Daily Mind-ful 14 May 2017 (Luddite)

It ain’t easy being married to an angry and reluctant Luddite: the husband insists on using checks, can’t understand why computers don’t come with manuals and it takes him ages to complete online forms because he never learned to type; I try be sympathetic because a grey tsunami will inundate the UK soon and many older people will be helpless when confronted with today’s online, self-service economy; one of the benefits of being a Luddite, if such a thing can exist, is being able to watch something grow over a very long span of time, say, ten years, in the garden, something a young person cannot relate to at all these days; since we’re on the topic of housekeeping, I wanted to clarify my objection to cleaning and housekeeping. It is a philosophical and ethical one. Cleaning is a form of continuous reinstatement of the past. There is a major opportunity cost to such an activity. If you devote all your time and energy to constantly putting your house back in order — to the way it was before (clean versus dirty), you don’t very well have any time left over with which to learn and discover new things and experiences; in a related observation: have you ever noticed that there are only two kinds of people – people who trot out experiences and anecdotes from the past and people who never do that (preferring to keep their eyes and mind on what’s ahead of them)? I book my favorite restaurant in London, the Greenhouse, despite the fact that they were guilty of a hygiene infraction last year; like a good wife, I plan my itinerary in London tomorrow based on John’s preferences instead of my own, meaning that our day will be devoted to traditional, not contemporary, culture and exhibitions; that’s not to say that I don’t love old things. But that I’m always seeking out new experiences and objects which ill expand my mind. Old paintings don’t pass that test 98% of the time; similarly, and to cite another binary character typology: have you noticed that there are only two kinds of people, the first kind will seek to return to a favorite place again and again, whereas the opposite types avoids visiting the same place twice, even if he or she likes it a lot; while there’s no doubt that technology increases the quantum of our output, does it actually enhance brain function — or diminish it? Don’t buy Green & Black ice cream, it’s too aerated without any scrumptious, enlivening sparks of flavor; John sees me posting my negative comments about the ice cream and we have an altercation, with him saying that British people will never like me because I’m too confrontational and obnoxious; I ignore him completely; that’s the thing about Brits, they prefer to put up and shut up in public while fuming and seething about it in private. I’ll never understand, let alone condone, that.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 13 May 2017 (Marketing is a bad word in England)

I unearthed a book from 1970 about Hong Kong people. What a walk down memory lane, racial stereotypes and all. It’s fascinating to read the unapologetically sexist, romantic depictions of interracial relationships for example. And the photo portraits are divine; I’m curious to understand how a consumer would search for my friend’s deer tooth jewellery and do a little bit of SEO sleuthing. Google keyword planner shows me that the keyword string, “tooth jewelry” is more popular than any other relevant search term, so I type that into Google to see what search results come up. Much to my surprise (but not delight, that’s for sure), my search results reveal an utterly new category of “tooth jewelry,” diamond and gold studs inserted directly into the teeth, rather than, as I had expected, gold and silver jewelry of traditional configuration containing and showcasing teeth; the main takeaway from this exercise is that it pays to do some simple research to ensure that you’re naming and describing your products according to what people actually seek to buy (via Google search); I relay my bemusing experience at Aldeburgh Music to my good friend, Louise, who, thank god, lives in the country and she explains that, especially to older Brits, “marketing” can be a bad word. This is a key but, of course, somewhat dispiriting lesson from my trusted friend who, like me, is a gung-ho, crack marketing professional. I’m lucky to have a friend/tennis partner/confidante who can lend perspective to my new experiences, both good and bad, in the countryside. Like me, she’s Jewish, and sticks out like a sore thumb 🙂
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 12 May 2017 (The Red House)

LUCKY me: The director of the Britten Pears Foundation gives me a personal tour of The Red House, Benjamin Britten‘s home, which he shared with his partner, Peter Pears, until his death in 1976; the Red House gives visitors unwonted access and intimate proximity to Britten and Pears’ life because not only has the house been conserved in exactly the condition in which it was left, without having guard rails or glass exhibit cases installed to separate members of the public from Britten and Pears’ possessions. But all of the couple’s personal possessions, such as their clothes, accessories, board games and gew gaws, have been left in the house, as if they had just gone out for a walk. The lack of physical barriers between the public and its objects of curiosity and wonderment made for an intimate and affecting viewing experience which made me think about the nature of museum-going in general. The interposition of barriers in and of itself creates an instant atmosphere of awe and reverence which may or may not be justified by the quality/design/provenance of the objects actually being protected. Yet we experience this knee-jerk reaction because of how we have grown up thinking of museums. Therefore, we tend to give instant credit and respect to the objects behind the guard rails (when, in some cases, they might be utter crap, actually). What else impressed and even astonished me was the museum’s exhibition, Queer Talk, a historical exposition and celebration of the 50th anniversary of homosexuality’s decriminalization in Britain. You have to remember that the museum is located in rural Suffolk (Aldeburgh), an area where mostly conservative, older people voted for Brexit, making this exhibition, with its open message of liberal, progressive tolerance, discomfiting by definition. Hats off to the Director though!
It takes guts, leadership and vision to take The Red House in such a direction and proves that she is a torchbearer of the Britten’s unconventional lifestyle and career; I drove over to Snape Maltings after The Red House to meet with Roger Wright, the director of the entire Snape Maltings complex, which, these days, encompasses Aldeburgh Music, the Aldeburgh Festival and the retail complex formerly owned by the Gooderhams, a Suffolk family. I was treated to a personal tour of the whole shebang, which was a privilege and treat.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 11 May 2017 (Higgins Museum)

[Click the full screen icon at the bottom right corner of the video in order to watch it in normal, much larger format.]
Main reason to watch today’s vlog: I discover the Higgins Museum during my day trip to visit photographer and artist, Edgar Martins, in his studio in Bedford, England. Today’s the first hot day of the year.
HOORAY; listening to too much easy, pop music is like eating junk food for all three meals in a day – not healthy or nutritious for the mind; I meet Edgar Martins, brilliant photographer-artist at his studio in Bedford and am blown away by his intensity, ideas and eloquence. Definitely a Maxell blow-the-hair-back moment!
The use of photography is incidental to his practice. In fact, his formation is philosophy and semiotics, explaining, perhaps, why I felt like I was talking to myself (for better or worse, poor guy). You can judge for yourself once you see my short film about him;
I check out Bedford and, like so many ancient English towns and cities, its historic center is beautiful and charming; I end up canning my plan to hoof it over to the Milton Keynes Art Gallery in favor of the local Higgins Museum, highly recommended by Edgar;
Higgins Museum (Bedford)
It’s always difficult for hard-core enthusiasts of contemporary art to understand my interest in every single period of art but I welcome learning about any period or style of art or, for that matter, new sub-culture; whereas the exhibition about the local airship manufacturer holds zero interest for me, the exhibition of pre-Raphaelite, Victorian painting is fascinating – mostly because this is such a little-referenced, infrequently exhibited, comparatively unpopular period of English art. Yet the quality of the captioning and exemplars at the Higgins easily propels me through it. The Higgins Museum has a very large collection of artworks from every period through the Modern period, so it stages exhibitions (like this one) in order to rotate the collection for public view; I continue my wander through the restored Higgins residence, once the home of the wealthy brewery-owning family who founded the museum and am delighted by the collection of English decorative arts. In my opinion, the best part of the museum is the design gallery, which gives a fantastic, capsule overview of the evolution and history of English decorative arts from the 16th century through the Arts & Crafts period, with an emphasis on Victorian era artifacts and furniture; by the way, I’m a nutter for Meissen porcelain, believe it or not. Deep inside, I’m an unrepentant maximalist who believes that minimalism and all-black are unforgivable design cop-outs; the Higgins Museum contains a large collection of graphic design and printed materials from Edward Bawden, one of England’s leading graphic artists, who passed away in the 1980s; I finally leave the museum — and Bedford — and what a gem of a visit! You never know what you will find tucked away in a quiet corner of England, explaining my willingness to drive far and wide to burrow into its nooks and crannies.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 9 May 2017 (Eco-fashion)

I’m going into London to introduce Christina Dean, the founder of Redress, one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-moving eco-fashion non-profits, to Isabel Encinias, the co-founder of Tejen Collection, an environmentally conscious fine jewelry brand with impeccable design credentials; incredible gold- and silver-plated roses spotted in the window of Sharps Pixley’s St. James showroom. Sharps Pixley is primarily a bullion dealer but makes some interesting peripheral products (like these flowers) to animate its windows, literally, and core offering of bullion. I’ve always been intrigued by their retail storefront on St. James and whether/how it has impacted their business; I meet art consultant, Olga Ovenden of A Consultancy at Franco’s before heading off for lunch at Chutney Mary with Isabel and Christina; Christina has JUST moved from Hong Kong to England full-time, so we enjoy a jubilant reunion moment before entering the restaurant. It’s one of those,
“Holy shit, I can’t believe we both live in the UK (in the middle of nowhere)!” moments; lunch is a combination of life-story-telling, entrepreneurial-pain-point-unburdening and brain storming between all three of us. The upshot is making new friends, cementing old friendships and me offering to make videos about their respective brands, Tejen and Redress’ new eco-fashion brand launching in September, BYT Life. Christina asks if I can make a video before the first week of June and my response, “No f^&*()ing way, are you crazy?” But I promise delivery before the September launch of BYT Life. In the meantime,
consider voting for BYT Life in the Chivas Venture competition here; I meet up with one of my oldest, best friends, John-Paul, after lunch, and he can’t stop stop raving about his recent trip to Iran. It was so incredible and visually bountiful that he posted SIX HUNDRED photos on Facebook about his trip. Considering that John-Paul is an incredible, successful fashion photographer who has visited more than a hundred countries and shoots all over the world, I take this sort of effusive recommendation seriously and make him promise to visit me at home so he can convince John that we MUST go to Iran — SOON. (We missed Burma and Cuba, so I’m determined not to miss the boat on this one.) Esfahan is THE most impressive and beautiful apparently; I learn that Uber is available, even in the middle of the countryside (Eureka!).
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 7 May 2017 (Hampton Court Palace)

Hampton Court Palace: Henry VIII’s Great Hall was the largest hall in England at the time and features giant, wall-to-wall tapestries of exquisite artistry and condition. Even if you’re not into tapestries (because I’m not), it’s a gobsmacker of a room; the chic floor pillows are emblematic of Historic Royal Palaces, the caretaking organization of Hampton Court Palace, and wouldn’t look out of place in a house today; extremely elaborate napkin and fabric folding was an art form during the Tudor period; headless paper sculptures representing various courtiers flesh out the tableaux of court life within many of the rooms within the Palace and are, in and of themselves, wonderful masterworks of contemporary paper craft; while the palace is crammed with portraits (too many to notice after a while), the best paintings are exhibited in the Cumberland Art Gallery, which boasts many true masterpieces by Van Dyck, Holbein and Rembrandt. The quality of the artworks displayed in this wing (where photography is prohibited) is a definite cut above the rest of the palace’s paintings and one of the high points of Hampton Court Palace; the chapel garden (with its unfortunate green and white striped railings) boasts a series of colourful metalwork animals perched at the top of decorative, heraldic posts.

The undisputed artistic, decorative and creative highlight of my visit was the Guard Room in William III’s apartments, because of the bold geometric arrays of weapons — 3000 fully operational, impeccably polished and maintained ones — lining the upper walls of the chamber. The jaw-dropping display, originally conceived to impress and intimidate visiting generals and dignitaries, undoubtedly achieved its desired effect then — and now, if my own reaction is any indication.

I was so wowed by this room that I made a separate short clip about it for Instagram; each chimney at Hampton Court Palace has a different design. The brickwork of the Palace is maintained by a neighbouring business, 300-year old Bulmer Brick Yard located a stone’s throw away from our house; the yew trees at the Palace make you feel like a mini Alice in Wonderland; we were treated to a game of “real tennis” which, based on casual observations, combines tennis, squash and net goals. (My tennis coach told me later that there are courts and a league quite close to Little Henny but that it’s easy to injure yourself because the balls are rock-hard and, therefore, tennis elbow is a real risk.)

To sum up the highlights: 1) The Guard Room in the apartments of William III; the Cumberland Art Gallery; the gardens; and real tennis, provided there’s an actual match going on. (Without the animation of a live match, it’s just a narrow room with nets.); Sadly, our banner day at Hampton Court was marred by the nightmarish logistics of getting back home! We arrived at Liverpool Street Station and discovered that virtually all the trains on our line were canceled. Consequently, we took a train to Stansted and then an Uber to the car park of Colchester train station. Lesson learned: NEVER expect or plan to take a train on Sunday!

Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 4 May 2017 (Waitrose)

[Main topic of this vlog: How Waitrose gives insight into the British middle class.] I experienced a step change in my tennis game, largely because of some simple, mechanical, bright line rules. If only our emotional or professional lives were as easy to improve; Waitrose is a great window into the British middle class; I’m consistently impressed by the high quality of every single product and the evident concern with provenance. To wit, the green beans were from Senegal, so I didn’t buy them; while their product assortment overlaps significantly with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, there’s no liberal, progressive, hippie marketing schtick. Instead, the credo of whole, natural foods whose provenance and chain of custody is clearly documented is a mainstream, middle class concern. (Just remember that the British middle class is NOT the same as the American middle class. See this Quora post for elucidation.) Compared to a normal American grocery store, Waitrose has only the tiniest selection of processed foods; FINALLY, I signed up for Spotify, partially to get up to speed on Benjamin Britten in time for the Aldeburgh Festival; the Aldeburgh Festival is THE most important cultural event in my neck of the woods, East Anglia, and is a well-known classical music festival of global renown. Frankly, I would KILL to be involved with the festival in any way, shape or form; I’m a classical music fanatic actually, in case you didn’t gather from my content. Lately, I’ve become fascinated with contemporary classical music, of which, of course, Benjamin Britten was an early progenitor. Specifically, royalties from his music fund the Aldeburgh Festival. In fact, I’m a proud board member of Asia’s leading classical music solo recital series, which also founded the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival: Premiere Performances of Hong Kong. Honest to god, I would do ANYTHING for the founder, Andrea Fessler, who, in my opinion, has singlehandedly raised the bar on Hong Kong’s cultural scene for the past decade. How many people are insane enough to start a NEW cultural organization spearheading classical music in a city as culturally sere and vapid as Hong Kong?! As a board member of PPHK, I’m constantly thinking about how we can entice young people to try classical music for the first time; on vlogging: I deplore young bloggers’ preferred style of countless jump cuts. It’s too, well, jumpy; to avoid this effect, I only tape myself after I’ve worked everything out intellectually by laying down countless takes. These preliminary takes are me thinking out loud, rehearsing and logging my intellectual peregrinations as they occur. But at the end, I jettison those early takes and start from the beginning, striving to tape myself in relatively long, unbroken segments, in order to avoid that jarring jump cut style; indeed, I vlog in the same style as I write; and since we’re on the topic of speaking, I’d like to unequivocally condemn the excessive use of the word “like” — because it makes you sound like a teenage idiot; STOP already! Consider taping yourself in full conversational flow and you will see with your own eyes and ears how you come off. I assure you, you will not be impressed; the first track I listen to on Spotify is the sound track to the movie, Arrival, by Johann Johannsson. (I also downloaded Sicario by Johannsson.); in today’s United States, I can’t imagine venturing below the Mason-Dixon line, although Nashville does tempt me; hair elastics: will they last? They’re a prime example of the built-in obsolescence of cheap consumer products manufactured in China; fully one-third of British homes struggle to use the internet in the evening. I’m right to bitch about the horrendous lack of internet service in the countryside after all.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 3 May 2017 (The evolution of the photographic image)

[Main topic of this vlog: I explain why I want to write a book about the evolution of the photographic image and associate, riff and reflect free-form on the subject.] I leave London at an ungodly hour in order to meet John at the antique dealers’ fair in Long Melford; I end up buying an Ironstone pitcher from the turn of the century; I’m intimidated to walk around the hall by myself because it’s full of (only) superannuated white men. Yes, I’m serious; My favorite house in the countryside (so far): the pink house in the center of Cavendish; I seriously mull the idea of writing two books, one about environmental photography, the other about the evolution of the photographic image over the past thirty years, especially these past ten; Not only should the evolution of the image itself be considered (technically and technologically) but the ethical and societal implications of these shifts and what they mean for our interactions with others, our self-image, our morality, etc. THAT is the principal reason why such a book would be fascinating and why this question has piqued my interest so ferociously; Here are the issues about the evolution of the photographic image that I have identified very quickly: 1) photoshopping, its prevalence and universal acceptance 2) the selfie (and its implications for our body image, self-image and psychology) and 3) the democratization of photography (i.e., the phenomenon of everyone becoming a photographer); documentary, “objective” reportage in the style of the Magnum photographers has mostly gone out of fashion and been replaced by a much more subjective style of photography which uses photography as the instrumentality of content or messaging, frequently activist-style messaging, to wit, environmental photography; that’s largely explained by the democratization of photographic technology which enables the man on the street to mimic the style of most news photographers these days. It means that the value-added of the photographic image originally conferred by mastery of equipment and darkroom processes has been replaced, of necessity, by content and meaning. To my mind, that’s a major and welcome improvement in the culture of photography; similarly, realistic, gritty photography in the style of Terry Richardson and Terry Jones (ID Magazine) are now outmoded; gardening is futile – by definition. I don’t get it; not having a Facebook page is really stupid because Instagram is a really impoverished and unsuitable platform for sharing third-party content, especially textual or lengthy, or, for that matter, my long-form rants about capitalism, art, the environment, millennials, child rearing, etc.; my favorite stories on Instagram are Eva Chen‘s because she’s so real, with huge doses of thankfulness and humility. Plus, she’s completely average-looking; My vlogging as a talking head is stymied because my intention to vlog about The Week, my favorite magazine in the whole world, has been defeated by the near unanimity of commentary on the past three weeks of headline news, dammit! (The Week’s strength is collating and summarizing the full range of political opinion on the same issue, news or topic, even when those opinions are diametrically opposed to one another); totally psyched to discover that Macron’s wife is way older than him; and that he may also be bi – ha!
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 29 April 2017 (Dulwich)

I don’t understand dogs. They’re so domesticated that they won’t leave the house after 8 hours inside unless a human takes them on a walk; travel and logistics nightmare today because I have to go to London and Dulwich and the trains are being repaired. It means we have to take the train from Stansted into the city – NIGHTMARE; an article in the the SmartCities SmartBrief about my home town, Cincinnati, Ohio, catches my eye: it’s about how the digital divide — and a lack of internet — prevents social mobility among the lower rungs of society; I complain about the lack of internet in the countryside but the digital divide mirroring the structural poverty of the poorest strata of society in the United States is actually much more serious. Living in the UK, perhaps I’ve become myopic and blind to such important issues; I dart into the “America After the Fall” exhibition at the Royal Academy and am struck by how many of the works painted during the Depression reflect the dystopian atmosphere and problems of today; at 45 Jermyn Street, I’m struck by how the thin value-add of Virgin Mary sauce on top of a smashed avocado justifies its overpriced place on the menu; then, we head off to Dulwich for my cousin’s birthday lunch; next time, I’ll check out the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the UK’s oldest art gallery, which also boasts an outdoor gallery of street art; after 11 hours, we’re back home; John lights a fire in our kadai, a giant cauldron fit for roasting small children; I review and annotate the most recent issues of The Week in preparation for my next vlog; I download the Google Art & Culture app which allows you to discover the art and culture destinations in the vicinity of your real time geolocation. It’s a fantastic, invaluable information resource; my stepdaughter tells me about a new app, Smartify, which is the equivalent of Shazam for art; I end the night by watching the Anthony Joshua versus Wladimir Klitschko fight for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail

Daily Mind-ful 26 April 2017 (Lavenham Guildhall)

I take my cousins to look at the Bures Dragon, a huge earthscape shaped like a dragon which is the most dramatic example of land art in Suffolk. As an added bonus, Saint Stephen’s Chapel, the grounds of which serve as the de facto viewing stage for the land art dragon, approximately half a mile away and otherwise inaccessible by foot, was open because it was the Easter period. The chapel is a little-known, special historic treat because it’s the chapel for the aristocratic DeVere family, the forbears of the dragon’s creator, Geoffrey Probert, and contains the ancient tombs of several DeVeres, dating back as far as the 13th century. Walking into the small chapel and viewing the tombs, almost perfectly preserved, up close, is not something you’d ordinarily be able to do at a museum, so, being able to see such ancient, museum-quality relics totally undisturbed, in total quiet and serenity, was an unexpected windfall which my cousins enjoyed immensely [I didn’t film inside the chapel because it is a sacred place. But wanted to mention our visit there nonetheless]; we continue our sightseeing tour through Suffolk to Lavenham, the most popular tourist destination in Suffolk, where we visit its best-known building, the Guildhall, which was once the centre of wool trading and then became a workhouse after Lavenham lost its pre-eminent position in the industry. First sight: a stuffed, apotropaic cat. “Apotropaic” means “intended to ward off evil.” ; The harsh lock-up and bare bones mortuary behind the Guildhall; the public footpath system is one of Britain’s greatest public goods and treasures. The footpath system and the corresponding ordnance survey maps allow the public to walk on the public easements crisscrossing the nation’s countryside; entertaining and hospitality are as exhausting as any day at the office; OMFG, HAIL!; WOO HOO! my stepdaughter, Louise Bleach, representing the water desalination technology, Desolenator, wins a HUGE startup competition, Pitch at Palace, over 900 other startup contestants chosen from all over the United Kingdom.
Facebooktwitterpinteresttumblrmail
1 2