Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter



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Bill Owens, Reagan on TV via

Denise Scott Brown recalls her childhood bemusement at being asked to make Christmas cards depicting snowy scenes of Surrey in the summer of colonial South Africa. The idealized cultural image, dislocated and juxtaposed by Imperialism: Downs against veldt; winter against summer; Europe against Africa.

But equally, snowy Christmas card scenes look just as alien when you're actually in Surrey. Christmas images are not paintings depicting atmospheric conditions, temperature or geography. They are images that describe a mythical place that never existed anywhere.

Christmas' winter wonderland is an image of nature fed through the filter thousands of years of culture - replayed though literature, movies, music, images in a feedback loop. It's a myth that's been overwritten to the point of illegibility: from obscured pagan origins, through Christianisation, then by varied secular interests (St. Nick as Coca Cola trademark; John Lennon's hippy-dom). It squirts out the other end a collection of half broken, half forgotten sentiments distilled into super strength imagery. Christmas' iconography is a super narrative that refers only to itself: each iteration a way of recalling the last, as George Michael so pertinently observed (though perhaps because of its impossible nostalgia, our hearts will be broken every year).

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It's this fractured, dreamlike scenography that we assemble each year with plasticky, shiny, and papery stuff - a way of physically manifesting a cultural concept as an ephemeral landscape, an imaginary space laid over our real environments.

It's an utterly unnatural simulatation of a memory of nature. The sparkle of LED lights might recall a starry pagan sky and prayers for the suns return. Frost is rendered as glowing fiber optic tips of artificial fir trees. We string tinsel from ceiling tiles as though wintry vines were creeping through our open plan offices. We spray plasticized versions of snow onto windows as applied meteorology.

We watch cranes lifting trees onto the pediments of neo-Classical buildings as though the city might become a forest. German markets appear overnight like hallucinations in unlikely situations (this years favorite: in Chicago at Mies' Federal Plaza)

The electro-pseudo-winter is incredible in its intricacy and depth. But it's also at odds with what's happening to 'real' winter.

Climate change science shows winter shrinking. Many European plants flower a week earlier than in the 1950s and lose their leaves 5 days later. Birds and frogs breed earlier. The Northern Hemisphere spring ice thaw begins 9 days earlier than150 years ago. The autumn freeze typically starts 10 days later. North of forty degrees north latitude, the growing season for vegetation has increased by several days. The artic is becoming greener and might be ice-free during summer by 2060. Father Christmas might think about trading in his sled for a 4x4.


Ski Dubai, UAE

Perhaps these statistics explain why we artificially stretch the festive season. It bleeds across the calendar like an icy inkblot. Maybe it's because there are fewer real snowflakes that we feel the need to manufacture decorative ones, why Harrods' Christmas shop opens in August and mince pies are on the shelves in September. Perhaps it's guilt and fear made palpable through tinsel and fiber optics - an attempt to salve a loss that we can't quite yet comprehend. Or perhaps it's preparation for a future where winter simply doesn't occur naturally anymore.

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Super computers run digital simulations of climate change, crunching equations that calculate potential futures. What these winters will look like is probably not part of these simulations. But perhaps our super-scaled festive installations will escape their manmade habitats and begin to fill the voids of winter-depleted landscapes. Perhaps we will see forests of white fiber optic trees planted over the slopes of Bavarian mountains, colour-cycling through warm nights. Or perhaps sparkling neon snowflakes will be suspended in flocks over a scorched North Pole. Maybe armies of set-dressers will squirt spray-on-snow over pine needles. Perhaps these installations will become an artificial Narnia - permanent monuments to a vanished season.

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Want one?



Posted by anothersam at December 20, 2008 11:34 PM.

3 Comments

Manuel said:

I could have used one of these snow machines. I moved from germany / bavaria to australia last year - it was my first christmas ever with a plastic tree.

Michael said:

At midnight mass in Clerkenwell's Catholic church the enormous diorama of the stable was bedecked with blue and white flashing lights. Kitsch enough, but not so much as to trump the quasi-Versace interiors. Until, during the procession of the baby Jesus, a loud whirring noise commenced, followed some seconds later by the flakes of snow landing on the heads of the procession and congregation. Oh salve mia. A miracle.

Sam said:

Michael -You remind me that Christmas rituals seem to operate around recreations and restagings of the nativity. Perhaps there is something hard wired into the culture of Christmas that requires this repeated simulations ? Seemingly much more so that other festivals ... What could that be about?


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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

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Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

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Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

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The Tools of Re-Geography

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Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

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Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

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The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

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Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

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Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

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The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

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The Nuclear Heritage Coast

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The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

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Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

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Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

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The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

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Kiruna: The Town That Moved

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The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

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Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

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