Skylon

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Image: Peter Benton

A striking symbol of the 1951 Festival of Britain was this cigar-shaped sculpture, which seemed to float impossibly 15 meters above the ground.

Designed by Hidalgo Moya, Philip Powell, and Felix Samuely, the structure relied on the principle of tensegrity: The base rested at the junction of three tensioned cables, and three further cables held the body vertical. Together, these six well-positioned supports were enough to keep the 80-meter sculpture from toppling.

Britons joked that, like the national economy at the time, it had “no visible means of support.”

The Empty Library

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

On May 10, 1933, in the Bebelplatz in central Berlin, members of the National Socialist Student Union burned 20,000 books, objecting to the “un-German spirit” of many Jewish, communist, and liberal authors. Joseph Goebbels declared that “the era of exaggerated Jewish intellectualism is now at an end … and the future German man will not just be a man of books … this late hour [I] entrust to the flames the intellectual garbage of the past.”

In 1995, Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman created a memorial room under the plaza, with empty shelves enough to accommodate 20,000 books. A plaque set into the cobblestones bears a quote by Heinrich Heine:

That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.

Lorina Bulwer

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When 55-year-old Lorina Bulwer was placed in the Great Yarmouth Workhouse in 1893, she embroidered protests into long pieces of patchwork fabric, ranting in unpunctuated capitals:

THE CHATTER IS I MISS LORINA BULWER CAMBS WOMAN DROVE TO THRIGBY HALL NORFOLK E. BULWER MARRIED AN HEMAPHRODITE EUNICH I MISS LORINA BULWER WAS EXAMINED BY DR PINCHING OF WALTHAMSTOW ESSEX AND FOUND TO BE A PROPERLY SHAPED WOMAN …

Much of the invective is directed against E Bulwer and Queen Victoria, apparently trying to connect Bulwer’s family to prominent families of the time and possibly referring to sexual abuse in a scandal of 1859. But her reasons for making the samplers aren’t entirely understood.

Ruth Burwood, adult learning officer for Norwich Museums, told the Eastern Daily Press, “In very basic terms there isn’t anything like them in the world, they’re just absolutely extraordinary; the fact she was a woman in a lunatic ward in Great Yarmouth workhouse and was somehow able to produce these embroideries. Workhouse inmates did do sewing but this is almost like she’s been allowed to do this as therapy.”

The Aventine Keyhole

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The keyhole of the Priory of the Knights of Malta in Rome presents a perfectly framed view of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

It’s not clear whether this is a happy accident or a deliberate design. The property lies in the piazza Cavalieri di Malta, which was designed in 1765 by the supremely imaginative Giovanni Battista Piranesi — who imagined the Aventine Hill as a sacred ship that would sail to the heavens.

In a Word

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thalassic
adj. of or relating to seas and oceans

dégringolade
n. a quick deterioration or breakdown, as of a situation or circumstance

supersalient
adj. leaping upon

sperate
adj. hoped for; not hopeless

Shipwreck With a Surviving Dog, by the Danish artist Carl Bille (1815–1898).

Model

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Norman Rockwell’s image of “Rosie the Riveter,” published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943, is based on Michelangelo’s 1509 painting Prophet Isaiah, from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Michelangelo’s contemporary Giorgio Vasari had written, “Anyone who studies this figure, copied so faithfully from nature, the true mother of the art of painting, will find a beautifully composed work capable of teaching in full measure all the precepts to be followed by a good painter.”

Also, Rosie is using Mein Kampf as a footrest.

Abstract Art

Italian artist Salvatore Garau has auctioned an invisible sculpture titled Io Sono (“I am”) for 15,000 euros. The buyer receives a certificate of authentication and agrees to display the nonexistent artwork in a private home in an unobstructed area 5 feet square.

Last month the artist displayed another immaterial sculpture, Buddha in Contemplation, near the entrance to the Gallerie d’Italia in Milan. The area of its location was marked off with tape.

Garau said that the titles of his works “activate” viewers’ imagination. “When I decide to ‘exhibit’ an immaterial sculpture in a given space, that space will concentrate a certain amount and density of thoughts at a precise point, creating a sculpture that, from my title, will only take the most varied forms. After all, don’t we shape a God we’ve never seen?”

(Thanks, Sharon.)

Time Games

Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan writes music of densely sophisticated rhythmic complexity, arranging subdivisions of grouped tuplets over a ground pulse that’s sometimes withheld, leading the ear into assumptions that are later revealed to be mistaken. Below, composer David Bruce analyzes some of his work.