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Blue Hallway

Posted 13 March 2006, 11.36 pm by Catcher

Where was it? Are you sure? So, wait a minute, what did it look like again? This is a piece so normal looking, so understated, so innocently deceitful, that no-one else had even noticed it. Blue Hallway (2000) by James Casebere, is in strictly materialistic terms, a photograph on paper, mounted on plexiglass. Superficially it's a flooded hallway, with water rising two thirds of the way up neo-classical door frames; a shaft of sunlight illuminating the scene and throwing a reflection into the slightly rippled water. In this setting, hanging in a comfortably sized space, giving its six foot by four foot stature a sense of imposition without overstatement. However, this simplicity of appearance is not all it seems. Of course, we all know the camera never lies, or rather we know the saying, where as the reality is quite different, in fact, the opposite. Far from the camera never lying, it does in fact rarely tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It can not. The medium is too narrow, too short, too fast to capture the multitude of perspectives, of angles, of emotive effects to encapsulate the truth. At best as a medium it can aspire to a truth, (can any medium or indeed person ever aspire to anything more?) that of the photographer in skilled hands, or the chance truth of mechanics and chemistry in the hands of the snap shooter.

Casebere holds this fallacy of the camera's ability for honest recording up to the light for inspection by presenting the audience with a feasible scene, believable lighting and a seemingly transparent end product. Only it's not real. The hallway exists as a structural part of no building (although based on the architecture of Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts), the sunlight is a studio lamp and the water is resin. The scene, although feasible, is completely fabricated.

But is it a lie? Granted, without the assistance of the museum information boards, or background research into Casebere's motives, the audience is almost certain to believe the scene is of an actual hallway. But does this deception, or to turn the tables, ignorant misinterpretation, create a lie? After all, Casebere's photograph is an accurate representation of a physical form. His model existed, and the representation has not been artificially altered through any analogue or digital editing. However, the fact remains that he image is not what it seems.

A further question is 'does it matter?' It can be assumed that Casebere intended to create a particular effect, a mood, perhaps a range of responses in his audience and as such, what weight does the concept of truth carry? As with Robert Capa's 'Loyalist Militiaman and the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5th, 1936' the relevance of the authenticity of the image can be surpassed insurmountably by the impact upon its audience.

The fact that Casebere has created a piece so comfortable, despite its irregular scene, that it can be passed by owes to a number of factors. Firstly, the fact a current audience has since the piece's creation, bore witness to a barrage of flood images internationally with hurricane Katrina in the USA and a nationally within Britain due to the numerous floods around the country since the start of the century. However, on a more artistic level, his naturalistic style, using seemingly natural light and a deep focus encourages the viewer to see where they wish, or at least where they feel they wish as the eye is invariably attracted to the lightest point. That point by no coincidence appears dead centre in the form of a tapered column of brilliant white, that is bordered by an encroaching collection of grey and black shadow. Furthermore, his choice of neo-classical architecture provides a western audience with forms and shapes almost ubiquitously familiar; and finally, and perhaps most subtlety, his use of two pieces of plexiglass to mount the piece. The result is of a dividing horizontal line exactly half way up photograph. The effect is a slight cheapening, a sense of unimportance to the work - after all, it's not even mounted properly. But to take the assumption that this was a deliberate addition, rather than a crude lack of attention to finishing, it can be observed that the horizontal plexiglass join, and the brilliant white column of light create a cross at the centre of the piece. This not only guides the audience's eyes, but symbolically draws upon religious overtones through the cross of Christ. Further to this the cross could also provide a militaristic link with a cross hair.

Within the piece symbolism can be drawn in a number of places. The dark and light interplay can be read as a classic good and evil connotation, but more broadly toward any opposites, with acknowledgment of the grey areas suggesting transition or furthermore that no issue is simply black and white. The fact Casebere's model was based on a boarding school brings the consideration of the light as a representation of the innocence of childhood, shining brightly amid the encroaching blackness of experience and adulthood. Or also, the haven of a small institution of packed full of innocence surrounded by the threatening dark uncertainties of the outside world. Casebere's use of light and dark in this way opens the piece up to a multitude of interpretations playing to any one viewer’s personal associations, connotations and memories.

Blue Hallway is a deeply emotive work, with resonance and a seductive openness to interpretation. However, this has been achieved in such a way that to the casual observer, all of the above can be skim read, half processed or simply unnoticed or ignored by an audience immune or perhaps ignorant to such subtleties of meaning, such possibility, through their numbing daily exposure to media imagery. As I sat, observed and took notes for twenty minutes, I witnessed no less than a hundred patrons of the arts, culture consumers, members of the masses do just this.

James Casebere's Blue Hallway

But I Did It Anyway

Posted 1 March 2006, 9.43 pm by Villager

Such a beautiful girl. Beauty not just in form (though that too) but in expression: what she feels, she shows, and I found it so irresistibly seductive. I knew I should not have. I knew that it would only be a lie. But we talked, and I said what her face told me she wanted to hear. I felt like such a bastard, but I did it anyway. I had watched her in class for a while, intrigued, and chance brought us closer. She was so tragic in her view of the world, so pained by all that is painful, and I know that she was drawn to me because I let her think I was the same. I understood her, only too well, and am well versed in the articulation of her sadness. I let her believe that I understood because I was the same, but in truth all I felt was the greed of my desire to have her. I knew how it would end before it started. I may be skilled at being whatever I need to be, but I can not keep it up for very long. My desire satisfied, the mask began to slip.

I could pretend that I went through profound moral agony in trying to stop myself, but that would mean lying to you, too. I rehearsed the reasons why it would be wrong, and I accepted it as wrong. But then I did it anyway. I gained her trust and then her love, and I loved her too, in a way. Does love have to be honest to be real? I loved what I knew of her from the moment I met her, and I still do. It may be a deceitful and destructive love, but it was as compelling and satisfying – while it lasted – as any of my more innocent loves of times past. And like those, there was an inevitability of its end.

When she began to see that I was not what she thought, I wished that I was. I wish that I could have possessed her so without pretence, without acting. But even though I do not really know what I am, I find that I cannot be something I am not – not indefinitely, anyway. Even when the desire to do so obscures everything else, even the truth, kicked aside like a pathetic nuisance. I knew that I could not be honest with her and keep her. Yet I did not regret my actions, for I knew my deceit was integral to ensnaring her. This prolonged the affair, as I conflated my self-inflicted sadness with her real one. We had some really beautiful moments together, and I hope that even if she now hates me that she still can remember those and smile. Those moments were like airbrushed dreams of the most pleasing kind, intense, serene and profound in turn, perfect, despite the deceit. Or perhaps because of it. It was never real, yet it really felt like it could have been.

Eventually I confessed. True to form, though, I was not entirely honest about it. I could not be. I could not bear to witness her reaction once she realised how I had abused her innocence. So I wove a tale of confusion, almost convincing myself that I had in fact been honest with her, that I was only now changing. This was a bad idea, because she forgave me, as I feared she might. She proclaimed her love for whatever I am, that she cared not whether it took me time to figure myself out. She thought she knew me better than I know myself, and perhaps she would have done but for the lies. Initially I relented, not having the courage to end it. But as the days passed, I knew that however much I might want to keep her, eventually a time would come where the gulf between me and my façade would become too great, and it would all come crashing down. I went to bed with her one last time, held her, watched her sleep, and kissed her beautiful, beautiful face; I have never seen a face so terribly beautiful. I wept. I asked myself if I regretted my deceit now, having come so far and raised the stakes so high. But for all the pain I have caused her, and for all the pain of letting her go, I think I would still have done it, even in bittersweet retrospect. That may tell you a lot about the kind of human being I am, selfish at core. I spent the night writing a letter, long in detail and, at long, long last, honest. I gave her one last kiss, as she slept, and then I left.

I changed classes, avoided her friends, and thought I might never see her again; I could hardly bear to. I worried what her reaction was, the thought of her pain crushing my heart. At that moment I regretted it all, and would have taken it all back, and given anything to be able to. So I drowned my sorrows, and wallowed in my pathetic misery. After a week she turned up, waiting for me outside of my workplace. I had no words, and could only look her in the eyes for a second, closing them and wishing myself away. She walked up to me, and hugged me. I felt that I had no right to do anything, but I hugged her back, holding her like I would not let her go. We were getting drenched in the rain, but stayed like that for a good ten minutes. She let go, and kissed me, her lips tearing my heart out as they left mine.

'I forgive you, and I love you. Goodbye'.

Career Suicide

Posted 20 February 2006, 7.46 pm by HockeyGod

Here's some timely advice that todays teenagers really really need to hear.

Don’t commit career suicide on your MySpace account!

My cousin recently invited me to join, and before doing so I decided to check out some profiles… So I went browsing random profiles.

Listed in no particular order, here are some of the topics I found being discussed on many of the sites I visited:

I think I’m Bisexual.
OMG this guy is sooooo hott!.
I just had sex with [insert name here].
Here are pictures of me in my bra and underwear.
Look at these photos of me hitting the bong.

Is this how you want to be remembered in the future? Take a lesson from somebody who knows, once you put something on the internet it never really goes away..even if you delete it. There’s always a copy out there somewhere.

Do you think your future employers won’t stumble across your myspace account and see pictures of you making out with your best friend, or with some guy’s name written across your stomach?

What would you think if your boss read your myspace account? The best advice I can give is this: If you’re not comfortable putting it on the front page of the newspaper, with your name address and picture, you probably shouldn’t put it in your myspace, facebook, livejournal, or anywhere else.

I guess we get to look forward to a future where we actually hear things like “Don’t vote for Britney for congress, she has Jack Abramoff listed in her myspace friends.”

By the way.. I won’t be joining yet.

Arbeit Macht Frei

Posted 20 January 2006, 10.13 am by Villager

Almost four years ago on this page I wrote of my anxieties concerning the impending doom of pre-university exams. Now, as graduation looms, the contrast between anticipation and reality is stark. My worries were of achievement and choice, that attending university would, one way or another, have a substantial impact on the rest of my life.

The past three and a half years have been a waste. Academically, I have learned little of real value. With a little much-begrudged effort I should qualify with a First, but a First in English is not much to boast of. As a qualification it is nearly useless, demonstrating mere competence for further training. Perhaps the only thing of value I take from the whole experience is that, as a by-product of loathing (with a peculiar intensity) my work, I am vastly more efficient in my study, whatever that may be.

So, what to do now? The 'easy' option would be to enrol in teacher training, and begin to claw back the debt I have built up (though nothing by American standards, almost ten thousand pounds of debt is enough to be a burden when you have no money and no income to speak of). I have worked with children and find them tolerable and occasionally enjoyable. It is the easy option because it is about all that I am immediately qualified to begin doing, and have no obvious alternatives. I have had some success in getting writing published, even getting paid for it on occasion, but once the novelty of having my name in print wore off it has become an unrewarding, unreliable and difficult pursuit. Even if I wanted to pursue this I know better than to dare: coherence comes to me only in fits, and deadlines would meet only one fate.

But do I really want to teach? Pondering this question leads me to a rather stark realisation: I really do not want to work, at all. It might sound like a statement of the blinding obvious, especially to those of you who have bills to pay, but in my naïveté I had previously harboured a vague but assuring notion that somehow I would find a career (or a job, at least: I have never had conventional ambition) that would suit me in such a way as to cancel out the fact of servitude. I wish to lead a life of leisure, as has become my habit right here at university, only without the assignments. You see, I have come to be rather contented in my indolence; I read that which interests me, exercise, socialise and have every luxury of time and freedom I could ask for. And I would really like it to stay that way.

A little over a year ago I met a man in a fish bar in Olympia, Washington, Suleyman his name. Suleyman is a man of some forty years, of three wives (three present wives, that is) and some seventeen children. He was born Texas but moved back to his ancestral home in Bangladesh during his teens. Every four years he leaves his home in Bangladesh to spend three months aboard a fishing boat leaving from Seattle. The money he earns enables him and his impressive household to live as royalty at home for the next four years. He despises the time spent fishing, but feels it to be a small price to pay. He wants to retire, but assures me that his wives would not countenance a compromise in lifestyle.

The modern world has brought a vast improvement in the luxuries and comforts that we are able to joy, but it has not brought anything like a commensurate reduction in the time we spend working. It may be the foundation and lifeblood of the consumer-capitalist world; it may be habit and "normal" to the point where it constitutes an unchallenged hegemony, but is it really worth it? Why is it that most of us spend most of our lives working for luxuries when much less work would earn sufficient wealth to survive? Is there so little of worth that a human can experience and obtain without money? Have we finally, totally and irrevocably surrendered our souls to the ungodly dollar and its cunning progeny of frippery and tat?

I gave little thought to Suleyman’s tale at the time, partly because my insides were burning with an uncommon vengeance after whatever it was that I had eaten, but it returns to my thoughts with increasing force. I have no connections in Bangladesh (aside from Suleyman, who writes to me occasionally) but, given my lack of attachment to my present position, it appears to me to be eminently plausible that I should be able to find a poorer country with a culture that I find amenable enough to live in, and do likewise (Well, sort of. I am not persuaded that having three wives would lead to anything except an early grave). For a time this notion has been beaten away by some innate caution, but as I seriously examine the idea it becomes more and more appealing. Partly to this end I am resolved to spend the forthcoming summer in travel, if not to search for such a place as to put myself into a more realistic environment in which to consider the matter (I admit that this was not and is not the primary motivation for the trip: I have always regretted not taking a 'gap-year' and I want an adventure). I have by now collected invitations to hospitality in many places, most invitingly Alexandria, Pondicherry and Istanbul, as well as with Suleyman. I suppose it is ironic that I am now working feverishly to afford the trip (though my present employment chafes as ever it did, I am adequately motivated to endure it) and will go as far as I can afford to. Do I so despise work as to leave everything behind to escape it?

Perhaps I have not been sufficiently creative in my thinking. Perhaps there is a way I could avoid the slavery I fear through a yet unseen occupation. I covet not property nor luxury, so there would be no need for me to work 'full time', and perhaps the likeliest outcome is that I will work here at home, just as little as possible. I have grown accustomed to relative poverty as a student. After shelter, food and clothing, what else do we really need? A big house, a flashy car, holidays in Tuscany and sharp suits would do little or nothing for my happiness. I have a suspicion that they might even harm it. All I can be sure of at this point is that, if it can be avoided, I am unwilling to spend the better part of my life in miserable servitude. I have learned that much over the past few years, but I cannot say with certainty that it was anything to do with university. Perhaps a real education will begin here.

When They're Gone

Posted 10 January 2006, 4.29 pm by HockeyGod

We all have those people in our lives. The ones we rarely think about, the ones who we just take for granted; until they're gone.

For some reason or another we don't let ourselves get close to these people while they're alive. Maybe we're too busy, too shy, or let some handicap get in our way.

We hear about them going into the hospital and we pay it lip service; that is until they don't come out. We rationalize things about not letting it affect us since we didn't really know them.

But it does affect us, and it should. At the risk of sounding cliche, you truly don't miss someone until they're gone.

We all suffer a loss like this, whether it be an old friend we never talk to, an obscure relative we've rarely met, or that old man who lives next door and sometimes brings us vegetables out of his garden.

Thankfully, the pain of these losses strengthens us. We become more aware of the lives we're taking for granted; of the less significant people in our lives who won't always be there. These losses give us motivation to just sit down and talk with those who we don't see on a daily basis. They make us cognizant of life, and of what we all stand to lose.

RIP uncle Tommy.

Is Freedom Worth Dying For?

Posted 15 December 2005, 2.42 pm by HockeyGod

Germany just passed a new law that says all telecommunication companies must store all information to be searched at a later date by the government to help prevent terrorism.

This includes all Internet, Cell Phone, Land Line, SMS, text messages, etc. Anything that has a signal that travels through a medium that's not yours is now recorded.

Slashdot says it's 1984 in Europe, which begs the question: Is Freedom Worth Dying For?

A long time ago, our forefathers thought it was, but I can't say the same is true of today's society. We're willing, if not eager to give up any of our freedoms to prevent a possible terrorist incident.

You're cowards, all of you.

Since when are our individual lives more important than the ideals our founding fathers fought for? If Jefferson knew we were giving up so many rights in exchange for a false sense of security against "terrorism" he'd have a stroke.

With freedom comes consequences. A long time ago people viewed these concequences as neccessary for the good of the whole. It's because of them we can work the jobs we choose, live where we want, worship the Gods we choose, and think what we want to think. People died horrible deaths, but because of them society continued to prosper.

These ideals are slowly being challenged however, and in a self righteous bid to "protect the children" we're actually condeming them to an Orwellian future.

Stand up for your rights people. The terrorists don't need to attack our freedoms anymore, we're doing a pretty good job of destroying them ourselves.

Half A Man

Posted 12 December 2005, 8.12 pm by Andy

“Ever seen a guy blown in half?” My friend asks, as we sit down at his computer. “It’s awesome.”

It’s hard to really tell, through the glowing green haze of a night vision camera, what a man looks like when he’s about to die, but I’m guessing it’d be something like how he normally looks. But all I see is a whitish ghost, the representation of a heat signature that doesn’t realize it’s about to fade away.

“BOOM!” My friend screams as the sniper round enters the ghost's body, then rewinds the video. “There! Look… whole man whole man whole man whole man BOOM! half a man! How fucking sweet is this?”

And now it’s real.

Knickers to you lot

Posted 14 November 2005, 6.29 pm by doggybag

What you notice, before anything else, is that the subjects of Keane`s brush have an unlikely beauty. They are banners aflutter in the shifting Garfagnana winds, their allegiances announced in the language of high art: color, form, composition, kinetic tension. Their subtext is the wonderful diversity of human experience, ranging from the dizzyingly erotic to the downright practical, and capturing, as graphically as could be imagined, our collective journey from infant to elderly. Mutande, their Italian name, is derived from the verb mutare, "to change" -- and it seems far closer to the remarkably dignified spirit of these paintings than its giggling English equivalent, "knickers."

Painting, in its most general definition, is an act of shared observation -- the visual statement of the painter, in conversation with the visual reactions of an audience. In that sense, Keane`s "Mutande di Barga" is an essay on the principal exchange of his art. But it is also an essay on the protocol of observation itself.

Put simply, mutande are everywhere in Barga, shouting out our secrets from clotheslines and drying racks strung in full sight on nearly every home; but the moot understanding is that they are not supposed to be seen.

Few artifacts of our material culture say more about us -- more about our bodies, stripped to their last shield against the naked truth of age and physical decline, more about our most intimate acts and fantasies. For that very reason, the expectation is that we will not observe them, in any meaningful way. We will not "read" them as would an anthropologist or a voyeur.

In Keane`s own view, the subject of "Mutande" is community, a central motif in his work for a quarter century, explored from the 20th century housing estates of his native London to the Ming courtyards of Nanjing, China, and from the sylvan hamlets of Finland to the fishing villages of Pantelleria island off the North African coast. Nowhere has he investigated the meaning of community in greater depth than Barga, his residence for 12 years, documented in hundreds of paintings and in thousands of photographs. His intention, his obsession, is to assemble a complete portrait of the town, comprised of individual portraits of its more than ten thousand people.

Community, as pictured in this massive undertaking, is about work and leisure, about who governs and who is governed, about property and its rights, citizenship and its responsibilities; in short, it is about the explicit, formal contracts that bind individuals into a group, a society.

Yet community is also -- and often more powerfully -- about the implicit contracts that bind us, the unspoken accords. It is about the Mutande of Barga.

Over the course of a lifetime in a town as small and densely built as this, neighbors come to know each other more intimately than do many husbands and wives in the transient suburbs and anonymous highrises of the contemporary urban world. Over the progression of years recorded by their mutande, the Bargagiani absorb an infinitely detailed and intuitive version of the portrait that compels Keane; they grow ever more closely acquainted with their neighbors` acquired habits and inherited pasts, their loves won and lost, their joys and sorrows.

They are bound, tightly, in the contract symbolized by those colorful banners waving from every home, the contract that says, in effect, "va bene, I can hang my secrets out before your windows, let them take the air and sun, because you know me -- and I trust you not to look." Frank Viviano 2005

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