“Urban Isolation:” a 6-Year-Old Skate Film for Today

This hauntingly quiet short film has been all over social media lately, often misleadingly described as “shot in LA during the stay at home order.”

It wasn’t. “Urban Isolation” was shot and edited in 2014 by Russel Houghten. The skateboarding filmmaker created it specifically for an 11-piece video project sponsored by RED and The Berrics. RED makes exceptional professional video cameras and The Berrics is a collaboration by professional skateboarders Steve Berra and Eric Koston dedicated to promoting the sport through web content and their indoor skatepark.

Six years ago, Houghten’s film earned a Vimeo Staff Pick and eventually became one of Vimeo’s ten best films of 2014. Yet its visuals of a lone skateboarder working highway, ramps, and urban architecture of daytime Los Angeles void of other people make it feel incredibly au courant. This is the same kind of eerie prescience found in Bill Gate’s 2015 TED talk on pandemics. But Houghten created his visuals through extensive post effects, not a government shutdown order. You can see a bit of his process in this behind the scenes video, also documented by RED.

I can’t explain why online trolls put such energy into knowingly misrepresenting things online. But in this case, at least it helped promote an interesting creative project. I hope you enjoy the piece.

Good News: Apollo 13 > COVID-19

Ron Howard’s 1995 movie Apollo 13 stands as a stirring reminder of the transcendent power of well-applied engineering. In one critical scene, Ed Harris playing NASA legend Gene Kranz learns of the imminent failure of the onboard CO2 filters. He eyes his engineers and admonishes them “Well I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a round peg into a square hole. Rapidly.”

In real life, a young Irishman named Colin Keogh is playing a similar role right now with the Open Source Ventilator project. The OSV is the latest initiative from The Rapid Foundation, a charitable organization Keogh co-founded at University College Dublin six years ago. The Rapid Foundation distributes 3D printing know-how to developing countries so people can apply low cost technology to solve problems.

In this case, the problem is daunting: the global ventilator shortage.

Low-cost robot designer Gui Calavanti launched the OSV on Facebook on March 11. Since then, more than 300 doctors, engineers, designers, nurses and venture capitalists around the world have contributed to the project. Major corporations like Accenture and Deloitte offered their R&D infrastructure for ideation and production, all in an effort to create a low-cost, rapid build solution using readily available materials and 3D printers.

And they’ve done it.

In one week, they’ve designed and built a working prototype they hope to get validated by Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) next week for use on Covid-19 patients. The 3D printing uses Polylactic Acid (PLA), a non-petroleum-based bioplastic derived from corn starch that can be manufactured anywhere.

Their timing is remarkable. And a godsend in the face of this pandemic.

The independent, U.S.-based Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates the pandemic will create demand for 960,000 ventilators. These machines augment patient respiration in severe cases of Covid-19 where lung inflammation can quickly become viral pneumonia. Ventilators literally make the difference between life and death, but they simply weren’t available. Soon, they can be.

Much like Dr. Jonas Salk declined to patent his polio vaccine in 1952, this open source project continues that laudable approach making their solution available to all.

To Mr. Keogh and all the participants applying science and innovation in the service of humanity, slainte.

Sister Corita Kent: Uncredited Pop Art Pioneer

Perhaps fittingly for International Women’s Day, during a byzantine web search rabbit hole last night, I stumbled upon an image of an extravagantly-wimpled Catholic nun pulling silkscreens.

And that’s how I found myself introduced to and awestruck by the work of Sister Corita Kent.

That photo accompanied a list titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers. The notion of creative ‘rules’ makes little sense, but these feel oddly insightful. Created during 1967 and infused with the ethos of those times, they encourage embracing uncertainty, emphasize the work ethic, and encourage a mindset of being fully awake to everything.

The list came from an art course Sister Corita taught at the College of the Immaculate Heart in Los Angeles, Ultimately, they became the mantra for her art department.

But Sister Corita’s influence extended far beyond the classroom. She credited a visit to an Andy Warhol exhibit in 1962 for sparking her style of colorful, hand lettered words and phrases that mixed the religious and the secular, scripture and tag lines, corporate logos with social issues like poverty and hunger. Prolific and unabashedly socially conscious, her body of 800 serigraphs and small watercolors include covers for The Saturday Evening Post and Newsweek. True to the tenor of the times, her work bridges the gap between commercial and fine art, appearing on bumper stickers, t-shirts, even a massive natural gas tank outside of Boston. One particularly famous piece — “So far the crocuses have always come up” — even appeared on national billboards for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Her work still grace nearly 40 museums worldwide.

Today, art historians and the occasional retrospective exhibit have begun reassessing Sister Corita’s role as an influential player who propelled the Pop Art Movement by embodying it. She didn’t just comment with her art; she participated with it. She engaged. And she brought others along with her.

But despite all this, her place in art history almost disappeared. Neither male nor the typical expectation of an artist, her impact fell to the wayside, occasionally dismissed as novelty. Her vocation as a Roman Catholic nun only made her reputation doubly hamstrung by male domination. After 32 years of work and service, her run-ins with church hierarchy eventually led her to leave the order in 1968.

Happily, her art and faith endured the transition from Los Angeles to Boston, where she continued her work and activism, churning out messages of optimism, hope, and peace.

Today, if she’s remembered, it’s for these “Love” postage stamps from 1985:

A close up of a piece of paper

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The United States Postal Service eventually sold over 700 million copies of them. It was a high point for Sister Corita’s recognition as an artist.

Unfortunately, she was taken by cancer not a year later. She was only 67.

As we start a new work week fresh off the inspiration of International Women’s Day, it’s worth bearing in mind at least three of Sister’s rules:

  • RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.
  • RULE #6: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
  • RULE #7: The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something.

Thank you, Sister. Happy Monday.

So here’s the thing…

Maybe you’re bumming at the end of a week when you realize that laws, rules, and the constitution no longer seem to matter. That dishonest, self-centered, Russian-influenced behavior barely registers a head nod on this Friday.

It’s easy to lose faith in our political system when you feel it no longer represents the American people (thanks Citizens United!).

But then, if you’re lucky, you come across something that’s purpose isn’t to further divide or scare us. You discover something whose intent is actually, exactly the opposite…

Thank you, random committed Jon Bon Jovi fan in the park. And thank you random fellow citizens. Humanity and humor is so much stronger than party politics.