Review: Love in art

The usual blockbuster events gain all the attention for the National Gallery of Victoria, and like cosmic detritus around a black hole, all are pulled by way of its gravitational attraction. And this is no bad thing, so go see Vincent van Gogh and the Four Seasons if you can.

Reflecting on art

What these starry-eyed fans may miss out on though, is the low-key free to view exhibits, such as Love: Art of Emotion – 1400- 1800.  It closes in a couple of weeks, and having spent a while there, I do recommend it. And not just as an escape from the VvG cluster, although it does represent a welcome contrast.

Detail from my favourite painting of the exhibit.

For further details on some of the themes and works, download this handy PDF. I won’t repeat what the gallery itself says about its exhibit, because why?

We dance round in a ring & suppose, but the art sits in the middle & knows

It’s a truism that rearranging art creates the possibility for new perspectives. This is literal in a physical sense but it’s not just about grouping art differently across new rooms. It is also about the rooms themselves. The air of mystery around some pieces in this exhibit is certainly heightened by the black matt painted walls, making the pieces as context-less as possible. While the rooms and corridors seem to fold in on themselves, presenting unique views and angles around each corner.

What you see & what’s revealed.

Meanwhile, items in glass enclosed cases hold their own allure, reflecting, as they do the pictures around them, at the same time presenting the likes of mourning rings, and sculptures.

In need of snarky comment or context.

All this basks in yellow-gold lighting making for a warm, mellow contrast to the walls, so some pieces seem to glow and draw attention, while others wait to be discovered or stumbled across unexpectedly.

Ceiling of the great hall in the temple to art (NGV).

It almost doesn’t matter the theme for this exhibit. It offers a respite filled with ceramics, books, and instruments, paintings and glass. Amongst the rush of the city, or the crowds in busier galleries, this space offers a sea of tranquillity and repose. I suppose all galleries are looked upon this way in some measure. Perhaps, with its spacious main hall, with the magnificently vivid ceiling creating almost a cathedral space, the NGV is considered a refuge more than most.

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Doctor Who: Blind faith

The doom monks of the previous episode Extremis are back in Doctor Who‘s Pyramid at the End of the World. As the latest Big Bad, these aliens are eerily reminiscent of the crypts of actual mummified Capuchin friars that hang from walls and ceilings.  These aliens are even dressed the same (Capuchin indicates hooded). If you want to look at something really macabre and not just grimly fictional, Google search images for their crypts. I can testify that the search histories for writers are always intriguing, weird, and possibly troubling.

Doctor Who has a thing for bad/religious types in red, whether in Rome, Scotland or in Extremis. I’m getting ahead of the trend by suggesting this look.

Anyway, these Alien Pyramid Monks also recall the Silence, right down to the religious feel to them (and the name, obvs). The Silence hear confessions of course, and these monks demand something similar: a heartfelt call for help. Not a request for aid out of fear or political expediency, but one out of love. Then they can conquer the world. What we see from the preview for next episode is that these APMs can change history and memories, which is also Silence-y. With all this, and with the Vatican last episode and previous episodes featuring the Papal Mainframe and Anglican monk-soldiers of the Byzantium, I’m thinking Steven Moffat has done a lot of thinking about Christianity and Catholicism in particular, but with its history, death rituals, public displays of worship and adoration, including the ornate buildings and robes, plus obsessions with guilt and bodies, why not? Here is an interesting critique of how well (or not) this has been done.

It’s just not about Christianity though. These aliens have done their homework and settled on the pyramid to best represent their importance and open presence on Earth when they smack it down on the flash point Madeupistan. In terms of the Whoniverse, it had to be a pyramid. Those things are everywhere (like on Mars).

More rocket-like but less imposing than a pyramid for a landing in Madeupistan.

But for all their get up, these beings are less monks and more like the Fates; literally holding the (neon) skeins of the future. Or, if you like they are dead Time Lords in death robes, rather than their stupid(er) outfits. In offering to intervene to stop the Doomsday Clock from reaching mid night they are specifically cognate to The Doctor, who does intervene in stuff (unlike the others from Gallifrey who long made non-interference a policy). The Doctor doesn’t want power in return, although he is Earth’s President. However, when the humans, blind to their futures, acknowledge the foresight of these monks, they do offer them their power (but it is not so simple as that – as explained above).

The Fates come with symbols such as spindles & shears. And are women. Would it have killed Moffat to have Alien Corpse Moirae?

This is where we get to the examination of blindness and its significance for The Doctor, (even if his conundrum in this instance would have been solvable with a phone camera and Bill’s help). Nardole keeps telling The Doctor he is hiding his blindness to avoid revealing it to his enemies. Sure, The Doctor agrees. But the Alien Monks themselves don’t care, as walking corpses they barely have eyes at all. Meanwhile, despite Nardole’s constant narration, no one twigs; the blind leading the blind, indeed.

Sonic Scope for the Blind.

No. The actual reason why The Doctor did not immediately reveal his continuing blindness to Bill is history. His Companions always end up making sacrifices due to his vulnerabilities, and failings, and their faith in him: see River Song, Adric, or Clara. He knows this and has been told this by the likes of Rory. The Doctor requires much of his fellow travellers, and their willingness to help him place them in positions that endanger themselves and others. Thus, they will save him, even if this condemns themselves and in this case, the rest of the world. Thus, as soon as Bill sees the light, she acts accordingly. She sacrifices the world to save The Doctor, because of her faith he can, with his eyesight restored, save them all in return. Ah me, once, more unto the Moffat Loop, dear Companions, once more.

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Review: A brush with Vincent

The National Gallery of Victoria winter masterpiece exhibition this year is Vincent van Gogh and the Four Seasons (on now). I finally got to visit on a particularly sombre, grey Melbourne Friday afternoon.

Vincent.

Last year the big exhibit was Degas. It was interesting. I recognised familiar paintings of the usual suspects, admired paintings I’d not met before and generally marvelled at his bronzes, particularly the horses. My response, to Degas’ art was neither deeply intellectual nor emotional, except for the back stories to some of the subjects – such as The Little Dancer. However, little about his practice got me wondering how he achieved it. Perhaps it was all too familiar, perhaps it something about my perception that meant his story and style didn’t exactly grab me. And then of course it became about his ‘male gaze’ penchant for nudes. Or, if you’re less arty, his overtly leery view of a very lot of various naked women going about their private business.

Degas, but not deja vu.

The above is a long-winded introduction to van Gogh, but pertinent, because my reaction this time to 2017’s ‘blockbuster’ exhibition was entirely opposite. It was visceral, emotional, and intellectual. Yes, this is due in part to his pop-cultural status as the definitive tortured artist. It is also due to the familiarity of his life and works and the interpretation of both, in song, and an upcoming film, and even in the likes of Doctor Who and the Simpsons. Even teen me wrote a poem to Vincent (don’t worry I won’t inflict it on you). All of which is to say, if ballerinas are Degas, then almost anything can be van Gogh, if the colours and brushwork are right.

Light and line, rendered solid.

Speaking of which, I can spend hours looking at a van Gogh painting. Particularly the ones where the oil paint glistens in the light so the lines and directions of his brushwork become just as vibrant as his yellows and golds and purply-blues.

Star bursts, vertices, and white stabs of paint.

Light reveals the movement in his work. It conveys the energy of his hand in motion to the viewer through the medium of colour, and direction, in small, quick, but deliberate strokes.

And it was all yellow.

It is art that feels immediate. Degas is history, a moment captured, completely of its time. Van Gogh’s seasons evoke places and eras too, but the electrifying brightness of his springs and nights, the hues of his autumns, the starkness of his winters, well, they’re immortal. The places are specific, but the movement of colours therein are universal. Or something.

 

While his places are of moments, so too his faceless individual forms evoke human experiences without being identifiable. They are ghosts, faces obscured, or with their backs to us, or bent over working. They are not for us, they do not peer out; busy in place, they are home. We are the interlopers.

Winter: a solitary figure of the same stuff as the cold earth.

Moving around a van Gogh reveals the details of his intentions. To to be up close is to see the horizontal and vertical contrasting shades. Stand back and admire the view, but lean in and realise the concentration it took to construct it.

Warp and weft.

A fellow attendee, also in awe, remarked at how the paintings were woven. She was right. Warp and weft of colours make the whole.

He was not all about colour, however.

All of this means a print of a van Gogh seems dull and muddy by comparison. It’s two-dimensional rather than his three dimensions. That could be said of any print of an oil painting. However, the Fibonacci swirls in his clouds, the star burst lines of his shrubberies, and fields of sunny vertices make van Gogh’s work instantly recognisable, but also so much more energetic when confronted by the real thing, framed on the wall. Which I why I took few photos of entire paintings, but rather close-ups of sections.

Landscapes as vectors.

Maybe I am too enamoured of his technique, but then again, he had more than one. Autumnal and winter sketches and paintings show his political leanings through earlier, darker works featuring farmers.

Light gets through even in his darker works.

Meanwhile, a section of the exhibit demonstrated the influence of Japonism on his aesthetic, and forms a worthwhile exhibit of itself.

Something Japanese.

Van Gogh, a late-ish blooming outsider artist, found and pursued his calling. That’s relatable. Maybe it doesn’t just comes down to us being suckers for tragedy, even if the art and the sadness of his life can’t be separated.

There is so much more to say, but perhaps it is better to end by urging you, if your can, to visit Vincent, follow his lines, seek his light, and bask in his fields.

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Doctor Who: Use Your Words

‘ere be spoilers, me hearties, k?

In a Doctor Who story featuring two big reveals, the one regarding the vault was interesting, given the stuff about measurements of fatality, with an apt call back to River Song, but that was the curtain raiser. No, it was the other piece of news that kept me engaged amid increased tension and mystery.

Through technology, you can see what is not real: the original use your illusion.

Steven Moffat’s episode Extremis has all sorts of things going on, many of them my favourites. For starters: Latin tags, hidden libraries, shadows, and dangerous ancient texts, like River’s diary, and the other one. Or so it seems. Moffat’s great joke about this truth book is it not about words at all, it is a count. A word count if you like.

Bad corpses, bad corpses, whatcha gonna do when they come for you in a computer simulation?

The Doctor stealing from his future in order to see is an analogy for what happens in the episode and also what happens with writers and stories. Writers always take from their Big Bag of Ideas and spend them, some times all at once. The stuff about the Vatican and CERN was intriguing, but mainly marvellous and entertaining window dressing to get to the point of the text. And the fact it is a book is important, The Doctor and his Companions, in figuring out what they are doing, are interpreting the text they are within. And they succeed.

The new enemy runs a simulation within a framework in order to understand and overcome future real world outcomes, such as defeat in an attempt to conquer the earth. The hidden text is the verification process, which is the only indication to individuals that they are but characters encoded by their enemy, to be deleted, or rewritten at will. Like like any character. Nardole and Bill feel and see this, and their terror is real. However, this time Father Christmas doesn’t turn up to save them.

This is very much like The Doctor’s Confession Dial experience where he (alone) experienced many deaths over thousands of years to finally reach his destination. This time, Subroutine Doctor doesn’t go anywhere, but he does get the information out, and just like any ‘trapped in a dream’ episode, The Doctor outside of the framework wakes to the impending danger.

Why is this important? Well the danger will come anyway, so this is an introduction. But what the story really indicates is that The Doctor transcends any construct that contains him, even bespoke ones inside his own story. As a character within a world within a world, he speaks to the world beyond him. He is inter-textual, but what the argument really is, is that The Doctor is beyond texts. He is a cultural phenomenon, beyond the limits of a TV series, films, cartoons, books, and audio plays. The Doctor says he stands apart, which is really Moffat making The Doctor say, too damn right he does. As a character he is immortal in a way no one else can be.

The other theme of 2017: dead stalking the living. Wonder what it means? Cough, cough, ahem, um, regener-

But to get more meta, this is also a get out of jail free dress rehearsal or first draft for the real encounter of our heroes and this new big bad. If we don’t like what happened in this episode, the writer is saying it doesn’t matter, because it is one of many possibilities for the actual showdown. This was just one version we happened to catch. It will be rewritten differently next time.

So we can see Moffat is test driving ideas about identity, truth, sight and shadows to see what will fly with his readers (audience) when The Doctor faces these beings and barriers ahead of the next episode: ‘reality.’ But as I keep noting, this isn’t reality at all, merely another Borges-like-Escherscape of repeating Moffat Themes, dressed beautifully, and gloriously freighted with auteur significance. And it doesn’t matter a single jot if no one gets it, because we’re through the looking glass people, and it’s maze-like dangers and adventures are wondrous and beguiling.

 

 

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Doctor Who: Raising Stakes

Ok, this is a two-fer-one deal this week. Two reviews for one episode. It’s happened before and it may happen again. Here we go.

Remember when Psychic Bec™ described the 2017 season’s arc in terms of how each episode would edge closer to the main point of the series and how, in another post (if you’ve been following along at home), I decided the theme this year was barriers.

If you don’t want more Doctor Who skip this, k?

Well I was right. Sort of. The Doctor and Bill have been fighting (even with fists) barriers and exploitative behaviours such as racism, slavery, rampant commodification of people, emotions, giant possibly alien fish, air, and the systematic murder of populations for profit, etc. Meanwhile, the Vault squats beneath the adventures (physically at the university and metaphorically) as a symbol of doom-laden significance. I think most people believe the Master/Missy is inside, but at any rate the being within is sentient, and dangerous. The danger, you see, in Who, is within and without.

No Timmy, you can’t save the Companion, run & fetch The Doctor.

However, what unexpectedly upped the stakes was the refusal of the writers/show runners to get the Doctor out of his blindness by voila deus ex machina-ering the issue by waving Gallifreyan tech over his face, for a happy conclusion. After a couple of seasons (is it that much?) of sporting sonic shades, he can now wear dark glasses permanently, it seems. Way to telegraph I guess?

Anyway the usual escalation of NuWho danger is:

Preview: Arrive at Location.

1) Isolate The Doctor and Companion from the Tardis.

1a) Destroy Sonic Screwdriver or minimise its effectiveness (doesn’t do wood).

2) Increase dangers in the environment.

3) Split The Doctor and Companion.

3) Get Companion in Trouble™.

4) The Doctor does the Risky Thing™.

5) Companion and/or The Doctor save the day.

6) The Doctor returns to the Tardis, fixes what was damaged and pouts over what was broken or lost (eg his hearts, the Master, Madame Pompadour, Rose, his shoes, Sonic, his home etc.)

With enhanced hearing machinery The Doctor still defeats his enemies. 

This time, the promised deux ex wielded by Nardole doesn’t work. Hence, the stakes are changed for The Doctor. He is blind and it is a real barrier (even if he can save a space mining station without sight, a sonic, or much air). There aren’t many physical barriers put before The Doctor these days, or if there are, they’re the same ones everyone in the environment faces. This time his behaviour in saving Bill from the Trouble™ has lasting consequences. This is a welcome development, and yes, a natural progression or danger escalation towards revealing the Vault plot.

The upshot of this is that I hope that the first five minutes of the next episode don’t produce the sudden fix lacking in this episode, because this particular barrier is worth exploring. As is the idea he will continue to lie about his new situation to Bill, who would appreciate the motivation to hide (from one perspective), but perhaps not in relation to what it means for his role as Senior Danger Vault Custodian with a cosmic reputation for planet saving.

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Doctor Who: Deep Space Mine

Here be spoilers, because I can’t do this otherwise, k?

This Doctor Who episode, Oxygen, was saying a lot but I’m not sure I fully appreciated everything beyond omg zombies in space. The tension, the fear, the slow chase and quick deaths were compelling. Meanwhile, the tech looked satisfyingly advanced while also being reassuringly grimy and industrial and workaday solid.

Message repeats

The most obvious episode with reminiscent space station high stakes is 42, which saw The Doctor similarly putting his physical self on the line to save everyone, plus hugs in the end. In this episode it was a new kind of vulnerability for The Doctor and it mostly worked. Beyond that there’s the rescue mission Sleep No More, which I won’t mention…more…because of the ick monsters.

If I work all day at the blue sky mine…

So, if last week’s Thin Ice was an allegory about slavery, as pointed out by fascinating analysis by Liam Hogan, then this episode puts front and centre capitalism and the commodification of the most basic of all human requirements: oxygen (not really a giveaway, if you remember the title).

Of course, the harder people exert themselves working, the deeper breaths they take, which increases the cost to the workers of the jobs they are paid to do, which in turn acts as an incentive to be less efficient as a breath/cost saving to themselves, thus undermining the entire conceit. Hence management’s solution…a better system would offer incentives for productivity no matter the cost or use of oxygen but there I go, bringing sense into this.

They were space miners, but at least they weren’t aboard the Nostromo.

If the blue sky mining company won’t save me…who’s gonna save me? 

Do we have any space economists out there to run numbers on this? A bit like the ‘almost people’ of the 2011’s The Rebel Flesh these employees are resources to be exploited and discarded when the numbers don’t add up. They are literally wage slave oxygen thieves. The Doctor, again, is there not only to save the day, but to upset the system under which business operates, as in Thin Ice. We really need him in free trade agreements I think, otherwise to quote (again) Midnight Oil: ‘nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground.’

As a side note, industrial workers in Doctor Who generally might be found in exotic locales, but they don’t do very well life-span wise.

In space, oxygen is money. 

But everything else…

Look, I want to say something like: interesting ideas, but um, science that sh*t, ok? If, on a space station, everything is measured in breaths, what exactly is a breath? How deep, how shallow, by whose lung capacity are averages taken? Can you be an asthmatic miner on a space station like this? And if not everyone is human, then how are breaths averaged? Do people train for work like this, like long distance swimmers or mountain climbers, to increase lung capacity? So many questions, none of them answered.

And after all of that, if suits can do the work remotely, sans bodies, why have people at all? Surely an off world mining gig could be run remotely, like they run huge Pilbara mines several thousands kilometres away in Perth, right now in Western Australia, on Earth?

If humans are needed, then aerating most of the station would be cheaper, more efficient and less prone to issues than only providing oxygen to suits, which I imagine sometimes have to come off anyway for human ablutions, and if you noticed, suit repairs? And if needed management could make them redundant from a central control a la The Satan Pit (but off world). Thus, I am deeply suspicious the writer just wanted the suits joke. To be fair, it’s a good pun, with The Doctor again delivering the survivors to head office to have words, just like in The Almost People.

I was going to be extremely critical of the fade out of consciousness cut away for Bill’s survival, because it looked like a cheap way to skip on exposition and special effects. I say was, because in the end I liked Bill’s coming to balanced with The Doctor’s sight returning. Only then did it make sense.

So, while in space, only The Doctor can hear you breathe, this was but a suspenseful place holder, as The Doctor, Bill and Nardole bide their time before confronting the inhabitant of the increasingly foreboding vault. Let’s hope it’s not a big overture, little show, to quote Xander Harris from BtVS.

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Amusing Me: to be or Knottbee.

Well reader I did it. A couple of posts ago I mused about setting up a blog (or some such) to publish some short story-like things I have stored in my computer from years ago. I can now announce it is done, or at least started. The site, called the Adventures of the Affronted Falcon, found here, is still finding its feet, but five little vignette things have been made public so far. I’m not promoting it (apart from this), thus, it’s just there, being very silly, but I’m having fun and that’s merely one goal.

The good ship the Affronted Falcon.

This format means there is so much more to do, because I find writing like this breeds more writing. There are some basic plot points and characters, but I’ve set it up so it could go on forever. This little dream land is whatever I want it to be, subject to the limits of my site building capacities. The world I’m creating (known as Knottbee Island) can be as lame or as weird or as slightly amusing and certainly as odd as I can imagine and find or create illustrations for.

Heraldry of Professor Impossibilios, scientist and explorer of Knottbee Island.

Thus far I have used parts of stories I already had, just re-purposed and edited, but in the process of doing that I have already written new things for this site. In some moods this could be considered writing procrastination to avoid other writing, but most of this was doing nothing but collecting digital dust as files, so it may as well be out in the world. Maybe something will come of this, because what I do know is that nothing comes of writing just sitting on the hard drive.

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