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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

6dec2018

cropContinuing on with holiday giftwrapping done in warm-weather appropriate colours & themes—pastel flowers:)

The NYT has an article—actually from a while back, but it popped up in their feed for me—about Judy Chicago. I read about her most famous piece, The Dinner Table, in a used book about it, picked up on a whim at a library sale, some years (though decades after it was published) before I actually got to see the piece last summer, pleased it had finally landed a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum. I liked the installation (especially the embroidery), which we had nearly to ourselves, though I was sad more people weren't there to enjoy it; but couldn't help wondering how it would've affected me, if I'd seen it 30 odd years ago, when it first came out.

What I most recall from the book—besides her frustrations mastering the ceramic medium, which was new to her—was her respect for “crafters”, such as the china painters from whom she learnt: these women worked—effortlessly—in crowded, noisy conditions, demonstrating their medium readily at shows; they didn't need to be in a big, silent studio as Chicago always had. She mentioned one person, whose entire house was filled with the art (what most of us would call craft, since we have this artificial divide between the two that, say, is not present in Japanese culture) and her internal response: if only this woman put the same effort into getting her work out into the world, she'd be dynamite. (Also, there was supposed to be a Volume II specifically about the embroidery, which of course I was far more interested in...)

Well, of course, that is the insoluable problem for a lot of artists, and the more marginalized they are, the more difficult to overcome those barriers. Women are, I believe all the way up to something like 13% of gallery & museum space—a greater than doubling of the 5% that obtained when I got my degree. Chicago made it a life goal to preserve her work, and that fundamental belief drove her efforts. I used to feel that way (the academic fine art community is all about this approach of using archival materials, etc) but came to accept (perhaps because I couldn't overcome the barriers to marketing) that my own stuff was ultimately ephemeral, indeed that even very long lasting media would succumb to geologic, let alone universe time (a realization that seems ever more immediate, what with global climate change...)

One new tidbit I did learn from the article is that Chicago (like me) changed her name, though her reasoning was far more overtly feminist, and it was the surname (her ex-husband's) that she really wanted to lose. —Personally, I'm glad that she, and thus the women whose reputations for whom she advocates are getting more recognition.

Meanwhile, I'll be in my little crafty corner, with these. In feminine colours.

5dec2018

cropContinuing on with stuff from the archives...

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife was, oddly enough, not in the library's sf&f section, but general fiction (our library divides fiction into mysteries, manga/comics [which of course is a medium containing both fiction & non], sf&f and everything else, including romance), which, since, as the title implies, the story is about time-travel, was kind of annoying to me. On the other hand, it's definitely a romance, and from that viewpoint, it was shelved correctly. I guess. Since romance is shelved with mainstream, presumably to make it easier for nervous men and others too constrained by toxic masculinity to check out such books.

This book is 15 years old (though apparently still popular, as the library still has 5 copies, and they're pretty vigilant about unread stuff) and I certainly recall having heard some of the hype when it came out; however, ISTR having decided that even though it was a well-written love story it would probably irritate me. However, I wanted something to read (elsewise I was gonna have to actually work so I decided to fetch it along, when Madeleine Albright's Fascism got too heavy (which how could it not...?) and on a whim grabbed a 2.5 volume series called Orange, which it just so happens also has time travel elements.

Wife is well-written, beautifully put-together, as well it should be, given that the author is a professor of writing. She's also a visual artist, which explains why the paper-making protagonist's scenes of creation come off so believably. The problem I have with this book is much the same I had with Sharon Shinn's 2012 Shape of Desire, which is that a woman subsumes her life for a man's.

Clare starts getting visits by middle-aged Henry when she's six, and their relationship during her early childhood reminded me of descriptions of modern reviews of Elsie Dinsmore (though not quite so squick inducing, as 40odd year old Henry knows better)*; and latterly, during Clair's teenaged years, of Heinlein's Door Into Summer.(2)

[Spoilers.]

Henry's parents, professional concert musicians, live a lovely and charmed life, until his mother is horrifically killed in accident, the first occasion in which Henry's ‘chrono impairment’ manifests, saving him from dying as well. However, he never really recovers from her death, and it sends his father on self-destructive path of alcoholism which eventually destroys his most precious identity, that of a violinist.

Henry (whose job at a research library is absolutely catnip from my point of view, but lacking the passionate identity music and art provides for his parents and lover, respectively) is saved from total breakdown by his love (& lust) for Clare: two things help to calm and prevent his chrono-displacements, running and sex. He does a lot of both, thankfully mostly off-screen. Indeed, in his youth, before he encounters Clair, he's unabashedly a toxic womanizer, leaving strings of hearts broken unto suicide behind him—and the author's attempt to reverse this early impression is one the few places in the book where her efforts to peel back layers of increasing complexity of situation & character fail to convince.

But Claire is different. Claire is miraculous. Claire's childhood—and rose-tinted—experience of the middle-aged Henry is an ideal that younger Henry strives to reach, and one that Claire herself also pursues, in her constant, consistent devotion—unto, so far as I could tell, giving up her art to ‘wait for him’ that one last time ...some 40 odd years in the future, after he finally dies in her present. It is this epilogue (written first and from which the novel was constructed backwards—through time, you might say) that really sealed my utter irritation with it—and no doubt, garnered all those bombastic characterizations of love conquering time and the like. Blechhhhh! Everyone, it seems, except Henry's mother, the brilliant vocalist, has to give up their identity for love. And for why? Even the book itself admits that the point of love is help one another to become more surely, more truly, who they are.

As Henry himself notes, his mother never would've wanted her death to destroy her husband or son's life; and I couldn't help thinking some therapy might have helped Claire, wife and mother, not to spend so damn much time waiting on Henry.

Ichigo Takano's Orange also plays with a time travelling theme, in this case, letters sent by young adults, especially Takamiya Naho, to their high-school selves, begging them to save Naruse Kakeru, whom they've discovered upon digging up a time-capsule a decade hence, actually committed suicide. To English speaking readers, Naho and Kakeru will seem almost unbearably timid, reserved and shy, and Naho, like so many idealized Japanese heroines, cites as her hobbies ‘cooking and housekeeping’—the perfect housewifely attributes (I did really appreciate Claire being a serious artist!) Despite these annoyances, however, I found the story affecting, and afaict without ever having been suicidal myself, those themes sensitively and believably handled.

The line art is for the most part nicely done (though there are bits here an there that looks as if deadlines imposed), and the bits of humour coming out the six friends’ relationships charming (& necessary) comic relief. I do wish half-tones or some other visual device had made the shifting timelines a little more apparent; and now that f2tY is teaching at elementary schools in Japan, this lent a personal interest to the depiction of school life—clubs, competitions and festivals—in a small town with a backdrop of mountains that might be lacking for other readers.

The series is collected in two large volumes plus a smaller ancillary one that follows the original timeline from Kakeru's rival's POV. One aspect I did appreciate about both this series and the Niffenegger, which was set in Chicago (with which I'm more familiar, perhaps than any other city of over a million residents) was the sense of place the authors imbued their stories.

And, speaking of things Japanese and orange, today's not-quite-giftwrap does indeed feature a box from that country with orange elements.


*Evidently, ‘[t]here are a number of passages that describe Elsie¬ís father kissing his grown, about to be married daughter, fully and passionately, deep kisses on her ruby lips.’ Alexei Panshin sums up the Heinlein in a similar way: ‘The romantic situation in this story is a very interesting, very odd one: it is nothing less than a mutual sexual interest between an engineer of thirty and a girl of twelve (’adorable’ is Heinlein's word for her), that culminates in marriage after some hop-scotching around in time to adjust their ages a bit.’ Needless to say, young me thought this was sooooo romantic...shudder. S'pose that's one of the reasons minors need to be protected, no matter how ‘mature’ they (think they) are, or much they say they desire such unequal relationships.

4dec2018

cropI read Tara Westover's Educated: A Memoir in one day I found it so riveting. No surprise it's made some impressive ‘best of’ lists for 2018.

I don't know that I have much to say that other reviewers haven't already, better. The sheer determination awes me. ‘I could never do that, I simply haven't the physical stamina, let alone the fire’. If I had been born into this woman's situation, I'm [pretty sure I] would've fallen into the gravity well of young marriage, lots of kids and abuse.

Yet, 3 of out of the 7 children, using education as their pitons—to the Ph.D. level—do make it out. The other 4 never even got a GED (they were ‘home’ schooled, which is to say, made to help with chores.) They're part of a family empire now, scamming millions (I presume, if they're building a 40 room compound) with herbal supplements. Say what you will, they all seem to have a lot of grit and go-to-it-ness.

The business-related accidents the father inflicts on his children were appalling; the sexual-purity driven physical abuse of the brother seemed almost...ordinary, I suppose, in the banality of its evil. The slow erosion of the wife's principles —a direct result of her husband's heinous risks with those everyday pieces of heavy machinery that inflict so much misery and death we as a society take for granted because they're merely automobiles (i.e. a bad head injury from an auto accident)—and slide into ever greater woo was so sad to watch.

Underlying it all, Westover's vivid not just sense of but attachment to the mountain: her home, her place. And like the people who first lived in the valley in Rebecca Solnit's River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the technological wild west, Westover ultimately lost that connection: it was stolen from her through no fault of her own.(1)

Nothing, nothing, nothing like what this woman experienced has ever happened to me; but there were certain—brushes, perhaps—just the smallest of leaves, carried on a breeze to her whirlwind, that resonated. Her writing was so powerful that it evoked harmonics, even in me.

Oh, yeah, 2nd in my series of gift-decoration for an exhibit.


(1)The tribe displaced in River is only a small part of the book, but the loss of their land, and, with it, their way of life, resonated with me. I've never had that bone-deep attachment to place, but it catches my attention when it crops up—in the USian southwest, or ancient UK villages where to have lived there 2 or 3 generations is still to be a ‘newcomer’ —or the South, with so people, especially glbtqia, have left and never looked back. So many people have had to rip their very fibre from their origin, others have travelled so much as children that they could never set down roots. I'm neither, having lived my childhood in one city, nearly as long in my current home, and all my life in one state. But those stories—both of people thrilled to escape, and wrenched with grief over the loss of place—seem to catch my attention.

3dec2018

cropOooooh, it's been awhile. Sorry about that, I've had a lot of projects this Fall (not to mention some things I truly meant to post, like the rest of the stuff from the Maria Richmond class, but my crappy image editing skills have been holding those projects up) not least of which has been the repeat of the studio photography class I took 15 or 20 years ago.

So many of the students in the local film photography department are absolutely fascinated with the idea of shooting film. Having lived through the era when it was the only option, I was—and remain—absolutely thrilled never, ever to have to deal with film, processing, slide mounts, etc again.

It's a matter of not having to rely upon a technology much less amenable to corrections than the current digital age, I imagine. If you're using photography in a way that its limitations become part of the artistic process itself, as opposed to problems to be got around (usually through the application of a lot of time, aggravation & cash) I can totally see it. But since for me photography is mostly a recording medium, I want the least friction between what I see & what I'm trying to get: representative, reproducible & transmissible images.

I note that a lot of other folks who've made the transition & have the same vivid memories of the old days are more likely to feel as I do. Anyway—here's an ephemeral (in one sense—electrons, 1s and 0s, whatev) image of a nearly as ephemeral object, giftwrapping/decorating.

3oct2018

cropHey, it's my 3001st page! (The prior intro was the 3000th, but I didn't notice.)

This doesn't mean there are 3000 pages on the site—some are unfinished, or duplicates or otherwise not visible, because the site increments by one every time I create a page, whether I end up using it, let alone posting it. But there's a lot of them.)

Anyway, apologies for not posting the ‘Riffing on a Zipper’ project yesterday. I decided, because I'm so bad at RAW, just to use the .jpgs. Then I borked those, so I'm gonna have to go figure out the RAWs after all. Protip: when cropping multiple images in layers, be sure the ‘crop only layer’ box is ticked.

Eventually I'll get it fixed, but in the meantime, here's Hook, Line and Sinker which gets my vote for cutest title. Enjoy:)

1oct2018

cropI recently completed a workshop with my guild, and promised to post the images I took in class of everyone's work. Much of my energy right now is going to sharpening up (heh) my studio photography and actually developing (double heh) some post-processing. Which I did do for today's image, except then I somehow semi-lost it.

I say semi-lost because the wizard was able to find it with gwenview, so I rebooted, hoping to find it magically back in play in any of the programs I use to track image files. No dice. Requested the wizard to find it again: evidently I managed to re-save the .RAW & the darktable sidecar to the wrong directory...! Moved it back to the correct directory & exported a .jpg, finally. You'll just have to make do with the .jpg version till I find the better one. So there's a reason I'm inflicting two versions on you: one's the camera manufacturer's, the other my beginner's effort.

Enjoy.