December 28, 2008

I can't just slice off an ear every day

The thing about a truly inspiring vacation versus the merely relaxing, is that it continues to reveal itself and enrich long after the bags are unpacked and the credit card statements arrive. I've found myself reflecting a lot these past weeks on the incredible Hamburger Bahnhof show we saw last month as part of the Cult of the Artist series. The setting alone - 13,000 square metres of exhibition space in a converted 19th century rail terminal - is impressive, even intimidating.

First up was Celebrity: Andy Warhol and the Stars, a fascinating look at the symbiotic (some might say parasitic) relationship between the fame seeking Warhol and the bona fide and would-be celebs clamouring to be immortalized in his work. The best of the Warhol bunch for me was the massive Chairman Mao.

Then came the jam packed visual feast "I can't just slice off an ear every day" a cheeky, irreverent and at times obscene look at the mythic status of The Artist. The name for the show comes from the Martin Kippenberger quote: "I can't just slice off an ear everyday, make a Van Gogh here, a Mozart there. And anyway, it’s hard enough constantly keeping track of what you’re actually doing!" Among the many installations were Antje Schiffer's "Wonderful, Vladimir Says" in which the artist enlists the help of a business planner who advises her to veer away from museums, galleries and other such unprofitable ventures and focus on more lucrative corporate commissions. The hilarious "Matrix Effect" by Christian Jankowski in which children expound on the theory in the manner of art critics. There were Rodney Grahams (go Vancouver!), Cindy Shermans (yawn), Martin Kippenbergers and on and on. I particularly enjoyed Dieter Roth's Solo Szenen - a video installation showing the artist hanging out in his studio reading, sleeping, talking on the phone, eating und so weiter. The idea being that art doesn't just happen by some miracle or fit of creative genius, it's a day in day out slog.

Then there's Paul McCarthy's grotesque take on so-called creative genius. Here's a preview from "Painter".

That's just a tip of the iceberg. What a show.

December 25, 2008

and those who live there too

The best holiday song ever from the greatest christmas special ever.

(warning: may cause discomfort in scrooges and the lactose intolerant)

December 24, 2008

merry @#$&! christmas

Last year I put together a mixed tape in honour of that oft-neglected sub genre of seasonal hits - the christmas song for the clinically depressed.

The playlist included (among many others) Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk this Christmas by John Denver, Don't Shoot Me Santa by the Killers, That Was the Worst Christmas Ever by Sufjan Stevens and this classic from my man Tom.

Enjoy. Or don't.

Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis - Tom Waits

December 23, 2008

put on your yarmulka

here comes hanukkah.

What better way to celebrate than with either of these wunderschone modernist menhoras by Jonathan Adler and Kathleen Walsh.

December 22, 2008

don't run we are your friends

Yesterday marked the longest night (ie darkest day) of the year which means that so long as my SAD light continues to hold out for a few more months, I may just make it through til spring.

In these dark days, many of us in northern climes are preoccupied with light, or in my case, lighting. Here are a few random favourites:

Tobias Wong's sun jar - a solar powered lamp that sits on the window sill storing up sunlight to release when the darkness descends. Ours is pretty much useless this time of year but it is lovely in the between seasons. We gots ours at Reform School in LA.

Designed by George Carwardine in 1933, the ubiquitous desk lamp got a cool re-design when Anglepoise (the original manufacturers) released this larger than life version on the 70th anniversary of its invention.

One of my absolute favourites, the 85 Lamps Chandelier by Rodi Graumans of Droog Design (we just visited the flagship store in Amsterdam last month).

Last up for today is the Don't Run We Are Your Friends light from designer el ultimo grito. You can adjust the ambience of the light as you adjust the lamp up and down. Love this.

December 21, 2008

the seventh commandment: keep dogs off grass

Welcome to the first installment of my soon to be semi-irregular Sunday fireside series based on living the seventh commandment. For those of you not familiar with the 7th or any of the 10 commandments, that's ok. We here at campaign to end neuro-muscular chauvinism welcome, yea, even tolerate all types, no matter how misguided or hellbound.

The seventh commandment is "(s)he who clothes not his decorating in humor shall surely die, saith the lord".

This week's testimonial to that written-in-stone credo goes to textile designer Dan Golden

Thank you Brother Dan.

December 19, 2008

faking it

Usually at this time of year I'd feel pretty confident in saying that you won't find another atheist out there who loves christmas as much as I do. I have to confess though that this year I'm finding it to be more along the lines of "another item on the to-do list" than the relaxing time of visiting and reflection I normally look forward to. Don't get me wrong, Chris Isaak christmas and John Denver and the Muppets have been getting their fair share of play, I'm just not singing along as enthusiastically as usual.

Here's a little something that tickled my holiday spirit. Made of industrial bottle brushes and designed by Kuno Prey, former head professor of product design at the Bauhaus Institute, this may just be the best gosh darn fake tree I've come across yet.

December 13, 2008

Running the Numbers

It's an odd statement coming from a visual artist, but I've never fully embraced the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words because of the inherent assumption that words somehow don't matter as much. Words are important. So are numbers, argues photographer Chris Jordan.

Jordan's series Running the Numbers "visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibililties of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming." Some images from the series are shown below. To really appreciate the series and individual concepts illustrated, go to his website to view the zoomed in details of each. He's also done some fascinating work around landfills and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Oil Barrels, 2008
Depicts 28,000 42-gallon barrels, the amount of of oil consumed in the United States every two minutes (equal to the flow of a medium-sized river).

Light Bulbs, 2008
Depicts 320,000 light bulbs, equal to the number of kilowatt hours of electricity wasted in the United States every minute from inefficient residential electricity usage (inefficient wiring, computers in sleep mode, etc.).

Barbie Dolls, 2008
Depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my Chris Jordan discovery came to me by way of a very witty, intelligent and intellectually curious coworker who also happens to be a bit of a stats junkie. If, like me, you're a creative person who has to take on "outside" work to supplement your existence, I hope you're as fortunate as I am to find intellectual stimulation and friendship in the arrangement.

December 11, 2008

Lives of Others

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't all out to get you. We ventured deep into east Berlin to visit the former Stasi headquarters, now a museum of sorts.

Run by a group of volunteers, there are no flashy displays or over wrought curatorial statements. They don't need them. Just walking the halls made my skin crawl. Over the nearly 40 years of its existence, the Stasi (east german ministry for state security) kept the DDR populace in its place through a combination of psychological and physical terror tactics and bizarre propaganda. At the time of the wall's big tumble in 1989, it's estimated that the Stasi employed some 90,000 regular employees on top of 300,000 citizen informants.

Of the many categories of character flaws that could qualify one for Stasi investigation was this chronic catch-all "Malcontents and chronic complainers".

And the surveillance devices! The usual apartment, phone, car bugs of course but then there were the oil drums, garbage cans, tree stumps, bird houses. What a time.

Some photos of the ministerial living quarters. (Is it wrong to say I rather like the DDR decor?) I couldn't bring myself to photograph the interrogation rooms or the prison cell. Nor the specimen jar containing some poor soul's body odor sample.

If you haven't already, run out and rent a copy of the incredible German film The Lives of Others. Many of the scenes were filmed here.

December 10, 2008

love of a good kitchen

Since we've been back, everyone's been asking, "So, what was the highlight?" Impossible to sum up in one or two or three hundred sentences. Definitely the little things left as much of an imprint as the big ones. Like our (2nd) Amsterdam apartment - specifically the kitchen. Forget about stainless steel, matchy matchy nouveau high tech everything. This tiny little room had more character in one corner than so many (north american) homes have in all 2500 plus poorly conceived square feet. Patty's apartment just proves that you can't buy "ethnic" or "eclectic" in a box store. You've got to come by it honestly. (p.s. 10 points if you spotted the stacks of duralex picardies on the top shelf...)

December 3, 2008

So bad it's good

After only 28 hours of traveling, one smashed bag and another lost somewhere en route (thanks heathrow or was it schipol?) we arrived back home at midnight drunk from jetlag.

After a good sleep and a grocery run I'm pretty much ready for bed again. So many imprints from the trip are running through my head - including this little ditty by the Ting Tings. Don't know if it's hit North America yet but we couldn't get away from this song, especially in Berlin. With lyrics like this, it's hard to believe these two actually speak english as their first language.

Give it a listen or two or three. Just try not to like it. I sure did.

The Ting Tings - Thats Not My Name.mp3 -

November 29, 2008

Holy Ring-Necked Parakeet!

I was already planning to write a post about the incredible Amsterdam apartment that we're renting this week. After yesterday's events, I'm now planning to stay here forever. As I was waiting for the coffee maker to do its thing yesterday morning a flash of green caught my eye in the tree outside the kitchen window. What the f - a big green parakeet had landed, followed by a second. I figured they must be a semi-domesticated pair belonging to one of the area apartments.

Later that afternoon as we were returning from a day traipsing around the Jordaan, our shoulders weary under the weight of many bags of Wilhemina peppermints, a large flock of green parakeets took flight from a tree in the courtyard. They circled around cawwing and generally raising a ruckus. A few dozen resettled -- but not long enough for me to get an in-focus picture (damned point and shoot!). Then they were gone.

I googled wild green parakeet and came up with this site of bird lovers devoted to the conservation of wild city parrots everywhere. Apparently the Amsterdam flock of wild ring necked parakeets is well known to hang in nearby Vondelpark. (photos are theirs).

This city just can't get any better as far as I'm concerned.

November 28, 2008

six to eight black men and other festive delights

Hard as it is to believe, our great escape is almost up and around these parts it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, like Christmas if it involved an old Turkish bishop who now lives in Spain accompanied by 6 to 8 black slaves -- I mean helpers known as Zwarte Piets. Sinter Klaas and his, err, helpers, terrorize dutch children with the possibility of a severe beating culminating in a potential kidnapping. At least the treats are lekker! If you're not familiar with the wonder that is Sinter Klaas time in Holland, you really must read David Sedaris' treatise on the subject. This is one aspect of the motherland that is best left across the pond or even better, the middle ages ...

In other holiday news, we've been taking in the festivities as we go. First was the spectacle that is Tivoli, a Danish wonderland theme park (Michael Jackson and Disney have both tried unsuccessfully to get their grubby paws on it) transformed for Christmas. Glogg and aebleskivers were enjoyed by all.

Finding the Danish seasonal crafts and handiworks a little lacking (sorry Madsens), we made a special side trip to Osnabruck to take in what the German tourism site describes as the third best christmas market in the region. While it was nigh on (egads!) 19 years since I first took in the wonder of the Osnabruck christmas market, I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint. Gluhwein, sauteed mushrooms and rauchermanner oh my! I hope my family feels the same way when they open their gifts this year.

Time is a ticking and we are getting in the last of our euro-cultural art/design/wine/food indulgences before heading back across the pond to face the musical score of daily drudgery and piper paying. Back to it! Tot zeins.

November 21, 2008

musical interlude

I'm officially overstimulated. Apparently you can take in too much wonderful-ness in a given vacation. Time to regroup and reset my brain. In the mean time, I bring you...


a very very very fine Haus

The wonderful Bauhaus Archive!

The art and design lover in me marvels at the Bauhaus contributions and its continuing influence and reach. How amazing to be a part of such a movement. On the other hand, the introvert in me cringes at the communal-ness of it all. I would never have made it as a Gropius-groupie. Nope, no group Grop for this girl. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

November 19, 2008

Avedon in Berlin

For the last few days, we've been exploring the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood where our Berlin apartment is located. (We're now 3 for 3 on the craiglist apartment front - I'm convinced, it's the best way to go.) It's both strange and exciting to be back in Berlin, or the DDR as we like to think of it. Hard to believe this is the same city I tramped around in all those years ago when I was living in Germany as an exchange student - fortuitously the year the wall came down.
We ventured out today beyond the "Berg" to take in the Richard Avedon retrospective at the Martin-Gropius Bau. Some 250 images taken over his 60 year career spanning the early Harper's years, to Vogue, to the civil rights movement, to his seminal American West series, to his most famous celebrity portraits. I have to confess, I'm not a big fan of portrait photography. The less posed the image purports to be, the more contrived I tend to find it. What I love about Richard Avedon, beyond the obvious technical mastery is his candour about his chosen genre. "A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."

His subjects - the faces! the character! They just don't make 'em like this anymore. What a treat.

November 18, 2008

Arne, Finn, Borge oh my

We came to Copenhagen to search out the best of Denmark's mid-century furniture design icons and it didn't disappoint. The first day we hit Ravnsborggade, the vintage and antique market district. We fell for a small cabinet but our hopes of bringing it home were dashed by the exorbitant cost of shipping - about double the cost of the piece.

The next day we headed out towards the Bredgade avenue - home of the heavy hitters in mid century design classics including Klassik and Dansk Mobelkunst where I inquired about a Finn Juhl upholstered 2 seater thinking "it's small, we could ship it". sadly my sofa budget doesn't quite approach the $15k price tag (though it does make that Hella Jongerius Polder sofa I've been drooling over seem more reasonable....) check out the Wegner Papa Bear Chair in the Klassik storefront window.

We stopped in at Bruun Rasmussen's auction house where he had an incredible early model chieftain chair. I've seen a few newer versions offered by mid-century dealers in north america but nothing compares to the patina on the original. With a guide price of $60,000 dollars, quite reasonable too, really. Bruun let us take a peek in the back at this rare Finn Juhl 2 seater chieftain! Apparently only 20 were made.
We also visited the Dansk Design Center and the Kunstindustrimuseet and took in a lot of newer design at Normann Copenhagen, Hay, Illums Bolighus - a huge department store dedicated solely to design. In the end, we didn't manage to bring home a Borge Mogensen or a Hans Wegner but it was fantastic to meet them all in person.