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Panspermingham - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:51 pm
Panspermingham

The Future Systems-designed Selfridges at the Birmingham Bull Ring Centre is a bit like an alien spore that's landed from space. Especially if you go there early in the morning, before it opens, revealing its true purpose -- the vending of disappointingly mundane rows of beige sweaters hanging on hangers.



Or is its futurism already retro, in a 1998 Forever sort of way? (The building was designed in 1999, and opened in 2003.) You know, blobby like my Swatch phone was that year, iconic like every Gehry building was that decade, magazine-cover photogenic in a way we've started to scoff at, especially when there's a bathetic contrast between the glam spore shell and what's inside. Here it's a pod selling tat. In Seattle, Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project puts a blob around pious exhibitions dedicated to the genius of Eric Clapton. Sheffield's National Centre for Popular Music stuck a blob around Alanis Morissette sales figures. Blob bathos, baby!

But never mind, whatever rubbish is inside, blobs are always spores from space. And when you start thinking about what's from space, you begin to realize that everything in Birmingham has descended from the sky rather than wriggling up from the grass roots. The church that stands opposite the blob, for instance, what is its spire but a long stone finger pointing out into space in the vague direction of a supernatural deity? And me, I've arrived in a plane to give a lecture here. I'm from space too.

When you think about it, even the industrial revolution which gave this town its core identity was really a series of tools falling from the sky, rather like the bone the monkeys in "2001: A Space Odyssey" threw up in the air -- and which came down as waltzing spacecraft. The spinning jenny, the steam engine, they must have seemed like spores when they arrived, changing everything.

The brands in and around the Bull Ring Centre are all international ones; they're spores that have blown in on the wind. There's the Apple Store -- that's blown in from America. There's Muji; that's from Japan. Only in the rather shabbier Pallasades Centre, above Birmingham New Street Station, do local-looking stores appear. But head out a bit further and you'll find more spores -- all the stores of Handsworth have dropped down onto this Midlands city from Amritsar, Mumbai and Delhi. Direct flights to all those cities leave from Brum daily. The poor, too, are airborne spores here.

It was in South India, in 2001, that a mysterious red rain began to fall. According to BBC reports this week, more and more scientists are convinced this rain contained spores -- the seeds of extraterrestrial life, capable of travelling through space. The belief that humans -- and all life on Earth, even in Birmingham -- began with just such a rain is called "Panspermia". So welcome to Panspermingham.

40CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
1986 Forever...

http://www.kiddofspeed.com/default.htm


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC)

I usually imagine the way cultural imperialist often just seem to "drop" their fabricated culture in "big piles" in a country(-ies) for people to spot and then go there and pick it up only because they can't see the local shops because of these large piles. But that rain is more of the colour blue than red.

What if these extraterrestials are socialists from another planet!?


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:20 pm (UTC)

If that building were in Japan you'd be creaming your pants.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 05:43 am (UTC)

just that in japan it happened, what, 30 years ago.

public space also dissapeared, though it arguably never really existed here as such in the firt place. the whole world is becomming like japan (what is it ? rhizomic eiffel tower-ism ?), maybe japan can become more like the world now.

on a tangent , in napoli last year i was struck by how sensible the old architecture for living was and how ridiculous the eiffel-towerized plazas are. europe's got some serious dillemas, japan's comparatively free.


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zotz
zotz
Graham Clark
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)

According to BBC reports this week, more and more scientists are convinced this rain contained spores -- the seeds of extraterrestrial life, capable of travelling through space

I'm not aware of any serious support for that. Odd-coloured rain's between reported often and for a long time. In the Eighties, Reagan's cronies to claimed that yellow rain in south-east Asia was Soviet chemical warfare. As far as I know it turned out to be beeshit, and this could well be too.


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contraries
contraries
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)

i actually saw you wondering about but i didn't like to come and jump on you as it were.


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contraries
contraries
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)

and lucky for me, i get to see that building every day from the top of my road.


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mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC)

Isn't the whole concept of a City of Birmingham an alien concept that was dropped onto a cluster of villages by the Industrial Revolution? Arguably, the same could be said about Manchester.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand



(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 06:06 pm (UTC)
boy...

i hope momus writes about my city!


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bugpete
bugpete
Pete Ashton
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)

Can I just say, as a resident, I really want to read more of your impressions of Birmingham. The city is going though some massive changes at the moment and outside (in every sense) perspectives like your are really fascinating, not to mention useful for those who live here.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)

I'm afraid I'm back in Berlin, and just had a few hours to run around the city (some of which I wasted in my hotel with a stonking headache), so that's yer lot!


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)

It is notable that The Day of the Triffids has just started being repeated on BBC4.


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mnog
mnog
Rubahin
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)

hi here :)
remember moscow?
... with love
http://mnog.livejournal.com/8718.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Nov. 18th, 2006 10:18 pm (UTC)

I had my teeth pulled right after that photo. As you can see, I was in terrible pain...


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 02:55 am (UTC)

puppet show

The Copyrighting of Public Space


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raspberry_lemon
anonymous
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 04:39 am (UTC)

Overzealous copyright enforcement is the only reason I rarely visit museums or art galleries.

The idea of getting thrown out for snapping a picture with my little camera for personal use does not sit well with me :/


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lobsterbelle
lobsterbelle
-
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)

My grandmother was happy to tell me many times over how the evil non-English had destroyed her home town.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 11:58 am (UTC)

Ooh momus your images are so beautiful i don't care what you write anymore just keep posting beautiful images, i'll keep coming back here for you.


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insomnia
insomnia
Insomnia
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)

"is its futurism already retro, in a 1998 Forever sort of way?"

When I think of retro futurism, I think of the 1950s, but there is a distinctively 90's variety of dotcom/high-tech influenced futurism that most certainly is dying. I'd call it retro if it was cool enough yet to be notable, and presumably collectable or otherwise given a premium by anyone.

Rather, it reminds me of the late 60's / early '70s futurism -- egg chairs and the like -- which have finally become retro.

That said, there's nothing in 90's futurism that I am aware of that really strikes me as being particularly worthy of special interest yet. Right now, it all just looks kind of sad, really.

The Metreon in San Francisco is a good example of this kind of failed hightech/dotcom futurism. It started with a lot of conceptual exhibits regarding the integration of art and technology, only to find that the artistic, creative elements didn't pay and didn't draw particularly large crowds, and that the only noteworthy success were the movie theatres instead.

Innovation and design has given way to commerce, and Sony sold the place to a mall manufacturer. Upstairs exhibits are gradually being replaced by additional movie theatres, while much of the ground floor seems to be a constantly changing series of marginal businesses, many of which, unsurprisingly, vend mundane rows of (designer) beige sweaters, or something to that effect.

It's odd / sad that the S.F. Bay Area can't maintain the kind of inertia for a place like the Metreon, which is basically a counterpart to Tokyo's Sony Store.

It's indicative of a failed, inefficient infrastructure in the S.F. Bay Area and in much of the U.S. -- a kind of urban suburban blight. Instead of densely populated cities linked with easily-accessable public transportation and wired with inexpensive fiber optical internet access, there's sprawl, with malls every few miles and the promise of a Starbucks/Blockbuster/Borders/Noah's Bagels shopping plaza within walking distance... not that anyone actually walks.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Nov. 19th, 2006 03:35 pm (UTC)
Sharkitecture

I'd have to banish the Metreon from discussions of blob-futurism, I think. A blob or spore building aims to eliminate angles and corners of all kinds. It might look like a pear, or it might look like a Matisse nude, but above all it should look "organic". But, as Jade reports for Ars Technica:

"The Metreon itself is mostly just a big silver box. Go buy a silver flip top lighter from the tobacco shop of your local mall, write METREON in real small letters on it, and hold it at arms length. You will have the essence of the architectural experience that is Metreon... Do not bring blind people here or they will get hurt. I guess angles and edges are stylish because they, aesthetically, poke you in the eye at every turn in this place..."

In other words, this is "sharkitecture" -- think Zaha Hadid, whose proclivity for aggressive angles turns everything she touches into a shark. Odd, because she herself is shaped like a nice curvy pod.


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