A happy New Year to everyone. May all conflicts be resolved peacefully and wisely.
Continuing my recent exploration of emotional patterns, this short video focuses on facial expressions and hand gestures.
It doesn't represent how I'm currently feeling: I'm just experimenting with ways to illustrate questions that are on my mind.
I find that when I give concentrated attention to a subject, relevant items quickly seem to appear from anywhere, as if thoughts are magnets attracting similar particles.
In the blogosphere this happens all the time in a kind of group telepathy: you're working on or thinking about a particular topic; you take a break and go surfing and - lo and behold - you come across several blogs or websites which are discussing the very same theme, asking the very same questions. Often, in such a chain of synchronicity, I also discover that an intuition I've had about something turns out to be confirmed by experts, even though I had no prior information on that particular subject. One of the many fields I know very little about but am interested in is genetics, and I had a big AHA! moment last week when I came across a book: The Genie in Your Genes, by Dawson Church. That our genetic structure can be altered by our thoughts and feelings is something that many people, including me, instinctively believe but I for one didn't realise that current scientific research confirms this is literally true. I get very excited and start underlining sentences in red ballpoint when I read words like these (all quoted from the above book):
Our emotions and behavior shape our brains as they stimulate the formation of neural pathways that either reinforce old patterns or initiate new ones......when we think an increased flow of thoughts on a topic, or practice an increased quantity of an action, the number of neurons our bodies require to route the information increases.
What you are thinking, feeling and believing is changing the genetic expression and chemical composition of your body on a moment-by-moment basis.
Experience-dependent genes are genes that are activated by learning and novelty.....The experiences we are having each moment are actually changing the structure of our brains.....our brains keep adding new neural links throughout our lives, as long as they are stimulated to do so. This process is called neurogenesis. Learning experiences and other highly attentive states of awareness switch on the expression of genes that stimulate the formation of new neurons.
There are several ways of profiling genes, and one way they may be catalogued is to look at the speed at which they reach peak expression when stimulated by an environmental influence....Some genes are activated quickly; others more slowly.....Certain classes of late activated genes, once expressed, may remain "on" for your entire liftetime.
One of the newest tools that has enabled researchers to conduct experiments that show particular genes being triggered is the DNA microarray. Such gene chips assemble thousands of different strands of DNA onto a single wafer. When exposed to a sample they can then demonstrate which of the strands have been affected by the sample.
The diagram below is from the same book. Needless to say, I instantly saw its resemblance to sound-wave patterns, such as my voice patterns in the previous video clip . I don't (yet) know why there should be a similarity but hey, it's another area to explore.
Anything in our present reality which even vaguely resembles that original key frame acts as a trigger and can start up the whole sequence again, ringing that Pavlov bell. I'm fascinated by how repetition works on the mind and body, both in negative and positive ways, and how we can consciously alter a process which has, by force of repetition, become unconscious. Devising strategies to create new patterns, those we want rather than being trapped in those we don't want, is fertile territory for the imagination to explore. I prefer to approach subjects like this adventurously and playfully rather than to rely on the vast body of accumulated knowledge. If I come to similar observations, so much the better, but I'll do it my way......my wa..a...aaa..y!
Sunday was Ethical Fashion Day at the Victoria & Albert Museum and, since this is something completely different from my usual interests, I thought I'd go along. One thing on the programme really appealed to me: it was called Swishing (exchanging your good but hardly worn items of clothing with someone else's). Since there are always mistakes hanging in my wardrobe and I hate being reminded of them, it seemed an opportunity to do something more fun than taking them to my local charity shop (though I'll keep on doing that anyway). So I packed up several striped tops, a long striped skirt, a hideous print wrap-around dress and a lovely pair of lace-up shoes (bought in Paris and worn once; they take half an hour to lace up) and schlepped the lot to South Kensington.
When the time came to allow us to enter the small room where swappable clothes were displayed, a horde of women swooshed in like a swarm of locusts and in what seemed like about five minutes, had gobbled up everything of any interest. It wasn't so much an exchange of goods as a demonstration of survival of the fittest. I noticed my stuff being tried on and taken and I was quite pleased to have got rid of my bad-judgement purchases within the hallowed premises of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But all I found to my liking was a pair of red trousers and a yellow belt.
The rest of the day was definitely worth making the trip for. Some fun activities, eg: drawing on small squares of organic cotton which were then pinned to a dressmaker's dummy to make an Eco Dress, a talk on how to restyle/recycle your wardrobe, etc. Best of all was the fashion show and presentation, setting out the principles behind the term 'ethical' as applied to the fashion industry, whether you're a consumer or producer, and there were lots of interesting web-links to firms I knew nothing about. I managed to get a few photos during the very brief catwalk and the slideshow is above.
My one objection is a familiar one: why can't designers ever use models who look like normal women? ie: women who have breasts and hips and buttocks and thighs which are not necessarily slim, whose legs and necks are not necessarily long, whose faces do not necessarily have razor-sharp cheekbones and who are not necessarily, always, absolutely young, tall and skinny? The majority of women do not look like fashion models and do not have the bodies of boys, so why do designers - even worthy ethical, ecological, sustainable, organic fashion designers - still insist on showing their clothes on only one type of body? Yes, these model creatures are gorgeous and fabrics do hang well on them but come on, get real!
I can't resist a creative challenge, especially one with fixed parameters as well as freedom of execution plus a fixed deadline. So, eager beaver, I've entered this competition. Did some fooling around with animation and live action and uploaded a (nearly) five-minute movie to the Guardian YouTube page. Read Mark's story first and you'll find the parts I decided to play with.
Watch my movie here and comment, maybe.
In many of the post-election reports and commentaries I've been reading, the initial celebratory euphoria is gradually being doused with expertly worded buts and ifs and maybes and don't forgets and so on and on. I am just as inclined as the most seen-it-all-before cynic to mistrust politics and politicians and to despair about the state of the planet in general. But not right now. Right now I only want to praise, to laud, to honour and to celebrate the two sides of one coin:
An individual: president-elect Barack Obama.
A very large crowd: the people who supported and elected him.
In his acceptance speech, Obama said:
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.
I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.
It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers.......
Clever political speechifying? Yes, of course. But above all, it is true. The Yes-We-Can slogan was actually experienced and acted upon by millions of people, energised by hope, inspired by a man who represents the possibility of change and who is totally unlike the current resident of the White House.
'Charisma' is a word which provokes instant suspicion among thinkers/observers, especially those of us who have been around the block a few times. We've seen too many feet of clay on the idols we ourselves raised up on pedestals when we were naive, or on other popular heroes we never believed in at all. So if someone mentions a leader's charisma our eyebrows are likely to shoot upwards, our lips to curl into the skeptic's sneer and we will say something like: "Well, Hitler had charisma. So did Attila the Hun and Charles Manson etc. etc." We will probably also bring up 'mass hysteria', recalling the terrible extremes to which a whipped-up crowd can go and, therefore, how you can never trust the emotions of a crowd in the grip of charismatic individuals, be they politicians, prophets, soldiers, football players or rock stars.
Well, yes and no. Whatever circuitry in the human brain is responsible for hero-worship and for mass movements, it surely does not always produce negative effects. Was it the same brain circuitry which inspired the followers of Ghandi to non-violence as whipped up the followers of Hitler (and other criminals) to unspeakable violence? And was it 'mass hysteria' when I and millions of others around the world took to the streets to march against the Iraq war? Or when we marched against nuclear weapons? We may not have succeeded in our immediate aims, but these were still victories for people-power. Major changes occur slowly and we may not live to see the results, but I believe that something extraordinary happens to human beings when they come together in large numbers united by good will, concern for each other and a powerful desire to end injustice and corruption. And yes, if a leader can reflect, embody that spirit and inspire people to believe that they themselves have the power to change things, then such a leader is needed. He, or she, is like an orchestra conductor whose skill is to get the best out of each individual player and out of their combined voices, at the service of the music.
Imagine for a moment the kind of radical changes which could happen in the world as a result of concerted people-power. Make a wish-list. Yes, it will look completely unrealistic, naive. Realists will tell you it can never happen.
Yes it can.
How lucky these kids are to have access to so much live inspiration and stimulation early in life. What with the proliferation of computer games, gadgets and gimmicks, listening to a real live person telling a story and watching a real live artist making lines come to life before your eyes is a thrill too often forgotten.
Part of me says: yes, he does have that masterish assurance, universality, je ne sais quoi. While another inner voice snorts: yeah, but what about the Disney in him? What about that push-pull-the-flesh tricksy formula that he applies over and over again? Sometimes it really works and the way his brush manipulates oils is magnificently bravado. But at other times, isn't it just like the effects you can achieve in Photoshop? I know he never used a computer but the pictorial language Bacon devised is not unlike a software programme calculated by geeks to imitate what they assume to be the artistic process.
My doubts about Bacon's work can be summed up in Cole Porter's lyrics: " Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?" I think he worked really hard to produce the turtle soup but the poseur in him, the interior decorator, was never entirely overcome. The Disney factor is there, if you look long enough: those semi-circles that appear around the eyes in all the faces, the curvy-curly contours of bodies, the cartoonification. Snow White stripped, stretched, inflated, carefully messed up and laid out on an operating table.
The monographs and critiques about Bacon always stress his subject matter - the tragedy, cruelty, carnality of all those screaming, writhing, grappling, copulating, vomiting, shitting figures. Their existential hopelessness. Everybody knows about Bacon's chaotic lifestyle and we've seen photos of his chaotic studio so it all fits the concept of the decadent, tragic artist.
But I'm not convinced by this interpretation. Listening to him and watching his face on video when being interviewed I saw something else: it's not existential angst that inspired him: it's pictures.
He made pictures about pictures and he found a system for avoiding what would have been the banal copying of those photos and paintings which stimulated him - a combination of abstract expressionism's wilfully random paint-gestures and a carefully designed Picasso-esque distortion of the form. Add to that a plain, strong-coloured background and a box-like enclosure and you've brought home a Bacon.
My view is only my view and I wanted to have some fun with it so I took liberties in Photoshop for a while. Here are the results.
Francis baconised by Natalie (using Liquify and other Photoshoppery)
Master Duck and Master Bacon. Watch those curves!
Far fetched? Not if you imagine the stages between Snow White becoming the creature on the table.
New month and I feel like giving this blog a new look, complete overhaul. If only it didn't take so much time.
I also feel like focusing more on painting and sliding away from the total dominance of the computer. It does dominate, you know.
I can't walk into this back room without being commanded by the slim snazzy white-bordered blue-screened gadget-filled creature on my desk to sit down and give it my undivided attention. If it could stamp its foot it would and if it could bark or miaow or emit shrill baby-like wailing it would.
Have we become slaves to our machines? I love the internet and the blogosphere and I love my computer with its seductive charm and all the toys it offers me. But sometimes I want to smash its smooth face and declare my independence. After all, I existed before it came into my life and have no reason to believe I would not exist were it to disappear from my life. Well, that's a bit radical. I don't really want it to disappear, no. Just take a back seat, be passive and obedient, don't try to rise above its station and don't speak unless spoken to.
Just for the record:
I am, as you can see, almost perfect but please don't applaud. All credit goes to my surgeon, my cousins, my parents, my siblings, my friends (including you, of course) my genes, my DNA, my stars, my karma and Karma, my qi chi ying yang king kong, my angels, archangels and giant blue birds, and my agent...oh, I don't have an agent...but anyway, I want to thank the whole shebang and now let's move on.
Am posting this pic in the interests of medical science, just to reassure anyone about to have this operation (removal of lump from parotid gland) that it's not so bad. Here I am the day after the deed and already blogging it. Feeling more or less fine and the Van Gogh bandage is quite fetching though the swollen face is not. Am told it will go down soon. As for whatever is hidden under the bandage, I'd rather not look right now. Am told the scar will heal in about...six months. SIX MONTHS?? Well, I musn't complain. The surgeon, Professor Mark McGurk, was brilliant. I sing his praises: not a single tiny nerve of my tiny face was damaged. And he has a great sense of humour as well.
This is the title of a construction I made in 1992 which I've now used as the subject for a short video, presented herewith for your entertainment while I am offstage for a little while due to surgical committments.
May the giant bluebird watch over us all.
See the video larger on blip.tv at this PERMALINK
Am I worried? Consciously, no. Unconsciously, how do I know? There's probably a dark sea of trembling jelly down there, fearing metamorphosis into scarface or palsyface. The risks have been explained to me and I have listened carefully. But somehow, even my natural mistrust of any technical procedure performed by anyone other than myself has failed to scare me shitless. I will survive, oh yeah, and continue to be as beautiful as I am. (God, are you listening?)
Meanwhile, protective invocations, incantations and even incense will be most welcome.
Except that I entered it under Sunday, September 7th. It was supposed to be on September 2nd. Why did I do this? Because second sounds like seventh? Or am I losing track of time altogether? Who knows. The point is, I've missed participating in a lovely idea - all those rock flippers bending down simultaneously on the same day, maybe even at the same hour, in all kinds of places all over the planet, recording their discoveries: see links below.
To make up for my time-lapse, I am submitting this late offering.
It's been raining so much over here in the last few days that I have chosen an indoor rock. A tame rock. Removed some time ago from its natural habitat on a beach in Hastings and placed, among other domesticated stones, on a windowsill in my living room. I flipped it and you can look at it from both sides now. A little pebble is firmly embedded in a cavity on one side which, on the other side, looks just like an eye.
OH NO! Cross out all I've written above.
It seems I'm not late after all. In fact I'm too bleedin' early: the correct date really is September 7th. I had been looking at Dave's post about it and the Flickr pics for last year. What is the matter with me?
My rock has now been flipped.
Rock-Flipping Day Reports
Pohanginapete (Pohangina Valley, Aotearoa/New Zealand) Nature Remains (Ohio, USA) Pensacola Daily Photo (Florida, USA) KatDoc's World (Ohio, USA) Notes from the Cloud Messenger (Ontario, Canada) Brittle Road (Dallas, Texas) Sherry Chandler (Kentucky, USA) osage + orange (Illinois, USA) Rock Paper Lizard (British Columbia, Canada) The Crafty H (Virginia, USA) Chicken Spaghetti (Connecticut, USA) A Passion for Nature (New York, USA) The Dog Geek (Virginia, USA) Blue Ridge blog (North Carolina, USA) Bug Girl's Blog (Michigan, USA) chatoyance (Austin, Texas) Riverside Rambles (Missouri, USA) Pines Above Snow(Maryland, USA) Beth's stories (Maine, USA) A Honey of an Anklet (Virginia, USA) Wanderin' Weeta (British Columbia, Canada) Fate, Felicity, or Fluke (Oregon, USA) The Northwest Nature Nut (Oregon, USA) Roundrock Journal (Missouri, USA) The New Dharma Bums (California, USA) The Marvelous in Nature (Ontario, Canada) Via Negativa (Pennsylvania, USA) Mrs. Gray's class, Beatty-Warren Middle School (Pennsylvania, USA) Cicero Sings (British Columbia, Canada) Pocahontas County Fair (West Virginia, USA)
I've uploaded another version of the Slovenia movie here. In one of those happy accidental discoveries, while editing the original video I made two copies of it and watched them both simultaneously, one slightly out of step with the other. This created a strangely fascinating rhythm and overlapping sequences of images and sounds which reminded me of cubism and also of rounds in music (eg: row row row your boat). I love the way the left-hand images seems to flow into the right-hand ones like water. Something to explore further.
Seven years ago yesterday my beloved mother Blanche passed away. Dick's recent post about Cornwall reminded me that the last holiday I spent with her was in St.Ives in August 1998. We were celebrating my birthday. She was then ninety-four years old and had recently begun to paint - her lively watercolour of the harbour lights from our hotel room hangs on my wall. We visited the magnificently situated sea-sprayed Tate as well as the various small art galleries squeezed into the narrow cobbled streets. Blanche had her cane or my arm to lean on but you would never have believed that this was a very old lady. Here she is, in her unmistakeably French ageless prime, at a St. Ives cafe table . The photo of the two of us below
was taken a few months before she died in 2001. (My hair, since you ask, was dark then, its original colour, and I'm still a brunette in my soul in spite of current fake blondeness, due to vanity and suchlike). Blanche wasn't born blonde either but her personality was definitely blonde and anyway I never knew her as a dark-haired teenager before she decided she was blonde in her soul. She never lost a girlish quality - not an attempt to remain girlish, like so many dolled-up botoxed ladies-who-lunch - but a genuine, unsophisticated, unvarnished youthfulness which all her travels and travails as the wife of a melancholy Russian never dented.
Slovenian is a language which consists mainly of consonants. This might explain why Slovenes don't smile very much at foreigners or say buon giorno, buenos dias, bonjour or good morning when you come down to breakfast or bump into them when swimming. Nevertheless I had a great holiday (birthday present from family) in Slovenia in the small and peaceful resort of Strunjan, a conservation area on the Adriatic coast.
My older sister Annie and I flew from London to Trieste airport and then went by taxi (against my wishes - I wanted to take three buses) to Koper and on to Strunjan, about an hour's drive in all. Crossing the border between Italy and Slovenia a few years ago, you would have had to queue for ages in a tunnel while passports were fussed over but now the only indication that you've left Italy is that the road signs become all consonants. The blue Slovenian coastline is stunning, as is the countryside, with more shades of green than I have ever seen on any palette. I'm not knowledgeable about vegetation but I know about colours and I assure you that every single variant of green was there, scintillating like Van Gogh's brushstrokes. Our hotel room was on the top floor of a terraced building up five flights of stone stairs and, under a broiling sun, with an average temperature of about 29 Celsius (84 Fahrenheit), the climb and descent several times a day was agony. However the view from our balcony made the pain worthwhile.
Annie (always up before any known species of early bird) would go down to breakfast at seven but I am a dawdler and by the time I was having my breakfast (self-service) she would be at the swimming pool of a spa-hotel ten minutes' walk away. I would stroll over there eventually, breathing in the delicious scent of pine trees, and lie on a chaise-longue denying and defying, like everyone else, the devastating power of the sun. Who can resist the lure of browned skin, the illusion that it erases the flaws of pale, flabby winter flesh?
Some folks who happily spend vast sums of money and time roasting their white bodies on beaches around the world to turn them as near black as possible see nothing contradictory in objecting to people whom nature has blessed with dark skin at birth. Is racism an extreme form of physical envy? I witnessed a clear example as I lolled around the indoor pool in the morning. A beautiful young African woman and her small cappuccino-coloured son suddenly appeared like a vision amidst the all-white or sun-camouflaged clientele disporting themselves in the warm salt water. Ignoring the dagger-stares, she and the boy walked along the pool's edge to the empty children's area, separated by a glass partition from the main pool and thus shielded from hostile eyes. As I don't understand a word of Slovenian, I couldn't tell what swimmers were saying but it was clear from their snickering that they were not well pleased with the intrusion of a genuinely dark person, especially one so gorgeous, into their artificially brown world. Not a single one of the bodies in the pool, suntan regardless, could hold a candle to the physical perfection of that black vision and when she emerged from splashing in the kids' pool and boldly entered the grown-up water, swimming away with powerful strokes, it was too much for them. A group of the snickerers got out of the pool en masse and marched towards the exit, outrage rising like steam from their nostrils. Later, I noticed an Italian, probably the boy's father, speaking in consoling manner to the African woman. They were obviously used to this sort of incident but not immune - how could anyone be immune to such indignity? I can't speak for all of Slovenia but we saw only one other black person and very few foreigners during our stay in Strunjan though we were told that Italians and Germans are usually the main tourists.
Our routine was pool and jacuzzi every morning then a walk to the beach - not a sand beach but a concrete walkway along the seafront, flanked by a pine-shaded grassy area where bathers rest or take refreshment in a couple of cafes. A very pleasant, family-oriented, un-pretentious ambiance where you can people-watch to your heart's content. I wanted to film the slow parade of un-selfconscious, calorie-rich physiques but it was impossible to point my camera unobserved so I've only brought back snippets of video which I will post when edited, plus a handful of still-photos. Herewith a selection and I'll put the rest on Picasa shortly.
There is nothing to do in Strunjan apart from swimming and walking (or cycling or tennis if you can make the effort) and this suited me perfectly but my sister is a restless soul so we twice took a bus to neighbouring towns. Neither of us liked Portoroz - a noisy, crowded, commercial beach resort but Piran was wonderful - an ancient medieval port with the most amazing polished marble piazza reflecting the blazing sky so vividly that the whole place seemed about to burst into flames. Unforgivably, I forgot to bring either my camera or my camcorder that day, but I did buy some postcards.
Notwithstanding the usual squabbling between sisters, the birthday trip was relaxing and mind-emptying, so much so that I'm having a hard time getting into any kind of organised or productive action. Must get cracking, especially since the end of this month is the deadline for a new article for Guardian Women - yes, I submitted another idea and, behold, it was accepted. I did the research before going away but now I've got to write the piece and that takes lots of concentration, a faculty the Slovenian sun seems to have melted. Not to worry: end of August in London is actually the start of winter so my brain should be back to chilled state soon.
Going away tomorrow for a week so I looked for something quick to celebrate my entry on this planet. I found that the painter Emil Nolde, some of whose work I like, was also born on August 7, though a bit before me (1867). Here are some good quotes from him.
“Clever people master life; the wise illuminate it and create fresh difficulties.”
“The artist need not know very much; best of all let him work instinctively and paint as naturally as he breathes or walks.”
“What an artist learns matters little. What he himself discovers has a real worth for him, and gives him the necessary incitement to work.”
(the painting on the left is by him. Not the mug on the right).
Can you believe it's the end of the month, almost the end of summer already? Can I believe another birthday is nearly here already (August 7th) when I haven't digested the last one yet? I haven't believed in birthdays since I passed the fortieth one.
So if you don't believe in something it doesn't exist, right?
Well, my unbeliever attitude regarding age may prove to be exactly the right attitude. An article in The Independent last Friday says:
Growing old may not be mandatory after all.
I told you so.
Read the article but try to ignore the picture of Cliff Richard - not a good example of eternal youth. Even I look better than he does and no plastic scalpels have ever been near my ancient mug (how ancient I'm not telling but believe me, it's unbelievable).
I regret filling this space with my face but the last couple of days have been very hot and everything is too much effort. Will get back imminently to the autobio (me again, yes, but more interestingly, no?)
Interesting exhibition of portraits by the Vorticist Wyndham Lewis at the National Portrait Gallery. My favourites were Edith Sitwell, T.S.Eliot and Portrait of the Artist as the Painter Raphael . Not a nice man, Mr. Lewis, but I appreciate his unsentimentally constructed subjects, like secular icons in which character is presented as architecture and emotion can be trapped in the precise folds of a jacket as well as in the slope of a cheek. He doesn't have a lot of depth but he sure knows how to make a surface meaningful.
I was instantly struck by Wyndham's borrowing from Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne (1888) in the satirical 1921 self-portrait Mr. Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro - the colour-scheme, the jagged edges - it's such an obvious influence yet nowhere, in none of the reviews or monographs, have I seen this juxtaposition. Am I the only person to have noticed it? Ha! Maybe you're seeing it here first.
It's such a relief, sometimes, to move in thoughtful silence amongst paintings, drawings and prints - images within familiar rectangles of canvas or paper or board - instead of being accosted by the whole shebang of multimedia artifacts and arty fictions which dominates our cultural landscape like a gigantic, noisy circus. Paintings that still exude the excitment that must have permeated artists' ateliers at the turn of the century and into the twenties, when truly radical things were being done inside that old traditional rectangular space. Illusory window or flat surface, there's something deeply satisfying about a rectangle of any size. With colour and line alone a painter can project thoughts, re-create the world, interpret reality, change reality, dispense with reality - all within a four-sided boundary.
I've started a very large painting, partly self-portrait partly something else I don't know yet. Autobio continues in the next post. Summertime is the time blogging slows down, isn't it?