Virtual Pyramids and Cosmic Pixels
August 13, 2009, 11:53 am
Filed under: art, Items | Tags: , , , , ,

Breathing Pyramid

Rhizome, a favorite website here at tirado/thrown, directs our attention to these animated gifs from artist MDCCLXIV.  At first, they resembled little more the Mayan temple’s  ziggurat cousins to us.  But a close eye on the way the images unfold rewarded us with the deceptively simple geometric patterns that give structures like those in Tikal the austere rigidity to peek their tops out over the jungle canopy.  The contrast created by the crayon and pastel-colored gradations only heighten the possibility of grasping the geometry at work- breathing, pulsing, spinning, rising and falling.  From the name of the series from which these pieces belong, “About the Field of Statistics”, there’s quite possibly some mathematical ontology to be had here.

The initial allure of these pieces comes on the heels of a day where chats, discussions, phone calls, and re-established connections with friends and relatives from Guatemala and Honduras occupied a great deal of time.  They’re potent, abstract reminders of a land and culture that’s in our cells and are yet to discover here at tirado/thrown. On this occasion they were even more potent than photos of the pyramids themselves, in that their truth resided precisely in their rendering as virtual, which was more faithful to the nature of the highly mediated communicatons conducted via cell and internet than a photo or video of a temple itself (which served more as a secondary reference than anything).

Mayan Pyramid 1

[Image Credit: MDCCLXIV, via Rhizome.]


How do you say ‘mestizo’ in Russian?


Above is one of many images of Soviet playing cards bearing Maya-inspired illustrations from a post on EnglishRussia.com, as referred to tirado/thrown through a special informant.  

Aside from being visual delights, you are initially left trying to ask questions about their provenance, much less making the attempt to decipher them.  They merely rest taciturn, sphinx-like, callado, to whatever you attempt to ask yourself, because they are quite fascinating.  Whatever inspired the workers at the Soviet state enterprise responsible for producing these magnificent artifacts, they generated a pretty exquisite group of cards; they’re imaginative and downright noteworthy.   Who knows? Perhaps a bored KGB officer doing slop-work in 1950s Mexico City came across a deck of Aztec playing cards from Baraja Cuauhtemoc and passed over the naipes to an acquaintance at the state playing card factory in an act of camaraderie. 


The magic of cards like these is that they are portable pictograms giving the the gamepiece something more interesting to look  at and wonder about than a regular stack of casino cards.  Seriously, they beat the Grateful Dead Aztec-Inspired playing cards.  Want to get a sense for Mayan language and culture during a few hours off?  Take your card to the library and check it against a codex and lexicon!  To think that gambling implements could have the potential to be edifying!


Modernist flourishes on the Soviet cards such as the cats the queens hold in her hands speak of a mixture of ancient imagery and contemporary adaptation.   The distinct configurations of each of the two jokers in the deck speaks to the confluence of Mesoamerican and European at work in the deck.  The blue card seems to be rendered with a more appearance, while the red one seems almost Medieval European in a Mayan style, but I leave that up to experts to decide.



However, the images on the face cards are quite faithful to the drawings in codices: with respect to gestures, facial expressions, postures, decoration, and detail, which makes them all the more interesting to discover.

Still, the cards leave me with more questions than answers.  Is the existence of these cards a trace of a mestizaje in the USSR in the form of a curiously made instruments for everyday entertainment, or is it just a fluke of historical detritus washed ashore?  What do these items say about the way Soviets conceived the work of producing items for everyday life?  Why the odd reaction of being surprised at the discovery that Soviets (of all people-gasp!) produced these cards for everyday use when in the US typically has largely uniform face cards from a number of different companies, and when decorated cards would be only for serious gamers and sold as speciality items?  When will we see Mexican and Central-American takes on the matryoshka doll?  Or perhaps more symmetrically, could we find a Latin-American toy, like a balero, trompo, or loteria game festooned with Russian-style decorations? 

At some point, it would be great to give those Cuauhtemoc cards the kind of critical treatment they, as well as these Soviet ones, rightfully deserve.  For now, I am of mixed emotions.  At once I am unexplainably melancholy at seeing items produced by a now-lost regime bearing images from a destroyed civilization.  At the same time, I’m quietly joyful for their existence.


Image Credits- Maya Cards: Picdit, English Russia;Barajas Cuahtemoc: World of Trading Cards; Transcription of the Dresden Codex: FAMSI

For the End of the Work Week
April 18, 2008, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Items | Tags: , , ,


the moving target

What we have to loseConflict

When these lovely pieces appeared in my blog reader courtesy of Infinite Thought, I was immediately smitten. With speed being the name of the game in this electro-delivery world, I wanted to post toot sweet.  Then I realized I was a work, and held off from doing anything until the time was available. 

The God that Sucked

Want a way to think through the near-endless contingency and insecurity involved with working life?  Try your with these cards from the Almanac of Precariomancy, a nice primer on the terms and figures of market-mediated existence. Notice, interestingly enough, how gifts have no material place in the schema of unadulterated risk.  Only rewards figure in this arrangement of terms.

Interns built the pyramids

I could easily imagine a set of these cards appearing as promotions or subscription premiums for publications like The Baffler or its distant cousin in the UK, the Idler.  They even have something of a Baffler-esque aesthetic, harkening, notably, to covers for issue numbers 9 (“Workplace: An Injury to All”) and 14 (“The God that Sucked”), to say the least of any Idler cover.  They could also make perfect accessories for risky parlor games or lunchtime picnics.

As pieces of contemporary folklore, these are the closest things I have noticed continental Europe having to Mexican loteria cards.  If you could only interpret relationships between the cards in the Mexican game other than with respect to their random placement on the naipes (game boards), the relationship between the two would perhaps be more than imaginary or darkly speculative.

The Almanac of Precariomancy’s website has a complete description of the card set, along with a guide to its use.

Feeling lucky?