Black Room.

The first landscape encountered in the Black Room interactive game (all images screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic).

The first landscape encountered in the Black Room interactive game (all images screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic).

The second landscape of Black Room.

The second landscape of Black Room.

Here’s an interesting game, Black Room:

The first few minutes of Black Room are a twist on my expectations. I know I’m not playing a traditional game. In fact, according the game’s homepage, I’m playing a “browser-based, narrative game about falling asleep while on your computer, on the internet,” where I play as “an insomniac on the verge of sleep, moving through shifting states of consciousness.”

Created and developed by Cassie McQuater, Black Room is free to play (with the option to donate money), and was “conceived as a feminist dungeon crawler, [and] features a majority female cast of video game sprites from the 1970s–current day.” After the game’s opening sequence — a blue light descends through a heron-filled sky before crashing to the ground and turning into a woman — my fingers are only allowed to do one thing: move my character to the right. As I do, the background comes alive with stars and fantastical birds. I’m moving through this dreamscape, alone. When I click on the “?” in the upper-right corner of the screen, I’m told, “The sky is vast. Yawning, you feel as though you’ve just woken from a long sleep. There is only one direction to travel.” Onward it is.

As a lifelong insomniac, I might have to give this one a try. You can read and see much more at Hyperallergic.

Design Crime: Art & Social Justice.

Stickers by Stuart Semple.

From spikes installed on window ledges to bars that divide benches into a set number of seats, examples of disciplinary architecture — otherwise known as hostile urban architecture — are all around us. Such designs deliberately restrict certain behaviors in public spaces, and while they affect everyone, they especially target homeless individuals, who cannot rest on these surfaces.

The UK-based artist Stuart Semple has created a campaign to try and raise awareness about these often subtle forms of social control. Today, he launched a website, Hostile Design, as a platform where people can easily and quickly spread word about these designs. It simply calls for anyone to photograph examples anywhere in the world, and share them on Instagram with the hashtag #hostiledesign. The website then aggregates these in a “design crime gallery.”

“Hostile design is design that intends to restrict freedom or somehow control a human being — be that homeless people, a skater or everyday humans congregating to enjoy themselves,” Semple told Hyperallergic. “The danger of hostile design is it’s so insidious. It’s so quiet, so camouflaged, that unless you know what it is, you accept it. And that blind acceptance makes things grow and spread.”

To further inform people beyond the digital sphere, he is also distributing stickers he created, which are available on the website. These “design crime” stickers are intended for pasting on offending surfaces and are available through pay-what-you-can pricing.

A bus stop in Bournemouth.

Living rural, I don’t see things like the above bus stop, which honestly shocked me. I’m about the size of a twig, and trying to sit on that “bench” would be very uncomfortable for me. Has it become so important to us to keep the afflicted and unfortunate out of sight that we willingly go along with being punished by this “disciplinary architecture”? This certainly strikes me as immoral and unethical, making every surrounding hostile because oh my, someone might actually find a place they could lie down and sleep, the horror! Par for the course, there’s zero effort to do anything about the problem of homeless people, but there’s a whole lot of effort going into driving them away from all public spaces. Certainly does not speak well of us. This isn’t just about driving the unfortunate out of sight, there’s also a public stair handrail, which has a block placed on it, just in case anyone had a fit of happy and wanted to slide on the railing.

I can’t say I’ve noticed anything like this in Bismarck, but I’m arming myself with stickers, and I’ll be looking.

There’s much more to read and see at Hyperallergic.

Abdominal Organs, Genitals, Semen, Menstrual Blood, Fetus, Heredity.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words '(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI' Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words ‘(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI’ Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Oh, I have to say that this entry is most entertaining, in a trainwreck sort of way.

Text Translation:

Only women have a womb; in it they conceive as in a small cup; but there are writers who assign a womb to either sex, often calling it venter, belly – and not just poets, but others also. The womb is called uterus because it is double and divides itself into two parts which bend in different and opposing directions like a ram’s horn; or because it is filled inside with a fetus. For this reason it is called uter, a bag, because it has something inside it, such as limbs and intestines. Paunch, aqualiculus, is properly the word for a pig’s belly. For this reason it is translated as venter, belly. It is called the matrix because the baby is generated in it. It fosters the semen it has received, and by cherishing it, turns it into flesh; and what it has turned into flesh, it separates into parts of the body. The vulva is so called as if it were a folding-door, that is, the door of the belly; either because it receives the semen or because the fetus goes forth from it.

[Read more…]

Bellicorum instrumentorum liber (1420).

Bellicorum instrumentorum liber,  Book of warfare devices, is a fascinating and absorbing inventor’s notebook. The title was bestowed by someone else, and it’s misleading as to the contents, which cover a very wide range of ideas.

Sometimes we try to invent something new by exploring within the bounds of what is known to be possible, and sometimes we invent by expanding those limits. For an imaginative engineer in the early fifteenth century — working more than two hundred years before the discoveries of Newton — the process of invention would be often a curious mix of the two. You would know so little about mechanical force that you could conjure up almost anything and believe it to be practical. Of course, attempts to bring the designs to reality would often fail, but they might, on occasion, also succeed.

Suppose for a moment that you were such a person possessing a talent for gadgets in the early fifteenth century, or an engineer hoping to build marvelous machines and clever structures no one else had yet dreamed of — how would you go about showing your talents? And what if you were someone who wanted to own wonderful and mysterious devices, such as a prince — how would you find the person who could make these things? A remarkable testimony to this meeting of engineering skill, technological ignorance, individual initiative, and public demand can be found in the Bavarian State Library, in the sketchbook of an Italian inventor of the early fifteenth century. It is a volume of sixty-eight drawings advertising the inventions that Johannes (or Giovanni) de Fontana (ca. 1395–1455), who was both the engineer and the artist, hoped to sell to patrons. Thought to have been created sometime between 1415 and 1420, the work has no title by Fontana that has survived, but a later owner gave it the title Bellicorum instrumentorum liber — the Book of Warfare Devices — despite the fact that most of it does not concern military matters.

This is an absorbing insight into thought, knowledge, and the desire to create, and you can see the whole thing here, or see selected bits along with text at The Public Domain.

Diabolus artificiosus, artificial devil.

Diabolus artificiosus, artificial devil.

Heilender Baum, Healing Tree.

Heilender Baum, Healing Tree.

Spleen, Gallbladder, Intestines.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words '(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI' Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words ‘(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI’ Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Text Translation:

The spleen, splen, gets its name from supplementum, because it fills up the part opposite the liver lest there should be an empty space; some reckon that it was created as a seat of laughter. For we laugh with the spleen, grow angry with the bile, discern with the heart and love with the liver; the whole animal is formed from these four elements in harmony.

The gall bladder, fel, is so called because it is a little bag holding the humour called bile, bilis. The gullet, stomachus, is called in Greek os because, as the door, ostium, of the belly it takes in food and sends it on to the intestines.

The intestines, intestina, are so called because they are contained in the inner, interior, part of the body. They are arranged in long coils, so that they are not obstructed by food that has been swallowed. The caul, omentum, is a skin containing the greater part of the intestines; the Greeks call it epiploon. The diaphragm, disceptum intestinum, is so called because it separates the belly and other intestines from the lungs and heart. The blind intestine, cecum, is so called because it lacks an opening or exit; the Greeks call it tiaonentipon [tuphlon enteron]. The thin intestine is calledieiuna; from it comes ieiunium, fast day. The belly, venter, the bowel, alvus, and the womb, uterus, differ from each other. The belly digests food that has been swallowed and is visible from outside; it extends from the breast to the groin. It is called venter because it conveys throughout the body the food of life.

The bowel is the part that receives the food and is regularly purged. Sallust: ‘Pretending that he purged his bowels’ (History, 1, 52). It is also called the bowel, alvus, because it is washed out, abluere, that is, purged. For from it flows out excremental filth.

Folio 89v – the parts of man’s body, continued.


Tearful, in a good way. Voyager sent me a priceless gift, a beautiful piece of sea glass, from the 17th to 18th century. It comes from large glass barrels which were used to transport goods in the early days of shipping. It’s an unusual size and colour, and I’m astonished Voyager could give it up, but I am beyond thankful. Thankful is completely inadequate…I hold this ‘stone’ in my hand, this small tether to people and events of long ago, a piece of history, and it fills me with awe. Such a gift. I shall carry it with me, and use its power to transport me to another age when I need it, and I’ll be needing that a lot this year. Another thank you for the magnificent card too. You can read a bit about black sea glass here.

© C. Ford, all rights reserved.