Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chris Bear, Colour Inversion & Ceramic Flowers

Weekly Update 2018-05: Discovering HBO's amazing show High Maintenance and its even more amazing music by Chris Bear, using colour inversion as an accessible design tool and Canadian artist Shary Boyle's new work at Sunshine Eaters.

Music: Chris Bear
After bingeing the first season of HBO's High Maintenance over the past week, there are so many things about it that I could gush over. Perhaps the best of them all is the music, originally composed and/or lovingly selected by Chris Bear. His selections of vintage and new tunes mixed with his original scores for all six episodes of the season create an alluring soundscape that I haven't yet been able to shake off.

And did I mention Bear also happens to be the drummer in indie baroque pop band Grizzly Bear? What can this musician not do? Check out the playlist for season one below.

Favourite tracks include LA Priest's Oino (featured in last week's update), Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi's Hush Down and Bear's own Gatsby Intro (music originally set to follow the main character of the episode - a dog).

I highly recommend giving the show a watch, if not for the amazing stories then of course for its sparkling soundtrack.

I don't know why I have been feeling the urge of spring cleaning, especially since we're about to have another helping of bitterly cold winter in Toronto. No matter the motivation, I have begun the process of cleaning out my drawers and rearranging some stuff in my apartment. I have a new dresser, but I promised myself that I would only use it for good (to catalyze the process of getting rid of some of the items from my other bursting drawers and to give breathing room to my more beloved objects).

I have been using a personalized version of Marie Kondo's method for decluttering, which involves holding an object in my hands and deciding how much love/happiness it inspires in my heart. The issue is that many objects fall into the middle of the scale, but then I move them into the Bunz pile. I post them to Bunz right away, and if I am lucky enough to receive a trade offer, I decide in that moment about whether I really want to keep the item. I have only ever reneged on a trade offer once, when I realized I still wanted to keep a pair of pants that I have owned for over ten years now.

Good method; still lots more to go, though. I honestly don't know how I ended up with so many USB sticks, especially useless ones that only have 1GB capacity. The jury is still out on whether this is a prime example of planned obsolescence, but I know I definitely don't need these USB sticks anymore. The process of moving the files onto my hard drive in organized folders made me feel sooooo good. I hope someone on Bunz can find use for them!

My biggest accomplishment of the week is a shared one: this was the weekend of my father's first big estate sale of the year. He has been working tirelessly for the last few months on organizing the home of this client's late father, before a relative's family will move into the house and breathe new life into it. We made a family affair of it, with everyone taking a different role in helping to make the sale run smoothly.

I bought one of the man's plants - he had a lot of greenery in his home - which has not been doing so well in my apartment. I've been moving it around to see what sort of light it prefers, and after losing about 50% of its leaves, it's finally started to sprout some new growth.

I can't believe how it grows - with all nine leaves sprouting from a stem at once.
Look at the wee baby - the diameter of leaves is about the size of my thumb.

This new growth makes me wonder if perhaps the man's spirit had to take some time to find where I moved his plant to, before he could ensure it continued to grow. It's getting happier by the window each day.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to clean through my portable hard drive this week, as it's become quite unruly. Once I do that, I can back everything up to my other hard drive and sleep a little easier knowing everything is properly archived. Not that my files are very important, but I have been enjoying looking through old favourite photos on my phone once in a while.

Also, now that I have some recent skating experience under my belt, I feel confident enough to try again. As long as the weather holds up, I'll be checking out the Bentway on Friday and Richmond Hill's winter claim to fame, the Winter Carnival at Mill Pond on Sunday. Considering I grew up in Richmond Hill but have no memories of actually attending the annual carnival, I decided it's time to right that wrong.

Random Thought: Colour Inversion
If you've ever dabbled with photo editing software, you are probably familiar with the process of inverting an image. Originally done using darkroom processes, inverting produces the opposite colour in the spectrum for a photo. I personally enjoy working with inversion because it produces a sort of "evil twin" version of a photo. Same same, but different, and without a ton of design work.

Obviously others have felt the same, as I have been noticing a trend in inverted album art. Take, for example, British indie band Bloc Party's 2005 album Silent Alarm. Other than being a great rock album, the album art is quite stark and white:

Bloc Party's Silent Alarm, released early 2005.

Interestingly, the band decided to release a remix version of the album later that same year. From Wikipedia: Bloc Party commissioned Silent Alarm Remixed to show that remixes and dance music were relevant to the band and to the rock landscape at large. The band members gave each of the original tracks to a number of musicians from different genres; Ladytron, Four Tet, and Nick Zinner were amongst those who reworked the songs. Critics often considered the record as showcasing the potential high quality of remix albums, although some reviewers treated it as disjunct and a poor marketing decision. Allow me to present the album art:

The exact same thing, just inverted (and I guess one of the remixes contains a swear)!

Bloc Party was not the only band to use inversion for their remix album - Boys Noize (a.k.a. German electronic music producer and DJ Alexander Ridha) followed up his 2007 album Oi Oi Oi with a 2008 remix album:

The original Oi Oi Oi (2007).

The remix album (2008).

Especially when used on monochrome imagery, inversion feels like a small design change with a lot of impact that still pays homage to the original design.

Colour inversion has more purpose than simply design, though. If you've ever checked out the accessibility features of an iPhone, you'll see that there is an option to invert the entire screen. 

No, this isn't to allow some users to feel "edgy" like they have a customized view of their iOS, it's actually used to help solve a variety of usability issues. Some people find it easier to read white text on a black background, especially when it comes to backlit screens, and others use this setting for "night mode" - you'll notice that Apple automatically turns off their feature Night Shift when Invert Colors is set to active. 

According to this forum, there is another notion at work here beyond contrast ratios - display polarity. A positive polar display consists of dark letters on a light background, a negative polar display consists of light letters on a dark background. Polarity by itself is independent of text-to-background contrast. At the level of the display, a change of polarity has no effect on the text-to-background contrast. If the reader's eyes are cloudy, however, the contrasts at the retinal level is decreased for positive compared to negative polarity. This is why offering negative polarity is considered an accessibility feature.

Left: my normal home screen. Right: the inverted version. I don't hate it.
Disclaimer: the 1,393 notification badge is a step counter - I'm not a monster.

I am thinking of trying this out on my device for a few days and seeing if it makes any difference to my experience. 

Inspiration: Shary Boyle
Working so close to OCAD and the AGO has been a true blessing for, and will be even moreso once the weather is nice enough to walk to the AGO after work with my shiny new membership. Being the art enthusiast that I am, I was excited to see that OCAD is launching a four-month gallery show entitled Sunshine Eaters with works from Shary Boyle (my favourite Canadian ceramicist), Nick Cave, Brian Jungen, and more. From their online brochure:
The Sunshine Eaters exhibition highlights how contemporary artists and designers look to the land, plants, flowers and trees as a means to imagine and conjure hope in the face of crises.
In conjunction with the gallery - which I still have yet to visit! - there is a captivating series of artist talks. I had the true joy of seeing Shary Boyle speak about her recent work of the past few years, much of it in conjunction with Aboriginal Canadian artists she has met in her travels. She has been making strides away from the traditional "West European" approach to art history and education, and it really shows in the way her work has made leaps and bounds since I last saw it at her Flesh and Blood show at the AGO in 2010.

Boyle spoke for an hour about working in Cape Dorset with the talented Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona, and of her collaboration with other Inuit sculptors in Medalta - the historic pottery district in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Boyle's work "Home Haunter", 2015.

She also talked about her natural affinity for clay, seeing it as a natural medium that she could shape and interact with more than any man-made substance. She likened clay to skin more than once, which one can see in her works.

I have yet to visit the gallery, but after hearing her speak about the work, I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll talk about her on my blog. Meanwhile, check out Shary Boyle's work and the Sunshine Eaters website for more info on upcoming events.

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