Toucans of affection

Toucans are one of the most punnable species. No wonder Guinness trial of  “zoo” mascots in 1930s found that the toucan took off, scoring high above the ostriches and tortoises…

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Just take one topic, e.g.  ‘Valentine’s Day’: ‘toucan of my affection’, ‘love toucan’, ‘not just a toucan gesture’,  ‘toucan play that game’, ‘toucans take to tango’, ‘a romantic evening for toucans is toucans of Guinness and a packet of…’

And so this colourful cousin of the woodpecker (yes indeed, you’d be forgiven for assuming them to be the Barbara Streisands of the Parrot family) shot to fame thanks to a serendipitous grammatical coincidence of one of the most useful numbers +  the #1 bestseller of the verb world…They came on my radar lately thanks to this one:

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It’s by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans, whose exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. Tillmans calls his works ‘images’ and not photographs. The ‘image’ is a careful composition of choices.  Wolgang has cited colour as one of the areas of ‘choice’ over which the photographer, like a painter, has jurisdiction…

Read more about this photograph

 

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Love toucan

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Taking a closer look at this picture – I was surprised to find that there is no colour in the dazzlingly tropical toucan that isn’t also shared with it’s decidedly non-tropical, ephemeral surroundings.

The blue of the toucan’s eye socket makes the blue in the rim of the garden water pools more vivid. The orange glow of the toucan’s ‘eye shadow’ and beak somehow give the stale crusts in the tray below a tropical zest.  The unimaginably white softness of the toucan’s neck and the warm sandy yellow round its lapels light up the cheap beige repetition of the tiled patio.

Turner Prize-winning  artist Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition at the Tate Modern opens today. With this toucan and other shots,  Tillmans demonstrates his principle of creating an image and not just a photo.

Each ‘image’ is not simply a capturing of a fleeting moment for our attention. It combines both passive observation and choreography. The photographer, in the taking and the developing, has made a set of choices that we could not make with the naked eye. Wolfgang has cited colour as one of the elements which the photographer uses to steer our view.

And so it’s not just a portrait of a toucan, but also it’s an exercise in colour appreciation. Through it we realise that our  appreciation of colour is subject to context.

This has the unexpected subconscious side-effect of cheering up my dreary afternoon loo-trip – the ‘CAUTION CLEANING IN PROGRESS!’ flip board sign outside the Ladies is somehow less exasperating, I’m actually rather uplifted by it’s harmony of yellow and red, like the cheeky curved smile of a toucan’s bill. Subject for the next Turner Prize 😉 ?

More Tillmans and toucans

See the Toucan in real life at the Tate

Watch the artist himself discuss his approach to photography

Tentacular intelligence

The more we look at octopuses, the more we question our concepts of what consciousness really is and what the boundaries of cellular behaviour really are…

Two-thirds of an octopus’ neurons reside in its arms, allowing it to mix senses, smelling and tasting via touch. They can also divide this intelligence 8 ways, solving how to open a shellfish while another arm is ‘occupied’ doing something else, e.g.  exploring a cave for more treats/texting their other halves ;)…

These intelligent arms react after they’ve been completely severed. In one experiment, severed arms jerked away in pain when researchers pinched them.

Not only is octopus intelligence distributed  throughout their bodies, it’s also divided, into components that can act with autonomy:

“When an octopus is in an unfamiliar tank with food in the middle, some arms seem to crowd into the corner seeking safety while others seem to pull the animal toward the food.” (Prof. Peter Godfrey-Smith)

This consciousness  is quite different from the  layers and levels we see in our own consciousness and that of the most intelligent mammals. It makes us realise that our own brand of mammalian  individual and cohesive consciousness is not necessarily nature’s default mode for advanced species.

A further layer is added by mimetic ability. An octopus can imitate both color and texture, e.g. look and feel like a stone, to hurl itself, undetected, over a victim or fool a predatory seal. If this ability is somehow orchestrated at a cognitive level,  it suggests that the octopus has the ability to act both as one unit and to divide off into multiple personae…

“Octopuses let us ask which features of our minds can we expect to be universal whenever intelligence arises in the universe, and which are unique to us,” Godfrey-Smith said. “They really are an isolated outpost among invertebrates. … From the point of view of the philosophy of the mind, they are a big deal.” (Professor Godfrey-Smith’s pioneering research)

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As Valentine’s Day approaches  – see how octopuses show tentacular affection.

 

A note on plurals:

‘Octopus’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘eight foot’. The word’s Greek roots mean it’s pluralised as a Greek word, which means adding -es and not ‘i’ or ‘ies’.

Endless Poetry is endlessly poetic

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Last Sunday was grey and empty  until I found myself in the cinema, in the strange comfort of octogenarian Chilean directing legend Alejandro Jodorowsky’s latest film, Endless Poetry.

I had bought my ticket on a whim – All I knew was that it was in Spanish, in Chile and might be a little weird and poetic, as the title suggested.  What I got was the most eye-opening, jaw-dropping two hours and 8 minutes of 2017 so far, unless Jodorowsky’s sequel comes out this year…

And I’m so pleased, in these unsavoury times, that there are 4 more delicious courses I’ve yet to eat, that Endless Poetry is the second in a 5 part film cycle, that there’s  The Dance of Reality and soon the other 4 will be ready…

Meantime, instead of giving away the menu of his surreal feast of a film, I’m going to list the thoughts that have fed me (not without a little indigestion) ever since…

…It doesn’t matter if it’s written on a wall or floorboard and no one but the poet will ever read it, everything disappears eventually; prayers are like poems, they are never seen but always needed by the prayer…

…Everything is beautiful, even and especially the mutations of normality…

…Anyone can walk in a straight line to anywhere they want to go; obstacles are illusions we can erase…

…Also, alongside linear there is cyclical, since maths is inexplicable; life is a cycle, returning to where it came from and filled with returns all along a direct way…

…Meantime Death is always there; suicide is blindness…

…Through misguided fear, we hide and make ourselves up like clowns.

… In reality, reality is up for grabs, and so we have nothing to hide and nothing to show…

…The naked soul and body are uplifting and captivating and no less so for being marked and scarred by the passage through life…

…We are all puppeteers and our puppets dance together. When we are holding our  puppet-selves, our own identity is unclear and maybe this is because…

…We are connected to each other…

…That we are each exclusively in charge of ourselves is an illusion…

…In reality we are all in the same puppet show together and share manipulation mutually, all our limbs are up for grabs to the nearest puppeteer…

…And with this power, love  is not in the keeping, it’s in the letting go, the negation of the urge to manipulate, the diffusion of our fixed idea, it’s acceptance – no interference, no orchestration; just the acknowledgement of a God in the other person, the godliness that is beyond perfection….

…The job of poetry is not to have to say it all like this, in a clumsy list, in so many words, but to say it in fewer and to trigger a response that lasts forever in the consciousness, which is universal, and endless.

The job of this film  is to demonstrate poetry, in action, and indeed it accomplishes this almost impossible task, sometimes effortlessly, perhaps endlessly.

Muchas Gracias Mr Jodorowsky!

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Wiki links worth looking up:

Endless Poetry

The Dance of reality

World’s best comic, written by the Alejandro Jodorowsky

 The Holy Mountain, funded by John Lennon

Psychomagic psychotherapy, pioneered by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky about where he thinks things are heading

Interview with the FT and general overview of Alejandro Jodorowsky

King Lear: Glenda V Anthony

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And so out they come and stand in the spotlights to two rounds of standing ovations. I stand up to put my coat on and leave, no one will miss my feeble claps amid the din of whoop whoops.

What have I missed? Why does Glenda and her stellar crew leave me numb? There was nothing in this production that was any better, to me, than any of the productions I’ve ever seen. There was much that was was unnecessary at best; at worst, a smutty distraction from the glory of the text.

But this audience and no doubt the packed house watching tonight, lapped up every drop of mostly dreary, conveyor-belt delivery, washed down with large glasses of “shocking” nudity, loud “atmospheric” music and stark lighting that, from a purely practical perspective, made long tracks of the best scenes, however loudly throttled out,  almost  inaudible, let alone moving.

The best thing about it was the digital display overhanging the stage, telling us what act and scene we were on. I found myself looking at it more and more with that sinking feeling you get when the next bus isn’t for another 25 minutes, finding myself hoping there’d been a tech hitch and the final scene was already “due”.

In contrast, the Barbican’s Anthony Sher-led production was the triumph that critics should hail as one of the best  since John Hurt and Timothy West,and,  I’d say, better. But for Anthony and co, there was no standing ovation.

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Why? Because it was a great tragedy. We should all be highly suspicious of any tragic play that leaves you with enough energy to get up afterwards, let alone smile, clap and chat to your neighbor about how good it all was, not least Glenda.

Sher and his troop, through 5 acts and almost 3 hours , truly suspended my disbelief. Not for a half line did I look up to see if the scene’s ticking was digitally indicated overhead. Not for a second did I think I am here watching a load of celeb actors reciting Shakespeare like it needed their help, another language peppered with the odd ‘top ten  catchphrases of all time”.

No, unlike Deborah Warner’s Old Vic production, Gregory Doran’s Barbican show was life, on stage, and we were on it too, with the actors, just as Shakespeare intended. Every line had its own intrinsic timeless resonance, which was then expanded, sometimes creating new and unusual contexts, sometimes merely amplifying well-known interpretations, always keeping us hooked.

The bad characters were not all bad, the good characters were not all good, there was nuance. All parts had their nuances and got subtle treatment, whereas it seemed at the Old Vic that all the characters dangled off Glenda’s Lear like annoyingly obnoxious puppets she had grown bored of or lost the skill to move. To Warner’s credit, perhaps that was the point?

The props and scenery at the Barbican worked to evoke a sense of the play’s contexts, amplifying subtly, never clumsily varnished on for ‘effect’, always using and trusting the weight of voice and text. I won’t say how or carry on with any comparisons. Anyone who sees it should come at it fresh. You’ll leave utterly drained yet uplifted.

The Barbican’s production was the best I’ve ever seen, the Old Vic’s one of the worst. But that’s just me and most may disagree, I’d just say, ignore the media hype around Glenda and take advantage of the fact Sher’s reigns on at the Barbican until 23rd December 

Taking my mind off to La Gomera

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After a week spent in the Canaries, at La Finca eco-retreat on the verdent island of La Gomera, I find I’m relaxed, happy and well nourished. The only images I have been exposed to have been 100% natural, organic, no added flavours or colourings.

My eyes have been feeding on a natural diet of flora, fauna, sea, sky and the odd statue, here and there.  I have drawn some pictures – a Whale, a tree, two Buddhas, some leaves, a frog playing a violin, some pond fish, a dolphin.

I have not been force-fed 200 marketing messages every hour, not mentally farting away my afternoons, as glossy mags,news, tweets, posts, ferment in my bloated brain.

On La Gomera I was free of this uninvited eye food, free to walk lighly without the constant call to eat or save or recycle or compost what I’d seen. I wonder if app developers have already come up with a mind-watchers programme, like weight watchers, complete with its own fit-bit that tracks how many visual calories you’ve consumed, giving tips for cutting down and making what’s seen and read less fattening and flatulence inducing…

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Back in London, this app, in analogue, would simply be a pair of human blinkers that would filter  ads on the escalator and other periphery visual onslaughts we unknowingly consume while on the go.

These human blinkers would probably have a company behind them: ‘BlinkedIn’. People could sign on to connect with like-minded BlinkedIners or BlinkInIdiots and share lots of images of what blank things you haven’t blinked@ that day 😉  #BlinkBlank

No doubt you’re already aware of the mushrooming ecosystem of ‘switch it off’ apps and new ‘old skool’ devices designed to cut down on sensory overload. But this is not just a tech problem. It cannot be switched off through an app or a device.

Its branches reach offline. It’s billboards, it’s newspapers, it’s endless supplements within supplements in the Sunday and Saturday news. It’s magazines, its more box sets and more telly and more sport everywhere, in the corners and centres and sides of our eyes, all the time.

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products. Only half of that information makes any impact, while unprompted we can remember none of the blur of adverts. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages (Source: Guardian)

I’m not saying that we don’t need and like and even love some and/ all of these things, even some ads. I’m just repeating the ancient Greek maxim that still seems to stand the test of time ‘meden agan’ (μηδὲν ἄγαν) – ‘Anything in excess is too much’. We must be more aware. We must pay more attention to things, one at a time. Our brains, under the strain of sensory overload, start to shut down to conserve battery power, in self-defence, as any sensible computer would. This shutting down amounts to a growing inertia, disconnection from ourselves and what really makes us tick, both physically and mentally.

After just a week of so called ‘disconnection’ i.e. no wifi, no city, no TV, No news, pure visual detox, I felt completely rebooted and ready to start smaller, healthy doses of meaningful visual connection.  Now I’ve been back ‘in the world’ a week, I’m visually farting already, but my gut is stronger and digestion is, I think, more efficient. My visual blood-sugar is more stable, better able to cope with any force feeding/self-indulgent binging I might do to sweeten up tonight’s commute.

I’d thoroughly recommend a week on La Gomera, one of the quieter, most verdant of the Canaries. And while I’m on the subject of Islands and birds I’d recommend devoting some precious attention to ‘The Island‘ by Aldous Huxley, if you need a healthy complement to watching the flora, fauna sea and sky….

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Some final links, if you fancy risking more information overload…

Where to stay  – La Finca Argayall’s ‘ alternative, experimental and experiential community

Article –  how much we involuntarily see..

Article –  how our visual bellies are getting bigger and bigger

Article – 5 apps that switch you off

Is a home without chess complete?

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I had just moved in. I had made a list. It was a shopping list for the flat. I had already got the essentials. The list was decadent. It came to me like a poem, a mixture of the ephemeral and the sublime. It came to me out of nowhere, a combination of inner and outer brain we use when daydreaming. As far as I can remember – this is it:

Lemon tree, Toaster, Grater, Chess set, Tea strainer, Colander, Cuckoo clock, Hot water bottle, Candle (fig/frankincense) with 3 wicks

I didn’t even know how to play chess, really, beyond knowing that pawns are at the bottom of the food chain and that, confusingly, some call Rooks Castles and others call Castles Rooks…And yet, ‘chess set’ had crept onto my list like a canny knight, sneaking between two smug bishops..

My boyfriend came round the next day. He gave me a package he’d wrapped in brown paper, for surprise. It wasn’t my birthday and  the house-warming box had already been ticked twice with a spice rack and knife block. “What was it?” I asked as I unwrapped it under his calm silence “How did you know a chess set was on my list?”, “I didn’t” He said “Do you play?”

And so we played every Sunday, for 4 or 5 weeks, until he got bored of winning and I of losing. One Sunday we silently agreed to let the pieces rest in their box. It’s now over 2 years they’ve spent in the dark.

Neither of us really wanted a chess set but we both somehow needed it.  During chess, we mapped something outside ourselves and yet part of ourselves and entwined our maps and followed the tracks the other had made, both deliberate and unintended.

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Through these 4 or 5 short games I feel some foundation  was constructed in my mind and his that has acted like a bridge between us ever since.

I think all mates should at some point have tried check mating each other. And I mean mate in both senses: friend and spouse. The board is a microcosm of the universe, the way you behave on it mirrors what you do off it, inside and out.

It’s not a question of who wins or loses, but how and why they won or lost and what they were willing or not willing to risk and do along the way.  And how they felt afterwards, immediately and long after the event.

Off the board, without squares and pieces to orchestrate reality, truths are less visible and opportunities cannot be traced mathematically. In chess, the future is tangible and multiple, perhaps the closest we will ever get to getting reality out of maths and in front of our own eyes.

You cannot be in any other time or place but now and here if you want to stay in the game. To play chess with someone is to share the present moment with them, as you see it, to communicate a truth, in all its danger, safety and  possibility, without speaking. It’s like being an animal again, back in Eden, just the problem of life to be solved, all thoughts shared through actions, not words.

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Watching the film, Queen of Katwe has reminded me that, although my set is likely to gather more dust, the lessons of those first few games will stay with me forever.

I’d recommend the film as the best I’ve seen all year. Chess it seems is a teacher fit for a Queen and the film does it justice, whilst teasing your tear-ducts, right up to the final move. The crowd in the Stratford Picture house didn’t stand up, but we did feel compelled to clap, who cares if no one in Stratford, let alone Katwe, could hear us? We felt good, we felt better and we needed to show our gratitude to something, and it wasn’t the glowing fire exit or the digital projector. Was it the god of Chess we were applauding? Hallelujah!!!

I haven’t said much about the film because I can’t say it better. Everyone should see it. Everyone must. Also everyone should play chess at least once and play it with someone they need to know better, to find and expose yet unfound weaknesses and possibilities, both in their opponents and in themselves.

queenofkatwe.com