Jul 282017
 

Today my wife and I went out for a walk. We were looking for two monsters.

First, we saw Kumo the spider, standing in the shadow of Maman, the National Gallery’s permanent spider sculpture:

Then, a block away, there was Long-Ma the dragon-horse, loudly snoring in her sleep, occasionally releasing puffs of smoke through her nostrils:

These two mechanical monsters are roaming the streets of Ottawa this weekend, as part of the La Machine street theater event. Even in their sleep, these creatures were magnificently spectacular.

 Posted by at 5:40 pm
May 182017
 

I am no photo artist, and my best camera is, well, my phone. That’s it.

Even so, a few minutes ago I felt compelled to take a couple of photographs. We are a few minutes away from sunset and a big storm just began. Then I looked out my window and I found the building across the street brighter than the sky above.

The light came from the other side of the sky. The Sun was not visible but the sky in that direction was bright enough to light things up.

Photographs (especially, photographs taken with a phone) really don’t do these sights justice. The contrasts were amazing.

 Posted by at 8:29 pm
Nov 222016
 

The horrific bombing of Guernica in 1937 inspired one of the best known of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. Yet images of the ruined city were not enough: The world did nothing, and two years later, another war began that brought the same horror, but on a much larger scale, to all of Europe and many parts of the world elsewhere.

Die Ruinen von Guernica 5603/37

And here we are in 2016, and it seems we learned nothing. Another civil war rages on, this time in Syria. And another rogue great power intervenes with its mighty warplanes, conducting indiscriminate bombings against civilian targets.

Just like in 1937, the world remains largely silent. Appeasing a great power and its power hungry despot is more important than lives. And we forget the lessons of history: despots cannot be appeased. They always want more. The demons of nationalism, awakened by false promises of restored pride, cannot be appeased. They will always demand more.

What horrors will follow in the coming years? Will we see the streets of Europe, perhaps North America, look like Aleppo’s today? Is Aleppo just a prelude to what is yet to come, just like Guernica was 79 years ago?

As I think of this, it brings to my mind a 33-year old German-language hit song, Nena’s 99 Luftballons.  Here is how that song ends (my less-than-perfect translation of the German lyrics; they also produced an English version but it was, well, rather lame):

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger

Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombers

Today as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Jan 142016
 

Recenly, there was a particular piece of music that caught my attention on CBC’s The Signal: Sapokanikan by Joanna Newsom.

The song begins with the lines,

The cause is Ozymandian
The map of Sapokanikan
is sanded and beveled
The land lone and leveled
By some unrecorded and powerful hand.

This made me re-read Shelley’s timeless poem about the ruined statue of Ozymandias in the desert:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look at my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

And then here is a real-life Ozymandian tale from a few days ago, from China: A 37-meter tall golden statue of Mao erected in the middle of nowhere.

The ending, however, is different: After the statue has been ridiculed on Chinese social media (with many quoting from Shelley’s Ozymandias) the statue was hastily demolished. Wisdom has not yet departed the Middle Kingdom, it seems.

 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Apr 302015
 

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I took a pleasant stroll downtown, visiting the National Gallery. We were specifically interested in their M. C. Escher exhibition, which is set to close in a few days. It was fascinating, though smaller in size than we expected.

Although I am reasonably well acquainted with the works of Escher, there were some prints that I have never seen before. For instance, this street scene from Abruzzi, Italy, which may well be part of the reason why Escher became fascinated with complex systems of seemingly impossible stairs.

Then there was this amusing National Film Board of Canada animation, from 1998, of Escher’s Sky and Water I. My only concern was for the poor museum security guard standing next to it, who had to listen to its soundtrack, endlessly repeated, throughout the day. (But then, he assured me that he is only there for two-hour shifts.)

Did I mention that the exhibition was smaller than we expected? It was housed in a section that also had some fascinating photographs. One of them was of a strange shape, a blistering ball on top of a stick of sorts:

Edgerton-1952

Except that it wasn’t a stick. It was a steel tower, maybe twenty stories high. And the blistering ball was an atomic explosion in the first one 100,000,000th of a second, one of a series of photographs created by Harold Edgerton with his Rapatronic camera in 1952.

Look at the guy wires. They are still taut. But their top sections are already obliterated by the explosion. The only reason they are still taut is that they never had time to relax, nor would they ever: the atomic fireball expands much faster.

I don’t know, to me this is one of the scariest images ever produced by a camera.

 Posted by at 9:39 am
Jan 132015
 

Some commentators, like Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post, accuse the world (in Mehdi’s words “free speech fundamentalists” in particular) of hypocrisy: we are defending Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish Mohammed cartoons, yet the same Charlie Hebdo fired a well-known cartoonist seven years ago for drawing a supposedly anti-Semitic cartoon.

Well, but here is the rub: he was fired. Not murdered. Moreover, after he was fired, he filed a wrongful dismissal lawsuit and he won. And the editor (a close friend of former French president Sarkozy, who was the target of Siné’s supposedly anti-Semitic cartoons) lost his job.

Had Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist or two for drawing anti-Islamic cartoons, nobody would have cared a damn other than the cartoonists themselves and their close circle of supporters or fans. It’s not like Charlie Hebdo is a household name outside of France. Had some offended Muslims chosen to sue Charlie Hebdo in court accusing them of hate speech, they may have won; or they may have lost; but our core values would not have been threatened either way.

The reason why we are upset is because members of Charlie Hebdo’s editorial staff (not to mention police officers, a maintenance worker, and last but not least, some Jewish shoppers halfway across town) were murdered in what was a direct, openly declared attack on one of our fundamental values: the right to freedom of expression, even when said expression offends someone else’s beliefs.

Meanwhile, I continue to be astonished by the cowardice of many Western media organizations when it comes to publishing tomorrow’s Charlie Hebdo cover. CNN at least were honest about it: Jeff Zucker basically said that they’re too afraid to do so.

And speaking of hypocrisy, I just came across the illustrated transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s rant concerning CNN’s decision. A well illustrated transcript; it even has a stock image of some child on a sled. But, predictably, no Hebdo cover. To see the actual cover, you have to follow a link to another news organization’s Web site.

Congrats, Rush, for showing us just what a brave and proudly courageous American you really are.

 Posted by at 8:16 pm
Jan 072015
 

Cartoonists are frustrated. Muslims are frustrated. A collection of fresh cartoons express the frustration of a world, hijacked today by extremism. Here are two that illustrate these feelings most profoundly.

This drawing by Sudanese political cartoonist Khalid Albaih from Doha, Quatar depicts how many Muslims must feel today:

And the anger of cartoonists (and journalists and, well free people) around the world is captured by Manjul, Chief Cartoonist at the Mumbai-headquartered Daily News and Analysis:

Thank you and all other cartoonists for not letting yourselves be intimidated by murderers. I just hope that the rest of us have the courage not to blame all Muslims for the crimes of a demented few.

Kind of funny, by the way, in the wake of the SONY/The Interview farce how there is a common theme between religious zealots and atheist despots: they both hate humor and freedom of expression.

 Posted by at 7:16 pm
Mar 262014
 

25 or so years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to Karoly (Charles) Grandpierre, a struggling Ottawa artist of Hungarian extraction. “Pierre”, as his friends knew him, finished his studies at the Ottawa School of Arts and was trying to make a living as a painter. The friend who introduced us died the following year in a tragic car accident. Although we didn’t really stay in touch, I never completely lost track of Pierre, as there were other mutual friends who from time to time told us about him. That’s how we learned, for instance, that eventually he moved back to Hungary.

Well, Pierre is no more. I just read that he passed away last week, at age 65, after a prolonged battle with cancer.

 Posted by at 3:51 pm
Jan 112013
 

I may be a loyalist royalist but I don’t usually much care about the comings and goings of the Royal Family and I am no art critic either. However, I cannot refrain from commenting on the official portrait of Kate Middleton. It’s like all the goodness has been sucked out of her. Like a charmectomy operation. All the warmth that makes her photographs such a pleasure to look at… none if it is present in the painting. What was the artist thinking?

charming-kate          charmless-kate
 Posted by at 12:01 pm
Mar 112012
 

I have been meaning to write about this since last month, when news photographer Damir Sagolj won a World Press award for his photograph of a North Korean building complex with the well lit picture of Kim Il-Sung highlighting a wall:

I think it’s an amazing shot. All those drab buildings with their dark windows, and the single source of light is the portrait of the Great Leader represent North Korean society in a way words cannot. I can almost visualize this image as part of some post-apocalyptic computer game.

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Aug 312010
 

After a brief commercial break, CTV News showed the following during today’s noontime news show:



No explanation was offered that I am aware of. But, it’s nice.

 Posted by at 6:57 pm