Saturday, May 24, 2014

A touch of perspective

DSC06042 (975x1300)One of my earliest experiences in art class was learning how to draw objects in perspective.  We were given a block of wood, told to hold it at arm’s length at a bit of an angle, and then draw the outline as we saw it.  It’s deceptive; my hand stubbornly refused to create lines that matched the inclinations that my eye saw. It took many weeks of pulling the block out of my pocket and attempting to draw it before I could master the trick.

Later, we did still life drawing.  I marched my thumb around the pedestals and vases, noting the heights of objects and the distances between them before rendering them on paper. As I worked my way around the composition, DSC05985 (972x1300)I’d too often find that my careful constructions didn’t match up the start and end where they were supposed to come back together.  It took a lot of studies and erasure to master that trick.

Perspective all come get that consistently rights down to how you relate expressive artistic representation to the eye’s reality.

A Study in Perspective is part of the new Ai Weiwei exhibit opening at the Lisson Gallery near Edgeware Road.  The gallery is free and photography is allowed: the exhibition of Weiwei’s work is modest (as is a stone installation by DSC05982 (1300x931)sculptor Richard Long (right) in another part of the Gallery) but delightful.  I’d mainly known of him through news reports of his dissident run-ins with Chinese authorities.  His work, though, reveals a fun and provocative wit behind the works.

Bicycles mound in stacks like a garden trellis, simulate huge snowflake symmetries across a wall.  A hanger or handcuffs from his prison cell are replicated in media from acrylic to wood.  A short film focuses on the laborious process of unscrewing a restraining bolt holding a sliding train window using his keys.

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There’s always a creative whimsy in the work, a sense that these are slowly planned an executed with great care over long periods.  I feel like he takes a lot of satisfaction in the narrative of the work as well as the final completion.

And then there is the photo series Perspective.

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The photos themselves are interesting, amusing.  But the art, the delight, comes in the dawning realization of what he has created as you take in the volume of pictures that make up the set, the span of topics, the unifying attitude captured lovingly all over the planet.

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Half the fun is just watching people’s reactions as they take it in and realize what it is.  One picture might be intended simply to shock.  40 pictures is a statement.

More than that, it’s a perspective: representation giving meaning to what his eye sees.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In and out of the A&E

DSC05971 (1300x975)It was just one of those stupid things, dragging too many suitcases and bags across the courtyard at Wolfson College after too many miles of driving.   I stubbed a toe on a flagstone and went flat, possessions scattered, elbow skinned.  I picked up, dusted off, forgot about it, went on with business and life.

I think I must have hit a rock, though: a part of the elbow had a deeper puncture.   It healed, but yesterday suddenly puffed up like a plum and started to discolour.  My primary care physician is attached to my Dutch health insurance, and the surgery in Cambridge wasn’t taking walk-ins.  With a pitch in Leeds at 9 the next morning, the A&E was the only remaining option.

The Emergency Department is the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department in the UK (spoedeisende hulp in Dutch).  Its not too different from the US version: a triage nurse, then a receptionist to check you in, then wait in a colored section based on the level of my emergency.  It’s a bit like jury duty: no phones or wifi, don’t make noise or wander off.  And the wait, about three hours, wasn’t much different than if I walked into a US hospital with a similar problem.

DSC05972 (1300x937)The NHS has been held up as a generally bad idea by both sides of US political opinion, example of everything from out-of-control costs to endless queues to delayed and limited access to care.  But my reality was much more benign.  The staff was nice, checked on me regularly, and progressed me through a reasonable sequence of assessments and procedures.  It was nothing like the rhetoric, echoing my experiences in the Netherlands and Switzerland as well, all at much less cost).

I had a superficial infection that needed some deeper cleaning and antibiotics: the therapy was less aggressive than might have been done in the US.  There were two follow-up appointments to arrange and I was on my way, even before my eReader battery ran down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

To the IoM

DSC05969 (1300x945)It’s Pitch Week, traveling up and down the UK to describe the business and solicit investment from angel investment groups.  I’m not quite to the “Fundraising is Fun” opinion yet, but I am coming to enjoy the events, telling our story, answering the questions, conveying our enthusiasm. Angels can be as aspirational as entrepreneurs, their interest in seeing a good idea reach market is just as strong, their pride in business success just as deep.

Monday means the Isle of Man (IoM), an hour flight across the Irish Sea (a good test question),IoM 3D and down into Castletown.  Actually, twice: a shifting crosswind led to an aborted landing and much speculation that we were going to spend a couple of hours on the ground in Liverpool (Wind is to IoM what Fog is to Guernsey: DSC05967 (1300x1204)endless cause of flight delays)

I took the bus to the venue in Douglas, a large-ish city midway up the east coast.  At first glance, it’s a lot like the Channel Islands: lots of green fields, cows, and stately farms.  IoM is a self-governing Crown Dependency, not really a part of Britain or the DSC05921 (1300x960)EU, more retreat than country.  The local symbols are the Triskelion (a lot like Sicily’s Trinacria) and the Manx (a cat with no tail); they are everywhere (along with vaguely Welch signage and thick accents).  The hotel was along the Loch Promenade, a gently sweeping DSC05938 (1300x942)curve of vaguely Llandudno-style hotels surrounding the harbour.  Largely, today, obscured by pelting rain.

Then thunderstorms. 

Then the sun came out.

DSC05941 (1300x975)I found a little hole-in-the-wall cafĂ© to try a typical Manx dish: ham, egg, chips, leek soup with heavy chunks of bread and butter.  Good energy food for the afternoon.  The people remind me of life back in the Village: very familiar and set, a quick smile and greeting for friends and a dedicated place in the diner.  (This was reinforced when I got a text message from one participant telling me he’d just seen me drive past in a car with another: a very small world.)

The evening was productive, DSC05950 (1300x974)the pitch was well received.  There was even a bonus: a specialty coating company around the island with the plasma chamber of my dreams.

With a quality hospital, a credible biomed cluster, and a few good partnerships, it might work out for some future manufacture ahead of an exit.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Four for a Sunday evening

DSC05906 (1300x973)Its been a very full weekend.  There was lots of travel and cooking, up the coast and around the kitchen.  Bunches of sunshine, my coriander soaking it up even as the basil wilts.  I did take time away from work, walks along the beach, sampling rich Dorset Honeycomb ice cream, dipping toes in the sea, watching the ferries glide out of the harbour, dreaming of new adventures.

1)  Bridport’s Spring Tide Food Festival was lovely.  There was an amazing variety of local food and produce on offer, from beers and sausages to cheese and preserves.  And, of course, a Punch ‘n Judy show.

And cider.  So much cider.

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An added bonus was the recreation of a bronze-age campsite, complete with a primitive still.   ‘ever more ready for the Life in the UK test…

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2)  It’s been pointed out that my social environment has become entirely female.   From housemates to friends, correspondents to chats, there are few men in conversational earshot these days, and I can count the men that I regularly talk with on one hand.  While this is probably not something that I could have achieved if I tried (and, as a sensitive soul, there are good reasons to try), it’s a bit disconcerting.

DSC05897 (1300x974)3)  The Shrink and Sage argued the nature of  Wellbeing this weekend.  It’s a thoughtful debate: the psychologist holds that it is connect, be active, take notice (or be aware of yourself and the world), keep learning and give, the philosopher advocates for a grown-up debate about what we value, rather than simple observable measures of happiness. 

This week I side with the Sage (I generally do): as a believer in the value of experiences over things, people over places, it’s all about what matters.  Together.

4)  David Brooks wrote a wonderful essay describing the Stairway to Wisdom, addressing the problem of how to move from a statistical understanding of a problem to a rich, humane one.  Data, literature, psychology, and journalism each have their role as revealing ever deeper truth about human aspirations and motivations.  DSC05910 (1300x974)But to really understand a human condition requires intimacy: joining another individual’s human life, walking alongside them, thinking as they think, feeling what they feel, smelling their fears.

Arthur Danto once asked whether any data recorder could truly explain the flowering of plants in a garden.  it could measure sun and rain, time and temperature.  But could it understand the cause and effect of planting a seed, the irrelevance of a dog wandering through, the motivation of the gardener’s selection of this particular plant, this special position.

He convinced me of the value of narrative, of human stories, in understanding history.  And, it extends, with Brooks, to everyday life.