Caravan, Meet Mass Customisation


Mehrzeller is currently just a concept but with BMW behind it, in all likelihood these strange geometric puzzle-shaped caravans will soon be seen driving along motorways and parked next to the old Airstreams and Bowlers around camping grounds in the near future.

Using the online configurator, every user sets up a design that is unique, their own layout that they can identify with. The configuration is generated by a computer using the customer’s inputs, and then the final design is done by parameters from the architects to yield an attractive and practicable result. The caravans are produced using the principles of “mass customization”: this allows both the individual wishes of the customer to be accommodated while producing the caravan with series methods. (source)

In today’s ‘it’s all about me’ world, personalisation is intrinsic to consumers satisfaction. The concept of ‘mass customisation’ is something manufacturers are counting on to bridge the gap between individuality and the imperative to keep costs low. The strategy “creates value by some form of company-customer interaction at the fabrication and assembly stage of the operations level to create customized products with production cost and monetary price similar to those of mass-produced products.” (source)

The Mehrzeller was designed by architecture students Theresa Kalteis and Christian Freissling from Graz University in Austria. It almost makes me want to rethink my deep rooted hatred of camping. Almost.

Image from

The Nintendo Land Mine

Nintendo Land Mine Toy

Gunpei Yokoi was a genius. Having joined Nintendo in 1965, he went on to create the Game & Watch handheld games, the Game Boy, and produced a large number of successful Nintendo games.

Yet the modern family-friendly image of Nintendo – who are reluctant to feature violence in any games for their systems – seems a long way from one of Gunpei’s early patents under Nintendo: the Nintendo Land Mine Toy.

Considering this was filed in 1969, when the number of US soldiers in Vietnam during the Vietnam War peaked at over half a million, it seems a little crude and insensitive by today’s standards, especially it’s juxtaposition with other innocent toys:

The toy of the present invention may be used […] as a kind of frightening device like a jack-in-the-box

The toy was recently quoted in a patent application for a “Anti-personnel device for war gaming exercises“. It seems now, as then, the simulation of the horrors of war is in demand.

The Complexities of Absinthe


Many urban myths surround Absinthe; most commonly that it is banned in so-and-so country. In fact, although Absinthe has a notorious history of bans, it is now legal to sell in most countries. There are a few notable exceptions, including Ireland, where it is however legal to import for personal use.

Although there are still limits on the quantities of alcohol or thujone (a chemical produced by wormwood) in many countries, most outright bans have been repealed. Notable bans from the past include:

  • Brazil: 1906-2007
  • Belgium: 1906-2005
  • The Netherlands: 1908-2004
  • Switzerland: 1910-2004
  • United States: 1912-2007
  • France: 1914-1988
  • Germany: 1923-1981

Perhaps not surprisingly, the drink was never banned in The Czech Republic (which is often mis-credited for its origin; whereas its recent history actually originates in Switzerland). More surprisingly, it was never banned in:

  • Canada (though some provinces have their own bans)
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Unlike other spirits (or liqueurs), it has no legal definition in most countries, which means you can sell pretty much anything and call it Absinthe… except, unusually, in France, where you can’t sell anything with the name Absinthe, though you can sell the drink itself under any other name.

Although absinthe was banned at the time, a book of ‘celebrity cocktail recipes’ was published in the US in 1935 (“So red the nose, or Breath in the afternoon“), which included Hemingway’s rather dangerous concoction of absinthe and champagne. As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, he concludes his recipe with: “Drink 3 to 5 of these slowly“.

Absinthe Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia.

Welcome to the Dollhouse


Mercedes Helnwien’s work is mainly comprised of vintage looking doll-like women and girls – all slightly unhinged. She is a rare breed in that she is a young, pretty woman who is more than holding her own in the art world and is doing so while staunchly sticking to illustration (and realism at that, gasp!) as her medium of choice.

The LA Times describes her most recent show at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery as Photorealism, a practice that gained popularity in the 60s as a response to the Abstract Expressionism of the 50s (think Jackson Pollock). It gained popularity along side other movements, most famously Andy Warhol’s Pop Art.

A typical critique of Photorealism is that it is superficial; as an audience we are impressed by the technical skill behind it but are left cold in all other respects. About Photorealism, courtesy a writer for the New York Times, “setting aside the wow factor of photorealist painting – admittedly, a very big aside – this insanely popular art genre holds precious little of enduring significance … in the end [detail] is what photorealism is all about – acres of it, minutely rendered in mock imitation of the modern photograph. So look hard. What you see is what you get.”

Although I think that the  whole sale dismissal of any school of art is part of the pretentious culture of exclusion/inclusion of the formal ‘Art Scene’, I would argue that Helnwein’s work does not even fit under the banner of the much maligned Photorealism. When you look at her work up close, she makes apparent the scratches, movements and layers of pencil that have gone into creating these pieces. Her work isn’t the smooth surface of a mirror or photograph, but is rather craggy and slightly unfinished much like her fragmented and mildly dangerous group of misfits. If this is Photorealism, it is Photorealism at a Halloween party. A very cool party.

Helnwein’s most recent exhibition called East of Eden (named after John Steinbeck’s 1952 classic) is at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Los Angeles until December 19th.

Image: High Noon (2009), © Mercedes Helnwein