Artist feud over the right to use the world’s blackest black

d3b85deb-72aa-4e67-adb4-9996396b172cPlease enjoy this story of cartoonish villainy

So firstly: Vantablack. It’s the world’s blackest pigment, absorbing 99.96% of visible light, and turning any surface it’s painted on into a flat black hole. It’s pretty toxic and has to be grown in a special sealed chamber. It was created for military and aerospace uses, but obviously artists were pretty excited about its possibilities too.

But when they approached the manufacturers of Vantablack, they found they had already made an exclusivity deal with Anish Kapoor, the world’s 7th richest living artist (Damien Hirst is the richest).

PEOPLE WERE EXTREMELY UPSET. “He’s signed an exclusive agreement with the creators of Vantablack which blocks any other artist from using it. Nobody forced him or them to enter into an agreement like that. It’s a heinous ego-driven pact which stops every other artist after him from working with Vantablack on art projects.”

Kapoor refused to engage or explain. He says this wouldn’t happen with any other colour, people just get irrational and emotional about black.

Next: Artist and paintmaker Stuart Semple had a pink that was “particularly special. It just is like nothing else, it’s so vibrant. You can’t photograph it. It’s nuts. Like, the pinkest pink thing ever.”

“When everybody started complaining that Anish Kapoor wouldn’t share Vantablack, I thought it was a really bad thing for him to be doing, and I was upset by it as well.”

“And I thought, ‘Wait, hang on, if you’re upset about it, you’ve got all this awesome stuff that you’ve been making, all these colors, you should be sharing them. It’s wrong to be criticizing him and not sharing them.’”

So Semple released The World’s Pinkest Pink. But if you want to buy it, you have to agree that “by adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated with Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor.”

A few weeks later, Anish Kapoor posts a photo to instagram: his middle finger dipped in The World’s Pinkest Pink. Then Semple gets told through a third party that Kapoor is suing him. “I wrote to them and said, ‘Look, it’d be really nice if we could just be friends, and he could say sorry for taking the pink, and give me the £3.99 back that it costs. And then we can just call it quits and it’ll all be fine.’ But they just ignored it and said they were suing me.”

Realising they would probably never get access to Vantablack, Semple and friends developed the second blackest black in the world: an open source, cherry-scented pigment called Black 2.0 that’s thousands of times cheaper than the official stuff and much easier to work with. But will that dastardly Kapoor get his hands on Black 2.0 as well?

“I don’t want him to have it. I think the way he’s been acting is really dodgy. And all the time and effort that’s gone into Black 2.0, and how much everyone cares about it, it would just be a real downer if he got it. What I really like is the fact that loads of us can make really cool black things, and he’s stuck in his science lab, paying gazillions of pounds to get quite a similar thing. I think that’s so cool! Yeah, I don’t want him to have it. It would upset me if he got it.”

Full interview with Stuart Semple, including details on the suing aspect.

Update: Okay, someone’s written Semple/Kapoor slashfic now. (It’s SFW, but please don’t consider this mention to be an endorsement or recommendation.)

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Bring back the oldschool video game manuals

You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!

I used to be a huge gamer, and I’m not anymore, but I still read a lot of video game news and reviews for some reason. I don’t know if the games have got worse (probably not) or my ability to be enthralled has just waned. I used to get up at 5 am to try and beat my brother to the Nintendo > Super Nintendo > Playstation in order to get an hour or two of full, uninterrupted play. I can’t imagine being that excited, that compelled, now. Maybe twice a year, I come across a book that’s good enough to create that feeling, but not much else does. (The perpetual “Is that depression or is that just adulthood?” question, right?)

The best part was going into the city with my family, buying a game (well, my mum buying it), and reading the manual on the way home. Old-school manuals used to be really fat and have lists of all the towns you might visit, magical items you might acquire, stats you could level up in, character art, backstories… So much PROMISE. I think I felt genuinely high, like drug-high, reading those.

Manual for the NES game Faxanadu, pulled directly from my childhood and somehow on the internet:

faxanadu manual

And then they started dying off, and the manual, instead of being a whole booklet, became just a flimsy pamphlet with a warning about not sitting too close the screen. I’m not sure exactly why that happened – maybe the expense of printing, maybe the improvements in technology that meant designers could translate their vision into the game itself (compare the illustrations of items with the in-game versions in the image above).

When I play games now, I often lose interest and stop for no particular reason. But video game REVIEWS – especially of quirky, conceptual games – they still excite me. They give me back a little bit of that anticipation and sense of promise – this, THIS could be amazing. Even – probably because – I don’t actually play the games themselves.

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Keys, umbrellas, fingerprints

This morning I rode past a hand-written sign saying “Lost your keys? Message me which Disney character is on the keyring and I’ll get em back to you.” They wanted to make sure the keys went back to their rightful owner, not just any sneak who called up and claimed them.

Which makes sense with wallets and jewellery and handsome tartan umbrellas, but if you don’t know what Disney character’s on the keys, how do you know which lock they fit?

I realised that you could stumble across the keys to the national mint, the Louvre, to every door in Berrimah jail, and they would be utterly worthless if you didn’t know what they were for. Keys are a treasure that depend on a very specific piece of information.

It was known in the early 1800s that people had unique fingerprints, and that these could be lifted from crime scenes, but it was only really useful if you already had a suspect. Otherwise, what – are you gonna compare the one from the crime scene to every single fingerprint you have on file, one by one, by hand and eye?  It wasn’t until a system of categorisation was developed (by length, width, type and direction of whorl, etc) that fingerprints became look-uppable, and about a billion times more useful.

You see what I’m getting at. Context and connections are what makes something valuable.

Assuming that somehow having the keys to the mint also gave you the legal and moral right to take everything you found there, money only has value because people agree that it does (if it was from the mint, it would have sequential serial numbers, and it could be declared worthless. Then you’d have to see how many people you could convince it was still money before you got caught). Art is a bit more objectively valuable, because you have an emotional reaction to it that has intrinsic worth, but financially it’s bizarre. The Mona Lisa is valued at US$790 million but it’s also worth US$0 because you couldn’t sell it.

In conclusion, go for the handsome tartan umbrella every time.

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Japanese death poems

Death poems were traditionally written by ageing samurai, monks, clerks and other literate / upper class people. It seems to be a way to die with dignity, although I’m also 100% on board with the “rage, rage against the dying of the light” response.

They often had patriotic overtones. Narushima Chuhachiro:

For eighty years and more, by the grace of my sovereign
and my parents, I have lived
with a tranquil heart
between the flowers and the moon.

This next was written by suicide-torpedoist Kuroki Hiroshi in 1944:

This brave man
so filled with love for his country
that he finds it difficult to die
is calling out to his friends and about to die

but they could be irreverent too. Moriya Sen’an:

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern.
With luck
the cask will leak.

(Painting is not really related: ‘Hanaogi of the Ogiya’ by Chobunsai Eishi, ca. 1794.)

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