The Coffee Table | Books | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

The Coffee Table 

Dames, dice and dope: holiday gift books revisited

Thursday, Dec 18 2003

“I think there’s something extremely peaceful about picture books,” says John Flansburgh, one half of the band They Might Be Giants. “They’re very elegant and leisurely, like few other things in the world.” Clearly, Flansburgh is enthusiastic about his latest project, Bed Bed Bed (Simon and Schuster, 48 pages, $16.95), which he co-authored with partner John Linnell. And that enthusiasm is not misplaced: Bed Bed Bed is a charming, compact book with an equally charming compact disc tucked into a little rear pouch. The CD’s four original tracks add a characteristically whimsical score to the book’s text and illustrations, which themselves make a damned fine children’s book that’s of just as much interest to adults. Twinkling with an endless cast of fanciful creatures drawn by the prodigious and gifted Canadian artist Marcel Dzama, each page of Bed Bed Bed could be a print worth hanging on the wall. The loose narrative begins with “Impossible,” a tale of creative opportunity that, after some fun, lands on a soft pillow three ditties later with the titular song. As a girl snuggles under the covers with her dog, and a boy’s orangish-root-beer-colored octopus sleeps beside him on the floor, the closing tune makes a somnambulant march alongside a pumping tuba: “I’ve had my fun. I’ve stretched and yawned, and all is said and done. I’m going to bed! Bed, bed, bed, bed, bed.”

Another multimedia entry from a smarty-pants musician is David Byrne’s attempt to redeem us all — the “pod person” businessman, the “boho” artist and even the Microsoft programmer — with Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (Steidl, 96 pages, $56), an intriguing embrace of PowerPoint as an artistic medium. EEEI is a compilation of projects Byrne has put together over the past few years, in an attempt to see if PowerPoint can be led out of its darkened boardroom purgatory and into a realm of some actual meaning. Slightly oversize and handsomely put together, EEEI is first off a tactile experience: The book slides out of its case with a satisfying swoosh and reveals a series of illustrations ranging from striking to peculiar, some augmented with transparency overlays and all accompanied by a DVD embedded in the book’s cover. The six sections in the book and the corresponding DVD are different investigative shades of the weird creative frisson arising out of applying a lifeless business tool to art. Byrne, who’s worked in visual arts while also fronting Talking Heads, gives movement to the inherent silliness of PowerPoint’s symbology and logic: Who knew, for example, what a graphic resource those AutoShapes could be? The book itself is nice enough in your lap, but the deal-maker is the DVD, where you can watch brief ballets of curved arrows floating into patterns to the sound of Verdi’s “Un Di Felice.” In my favorite section, “Self-Exemplification,” Byrne inverts PowerPoint’s usual arid pragmatism by having words like satisfied, terrified, petrified and purified appear slowly around a compass point — a hint at direction, but still satisfyingly hazy.

Since his photos of Brasilia and Havana started appearing in The New Yorker a few years ago, Robert Polidori has helped popularize the notion that architectural photography can be exquisite imagery that is also motivated by ideas. Now, Polidori has turned his viewfinder to yet another politically — and this time radioactively — charged landscape in Zones of Exclusion: Pripyat and Chernobyl (Steidl, 111 pages, $50). It was early in the morning of April 26, 1986, when a test at the Unit 4 reactor at Chernobyl went awry and led to a meltdown that, among many effects, created an explosion that blew off the reactor’s thousand-ton sealing cap, sent a radioactive plume across Europe and caused the forced evacuation of 350,000 people. What remains is compellingly documented in Zones, which opens with a somber exterior of the “sarcophagus,” an ad hoc concrete structure that the Soviet authorities built to cover up the radioactive disaster. The book’s full-page reproductions give a good sense of the sweep of Polidori’s large-format prints, and it is Polidori’s terrific eye and technique that lend a sympathetic beauty to even the most inhospitable environment, like a kindergarten littered with desks, dolls and radioactive dust, and a school cafeteria whose floor is covered with hundreds of abandoned gas masks. Equally intriguing is the final snapshot of Polidori himself — setting up his tripod and camera in hazmat gear and a respirator around his neck — with a short commentary reminding us that the half-lives of radioactive isotopes are not nearly as short as collective memory.

Related Stories

  • Halloween L.A. Screenings

    Ah, October in Los Angeles. Pumpkin-flavored treats at every coffee shop and bakery, weather so brisk it occasionally drops below 70 degrees and the promise of Halloween candy just around the corner. If you seek more frightening thrills and you don't feel like driving to Universal so some dude dressed...
  • Can David Byrne's Works Join the Classical Music Repertoire?

    The world is a very different place since Talking Heads emerged from New York's downtown, CBGB's/Max's Kansas City music scene of the late '70s. Today it's difficult to imagine a time when the stripped-down, postpunk eclecticism of the band or the art-rock eccentricities of its former frontman-guitarist-songwriter David Byrne seemed...
  • Why Are We Fascinated By Resurrected Musicians?

    Nigerian electronic funk musician William Onyeabor has jumped from obscurity to fame in the past year, due to a Noisey documentary (Fantastic Man - below) and the release of his first album in nearly 30 years, Who is William Onyeabor? by David Byrne's label.  Onyeabor's story is dazzling, but hardly unique...
  • Nicolas Cage Interview

    On the occasion of the Aero's weekend-long tribute to Nicolas Cage, L.A. Weekly spoke to the actor about his unique stye (dubbed "Nouveau Shamanic" by Cage himself), the first time he met Werner Herzog, and the directors he'd still like to work with. Below is the full conversation. You can also see...
  • The 20 Best Vampire Movies, 1979 to the Present 14

    Our review of this week's Dracula Untold doesn't inspire much hope: "This Dracula Begins-style sword-and-fangs curio plays like someone said, 'What if we took a vampire flick but did a find-and-replace swapping out all that bare-neck sensuality for some video-game ass-kicking?'" But for every genre-entry failure, there are numerous other...

Who knows how many actual surfers would regularly turn to a desk reference for their craft; but, as in any folkloric human endeavor, there comes a time when a scholar begins jotting all that knowledge down. The Linnaean toiler behind The Encyclopedia of Surfing (Harcourt, 774 pages, $40) is Matt Warshaw, himself a former pro and editor of Surfer magazine. And his effort lives up to the title: The book’s many hundreds of entries give solid background, from early surfing accounts in Captain Cook’s logs to the moment when today’s tow-in surfing was invented in the eerily perfect North Carolina surf of 1991’s Halloween Storm (which, we learn, was also Sebastian Junger’s infamous Perfect Storm). Want to know the precise characteristics of a point break? Turn to Page 467. And when was that fabled six-week consecutive run of flawless waves at Kirra? Page 324. Probably due to space considerations, the book is short on illustrations, but that is made up for by Warshaw’s well-written, captivating and, at times, funny prose. If it weren’t for the desire to cross-reference, one could sit and read this thing cover to cover. Aside from a few curious blanks — nothing on Venice or Dogtown — the Encyclopedia will satisfy initiates, dilettantes and casual observers, and probably remain the definitive volume for many years.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Around The Web