Saturday, July 28, 2012

For the love of art...

Bad art!
All three of my kids studied 'creative' crafts after high school, diametrically opposite of what I did when I was their age. I became a technologist and a technocrat. They are earning their dough in 'creative' occupations. Nothing wrong with that, although it took me some time to digest. 
A long ago, I remember, out of sheer curiosity, I tried to start a conversation with my eldest of two sons, about what they taught him at school 'art' was and what makes a work of an artist 'good art', as opposed to all things commercial and bad art. Needless to say, he had no concrete answer to that, because there's simply no real answer to the question. Do we like a particular Arles work of van Gogh above a 'similar' of Gauguin's because a critic said so, or because we see something different? And how to explain that some of us like works of Picasso and Braque above those of de Kooning and Pollock? How does someone explain the process by which an artwork's colours, shapes and forms, and perhaps movement elicit such feelings inside us, and we feel that this is indeed what art must be all about?
A few days ago I happened to browse thru the photography portfolio of someone who's recently known notoriety as a UI designer for Apple's iOS devices. In his website he presents his core skills and work, but also says that he is a 'photographer' and shows off a number of his photographs. I somehow sensed that he is the sort of photographer that Bryan Adams also calls himself. More like gifted amateurs, I'd prefer to call them both. I must be honest, I thought his photographs were not too bad... at least that's what I thought. Don't shoot me for that! But I must also admit that my skill in discriminating good from bad art is close to non-existent. So I decided to ask a friend, who I believe had far more advanced capability in deciding good art, and discriminate it from bad art. She is an author and a journalist in her day job, but she also loves the arts in most of its forms. I asked her to tell me what she thought of this guy's photography. This is an excerpt of her response:

...They (
note VJK-D: his photographs) conveyed to me this look of self-indulgence... I remember that the ones he shot in Morocco almost wiped away altogether my initial desire to visit the country, and made disappear the romantic dispositions that I gained after seeing that documentary years ago, as I already told you, about Fez. I simply despise our (note VJK-D: hypocrite empathy and arrogant contempt we show towards 'lower class' people) approach as :
  • the Rich towards the Poor 
  • the West towards the East, 
  • the Strong towards the Weak
Many photographers and authors often do that, and it’s become a banal cliché for sure. I am looking for love and affection for the beautiful, the hope, and indeed life itself. We have already been lost in meaningless and lifeless things; we have been hardened... I want the artist to make me teary about the things that exist around me. There he comes, a total stranger, from some place far and away; he looks at them, he embraces them, he describes them in words, or by means of images or animations, and shows them to me again, to enliven me to restart doing, for instance, gardening, or cooking, to caress them with enthusiasm because they are not meaningless, because this is what life is, what the sun and the rain of every single day undeniably are.

The reason I blogged this is because of a number explicit and concrete elements she explains genuine art lovers 'see' in artworks, that I rarely experienced in the past being stated in those words. I simply wanted to share the experience. That's all...

Monday, July 16, 2012

More good news

Screen capture of Reuters RSS on July 16th, 2012
Nowadays it appears to be more entertaining to read obituaries than Reuters news reports. Read here their recent titles from a screen capture of my Reuters' RSS, from my Google homepage this morning. Even the one news report -- third story from the top -- about a company acquisition (these are usually positive news) is the result of a hostile take over that seemed to have initially failed. What can you say? What will ever bring remedy to this? Is this really a 'traditional' economy low? But, why does it last so long? Lack of leadership on both sides of the pond? Definitely one of the reasons. Old sins of our middle-aged generation of baby-boomers? Abuse of the environment? Too few taking control of too many resources with too many left struggling for survival? I thought the global village would be a solution to all our problems. A divine panacea, so to say. Dream on, dude. We are all fucked up, plain and simple!

The worst July in recent years...

People watching the first leg (swim) of yesterday's Triathlon in Oudenaarde,
East Flanders, Belgium! Has been pouring rain all day!
Actually, most July months ever since I stepped into Belgium, 40 years ago this July, has been like this. What is so wrong with this country? Most of Europe (at least the Southern part) is hot and burning with temperatures closing or above 40 degrees, and we got 12 degrees over here. Our northern coastline tourism is already dead by now, and people dress like in autumn and winter. My fingers as I type this feel like frozen, and I got to wear socks to feel the blood flowing back in my taws. Come to think of it, I don't even care about the freezing temperatures. But how about that freakin' rain? What is it any good for? I reckon, when God decided to define weather for every country in the world, he probably felt he needed a leak and came to piss all over Belgium. Flanders in particular.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Triathlon of Flanders

Triathlon of Flanders, a set on Flickr.

First Triathlon of Flanders organized in Oudenaarde and the Flemish Ardennes. July 15th, 2012. With pouring rain. What else?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Saint John in Saint Bavo's

We are almost at the eve of Ghent's Feasts 2012. It actually starts on Friday, 13th and it goes on until the following Sunday, the 23rd. The rule is that the Belgian National Day, July 21st, must fall inside the week of Ghent's Feasts. Although there's a lot of beer consumption during that period, the objectives of the 10 days long feasts is to be a celebration of culture in most of its forms, visual, textual, musical, theatrical and culinary. It's not like the October Feasts in Munich where visitors drop dead and pissed from drinking megatons of beer, and definitely not so crowded as there. I think I read somewhere that the Feasts have been going on like this almost for two centuries. I have known them for no more than 36 years, which is the number of years I lived in and close to the city of Ghent. 
This noon I went to visit Saint Bavo's. While city workmen were still busy setting up the venues for the celebrations all over the place in the citycenter, under a crazy sky that kept pouring heavy rain every now and then, I sought tranquility inside the largest cathedral of the city, Saint Bavo's, a historic catholic church with works of Van Eyck, Rubens, and Jeroen Bosch among others, that stands in the heart of the city for more than a thousand years. A masterful building of medieval architecture that creates in you awe as you turn your eyes to stare towards the top of its towers. 
One of the country's most famous curators, Jan Hoet, who unfortunately was sedated into coma the last few weeks, because of a health incident when he was recently in Germany, was the curator behind Saint Jan, an expo of young artists, who show-off their work conspicuously among the ecclesiastic artifacts of the cathedral, inside the venue premises. 
I photographed both, a few views of the cathedral itself, and most of the artist works, as well some of the visitors (a Japanese tourist group for instance, looking with awe at a large Rubens painting). I put up a simple slideshow and this is what you see embedded in the beginning of this blogpost.
As I usually do, I have tried to reproduce the atmosphere in the church as I experienced it myself during the half hour of my visit there. I enjoyed shooting pictures with the camera doing conspicuous shutter noises, while cards with 'no photography or video permitted' hang all over the place. Nobody said a thing to the old bugger with salt and pepper hair and a rather dear camera, so I got away with it. They 'knew' I didn't do that for money, so where's the problem? I didn't fire any flashlight anyway...
A series of three photographs shows one work called "a thousand Gods". Icones of Gods from various religions were projected against a flat pillar at the side of the ceremony table, where the priests perform their sacraments liturgy. Another set of pictures shows a huge sword hanging from the ceiling. I literally stood underneath and felt kinda like pissing myself, hoping the supporting steel rope wouldn't break apart! There was also this neon light ring with words written on it, like "love", "death", "life", "pain", etc... flashing consecutively the words one by one, and then all of them together for a few secs. There was also this beautiful painting of a young girl on a huge canvas by an artist called Mathieu Ronse, who happens to be an acquaintance of my daughter's, I dare say. He even gave her one of his early works about ten years ago, in his mid twenties then. Actually, this was the only artist I had heard of. In reality, I rather enjoy a work without knowing its artist, because I believe, knowledge of "who done it" leads you often to rationalization of your real appreciation of the artwork. You end up admiring something just because it was done by someone famous. Not fair!
I also found quite impressive a funny Escher-like stairway made of simple plywood, creating an arc altogether. I'm displaying three different photographs of that work in the slideshow. It created an exceptional visual impression, both with its shapes and color. Finally, I found interesting a praying mat with two hands and feet in plaster white, symbolizing a praying Muslim, i suppose. The embroidered mat shapes were reminiscent of an Islamic temple. Catholicism became quite tolerant after all. 
Worth visiting if you happen to be around Ghent, not so if you are far away, unless you want to experience the rest of the Feast goodies next week!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Incompetence is the name!

On a rainy and reasonably chilly Sunday afternoon, during an all typical Flemish July, far away from a vacationing South Europe, where the sun still shines too bloody hot for my taste, I found nothing better to do than surf around on 'Frequency'. This is a fabulous aggregator of video clips from various sources (Youtube being basically the prime one). Frequency is also an app available on iOS devices, and I suppose Android too. It's a better way to waste your time instead of watching regular TV. I have a (free) registered account that I have populated with channels of interest, and, depending on my mood, I might watch one thing one day and an entirely different thing another.
This afternoon it was my 'cultural' vibes that were at 'work', and having been at the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels recently, in their Greek-Roman section among other, I decided to watch the Youtube video embedded above, that was produced last May at the Metropolitan Museum of New York (a.k.a. the Met).
The subject was very Greek. It was called : Greek Islands Off the Beaten Track: An Archaeological Journey to the Greek Islands of Kastellorizo, Symi, Halki, Tilos, and Nisyros. It was obviously a Lecture on Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art. They prepared the viewer in their video YT description by calling it an experience of an archaeological journey to the islands of Greece. The keynote speaker was to be Nicholas Stampolidis, Professor of Archaeology, University of Crete, and Director of the Museum of Cycladic Art. This is a museum founded and supported by the Goulandris family, known for their shipping fortunes, among the likes of Niarchos, Onassis, Lemos, and so many more that I neither know, nor I wanted to.
This is actually mentioned at the end of their short YT description: "This lecture is generously endowed by the Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art, Athens, Greece, in fondest memory of its founder, Dolly Goulandris." That sums it up. It was a bit of a usual Goulandris 'culture' related PR. Greek riches love to appear as generally 'cultural' and donate their dough to famous venues like the Met, and so on. As another example, there are two large salles at the MOMA, funded by the Niarchos family. Instead of helping out a tormented country from the crisis in which they are definitely accomplices too as notorious tax evaders (operating their commercial fleets under Liberian flags, remember?), they elect to spend their dough pretending they understand and promote abroad our famous ancient cultural heritage. What they eventually did in that lecture was to show to us all how culturally amateuristic and nepotist the ruling class in Greece is these days.
It's been quite rare that I was so embarrassed  and felt ashamed about my own origins, ten minutes into the 'show'. I stopped the clip and moved to something else to forget. If I was in that lectures' room, I would have walked away with a lot of noise to express my fury! Bunch of incompetent amateurs!
Let me explain.
The lecture clip starts by showing a small theater salle with participants still entering and rushing to their seats. Soon after, a gentleman, allegedly the Director of the Greek and Roman department at the Met, as he promptly announced himself under the name of Carlos Picon, took the stage to introduce the speakers and the subjects of the session. He spent some time describing Prof. Stampolidis's accomplishments and CV, adding that he would be 'assisted' in his presentation by Sandra Marinopoulos, a niece of Dolly Goulandris (the founder of the Museum of Cycladic Arts and presumably a benefactor to the Met), who was now the President of the Goulandris foundation and the President of the Cycladic Museum, and a 'renowned expert in Cycladic Arts'. Not by training mind you, but by being born into the Goulandris family ranks... Being rich in Greece makes you an expert on anything you put an eye on, right? I reckoned the woman must have been Prof Stampolidis's boss as far as his museum directorship was concerned. Poor sod! I feel with you...
I was quite puzzled when Carlos Picon mentioned Miss Marinopoulos's role in the lecture, wondering, how the heck are they gonna run this? As a double act? Why? Is Mr. Stampo physically disabled of some sort, and needed someone to page thru his slides? I guess, for Stampo, a big shot Academic and an authority, the last thing he needed in this special moment of fame was Miss Marinopoulos pretending to be an expert. But she happens to be his boss, by her natal origins too. What could the guy do? Refuse to appear? Sent her away? Risk losing his glorious and well paying job at the Cycladic Arts Museum back home? He'd have to swallow it all in one go, I say, and get on with life! Money and status made his entire spine and pride simply disappear. It was getting interesting... Let's wait and see. Quite curious indeed...
Anyways, long story short, Carlos went off the stage and the two 'experts' came up next. Time for their pitch! Expectations were still high!
The show started with an amateur film, one of the worst and cheapest tourist clips I came across, for sure. It was meant as an introduction to the beauties and goodies that were to follow. Simply bad. Anti-tourist for sure. Anyways.
The clip terminates and Stampo utters his first few words. At that instant Miss Marinopoulos grabs the mic from in front of his mouth and asks the audience to switch off their cellphones because there was a noise coming thru. An embarrassed Stampo reaches in his pocket and picks his own mobile which was the cause of the problem. Hilarious. Simply hilarious! And sad. There you had a big shot Professor, crawling under the weight of his degrees, egos and academic achievements, be told by his interfering and bossy supervisor that he had to turn off his mobile at the very first ten seconds of his HIGH PROFILE (I keep reminding you that) lecture at the freakin' MET of New York, right?
You might think I am exaggerating to make such a point of this detail, but I am not. Two reasons:
a) First impressions. It's the first few secs that count. Like in job interviews. Opinions are formed during the first few seconds of someone's appearance and talk. If a negative feeling is created during that time, it's almost impossible to recover. I know it from personal experience as a speaker and a listener dozens of times. You just don't fuck-up the first millisecs of any appearance. No way. No freakin' way. Those two did exactly that. Screwed up the first few secs and made a mess of themselves. OMG. What was to come next?
b) Greeks and their bleeding cellphones. You might wonder. How come someone who is a full time professor from 1994 (that makes 18 years in total) and has lectured in front of thousands of students for so long can be so clumsy. He did appear well dressed to the lecture room, right? He didn't show-up in jeans or something. Elementary, my dear Watson. How come he had an 'on' cellphone with him though? Didn't he learn that yet? We are in 2012 after all! Who turns on as a keynote speaker at an event like this with his cellphone on, please tell me. What was he thinking? That something else might be more urgent to attend to during his Met lecture? Did he expect a call from God perhaps? Or was it so to pick a call from his wife suspecting 'different' tasks. 'Yes honey, I'm here in front of an audience of a hundred at the MET in NYC, dear, talking about Cycladic art. Remember? That's what I do for living, remember?! Oh yes my love, my dear Boss Sandra is standing next to me. No dear, she's not holding my hand, don't be silly dear...'
Gimme a break folks! Unforgivable. Mind you, if somebody told me right now that Mr. Stampo made a habit of answering his cellphone even during his lectures, I wouldn't be surprised. It's true. Hard to believe, but this country is really bad as far as cellphones are concerned. Makes you wonder what they did before cellphones were invented.
Then, Stampo goes on with his lecture... reading from a stack of typed pages. Not using them as a cue and reminders or lectures notes, but actually reading them! Word by word. I was told Greeks often do that. In other words, charismatic Greek speakers is an oxymoron. I wouldn't know. But Stampo was a reader. Even worse than that though, he embarked into an English sounding monologue, that looked more like a bad translation in English of Ancient Greek texts rather than something written to be grasped by mere mortals. It wasn't meant to be understood. It was meant to 'impress' the audience, presumed agnostic, by the use of sophisticated and weirdly sounding terms. Fog index PhD level! This is the moment a keynote speaker fucks it up altogether and loses contact with his audience for good. It shows arrogance, ignorance, lack of teaching skill and sheer incompetence. Even if you paid me big bucks I wouldn't want to go thru such an experience again. It was at that moment that I felt ashamed and furious about the guy and about my Greek origins. No wonder Greek Universities are nowhere near in the ranking of the first several hundred best universities of the world. If you got teachers like Stampo, go figure.
Then, the double act ignited for good. Like kids in a theater class during grammar school, those two went on and on. There was no real reason for the double act. Other than showing-off the Marinopoulos woman, that is. What they presented was quite elementary and almost hilariously simple. Like 'the islands were long ago connected to the continent and that explains baby elephant skeleton bones found in excavations there!' Wow! I am impressed! It was like pre-school stuff, at times. After Stampo's post doc lecture in his solo first part, they fell into kindergarden talk.
While dear Sandra was reading her sentences, Stampo was flipping thru her slides. As he seemed to pay no attention to her and have no idea about what she said, presumably he had never read her texts, he did the slide flipping so fast back and forth that he soon confused the audience. Somebody got so frustrated and complained loudly to the speakers about the mess. Bossy Boss Sandra 'commanded' the Professor to be more careful with the slide flipping; he excused himself blaming the equipment (what else, Greeks love blaming others all the time) and went on flipping back and forth again like an amateur. Maybe he did that on purpose. To piss off spoiled Goulandris descendant Sandra who hijacked his five minutes of glory at the Met. We shall never know.
The thing is, at that particular moment I decided to quit watching. And forget all I saw for good. Then, I decided to blog about it, and make as many people as possible hear my story. Then, I said, what's the use? But then again, if nobody decides to ridicule such idiots, and we never start doing this massively over and over again, via the net or any other media, then, those f*ckers will never learn. And will keep getting away with murder. That's why I blogged this, kids!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 'Goddamn' that lost its 'damn' bit

Years ago, during summer leisure time I read a number of popular science articles relating to the experiments of the billions worth Large Hadron Collider (a.k.a. LHC) at the CERN in Geneva. In those I came across the so called Higgs boson, and found the entire story quite fascinating. We need to admit that the brain work that has been delivered by theoretical physicists in the last hundred and some years is amazing and almost unbelievable. I always had a deep respect for that level of scientific intuition and mathematical genius of those who came up with the theories we know to this day. Higgs's work is such an example. Then, I felt sorry for the dude, because he's been waiting for so long for experimental scientists to prove him right and perhaps award him the Nobel before he passes (he's in his early eighties right now... just a kid!).
The last few days the rumor mill about an imminent announcement (that eventually came today, on Independence day) about the likely discovery of the Higgs particle went on and on. In micro-secs thousands of articles flooded since yesterday, July 3rd the Internet based on a 'leak' at CERN of a video clip relating to the announcement. Those folks at CERN look more and more like Apple's future product rumor leakers about the new iPhone and Apple TV, I'd say. Anyways, the historic news about the discovery of a new particle that lives extremely short times and supplies mass to those micro-particles that, bluntly and roughly said, will work with it was announced today in Geneva in a historic event that will change the course of the History of Physics for ever. It's been a long time that any new particle was discovered, and Nobel prizes in Physics became kinda dull the last 20 years.
There's a hilarious bit in this story though. Concerns the 'God' particle epithet that the Higgs boson received in 1993 after Leo Lederman's popular science book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? was published. Lederman wanted the title to be 'Goddamn particle' but his Publisher disagreed and changed it to 'God'. Popular myths rationalised the Publisher's proposed name, because, you see, the particle was one of missing links in understanding 'God's secrets' of the nature. Higgs, an atheist in his own admission, is not too happy with the religious attribute, but what can he do? The masses love sensation and the supernatural, and God fits all that right on the money.
The hilarious part came today, where in each and every TV channel that I watched news reporters have been referring to the discovered particle with some mysterious Godly rationale, totally ignoring the real reasons of the 'God' attribute becoming 'God' after Lederman's original choice of adjective lost it's 'damn' bit, courtesy of his Publisher! It gets even better. The Bishop of Piraeus in Greece (don't these buggers have anything else to do?) went ballistic this morning, when he heard about the Geneva announcement and, presumably thinking of himself as the Great One with monopoly to speak in the name of the one and only God, came that close to 'excommunicate' Higgs himself and the CERN scientists. 'If that particle is so smart, why didn't it do the announcement then, instead of the scientists who discovered it?', asked the wise bischop. Now tell me, how thick and ignorant can someone be to claim something like this? Let me add my personal flavour to that too. If that moron Bischop talks to God every single day, how come God didn't tell him the truth behind the story as it actually happened, and refrain from making an ass of himself in the public, proving he's plain braindead? Even more. How come God didn't tell his loyal Piraeus subject the real truth about energy and matter to stop spending our taxpayer billions in those fancy CERN experiments, colliding micro-particles by the quadrillions? There's always a simple explanation by God believers. I read one of those in the comments section in one of the Higgs announcement related reports this morning. A religious reader 'wisely' said that we need to have faith in God in order to understand His creations. I say: Happy are the faithful (and simpleminded). Because they are OK with fairy tales. And don't need no actual facts to see the truth. I'm honestly sorry. I'm nowhere close to buying this. Show me the facts. That's my kind of 'faith'...