Friday, April 29, 2011

Dame Westwood Holds Forth

I love this clip of an interview with Dame Vivienne Westwood from The Guardian UK. This is a condensed version of her marvelous and inspiring Active Resistance To Propaganda Manifesto.

I agree with her about much of what she says: yes, art tells the truth from different points of view, and yes, we understand it because of a sense of common humanity. The only quibble I have--and perhaps this is a large quibble--is with her supposition that the 20th century was a mistake and that all modern art is rubbish. That is quite a sweeping statement to make and one that seems a tad too reactionary, and, honestly, not that well-thought out. By her own admission, the art that is at The Tate Modern is art from a point of view in time and is as legitimate as any other.

But in general, I do like her ideas and I addressed her Manifesto in a past blog posting here.

Here is a link to her Active Resistance To Propaganda website:

And I still adore her clothing designs. She is a true artist. Here are links to her fashion sites:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Every Day Is A Little Life

“Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death.”
--Arthur Schopenhauer

"Spomenik: The End of History"

From 2006 to 2009, Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers toured around the ex-Yugoslavia region (now Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc.) to document structures that were commissioned by former Yugoslavian president Josip Broz Tito in the 1960s and 70s. They were built to commemorate sites where WWII battles took place (like Tjentište, Kozara and Kadinjača), or where concentration camps stood (like Jasenovac and Niš) and were designed by different sculptors and architects. After the Republic dissolved in the early 1990s, most were completely abandoned, along with their symbolic meanings. With the help of a 1975 map of these memorials, Kempenaers located and photographed these buildings/ sculptures and published the results in a book called “Spomenik” The End of History.” As the meanings fade for these haunting objects, they take on a different dimension. Instead of symbolizing something, they end up meaning only themselves, referencing only their own puzzling scope and surreal shape.

I particularly like how many of these monuments are built in pairs, one shape mirroring the other. And many of these pairs end up looking like stylized wings. There must be some sort of collective unconscious leap for so many different architects and sculptors to equate this shape and idea with memorials for the dead.

Currently listening to...

...and totally grooving on this hypnotizing live version of "Hold Tight London" by The Chemical Brothers filmed in--where else--Trafalgar Square in London!

"Don't worry, nothing can go wrong..."

The Universe Is A Fractal

These cloud formations show that fractals are everywhere. I have always thought that fractals are an expression of the universal mind. Everything is a fractal. If we could see from above, out of time, I believe that we would see ourselves making fractal patterns as we move across the face of the planet, we would see the patterns of our molecules making fractals, the molecules of our ancestors making up one big fractal as we evolve, the planets and galaxies making fractal patterns... it is the secret of the universe...

From the NASA Goddard Photo and Video photostream at Flickr:

"Large-scale Fractal Motion of Clouds

NASA image acquired September 15, 1999
This Landsat 7 image of clouds off the Chilean coast near the Juan Fernandez Islands (also known as the Robinson Crusoe Islands) on September 15, 1999, shows a unique pattern called a “von Karman vortex street.” This pattern has long been studied in the laboratory, where the vortices are created by oil flowing past a cylindrical obstacle, making a string of vortices only several tens of centimeters long. Study of this classic “flow past a circular cylinder” has been very important in the understanding of laminar and turbulent fluid flow that controls a wide variety of phenomena, from the lift under an aircraft wing to Earth’s weather.

Here, the cylinder is replaced by Alejandro Selkirk Island (named after the true “Robinson Crusoe,” who was stranded here for many months in the early 1700s). The island is about 1.5 km in diameter, and rises 1.6 km into a layer of marine stratocumulus clouds. This type of cloud is important for its strong cooling of the Earth’s surface, partially counteracting the Greenhouse warming. An extended, steady equatorward wind creates vortices with clockwise flow off the eastern edge and counterclockwise flow off the western edge of the island. The vortices grow as they advect hundreds of kilometers downwind, making a street 10,000 times longer than those made in the laboratory. Observing the same phenomenon extended over such a wide range of sizes dramatizes the “fractal” nature of atmospheric convection and clouds. Fractals are characteristic of fluid flow and other dynamic systems that exhibit “chaotic” motions.

Both clockwise and counter-clockwise vortices are generated by flow around the island. As the flow separates from the island’s leeward (away from the source of the wind) side, the vortices “swallow” some of the clear air over the island. (Much of the island air is cloudless due to a local “land breeze” circulation set up by the larger heat capacity of the waters surrounding the island.) The “swallowed” gulps of clear island air get carried along within the vortices, but these are soon mixed into the surrounding clouds."

Just watched...

...Alan J. Pakula's "Love And Pain And The Whole Damn Thing."

After he made “Klute” with Jane Fonda, Pakula directed “Love And Pain And The Whole Damn Thing” in 1973. Starring Timothy Bottoms and Maggie Smith, this film is a sweet, quirky mix of screwball comedy, love story and 1970s counter-culture/isolation film. Bottoms, who plays Walter Elbertson, is an odd young man. We learn that he has been under the care of a psychiatrist in the past and has trouble concentrating in college. There was no name for it then, but now I am sure Walter would be considered a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism in which the person maintains cognitive and linguistic functionality. In an effort to occupy his son’s time, and probably out of impatience and an inability to relate to his son, Walter’s father sends him on a bicycle riding tour through Spain for the summer. But he soon ditches the tour and hops on a bus belonging to a totally different tour. There he meets Lila Fisher, played by a young and surprisingly lovely Maggie Smith, on holiday from Bournemouth. She too is awkward and has difficulty with social interactions. Forced to sit next to each other on the bus, they struggle to communicate, perhaps sensing something in each other. Their budding relationship is rocky and fraught with pratfalls (aside from exhibiting excellent comic timing, Maggie Smith is quite a physical comedienne as well!) and genuine efforts to connect on a meaningful level. Watching the two of them play characters who are longing to escape their own personal prisons is fascinating and while I always knew Bottoms’ work as an actor, I have a newfound respect for Maggie Smith whom I have always known as somewhat of a character actress. The two of them are marvelous… together or alone.

Recommend? Yes, it is a sweet and truly funny film and although there are some heavy elements at play on the periphery, I was pleased with the happy ending.

Just watched...

...a documentary about Icelandic pop music, "Screaming Masterpiece."

I have had a slowly evolving fascination with Iceland for many years now. I adore the band Sigur Rós, I quite like Múm, I have heard reports from friends who have been to Iceland that the people place a high value on art, and the landscape is full of otherworldly beauty. Any culture that can straight-facedly profess a belief in elves wins my vote. So I was curious to see the 2005 documentary “Screaming Masterpiece.” The titles say it is a survey of 1,000 years of Icelandic pop music which I gather is an example of the famous Icelandic sense of humor. Pop music is a relatively new phenomenon, but the greater meaning of the film’s intent is alluded to several times: indigenous and folk music of Iceland still greatly influences the pop music that is being created today. It is a fascinating supposition and one that I can hear for myself and believe. There is certainly a dark, sweeping grandeur and a plaintive peasant sound that seems to come from the collective psyche of the island. It manifests beautifully in my above mentioned favorite groups, Sigur Rós and Múm. But in an effort to show a variety and to present the idea that ancient music influences all current Icelandic music, we must suffer through examples of Icelandic death metal and rap (what a shame that such USA dross has infected even the far reaches of the globe to Iceland).

As a documentary, it does very little editorializing, staying out of the way and just letting the music and many of the musicians speak for themselves. The only quibble I have is the puzzling exclusion of another of my favorite Icelandic groups, the awesome Gus Gus.

Recommend? If you are a fan of any of the mentioned groups from Iceland, or are interested in alternative pop music, yes. At only 87 minutes, it won’t take too much of your life…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just finished reading...

...EVERY DAY IN TUSCANY, the third and most recent installation of Frances Mayes' books about life in Italy.

In anticipation of my upcoming return to Tuscany in a few weeks, I read Frances Mayes’ third installation of her on-going “life-in-Italy” series and, like her other books in the series, I found it engaging but uneven. I don’t want to start this post by giving the impression that I did not enjoy EVERY DAY IN TUSCANY, because I did. But I think I am more in tune with her—and by extension, her writing’s—flaws now that I have had a chance to really delve into her oeuvre. She is clearly a talented writer, a well-read person, and someone who seems to be in touch with an inner and outer sense that good writer’s need access to in order to create. But she has a habit of what I referred to in another review here about her second book as “skimming.” Now I see what the problem is when she does that: she flits, skips and skims and it works when she is being poetical, when she is rhapsodizing, or when she is using a sort of free association technique. But this does not serve her when she is conveying facts or a narrative within a sequence. Where are we now, I asked myself several times in EVERY DAY IN TUSCANY, are we at her main house Bramasole, or at her newer second house, Fonte de Foglie? What town are we in now, the one she was just describing in the last sentence? Oh, no, turns out we are in a new town. I often had to go back and decode her narrative shorthand, to figure out exactly what was happening. She also has a tendency to tell instead of show. Maybe she is trying to condense, and fit a lot of experiences and sensations and thoughts into too small of an area; I think the material would be better served if she concentrated more on less, so that what she is writing about has some breathing and elbow room to be explored, both by her and by us, her readers. I know she knows how to do this: there are some lovely sections that slow down, where she allows herself to contemplate, ruminate, and make mental connections, as when she takes some lavender to place on the grave of a recently deceased friend, but she is unable to find his spot. The associations and larger meanings she allows are touching and heartbreaking.

Again, let me say that even though I may have these criticisms, I did enjoy the book. Interestingly, there was one section where she was the most alive, the most engaging, and the most immediate and clear she has ever been and that is when she was describing a grenade (along with a threatening note promising five more grenades in her house next time) she found in her driveway, left by someone trying to persuade her and her husband Ed not to block a proposed community pool project at the end of their neighborhood. She had started a petition to have a planned large civic center pool moved to a more accessible and sensible area and the local ruffians took to thug tactics. The act of recounting this frightening ordeal clearly raised her adrenaline level and the result is some of the best writing she has ever done. It sparkles, it moves, it is alive, and it is vital. These things are lacking a bit in her “ordinary” writing. Unfortunately it took a scary and near-violent episode to bring this out of her.

Some of the criticism I have seen leveled at her about this book include the opinion that because she mixes her personal thoughts and history with information about Luca Signorelli, her favorite Renaissance artist, and recipes for classic Tuscan food, the book “doesn’t know what it wants to be.” I personally had no trouble with the book rolling all of this together. I felt it was charming, and the recipes are always directly related to what she has just been talking about, whether it is a feast at a neighbor’s villa, or hearty winter dishes she and Ed prepare for each other.

Recommend? If you have read the other two, of course you must read this one. It is a nice tapestry of impressions for anyone about to visit Tuscany, and indeed, it is a nice examination into the ways, both ancient and modern--and a curious, Italian mix of the two--of all aspects of life in Tuscany (whether you are about to visit or not). It is a light, breezy read. Try the whole series… they go fast.

BEAUTY: Drawing--Tony Orrico

Tony Orrico. Watch.

His paintings are beautiful, too.

Happy Easter

Saturday, April 23, 2011

BEAUTY: Art--Jennifer Meanley

I am enraptured with the paintings and drawings of Jennifer Meanley. Her dazzlingly colored and kaleidoscopic compositions full of enigmatic and hidden narratives bring to mind Gauguin, Africa, Chagall, and circuses. They feel like one is peering into jungles where previously unseen rituals or spontaneous moments between man and animal happen with the grace of the earth looking on...

Top to bottom: Circus Rejects Under The Tanglewood Tree; Rapture; Recovery Of The Phantom Limb; Chromatic Cloud Conspiring; Those That Trespass; For The Love Of Birdsong And Incredible Heights

BEAUTY: Painting--Rocco Normanno

Italian artist Rocco Normanno, b. 1974, paints breathtakingly realistic scenes of mythology, both classical and Biblical. He may paint like Caravaggio but his settings and people are completely contemporary (in Mercurio a riposo, one can see Mercury's caduceus on the ground, bottom left--and in the scene of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes in Giuditta e Oloferne, all are wearing modern clothing) --and it is this contrast that brings the interest and tension to his work. He lives and paints in Massa e Cozille, Tuscany.

Top to bottom: San Sebastiano; San Matteo e l'Angelo; Regazzo con casco e tulipani; Mercurio a riposo; Medea; Marte a riposo; Guiditta e Oloferne

"Dream Recipe #1"

Dream Recipe #1


The first prepared food in the history of the world
Cradle of man
Bread basket
Hills and planes

Step One:


Flour: wheat hull husk half

Water: dough bubbly and alive

Glass: knead until smooth as.
shiny elastic
punch and giggle

Step Two:


©JEF 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

1964 New York World's Fair

On this day in 1964, the New York World's Fair opened at Flushing Meadows in Queens. With the world entering the "Space Age," the theme of the fair was "Peace Through Understanding" and was dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." It was this last idea that was the inspiration for the centerpiece symbol of the fair, the Unisphere, an enormous, 12-story high stainless steel globe. The earth is shown surrounded by three rings which allegedly portray the orbits of Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space), John Glenn (the first American to orbit the earth) and Telstar (the first active communications satellite).

The 1964 New York World's fair is remembered as the dry-run for Walt Disney's "Audio-Animatronics" system. In fact, the Walt Disney Company designed and created four entire shows for the fair. 1) "It's A Small World" at the Pepsi Pavilion (featuring dolls of little children from around the world and a maddeningly syrupy song written by the Sherman Brothers), 2) "Progressland" at the General Electric Pavilion (where people saw scenes of the progress of inventions in daily life) , 3) "Ford Magic Skyway" at the Ford Pavilion and 4) "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" at the Illinois Pavilion. All of these shows went on to second lives at Disneyland and subsequently, Disney World. Obviously "It's A Small World" remains largely unchanged, including the song. "Progressland" became the "Carousel of Progress" and is still in operation, "Ford Magic Skyway" became the People Mover and then later the Tomorrow Land Transit Authority, and "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" expanded to become "The Hall of Presidents."

Some of the New York World's Fair structures remain including the observation towers and, thankfully, the marvelous Unisphere, seen above in 2010.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Hubble

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Hubble Telescope in orbit. NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day celebrates this with the below image and information.
Happy Birthday, Hubble!

Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

Explanation: The spiky stars in the foreground of this sharp cosmic portrait are well within our own Milky Way Galaxy. The two eye-catching galaxies lie far beyond the Milky Way, at a distance of over 300 million light-years. Their distorted appearance is due to gravitational tides as the pair engage in close encounters. Cataloged as Arp 273 (also as UGC 1810), the galaxies do look peculiar, but interacting galaxies are now understood to be common in the universe. In fact, the nearby large spiral Andromeda Galaxy is known to be some 2 million light-years away and approaching the Milky Way. Arp 273 may offer an analog of their far future encounter. Repeated galaxy encounters on a cosmic timescale can ultimately result in a merger into a single galaxy of stars. From our perspective, the bright cores of the Arp 273 galaxies are separated by only a little over 100,000 light-years. The release of this stunning vista celebrates the 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit.

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Naps With Lions

Over the last several years, I have seen many stories about and pictures of Kevin Richardson and aside from having a crush on this extremely handsome man, I have always been fascinated by what he does. As an animal behaviourist, he has developed close relationships with not only a pride of lions, but many other big cats as well as hyenas and other predators. He does this at the Kingdom of the White Lion outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is an awesome and emotional thing to watch him roll around, romp, swim, and nap with creatures as magnificent as lions.

Take a look below at this remarkable footage from Sky News as well as a film about Kevin called "White Lion: Home Is A Journey."

And visit his site, The Lion Whisperer for more information about Kevin, the Kingdom of the White Lion and conservation projects in Africa as well as more fantastic pictures and videos.