Thursday, April 30, 2009

New York Advertising Takeover

A pretty cool thing happened on Saturday in New York. Apparently over 120 illegal outdoor advertising sites were taken over by artists, and used as al fresco canvases for amazing design and artworks. There seems to be a problem in New York (and other cities presumably) with media companies installing outdoor advertising without council or landlord permission. These companies then make money from companies that are advertising on these illegal media sites.

So in response to this, a bunch of artists and designers, led by a guy called Jordan Seiler, got together and whitewashed 120 of these illegal sites. When they were done, they painted on these newly-claimed canvases with designs of their own. The results were quite spectacular:

It's always great when a group of people can come together and have a positive impact on their city. Hopefully all of these artworks are preserved, and the corporations don't just plaster more ads on top of them. And let's hope that the law doesn't get involved and charge anyone with 'destruction of public property' or whatever. I've always thought that when you treat street artists like criminals, they're going to produce work that looks like it was done by criminals (ie tagging, and quick scribbled designs). But if you respect their work, and recognise them as artists, then they'll create work that makes any given city a more beautiful place. And that can only ever be a good thing.

For more pictures of the "New York Street Advertising Takeover" as they called it, click here and here. And to see Jordan Seiler's site, click here.

Oh and p.s. sorry for the lack of posting this week. I've just been busy with other stuff and, well, lazy..

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cool Dubai Blogs & Gig Guide

So I've been looking around for cool blogs that are based in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East. I'm thinking of starting a little blogroll on the side my page. Obviously there's no shortage of blogs that talk about social issues etc in Dubai, but I'm looking for something a little different.

I want to find people who are really interested in the artistic and musical scene here in the Middle East. These sorts of blogs aren't that common.

So far, the best blogs I've found have been the following:


Apart from just having an awesome name, this site, focuses pretty heavily on the regional and international music scene.


Mostly about music, and a bit of art, this blog covers stuff from all over the region. It's a good way to keep up with what is happening, and what events are coming up.

MBAs, Media & The Middle East
This site is run by a guy called Shebab Hamad, who works (or owns?) at the 50 Degrees C store/space at the Souk Al Bahar. It sometimes focuses on more general social things about Dubai, but it's also got some cool stuff about the local art scene.

five green

This site is run by the guys/girls who owned the five green store. I'm not sure if the store is still open, or if they've moved locations or whatever, but there's always some cool stuff on the site. It doesn't get updated too regularly, but check it out anyway.

That's pretty much all I've found so far along those sorts of topics. If you know of any other cool sites in the region, or if you're running a cool one yourself, leave the address in the comments, or email it to me at

Also, does anyone know of any good gig guides for Dubai? The Time Out Dubai site never really has anything interesting, and searching on Myspace for gigs is always pretty useless. Is it just the fact that no-one that interesting ever comes to Dubai? Or is it that we're lacking a decent site or publication that will let people know what's on? I'm asking the question because apparently New Young Pony Club played in Dubai a few weeks back, and I had no idea that they were in town. I would have loved to go an see them, but never got the chance. So does anyone know what the best way to keep up on these shows is?

As always, leave a comment if you have an answer or an opinion...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Image Dump 11

Here's this week's installment of images that I found throughout the internet this week. I was going to put the some of the images as like a hidden part of the post, because I got a bit sick of the images taking up so much room on the page, but wow, there's a lot of HTML code to learn to do that. And I really don't feel like doing that at all. I mean, really, it's incredibly unnecessarily complicated. So here we are. Enjoy kids...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Psycho Bike-o

Just saw this video over on Veer. Wow. This guy is a maniac. Please watch every second of this:

The guy's name is Danny MacAskill, and he does some of the most amazing stuff I've ever seen on a bike. I'm sure that there were a lot of injuries that went into the making of that video, but I'm also sure that they were all totally worth it.

This video makes me miss towns like London where a bike is actually a viable mode of transport. I was reading this awesome article in the New York Times last week that argued that the bicycle might be the "first real status symbol" of the global downturn. Let's hope so.

Wouldn't it be cool if we all got around on bikes like these?

The answer is yes, yes it would.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bloggers in Iran

Someone linked to this great little animation on Twitter the other day. I had no idea that half of Iran's population were under the age of 25, and that Iran was the third largest country in terms of bloggers.

Anyone visit this site from Iran? If you do, does this video accurately represent what's going on over there? Or have the guys and girls over at the Vancouver Film School got it wrong? Let me know what you think..

Friday, April 17, 2009

Isao Machii - The Modern Samurai

Saw this over on Neatorama, and just had to post it. This guy Isao Machii is some sort of genius with a samurai sword. He cuts a pea pod in half - horizontally. He also cuts a BB gun bullet in half that is fired at him. The guy is intense. Check it out:

My favourite line is "It smoothly cuts it like cutting the thing that isn't iron."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Praise of Peter Funch

A few blogs (like this one) have been posting about this photographer called Peter Funch. According to his portfolio site, Funch has been taking photos for the past 9 years. What has brought him to people's attention recently is a series he's done called 'Babel Tales'. Essentially his technique is to set up on a corner in Manhattan, and take photos of people doing or wearing a particular thing. He then creates a composite image that features all these similar people. So in the photo below for example, everyone is yawning.

As I said, it's a pretty cool technique. It's simple too, so I imagine you'll probably see a bunch of stuff like this in the near future with people trying it out for themselves. Enjoy the rest of these shots, or check Funch's site for more of his work.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Defending Dubai Part 2

Obviously last week's post about Hari's article in The Independent provoked a lot of discussion. It's clear that the subject of "Dubai-bashing" is a topic that a lot of people care deeply about. Some people think that Dubai has been built on the back of slave labour. Some think that Dubai is a vitally stable city in an often turbulent region. Some think that Dubai represents everything that's wrong with the global financial system. And some think that Dubai represents everything that's right with Arab ingenuity and ambition.

Clearly, we're far from a consensus on any of these articles. It's certainly disappointing when people who comment on articles (both pro- and anti-Dubai) essentially argue that anyone living in Dubai should be ashamed of themselves for condoning and benefiting from slavery. This attitude frustrates me the most. The vast majority of residents in Dubai are hard-working people who think that the way in which the labourers are treated is disgraceful. But if you'd only read these recent anti-Dubai articles, the uninformed outsider would think that every resident is ecstatic about the situation. This is what is so patently unfair about these articles.

Furthermore, where were these articles before the financial crisis? If these journalists care so much about the labourer situation, why weren't they highlighting the issue over the past decade? What makes this the perfect time to decry Dubai's labour laws? Again, I am certainly not approving of the treatment of labourers, but what seems unfair to a lot of my fellow Dubai residents is the sudden avalanche of negativity. It feels as thought these media outlets are kicking us while we're down.

The best question to ask is not who is right or wrong, but what can we do to make the situation better? How can we help the workers who have had their passports taken away? How can we ensure that they receive adequate compensation for their work. Pointing fingers at people, and publishing gross caricatures of the residents of Dubai will do nothing to change the situation. We need to channel this attention into action.

Over on Boing Boing today, there's a link to a post by Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito, where he defends Dubai from the recent wave of criticism. He writes,

I don't want to appear like I'm defending human rights offenders. As a board member of Global Voices, WITNESS and a supporter of a number of Human Rights organizations, I spend a TON of time on human rights issues. We NEED to talk about human rights. However, human rights issues are resolved by understanding how and what kind of pressure to put on who in order to cause the change. While broad understanding of human rights is important, I don't find that sprinkling them on articles as part of a negative press pile-on is really, comparatively speaking, that productive.

In Ito's post, there's a link to another post by Jamie Stewart, AKA desert_blogger, who writes for Independent Minds, a collection of blogs by journalists who write for The Independent. Stewart writes in response to a documentary that was aired recently (in the UK, I believe). He says,

Though many aspects of life here should indeed be put under the microscope, it should not be forgotten that the city, and its burgeoning growth, has repackaged the Middle East in the thoughts of many people. The means of its arrival on the world stage were questioned by last night's documentary, rightly so, but a huge experiment is underway, that mixes culture, ethnicity, and religion. It was never going to be easy.

Dubai bashing is a very real phenomenon. I wouldn't be surprised to see it as the exhibition sport at the next Olympics. Now, I'm not one to cast doubt on other's work. But, to raise some choice points from recent articles on Dubai: No, the Palm island is not sinking; No, the streets are not plagued with broke expats dusting the sand from their clothes after another night sleeping in the sand dunes; and I've turned on the taps THOUSANDS of times, and a river of cockroaches has never come pouring out (thank the NY Times for that pearl!)
The point of this post is that it's important to get things in perspective.

It's encouraging that some journalists are starting to realise that nothing much is going to change just by writing articles that point fingers at drunk expats at Double Decker's.

In the interest of impartiality, Johann Hari, the author of the commentary that has caused so much discussion over the last week or so, has written a response to some of the criticism of his opinion piece. You can find his rebuttal here.

So, again, it's over to you guys. Do you still agree with Hari, or do you still think Dubai is a monstrosity? Or if you disagreed with Hari's opinion, has it at least slightly changed your perspective of the labour conditions in the UAE? Leave your opinions in the comments section below...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Image Dump 10

Here's some more stuff that grabbed my attention this week. I might do a proper post later today. I might also be lazy, and not post anything. Only time will tell... (cue suspenseful music)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Defending Dubai

A lot of people have been talking and writing about Johann Hari's piece that appeared on The Independent's website a few days ago. Entitled "The dark side of Dubai", Hari's article was a commentary on what he saw and the people he met while on a recent trip to Dubai.

It's a real shame that so many people from other countries are reading this commentary and taking it as gospel. The people interviewed by Hari are borderline caricatures, and the piece has a very heavy anti-Dubai bias. It's so frustrating to read all the articles that are coming out nowadays that seem to be kicking Dubai while it's going through a rough patch. Most of these articles are written by people who visited for no more than a week or so, and their opinions are quickly-formed and poorly supported.

The Dubai that is never reported in these types of articles is the ordinary Dubai. The Dubai that attracts families and young professionals who see the city as a place where they can live in safety, and prosper securely. This side of Dubai is never reported because it doesn't make interesting reading. It's only the outrageous and scandalous that makes the papers, and as a result the international audience has a severely jaundiced view of Dubai.

It must be said, however, that the treatment of construction workers in Dubai isn't something we can be proud of. In this respect, I agree with most of what Hari has to say, but he only hits on the validity of his outrage towards the end of the article - the division between rich and poor is a global problem that should be addressed on a global scale, it's just that this problem is often more obvious in Dubai than it is in London, or anywhere else.

The idea that Dubai is a place that has grown out of debt and is nothing but a series of concrete and glass skyscrapers is such an unfair characterisation. Dubai does have a history as a trading port, but people from other countries often forget that the UAE is not yet even 40 years old. We've come so far in such a short time, it often makes me think that these articles are meant to scold a city that has exceeded the expectations of what people thought was previously possible. It seems that Dubai has grown faster than others gave it permission to, and now it's paying the price for it's temerity and audacity. This is such a ridiculous attitude. Dubai's prosperity and ambition should be championed. Of course not everything about Dubai is perfect, but if anything, it's major failure has been to model itself on the Western model of free-market Capitalism, which we now see as being inherently flawed in some respects.

What do you guys think? Am I totally off the mark? Or do you feel as frustrated as I do with this avalanche of negative articles about Dubai? Leave a comment and let me know what you think..

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Making a break for it

I just saw this article on the Gulf News website. Apparently people have been paying smugglers to get them out of the UAE by driving them through Oman to Yemen. Some people who are afraid of being put in jail for debts etc. are traveling overland to avoid punishment in the UAE.

The article goes on to say that when you leave the UAE, everyone is subject to a retina scan, which means that if you're found to be owing money or something, you'll be placed on a black list that bans you from ever coming back to the UAE.

All this seems like a pretty extreme measure. I'm sure there are some sketchy characters that are smuggling these people out of the country. I've also heard that the Dubai debtor's prison thing is just a myth, and that the jails are at full capacity anyway, so I think the whole thing is getting blown out of proportion.

Anyway, it's pretty crazy that Dubai has a border run now. Does this make Yemen the new Mexico?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Empire of the Sun

So if you've been watching MTV over the last month or so, you might have seen this film clip:

It's a track called "Walking on a Dream" by an Australian band called Empire of the Sun. It certainly stands out on MTV against the endless stream of Chris Brown and Katie Perry filmclips. The video is really nicely shot on location in Shanghai, and the guys in the band are totally over-the-top. I can't figure out if they're treating the whole thing as one big joke or not, but whatever, the result is a great, crazy, ridiculous, farcical, sublime, inspired filmclip.

An old friend of mine from university just sent me through their latest clip, which was apparently shot in Mexico. The guys have continued with their crazy style and costumes, and the result is just as great as their first effort:

According to their YouTube channel, both videos were shot by a guy called Josh Logue of Mathematics. I've just checked out the Mathematics website, and their body of work is pretty stunning. They've done a filmclip for Architecture in Helsinki that was stop-motion animation, made entirely out of needlework stitching. They also do a lot of concert posters etc.

So enjoy the new music, I hope you like it all as much as I do..

Image Dump 9

Another week, another image dump. Fresh from the intertubes, here's this week's assortment of photos, illustrations, and designs that grabbed my attention:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In Praise Of Invader

I'm sure some of you will be familiar with the work of Invader. I first noticed his stuff when I was staying in Paris for a summer a few years ago. I was walking around the Marais with some friends, and we spotted a small mosaic in the shape of an alien from the famous video game Space Invaders.

As soon as we had seen one of these mosaics, we began to see them everywhere. I eventually found out that the artist had placed them all over Paris, as sort of a large scale scavenger-hunt game.

I was also told that people had started to imitate Invader (like any good artist) and had started making their own mosaics. Usually I'd say that this would be annoying for any artist, but Invader seems like the kind of guy that would encourage a massive proliferation of space invader aliens all around the world.

After checking Invader's website, I discovered that he has been placing these invaders all over the world. According to Wikipedia, he has been putting up these mosaics since 1998, and has done so in over 35 cities around the world.

As you can see from the map above, Invader has never visited the Middle East. Do you think we could get him to throw up a few space invaders around Dubai? Would anyone notice? I guess we might see them if they were in malls, or maybe around Bastakiya or JBR Walk, but anything on Sheikh Zayed Road would need to be pretty massive to be noticed.

Maybe one of the art galleries in town could have an exhibition of his stuff? He's put on exhibitions before, and we've currently got some of Futura's work here in town, so why not?

So if anyone knows Invader, or anyone knows anyone who runs a gallery and would be interested in contacting him for an exhibition, leave a comment below. It'd be awesome to see some of Invader's work here in Dubai