This week is a globe-spanning sojourn to fantasy-medieval Poland, colonial South Africa and post-capitalist dystopian Japan, if you can believe it. What I really enjoy about the topics this time round is how they highlight people’s ability to get really, really into niches. Obsessing in hyperspecific areas, be that artwork or marketing or high-concept music, cheers me up no end and reminds me that people are capable of being weird in innumerable ways, which is always heartening. So, to start off, a body of work that has eaten 400+ hours of my life:
- Art of The Witcher 3
With over 80 accolades behind it, the majority being Game of the Year awards, it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Witcher had high level artists pumping out concept work that’s the epitome of high-fantasy realism. The vivid world that CD Projekt Red created works because of the diligence of these artists and the effort they pushed into every vista and vantage point, as the discussion below evidences:
In the discussion (it’s fairly pedestrian unless you’re an architecture, videogame or landscape art nerd. then it becomes extremely enjoyable) Marta and Kacper touch on the compromises required to complete a project that has resonance with the lore of the lands while also evoking real-world art movements. references to the art-deco movement, late and neogothic architectural motifs and medieval townships are alloyed with the cultures created in-game to create new but relatable groups.
The region of Skellige for instance, probably named for the Skellig islands in County Kerry, Ireland, is the home of a seafaring collection of proud and boisterous clans loosely governed by a single ruler. With their longboats and war-hatchets, berserker warriors and ritual burials-at-sea they resemble mainstream conceptions of a Viking culture, yet the Skelligans have certain other religious practices, artworks and naming conventions that are reminiscent of Gaelic cultures. Norse-Gaels are likely a strong influence for this group of rowdy boys yet the intertextual links never become so overt (at least for me) that the Skelligans cease to be their own discrete faction. Take a gander at the concept art from Jan Marek below, you’ll pick up what I’m putting down:
Bear in mind that Skellige is the smallest region in the game and one of the last areas you’re introduced to. If you’re interested, here’s a free PDF of the Witcher 3 art book. They deserved their 80+ awards, for real. This game is a gem.
Speaking of precious materials, after a fairly lengthy stint watching one of those jewelry auction channels I was reminded that life is precious and shouldn’t be squandered with fripperies like that but also
- Diamonds aren’t all that rare, and their value is highly exaggerated
For a great background introduction smuggled into a story about marital/fiduciary strife, I really recommend this episode of Freakonomics Radio where the history and manipulations of Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers company is briefly but powerfully highlighted. Essentially, the company was formed after the discovery of a couple of diamond mines in South Africa, and has grown to be one of the foremost players in the global diamond industry.
They got to that point thanks to Cecil Rhodes’ combination of buying up local mining operations and fixing prices for diamonds exported to the UK. Since De Beers essentially controlled the outflow of goods, they could dictate the price so long as demand remained high, which they encouraged through targeted marketing (remember Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend? Yeah.) In this way, the image of the diamond as being supremely valuable, rare and preeminent in the world of fine jewelry was propagated.
Though De Beers’ hold on the market has greatly diminished – to around 30 percent of the total diamond production industry nowadays from their previous 90 percent – their efforts in building diamonds to be investment opportunities and covetous commodities has barely budged.
- Moving from the folly of past generations to pictures of a potential future, this article on accelerationism and Bladerunner dives so deep into post-capitalist escapism through new music genres, phobias effectively reframed as philias, understanding cyberpunk dystopias as “a panacea for America’s paranoid dreams of emasculation”. In short, it compiles and reframes Bladerunner as a way for Westerners to compartmentalize their (arguably well-founded) fears of a runaway economic system, which is pretty rad as a concept. the whole piece is fascinating, with a number of links to quality material that I could only hope to emulate here, but the kicker is this closing punch:
Techno-Orientalist aesthetics produced in this way lack an ingredient crucial to today’s increasingly xenophobic world: an openness to genuine encounters with the Other. To accelerate towards the future with fuel made from the Other is not to accelerate towards a new life, but towards death itself
Edward Said’s Orientalism is probably required reading prior to engaging with the article (and the world in general, tbh) but suffice to say, it’s a densely packed piece that rewards active reading.
- Moving away from Vapourwave toward more uplifting Japanese Electronic music, Wednesday Campanella have been keeping me company the last few days, being variously joyous, introspective and as quirky as you’d expect from a band created from a chance meeting at a design festival in Tokyo. check it out:
I don’t have a background in electronic music, nor do I claim to have anything above what I would call an occasional recognition of Japanese, so I’m less than keen to engage in a Song Exploderesque dissection here. Still, I’m looking forward to diving deeper into this pretty exciting artist.
That’s game set match for this week! tune in next time for more unwarranted jumps into depths unknown on topics I’m digging.