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Form Follows Fiction


“Write what you know,” is the first piece of advice given to most students in writing workshops. Artists, too, tend to paint that which they’ve experienced and observed; Monet spent a lot of time at his lily pond. But there have always been some artists who blend the real with the imaginary. Consider the following works, then discuss with your team: should we respond differently to art that tries to imagine what could be, art that imagines what could never be, and art that shows us what we didn’t realize already was?

Monet is almost in every sense the founder of the French Impressionist painting, and the term likely came from his painting 'Impression, Sunrise'. He learned art and painting in school but by age 16, he left school for Paris and sat by the windows and painted what he saw around him. He studied the "en plein air" method (painting outdoors) and met other famous painters including Renoir, Bazille and Sisley, developing his later famous style. After the death of his wife Camille to tuberculosis, he vowed not to live in poverty, so he created some of his best work and made lots of money. He bought a large house with garden (lily pond) and painted for the rest of his life. The garden was his biggest source of inspiration. 


The 16th-century Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo is known for his vegetal visages or "composite heads", which continue to inspire kitschy European food brands and an amusement park outside Paris featuring a commemorative restaurant with gigantic fruits. The son of a lesser-known artist, Giuseppe began his career as a traditional artist until age 36, when he was appointed court portraitist for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II in Vienna. In Milan he met leading astronomers, botanists, physicians and alchemists and his creativity blossomed. There is still a controversy around the value of his paintings: funny and whimsical versus allusion and naturalist. Either way, in the 20th century, being emulated by Picasso and Dali, he gained the reputation as the "Grandfather of Surrealism." 

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This quirky and insightful illustration was drawn by Albert Robida for his 1883 novel Le Vingtième Siècle, or The Twentieth Century. The novel describes a future vision for Paris in the 1950’s, focusing on technological advancements and how they would affect the daily lives of Parisians. He drew a house that’s been raised up on a rotating table, making a statement on overcrowding and access to light and air for urban residents.

In an urban environment, height is the main currency for access to light and air; thus, the taller a building is, the more light and air it will receive. Robida takes this concept and applies it to a single-family home, which rises above the surrounding buildings to occupy the highest place around. Also, by having the house rotate, it enjoys 360-degree views of its surroundings.

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Albert Carel Willink was born in 1900 in Amsterdam and his father was an amateur artist. His early works were expressionist and abstract, but later his developed a magic realist style. This painting Late Visitors to Pompeii was purchased two years after it was painted by Museum Boijmans, showing that Willink was recognised as an important artist very quickly. In comparison with his later illusionistic virtuosity, this painting is fairly crude. However, the alienating effect is very successful. Willink has depicted himself on the left, turning to face the viewer.

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Graciela Iturbide is one of the best-known Mexican photographers of the last four decades. Her most notable work is the photoessay 'Juchitan of the Women' (1979-86) which documents the indigenous Zapotec people, where women dominate all aspects of social life, from economy to religious rituals. The most emblematic image of the series, Our Lady of the Iguanas, shows the power and dignity of a Zapotec woman, who carries on her head live iguanas that form a bizarre crown. 

Like her teacher, the photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo (at one time the husband of Lola Alvarez Bravo, whose work hangs nearby), Iturbide portrays Catholic traditions intertwined with pre-Hispanic rites and superstitions, showing a culture in constant flux. Approaching her subjects directly and frontally, Iturbide represents a dreamlike reality with great compassion, or, to use the artist’s own word, “complicity.”

This print by Pedro Meyer, produced by Nash Editions, is accompanied by a copy of Truths & Fictions: A Journey from Documentary to Digital Photography, Meyer's blending of the magic realism of Latin America with computer-altered photography. This photograph depicts a surreal street scene with an overcast sky. A saintly figure in white floats above the pavement and casts a shadow on the wall running down the street. A woman and child are walking up some steps whilst, on the right of the image, a man is standing under some plastic sheeting, as if they are all in parallel universes, each with their own hardships and sense of loss. 

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Pedro Alvarez is an artist from Cuba, and he worked as an art teacher in Cuba, Spain and the United States. His works are both abstract, surreal and romantic. He died mysteriously in 2004 under mysterious circumstances after his solo exhibition. Unfortunately, there is very little information about his artwork's inspirations and messages. His paintings have a haunting mood that conveys a disquieting feeling. The paintings feature a dark green tint, and in the background, iconic American symbols that are well-known on the dollar bill (pyramid, George Washington, Palm Trees and the Treasury Building). They seem to criticize the obsession with money and how money was built on the pain and misery of immigrants and minorities, depicted in the foreground of the painting. The paintings also feature cars which might be a symbol of migration across the United States. 

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According to Gibbs, "Weirdos of Another Universe" is a series of paintings where I've decided to explore the “what ifs” of an imaginary situation where a small number of humans suddenly exist within an alien world. This series is about the feeling of being an outsider after entering a new world, and gradually figuring out how to find your place within it. This narrative sits at the core of the series, and each painting serves to further explore this narrative and to further build the world within which it is taking place.

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Some artists choose to reimagine popular brands and fictional characters in ways that shine a new light on them and on society. Consider the following works, then discuss with your team: should these artists be required to secure permission from—or even pay—the companies whose brands or characters they are borrowing? Does it depend on how widely the work is distributed, or whether the work is positive or negative?


Andy Warhol was an American visual artist, film director, producer, and leading figure in the pop art movement. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture that flourished by the 1960s, and span a variety of media, including painting, silkscreening, photography, film, and sculpture. “I don’t think art should be only for the select few,” Warhol said. “I think it should be for the mass of the American people.” Like other Pop artists, Warhol used images with wide appeal: comic strips, advertisements, photographs of rock-music icons and movie stars, and tabloid news shots. In Campbell’s Soup Cans he reproduced an object of mass consumption in the most literal sense. When he first exhibited these canvases—there are thirty-two of them, the number of soup varieties Campbell’s then sold—each one simultaneously hung from the wall, like a painting, and stood on a shelf, like groceries in a store. The artist referred to them affectionately as “portraits.”

Warhol made these paintings in a systematic multistep process. First he delineated each can with pencil on canvas. Next he painted the can and label by hand, using a light projector to superimpose the lettering directly onto the canvas, then tracing its form. Repeating the nearly identical image at the same scale, the canvases stress the uniformity and pervasiveness of the Campbell’s can, thereby challenging the prevailing idea of painting as a medium of invention and originality distinct from popular culture. The Campbell’s label, which had not changed in more than fifty years, was unremarkable and ubiquitous. Warhol later said of Campbell’s soup, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”

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An upright shadow-box, hardly a foot tall and a few inches thick, is fronted with a glass pane. In it stands a notepad-holder, featuring a substantially proportioned black woman with a grotesque, smiling face. She is clad in a red dress with floral patterns, a yellow polka-dotted scarf, and a red-and-white bandana tied in a knot above her forehead. The woman carries a broom in her right hand, while her folded left hand, with a rifle leaning on it, rests on her waist. The clip of a hand grenade appears in the gap between her body and right arm. The space where the notepad was originally held, which covers the lower half of the woman, shows a painting of a similar woman standing in front of vegetation and a picket fence, carrying a crying white child. The lower half of this painted figure is concealed by an upright black fist. The floor of the box is filled with cotton and cotton pods, while the background shows repeated images of the logo of a smiling woman representing the Aunt Jemima brand of breakfast foods.

Such co-existence of a variety of found objects in one space is called assemblage, a type of sculpture that emerged in modern art in the early twentieth century.  The central item in the scene—the notepad-holder—is a product of the Jim Crow era, a period of violent repression and racial segregation that lasted from approximately the 1890s to the 1960s.  Inventing various Black stock characters that appeared repeatedly in songs, poems, black-face minstrelsy, and other literary and popular performative genres, white artists created a specific visual culture that presented Blackness as ugly and expendable. Pictorial images of black inferiority in magazines, advertisements, and other outlets were extended to a variety of domestic objects, such as ashtrays, furniture, cookie jars, and here, a notepad holder

Aunt Jemima cocktail combines a mammy figure on one side and Black Power fist on the other of a handmade label. The label is attached to a California wine jug with a rag on the top, transforming it into a weapon against oppression the racist stereotypes of black femininity.

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Produced in 2011, Kawsbob is a collection of three signed screen prints by the prolific American artist and designer, KAWS aka Brian Donnelly. Each print in the collection was released in an edition of 100 and depicts a close-up of the much-loved and universally recognised cartoon character, SpongeBob Square Pants. The prints come in three colours, one yellow, maintaining SpongeBob’s original colouring, one red and one black. SpongeBob is pulling a different face in each print, which reflects the cartoon character’s wit and charm. The cartoon character is drawn using bold, black gestural lines and SpongeBob’s eyes are replaced with Xs, a signature element of KAWS’ visual language. The collection captures KAWS’ flat graphic style and love of colour. KAW was inspired by graffiti and TV as a source of pop culture and his art blurs the boundaries between high and low art by including Pop culture references.


Banksy Charlie Brown Firestarter, Los Angeles   Appearing in February 2010 this image of an arsonist Charlie Brown appeared in the run up to the Oscars on the side of a burnt out building in LA. Just a couple of days later it had been cut out of the wall no doubt to turn up for sale somewhere else. 

Banksy is probably the most iconic and mysterious graffiti artist in the world. His works have mysteriously appeared for over two decades. Banksy quickly developed his own unique stencil style creating images at first in Bristol, in the UK before taking his techniques further afield to Los Angeles, New York, and Austria. His work is now recognised worldwide – unlike Banksy himself whose identity has never been confirmed by the man himself despite lots of conflicting theories being published.

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Brendan O’Connell is a painter who finds his muses in an unlikely place: supermarkets. Though he’s best known for paintings scenes from inside Walmart stores and his latest series of paintings zooms in on the everyday even further, focusing on one brand at a time. O’Connell tells TIME magazines that part of the reason for his interest in these subjects is consumer interest: his work isn’t cheap — $1,000 is the very low end. "These brands represent where we are as a culture," says O'Connell, a 45-year-old painter. "I find it visually exciting to go to a grocery store."

Interestingly, he paints to help connect consumers to those happy nostalgic feelings. For style, he often paints a product and then purposely makes it more abstract, resulting, making the viewer complete the picture. To him, memories are populated by people and places and packaging.

A smart fridge that could order more yogurt from the market for you when your supply runs low: the Internet of things (IoT) devices promised to revolutionize our daily live, from thermostats that learn when you’re home to umbrellas that check the weather forecast before you leave home. But we are now more than a decade into the IoT revolution, and it has mostly filled our houses with useless gadgets that are privacy and security risks and frequently turn into e-waste. Discuss with your team: what went wrong? Do people simply not want their homes full of IoT devices, or is this a technology whose time has just not yet come?

There are a lot of cases where technology makes sense, and others when too much tech is just "dumb". A security system for fire alarms or motion sensor is necessary, but Bluetooth-enabled rice cooker, tweeting refrigerators, and texting toilet paper holders. These seem like frivolous gimmicks that should not be on the market. Just because we can connect to the Internet doesn't mean that everything should be connected. Below is a list of the ridiculous "Internet of Things" (IoT) that actually launched in the last few years.  A lot of the description centers around "smart" and "track". So, if you can keep track of your own action/plans (with a notebook), you probably don't need these.  Saying something is smart doesn't make it a smart purchasing choice.

1) SmartyPans - A frying pan that detects what's in it ($209)

2) Oral-B Pro 5000 - A toothbrush that guides you via app ($130+) 

3) HAPIfork - A fork that tracks how fast you're eating ($79) 

4) Spire - A wearable that tells you when you're stressed ($150)

5) Egg Minder - A plastic carton that tells you if you need more eggs ($10)

6) Hidrate Spark - A bottle that tracks how much water you're drinking ($55)

7) SmartMat - A yoga mat that tells you when you're screwing up ($347)

8) my.flow - A monitor that tells you when your tampon is full (TBD)

9) Smart Rope - A LED jump rope, displays fitness data as you work out ($90)

10) Kuvee - A Wi-Fi-enabled wine bottle with interchangeable cartridges. ($199)

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All around you, whether you know it or now, you are being watched or sensed by the many IoTs that surround our lives and know a lot more than you think about us. Roberto Yus is a computer scientist who studies data management and privacy. For instance, smart appliances perform jobs and are connected to the Internet for data.  As for 2018, there are currently 22 billion IoT devices and by 2030, that number is expected to grow to over 50 billion. 


Typically, manufacturers promise that only automated decision-making systems and not humans see your data. But Amazon workers for example, listen to some conversations with Alexa and transcribe them and annotate them. Not to mention hackers, who can easily get into consumer IoTs. 

The key is to understand your vulnerabilities. Most owners of smart home personal assistants have an incomplete understanding of what data the devices collect, where it is stored and who can access the data. Governments are introducing laws to prevent breaches, for example European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). However, the bulk of the responsibility lies in the consumer. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the two key steps are: 1) update your device's firmware regularly and 2) disabling any unless data collection.  There are also independent ratings such as Mozilla's Privacy Not Included that gives your a guide on which manufacturers take privacy seriously. 

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Until we look to emulate the open models of Wi-Fi and PCs, IoT will always be a source of never-ending e-waste. More and more once highly praised IoT have become obsolete and disconnected from its cloud service. Basically, they have reached their end-of-life sooner than expected. These are not just early adopter gadgets. Products such as iOs devices like iPhone 6 and iPad Air and iPad Mini 3 face the same issue, as they are not able to upgrade to the latest iOS 13, meaning they won't be able to support the new software and their functionality is in jeopardy. 


The lifespan of a product depends on three aspects: endpoints, hubs, and clients.

#1: Endpoints mean any physical mechanism that control the device such as switches for lights, sensors for alarms. These usually last 10 years. They are often now controlled by Wi-fi or Bluetooth.  Some companies are forming associations to better manage the upgrades in technology and make technology more open and adaptable.  How pervasive and open is Wi-Fi as a standard. Extremely. Most Wi-Fi devices over ten years old still function on modern networks, even with new security and functional features. 

#2: Hubs control endpoints and they are the primary communications mechanism to a cloud service. Computer scientists suggest an open-hub standard that can communicate with many cloud services. Hubs implemented in a virtual fashion with open specification should be able to live indefinitely. 

#3 Clients are not consumers. It means manufacturers. The more open and flexible, the better it is for consumers as a whole. Apple for example is not open. Most iOS devices are not expected to be useful longer than 4 years. Android is better, but sometimes because they are not updated in a timely fashion, they don't remain relevant. 

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