Some paintings

June 13, 2005 at 11:24 pm | In yulelogStories | 10 Comments

The other day, we took ourselves out for a treat at Zambri’s to celebrate some finished exams. After a while, I noticed the display of paintings on the walls, all by Diana Dean, a local (Saltspring Island) painter. As someone who has received enough innoculation (via theory) against liking representational paintings, I usually give “realistic” pictures short shrift, but Dean’s work struck me as instantly compelling. I’m still not sure if I’m just losing my grip, or if they really are not just exceptionally different, but also exceptionally good. I’m putting three of her paintings on the blog (hope she doesn’t mind); to see more of her work, visit her website and click on the thumbnails.

First, there’s Still Life with Eggplant, which plays with spatial relations in a mind-bending way:

And there’s Lake Picnic, from Dean’s “recent” list.

This one comes close to driving me away with its overt references to the Holy Family (and St. John the Baptist hovering in the background), which make it feel too “sweet” for my taste. On the other hand, I might feel differently if faced with the real painting, for the paintings don’t come across as well in reproduction on the computer screen. It also seems to me that Zambri’s had work on the walls which I can’t find on Dean’s website, so it might be the case that I saw really recent work which just isn’t up yet. The paintings I saw last week rivetted me with their geometry and intriguing handling of pictorial space, which gave all the work a plasticity and presence I usually associate with architecture or sculpture. That heft is palpable in the still life (above), which reworks early Cézanne beautifully, all while winking and nodding at art history as it plays with the “signifiers.” [Hint: note the way the chair-back on the left is cut off to echo the picture frame; the frame (within a frame) of the picture seen at the very top of the painting, which reinforces the rectangular shape of Still Life‘s frame; the table legs mirroring the chair leg, in turn reiterating the verticals of the painting’s frame; and then the diagonals flattened into that pictorial space, diagonals emphasised via the landscape painting-within-the-painting on the right and the diagonals of table-cloth stripes, floor, and rug.] In Lake Picnic (also above), I’m impressed by Dean’s ability to take a time-worn iconography and translate it into a local setting: that’s clearly recognisable BC coastal scenery, right down to the orange trunks of Arbutus menziesii (or Madrona) trees.

Here’s one more (a detail, according to the website), called The Serving Woman, which conveys the architectural plasticity that grabbed my attention at the restaurant:

The woman has the solidity of an ancient column, her arms and her uniform provides the doric fluting, her cap the simple doric capital. Yet, very uncolumn-like, she leans toward the table, …to blow out the candle?, to get close to the sword-like leaves of the plant set in an urn? Behind that deracinated plant we see a landscape — “real” or “painted”? Everything is set into a strict geometry, as though trying to teach us to see. Quite wonderful, in a “primitive” sort of way — and I mean “primitive” in the way the early Italian Renaissance painters, conquering geometric perspective, were. Masaccio comes to mind, here and here. Like the Italians, who were not afraid of size, some of Dean’s best work is ambitiously huge, definitely not meant to hang decoratively over the sofa, but meant instead to fill a wall and hold the viewer’s attention. I like that.

Talking to computers

June 12, 2005 at 11:28 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

On Thursday I installed Skype on my iBook and by Friday morning I was talking to my friend Betsy Burke in Florence, Italy, all via computer, all for free. The technology works well. Sort of. The problem lies in the interfaces: I simply shouted at my iBook, in the general direction of where I think the microphone is located, and cranked the built-in speakers up high enough so that I could hear. Ideally, I should of course have a headset with mike & earpiece, right? Except that Apple requires USB connectors, and to get a headset with those, I’d have to pay about CDN $80, according to the folks at CompuSmart. London Drugs doesn’t even bother getting them in, because they’re too pricey to sell.

This is something that drives me buggy about technology. It doesn’t work unproblematically across platforms, and it comes with built-in tariffs and barriers and drawbridges and moats. It’s full of crocodiles.

It’s all about what happens at the edges, the fringes, the places where two or three different sectors (or applications) meet — to agree or disagree.

It made me think of urban planning, …

…which in turn made me think of Shelley‘s recent entry on Neighbourhood, which had these great photos of a racoon working hard to get its daily meal, which made me think of Betsy’s book, Hardly Working (which tackles environmental issues — yup, chick-lit crusaders for the environment, right on!), …

…which also made me think of a really brilliant cartoon Shelley‘s entry included. It was drawn by Pippa, blogger AKMA‘s very talented daughter, and it’s just terrific. (Hope Pippa doesn’t object to my reproducing it here….):

But now I’ll turn my reading briefly (for I’m tired and need to sleep, too) to Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser (in German: Der Untergeher). Interesting to see, on the Amazon “look inside” feature, that the English translation has paragraphs — sort of like neighbourhoods, platforms, points where you can rest your brain before jumping on to the next idea. The German original has no page breaks, no paragraph breaks, no short sentences. It’s a bit like being shouted at, quietly. From the inside out.

Naked political protest on bicycle in Victoria, BC (a multitude of Godivas)

June 11, 2005 at 8:08 pm | In yulelogStories | 8 Comments

Ok, I know my readership is miniscule (I’m trying to teach my dog Jigger to read, just to boost the numbers…), but is there anyone in Victoria (or beyond) who can tell me details about what I saw this afternoon?

I was in Munro’s, skimming through Allan Levine‘s book, The Devil in Babylon, when I heard a series of whoops and yelps resonate up Government Street (a sort of combination one-way traffic-and-pedestrian-zone-for-tourists that runs, significantly, from the Legislature, past the Empress Hotel, through the downtown core). At first I ignored it, expecting that it was tourists (or locals) getting drunk early (it was around 3 or 3:30 pm). But when I glanced out the door of Munro’s, I saw a horde of bicyclists — perhaps 3 dozen, perhaps 50 — riding 3 deep past the store, in a line that stretched for at least one block. And they were almost all completely naked (some wore underpants or thongs). It was quite amazing! At first I thought they were part of a queer/ gay pride baseball game I read about recently, but then I thought, “naw, they’d have better clothes!” There were also too many women riders — I mean, I could see they had real breasts, not falsies, and I couldn’t imagine such a congregation of transgendered folk out on bikes. They looked like athletes. So I scooted out the door to get a better sense of what was going on, and barely had time to notice that some of the bikes had trailers with political slogans. Something about “political justice,” and so on.

Hey! Riders with a purpose! My kind of purpose!

The only problem was (is) that I have absolutely no idea who they were, what they were protesting, or how they came up with that specific strategy. People on the street were laughing, clapping, agape, but it was over so fast!

If anyone has any news about this, please leave a comment. So far there’s nothing on the local (web)news….

Update: Many thanks to Doug for solving the mystery (or: clueing in my clueless self): the event in question was World Naked Bike Ride, described thus:

On June 11th, 2005 over 50 cities across the world will experience the naked joy of the worlds largest naked protest against oil dependency and car culture in the history of humanity. It is time to stop indecent exposure to automobile emissions and to celebrate the power and individuality of our bodies! Naked Bicycle People Power!

The specifically Canadian angle (with the Victoria bits — uh, bad pun? — that I saw) is described in more detail here. I just want to say I support the aims of WNBR completely — last weekend the family & I trekked to hear Guy Dauncey speak about peak oil and alternatives available to us, and I’ll blog about that later soon. It’s time.

Watch this!, or: adverporn

June 10, 2005 at 6:57 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

My husband really has this …um, thing, for wristwatches. He is a connoisseur of high-end collectable mechanical watches, and he occasionally — well, ok: often! — goes slumming on websites that advertise watches. During dinner preparations, he sent me this:

I don’t know about anyone else, but this kind of stuff ranks right up there with fetish-porn. So what’s the connection to real porn? Well, how do you spell m-o-n-e-y?

Wristwatches sell for ridiculously high amounts — except, of course, these prices aren’t ridiculous since some people can pay them. But you have to wonder what kind of world we’re living in when mass-market publications (like Harper’s Bizarre, for example) tout wristwatches in their articles (not to mention in their ads), which retail for around US$40K (these are articles aimed at your fashion-conscious working girl who wants to get ahead). Bizarre is a mass market platform — there are of course wristwatches ten times the price, and they get sold….

Wow, baby: what kind of promises on returns did they make you?

Schadenfreude? Alas, no. Anthropology.

June 3, 2005 at 5:52 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Schadenfreude? Alas, no. Anthropology.

At the beginning of the year, my neighbourhood association held its annual general meeting, during which a police officer gleefully announced that Victoria was introducing the Bait Car program. We get a fair amount of what I call “stupid crime”: stolen or vandalised cars, break-ins based on opportunity (someone leaves their doors open while they go upstairs to take a shower, etc.), etc. Bait Cars are specially equipped cars which have been in use on the Lower Mainland (Vancouver area) for some time, and now they’re on Vancouver Island (Victoria), too. These cars are equipped with concealed video and audio recording devices, they are wired to be controlled remotely (including shutting off the engine, and, I believe, locking the doors), and they transmit a location signal to police. They’re literally mousetraps for dumb car thieves. Thieves know they exist, but the cops keep switching the “look” and the thieves keep falling into the traps. If you want to see how they work, click on BaitCars.com and check out the videos — actual recordings of thieves, typically joyriding, before they finally realise, “oh-oh, this is a bait car!” One of the funniest is probably So Much for Going Home, because the dialogue is hilariously dumb — along the lines of “possession is nine tenths of the law.” Seriously, though, the key thing these videos demonstrate is how irredeemably stupid these guys are — and, yes, they’re all guys, and they’re all white, too. To see the thief in Oh No! is to despair — this guy is as thick as a brick, except he can swear a blue streak. He spent 39 days in jail for stealing the car. The Prayer is another case of showing a perpetrator who should be roundly punished just for being terminally stupid. I mean, I couldn’t even feel any Schadenfreude while watching: the thieves are so sadly deficient, it’s impossible to feel gleefully superior to them or to delight in their downfall. And so the videos become an exercise in anthropology, I guess.

Human beings are certainly interesting, if unintelligent. I wonder what the plants make of us? There must be potted palms smarter than these guys…

note: the videos only seem to work on Windows, not on Apple. 🙁

If Johnny can’t do the math, can you?

June 2, 2005 at 12:24 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

File this one under my favourite rant heading (“Work does not make you free”): interesting article, Too much homework can be counterproductive, which reports on a study by Penn State researchers, David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre, who published a book, National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. The claim I found most intriguing is that economic disparity in households actually leads to an exacerbation of educational disadvantage when homework is piled on as an educational panacea. It seems that given more homework, poorer kids or kids from more stressed homes will fall behind educationally, vs. “catching up” with economically better-off peers. I bet this will include kids from stressed out two-income households, too. These are increasingly strung out homes slipping into less secure middle-class status. As John Ralston Saul noted in this article (which I cited a couple of days ago),

Why did an unprecedented increase in money supply translate into a dearth of money for public services? And why did this growth in new moneys enrich mainly those who already had money? Why did it lead to a growth in the rich-versus-poor dichotomy and a squeezing of the middle class? Why did many privatisations of public utilities neither improve services nor lower costs for consumers but instead guarantee revenues to the new owners while leading to a collapse in infrastructure investment?

People noticed that the financial value of the great breakthroughs in female employment had somehow been inflated away. Abruptly, a middle class family required two incomes. [emphasis added] They noticed that in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times. Elsewhere the numbers were similar. [More…]

Some of the pushback to LeTendre & Baker’s interpretation of the data is directed at their contention that the US has more homework assigned than other high-test-score result countries like Japan. (See the Amazon link to the book, and the one comment so far to the article.) While there might be room for reviewing the data in terms of comparing the US to, say, Japan, I find it interesting that no one is commenting on Baker & LeTendre’s assertion that test results basically tell us something about class structure within a given society. That seems to be something not many Americans want to hear about — that class matters, or that, egads, it exists. Why? Because that p.o.v. is inimical to the American Dream, to an unquestioning belief in Bootstrap Philosophy? …Meanwhile, US CEO salaries have “gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times.” Hmm, makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Sculpture working

June 1, 2005 at 11:54 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

This past weekend I came upon Sculpture Magazine, new to me. Inside the May issue is an interview with Cai Guo-Qiang, whose work strikes me as fantastically disturbing, attractive, thoughtful, and magical.

No, it’s not all flying tigers shot through with arrows, like this:

… His other work, describing …consumption?, interchange? — it’s as disturbing.

Here’s a photo from Dream

…which features blood-ghost appliances and cars and missiles and all the junk we make and sell.

And here’s one from Art Shopping Network,

which makes you wonder what’s being netshopped.

There’s an exhibition of his work at MassMoCA (till October 2005). If I still lived in Boston, a day trip to North Adams would be on my agenda for sure…

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