Monthly Archives: April 2012

Letter from Kenya (seven)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘So he is your husband?’ I ask. She nods yes.

‘How many years have you been married?’ I carefully choose my words; her English is quite limited (please note that my Swahili still only consists of pleasantries and my Kikuyu only happens by accident), and if I have learned nothing else from teaching English and living abroad for so long, I have definitely learned how to grade my language and construct sentences so that communication happens and less ???s occur.

’10 years’, she responds.

*Anne is a slight woman, and, to be honest, when I met her the day prior I thought she was an older grandson in the family. I had failed to notice that she was wearing a long skirt below her billowing boy-sweater. Given the short hair, and the fact that in this small village at a very high altitude everyone wears winter caps, a skirt can often be the only way of telling the sex of children … and very slight women.

Ten years seemed like a lot to me. I’ve realized that Kenyans can be very deceiving with their age (I mentioned this in my first post from Kenya). She also told me that she is 28, her oldest of two children is 9, and that she is from a small town very far away so she never sees her family. Ten years still seems like a long time to me.

The milk is at a rolling boil, and she adds the tea and stirs.

‘Yes, 10 years,’ she repeats and laughs. She seems to be a generally happy person, and around me almost everything that I do or say deserves a laugh. Sometimes even her own response deserves a laugh.

She pulls the pot off the fire using only bits of cardboard as oven mitts to protect her not-so-delicate fingers. She sets the pot on the mud floor and places a new pot on the fire and fills it with fresh water that she had fetched from the well in the morning. The family is lucky to have the well on their homestead. I’ve seen many women and girls carrying large 10 gallon jugs (at least I think it is 10 gallons) of water using a strap that is placed around their forehead, thus carrying the jug on their backs. Despite what, in my Western eyes, may be considered poor conditions, the family seems to do quite well for themselves.

She grabs a teapot and strainer from the free-standing cupboard with mismatched doors and pours the chai, in a not-so-careful manner, from the pot through the strainer into the teapot. As she calls telling the others to come because the afternoon chai is ready, she tosses the dirty silverware and some small dishes from lunch into the soon-to-be dishwater warming on the fire.

*Name changed for privacy

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).
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Small Things -> Bigger

These are multi-focus microscope photographs I took recently to use as part of a digital reference collection, that is a series of photographs that can be referred to to check whether a future sample is the same ‘morpho species’ as the one in the photograph.

The camera takes up to 50 photos at different focal lengths and then stitches them all together
to create an image that is (almost) completely in focus.

This is advantageous when the subject is so small and the aperture is also small.

For a sense of scale the eye of the lower beetle is around 1mm across, note the mounting pin going through the upper beetle.

I especially like their golden hairs, reminds me of a fluffy dog, not something you think of when handling beetles.

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Ranting about the love of God

Damien Hirst’s retrospective opened at London’s Tate Modern on April 4th and I didn’t want to write about it. In fact I didn’t even want to acknowledge its existence. But having attended a range of exhibitions lately where the gallery spaces resemble more of an amusement park than places of culture and learning, I had to see the Hirst show and wonder for myself if his show represents the place  where public spaces are heading?

I don’t mean this in a grumpy, ‘everything must be serious all the time’ kind of way. It just seems that more and more galleries are relenting curatorial rigour to making galleries all play, no consideration in order to draw the crowds.

Reading about Christian Marclay, another artist on the White Cube rota, put these suspicions to light.  Marclay spoke with The New Yorker about his work The Clock and exhibiting it in public spaces. This seminal 2010 video work is a 24-hour montage of thousands of film and television clips all showing glimpses of time as captured on celluloid. The work was created to be shown in real time so as well as providing an ambitious montage of time-specificity, the work acts as fantastic, impractical clock. Exhibited to huge critical acclaim, Marclay found himself embroiled in an intense bidding war over the six copies available of the work.

For Marclay, he felt that the museum curators involved in the bidding, didn’t think through the subtleties of showing his video. With the lengthy real time aspect and a carefully orchestrated score, The Clock requires specific viewing conditions of simultaneous comfort and concentration. Marclay said of the process, “Venerable museums are acting like greedy kids. There’s a lack of scholarship. It’s all about how many people they can get through the doors.… They just want a hit.”

Well if a gallery wants a crowd drawing hit, with easy to digest surface scholarship, retrospectives are an easy option, and Damien Hirst is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The debates surrounding his work have never centred on any notions of aesthetics (he’s a repackager), method (assistants make everything) or what lasting importance his work will have. Rather, to talk of Hirst is talk about publicity, money, of how that skull sold for £50 million.

But unfortunately, it’s a no-brainer that galleries are susceptible to market forces. Ben Eltham wrote an excellent piece recently on  how museum directors being susceptible to market forces and in a similar vein, Robert Storr talks about the reality that contemporary museums are increasingly business-oriented in their approach to every aspect of operation, often at the expense of artistic vision.

But if these are the facts, why get so caught up in the fact that one of the world’s most renowned artists is enjoying a retrospective? At the time of writing, two other major career artists are enjoying sold out London shows (David Hockney and Lucien Freud) so why not feel so vitriolic against them?

The difference is that Damien Hirst represents the way the art world has gone and holding a retrospective for an artist who is known more for his publicity skills and commercial acumen than his art represents a huge leap from his forebears. In The Mona Lisa Curse (2008), Robert Hughes argues the traditional values that judge art by its quality have been overridden by marketing and hype, and that in the present consumer culture, the only meaning left for art is a financial one. Hirst defines this rule and of the artist, Hughes says “The idea that there is some special magic attached to Hirst’s work that shoves it into the multimillion pound realm is ludicrous. [The price] has to do with promotion and publicity and not with the quality of the works themselves.”

Showing an artist such as Hirst is a very public confirmation that galleries are curating shows that will guarantee crowds, but not necessarily critical acclaim. Perhaps I am degenerating into an irrelevant rant. In this era of smart phones and sensationalist TV, most people don’t want ‘high culture’ rammed down their throats and being sensationalist is perhaps the only way to get people to pay attention.

But ranting is important. Galleries at the end of the day were founded on vision and art has always existed to reflect and question our condition. Damien Hirst might regurgitate aspects of our world, but he doesn’t really manipulate them and he certainly doesn’t make make much of a comment beyond the monetary factor. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle says at the end of the day, his retrospective is repetitive. “My problem with Hirst is not the money (Picasso made lots, and nobody cares), nor the vulgarity he has opted for, but his capitulation as an artist. He could have been so much better. It is an enormous disappointment.”

If you need any more convincing, check out Hennesy Youngman’s thoughtz on Damien Hirst. He’s hilarious and he’s spot on.

 

Rozzy Middleton is on occasional arts and music blogger. 

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Letter from Kenya (six)

It seems that every school child knows how to say “How are you?” It is a chant they do. A mzungu (white person, literally translated to “wanderer”) is on the street and all the school children immediately begin the chant “ouryou?” and repeat.

Yes, endearing at first, and perhaps I even responded, fine and you? when I first arrived. But now, I dismiss them, knowing that it is a rote response. But there are those children that actually engage – or attempt to – in conversation; the ones that smile coily, that are actually curious and looking for some type of interaction. I smile back at them, wave, sometimes shake their hands.

Often the school children follow you, especially in less populated areas. Are they protecting you? Probably just interested in the wanderers. Makes me wonder how I must appear to them. The westerner I am, “diversity” is something that I don’t really notice until it isn’t there. Furthermore, I was always taught “not to stare” or to ignore those that were significantly “different”. Here they stare, call out to you (yes, “OBAMA” has even been shouted to me, though I don’t think it was because they suspected that I was American).

The most charming account of this that I can share was on the bus. As I was sitting in the aisle near the middle of the bus, I made a point to check out all of my fellow passengers going by. Almost immediately after a mother with a baby wrapped in a kanga and another daughter by hand passed by, I felt a tug at the back of my head. I looked behind me, but all I saw were backs. The ride was uneventful, but at Kenyatta

Hospital (near the end of my trip and a very busy stop), I again watched the other passengers as they left. The mother passed by and at the same time I felt a tug. Promptly I turned to see the culprit: the oldest of the woman’s two daughters, no more than 7 or 8. I smiled at her. She bashfully looked away, and scrambled to catch up with her mother and younger sister.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

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The Social Life

Once upon a time I made my living by writing copy for advertising.  Until I fled from it, screaming. I was in my early twenties then, and worked for an international agency whose Australasian offices were on the frontier of an empire of crap. We were like the French foreign legion of crap. I was just a tiny cog in a vast crap-making machine.  It was a terrible time in my life. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was fourteen, and this job scared me away from ever writing for money. However, I’m an okay writer when I can make myself interested in the work, and there’s a pleasure in doing anything you’re good at that can make up for the silliness of what you’re doing. Especially if you’re being paid. So I’ve recently returned to it in a very small way. But this time without the creative lectures from professional motivators, or the lunchtime corporate volleyball, or the art directors who shoot paint balls at me. (Because being shot in the back is obviously going to make me into more of a team player.) * Once upon a more recent time I purchased a number of one-dollar ski-lift passes from a website called “Living Social”. I wasn’t meant to purchase these bargain-basement lift passes. The website is for Australians, and I’m a New Zealander living only a few hours from Mount Ruapehu, whose snowy flanks they were auctioning off for peanuts. But no-one seemed to care. In the end I gave every lift pass away and never even visited the mountain. But because of that purchase Living Social now sends me a daily email, each email resplendant with a brand new offer, each offer a newer and shinier solution for living. For living some sort of life anyway. I can’t even imagine the socialite whose social life is rapacious enough to need to take full advantage of the bizaare whirlwind of crap that they clog my inbox with : Home Surveillence System; Lip Plumper; Ultrasonic Slimming; Ezy Pest Control; Four Super-Dry Hair Towels; Sydney Harbour Jetboat Ride! It goes on and on and on and I get filled with a kind of wonder at how the world can fit so many useless things. * I also wonder about the poor shlub or shlubbette sitting in some cubicle in some open-plan office somewhere in the light-industrial part of some Australian city writing all this inbox-clogging crap. Because I’ve been that schlub, and amongst the offers that Living Social sends there’s the odd inspired attempt to make pointless things sound wonderful. And then there are these sort of desperate gems that someone in the gray depths of commercial despair must have slipped past their editor:   “So how do you differentiate yourself from the masses? You have two choices. You can program your ringtone to sound like a screaming child, which is unlikely to make you friends, or you can create a customised, one-of-a-kind…” You used to be an upright citizen, but long days stooped over the office desk have left you bent out of shape. Straighten up with this deal from…” The journey of a thousand miles is said to begin with a single step. But when you’re chained to your office cubicle you probably can’t remember the last time you stepped out anywhere…”   I suspect that there’s a person writing this stuff who is on the point of snapping. The avalanche of nothing that they’re required to be incisive and inspirational about has become too much, and a brutal cynicism has begun to develop. * I know how this works. A close friend of mine completed his masters in English recently (the exact same qualification that I have) and discovered (just as I did) that he’d been rendered unemployable for anything but teaching and commercial writing. So after years of studying Nabokov and Joyce, he’s now gainfully employed as consumer reports editor for a mystery shopping company. He drinks a lot, his laugh has developed a sick edge, and I’ve heard him describe what he does as “Taking badly spelt bullshit and correcting the spelling”. His cynicism is so robust and fierce that sometimes I want to bathe in it. Or drink it neat. So it’s not because I’m hungry for bargains that I’ve kept reading the emails from Living Social. It’s for the little whipcrack ways that some of their bargains are, in their copy, expressing a sort of deep bipolar outrage at their own pointlessness. I love this. I love a world where tiny pieces of commercial crap fight against their own brief in the sort of way that conscripted soldiers in the Spanish civil war used to fire over the heads of their opponents. The people who design crap and market crap are, for the most part, aware that it’s crap. You don’t often get a job selling things with words or images unless you can at least pretend to be clever, and if you’re half-way clever you’ll know that what you’re doing is crap. It is, by definition, an empty life. * So the time I find that I go deepest into Living Social is after a day of commercial writing. My copy deadlines tend to be at five, so by five-fifteen everyone in the office is sitting round looking at the mistakes we’ve all made and wondering what we can do about them overnight. By five-thirty someone from our studio has wandered along the street to buy beer (usually crap beer, but that fits with our theme) and then we sit around drinking and checking our emails for the final time and wondering how all the creativity we had at fourteen has faded into this gutless commercial whimsy. I tend to drink one beer while just not thinking of anything, as Hemingway would say. By my second beer I’ll be clearing out my spam folder, doing the electronic equivalent of unblocking the shower drain. And there amidst all the other bits of gunk I’d rather not see are those Living Social offers. And now each offer I’ve received begins to seem more rich, more full, more interesting, and more bespeaking of the better life that I should be living. I quickly forget I’m meant to be hunting for guerilla copy hidden within the commercial whole and just begin to bask in all these luxury bargains. This state reaches it’s glassiest around the third beer, when weird products that belong in a life I can’t even imagine achieve their own kind of poetry. It’s somewhere after this I can lose myself completely within the hypnotic nothing of the Social Life. My senses float unachored in pale regions of commercial stupor. My (implied) partner and I are infiltrating the Seven Course Japanese Banquet disguised by Two Full Body Shaper Suits and the Complete Hair Makeover Package. We board the Scenic Helicopter Flight incognito. I slip into the cockpit and incapacitate the pilot with the One Day Introduction to Massage Course while my (implied) partner dominates the other passengers using her One-Hour Hypnosis or NLP Session training. We bring the helicopter down on the Island Getaway! and I use Three Sessions of Hydroxi Body Shaping on the CEO until he breaks and gives me the secrets of the Online Writing Course, which I store safely on the Magnet Heart-Shaped Crystal 2GB USB Flash Drive. Hah! I laugh, slipping it into my (implied) cleavage. They’ll never suspect that. The CEO’s bodyguard is already incapacitated thanks to the 90-minute Wine-Tasting Session For Six, so we wreck the helicopter completely with the Revlon Romantic Makeup Pack, unfold our Three Folding Water Bottles, and then my (implied) partner and I escape the island on the 90-minute Paddleboarding Course For Two, dissappearing into the untraceable chaos of the Two-Hour Floristry Course and Flower Market Tour. * Whilst writing this I’ve been reclining in the Gold Coast Jaccuzzi Special wearing my Crystal Birthstone with Swaroski Elements and considering seeing Icehouse LIVE in the Barrossa Valley because their Great Southern Land was actually my favorite song when I was fourteen and foolish enough to want to write for a living.   Marcus McShane.   http://www.livingsocial.com/cities/848-sydney-inner-west http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mkidP2OUCk

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