Blog archive September 2012

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30.09.12 / 02 / the aesthetics of prosthetics part 2

so here is the very thing i was talking about below...

bespoke 3D printed fairings by bespoke innovations inc. via the bbc website this morning.

the fairings fit onto the mechanical prosthetic, as front and rear parts that can be swapped to allow different appearances and functionality, eg for sports. at the moment they are just doing lower legs, but obviously the principle can be extended if the market is there. awesome.

30.09.12 / 01 / almost gone

over the last couple of weeks the signs of the olympics have been disappearing one by one, like stars in the dawn. a tube carriage cleared of pink stickers while the next carriage still has them, a few signs removed overnight but a couple still there, a stretch of road suddenly cleared of banners. paddington's pennants had vanished on thursday, and the pink line on the floor. i made sure i photographed the lamp-post banners in ealing last week after seeing that one stretch of the shopping centre had been cleared, and am suprised to find the rest still here today. no doubt they will be replaced any day now by the christmas decorations :(

the banners were the thing that branded the whole city. the same designs everywhere, five colours plus black, the only variation being the name of the district on the black banners. the idea was to stop local authorities doing their own [possibly tacky] thing as had apparently happened in other olympic cities. it was one of the most successful applications of the 2012 look, and gave a suitable and uniform background to street events, the torch relay, outside broadcasts etc. the banners took the olympics out of the park and the city centre to every part of london, even to other places like weymouth where events were held.

after all the years of gradual build-up it seems a shame to take the evidence away so quickly, just as we got used to it. i had hoped that much of the city branding would remain until the end of the year, although obviously signage has to go once the olympic venues have closed. there is pressure for the additional disabled access arrangements on the tube to be made permanent, and if so will the signage remain olympic pink? i wonder what happens to the banners after removal - i would quite like to have one. you might say i have enough olympic stuff already, but london 2012 only happens once.

20.09.12 / 01 / the aesthetics of prosthetics

a few weeks ago between the games, a man with a prosthetic lower leg walked past me on paddington station. what caught my attention was that it barely caught my attention. 20 or 30 years ago the prosthetic would have been 'flesh' coloured yet disturbingly unlifelike, and hidden as much as possible under long trousers. now a man in shorts walks on a metal rod with a shoe attached, and no-one notices.

i note that this happened before the paralympics - testament perhaps to media coverage of oscar pistorius and recently disabled ex-servicemen. the games have only furthered the process of normalisation. a runner on blades no longer looks freakish, but instead we consider their relative length. in that sense oscar's outburst did far more good than harm. ironically, the more frankly technological the prosthetic or equipment, the easier it is accept nowadays. that's a cultural shift. i remember in the 80s, after the falklands war, watching tv programmes about the search for more lifelike artificial limbs, so that people wouldn't notice. and now we're happy to be cyborgs.

Prosthetic legs

our sense of the relationship between technology and the body has changed, along with our love for personal technology. where once the machine limb was a thing of horror, now it seems cool. i was going to muse about how apple would design prosthetics, but someone already got there. in the london evening standard last week rory mackenzie, who delivered the opening speech at the paralympics closing ceremony, said:

at a basic level people have just got used to seeing prostheses. i can detect the change already. i get a smile when they see my leg. they look at it, on a train or wherever, and then look up at me and smile. that's really nice. and it didn't happen before. before you'd get either avoidance or a kind of inquisitiveness, which wasn't exactly negative but wasn't particularly positive or warm. and it was never, "wow, that's cool".
i get more stares when i'm in long trousers. people think, there's a young guy with a stick and something's not right about him, but what is it? if you're in shorts it's obvious. and hey, the leg is quite cool. i think it's quite funky. i've put an apple sticker on it, and people see that and say, "are apple doing legs now?"

we can, of course, imagine an apple leg. it is glossy white, or glossy black, or satin aluminium, with mirror-polish trim. it's kind of leg-shaped so your clothes hang right, but stylized in a sexy-android way. some superficial part is ridiculously breakable, without really affecting functionality. there's a new model every year.

on the tube at the moment, whether coincidentally or not, there is a poster campaign for the royal british legion, featuring a young ex-soldier in shorts with one prosthetic lower limb. we're meant to feel sorry for him, but after the paralympics he doesn't look so very incapable. instead we consider the aesthetic of his prosthetic. it's clunky, it's not one of the hyper-expensive titanium/carbon fibre athletic ones - still, could he paint it glossy black?

the aesthetics of medical aids still seem to be designed for the mindset of 50 years ago, for a non-technological generation - trying to appear 'normal', trying to conceal our frailties, finding technology sinister or alien. flesh colours, bandage materials, attempting to soften and blend in - it's an aesthetic we associate with dis-ability, with illness. something we want to hide, unless and until we can leave it behind. but we associate personal technology with capability and cool - it's something we display for social status. consider the hearing aid - who wants to wear that flesh-coloured lump? but who is not happy to wear headphones?

sometimes recently i've been wearing a tubigrip bandage around my knee - but not with shorts, because it makes me look ill. it emphasises what i can't do. but an athletic knee support in black neoprene would suggest capability. both do pretty much the same job. one says "i can't", the other says "i can".

maybe this is the tipping point at which prosthetics for ordinary people, as well as paralympic athletes, stop trying to look medical and start to revel in being technology.

19.09.12 / 01 / velodrome

on the big screen in the velodrome at the start of each session, this piece by crystal CG with the chemical brothers. kraftwerk mets tron.

Chemical Brothers 'Velodrome' - London 2012 from Crystal CG on Vimeo.

this is one of the rare places where we get a sense of the animated ident that we were originally told the 2012 logo would become. it was curiously downplayed during the games, except as a small mark on the corners of things - i wonder if there was a loss of faith. there was also a tendency to lose the 'drop shadow' that had suggested animation, to give it a cleaner look.

at the 2 minute mark we get a glimpse of a better 2012 logo:

2012 logo velodrome version

cut the whole thing into polygons, rearrange slightly...

2012 logo polygon version

i won't spend more time on it tonight, but you get the idea... black background would have been good too.

01.09.12 / 01 / the noise olympics

the defining feature of these olympics/paralympics has been the crowd noise reserved for british competitors - generally somewhere between a large aircraft and beatlemania, an unending circular-breathing roar. athletes say that their ears ring afterwards. babies in the velodrome require industrial ear protectors [below, after sarah storey's second gold]:

Velodrome ear protectors baby

coaches say they couldn't have prepared their athletes for it. cyclists and track athletes are thriving on it, the team GB swimmers seemed to be spooked [but ellie simmonds is doing fine]. how the horses in the equestrian events managed i'm not sure. the rowing wall of sound - 30000 people going nuts - was not what one expects for a quiet-day-on-the-river pastime. i keep reaching for my headphones, turning the volume up and playing the highlight clips over and over just to listen to the crowd. i wish there was a way to turn the commentators off.

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