November 28th, 2010

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.

More Steven Wright:

Thanks Alice.

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November 25th, 2010

rhythm 0

Wikipedia on performance artist Marina Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (1974):

To test the limits of the relationship between performer and audience, Abramović developed one of her most challenging (and best-known) performances. She assigned a passive role to herself, with the public being the force which would act on her.

Abramović had placed upon a table 72 objects that people were allowed to use (a sign informed them) in any way that they chose. Some of these were objects that could give pleasure, while others could be wielded to inflict pain, or to harm her. Among them were scissors, a knife, a whip, and, most notoriously, a gun and a single bullet. For six hours the artist allowed the audience members to manipulate her body and actions.

Initially, members of the audience reacted with caution and modesty, but as time passed (and the artist remained impassive) several people began to act quite aggressively. As Abramović described it later:

“The experience I learned was that…if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed.” … “I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”

Rhythm 10 (1973):

In her first performance Abramović explored elements of ritual and gesture. Making use of twenty knives and two tape recorders, the artist played the Russian game in which rhythmic knife jabs are aimed between the splayed fingers of her hand (5-finger fillet). Each time she cut herself, she would pick up a new knife from the row of twenty she had set up, and recorded the operation.

After cutting herself twenty times, she replayed the tape, listened to the sounds, and tried to repeat the same movements, attempting to replicate the mistakes, merging together past and present. She set out to explore the physical and mental limitations of the body – the pain and the sounds of the stabbing, the double sounds from the history and from the replication. With this piece, Abramović began to consider the state of consciousness of the performer. “Once you enter into the performance state you can push your body to do things you absolutely could never normally do.”

More Marina.

November 25th, 2010

I’m afraid not, Moochie.

Thanks Thaïs for bringing this to my attention.

November 24th, 2010

wayne thiebaud

Blue Hill. 1967, Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920).

This retrospective book has some paintings of his I love but cannot find online in good quality, like Orange Grove (1966), Diagonal Ridge (1968), Coloma Ridge (1967), Ribbon Store (1957), Pinball Machine (1956), Sleeping Figure (1959), Study for Bluffs (1967), Hillside (1963), Half Dome & Cloud (1975), Caged Pie (1962), Five Hot Dogs (1961), Cigar Counter (19??), and Beach Boys (1959).

November 21st, 2010

how proust can change your life

Embedding disabled, view on youtube.

The person who dredged up this old BBC documentary and took the trouble of uploading it to youtube in 6 parts is presumably an example of someone upon whose life Proust made an impression. Proustian sentence unintended.

The volume of the videos is pretty low, so this article on how to boost youtube video volume beyond the maximum may come in handy.

November 20th, 2010

airing the far tributaries of your lungs

Photograph: Danita Delimont/Getty Images/Gallo Images.

Poet Simon Armitage in The Guardian:

I try to get in a bit of a walk most days. Most times it’s a toss up between going for a walk and staying in and writing a poem, but it often leads to the same thing. I go on to the moors – we live on the edge of the Pennines and Saddleworth moor, and it can be quite bleak and quite dangerous. Sometimes I go off-piste, but there are issues around here with land ownership so sometimes I stick to the roads and the routes and sometimes I wilfully transgress, which gives me a kick.

Some people have said there’s a relationship between poetic meter and the fall of your foot – and possibly your heartbeat might be thought of as an iambic beat when it’s amplified by walking. Often when I go for a walk I come back with a poem. There’s a sense of creativity about it, and a sense of wellbeing that you are getting the organs and lungs and the blood moving. You never come back from a walk feeling worse – sometimes you come back feeling colder and wetter though, especially up here.

I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my mind I see it as a therapeutic activity. I know it can be good for a hangover. Some people believe strongly that art in general can put you in touch with yourself and through it you start feeling worthwhile and valuable, and there might be some kind of chemical trigger that aids recovery and keeps illness at bay. If a walk leads to a poem, maybe there’s a relationship there.

I am 47 now and sometimes I think “How many more fantastic days out on these moors are there?’ Sometimes it can be an expedition just to go up there, but when it’s sunny and clear and crisp like yesterday it’s exhilarating, and that gets right down to the far tributaries of your lungs that normally are breathing warm radiator air and it does heighten your sense of wellbeing.

More writers on walking: In Praise of the Daily Walk.

November 15th, 2010

despair has stopped listening to music

Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, has a fascinating blog post on the NY Times website about how our brains interpret symbols and reality in the same part of the brain. And about the consequences of this.

Consider an animal (including a human) that has started eating some rotten, fetid, disgusting food. As a result, neurons in an area of the brain called the insula will activate. Gustatory disgust. Smell the same awful food, and the insula activates as well. Think about what might count as a disgusting food (say, taking a bite out of a struggling cockroach). Same thing.

Now read in the newspaper about a saintly old widow who had her home foreclosed by a sleazy mortgage company, her medical insurance canceled on flimsy grounds, and got a lousy, exploitative offer at the pawn shop where she tried to hock her kidney dialysis machine. You sit there thinking, those bastards, those people are scum, they’re worse than maggots, they make me want to puke … and your insula activates. Think about something shameful and rotten that you once did … same thing. Not only does the insula “do” sensory disgust; it does moral disgust as well. Because the two are so viscerally similar. When we evolved the capacity to be disgusted by moral failures, we didn’t evolve a new brain region to handle it. Instead, the insula expanded its portfolio.

Or consider pain. Somebody pokes your big left toe with a pin. Spinal reflexes cause you to instantly jerk your foot back just as they would in, say, a frog. Evolutionarily ancient regions activate in the brain as well, telling you about things like the intensity of the pain, or whether it’s a sharp localized pain or a diffuse burning one. But then there’s a fancier, more recently evolved brain region in the frontal cortex called the anterior cingulate that’s involved in the subjective, evaluative response to the pain. A piranha has just bitten you? That’s a disaster. The shoes you bought are a size too small? Well, not as much of a disaster.

Now instead, watch your beloved being poked with the pin. And your anterior cingulate will activate, as if it were you in pain. There’s a neurotransmitter called Substance P that is involved in the nuts and bolts circuitry of pain perception. Administer a drug that blocks the actions of Substance P to people who are clinically depressed, and they often feel better, feel less of the world’s agonies. When humans evolved the ability to be wrenched with feeling the pain of others, where was it going to process it? It got crammed into the anterior cingulate. And thus it “does” both physical and psychic pain.

Another truly interesting domain in which the brain confuses the literal and metaphorical is cleanliness. In a remarkable study, Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. Volunteers were asked to recall either a moral or immoral act in their past. Afterward, as a token of appreciation, Zhong and Liljenquist offered the volunteers a choice between the gift of a pencil or of a package of antiseptic wipes. And the folks who had just wallowed in their ethical failures were more likely to go for the wipes. In the next study, volunteers were told to recall an immoral act of theirs. Afterward, subjects either did or did not have the opportunity to clean their hands. Those who were able to wash were less likely to respond to a request for help (that the experimenters had set up) that came shortly afterward. Apparently, Lady Macbeth and Pontius Pilate weren’t the only ones to metaphorically absolve their sins by washing their hands.

Read more: NY Times.

November 14th, 2010

so that’s why they’re called eggplants

Aubergine at wikipedia. (via reddit)

November 12th, 2010

creative obsession

“Achieving the end of the exercise was never the point of the exercise to begin with, was it?”

Adam Savage has some beautiful obsessions, and he’s clearly very proud of his fanaticism.

November 12th, 2010

if fruits are fed on any beast, let vine-roots suck this parish priest

I like this playfully morbid poem by J.M. Synge:


After reading Ronsards lines from Rabelais.

If fruits are fed on any beast,
Let vine-roots suck this parish priest,
For while he lived, no summer sun
Went up but he’d a bottle done,
And in the starlight beer and stout
Kept his waistcoat bulging out.

Then Death that changes happy things
Damned his soul to water springs.

I like this one very much too:


With little money in a great city.

There’s snow in every street
Where I go up and down,
And there’s no woman, man, or dog
That knows me in this town.

I know each shop, and all
These Jews, and Russian Poles,
For I go walking night and noon
To spare my sack of coals.

More here. Thanks Aidan

November 7th, 2010

sugar corn sirup butter milk

If truth is more beautiful than the contrived, then the most beautiful kind of poetry is perhaps the entirely accidental kind… The kind that comes into being with no aesthetic intentions attached and sleeps until the perfect alignment of observer, time and space.

Take this digitized recipe book “experimental cookery from the chemical and physical standpoint” — its contents pages are dripping with divine word combinations. A choice selection:

sugar corn sirup butter milk
sugar cookery
sugar cookery classification of the carbohydrates

fondants, fudge,
caramels, taffy, brittles
stages of cookery of sucrose solutions

classification of ice creams
ices and sherbets

plant pigments part 5
crisping pickles

meat. grading and stamping of meat.
definition of meat and flesh
federal inspection of meat

breaking mayonnaise

I feel like I found a €50 note on the pavement. For more unintentional poetry, see this spam poem I found in 2008.

Incidentally, some of the experiments in this book sound fun/interesting. I found the book when googling for information about boiling vegetables in milk.

Addendum: Another food science word I discovered recently and developed affections for is farinaceous, describing a mealy, floury, starchy nature (from farina, latin for flour).

November 7th, 2010

lights out, full screen, say goodbye to time for 7 minutes

Multi-projection film Berlin Horse (1970) was based entirely on a novel but simple idea of a repeating, subtly changing film loop. The soundtrack created by Brian Eno was also implemented using a tape loop

Youtube link.

Above is an interview with the filmmaker Malcoln Le Grice from 2008. Youtube link.

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November 4th, 2010

nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect

Wabi-Sabi (from wikipedia):

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常, mujō).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy and the suggestion of natural processes.

Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it “occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.” “if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” ” nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

More: Wabi-Sabi.

November 3rd, 2010

space smells

ISS Space Officer Jon Pettit:

Few people have experienced traveling into space. Even fewer have experienced the smell of space. Now this sounds strange, that a vacuum could have a smell and that a human being could live to smell that smell. It seems about as improbable as listening to sounds in space, yet space has a definite smell. Being creatures of an atmosphere, we can only smell space indirectly. Sort of like the way a pit viper smells by waving its tongue in the air and thenpressing it to the roof of its mouth where sensors process the molecules that have been adsorbed onto the waggling appendage. I had the pleasure of operating the airlock for two of my crewmates while they went on several space walks. Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as “tastes like chicken.” The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space.

From NASA (via reddit).

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