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Calm before the storm

There is something great about witnessing the moments before something spectacular takes place.

picture from: temptationsandambitions.blogspot.com

It can be an event of nature, such as an anticipated storm, or maybe its ending when the rays of light burst through the clouds. The main thing that I am referring here is the feeling of witnessing a fundamental change in something, a feeling of seeing something to get to another level or form. I could go on about nature, carpentry or building sand castles, but for the sake of clarity of the argument, I will limit myself to people and performance.

I have a some sort of a crush to paintings of ballerinas putting on their shoes. I am so happy that I got to see paintings of Edgar Degas in Vienna a couple of years ago, because he has some marvellous paintings about ballerinas. Before getting to any talks of fetishism, I would like to point out that when a ballerina is tying on her pointe shoes, she is putting on her uniform and the most important work equipment at the same time. And in the act of dressing on those shoes, I feel that there is happening a change in attitude, a mindset  or “getting to the battle mode” in other words,  that becomes visible.

paintin by John Isaac

And when it comes to getting to the battle mode, or gearing up for work, not many professionals look more graceful than ballerinas. The tipping point seems so palpable and grand that it gets me every time. It is a moment, when a person, Julia, a mother, a student, a daughter, a lover, becomes a player of profession, a dancer. It is a moment of reflection and concentration. It may involve some specific people (maybe  in group sports, a coach and team members in the locker room), and usually some rituals. It may look very different between different persons, and especially between sports or professions, but the change of mindset is always visibly present.

sketch by Edgar Degas

Some may argue that it is the moment when individuals turn into machines or executors, a moment when they lose their identity and individuality. And I must admit, there are some fora where the negative side of this pops out more often than it should. But as Nurenberg trials concluded, a soldier is not and should not be a mindless tool but is more strongly bound by his morale than that of the orders of his superiors. And no one can argue, that ballerinas or athletes of any sort would hand in their individual expression and way of doing things, even though they are bound by their physical limits and the training they have received and rules that they should follow. I personally remember going through my dance routines when I put my dancing shoes on. When I dressed my soldier uniform and serviced my rifle, I went through the instructions how to aim and tried to calm myself in order to shoot better. Every time I put my suit on, I think of the persons I am putting it on for and feel grateful of sharing that moment soon to come with them.

 

I guess that what I am arguing here, is that firstly, sometimes it is more interesting to see what happens before the performance than the performance in itself.  Secondly, putting on your uniform makes you think through what is coming your way, but it does not take away your morale. This interest towards the back room is in my view apparent in the success of reality shows and the invasion of athletes private space in the modern television. Whether this is good or bad I cannot say. But one thing that is good is that people who concentrate to their future task tend to do it better. I feel fortunate to be able to spot out and to appreciate these moments of preparation in my surroundings, such as people getting ready to meetings, or maybe students who are studying for an exam in the library. I am not too thrilled about seeing women putting on make-up in busses though, because I feel that they are depriving themselves of the reflection when doing it outside of the usual place where the ritual takes or should take place.  I heard someone today say the same thing about watching people eat in public transport. These both things seem to skim down the value in the process (from feeling pretty to just getting pretty, or enjoying a meal just to swallowing fuel for body), leaving mechanics but taking away the reflection and self-appreciation.

If you feel like wanting to get a taste of what I mean, I suggest you watch Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” (Hable Con Ella). It is a disturbing and a beautiful movie, of which it may be better not to know too much about beforehand, but there is a scene about a female bull fighter getting her costume on. She cannot dress it alone, and there is a great sense of preparing oneself to meet with the bull as she is putting her gear on. Almodovar clearly is getting my point, or other way around. 🙂

Still from the movie Hable con Ella.

ps. Come to think of it, while I was putting on any uniform, I actually concentrated on tying my boots on right, putting the right buttons to my white tie shirt, and the thoughts of the actions and people came afterwards. But I suppose the concentration to the process does not diminish the psychological importance of the excercice, and it still makes the action afterwards more meaningful.

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Sample this

I have always been interested in definition of a thing turning to something else and the point in which this happens. In what point does a piece of land or a population turn into a nation state? Life ain’t all binary and a lot of the grey stuff is where the interesting things happen. Today I won’t go to politics though, but will make some notions on music.

There are rules on copying someone else’s ideas in most of areas in life and it is called copyright. When you make a great song, you want your name cling on it and get a dime every time it gets played. But is the song really, originally yours? Are you so sure?

In my world of academics, one should not cite a writer word by word without references without fear of accusation of plagiarism. On the other hand, you cannot write anything detached of the community and the ones who have thought things through before you. In academic writing the rules are clear; if you cite without references, you plagiarize and that is a bad thing in a science community. In the music industry, the rules can be a bit more blurry.

Basically the writer and the composer owns rights to his creation until his death and a set number of years after that. I think in Finland the year limit has been set to 70. Do not get me wrong, it is totally fine to take the good stuff of someone’s song and put it in yours, but usually you either check first that the guy has been dead for quite a while, or you at least ask permission, put their name in the credits and pay them accordingly. If you couldn’t, there would be no hip hop or rap around. And when it comes to any pop or rock songs, do you think that the melodies that you hear now in top 10 haven’t been heard before?

But even when some of songs on the grey area (like the one by Coldplay above), the difficulty of drawing a clear line on what is legitimate and illegitimate use of previous works of art. There are thousands of good examples of lazy people using a classic song, singing it again badly and adding a techno beat on top, but I won’t go into those at all. After all, there are good copycats and bad ones as well in any industry. But I want to introduce you to one of my favourite artist, who in some people’s minds is a music liberator, and others judge him to be biggest musical criminal alive. His name is Girl Talk.

Girl Talk (or Gregg Gillis)  uses vocals and samples quite freely, and he might “steal” a beat or two from a song and put it into his compilation. Or at least a compilation would be a term used by the record labels or copyright officials who try to protect and uphold copyrighted material and the conventions of their use. He has actually admitted on using from 150 to 300 samples in each of his albums and that he hasn’t asked for permission since it would take too much time and the costs would be too overwhelming. Now you might think that there is no question that this guy is knee deep in law suits or probably locked down and sanctioned not to use his laptop ever again to create this illegal art. Well, actually he is doing just fine. It seems that in spite of apparently breaking just about every rule in the book, the artists and the record labels leave him be. The rap artists (which he mainly uses as vocals in his mash ups) have originally put a cappella versions of their songs out in hopes of dee jays and fans using them on top of other songs to make variations or mixes. I mentioned earlier the lazy techno revamps of old classics. You can check here how “easy” it is to produce Girl Talk mash ups.

I spotted this artist a couple of years ago in a documentary called “RIP: A Remix Manifesto!” which I invent you all to watch. It gives a refreshing view of modern society at it’s best and at it’s worst one might argue, at least in the realm of copyright. Can you spot out the villain?

ps.  a German author Moritz Heimann has wisely said that the most opinions form when one forgets where he has heard or read them. In retrospect, most of the things I am trying to convey here are actually touched upon in the documentary above.

Art outside of the box

I have been following an artist who has an eye for visuals as well as for politics and irony. His work was in the beginning illegal graffiti, but as he became more renowned the houses which he has “smeared” have actually increased their value.

image from banksy.co.uk

Banksy questions our everyday perception and popular culture icons. He has decorated the “new Berlin wall” which separates Israel and Palestine. He makes sometimes big public installations in the center of London and Bristol without getting caught. Although I am in awe of his highly skilled stencil work which is really funny and sometimes provocative, in the spirit of this blog I will concentrate on the one side where an idea has been twisted on its head and given a really clever new perspective.

image from banksy.co.uk

Have you ever considered that all the security inside museums has the objective of keeping the art inside? Well, Banksy has considered this and decided to embrace it and he has smuggled his art into the museums. Doing this I am not sure whether he is breaking any rules or law, but it looks like a lot of fun and can make the audience find something that they really were not in for when they entered the museum of classical art.

image from banksy.co.uk.

One thing that he observes is the time it takes for the personnel to notice the added works and to remove them. Sometimes they last for several days on the walls of respected art institutions. I am not sure whether this is a sign of the lack of attention of the personnel or their understanding for this new way of using a museum as a public space. Whatever the case, I am sure that most of the guests can appreciate these works of art, at least after realizing that it was not the national treasure that was vandalized, but that the remakes are possibly cheap copies or some Sunday painter’s interpretation of art classics.

He has also revised the CD album of Paris Hilton by modifying the cover art and adding some “inspirational” catch phrases to the album. He then delivered hundreds of these to various CD stores in Great Britain and put them next to the original Paris Hilton records. With these projects he takes a stand on all the right reasons, some of them being shallowness of modern life, intolerance and conventional view of art and the institutions which decide on who gets exposure and who does not.

image by Banksy.

There is a new documentary out about Banksy called Exit Through the Gift Shop. I have not seen it yet but I intend to see it in the near future.  In my opinion, he walks the thin line on annoying the authorities and also delivering a welcome message through everyday citizens by some quite unconventional measures. He does not raise his fist but a can of paint instead. What kind of ideas does Banksy give to you? Is he a criminal, disobeying citizen or an underground artist? Are his guerrilla tactics to Palestine wall, art museums and CD stores called for? If not, how should ordinary citizen approach these institutions if they wanted to make a change or have their say?

A time to reflect

When killing time between flights, have you ever wanted just to get away of the airport hustle and have a moment of silence? Those gate announcements and hasty passengers can make even a rugged travelers face grin, especially after a long flight or an early morning wake up. Have you noticed that in many international airports there is a way to take a breather?

The place that I am referring to is a prayer room, or in some places (mostly in the US) it is called airport chapel. I first got introduced to one about 10 years ago in Düsseldorf airport. If I remember correctly, my brother (who lived there) told me to find it, and luckily I did. It is a bit hidden away from the shopping and eating area, which in my opinion is only a good thing. From the outside, this Gebetsraum is quite unassuming but when you get inside, the experience is really rewarding.

Prayer room of Duesseldorf airport. Picture by Skydaddy.

Now what I love especially in this particular space that it holds no religious symbols, not even the holy books of different religions. It is quiet, calming and easy on the eye. At the end of the space there is a water feature which gives the room a little touch of organic, unstable material. Without crosses or prayer mats, one can go there without a specific agenda or justification, just to hang out and relax for a while. I have found a prayer room only in Duesseldorf and Kastrup airports, and sadly the latter was nothing like the one pictured above. I am amazed that Copenhagens Kastrup airport which has received many awards, can get away with a shabby and packed room. I asked Helsinki-Vantaa airport and they told me that their prayer room has been closed in 2009 due to a huge renovation and that they were considering whether to make a new one once the renovation is through. I made a strong plea in favor, since Helsinki is marketing itself as a hug for long-haul flights to Asia and really needs it’s services to be up to date.

After googling I came to a conclusion that these rooms are predominantly christian in US airports, and that in some Asian airports there may be separate rooms for different religions. As I am not that religious, I find the idea of bringing different religions together and pray or have a shared moment of silence for any reason together just wonderful. What the world needs now, is more of these places of common ground. In this sense, I can only to recommend next time you are stuck at an airport and want to experience something quite different,  go and ask for a prayer room. And if you are lucky, you can find something quite special!:)

Even at it’s “worst”, the room may fill a purpose of some spiritual need and host a library of various religious books. This should not be overlooked, although with little money and planning one could do so much better. If you find a new prayer room, beautiful or not, please take a picture and send it to me. I would love to know how this idea has been translated in various airports.

Airport of Heatherwood, Georgia. Picture by Y Mucho Más (Flickr).

Here is a link to the full presentation of Duesseldorf Airport prayer room. The pictures are dynamic, so you can “walk” inside the room by clicking on the arrows on the pictures. Enjoy!

http://www.hahnheltenthiemann.de/projekte/sakralbauten/222-gedenkstaette-flughafen-duesseldorf.html

Ideas worth spreading

I have been a regular viewer of TED Talks for about two or three years now. I can’t really remember how it all began but I suspect I followed a video link either from Facebook or some news page. I got hooked right away and since then I have seen hundreds of short speeches from varying topics. I usually watch them from my phone on my way to the office or back home.

TED is a conference in held in California each winter and in Oxford each summer which last for about a week each. Among the guest speakers in there are some paying attendees in the audience as well. Conference has a theme or themes around which the speeches revolve around. The idea is for speakers to give a speech on a topic of their interest which should last about 16 minutes. And o boy, what you can fit into 16 minutes! I have learnt, or should I say become of aware of hundreds of different projects, products or ideas that are making this world a better place to live in. There are architects, heart surgeons, lawyers, statisticians, musicians, physicists, engineers, entrepreneur, people of various backgrounds sharing  ideas of making a difference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, but it covers quite many different things beyond these three words. Conferences allow people to mingle and ideas to collide and TED is not exception. But there are differences to “regular” conferences, as you will soon notice.

Unlike most conferences where talks can take 30, 60 or 90 minutes and usually go to the speakers bread and butter topic, maybe something they are making a dissertation or a book about, they can easily be quite boring. And I don’t mean the message as such, it’s just that those people are usually experts in their field, but not at making speeches that have an impact to a wider audience. Usually it is enough to give hard data to colleagues or co-researchers who can appreciate all the subtleties of one’s latest scientific findings. In TED, the speakers speak of things that pour out of their heart and not necessarily what’s on their work desk. And they are coached in their speech in order to make it as appealing as possible in the time frame that has been given. And usually this means less statistics or numbers and more feeling. You literally lean forward when an architect speaks about renovating houses to become greener or a designer who explains how to design a handheld device for emergency care nurses while making sure that the humane connection between the nurse and patient is considered as well.

I kid you not when I say that looking at these talks is like going to the movies. But they are not like movies but more like a mix of the intensivity of Actors Studio and information of any documentary squeezed into 16 minute long, often emotional infomercial.

Here are some of my favourite speeches to be digested at your own discretion. First of them is about a project in India where the slum kids are given internet accessed computer and they start to learn by themselves. Second one is encouraging modern kids to get active with their surroundings and to explore. Third and last one explores the variety of things that one pig helps to produce. Prepare to be amazed. And be advised, you might get addicted!

 

 

A hidden view

Have you ever stumbled upon a view where there is just something different, something thought out? It feels like taking a peak to someone’s living room, or maybe a secret being unraveled to you who are just at the right spot and sometimes just at the right time. Well, I have seen this happen a couple of times in architecture, and it totally blows me away.

Montreal Olympic Stadion (picture from Flickr Théo La Photo)

Sometimes you know that what you are seeing is no accident. The thought that follows is the one that puzzles me the most: what kind of architect has time, vision and opportunity to play with the surroundings so that the building he or she builds, connects to it in one more way. Of course the form and materials of the building are sometimes predefined as well as the site and the volume as well. Doing this can be accidental or planned, subtle or “in your face!”, but it impresses me either way.

Finlandia Hall (Picture by Helsingin Sanomat)

Finlandia Hall (picture from siennasmommy.blogspot.com)

I have been told that Alvar Aalto has done this kind of flukes in several locations but I have not been able to track them down. But is this a fluke, a visual trick, or an ego trip or a show of elitism by an architect who chuckles by himself in his secret viewing point. I don’t know, I just think it’s great!

I am hungry for these different views. It can be something that everybody knows, or something really exclusive. I’d like to know if you know something like these pictures. Please share them with me.

Screentone

Karlito - La Rue Cause (screenshot from http://www.get-bacc.com)

One thing that has always interested me is screentone. I remember 15 years back when I was a teen and I made a couple of t-shirt prints. I bought this special paper for my printer and printed and ironed two pictures. I went to pains to get a screenshot from Karlito’s music video “la rue cause” and another picture was manga girl with a gun which I ironed on the side of the shirt. I couldn’t find the original pictures which I used but here are some reference pictures so that you get the idea.

Manga girl in screentone (picture from liz-kicks-butt.deviantart.com)

Anyways, where I was getting at was screentone.  Screentone is basically one way to make pictures with color. Screentone is an area that is filled out with  many dots that make that area appear to be fully covered. Actually, when you look close enough to maybe a newspaper picture, you can differentiate these dots and see how the picture is made up by the printing machine.This technique saves coloras it leaves areas blank.  It is also used in manga and other cartoons as a shadowing technique.

The thing that fascinates me maybe the most is that it’s original purpose being ingenious in itself (=saving loads of color when printing pictures) it has been adopted by artists as a way to make a visual impact. It has also found it’s way to pop art.

Bloc Party t-shirt (picture from http://www.merchco-online.com)

But the coolest thing I found was on a Bloc Party gig about 2 years ago. The gig was out of this world and after that I wandered of to the merchandise booth to somehow encapsulate that moment of beautiful music. And there it was. A shirt with Bloc Party’s Intimacy album cover redone in screentone! I just had to have it. The dots are that big that if you haven’t seen the original album cover the screentone stays obscure and you don’t see what is really going on. You have to stare the shirt from 10 metres so that the dots start making sense. It has been fun to see my colleagues reaction after they have ignored the shirt for the whole day and then I ask them to step back and take a closer look.

 

This I think is something that in different forms has taken my interest; the effort one has to make in order to see something beautiful or clever. Sometimes it means that you have to climb up a hill, take an elevator to the top of Eiffel Tower or find a spot where everything lines up. I want to find people who have marked the spot and to see the beautiful and sometimes hidden view. And with this blog, I hope to share those views with you.