Portraying design on screen makes dancing about architecture look easy. This is the challenge faced by Netflix’s latest series: Abstract: The Art of Design. “The creative process happens largely in someone’s mind and it’s hard to get a camera in there,” says creator Scott Dadich.
To its credit, the eight-part documentary – which launched earlier this year and is available in 190 countries around the world – finds a way to step into the minds of eight designers, including Nike Air Jordan creator Tinker Hatfield and photographer Platon. The show also features Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’s “pragmatic utopian” design of a clean-power plant topped with a ski slope, and Fiat Chrysler’s global head of design Ralph Gilles’ self-driving electric van. “We wanted a global imprint to address different scales of design, from the intimate – such as your living room or a pair of sneakers – to the grand, such as skyscrapers,” says Dadich. “We wanted to touch all aspects.”
The series was created after former Wired creative director and editor in chief Dadich organised a design conference at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch. Directed by Best of Enemies and 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville, Abstract is produced by Radical Media, the company behind Keith Richards: Under The Influence.
Dadich was keen to make sure that Abstract didn’t become the “moving version of a coffee-table book” like many other “boring as hell” design documentaries that consist of “softly lit interviews, esoteric conversations and subtle tracking shots of wide landscapes beneath unobtrusive music”. To achieve this he needed to find engaging designers who were able to talk about their craft. “We wanted to show the joy of creativity, which can be messy. People take on big challenges and they don’t always work out so we were keen to instil some of that sense of accomplishment and risk into these stories.”
This season’s Netflix strands to watch:
The svod service (subscription video on demand, but you knew that) found success with Chef’s Table and Chef’s Table: France. Now it’s doubled down on dining with Alex Gibney-produced Cooked and Japanese gastronomy series Samurai Gourmet.
Netflix hopes to create its own Planet Earth and Blue Planet-style big-budget natural history series. It is already working on Our Planet, an eight-part series about the world’s wilderness from UK producer Silverback Films, which will debut in 2019.
Sylvester Stallone is producing Ultimate Beastmaster, a Total Wipeout-meets-Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course format that is simultaneously localised in Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.
A new show at the Fondation Cartier illuminates a perfect match: the car and the camera, almost contemporaries and almost equal symbols of 20th-century reality and mobility (and upward mobility). Autophoto is displayed mostly chronologically so we really do get a sense of the evolution of two forms that defined the era: the art of car design and the art of photography across reportage, advertising, production-line reality and the more artistic bent – what you might call “auto-eroticism”.
There is a lot of romance: leather-helmeted racing drivers hurling their Bugattis around in the 1920s and Langdon Clay’s almost pornographic, anthropomorphised Cadillacs lurking like off-duty strippers in neon-lit New York alleys. Better still are Arwed Messmer’s studies from the Stasi archive of how people used cars to escape East Germany in unusual ways. Then there’s Fernando Gutierrez’s series on the Argentinian military rule’s motor of choice, the Ford Falcon, alongside Jacqueline Hassink’s Car Girls, documenting the women draped on the bonnets of cars at motor shows. Beautiful, brutal, complicated; such things as dreams are made on, on four wheels. And the catalogue’s gorgeous as you’d expect.
Autophoto, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, runs until 24 September
Photo London hit the ground running in 2015 with blue-chip galleries toting the best of the usual suspects and an imaginative selection of whippersnappers and upstarts providing context.
This May there’s more of the same but even better thanks to the public programming of talks and events: lights will be shone on the work of Isaac Julien, Juergen Teller and William Klein. Mat Collishaw will premiere a virtual-reality work and the untouchable Taryn Simon will be talking ticket-holders through some of her practices. Somserset House’s nooks and crannies suggest discovery, of course, but it’s the quality of the shots that really bewitch.