Multiple identitees

‘Google’ by Porous Walker

Like so many of you out there, I woke up yesterday morning in a mix of eager anticipation and dread of discovering who came out the winner in contest for the US presidency. After being relieved of this mystery, I began to sift through the overly abundant blog commentary to gauge the public consensus. With so many views out there to express to the world on occasions such as these, blogging often does the job of getting the message around the grapevine rather well. But that won’t get you far on the street, unless of course you like to run around yelling thoughts at random. And if you’re not a wonder with stencils and spray paint, perhaps attempting to one-up Banksy won’t lead you to much success. Enter Rumplo, ‘A Place for T-shirts’ and an ultimate alternative form of expression. For artists of various disciplines, t-shirts provide the perfect antidote to the blank canvas, and this site will host all such creations. As being succinct is key, the limited confines of a one-size-fits-all cotton plane necessitates creativity, and as an added bonus you can sell your tees online. Just register, submit your work and name your price. Or browse and enjoy selections such as the one above, maybe even picking out a couple to update the layers of your unique winter wardrobe — dodging that ubiquitous ‘We all shop at Zara‘ look.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: ‘Vote demographics’ (pieces at random)

Brand divinity

‘Liquidated Logo Chanel’ by ZEVS (2007)
Epoxy ink screenprint on Plexiglass
180 x 100 x 8 cm, detail above

Whilst knee-deep in print-material design this weekend, branding and all that it entails is the hot topic for the moment. Logos are powerful entities in their state of ubiquity, both in terms of visual valuation and their socio-economic and anthropological implications. Ironically it’s quite easy to lose sight of how significant an impact such concise illustrative interpretations of a specific niche of enterprise have on the way we live and decipher our surroundings. Much like the connotations of words, brands instill a plethora of associations and nostalgic sentiment when in plain sight (surely a logo that fails to do so is a failure in itself…). Artistically speaking, I’ve always believed in the power of a good logo as typified by a self-fulfilling prophecy without which no amount of advertising would be able to supplement. That is of course not to imply that I align myself with corporate culture. Here I speak of brand design in a purely substantive context, far removed from the hubris that later manifests itself once the brand-and-product image is institutionalized and/or tarnished by corrupt business culture geared towards the excess.

For long, the Chapman brothers have explored this in their iconoclastic work with pieces such as Grimace (2002), assuming cult followings in their own right. Similarly, last November’s ‘Liquidated Logos’ solo exhibition of French street artist ZEVS‘ work at the Lazarides Gallery in Soho challenged the interpretation of logos via alteration of their traditional and accepted form (as shown in the instance of his Chanel-inspired piece above). And though unfortunately not featuring one of the best songs off the duo’s 2007 album , Justice’s video for ‘DVNO’ (shown below) also has the right idea: a single concept can be woven well into the threadwork of various text-based images for varying effect. Conversely, no matter how drastically old logos are re-interpreted, they never seem to lose their initial intrinsic identity of specific product representation by association. (For yet another example, click here for an image of ‘re-designed’ logos demonstrating a good exercise of this exact character-branding mechanism.)

Illustrated by Ed Banger’s in-house creative director So-Me

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Ed Banger Records

‘Arabesque’ (pieces at random)

Rebel sell

Wealth and taste: V&A buys original Rolling Stones logo
By Peter Walker
September 2, 2008
The Guardian

It is perhaps the most recognisable logo in the history of pop music, and it has been a symbol of brash rebellion for almost 40 years. But now the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue and lips symbol has well and truly entered the establishment with a place in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A has paid slightly over £50,000 at auction for the original drawings of the symbol, devised by British designer John Pasche in 1970, it announced last night. In a fitting detail for a band who have, in the main, gradually abandoned dissolute personal lives and anti-establishment bravado to embrace the mainstream, Pasche said he sold the hand-painted black and white work, to finance private school fees. “I have an 11-year-old son and this money is going to go towards his education,” he said.

Pasche had already decided to sell the drawing at a US auction house when the V&A enquired about borrowing it for an exhibition. On learning the work was for sale, the museum lodged a winning bid of $92,500 on Saturday, half of which was provided by the Art Fund charity. Pasche was a 24-year-old postgraduate design student at London’s Royal College of Art when Jagger went looking for new talent, having become dissatisfied with the record label’s artworks. After meeting the singer, Pasche designed a tour poster and was commissioned to come up with a band logo.

Pasche said: “Mick had a picture of Kali, the Hindu goddess, which he was very keen on. India was very much in fashion at the time, but I thought something like that might go out of date.” The inspiration for the eventual logo, which took Pasche around two weeks of work, has never been in doubt. “I wanted something anti-authority, but I suppose the mouth idea came from when I met Jagger for the first time at the Stones’ offices. I went into this sort of wood-panelled boardroom and there he was. Face to face with him, the first thing you were aware of was the size of his lips and his mouth.”

The logo first appeared on the inside sleeve of the 1971 album Sticky Fingers and has been used ever since, soon becoming a visual shorthand for the group as well as the stage design for gigs such as the Stones’ show at the Superbowl in 2006. Initially paid just £50, when the Stones copyrighted the design Pasche received a share of royalties rights, later selling this for a lump sum. Pasche, who also worked with the Who and Paul McCartney, said he never expected the image to be used for so long: “I’m still amazed by how popular it is. I get emails from people saying, ‘I’ve just had the logo tattooed on my arm.'”

See also: Victoria & Albert Museum

John Pasche

The Art Fund

Peace out

World’s best-known protest symbol turns 50
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News
March 20, 2008

It started life as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement but it has become an international sign for peace, and arguably the most widely used protest symbol in the world. It has also been adapted, attacked and commercialised.

It had its first public outing 50 years ago on a chilly Good Friday as thousands of British anti-nuclear campaigners set off from London’s Trafalgar Square on a 50-mile march to the weapons factory at Aldermaston. The demonstration had been organised by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) joined in. Gerald Holtom, a designer and former World War II conscientious objector from West London, persuaded DAC that their aims would have greater impact if they were conveyed in a visual image. The “Ban the Bomb” symbol was born.

He considered using a Christian cross motif but, instead, settled on using letters from the semaphore – or flag-signalling – alphabet, super-imposing N (uclear) on D (isarmament) and placing them within a circle symbolising Earth. The sign was quickly adopted by CND. Holtom later explained that the design was “to mean a human being in despair” with arms outstretched downwards.

US peace symbol

American pacifist Ken Kolsbun, who corresponded with Mr Holtom until his death in 1985, says the designer came to regret the connotation of despair and had wanted the sign inverted. “He thought peace was something that should be celebrated,” says Mr Kolsbun, who has spent decades documenting the use of the sign. “In fact, the semaphore sign for U in ‘unilateral’ depicts flags pointing upwards. Mr Holtom was all for unilateral disarmament.”

In a book to commemorate the symbol’s 50th birthday, Mr Kolsbun charts how it was transported across the Atlantic and took on additional meanings for the Civil Rights movement, the counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s including the anti-Vietnam protests, and the environmental, women’s and gay rights movements. He also argues that groups opposed to those tendencies tried to use the symbol against them by distorting its message. How the sign migrated to the US is explained in various ways. Some say it was brought back from the Aldermaston protest by civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, a black pacifist who had studied Gandhi’s techniques of non-violence.


In Peace: The biography of a symbol, Mr Kolsbun describes how in just over a decade, the sign had been carried by civil rights “freedom” marchers, painted on psychedelic Volkswagens in San Francisco, and on the helmets of US soldiers on the ground in Vietnam. “The sign really got going over here during the 1960s and 70s, when it became associated with anti-Vietnam protests,” he told the BBC News website.

As the combat escalated, he says, so did the anti-war protests and the presence of the symbol. “This, of course, led some people to condemn it as a communist sign,” says Mr Kolsbun. “There has always been a lot of misconception and disinformation about it.” As the sign became a badge of the burgeoning hippie movement of the late 1960s, the hippies’ critics scornfully compared it to a chicken footprint, and drew parallels with the runic letter indicating death. In 1970, the conservative John Birch Society published pamphlets likening the sign to a Satanic symbol of an upside-down, “broken” cross. While it remained a key symbol of the counter-culture movement throughout the 1970s, it returned to its origins in the 1980s, when it became the banner of the international grassroots anti-nuclear movement.


The real power of the sign, its supporters say, is the reaction that it provokes – both from fans and from detractors. The South African government, for one, tried to ban its use by opponents of apartheid In 1973. And, in 2006, a couple in suburban Denver found themselves embroiled in a dispute over their use of a giant peace sign as a Christmas wreath. The homeowners’ association threatened them with a daily fine if they didn’t remove it. The association eventually backed down because of public pressure, but a member told a local newspaper it was clearly an “anti-Christ sign” with “a lot of negativity associated with it.”


CND has never registered the sign as a trademark, arguing that “a symbol of freedom, it is free for all”. It has now appeared on millions of mugs, T-shirts, rings and nose-studs. Bizarrely, it has also made an appearance on packets of Lucky Strike cigarettes. A decade ago, the sign was chosen during a public vote to appear on a US commemorative postage stamp saluting the 1960s.

The symbol that helped define a generation of baby boomers may not be as widely used today as in the past. It is in danger of becoming to many people a retro fashion item, although the Iraq war has seen it re-emerge with something like its original purpose. “It is still the dominant peace sign,” argues Lawrence Wittner, an expert on peace movements at the University at Albany in New York. “Part of that is down to its simplicity. It can be used as a shorthand for many causes because it can be reproduced really quickly – on walls on floors, which is important, in say, repressive societies.”

And can its success be measured? Fifty years on, wars have continued to be waged and the list of nuclear-armed states has steadily lengthened. But the cup is half-full as well as half empty. “There are many ways in which nuclear war has been prevented,” says Mr Wittner. “The hawks say that the reason nuclear weapons have not been used is because of the deterrent. But I believe popular pressure has restrained powers from using them and helped curbed the arms race. And the symbol of and inspiration for that popular pressure, says Mr Wittner, is Mr Holtom’s graphic.

Peace: The biography of a symbol is published by National Geographic Books in April.

See also: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Secession sampling

Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession Building

‘To each age its art; to art, its freedom.’Ludvig Hevesi

And so Hevesi’s words read at the head of the entryway leading into the Art Nouveau gallery in Vienna: ‘Der Zeit ihre Kunst – der Kunst ihre Freiheit.’ As the motto of the Viennese Secession, it could not hold more true to the vision of artist Gustav Klimt and his fellow compatriots in the movement breaking away from Vienna’s art establishment at the turn of the twentieth century. The building (also adorned with the the Latin phrase ‘Ver Sacrum’ or ‘sacred springtime’, the title of the group’s monthly magazine to which Klimt frequently contributed) was a symbol of unity against Austria’s conservative, neo-classical Künstlerhaus society which deemed Secessionist work too taboo with its display of nudity and vibrant sensuality. Yet today, what was once seen as being vulgar and inappropriate is now seen as revolutionary; what once was unconventional is hailed as being a greatly appreciated and enjoyed creative style.

The first thing I did when I woke up at the start of this new year was write down the above words of the Secessionist motto (long story as to why I did that). As I constantly find that something reminiscent of Gustav Klimt is never very far away, there often is reason to post about him time and time again. The man was a brilliant artist whose life and work are something to be greatly considered throughout the evolution of art history. And though arguably his pieces are not to everyone’s liking (a friend of mine once characterized Klimt as being kitsch, a point with which Emperor Franz Joseph II would’ve greatly concurred), his contribution to the post-historicist period is monumental. If ever there was any doubt of his work’s merit or value, ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ was sold for $135 million in 2006, making it the most expensive painting ever sold at that time.

Regardless of public attention, it fascinates me greatly that an artist such as he or any other can create such a distinct style that actual pattern types can be attributed to his magnificent technique of floral-pattern overlay with gold leaf and nymph-like silhouettes with flowing hair and porcelain skin. His ornamental, hyperrealistic take on Jugendstil infused with ancient Egyptian and Greek mythological symbology coupled with the exploration of female sexuality (very few males were ever displayed in his work, and provided more of a backdrop than anything else when they were) is unmistakable. His beech treesline drawings and even poster-print font-style and personal signature all make for a repertoire that sets him apart even from his fellow Secessionist Egon Schiele, who was himself greatly influenced by Klimt’s work.

Today, Klimt is as prominent as ever as he seems to be undergoing a revival of sorts. His ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Fulfillment (The Embrace)’ are just as iconic as the Mona Lisa while appearing to be in one out of ten bedrooms worldwide. Though a rough estimation, I was reminded of this apparent statistic while watching the first part of the SVT drama series Om ett hjärta and noticed ‘Fulfillment’ over one of the characters’ beds. The same goes for many friends whose places I’ve been to, or the many model houses I’ve visited at newly-built property developments in the US Tri-State area. I too am the proud owner of a ‘Tree of Life’ print (the centrepiece of the ‘Stoclet Frieze’ of which ‘Fulfillment’ is also a part).

But apart from the usual to-scale replicas, his work can be seen recreated in real-life photo-format, turned into cartoon, woven into cushion covers, and painted onto Laskin guitars and bottles of wine. His name lends itself to pieces of jewellery and watches, while inspiring Missoni’s Spring 2008 ready-to-wear collection. The Australian Vogue’s February 2008 edition features make-up tips dubbed ‘Lush Life’, as inspired by ‘Gustav Klimt’s masterpieces’. There even exists ‘The Golden Tarot of Klimt’ for anyone who wants to add some Art Nouveau flare to their tarot readings. And after trying to pinpoint the inspiration for the dubstep group Various Production’s new album ‘The World Is Gone’ cover, I finally realized that it bears a striking resemblance to Klimt’s ‘Fish Blood’ (published print in Ver Sacrum). (See slideshow below)

Evidence of Klimt’s influence on the work of other artists beckons a question that always comes to mind regarding where one can draw the line between inspiration and imitation in the artist community. It is interesting to see how the old is often recycled into the new, and when it comes to historical figures whose work is now deemed trendy to admire, the end result of a new work is often described ‘in hommage’ or ‘a tribute’ to that individual. Otherwise, of course, one doesn’t find out about the origin of inspiration/imitation, e.g. native art of foreign cultures. This happens all too often in the music industry with sampling (watch the video ‘Timbaland rips off Arabic music’ for a host of examples).

But in Klimt’s case, royalty is given when it is indeed due. His name in itself has become an adjective: something can be so Klimt or Klimtesque. And to think a man who was so greatly shunned by the Austrian establishment could have so much resonance almost a century after his death further proves how powerful and lasting art is as an expressive medium. As Klimt was someone who did not like to be interviewed often, he once said ‘Whoever wants to know something about me–as an artist, the only notable thing–ought to look carefully at my pictures and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do.’ I think he would be happy to know that millions of people around the world now have plenty of opportunity to gain insight into who he was and what he wanted to do as an artist.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

Gustav Klimt: Inspiration or imitation?

See also: ‘Court says any sampling may violate copyright law’ by John Gerome (USA Today)

iKlimt – The Life and Work of Gustav Klimt

‘La Esencia de Klimt’ – Behance Network


Building home

‘Zaha Hadid: Architecture and Design’, Design Museum 2007

Grand designs
By Nonie Niesewant
Vogue, British Edition
January 2008

Architect Zaha Hadid’s bold vision of the future — all organic shapes and dramatic curves — has made her one of Britain’s most powerful women. Nonie Niesewand visits her at home.

Getting inside architect Zaha Hadid’s apartment–on top of an industrial box near her ZHA practice in Clerkenwell–is difficult. For a start, there’s no front door; just a lift that opens directly into her open-plan living room, but only if she, or her maid, pins in the code. And she is pretending to be not at home to Vogue. I visit her at the end of the week in which she was named Forbes magazine’s third most powerful woman in Britain, after the Queen and the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, Clara Furse. Hadid began the week talking grands projets in Paris with Nicolas Sarkozy, then had her picture taken for the National Portrait Gallery, considered the Shanghai World Expo 2008 at the Foreign Office, taught at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, unveiled a sculpture cast in cement outside the Royal Festival Hall and kept her eye on more than 50 ZHA projects around the world, including a masterplan for Istanbul, Italy’s national museum of twenty-first-century art, a mobile art pod conceived with Karl Lagerfeld, an opera house in China, and practically the whole of Abu Dhabi. She is exhausted. And she has conjunctivitis.

Once inside–our shoes left at the lift doors because of the snow-white rubberised floors–and feeling as if I am walking on eggshells, Zaha Hadid’s gravelly voice can be heard on the phone, behind a closed bedroom door, rattatting at her PA and her PR to get around there immediately and cancel the shoot. ‘I don’t want my apartment photographed. Period. No. Nothing is to be published. It’s no my project. I haven’t touched it. You understand?’ The 57-year-old architect-who has designed Barbie’s house for Mattel, a fire station for Vitra and a modern-art gallery in Cincinnati that won her architecture’s equivalent of an Oscar, the Pritzker–is scheduled to have her portrait taken for this story in the one building she hasn’t designed: her own home. But everything in the apartment–the paintings, the furniture, the vases, even the teaspoons–is unmistakably her design. Home to zigzag sofas with chambered curves and Eiger-like peaks, paintings that explore flight and motion above distorted planes, a vase that looks like a rock fissure and a silver tea set of tilted blocks, it’s clear that what she lives with is as distinctive as she is. And it is beautiful.

The apartment is a single long, open space, maybe 40ft long. One glass wall opens on to a roof terrace fringed with bamboos, freshly green in the wintry light. Huge doors as big as theatrical flats, leading to her bedroom, are closed. White floors seamlessly morph into white walls; light streams in from a glass ceiling. Just five pieces of extra-outsize furniture stand alone like sculptures, the equivalents of Calders that you could swing on or Frinks that you eat off. These artworks adapt to the users’ needs. The Glacier bench, which wiggles to accommodate different sitting positions, from slouch to Pilates posture, is long enough to seat the entire Vogue team of eight. By midday Zaha still hasn’t left the bedroom. When she does step out, she is dressed in a white satin Prada coat and Issey Miyake leggings with Prada pumps. ‘Shoes used to be my extravagance; now it’s funny coats,’ she says. She has a stern beauty, and a coquettish charm. Hadid never relaxes in conversation, even when gossiping, and she never misses a thing, despite absent-mindedly texting people while we talk. She puts her head on one side to level a piercing, hawk-eyed gaze upon me as I ask questions. The ones she won’t answer are dealt with sharply, and she quick-fires her own in accented English. ‘When?’ ‘Why?’ ‘See what I mean?’ She doesn’t suffer fools. People get nicknames that don’t stick, depending on her mood and assessment of their performance–‘Dumdum’ or ‘Blah Blah’ for people who are boring her.

For her Vogue portrait, Zaha stands regally beside the Iceberg sofa–like a prop from The Chronicles of Narnia. Its semi-abstract, moulded surfaces are seemingly carved from a single continuous mass, but underpinning it is a span of aluminium fins like fishbones hidden within fibreglass. It takes four months to make to order and costs £42,000. Her bedroom is all white, with just a bed and a 3m-long dressing table artfully displaying Perspex and neon-coloured jewellery, photographs, scent bottles, vintage handbags and make-up. There’s a rail of five identical satin Prada coats: in black, white, green, taupe and purple. At the far end of the apartment are the kitchen and a room to showcase things Hadid didn’t design but likes: Venetian glass, red lacquer stacking boxes and George Nelson’s Marshmallow sofa, upholstered with coloured lozenges. It’s the only upholstery in the house. Her own sofa designs, made of fibreglass, create a topography that folds, slopes and shears around the human form, comfortable but as controlling as a Dolce & Gabbana corset in positioning the body. Critics of modern architecture always think that architects should be condemned to live with their designs. Zaha Hadid does.

Detail of acrylic light spiral designed by Zaha Hadid

Decorators simply wouldn’t know what to do with her furniture. The old way of arranging things to follow a domestic routine has been abolished. This is a war against middle-class taste. There isn’t a cushion in the place. No rugs or curtains. In fact, there isn’t a scrap of textile anywhere, unless you count the white blinds. Or a book as far as I can see, apart from a single volume on Gio Ponti tucked in a spare bedroom that’s stuffed full of boxes and a clothing rail for coats with lapels like butterfly wings. But when I asked her assistant with a clipboard what lay behind a pair of full-length slender cupboard doors, she snappily replied ‘AV’–code for the telly and DVDs–so you never know where the library might be housed. Clearly there are no pets or children over-running this space–the only animal is a carved goat which a friend gave her years ago and which she takes everywhere because, as she says, ‘I am very superstitious about friendship.’ Yet the place is neither austere nor impersonal. It is not at all like living in a white-cube art gallery with barriers to prevent you touching and feeling. This is a liberating environment. ‘People become part of her work, which is friendly, never cold or distant,’ says her friend Paolo Moroni, who produces her designs for Sawaya & Moroni.

The kitchen is a no-go area, not because of the maids making Turkish coffee and cappuccinos in there all day, but because Hadid didn’t design it–a shame, because her Z.Island kitchen design is the only kitchen in the world ever to be displayed at the Guggenheim in New York, as part of her retrospective there in 2006. Two Dupont Corian workstations–Fire (heat) and Water (washing area)–combine worktops with screens for TV and internet connections. She has been angling for ages to get these pieces into her own home. Hadid calls her designs for sofas and tables ‘installations’. Long before buildings, sofas and tables were the first things she ever had built. Her first sofa, a great boomerang called Bitar, and the Sperm table, based on a squiggle, were unveiled at the Architectural Association in 1987. She revealed, ‘The biggest compliment I’ve had from people who’ve seen my furniture is that it really looks like the drawings, which they didn’t think was possible.’ Curiously, what most impressed Alberto Alessi at the time was ‘the physical vigour of Zaha, manipulating the big sofa here and there in the room’.

In her apartment, her prototype for the Aqua table is covered with silicone-gel top that cloudily registers three bulging legs below as indentations on its surface, as if she had dropped a pebble into a pool. The form blurs the relationship between the horizontal top and vertical legs, while still being stable. Alasdhair Willis of Established & Sons, who sold it as a limited edition, says, ‘It’s true that the prices realised by the design are getting higher and higher. Zaha Hadid’s Aqua table did indeed break records for us when it sold in auction at Phillips De Pury & Company in December 2005 for $296,000, but we’ll never see design works selling for £20-30 million like artworks.’ Hadid groups her things on the table with the same meticulous attention that interior designer David Hicks gave his famous table arrangements: Venetian glass, jewellery from Georg Jensen, the bleached prototype of a project for Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan, a silver banana-shaped fruit bowl and a model for a dessicated pod-like pavilion destined for Rioja in Spain. She explains her fascination with her models. ‘For me, the next phase is computing–hardly any drawings, but relief models done at the practice. Press ‘print’, and they’re made into 3D objects and pieces.’ Zaha Hadid and her partner at ZHA, Patrik Schumacher, used to drag drawings across the photocopier glass as they were being copied to distort them. To escape the constraints of the set square, her flowing lines were drawn using a Beaux-Arts tool–banished by the Modernists–called the French curve. Now, all is stretching and distorting of form has been overtaken by computer programs.

The BMW car plant in Leipzig (2005) is a good example of how Hadid’s digital modelling becomes reality. Flying over the 256-hectare site, the great va-voom of its roof makes it clear that the latest Hadid has landed. Hadid was asked to design the gigantic hub for 5,000 workers in the centre of the plant. Her genius was to keep the cars visibly moving on conveyor belts between three production shedson the huge site, and letting the workers at its hub see 762 cars daily rolling through the assembly lines. BMW are so proud of the way in which the production plant has revved up their fortunes that they have patented it. Cast in silvery-grey cement in cathedral-like proportions, it is like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. On top of the Aqua table sit two silver tea sets that Zaha Hadid keeps but never uses–on that she designed for Sawaya & Moroni, the other for Alessi–showing how her architecture has become more fluid as she draws closer to nature. The cluster of four tilted pouring blocks for Sawaya & Moroni is more macho; the tea and coffee set for Alessi more topgraphical and organic. Her sharp-angled shards have morphed into voluptuous curves. Like a fissure, Hadid’s Crevasse vase for Alessi runs long and deep. She has clustered seven of them on the table. On three sides of the vase’s mirrored-steel surface your face is reflected normally. On the fourth, concave side, it swivels sideways.

On top of the Aqua table sit two silver tea sets that Zaha Hadid keeps but never uses–on that she designed for Sawaya & Moroni, the other for Alessi–showing how her architecture has become more fluid as she draws closer to nature. The cluster of four tilted pouring blocks for Sawaya & Moroni is more macho; the tea and coffee set for Alessi more topographical and organic. Her sharp-angled shards have morphed into voluptuous curves. Like a fissure, Hadid’s Crevasse vase for Alessi runs long and deep. She has clustered seven of them on the table. On three sides of the vase’s mirrored-steel surface your face is reflected normally. On the fourth, concave side, it swivels sideways.There is something unsettling about these desirable household objects. They seem to be on the move or, at least, never static. ‘In Italian,’ says Paolo Moroni, ‘we say her designs are scottante, edgy,’–rather like their mercurial designer.

Each piece is placed in her apartment with the precision of a Zen master landscaping boulders in a garden. It’s all about harmony, proportion and scale. And like everything Hadid ever designed, her furniture comes with attitude. As she describes it, ‘It’s a built manifesto towards the potential for a new domestic language of architecture, driven by digital design and new manufacturing capabilities.’ On the walls her astonishing canvases appear to have been painted from the cockpit of an aircraft, diving and swooping at speed, so the landscape is distorted, throwing up buildings and bridges, ocean beds and chasms in blocks of vivid colour. Hadid re-hangs the four paintings in her Silver Paintings series in a new order almost every week, but the one canvas that never changes on the wall big enough to take it is Malevich’s Tektonik, her homage to the Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich. The original, painted in 1976-77 for her final-year graduation project at AA, hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but when the museum refused to lend it to the Guggenheim for her retrospective in 2006, Hadid recreated the seminal work at the Guggenheim and then shipped it home.

The only object on a pedestal in her house is her 2006 Icone bag, designed for Louis Vuitton. The bucket bag, made in ceramic with a red lining that doubles as a pocket or clutch, has the LV logo all over it, etched out of the bag, then raised in relief–it looks as if a huge force is sucking out its contents. It’s shocking to think that only 15 years ago Hadid still hadn’t built anything. The first building off the drawing board was the little fire station at the Vitra furniture factory in Basel, completed in 1993. For years people tried to fathom what made her undertake the gruelling challenge of making it in the testosterone-fuelled world of architecture. As she told me then, ‘Architecture is worse than brain surgery for being an all-male club. Women aren’t expected to do it. But I don’t even think about it. I had too many disadvantages, being non-European and called outrageous. Being a woman was the least of my problems.’

Born in Baghdad in 1950, she had a charmed childhood: her mother was from an enormously rich family; her father, Muhammad Hadid, an eminent Iraqi politician and industrialist. He went to the American Universty of Beirut (where he later sent his only daughter) and studied at the London School of Economics. Eager to raise a new social order from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, he sought genuine democracy in Iraq, where British influence was immense. When Zaha was eight, the British-sponsored monarch Faisal II was shot by a firing squad. Her father was appalled, yet his strong convictions about an Iraqi independence and Iraq’s emergence as a republic kept him going. But when the Baathist dictatorship seized power in the Sixties, his political career ended. A hyperactive child, who was given a sketchbook rather than Ritalin, Zaha Hadid grew up with the wonders of the world spread before her. Now that pillage and damage caused by military vehicles is desecrating the friezes of the fortified city of Hatra, the ancient Ishtar gate and brick pavements in Babylon, even the Ziggurat at Ur–reputedly the first urban civilisation in history–it is very difficult for Hadid. After all, every architect wants to build, not destroy, and this is her homeland. Asked at a press conference before her show ‘Zaha Hadid: Architecture and Design’ opened at the Design Museum if she would be designing a monument to truth and reconciliation in Iraq in 2012, she replied, with massive understatement, ‘Certain issues need to be ironed out first.’

Zaha attended the American University in Beirut, where she read maths and shared digs with Hayat Palumbo (now Lord Palumbo’s wife), who read political science. ‘We hear a lot about her being a diva. But she has such sweetness,’ explains Hayat. ‘She would cross the world to help a friend in need. Gregarious if she likes you, she has a sense of fun and a great loyalty. And she’s doing too much–on her own. She travels too much, there is a lot of strain on her and she wants to excel. All along she has been very true to herself.’ Architecture requires 100 per cent dedication. ‘Really you have to go at it full-time, not dip in and out. When women break off to have babies, it is hard for them to reconnect on the big scale,’ says Hadid. Palumbo says, ‘I think that if she had met the right person to share her life with, she may possibly have given up architecture, but I’ve never discussed those things with her. I took it for granted that it was her choice.’ When Zaha left Beirut in 1972 she joined the Architectural Association, that hothouse of talent in Seventies London, where she me the two most influential people in her life after her parents: Alvin Boyarsky, the chairman, and the engineer Peter Rice, the mentors who enabled her to realise her paintings as buildings. Her competition entry to design a club and accommodation on the Peak above Hong Kong (1982-83)–which she won, although it was never built–portrays her architecture as cutting like a knife through butter, defying nature but not destroying it. On her entry she wrote, ‘Moving towards the end of the twentieth century a certain degree of invention and newness is necessary.’

Deyan Sudjic, the director of the Design Museum, believes that years out in the cold entering competitions without getting anything built turned out to be a good thing for Hadid. ‘She kept up her research, exploring ideas exhaustively in a way that other young architects, bogged down in the design of brown-brick building, never did,’ he explains. Sudjic also thinks it shaped the way she runs her practice now–‘like a student, making her team work through the night.’ Yet they are famously loyal to her. At the end of a long day, Zaha has a lecture to deliver at the Festival Hall. ‘You must go,’ she says. ‘I’m too tired to talk now. There’s a dinner arranged, but she can’t contemplate it. ‘No I can’t. My eye is sore. I feel dreadful.’ And suddenly she looks it. Yet, an hour after the lecture ends, her chauffeur pulls up in her BMW 5 Series outside the Wolseley, where we are having dinner. Hadid makes a grand entrance, stepping out tall, her faced defined by a slash of red lipstick. She is ushered in by the maître d’; a Diet Coke with ice and lemon miraculously appears. She never drinks. Despite having lived in London for 35 years, Zaha Hadid has had only one building realised in the UK: the exquisite little Maggie’s daycare centre for cancer patients in Kirkcaldy, for which she waived her fees. It turns its back on the ugly NHS Sixties hospital and offers a crooked arm (literally, in its ramp-like form), sheltering its occupants who come in for nutrition, relaxation and counselling.

Her next British building, also in Scotland, will be the £54 million Transport Museum in Glasgow, which will be completed in November 2008 and has already won over that most canny of costcutters, the Scottish Quantity Surveyor. Inside there will be a wall of cars suspended from the roof, a steam train shipped from South Africa and boats moving majestically on conveyor belts. Glasgow’s council hopes that it will regenerate the riverside in the way that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim did for the polluted wastelands in Bilbao. Bilbao itself is the site of a major new Hadid project, due for completion by 2030–to convert the neglected Zorrozaurre peninsula into an island, with new houses, parks and technology centres, costing an estimated £1 billion. When the world shrinks into 15 or so major cities by the year 2025, will we be stacked in pods with sloping walls that curve and slink around its inhabitants, as revealed in Hadid’s life-size Future House on permanent exhibition in Beijing? Will floors grow protuberances to serve as tables and beds? And will we sink into hollows for baths, making furniture obsolete? Whatever the future holds, Zaha Hadid’s radical designs will influence the way we live.

See also: Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid, Wikipedia

Design Museum London

The Pritzker Architecture Prize

Floria’s exegesis

White Stripes - Blue Orchid

White Stripes video stills: ‘Blue Orchid’

Floria Sigismondi once described her video work as portraying ‘entropic underworlds inhabited by tortured souls and omnipotent beings’. Just by browsing through her work with musical artists on an impressive roster including Marilyn Manson, The Cure, Björk, David Bowie, and the White Stripes, it’s not hard to understand where that description comes from. And in an industry where competition is rife with superfluous imitation, this Italian-born director, photographer and exhibition artist knows exactly how to send an original message across. One thing I first noticed after coming across Sigismondi’s work back in 2003 was that she always stays true to her art and sense of vision regardless of who/what it is for. Originally a student of painting and illustration, it was after she switched to fashion photography that she first had the opportunity to direct music videos. And from then onwards, her dark Daliesque and hauntingly surreal work drew the attention of famous musicians seeking the most suitable cinematic apparatus to put their songs into action.

With no shortage of metaphors in her dream-like scenery, Sigismondi’s videos could be characterized as ‘psychological thrillers with a moral’ had they been short films. Her style can be attributed in part to her creative process, which involves delving into the music and then proceeding to feel her way through without preconceived notions of how it should appear. Through her choice of livid colours, Gothic detail, and unexpected juxtaposition of different elements and beings, she transitions from the music video dimension into a world of installation art that would fit in quite well with the Saatchi Gallery crowd. And this is further made evident when one considers her fascination with body-modification, reminiscent of the YBA‘s Chapman brothers, but with a style entirely her own. Classifying herself as an optimistic realist, Sigismondi is ultimately known for portraying images that teasingly allude to the status quo, setting a focus on human nature and questioning the direction in which the world is heading.

Two videos in particular that come to mind are for songs that have strong messages in and of themselves and yet are elevated to another level through her unique ability to portray strong themes of satire and social criticism: 1) the cult-status Incubus music video for their hit ‘Megalomaniac’, depicting neo-fascism and the all too common oil mongering of hegemonic states in the world today, and 2) the award-winning Sigur Rós video for ‘Untitled #1 (Vaka)’, portraying the tragic threat of modern day, man-made military and environmental disasters. Watching them says it all, but I think that both of these videos serve as perfect examples of precisely what it is that sets Floria Sigismondi’s work apart from the rest (Editor’s note: The lovely people over at BMG Entertainment who are self-defeatingly opposed to free publicity have made the ‘Megalomanic’ video unavailable on YouTube at large, though it is still on Spike. But I’ve replaced it below with a more recent track until someone decides to remove that too. Featured below is ‘Dig’ from the album Light Grenades [2006], directed by Kaamuz and featuring illustrations by Alan Aldridge.)

Sarah Badr © MMVI

Incubus video: ‘Megalomaniac’ (Ed. ‘Dig’)

Sigur Rós video: ‘Untitled #1 (Vaka)’

See also: Floria Sigismondi (Official Site)

Video for ‘O’ Sailor’ by Fiona Apple

Incubus Megalomaniac lyrics

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