Monday, January 28, 2013

Pollock-Lego-Computer Virus (28 January - 3 February)

on this date in Design…

Jackson Pollock, American abstract expressionist painter, birthday 28 January 1912
Lego, Danish construction toy, patented 28 January 1958
Computer Virus, first written by Richard Skrenta, 30 January 1982

It can be argued that Jackson Pollock’s rhythmic, almost ritualistic drip painting style can be linked to Native American sand painting from the Southwest.  As a child, he accompanied his father on government surveying expeditions where he would have been first introduced to the art.  Later, after moving to New York with his brother, Pollock became involved in the expressionist movement and eventually it’s most famous and successful. 
After completing a commission for Peggy Guggenheim in 1943, Pollock’s groundbreaking style was introduced to the art community and then developed further at the East Hampton home he shared with wife Lee Krasner.  Krasner was an enormously talented expressionist herself but was overshadowed by her husband’s work.  With the canvas lying on the floor, Pollock would use stiffened brushes, sticks and even basting syringes to pile paint.  It was an immediate means of creating art and added a new dimension to the experience as it could be viewed from all directions.  This would come in handy years later as the thickly coated canvases will shift much as antique window glass.  This requires the pieces to be routinely rotated.  As groundbreaking as Pollock’s new style was, he abruptly halted all drip painting after the 1949 Life magazine article was printed in pursuit of new expressions but sadly never found equal success.   

"Leg godt” means to “play well” in Danish and to carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen it meant to make the highest quality toys so children can fully express their imaginations.  To this day, Lego brand toys and their trademark LEGO brick continue to inspire future architects and engineers (or really any kids who like to play). 
In 1958, thanks to injection molded plastic, Christiansen’s son lead the company to patent the original brick based on an improvement to an existing British patent.  Lego’s brick easily snapped together securely while still separating without much effort.  Today, these original bricks are still compatible with those manufactured today leading the way for generations of fans to pass down their highly prized collections.  That is, those that haven’t fallen victim to vacuum cleaners, mouths of curious pets or the notorious Lego gnomes who steel the single most essential piece from your construction set in the middle of the night. 

In high school, Richard Skrenta was a notorious prankster.  So much so that his friends began to refuse to barrow computer games and disks because he would alter them to display onscreen joking messages.  But in 1982, while on winter break in the ninth grade, Skrenta harmlessly created the first large-scale, self-spreading personal computer virus called “Elk Cloner”…and it was for the Apple II.  That’s right; the first computer virus was designed for Macs, not Microsoft platforms.  The truly harmless program would copy itself onto a computer’s hard drive and subsequently copy itself onto any disk inserted.  This simple code is nothing like the multi-dimensional complicated programs that plague computers worldwide today. 
However, Skrenta’s joke ushered in an awareness of the potential for terrorist and thieves to inflict damage thereby creating the entire industry of malware protection.  Later, Skrenta ventured into less malicious ventures including helping to launch Netscape, creating the online news source Topix and more recently, the search engine Blekko which is set out to rival Google without all the spam.    


Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center, East Hampton, New York 
Jackson Pollock website
Pollock work at MoMA, New York City, USA
Krasner work at MoMA, New York City, USA
Pollock work at the Tate, London, UK 
Krasner work at the Tate, London, UK
Pollock movie trailer

Lego website
Legoland parks website
Felix Baumgartner's skydive from space in Legos

The Elk Cloner Poem
The Skrentablog
Blekko search engine


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