This is a short and (for me) experimental piece, mixing fiction and non-fiction. I haven’t written much creatively in a long while, and this baby just wanted out, so here … Continue reading Variations on the Theme of Sadness
First, a disclaimer: I am not going to talk about hoarding as a clinical condition, since I’m not qualified to tackle medical issues. What I mean when I say “hoarding” is the opposite of “minimalist living”, which has become so popular of late and is often cited as a kind of mantra. Either implicitly or explicitly packaged as “an intentional search for happiness” by its proponents, “minimalist living” is essentially a guilt trip for hoarders. It tells us that if we don’t relinquish most of our material possessions in search for a kind of miraculous 21st-century urban Buddhism, then we we are entirely to blame for our unhappiness, failures, and general ills. “Minimalist living” is also often put forth as the cure for the capitalist evil of consumerism, suggesting that people who buy and collect things that they don’t strictly need are bowing down to the global market. A taste for acquiring bric-a-brac is condemned as unhealthy, materialistic, and leading to disorganisation and inefficiency. (more…)
I haven’t updated this blog in such a long time, but I guess life and work have a habit of getting in the way. Well, this weekend I’ve finally done … Continue reading Skin-deep Beauty
As you may well have imagined, I have been away and – alas! – out of the reach of a decent internet connection. Nevertheless, I got to meet some wonderful people and see some wonderful sights in Cardiff and Tintern, so I can’t say I’m sorry for that. Actually, if you ever find yourselves in Tintern and want to get lost in contemplation of Tintern Abbey, I heartily suggest you stop by The Anchor, the café-cum-restaurant-cum-bar virtually right across the street from the abbey. Not only is the view from their rooms absolutely stunning, and their hot chocolate delicious, but the staff are cheerful, lovely and kind! So kind, that only this afternoon, they let the mister and I stay on looong after the café’s closing time, to have our hot beverages of choice and enjoy the view. (It’s a rather long story, and it attests to how airheaded the mister and I really are, so I don’t really want to tell it. 😛 But trust me, the staff at The Anchor were more than just nice to us. 🙂 )
For day nine, we were challenged to “write a poem inspired by noir”, so I wrote one based on – if not noir, then certainly the pitch-dark, winding, single carriageway roads cutting through forests that (eventually) led to Cardiff.
Fish from the Dark
I caught you, swimming in the dark,
Disoriented by the slimy music
Swishing its razor-blade tail cannily,
Ambling in your general direction.
I saved you, blind little fish
Whom no one taught to be afraid.
In my arms, you writhed helplessly,
Gasping for the measured breath
I’d interrupted. I took you home
And carefully, very gently
Wrapped you in crisp sheets, wriggling
Their vanilla and rose scents
At your lungs. You tossed for
A while, but the cool reassured you.
You’ll never learn fear now,
My blind little fish from the dark.
The prompt for day 10 suggested an “un-love poem”, something I’m not sure I’ve ever tried before. The example they gave was by Margaret Atwood, and I thought it was so brilliant, I definitely need to re-post it here:
You Fit Into Me
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
Ingenious, right? Now here’s my feeble attempt at this thing:
And the Red Looked Pretty
Down the aisle.
Down they go,
Down they go,
Of a dainty
And finally, today’s (actually, yesterday’s, by now) prompt:
Today I challenge you to write a tanka. This, like the “American” cinquain, is a poem based on syllables, with the pattern being 5-7-5-7-7. They work best when those final two 7-syllable lines contain a sort of turn or surprise that the first three lines might not wholly anticipate.
Here it goes:
Seagulls kept laughing
We were only passing through
To the waves stopping mid-air
Our joy rewriting the world.
Ah, here it comes then, finally, a proper blog post. Many of you will probably recognise that title quotation as lifted whole out of one of the most famous books in the world, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s when Alice, frustrated and confused by so many (rather brusque) changes in height, and puzzled by the anthropomorphic White Rabbit who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her in his haste , begins to doubt her own identity. And that’s one of the things that have always stuck with me – the mystery of this little girl’s identity: who is she, actually, and what makes her who she is, and, more importantly, why is that important at all? And since these are all questions which I should be addressing, like, right now, in a thesis chapter that seems to be infinitely writing itself in my mind (though sadly not on paper), I have, of course, decided to procrastinate by way of a timely blog post.
As I just said, the – often – inscrutable Alice and her ‘muchness’ have obsessed me since time immemorial. No, actually, only since the age of 7, when I stumbled upon a gorgeously illustrated Romanian edition of Alice in Wonderland at the house of a relative. Naturally, I first fell in love with the attractive cover and the beautiful illustrations I then discovered within. (Love for the text itself soon followed cue, but that’s another story.) In fact, I loved the book so much, that the two of us became inseparable and the relative in question – in whose library I found the book – eventually let me have it as a present. (All of this much to my mother’s horror, who found Alice ‘utterly absurd’ and couldn’t understand my sudden fixation.) Well, I have no idea where that particular book ended up (I’m sure it’s still back home,
somewhere), but I could never forget the spell its soft-coloured illustrations cast on me. For a long time I thought they were drawn either by a Romanian or a Russian illustrator (seeing how old that edition was, I found it rather probable that it might have been illustrated by an artist from the Soviet Bloc). However, just today, as I was perusing this Flavorwire article on the evolution of Alice in Wonderland cover designs over time, I found that actually, the beautiful illustrations I knew and loved were all drawn by Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964), who made them for a 1910 British edition of the book. (You can admire them all, in all their cute/uncanny glory, here.) This late realisation made me look up some actual Romanian illustrations for the Alice book from back in the day; I was really curious to see how these compared to Western representations of Alice. I managed to dig out two sets, one from a 1976 edition illustrated by Angi Petrescu-Tipărescu, and the other from a 1987 edition illustrated by Vasile Olac. In fact, I even own a copy of the former, and I previously photographed and posted the illustrations on this very blog (that post is long since gone, because the website that used to host the images has ‘left the web’). So here they are; I’m sharing them all with you. I hope that one day, someone will build a great online archive of all the Alice illustrations ever made all over the world. (The Romanian ones that I promised are under the cut. Caution for everyone with a slow connection: this will be VERY image-heavy!)
This will be more of a memento than a regular blog post, I suppose. Last week I got a chance to see the art collection at the Nottingham Castle Museum. It was only a brief visit, yet I made a point of jotting down the titles of all the paintings that caught my fancy for one reason or another. It was more of an instinctive decision than anything. I’d just love to find out more about them. So I’ll jot down what I do know, and also what exactly caught my eye in each painting. I have no idea how this endeavour is supposed to help me in the future. But I always trust my instincts – they haven’t failed me yet. 🙂 Needless to say, please do lend me your expertise if you have more information about these lovely pieces. (Note: most images, unless otherwise stated, were shamelessly stolen from BBC – Your Paintings, which is a nifty little tool in itself.)
The Death of Amy Robsart (1877) by William Frederick Yeames (1835-1918). Yeames himself seems to have been quite a colourful character, born in Russia, educated in Saxony, England and Tuscany. The painting was hung, large as life, on a corridor leading from the main art gallery to the ground floor exhibitions. It attests, I believe, to a mildly (at least?) morbid curiosity on the painter’s part, who was, if we are to believe Wikipedia, “fascinated by the events surrounding the death of Amy Robsart”, sixteenth-century gentlewoman who died under circumstances rendered suspicious by her husband’s unorthodox attachment to Queen Elizabeth I.
Deadly Detached (1987) by Graham Crowley (born 1950). Also hanging large as life on the same corridor as the previous picture. The label read: “Crowley paints the suburb as a nightmare where houses crowd, streets are maze-like and there is a lack of space and order”. I am greatly attracted to conceptual imagery of the suburbs and ghettos. Born and raised in what I think of as a “ghetto”, I have that love-hate kind of relationship with architecturally crowded, ugly yet compelling, generally unsafe sort of places. The painting reminds me of “home”, but also of China Miéville’s novels, a bit. This other painting by Crowley, The Poetic of Space, reminds me of the same.
The Soldier’s Grave (1813) by Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841). “A church interior, with mourners. In the centre of the picture is a large group of figures standing around a coffin covered with a dark cloth”, quoth the BBC website. The painting is so small (19.7 x 16.5 cm), I had to squint, but still couldn’t make out much of what was happening. And yet, the dark colour palette, the barren, Romanesque church interior attracted me very much. I was compelled, I suppose, by how the imposing yet all the same claustrophobic environment reigned over the picture, which made the human figures seem rightly ghostly and amorphous.
Virgin and Child with St Joseph (1500s) by a follower of Joos van Cleve (ca. 1464-ca.1540). I’m not precisely sure about what attracted me to this painting. It may have been the bland desexualisation of normally sexualised signifiers, such as the naked breast. Or better yet, the figure of St Joseph, looming in the background: it is known that Joseph was older than Mary, and here it seems (to my perverted mind, at least) that the viewer looks upon a libidinous Joseph who, instead of gazing on Child Jesus with tenderness and awe, is actually enjoying the sight of the forbidden fruit of Mary’s uncovered breast. At the same time, Mary looks almost apprehensive, almost painfully aware that she is on display, yet unable to do anything about it. (Just saying.)
Suscipe Me Domine (Receive Me, Oh Lord) (1895) by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1865-1914). By the looks of it, a painting showing a Catholic novice taking her vows to become a nun. The huge canvas (154.9 x 213.4 cm) were hung high in the gallery, and because of the protection screen the view was bad from every angle. I could hardly make out the figures in the lower left corner (the novice’s mother in black? her father right next to her, perhaps bemoaning his daughter’s decision?). It seemed to me an odd painting, though I can’t put my finger on the jarring details. I stood there looking at it for a long time (until one of the gallery stewards saw fit to introduce himself to me and give me a guided tour; he couldn’t tell me anything about this particular painting, though).
Magdalen Aston, Lady Burdett (1669) by John Michael Wright (1617-1694). Once more, I don’t know. I just thought her beautiful, that’s all. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any… For the history buffs out there, The Peerage makes her out to be
the daughter of Sir Thomas Aston, 1st Bt. and Anne Willoughby. She married Sir Robert Burdett, 3rd Bt., son of Sir Francis Burdett, 2nd Bt. and Elizabeth Walter.
So much for seventeenth-century Who’s Who…
A Child of Paul Sandby by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). Is this child dead or alive? Is she dreaming dreams of innocence, or are those angels descended from Heaven to claim her soul? As a side note, Paul Sandby was a successful landscape painter. The gallery also held a few more interesting paintings by Beechey, all of them featuring children. For instance: The Children of Paul Sandby and Portrait of a Young Girl. I found them all alluring and a bit… otherworldly.
The Origin of the Combing Machine by Alfred Elmore (1815-1881). With this one it’s simple enough: it just offered me a good lead for my research. 🙂 More about the combing machine here. I know of two more variants of this painting, one currently exhibited at Tate, an early study for Invention of the Combing Machine (ca. 1862), and The Invention of the Combing Machine (1862), exhibited at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery.
Susannah and the Elders, attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1651/3). I wonder whether this was indeed done by her or not. She used to haunt my fancy with her almost mythical “prey turned predator” presence. Her famous Susannah and the Elders (which, I should hope, is indeed hers) seems so different, in so many ways, to the one exhibited in Nottingham. The composition, however, is very similar. I would be really curious to find out how and when this particular painting made its way into the Nottingham collection…
Love’s Oracle (ca. 1900) by Albert Ritzberger (1853-1915). I suppose the lighthearted atmosphere, the girlish dabbling with tarots and the soft reddish, intimate light triggered my nostalgia. It made me feel how good period movies make me feel: far away, comfortably numb and warm inside. I am mildly intrigued by the fact that the only face hidden from the viewer is that of the tarot reader herself. She is only the only one décolleté, which means that she is fashionable? well off? coquettish?
Marigolds or The Bower Maiden or Fleur-de-Marie (1874) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882). My love for the Pre-Raphaelites and D.G. Rossetti is a secret to no one and stems from too many reasons to be listed here. As to this painting, according to the Rossetti Archive:
In a letter to his mother (February 23, 1874) DGR identified the model as “Little Annie”, a young lady later described by Theodore Watts-Dunton as a house assistant at Kelmscott.
The Mummers (1951) by Richard Eurich (1903-1992). This tiny painting (21 x 15.9 cm) caught my eye instantly. I took a long time to examine the exquisite miniature characters and try to make out the relationships between them. I love them all, each and every tiny figure (bust most of all, the minuscule black cat). I’ve looked at some more of his paintings, and some appeal to me and some don’t. But none other that I’ve seen display quite the same fairy-tale or cartoonish charm that this one does.
Don Quixote in His Study (ca. 1825/6) by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828). Seems that Bonington died the year Rossetti was born, which is quite interesting, in a random sort of way. This puts me in mind of all the seventeenth-century (1, 2) paintings of alchemists hard at work in their ateliers, and indeed Don Quixote and the alchemist are part of the same iconographic context in many ways. Perhaps one day I will write an article on the ways in which the two images interact. 🙂
The Flowers of Capri (ca. 1887) by Filadelfo Simi (1849-1923). I am afraid to say this in not a painting I would normally have taken much notice of, since neither the style nor the subject do much for me. It was the gallery steward whom I mentioned earlier that pointed it out to me, and then dutifully transferred his own obsession into my brain. It’s difficult to see in the reproduction, but on the right hand side of the picture, just above the kneeling lady in yellow smiling at the baby, the patch of grass looks a bit wobbly and perhaps the space is slightly too… empty. That is because a seventh figure used to be there, whom the artist then painted over. No one has yet found out why he felt that was necessary, and it’s that mystery that keeps me interested.
For Sale (1857) by James Collinson (1825-1881). Lastly, I was drawn to this eye-popping representation of the Woman and the female body as object on offer. The juxtaposition of the woman and the porcelain doll is rather disturbing, as is the carefully displayed (artificial?) flower the normal beauty of which is diffused in the gaudy shop. There are several other versions of this paintings, of which this replica is particularly apt and perhaps even more depressing than the original, which may be an effect of the colour palette and the rather more pronounced and telling smile of the forefront lady.
Once more, I have no idea what will come out of this amateurish cataloguing of vague likes as a result of a spontaneous “field trip”. Perhaps someone will manage to make its possible uses (other than procrastination, of course) clear to me?
This post is, in a way, a continuation of this review I wrote some time ago about the social screensaver The Endless Forest and the art of purposeless gaming. I won’t go into all the details of how the TALE of TALES project is all kinds of marvellous and then some, but I will go on to sing the praise of “pointless games”, so to speak. Of course, you could argue that all games are, in one way or another, pointless and a great way to waste your time, gloriously managing to fail doing anything productive by the end of the day. But there are those games that perfect the art of time-wasting and bring it to a philosophical, almost religious, I might say, epitome. Those games with no or very few rules, dead-end outcomes, and where there is no way to win or to lose. There is only the play, endless, bereft of apparent motives and goals. I find those games hypnotic and perfect.
And since now is the time for smartphone apps and, consequently, wasting money on illusions (read: “smartphone games”), I present to you the one illusion I would spend money on. There is an online version of it, as well, and that one is free to play. Otherwise, you may download it onto your smartphone of choice for $2.99 only. It was released in 2010 AD (dei gratia) and it is called, tellingly enough, Vanitas.
The game features a small wooden box, populated with three random objects. Some of the objects you might chance upon at any given time include: a feather, a die, a nail, a bird skull, a stick, a tiny (literally) bound tome, a soap bubble, a ripe cherry, an acorn, a ladybird (which will fly around sedately for a while and then drop dead), a snail, an egg, a key. In short, it is reminiscent of a child’s secret “treasure box”, where you might find anything, from a decayed milk tooth to a fragile insectile corpse (I should know, I used to a have a mighty collection of random stuff). You may interact with these object, but they will never affect one another and it is only seldom that your interaction with them will produce a visible change. Sometimes, you may get melancholy background sounds, which are mildly startling when they do happen. The game instructions encourage you to “Pause for a moment. Reflect.” Or sometimes, if you should happen to find “three identical objects” in the box and as a consequence you are awarded “a gold star on the lid of the box“, you are encouraged to “consider how lucky you are“.
The official info page for Vanitas boasts:
A memento mori for your digital hands.
To lift you up when you’re feeling down. And drag you down when you’re up too high.
Oscar Wilde would have been proud of this app. Hell, he would have given up on writing The Portrait of Dorian Gray just to play this game. All day long, every day. Actually, I would go so far as to claim that, had Wilde been in possession of a smartphone equipped with this exquisite piece of artistry, it might even have saved him from prison.
Yes, I believe I might invest in an app, just this once.