Frank Kunert’s Wunderland

Frank Kunert is back with the followup to Topsy-Turvy World. His latest book is called Wunderland and is, again, published by Hatje Cantz, and it’s great!

For those that don’t know about Frank Kunert’s work – He makes miniature improbable dioramas. Each and every scene is still; arrested in a moment where the people that populate Kunert’s world have exited the stage for a brief moment. The photo (or more like a still from rolling film) of each scene gives more than enough life for the viewer to use their imagination and get sucked in completely. It’s inconceivable to consider each piece without imagining the following moments in your mind (or maybe the moments before). These are worlds you get lost in.

Frank Kunert shares his work from over the last few years and it’s refreshing to see that, although his style has remained the same, the images are so fresh. The initial humour is then interrupted – for the diligent viewer – and transformed to a more serious sense. There’s a earnest intent in every image. Sometimes the messages are obvious and sometimes they take a little more time to see. You can’t help but have conflicting emotional responses (smile with sadness) for images like the scene set out in Upstairs Toilet (below) where a disabled toilet is only accessible by monkey-bars. While it has a helpful wheelchair ramp at the bottom it still looks to be only accessible via the staircase on the side of the room.

We are also treated to a few process photos in which show the scale, detail and ultimately the dimensions of the models that are never seen in the finished piece; the photo. It would be great to see Kunert’s sketchbook though. I’d love to see if the initial details play out as intended. I wonder how the images are initially framed compared to the final photos. I’d love to see if/how he tweaks the camera angles etc to make the images so perfectly.

This helping of Kunert’s work comes in the same format as his last offering; 72 pages with 31 full size photos of his works (a few more than last time) in a hardcover edition. You can get a copy direct from Hatje Cantz or from all the usual places including AmazonUK

Fritz Kahn’s Anatomy of Ideas

A little over nine years ago, I stumbled across an image that changed the way I regarded medical information; an illustration that was created in 1928, Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace) by, German born, Fritz Kahn. Although I had seen plenty of info information graphics in the past, this was the first I had seen one related to anatomy and physiology (I later learnt about Florence Nightingale’s polar area diagrams, although they are, more accurately, statistical diagrams). Dr Fritz Kahn’s (1888 – 1968) image plays out the workings of the head and trunk as an industrial machine, complete with pistons, pulleys, gears, radio stations, conveyer-belts, pipes and all kinds of other bits and pieces that make sense to the layman. By mixing these real-world objects with the intangible stuff that goes on in our body (intangible to the layman and the learner), Kahn was able to show us how we work. My memory must have failed me as I recall seeing this image as I was undertaking my own anatomy and physiology training, which was a few years prior to seeing the piece. I can only assume that when seeing it for the first time, the knowledge that I had learned finally found a way to gel between the two opposing worlds of the textbook and the body. I was thrilled. As a single piece, I think it’s the most important medical illustration that there is. Since then, the internet hasn’t been able to quench my thirst for Kahn’s illustrations and I’ve longed to see more…

That was until I found out that not only was there going to be a book published about him but it was going to be done so by Taschen! Having recently got back from a trip to Paris I was full of respect for Taschen after visiting their incredible store. I knew they were a special publisher (I already own some of their books) but didn’t quite realise the extent of their catalogue and the ethos surrounding their consumer and collectable titles. Fritz Kahn – Anatomy of Ideas is everything – and more – that I was expecting… very much more in fact. The first thing that struck me when I got to the end of the initial flick-through was photographic portrait of the man himself. In all these years of thinking about the few images of his that I knew about, I had never taken the time to imagined him as a person himself. His images have always been so enveloping that they’ve been all that was needed and was all there was room for in my head. When confronted by the illustrations my mind goes into study-overdrive as I journey into the image and as the images’ messages travel into my memory; it’s such an extraordinary way to learn. There was no space for the human aspect of the illustrations’ creation!

Uta von Debschitz and Thilo von Debschitz have curated Kahn’s work and displayed it in such a powerful way. They’ve stripped down the text and put the imagery in the forefront and there’s no shortage of quality imagery either. There must be about 300 full page images included and each and every one of them offers some unique view on the body and the natural world around us. He metaphorically dissects individual elements of the body’s working systems and they are not just images with simply visual metaphors. Some very abstract ideas are used to convey certain ideas. For instance, there are a couple of crackers about the heart and how it could lift and elevator to the fifth floor in an hour if harnessed. Or harnessed a different way, a four-heart engine could propel a car at 2.5mph that would travel the circumference of the world in a year! To even come up with the ideas, let alone to visualise them is a great achievement. This was one of the big surprises of the book for me. Another one has nothing to do with illustration at all…

As well as being a doctor (a gynaecologist) and an illustrator, he was also a writer. Now there’s writing and there’s writing. Fritz Kahn’s writing is as unique as his imagery and so poetic in places. I googled one of the few pieces of writing included in this book but there are no hits to share with you. Einstein Sonata (Quasi una Fantasia) is perhaps one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read (I’m biassed, I know). This scientific journey of relativity takes another metaphorical twist that starts off with the life of a couple of mayflies and ends with a faster-than-light journey away from Earth. The Earth’s history is runs backwards in front of the pilot’s eyes. Over the course of a week, the pilot writes a diary of what he sees happening on the Earth. It’s moving, thought provoking and I can’t believe I’ve not seen this idea before (I’m sure it’s been done but I can’t imagine it’s been done anywhere as beautifully as this).

So, by now, you know how much I love this book and what it means to me to have a copy. I only have one small criticism (that I feel a little awkward even mentioning) but I do think it’s a shame that the non-english diagrammatic labelling in many of the images do not come with translations as they still – to this day – offer a great tool for the learning of anatomy and physiology. That said, the little bits of info that accompany each image makes up for this to some degree. Maybe I’m being too fussy! The next decision is where to keep the book – on the coffee table for all to see and enjoy, in the study with all my art books or filed in the anatomy and physiology section on the family bookshelves… Debschitz and Thilo von Debschitz and Taschen have done Fritz Kahn proud. The book weighs in at 392 pages in a massive 32 x 26 hardback edition that’s nearly 4cm thick! Get a copy direct from Taschen and from all the usual places including AmazonUK… you won’t regret it. There are so may things to learn about Kahn’s art and life within.

Occular Anecdotes

P2 from one of my favourite art collectives, The Thought Police, has designed and KickStarted a newspaper sized comic called Occular Anecdotes. It’s now been made available to the general public and it’s well worth getting a copy. It’s unique and thought provoking. Ektopia looks forward to (and wishes him well) on future editions.

Mark Ryden’s The Gay 90’s

Mark Ryden has had a couple of books published recently but two different publishers. While one appeared to cover more ground chronologically, the other was based around an individual body of work and included a full version of an essay by an art writer that I have the utmost respect for; Amanda Erlanson. For these reasons – as well as having the most adorable cover – I chose the latter book to get hold of. Mark Ryden chose to use the era known as The Gay 90’s to form a body of work dating from 2010 onward. This psudo-idyllic decade following 1890 was not all it was made out to be years after it actually happened and Ryden has used the artistically poor taste of the time as the catalyst for this particular body of work. Here are my thoughts on this sumptuous book.

The Gay 90’s is published by Rizolli and the first thing of note – once you peel back the opaque front page with the book’s title – is the double page spread showing Mark Ryden, looking quite dapper, in his studio-space. Being fascinated by artistic process, I hunt down images of art-spaces but I have ever seen one like this before. Ryden works inside a giant cabinet of curios. It’s almost like he’s a miniature in there himself. Instead of a nest of tiny boxes, a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf spans the full breadth of the large room. Inside are collections of esoteric books, busts, toys, dolls, anatomical models and other crazy looking sculptures. Countless paintings adorn the other walls and in front of one façade is the easel. One of my favourite pieces looks like it’s being worked on with a halo of reference paintings and photos. It’s obviously more than just a studio-space… it’s a place of inspiration in itself and it’s great to see an insight into how such an important artist works.

As any of you who already know, Ryden’s work art is instantly recognisable. His characters – many of whom are reoccurring (Jesus Christ & Abraham Lincoln) – are the perfect mix of cartoon and realism. In fact, I can’t think of an artist that can do this better than him. You know that these images are made of canvas, wood and paint and that the scenes are like something from a dream… false but at the same time faultless. This is sometimes given away by tiny shifts in scale and, at other times, the surreal focus of the images themselves. Even at their most surreal, they are always grounded in some kind of believability.

Not only does this title faithfully portray about 60 of Ryden’s unique works (as you would hope a book like this to do) it also allows the viewer to delve deeper into his technique with the aid of preparatory sketches. You can see how ideas are layered and decisions are in the process of being made. It’s easy to imagine that paintings as perfect as these just land on a canvas by Ryden’s hand so it’s nice to see the human aspect of it. I even noted a piece that must have been directly influenced by one of Jacques Pierre Maygrier’s pieces in there. It’s good to see that even geniuses don’t live in an artistic vacuum and are effected by those that came before them.

And then there’s that essay I mentioned earlier by Amanda Erlanson. Let’s keep it short and just say that it’s the best introduction to a book that I’ve ever read. She has a wonderful way with words and has managed to tell a story at the same time as a history lesson and some philosophy and mythology mixed in there too. Perfect! I shouldn’t neglect to mention Anthony Haden Guest’s into too; another fine piece of writing that really sets the tone for the book.

All in all, it’s a wonderful book for any art book collector or fan of Ryden’s work. The Gay 90’s weighs in at 128 beautifully surreal pages and can be purchased direct from Rizzoli and from all the usual places, including Amazon UK.

Vandals by Nils Muller

Deja vu time. When I wrote a review of Rudione’s Backflash, back in 2009, I commented whether there was room for another graffiti photo-book after Alex Fakso forged the way a couple of years previously, with his amazing Heavy Metal. I concluded that there was and that Rudione has filled that gap too. We fast-forward a few years and Publikat have just released a new title by another hugely respected graffiti photographer, Nils Muller; it’s called Vandals and I spent the first few seconds wondering again if there was any room for such a book…

As I said, Nils Muller is already a well respected photographer and has been about for a while and has already had a book of his work released back in 2009 called Bluetezeit. I remember at the time thinking how great the photos were in a press-release. Times have changed and the publics’ attitude to graffiti has done too… well, to some degree. Muller has reminded us that graffiti isn’t street-art, isn’t advertising, isn’t product placement, isn’t as accessible as the internet has made it. It’s still graffiti. It’s still vandalism… beautiful vandalism!

The practitioners of graffiti’s hardcore break and enter, masked and travelling light; only taking what the need to get the job done and get away fast. Muller takes us on another trip, which is different than that of the aforementioned titles. This journey takes us around the world, via subway, through six stops; Milan, New York, Bucharest, Seoul, Caracas and finally Paris. At each stop, Muller fills us in with some info about the city and the subway system. This aspect reminded me a little of and other book that came out in 2009 called Subway World, which concentrated solely on the subway systems around the world. In Vandals, this info doesn’t go into so much detail but does really give you a feel of the citys’ subway systems. The introductions are followed by Muller’s personal accounts from each city.

Between the regional chapters are collections of writer portraits. These aren’t necessarily associated with any place in particular as is detailed below each image. There’s a mix of daytime and night-time photos and the majority of them are track-side or thereabouts. Of these portraits, some are taken in the way that they hit the yards – masked and anonymous – while others are refreshingly open-faced. As well as the portraiture, there are some refreshing general shots from in and around the cities and the ins and outs of the subway systems themselves. The photography feels fresh and tell their own stores without words… which I guess a good photo should do.

To go back to the question I asked myself in the initial seconds of opening this book – is there room for another graffiti photography book? The answer has to be yes. Certainly enough room for this particular one. The photography’s great as are the stories and other info. Vandals weighs in at 192 pages, is a hardcover edition and can be purchased from all the usual places including direct from Publikat, from Stylefile and AmazonUK. More photos of the book and an interview, can be seen over at Ekosystem and photos from the the release party can be seen over at Arrested Motion.