and presented at Sundance and Cannes. This is a tender, honest, creative portrayal of a very special relationship. It is rare to find mental illness, gender, sexuality and the mother / son relationship presented so honestly and inventively. Also the DIY aesthetic and story of its creation is very inspiring. I will include it.
Recently not included:
Super-obscure American basement group from the late ’70s. The only information I could find about them comes from a single entry on Volcanic Tongue – “Chris Atwood lives with his wife Rachel in Austin, Texas. I had the great pleasure of staying with these guys a summer ago while the joke that is South-By-Southwest was on. These are demos for an album Chris was recording for his band The Jetcards in 1978-79. Fuckin sounds like Shuggie Otis jamming with Sandy Bull to me!” Sounds cool, and it was a shame to not be able to hear any samples, but it’s not going to be included off the back of that anyway.
Czech inventor and radio operator who sabotaged Nazi broadcasts for his own fascist cause, Strasserism. He was assassinated by a Nazi thug in the hotel room he operated out of in Slapy, near Prague. Fascists killing fascists…
Tony Scott’s 1983 chic alt-vampire film, starring Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. Deneuve’s vampire must drink the blood of beautiful young New Yorkers to stay immortal. This need is sexualised and the film has been viewed as a representation of bisexuality and female sexual appetite, culminating in an iconic lesbian sex scene. This is quite a unique film within the vampire genre. The aesthetic is very dated, but that’s also what’s good fun about it. The sexual stuff is interesting but there’s lots of other exciting and more suitable examples of sex stuff to include. Also in lots of ways it’s just a bit crap.
French naturalist and zoologist sometimes called “the father of paleontology” for his work in comparing newly-discovered fossils and establishing the foundations of that new science. He believed in catastrophism and introduced the idea of extinctions and that new species emerged as a result of that destruction rather than through evolution. He was one of the first people to propose the idea of dinosaurs – that the earth had been dominated by reptiles rather than mammals. Although aspects of his work were foundational to our understanding of earth’s history, much of his ideas have since been debunked. Most problematically, his views around race and the superiority of Caucasians were completely racist. He died in Paris during a cholera epidemic. Cuvier’s achievements and mistakes are a good example of the importance of collaboration within sciences – true ideas must be shown to be resilient and false ideas must be left behind. Rather than celebrate Cuvier on his own, I would like to find a good account of earth’s history that emphasizes the importance of sharing and interrogating knowledge.
Texan art-music icon. Founding member of Red Crayola/Krayola and collaborator with a huge number of American and European underground artists and musicians, meaning he had a large influence on the post-punk scenes. He is perhaps best known for his 1970 solo record ‘Corky’s Debt to his Father’. Although Thompson is often celebrated as a sort of god-like art genius, I couldn’t find much substance in his output or biography so don’t feel compelled to put anything in the Whybrary.