Common


“Oaken richness”, one reviewer begrudgingly writes, “but at other times, there is a sense of linguistic overload”…
Common at the National Theatre until 5 August 2017

For some time now I’ve had the habit of purchasing those £15 Travelex National Theatre tickets way in advance and completely forgetting about then until the day rolls along. I usually don’t write reviews or keep notes on the plays and performances that I attend in London, but today after seeing Common at the Olivier I happened to google it – only to find it had received such scathing reviews for the very reason that I had most enjoyed it for: its incredibly dense language and rich imagery, all quite frenetically delivered. So I have decided to quickly write this.

I always find it hard to believe, but apparently semantic density is not quite everyone’s cup of tea? “Oaken richness”, one reviewer begrudgingly writes, “but at other times, there is a sense of linguistic overload”. What is wrong with everybody? I don’t know about you, and I’ll admit I’m no theatre critic either, but when I go to the theatre, I’ve come to be dazzled by nonstop theatrical epiphanic glossolalia and outlandish lexical gymnastics beyond what my puny mind can conjure up on the spot. Common delivered it with a flourish, or rather, a big fat noisy hit on a clangy tin pan. A thunderous chorus of rough music.

And as for complaints of the plot being ‘too obscure’, and another reviewer writing “As to what the play is about: well, that’s not exactly clear.” – Well excuse me, not clear? Did we even watch the same play? Surely it was not that hard to follow the logical progression of Mary’s ever increasingly preposterous schemes. (SPOILER ALERT) So the play begins with Mary returning to her homeland to figure out what her homeland means to her, and she has come to take her lover away from this parochial land to America where together they can build a new home. However, her lover can no longer recognise Mary after her many years of hard grafting in the big city; her lover also rejects her city attitudes, foreign voice and foreign dressing, and her lover refuses to escape with her because of what Mary believes to be a mistaken notion of loyalty to the soil.

The backdrop of the play is 19th century England just as the Enclosure Act was passed to force people from their land so that larger and more ‘efficient and profitable’ farming techniques could be put in place; but with the inhumane effect of painfully separating people from their land and villages, producing a large landless labour force that would eventually fuel the industrial revolution in the big cities and the modernisation of agriculture.

At first Mary is led to believe that if she can prevent the land from being enclosed, her lover will finally feel free of her shared responsibility to help keep the common land free for the common people. Her lover tells her she might consider running away to a new land with Mary if only she could be freed of her common responsibility to the land. But it turns out this was all a trick; the land comes before love, her lover only asked her to a late-night rendezvous in order to lure her into becoming the next sacrifice for the village’s harvest.

Having somehow survived the murderous plot, Mary then hatches a scheme to accelerate the loss of the commons to eject all those who had ousted her from her homeland in the very first place, taking advantage of the largess of the weak aristocratic lord of the land and using his men and his powers to obliterate the villagers who had tried to sacrifice her for the harvest and who stood protecting their common farming land from becoming Enclosed.

What makes it hardest of all is that the land that the villagers are being forced to leave behind is depicted as cruel and unsympathetic to their emotions and attachment to it; the land is harsh and barren and can hardly sustain them; in turn the land has fomented the villagers into helplessly continuing their strangely cruel practices of paganistic harvest sacrifice rituals. With the failed harvest looming, the only cycle to be seen is that of an eye for an eye, a murder for a murder, the displacement of people being followed by more displacement as those who are forcefully displaced move on and try to take other territories for their own. In a memorable fight-to-the-death scene, Mary turns the knife that her lover has prepared to stab her with – back upon on her lover! As life ebbs out of her lover, Mary uselessly tries to tell her that there is actually a bigger world out there to be lived in, but her lover will never get to see that. Mary cries at her own actions, but there is nothing left for her in that land, nothing else she can do but gather herself up and ready herself for a new life in a new land.

I wonder, did I have such a strong impression of clarity (if “mumbling” was an issue) because I sat in the front row where I was so close I could hear every single word in perfect detail; so close I could even see a stray fibre on Anne-Marie Duff’s finger, illuminated in the stage light from above? Or is it only my own reading of the play that gives the play meaning to me? Or has the play been cut down in length since the previous reviews? For £15 it also seemed amazing to have what seems like the finest seat in the house – dead centre of stage, so close you can lean over and breathe on the soil itself. I understood the set with its soil-splattered cyclorama to be a depiction of the terrifying barrenness of the land – certainly amplified from the angle I was seated at, with my face in line with the ground, gazing up at the actors. Perhaps for a venue as large as the Olivier, the presence of the play may have been diminished if you were seated at the opposite end of the house; instead of the sublime barrenness experienced at the first few rows in the stalls, it might have been read as boringly empty from a seat at the top.

You can call me of simple tastes, but if you ask me, never was there a dull moment in the play for me, what with the fences set on fire, the dead animals, Mary’s entertaining “clairvoyance” performances, Eggy Tom’s tarry hand covered in feathers, a talking mechatronic crow (with fine comedic timing!), intimations of incest, lost lesbian love, fear of a wasted life, fear of mortality, the digging (and filling) of many holes, an Irish man reduced to begging to be allowed to finish his last song before being sacrificed for the harvest, disembowelment, English villagers donning sinister pagan masks, a human heart in a bag, ribbons of blood spraying everywhere, sudden death, sudden gunshot, smoke and fire. As Mary left the stage presumably walking into her new life, I could have sworn she winked directly at me.

Debbie gives it: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

See also:

Common at the National Theatre – On until 5 August

Hidden in the Heath: The Hill Garden and Pergola of Hampstead

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Resuming my documentation of London adventures! Tucked away in a corner near to Hampstead Heath is the strangely picturesque Hill Garden and Pergola. I have visited Hampstead Heath on many an occasion but honestly this isn’t likely to be a part that one is likely to stumble over on a walk on the heath, as it is completely separated from the main grassy verge (that everyone gravitates to) by two roads. Technically speaking it is adjacent to Golders Hill Park and its easiest approach is via a pedestrian footpath on Inverforth Close (via N End Way) [Buses 210, 268, and N5 also ply N End Way]

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The Pergola is a Grade II listed Edwardian structure built by Lord Leverhulme, together with his dream of having a hill garden. At the time in 1905 as it was being constructed, the nearby Hampstead extension to the Northern Line was also being constructed, so Leverhulme was able to acquire the soil dug up from those tunnels at a nominal cost and used that to build the rolling hills you see in the Hill Garden today.

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You have to walk towards the houses and take the right turn into the Hill Garden.

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It leads onto a beautiful garden with a pond, with the Pergola beyond…

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It can be a real trek but it is definitely worth the effort to walk from Hampstead Heath to see the Pergola. Whilst I was there I didn’t see a single soul except at the front, where there was a lady who seemed to be part of the garden staff and she came up to me to ask “are you the girl who is coming down to do the shoot?” (No…) and that was it. How strange it is on a summer’s day when all the parks are teeming with people intent on baking themselves in the sun – yet this hidden corner of the heath with all of its structures remained completely devoid of people – which I suppose must also deviate from Leverhulme’s original vision of summer garden parties on the Pergola. Perhaps it is just a bit hard to get to, as compared to the other part of Hampstead Heath.

(Now that I’ve told you about the secret of the garden, I will have to kill you…) (KIDDING!)

Science Centres and Museums of ACT and NSW: Mt Stromlo Visitor Centre, CSIRO Discovery Centre, Questacon, Powerhouse, and Scienceworks

When was the last time you went to the Science Centre? Most people appear to have vivid memories of visiting science centres as a child but rarely as an adult. While I was in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney last month, I began following a hunch that Science Centres and Museums would be the best places to see lots of different applications of optical illusions for the masses! After all, as new and novel image display methods are invented, sometimes in the push to have these mediums reach a mass market, these technologies and mediums are often pushed first via these children-oriented Science Centres to reach a ‘national’ audience…

Here is a photo documentation of my visits to a few of the Science centres and science museums of ACT and NSW (not an exhaustive list, of course, but just what could be accomplished in my month in Australia…):

Mt Stromlo Visitor Centre (Tidbinbilla, Canberra)
Questacon (Canberra)
CSIRO Discovery Centre (Canberra)
Powerhouse (Sydney)
Scienceworks (Melbourne)

Mt Stromlo, Tidbinbilla

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I really wanted to visit this although it was quite far out, but then again, Canberra always feels so close to the countryside. For the uninitiated, Mt Stromlo is the physical successor to the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, which was the NASA Earth Station used to support Project Apollo. Honeysuckle Creek would have been the first telemetry station on earth to have actually received the video and audio data for the moon landing. It is also the site of the first optical munitions factories in Australia (allowing Australia to be self-sufficient in developing and producing its own optical munitions instead of relying on imports that were being cut off during WWII), and the observatory.

It is plainly visible that there has definitely been a dialogue going on between the astronomers at Mount Stromlo and Canberra’s municipal authorities in reducing the unnecessary night time lighting in Canberra so that it doesn’t impact upon the research done at the observatory at night. Even in Canberra itself I’ve marvelled at how clear the stars and Canberra is supposed to be one of the best places for astro-photography!

In case you are wondering, the text on the signboards of the walking trail outside is exactly that which you will find on the booklets and the website, so if you don’t make it down to Mt Stromlo, reading the website should pretty much tell you everything factual you need to know about Mt Stromlo.

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The area has been repeatedly ravaged by fires so there are many standing ‘ruins’ of domes, telescopes, and observatory buildings mixed in between the standing buildings – there was a 1952 firestorm and a 2003 firestorm, both caused by lightning strikes. The ruin above is that of the former Yale Columbia Telescope. First built in 1923-24 and located in Johannesburg South Africa, it was brought to Mt Stromlo in 1955 and donated by Yale and Columbia to the observatory in 1963. The dome and telescope were destroyed during the 2003 firestorm.

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Ruins of the Oddie Telescope – the first telescope in the Mt Stromlo area to test out its suitability as a observatory site – donated by amateur astronomer James Oddie which was used to form the first Commonwealth Solar Observatory in 1911. Again, after a long history of being used by amateurs and academics alike to view and study the skies, it was destroyed during the 2003 firestorm.

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It was funny that amidst the ruins someone had scattered all these little glittery stars…

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As predicted I found they had a hologram of the Giant Magellan Telescope being constructed in Chile at the moment – a massive US-led project in partnership with Australia, Brazil, and Korea, with Chile as the host country. Basically in order to work it will have the world’s largest man-made mirrors inside it. I suppose it is only fitting to use a lens (a hologram being a lens in and of itself) as a way to display a picture of the world’s biggest lens into the skies!

Questacon (Canberra)

Bring your own supply of hand sanitizers, for this is the most amazing hands-on (and disturbingly sticky) science museum you’ll ever go to! Is it worth the $23 adult ticket? I think its worthwhile experience, but in some ways it is also a considerable fortune to pay for your delicate senses to be assaulted by the excited screams of small children bouncing off the walls in all directions.

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The Boeing show “Above and Beyond” is a great science and engineering exhibition that is thankfully not merely children-oriented but surprisingly detailed enough to keep grownup geeks occupied with all the interactives and information panels.

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The many interactives such as the Mars Passport, Migration Flight Simulator, Space Debris Collector, and Space Elevator are definitely entertaining even for big children/adults. I wonder why it is that science museums tend to be thought of as places for children visitors – I mean, adults visit art museums and history museums even when they aren’t studying or working in art or history, so why not science museums in the same way?

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Down on the ground floors get ready for the carnage of children and child-oriented interactives.

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The children tend to come in “waves” because they come in school groups – so it is possible to have a quiet moment at Questacon if you wish to read the panels without having children screaming in your ear. It just really depends on your luck…

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If you are patient enough, you can play table hockey with a robot who will crush your dreams by beating you flat outright.

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As expected there are also a lot of visual/optical illusions in this museum such as a LED tunnel and this parallax barrier grid of fishes along the stairway…

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“Here’s what you would need to look like to be able to fly. But today, you’re going to fly anyway.”


I actually came here to see if I could find Paula Dawson’s holograms here but it appears I was (gulp) 20 years too late. However this museum is definitely a 10/10 if you like touching and playing with everything, and even adult visitors will come away having learnt loads of new things from this place despite it being thought of as a largely child-oriented museum experience.

CSIRO Discovery Centre (Canberra)

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The CSIRO Discovery Centre is a kind of educational area for children to visit and learn about the activities and research done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) – the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.

(I want to complain about how Canberra is frequently not very friendly to pedestrians – for it took me a long time to find the front entrance of this building! If you’re walking from ANU you should take one of the back doors via the second floor cafe, but problem is that if you’ve never been inside you’ll probably never that you can access it from this door! Argh catch-22!)

Anyway the CSIRO Discovery Centre is a modest sized exhibition space with lots of totally full-on exhibits on everything being researched on in CSIRO – designed in that distinctive, slightly dated early 00s flash graphic style that you see in so many science museums or science communication boards for the public – characterised by a crazy collaged cacophony of colours, tiny text, and futuristic elements.

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MAXIMUM COLOUR

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MAXIMUM WORDS

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MAXIMUM… SCREENS AND STUFF

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MAXIMUM INTERACTIVE

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MAXIMUM… BUCKET?

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There was a memorial next to this particular tank for “Lord Yabbimus”, a yabby (Australian freshwater crustacean that is commonly caught and eaten) who was the only creature to have survived a water/heating disaster that killed all the other creatures within this tank. For some time Lord Yabbimus was the lone inhabitant of the tank and when they introduced new fishes back into the tank they thought he would rule it once again, but he was promptly eaten by a fish when new fishes were introduced. (RIP Lord Yabbimus) (Well, they should have known this would happen, especially since the yabbies were actually put into the tank as fish food…)

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There were also many HOLOGRAMS! Artistic ones! These were the works of artist Eleanor Gates-Stuart – the result of the Canberra Science Art Commission – exploring the story of WHEAT in hologram.

I was very excited to find so many at CSIRO but in terms of display I can see how holograms can be super problematic. Firstly these were on a rather strange purple curved wall that was not very flattering, and they were mounted quite high with a ton of environmental lighting interfering with the image, so I think it would have been hard for shorter adults and children to see the image clearly. I found that if I shone my phone light into them that I could see the holograms better, so perhaps it could have been mounted in a better condition as I suspect that a less curious visitor might have dismissed them because of the physical difficulty of viewing the holographic image.

Powerhouse (Sydney)

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The Powerhouse is part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and is a bit like a mashup between a science museum, design museum, and medical technology collection – covering everything from history of science and tech to industrial relics, decorative arts, transport and space exploration, etc.

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X-ray machines

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Large technology objects

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A whole train schedule board

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Moon landing footage accompanied by the caption “science fiction becomes fact!”

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The highlight here has to be the “ride” you can take in a space ship with all of its panels spinning around you – although you don’t move the movement of the “ship” around you certainly produces a really pronounced disorientating effect.

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But at the same time no science museum seems complete without a collection of gratuitously shiny and colourful things.

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Despite my fondness for science museums, by this point I’d spent so much time in science museums that I was beginning to seriously get museum fatigue – so this visit ended abruptly with a detour to Lunch at the very excellent Dixon House Food Court. We also didn’t get to go to the Museum Discovery Centre which is like the warehouse in which all the large objects are held but apparently that might be worth a trip if one has more time to spare in Sydney.

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Dixon House Food Court

Scienceworks (Melbourne)

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Located a short drive away in the suburbs of Melbourne is Scienceworks, the Melbourne counterpart of this unholy triumvirate of science museums. Built next to the Pumping Station, it was designed as a children-oriented science museum and amongst all the science museum this was clearly designed to be at the viewing level of a small child. Adults be warned there will be a lot of crouching down in order to see exhibits, some of which are so involved and interesting so as to be almost artworks in their own right, but weirdly I’ve noticed that many times interactive artworks are not labeled as being the work of an artist but just attributed to the museum itself. A strange thing indeed.

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For example, I wonder if anything can tell me who made this animation?

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The building was meant to integrate learning with Melbourne’s industrial history thus Scienceworks was built next to the Pumping Station. Unfortunately at the time we went there, there were construction/renewal works going on at the North Drop Structure (built in the 1960s as part of Melbourne Water’s sewage system) which has resulted in what they tactfully phrased as an “increase in odour levels” in the area. Indeed there is an interesting odour in the area but nothing too exceedingly off-putting.

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In terms of visual tricks they used quite a few technologies such as transparent touch OLED monitors, LEAP motions, Kinects and other interactives.

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This post has to end here now as this is literally as much SCIENCE-MUSEUMING as I can humanly write about in one continuous sitting.


Mount Stromlo Visitor Centre
http://rsaa.anu.edu.au/observatories/mount-stromlo-observatory
Open 9am-4pm on weekdays, 7.30am – 5 pm weekends.
Free admission. Cafe has excellent view.

Questacon
https://www.questacon.edu.au/
Open Daily and Holidays: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm
King Edward Terrace, Canberra ACT 2600
Adult admission is a WHOPPING $23.

CSIRO Discovery Centre
https://www.csiro.au/en/Education/Community-engagement/Discovery-Centre
Open Monday to Friday from 9am – 4:30pm
Closed on weekends and public holidays, except by appointment
North-science Road, Acton ACT 2601, Australia
Free admission. Although the website says there’s a ticket charge, I just walked in and there was no “ticketing desk” really.

Powerhouse Museum
https://maas.museum/powerhouse-museum/
Open daily 10:00am – 5:00pm
500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007
Adult admission $15

Scienceworks
https://museumvictoria.com.au/scienceworks/
Opening Hours. Daily 10am–4.30pm
2 Booker St, Spotswood VIC 3015, Australia
Adult admission $14


Summary of optical illusions:

* Peppers Ghost
* Projection Mapping
* Rear Projections
* Virtual Reality Interactive
* Augmented Reality Interactive
* Parallax Barrier Grid
* Lenticular Prints
* Reflection Holograms

Video documentation here:

The Invisible Holography Section and a Holographic Reading List

I’ve been doing a considerable amount of reading and research on holography (and fine art holography) lately, so as I was passing through the National Library of Singapore the other day I decided to look in on what they had in the general lending section. Much to my surprise I saw that Holography had its own category in the dewey decimal system!

Oh sweet well let’s go to 774 then…

Alright here are all the books from 771…

And here are all the books from 775…

HOLD ON…

THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO BOOKS UNDER 774?


If you do search the NLB catalogue, you will find that they have got a few books on Holography at 774 – but these books are all reference books! So there are no books on holography for the masses. Oh no! So there is no chance that one might be blindly wandering through the shelves, hoping to randomly soak up ideas from library books and BLAM! A HOLOGRAPHY BOOK SECTION! But no! There isn’t any Holography Section, even though the word appears on the bookshelves. OH BUT HOW WILL WE DEVELOP (OR REVIVE?) THE HOLOGRAPHIC ARTS IN SINGAPORE THEN?

When you google for “Dewey Decimal 774” it says that 774 is no longer being used for Holography. However, if you google for the most updated version of the DDC 23 it says 774 is still Holography. Maybe the wikipedia page needs editing. (I’m not an expert on DDC to be honest)

Nevertheless there are actually a whole lot of very excellent books about holography out there, which I don’t feel have been represented here. So I’ve decided to write out Debbie’s recommended reading list if one wants to read more about holography:

A HOLOGRAPHIC READING LIST!

1. Johnston, Sean. Holograms: A Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

If you’ve ever asked the questions “why do we no longer see holograms everywhere? why did the medium fail commercially? and why does it persist as a science fiction staple?” then this book will answer all your burning questions! This book explores what caused the rise, demise, and apparitional persistence of the hologram in visual culture. Its publication was preceded by Johnston’s 2006 book, Holographic Visions: A History of New Science, which is also definitely worth a read.

2. Schröter, Jens. 3D: History, Theory and Aesthetics of the Transplane Image. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.

Beyond the term hologram, we can think of the 3D image as a transplane image, which Schroter’s book attempts to trace through history and theory. Schroter also edited another book “Das Holographische Wissen” edited with Stefan Rieger but alas I do not read German.

3. Falk, David S., Dieter R. Brill, and David G. Stork. “Holography.” Seeing the Light: Optics in Nature, Photography, Color, Vision and Holography. N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1986, 368-393.

There are tons of hardcore mathematical books explaining holography (interference pattern of coherent light is by now so well known to man and a staple in physics classrooms) but this remains one of the most classic textbook explaining the maths and optics behind much of photography and holography (Chapter 14). Practical yet poetic and accessible for readers even without maths or science backgrounds.

Other recommended readings:

(These are books which I’ve personally found useful in thinking about scientific approaches, technological innovations, and military technology’s influence in ways of producing images / transplane images / art)

1. Galison, Peter and Caroline A. Jones, eds. Picturing Science, Producing Art. New York: Routledge, 1998.

2. Virillo, Paul. The Vision Machine. London: British Film Institute, 1994.

3. Bishop, Ryan and John Phillips. Modernist Avant-Garde Aesthetics and Contemporary Military Technology: Technicities of Perception. Edinburgh University Press, 2010.


To be honest the above list is simply whatever I’ve enjoyed reading recently – so if you asked me to compile another holographic reading list in a few months time I expect the list will have expanded over time… so this….. IS TO BE UPDATED IN THE FUTURE!