A Fashion Democracy?

One of the classes that I am taking this semester is on literary theory and during yesterday’s session we discussed the concept of taste – who has it, who/what controls it? I found this discussion to be especially pertinent to the discussion of many artistic forms such as fashion.

When I think of fashion icons and arbiters of sartorial taste, I usually remember the scene in Devils Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s character informs Anne Hathaway’s character of the path of cerulean blue sweaters from the runaway to the discount bin. Centralized media, such as magazines and newspapers, have historically been the only source for fashion legitimization. However, with a burgeoning number of blogs and personal web pages, taste has become (at least in my mind) a far more fluid and open term. For example, one of the fashion blogs that I have recently enjoyed reading is created by a 13 year-old girl (she was 11 when she started it)! Thus, does age affect who is considered to have legitimate taste? Do you think with advent of blogs have a democratizing effect on artistic taste and legitimacy or will our fashion culture forever be in the hands of Anna Wintour types? Here some blogs that I personally look to for examples of good taste:

-         http://www.thestylerookie.com/

-         http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com/

-         http://www.karlascloset.com/

Let me know what you guys think and some of the people/websites that you look to for style inspiration! Have a great rest of the week 🙂

Welcome to the Kitchen

This week I want to step into the shoes of one of my favorite people to ever walk this earth, Julia Child.  My love for her began when I saw the movie Julie and Julia back in 2009.  After the movie, I remember YouTubeing her videos and laughing hysterically with my sister.  One of the videos was her cooking for her husband, who liked to eat his food burnt, so at the end of the video she brought the food out of the oven burnt to a crisp.  The genuine manner, which she presented herself, allowed her audience to know she was being completely serious when she pulled the burnt food out of the oven.  Her husband enjoyed his food burnt, and that was the way she was going to prepare it.  I have never seen another lesson on burnt cooking, which is why Julia was so attractive.  Her absurdity and antics in the kitchen led her into stardom and into my life as well.

She loved to cook and she loved to eat.  What I like about her is knowing she worked hard to learn how to cook and that it was not a process that came over night.  I find this comforting because I am striving to be an armature cook.  I enjoy cooking so much and I especially enjoy eating my own food.  There comes to be a better appreciation for the labor and time spent preparing a meal that you get to enjoy while eating.  Cooking for me is also a time where I can take my mind off my busy schedule and do a mindless activity for a half hour.  It has also provided me with an opportunity to invite friends over and share my home and food for them.  Cooking for or with friends is a satisfying experience.  If you’re trying to get to know someone better, why not have him or her over for dinner?  You have time to talk with them while preparing, eating, and cleaning.

Even if you don’t know how to cook, just pull a recipe from a cookbook or on the web and follow it plain and simple.  Stir-frys are often easy to make, taking little time and tasting great!  Some of my favorite foods to cook with are sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, frozen spinach, tempeh (a soy replacement for meat), couscous, and Indian spices like ginger, cumin, and coriander.

Even if your meal turns out horribly, don’t give up!  Cooking is like anything, the more you practice the better you become.  Plus, I’m not sure much can be worse than Julia’s burnt food!

The Greatest City That Was

A city is a vertical landscape, organized linearly, radially, sometimes seemingly at random; the horizon is not the edge of the earth’s curvature, but instead the structures that define not only space but the dynamics of the space. It is not a sterile grid in which everything is set in its own place, but an integrated system in which everything is interdependent, and yet, it can be self-sustainable all on its own, self-contained cohesive unit separate from the world without.

Then take this city, and compress it. Compress it tenfold, a hundredfold, pushing ever more into a smaller space, and suddenly the old structures are no longer sufficient to support its populace, its original infrastructure and functions and standards. Some things must shift in order to re-adapt and to accommodate its new conditions, while others must be sacrificed altogether. The result is a hyperdense urban area, a living, breathing organism, complex and incomprehensible and breathtakingly terrifying all at once.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing examples exists in the Kowloon Walled City of Hong Kong.

It was once a military fort, existing for hundreds of years without much change. Once urban settlement began, however, it grew and grew- never spilling outside the boundaries of its walls, but building upon building upon building springing up and around and against and on top of and between one another. The buildings tended to hover somewhere between 10 and 15 storeys, depending on the source one reads- and at is peak population may have reached a density of 3,249,000 people per square mile. It was fraught with crime and and violence, and although many of its residents might have been perfectly average and hardworking, the area lay outside the jurisdiction of both the British government and the Chinese. There was no official control, no official regulation. The Walled City was left to its own devices. Yet it thrived and it flourished, a city and a world all unto its own.

Architecture was, on average, haphazard; additions were were made wherever there was space. Wikipedia provides:

The City’s dozens of alleyways were often only 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) wide, and had poor lighting and drainage. An informal network of staircases and passageways also formed on upper levels, which was so extensive that one could travel north to south through the entire City without ever touching solid ground. Construction in the City went unregulated, and most of the roughly 350 buildings were built with poor foundations and few or no utilities. Because apartments were so small—about 60% were 23 m2 (250 sq ft)—space was maximized with wider upper floors, caged balconies, and rooftop additions. Roofs in the City were full of television antennas, clotheslines, water tanks, and garbage, and could be crossed using a series of ladders.”

Instead of streets, there are only alleys so one may navigate between buildings. Yet the buildings are packed so closely together that the space between them is nearly negligible. There is little light, little breathing room. Were one to stand outside at street level, there might peek a sliver of sky, and perhaps sunlight would reach down when the sun was high, as a deep and narrow rift cut through canyon walls. The buildings of the Walled City look less like separate structures than one whole, as if one took any other city, ran it through a trash compactor, and spit it back out- fissures here and there, a crack, a small awkwardly-shaped opening there, where nothing else might fit- but the distinctions and boundaries between personal and public space are no longer defined by conventional standards.

It was demolished in 1993, and in its place today stands an open park. Broken and whole, derelict but alive, the Kowloon Walled City was (and is) nothing to be trifled with. Should it have survived, it might yet be a microcosm of its own, a hyperbole of the metropolis, a distinct urban ecosystem unlike any other.

Other images of interest (which you really ought to look at): The Walled City in 1973, and a ridiculously detailed artist’s rendering of a cross section.

On the artistic unreliability of memory

Love Rosie by Colter Jacobson
Love Rosie by Colter Jacobson

Memory is that capacity within us that we desperately call forth in those last ten minutes of the exam, uncomfortably scanning and re-scanning that last question for which a haphazardly drawn together response was constructed from the faintest of impressions. Our bodies are paralyzed with concentration, yet our minds try at every door, turning knobs and hastily pulling open drawers and cabinets that lie within. Oftentimes, this is the case with voluntary memory — the facts, the abstract words or concepts that have no direct tie to a visual cue require deliberate attention to be committed in our repertoire of knowledge. They ask for much more of our internal resources as they do not automatically strike us in a way that makes them bold against the sea of other lingering thoughts.

Colter Jacobson explores, contrarily, on involuntary memory. He drew the above image, Love Rosie (2008) from a found photograph of a sailor and for a month following, would return to that image in his mind’s eye and regenerate it on paper. As the days pass, the sailor remains distinguishable as a sailor with the same general features — moustache, a sailor’s necktie, friendly eyes — yet his proportions waver relative to one another. The amount of variation is enough to make several of his drawings appear to be different men altogether, yet they all seem to retain the essence that had been most salient in Jacobson’s initial encounter with this man. Details and the diligent specifics might be lacking, but he repeatedly captures that playful, confident smile, the flirtatious edge beheld in his expression. His art piece is not necessarily the sailor himself, but his memory of the sailor and the aesthetic of its volatility, of its subtle inaccuracies. Change is inherent with our vision of time and as events occur – the shattering of a grandmother’s teapot, the acquisition a new job, the acquaintance of a new face — unawares to our conscious selves, our previous memories or at least our perspective from which we look to these previous memories move – liquefied, their edges shift ever so slightly. And of course, this is all coupled with disassembling of the memory itself. Though, like a deteriorating orbit, it never quite loses all trace but retains some essential center that involuntarily stays. This is especially true of visual memory which seems to be more Proustian than for, say, semantic memory.

Being a neuroscience major, it has come to my attention how little we do know about memory, let alone about the brain itself. Despite the acceleration of the sciences, there remains still a great degree of mystery left that cannot possibly be all “resolved” in our lifetime. But if it, by some miracle of human prowess, does, I wonder about the nature of the implications it clearly will have on philosophy and of course, on art.

Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.

24 rooms in 1 apartment

Discovering innovative new uses for space has become a new trend among contemporary artists and architects.  For those people working in cities where the densely packed urban environment leads to smaller confinements of space and limited building sizes, space becomes a hot commodity and so does creative thinking.

For one architect in Hong Kong, this issue of space became highly problematic in one of the densest cities of the world.  Gary Chang, coping with the tight space wasn’t necessarily a towering obstacle; rather it became another problem to solve in his field of design.  Desiring to live in the tiny three bedroom apartment formerly owned by his family, he decided to take space into his own hands.  Creating a “futuristic” system comprised of wheels, tracks, and much glass and metal, Chang transformed his cramped home of childhood into a highly efficient and eco-friendly adaptable apartment.  With moving walls and furniture, Chang is able to create 24 different rooms and designs in his small 33x10ft (approx.) flat.

Watch the video for more information!

Homemade Creativity

Homemade Iron Man Costume from Target Commercial
Homemade Iron Man Costume from Target Commercial

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  At what other time of year can you see a hippie, a whack-a-mole, and the jolly green giant proudly walking down the street together?  I love seeing the clever costume ideas people come up with at Halloween, and all of my favorites have been homemade.

In Target’s Iron Man costume Halloween commercial, which can be watched here, we’re shown a kid in an Iron Man costume his mom made.  The premise is that the costume is much less cool than the store-bought version.  As much as I love Target, I just don’t “get” this ad; I thought the kid’s homemade costume was awesome!  Sure, the push light on his shirt fell off part way through the commercial, but with a little ingenuity, that could easily be fixed.  The homemade costume may not have been the most accurate representation of Iron Man ever, but it was cute, clever, and 100% unique.

I just don’t think you can beat a homemade costume.  Not only does making your own costume force you to be creative in bringing a costume idea into reality, but it also gives you so much more freedom in deciding what you want to be for Halloween.  Anyone can walk into the store and pick up the latest witch’s hat, but when is the last time you saw a whack-a-mole costume hanging on the supermarkets’ shelves.  Most costumes are fun, but homemade, super-creative costumes will always be the best.