Golden Joinery,_Korea,_Joseon_dynasty,_16th_century_AD,_Mishima-hakeme_type,_buncheong_ware,_stoneware_with_white_engobe_and_translucent,_greenish-gray_glaze,_gold_lacquer_-_Ethnological_Museum,_Berlin_-_DSC02061.JPG

In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is not discarded but mended with a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum, to connote an appreciation of the flawed and the imperfect and to mark the repair as one event in the object’s life, not the end of its useful service.

The Japanese philosophy of mushin finds an analogy with human life. Christy Bartlett writes in Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics (2008):

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated … a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin. … Mushin is often literally translated as ‘no mind,’ but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. … The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.

“This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.”

(See Edifice Complex.)

Away From It All
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2009, in the little Swiss town of Teufen, conceptual artists Frank and Patrik Riklin converted a 1980s-era nuclear fallout shelter to the “Null Stern Hotel,” an underground facility that accommodates 14 guests in a concrete bunker fitted with blast doors nearly two feet thick.

“We kept the internal structure of the shelter intact — the concrete and the ductwork — and then we added the warmth of antique beds and furniture,” Patrik told the Guardian. “For us it’s an art installation before it’s a hotel — a place where people can think about their surroundings.” There are no windows, only a CCTV camera displaying the outside world, and they retained the institutional paint scheme of pastel blue and yellow.

The site was nominated for best innovation of the year in the 2009 Worldwide Hospitality Awards, and GEO magazine ranked it among the Top 100 hotels in Europe the following year. In 2010 the proprietors were seeking to expand the franchise, but to date no hotel has opened beyond Teufen.

Podcast Episode 355: The Auckland Islands Castaways

In 1864, two ships’ crews were cast away at the same time on the same remote island in the Southern Ocean. But the two groups would undergo strikingly different experiences. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Auckland Islands castaways and reflect on its implications for the wider world.

We’ll also consider some fateful illnesses and puzzle over a street fighter’s clothing.

See full show notes …

The Perfect Box
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Certainly rectangular cuboids exist whose edges and face diagonals all have integer lengths.

For example, in 1719 Paul Halcke discovered one with edges (a, b, c) = (44, 117, 240) and face diagonals (d, e, f ) = (125, 244, 267).

But does one exist whose space diagonal (here shown in red) also has integer length?

As of last September, none has been found and no one has proven that none exist.

A Portable Bed

In 1919, Mrs. Ray Werner patented a military overcoat with an inflatable lining:

The primary object of my invention is to provide a garment, the back of which may be inflated to provide a resilient support for the body of the wearer without removing the garment, thus providing a greater comfort while reclining in a recumbent position.

A separate compartment can be inflated into a pillow. The application was granted that September; I don’t know whether it was ever manufactured.


Devised in 1948 by Russian choreographer Nadezhda Nadezhdina, the “floating step” of the Beryozka Dance Ensemble seems to carry dancers smoothly across the stage, as though their feet have left the ground.

“Not even all our dancers can do it,” Nadezhdina said. “You have to move in very small steps on very low half-toe with the body held in a certain corresponding position.”


I send you a photo of myself for ‘Curiosities’ studying Virgil in a peculiar position. It was taken by my brother in the country a few weeks ago. It was not a snap-shot, but a time exposure.

— Charles E. Williams of Rock Ferry, Cheshire, in Strand, September 1905

Real Time

For his 2010 film The Clock, video artist Christian Marclay compiled hundreds of movie and television clips that feature clocks or timepieces. He arranged these in order and set the total running time to 24 hours, so the piece itself functions as a clock — if it’s started at the right moment and run as a loop, the time references on the screen will correspond to the correct time in the theater.

Some oddities: There’s no clock face shown at 2:50 a.m. — instead a character in Night of the Living Dead says, “It’s ten minutes to three.” In his review in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw notes that there are droll shots of sundials in period movies. And “There is an ambiguous moment from Easy Rider in which Peter Fonda looks at his watch (showing 11:40am) and throws it away. It appears to have stopped.”

The film toured art museums for eight years, finishing in 2017 in São Paulo.