Campi Phlegraei

or: Hamilton’s Flaming Fields

Paraphrased: The area around Naples was known locally as the Campi Phlegraei, or ‘flaming fields’, owing to the frequent and violent eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. William Hamilton (Britain’s envoy to the Spanish court at Naples) from his country house at the foot of the volcano, was ideally placed to witness and investigate the eruptions of the 1770s. The prevailing view at the time was of volcano was a purely destructive force. Hamilton sought to show that in a broader time scale, volcanoes had been responsible for the mountainous landscape and rich, fertile soils that characterized the area. Hamilton employed the Anglo-Neapolitan artist Peter Fabris to create sketches in situ to illustrate the work (Hamilton himself is pictured in many of the plates as the figure in the red coat). These were then reproduced in prints that were hand coloured individually by local artists by the application of gouache. The resultant work was published in 1776 (with a later supplement describing the great eruption of Vesuvius in August 1779) as Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies.

Take a closer look at this beauty at Glasgow University Library, Georgetown’s Campania site, Ingenious UK, Nortwestern’s Campania Felix, and Stromboli Online. Also Hamilton’s Apparatus.

10.30. filed under: art. history. people. science. 3

Above is an update of a piece created by Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas over 30 years ago. In the original it’s Gerald Ford being tugged into life by those puppet strings, and the companies are different, smaller really, with fewer banks and investment firms and conglomerates and LLC’s in evidence. On the whole though, the times… they aren’t a changin’. Check out Emory Douglas’ work at It’s About Time and at the MOCA who are exhibiting his work through January 08. For a bit more check out The Revolution Will Be Visualized. Previously: The Black Panther Coloring Boook.

10.22. filed under: art. design. history. ideas. people.

Butoh, Dance of the Dark Soul

“But by an altogether Oriental means of expression, this objective and concrete language of the theater can fascinate and ensnare the organs. It flows into the sensibility. Abandoning Occidental usages of speech, it turns words into incantations. It extends the voice. It utilizes the vibrations and qualities of the voice. It wildly tramples rhythms underfoot. It pile-drives sounds. It seeks to exalt, to benumb, to charm, to arrest the sensibility. It liberates a new lyricism of gesture which, by its precipitation or its amplitude in the air, ends by surpassing the lyricism of words. It ultimately breaks away from the intellectual subjugation of the language, by conveying the sense of a new and deeper intellectuality which hides itself beneath the gestures and signs, raised to the dignity of particular exorcisms.”

–Antonin Artaud, from The Theater of Cruelty (First Manifesto): The Theater and Its Double, 1938.

10.21. filed under: art. history. people. play. 4

Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) was an Italian painter, sculptor, designer, craftsman, engraver, and compulsive collector of printed ephemera. A precursor to pop-art and an exemplar of a post-modernism which would not be named for decades hence. Prolific and unafraid of the utilitarian he created tens-of-thousands of objects in his lifetime. Perhaps most recognized for his Themes and Variations series (which reworked a single image of opera singer Lina Cavalieri he found in a 19th century French magazine over 500 times) his works include porcelain and gold plates, chairs, jars, tables, bureaus, teapots, umbrellas, lamps, screens, clothes, etc. Evidently he once said of his work: “I believe in neither periods nor dates. I refuse to define the value of an object in terms of its era.” Fitting for a man whose objects, by remaining somehow stylistically relevant decade after decade, seem to defy era as well. 

I post all this, very simply, because the plate pictured above made me laugh. Reason enough, no? If you’d like to know more about Fornasetti Designboom did a very nice feature way back in 2001 and, of course, there is an official site, kept up by Fornasetti’s son (and heir to the aesthetic) Barnaba. 

10.09. filed under: art. death. people. 5

Exercise of Insubmission

by E.M. Cioran

“How I detest, Lord, the turpitude of Your works and these syrupy ghosts who burn incense to You and resemble You! Hating You, I have escaped the sugar mills of Your Kingdom, the twaddle of Your puppets. You are the damper of our flames and our rebellions, the fire hose of our fevers, the superintendent of our senilities. Even before relegating You to a formula, I trampled Your arcana, scorned Your tricks and all those artifices which produce Your toilette of the Inexplicable. You have generously endowed me with the gall Your pity spared Your slaves. Since there is no rest but in the shadow of Your nullity, the brute finds salvation by just handing himself over to You or Your counterfeits. I don’t know which is more pitiable. Your acolytes or myself: we all derive straight from Your incompetence: pitch, patch, hodgepodge—syllables of the Creation, of Your blundering…”

09.30. filed under: belief. people. philosophy. 3

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds

His name was Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle and his book, Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes, (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) is a fascinating, though I suspect largely forgotten, bit of science history. Published in 1686, the book is remarkable, not so much for its literary merits as for the ultimate function its publication served. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds holds the admirable distinction of being one of the first books of “popularized science” ever published, which is to say, a book of scientific ideas aimed directly at “the average reader” rather than natural philosophers. It became quite fashionable and in as much might be considered the Brief History of Time or Cosmos of it’s day. 

09.25. filed under: history. people. science. theory. 8

Beast Treaties

They were a pestilence, coming upon us in so many ways- with guns, knives drawn behind empty handshakes, bringing sickness and fire. No matter how many we killed, no matter how firmly we stood, they just kept coming. It was we who saw our numbers dwindling, our villages emptied or turned to ash. The death and desecration and misery was beyond what our gods had prepared us for. There were no ancestral stories to tell in the night which were more brutal than what we’d seen in the day, and so there was no wisdom to draw on… no comfort. In the end, staring at their piece of paper, the one they said would make it all stop, I took the pen and did the only thing left for me to do- I drew a tiny little elk’s head.

09.08. filed under: history. people. 6


Came across this hypnotic video of master hand engraver Steve Lindsay completing an engraving from start to finish. It’s pretty amazing. As a designer (with the prerequisite appreciation of typography) watching someone carve perfect, beautiful letter forms from metal, and so handily, is both humbling and fun. As a (lapsed) painter I can certainly appreciate the brute hand-skill involved. Beyond that there is a definite Zen quality inherent, I’d say, to any work which denies the luxury of an eraser or undo button. Pour yourself a glass of something (the vid is accompanied by an urbane soundtrack of classical and jazz) and enjoy.

For more videos, images, and information on hand engraving see the following:
Engraving, Lindsay, and Master

08.25. filed under: art. design. people.

“There were only occasional cigarette wrappers or paper towel like toilet paper with no pencils or ink available for communication. You could manufacture ink out of brick dust and sundry such elements and use bamboo slivers for pens. The only sure way of communicating thusly was to drop a note in an emptied toilet bucket, float a note out on your manure, hide a note at a wash trough, or scratch a message on the bottom of a rice bowl. But you had to contact the guy first to tell him all this. The preferred, most secure and most reliable method was to tap on the walls or floor pad in a rhythmic code known to us as the Tap Code.”

TALK TO ME! or The Origins of the Prison Tap Code.

08.23. filed under: history. humanity. people. 1

...He advised me not to worry about lice. “You’ll soon get used to ‘em, not feel ‘em biting at all. All you have to do is ‘boil up’ once in a while”—that is, take off your clothes and boil them, a piece at a time, to kill the vermin. These and other personal chores the well-groomed tramp more or less regularly performs, were usually attended to during stop-overs in camps and jungles. It was here I learned to shave with the aid of a broken bit of whiskey glass. The toughest method of shaving I ever saw, though, was when one old veteran of the road rubbed another’s face with the rough side of half a brick!

-Harry Kemp (footnote to history, tramp poet, author, dune shack dweller, village bohemian, home wrecker, hanger on to giants, and purportedly a “lecherous and lazy man who committed as many wrongful acts as a man can safely commit”) from the the Federal Writers’ Project American Life Histories.

08.21. filed under: history. people. 1

| page 3 |