Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Street Graffiti Puzzlers

The Liberties, Dublin

Ah, fun with negative space. At first I thought this was simply a case of paper slowly deteriorating, then I saw a cornflake in a lightbulb, and last but not least, like a believer finding the face of Jesus in a bowl of pancake batter, I saw the shape of a familiar icon begin to reveal itself in the black and white remains. Fun, innit?

Some folks like to puzzle over Sudoku, the gluttons for punishment, and others whittle away at the cryptic crossword. But if you, like me, prefer to take your brain teasers on the go, there's no shortage of this stuff on the walls and sidewalks of a city. Peeling signs. Half-painted murals. The head of the Bride of Frankenstein superimposed on a leg in fishnets. Trying to figure out what it all means may not lead to any answers or hot meals, but it's good if you're a city dweller to get in touch with one's inner hobo. Who knows, maybe if this recession keeps up we'll all be eating out of trash cans and communicating via scratched signs anyway. Might as well get a head start.

Also, there's room here to improvise a haiku if anyone feels so inspired. There's a few words to get you started, but the rest of the space is all yours.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Spiderman Was Here

Western Way, Dublin

On a lonesome curved road on the north side of Dublin, opposite the dark spire of the Black Church (walk around the church counterclockwise three times at midnight and it's said you'll see the devil), this mural -- half ghost sign, half art installation -- once stood. I went looking for it about six months ago when I was in Dublin, and either it's not visible through beer goggles or it's just plain gone.

Supposing you were too busy courting Beelzebub to notice this bit of street art, now's your chance to see what you missed. It was a strange sight, this mural: towering above a single red Georgian door, stretching across a massive wall of dull brown brick, it was both in plain view and yet still felt hidden. The faded pastels of the paint and hardly legible text made sense enough, but then it was topped off with this bit of metal work: a stylized spider web that would do Spidey himself proud.

I've hunted all I can for the story behind it, but all I seem to find are more tall tales involving run-ins with Old Scratch. Maybe I have to circle the building clockwise three times at noon to get my answer.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Wines & Spirits

The Liberties, Dublin

It's been a good while since the ampersand has gotten an airing in these parts, so consider this one long overdue. As for the Gothic lettering, I've been a fan of these typefaces ever since my childhood when the family would pile into the car and, on special occasions, go to the neighboring suburb to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a strip mall called Castlewood. Castlewood, alas, is long gone, replaced probably by some insipid T.G.I. Fridays, but it lives on in memory. The place was not nearly as theatrical as Medieval Times -- no jousting, no surly nose-ringed cocktail wenches -- but it did milk the castle theme for all it was worth: heraldic menus, suits of armor lodged into red-velvet nooks and, of course, this Olde English font that's de rigeur for any decent castle-themed establishment.

As for this crumbling artifact in the Liberties, who knows how long it will be allowed to stand in its current state of decay. But I do know that wines & spirits signs go hand in hand with the weekend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Newmarket Potatoes

Newmarket, Dublin

No dereliction duty would be complete without a drive-by of a run-down, crumbling, desolate old warehouse whose only sign of industry appears to have been painted in or around the time of the invention of sliced bread (1928, for those keeping track. Thanks, Otto Frederick Rohwedder!).

The fading Newmarket Potatoes sign in Dublin is one of my favorites, and in fact I feel such affection for the rotting old thing that I hesitated to even post it. Could I manage to do verbal justice to a relic whose only easily catalogued positive trait is that it's "old" and "kinda creepy"? Could I put into words the haunted yet familiar feeling I had when first happening upon deserted Newmarket on a bicycle late one evening, able to make out only the faintest shadow of an already faint sign? Is it in any way healthy that I've spent the last hour pondering this? No. It's rather unhealthy, actually. Now then, I'm going to pour myself a glass of red wine and kick my feet up and we'll call it a draw. This dereliction duty is harder than it looks. At least with numbers I knew what I had lined up next.

Ghost signs. Fading advertisements. They're well-documented enough to have their own fan.clubs. There's a whole manifesto wrapped up in my fascination with the derelict and downtrodden (see Hugh Pearman), but there's also something intensely personal about it. When I see an old sign, my mind slows down. I like to take the time to notice things that are so easily glossed over in this über-glossy age. It's a waste of brain cells, yes, but a pleasant one. Who painted the sign? How long has it been there? And how long will it be before the sign disappears completely -- either by a long, slow weathering or by a sudden, violent demolition?

The state of a sign often can tell us a lot about the state of the space around it. In this case, a forgotten, desolate sign in fact exists in a forgotten, desolate square. I was interested (and in that selfish "but I discovered it!" way, almost horrified) to find this re-imagining of the Newmarket area of Dublin: "Animating Newmarket Square in Dublin," from the spatial planning Inspiring Cities project. It reminded me of how New York City's High Line linear park -- once an abandoned railway line -- came to be. First, the vision. Then, the plan. Then, the money. And oh yes, if we're lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) -- the manifestation.

Of course it makes sense to do something with an abandoned urban space. Not all can be left to decay. But sometimes I like the thought of simply imagining it, then going back to the bustle of our usual city centers, leaving the outskirts untouched. There's something rich in that sense of possibility. A charm to the unbuilt.

That said, some of the ideas in the Inspiring Cities report were pretty, well, inspiring. Personally, I'm partial to the report's Idea #3: Temporarily Breeding Artists. But then again, I've got ulterior motives.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Tivoli Car Park

Francis Street, Dublin

For someone who hasn't bought a record album since some Madness record in, oh, 1986, I do keep a soft spot in my heart for vinyl. Sometimes I still find myself calling them rekkid albums, in an affected voice that's supposed to conjure up a stogie-smoking producer from a bygone era: Hey kid, this rekkid is gonna make you a star.

Last entry's Caroline Records sign is about as beautifully bleak as it gets when it comes to memorializing outdated technology. (Really, you don't ever see artfully rotting signs for VHS, do you? -- but maybe I'm not looking hard enough.) What makes this "VINYL" an interesting companion piece to the Caroline Records sign is the "VINYL" sign isn't old at all. It's just been crafted by a canny street artist to look that way. And if you stick around this car park long enough, you might just find your nostalgia interrupted by a businessman hopping into his BMW. But that might, ya know, ruin the illusion.

More street art treats from the Tivoli car park can be gawked at here. It's truly one of my favorite hidden spots in Dublin.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dublin Dereliction Duty: Caroline Records

Rathmines, Dublin

Few things bring out the warm & fuzzy side of me like urban dereliction. Add "artfully rotting type" into the mix, set me down somewhere in Dublin, and I feel so good I practically need a list of harmful side effects.

There is a long stretch of seedy shop fronts that leads down to Rathmines, where I ratholed myself in a tiny flat one long-ago autumn. While a supporter of public transport in general, I have a severe allergy to Dublin Bus, so I generally walked the forty-five minutes or so from my flat into the city centre, where I'd pass this sign nearly every day. Funeral homes, charity shops, depressing internet cafés. Not much to feel inspired by. But this one, the Caroline Records sign, never failed to catch my eye.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Typefeast: Dublin 2010


What's that you say? A typeface conference going on this weekend? In Dublin? Would that be Dublin, Ireland? And a fare sale going on at Aer Lingus? Hang on. And what's this? There are precisely fifty-five cents in my bank account? Very well then. It appears I shall have to resort to this frayed, torn, devastated sign of Irish typography to convey my frayed, torn, devastated soul at having to sit this one out. But for those about to embark on this weekend's ATypI conference in Dublin, I do hope you'll report back.

There's a good story (brought to my attention by one of my astute readers) in yesterday's Irish Times about the conference if you want to read about The Joy of X. In the meantime, who can I geek out with about the typographical inconsistencies in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic? You wanna talk about how that "C" in "republic" was really a re-purposed "O"? Well do ya punk?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not Here Either

Venice, Italy

In this update-saturated age, disappear from anywhere online long enough, and you're bound to have one of two things happen: one, the time you've spent away will weave a Pynchonesque cape of mystique around your absent authorial self, which will inspire whisperings about what epic project you must undoubtedly be crafting behind closed doors. Or two, and this is the part where I wake up, you, well, just disappear. Fall off the radar. Go running off the RSS-feed ledge and don't even know it until, like Wile E. Coyote, you look down and notice that yawning chasm that's opened up at your feet. That's what I get for not blogging for two months. A bad Road Runner metaphor and a peeling sign in Venice that makes the excuses for me.

See, I'm a creature of habit. Take away the number-a-day structure and what do I find? About ninety hours of scrolling through iPhoto, chortling to myself and saying, "Ah now, there's a lovely one. If only I had 364 more mildly amusing No Parking signs from various spots around the globe, I might be onto something."

I enjoy structure. Really, it's a great thing. I can't imagine life without calendar boxes, page-a-day planners, sturdy apartment buildings, blueprints, wine. (Give me a menu that describes a wine as having "a great structure" and I'll order it no matter what other silly adjectives are used to describe it.) I also enjoy counting, especially as I've turned out a failure in all other aspects of math, and having pictures to go along with the tasks delights the two halves of my brain, which usually wouldn't be caught dead conversing with one another. So yeah, the numbers are gonna make a comeback. Not right away. But they will be back.

In the meantime, I'm getting closer to wrapping up a hefty offline writing project (this will no doubt sound familiar) and as I approach the next of the penultimately almost-last final drafts of that, I'm going to be digging back through the pretty picture archive for some yummy typographical treats. Don't say I didn't warn you.

It might be a little more right-brained and scattered here for awhile. Which is really my way of saying I don't know what I'm doing or the order I'm doing it in. But do know I'm glad to be doing it. After a long time away, one thing's clear: here is better than not-here.