Friday, March 1, 2013

So, I was in Italy, finale

I always start out these travelogues so enthusiastic and then peter out toward the end. I'm not exaggerating at all when I say I was at a club meeting a few weeks after school started, and when asked what I'd done over the summer, I completely forgot about going to Italy until someone else mentioned travelling.

Memory like a sieve, this one.

Sad, given that this last entry contains the highlights of the trip.

More text and many images after the cut.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Art History Rambling

I have an Art History class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 8 AM. We're talking about modern art, mostly from the 1940s and beyond, and most of what we've covered so far has been abstract expressionism, after a brief cover of the art leading up to it.

For today's reading, we got to Francis Bacon. And I found that I had quite a lot to say about Francis Bacon. So much, in fact, that when we ran out of time and tabled the discussion for Wednesday, I went back to my dorm and wrote down what I was thinking so that I wouldn't forget it.

And then the writing just kept growing.

So I'm making a blog post about it.

The first thing that I have to say is that flat art doesn't do much for me, particularly when it comes to abstraction or surrealism. My mind doesn't really connect unless there's at least the illusion of depth -- I tend to prefer abstract sculpture for precisely that reason, because my mind can actually connect to it as a thing that I should consider, but even then it's iffy. So most of the artists we've been covering aren't doing it for me. I'm honestly trying to keep an open mind, and I appreciate the idea behind the movement and the meaning of it all as a whole, but I look at Pollock or Kandinsky or Dubuffet or de Kooning and it means nothing to me, and even knowing (and in some cases seeing through video) how much work and thought really goes into these images, and how much formal talent the artists really have, the deep metaphors mentioned in the text just feel like pretentious bullshit.

Maybe I just really need to see them for myself, up close and personal, and not just pictures in a book. I don't know.

But then I turned the page to Francis Bacon's triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, particularly the third one with the overly wide mouth, and for the first time reading this book (Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, Second Edition by Jonathan Fineberg)  I had an immediate, gut reaction to an image. Even more so when I turned the page and found Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Nowadays it's comparable to your average well-rendered zombie, but with the heavy-but-not-total darkness and the unnatural skin tone and the way it sort of blended into the background, it has quite the character of its own, and with the rest of the chapter having covered Dubuffet's intentionally childish works and Giacometti's anonymous figures, I was not expecting a zombie pope.

zombie pope

We had an assignment to look up a short Youtube video relating to one or more of the artists in this chapter. I, and much of the rest of our little class, chose to research Bacon (as opposed to Dubuffet or Giacometti). Looking through such videos exposed me to even more of Bacon's work as well as his goals with and attitude toward his art.

I have a particular fascination with a trope known as the Uncanny Valley. The Uncanny Valley is this idea in psychology that as something approaches recognizable humanity, it becomes gradually more acceptable, until it reaches a certain point where the acceptability suddenly plummets, because the thing is simultaneously human but not human enough, and the parts that are recognizable and familiar only serve to heighten the sense of wrongness in the rest of it. The point of the plunge is different for different people -- that's why some people are particularly afraid of clowns, or ventriloquist dummies, or RealDolls, or anthros, or whatnot. It's part of the driving force behind Slenderman. Me, I'm not terribly sensitive to it, and am completely comfortable with a lot of things that others find creepy, but I still find it fascinating. (Although I do have a thing about mouths. Images where the mouth is open and totally black and just sort of melting open way too wide just creep me right the fuck out.)

I think that the Uncanny Valley is a keystone of horror -- not shock or disgust or cheap thrills, but real, deep horror -- and Francis Bacon cultivated a very good sense of it. In a few of the videos the word 'triggers' is mentioned, and I think it's appropriate -- Bacon explicitly referred to images in film, to pictures from slaughterhouses and meat packing plants, and even color plates of human diseases for his inspiration. Dubuffet and Giacometti and de Kooning and Picasso all have figures in their works, but even when those figures are twisted in terrible ways, they're stylized, safe -- neutered. You can disconnect. You can look without being drawn in. Whereas Bacon has these realistically rendered, recognizable, human elements in most of his works, particularly ears and wide open mouths with straight, white teeth, and his figures (sometimes using the term in the loosest possible sense) have depth and proportion and muscle and flesh, and he gives you something that's just real enough, just human enough, that you connect with it -- and in connecting with it, the horror smacks you full in the fact. You get an immediate sense that there is something very wrong here, there is something horrible going on, and maybe you don't know what it is or why it is, but you want to get the hell away from it -- or not, because at the same time it's both horrible and fascinating.


In a way, compared to the other artists at the time, Bacon's works are exploitative. And despite the connotations of the word, I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean that rather than rely on people stopping to consider the deep meaning of his works, Bacon was exploiting human psychology to get an immediate, visceral reaction from his viewers, not to shock or disgust them, but to show them the world that he had lived through -- that the horror juxtaposed with the humanity wasn't a juxtaposition at all, but a simple fact. The man lived through both world wars and in the midst of revolutionary Ireland, after all.

Nowadays, art like this is relatively easy to find, and some of it's wandered more into shock or gross-out value in an attempt to shake up an increasingly jaded audience, but Bacon's early contributions certainly shouldn't go unnoticed. Personally, I'm not at all a fan of shock or gross-out works, but I love macabre realism and illusionistic surrealism, and I'm a fan of any artist who can work the Uncanny Valley.

The colors are all so deceptively sedate, considering it looks like she has no skin on her face.

Monday, December 24, 2012

So, I Saw an Episode of Elementary

'Leviathan,' if anyone's curious, and other than a few opinions from my Ffnet friend and from the Ghostbees tumblr, this is my only experience thus far with this series.

Initial thoughts?

It's alright. I'd watch more of it. Pretty decent procedural. Not much in the way of action or excitement, for a change, which could be a boon or a bane depending on your tastes -- personally, I don't mind the slower pace. The mystery-of-the-week seemed to hold together fine, had a twist or two and a decently-handled red herring, no obvious plotholes, and was neither so easy that the viewer was yelling at the detectives nor so mystifying that the answer came out of left field, but even so it was far from perfect. There never seemed to be an emotional drive in the story -- this case didn't mean anything in particular to Sherlock or Watson, there was no reason to feel anything toward the client, and there was never an emotional connection to any of the potential (or real) antagonists, which means that the extremely sedate 'climax' of serving a court order to a man in an interrogation room had absolutely no impact. Two people were murdered in this episode and I never cared, because they weren't so much people as they were props.

Then again, this episode's mystery could have been taking a backseat, since there was a fairly strong subplot about Watson's relationship with her mother and brother, which lead into being about her relationship with Holmes. Those parts came across as a bit heavy-handed, but not bad -- I feel like I'd have to see more of her interactions before I can really judge them.

The real high point of the whole thing was Lucy Liu's Joan Watson, both in how she plays the character and in how the character is written. I love Lucy Liu and she does a great job here, both as Holmes' foil and as a character in her own right -- although she could stand to lighten up a bit. The 'sober companion' drug-counselor thing seemed a little weird at first, but as the episode played out and I gave it more thought, it actually made perfect sense as a take on Watson. Why not? He always did disapprove of Holmes' more self-destructive habits and made some effort towards taking care of the man, so why not take it a step further and just introduce him her in a caretaking role?

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock, on the other hand...

Okay, when things got down to business, he played the role well. He's not abrasive like Cumberbatch or manic like Brett or petulant like RDJ, but he does bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the performance that I kind of like. Elementary's Sherlock is smart and not-quite-right, but his observation skills weren't underlined with fancy effects, he didn't feel the need to deride everyone around him for existing, and his social skills weren't too shabby -- in effect, the audience was never bludgeoned with HOMGQUIRKYGENIUS. He certainly doesn't have the sheer force of presence of the likes of Cumberbatch and Brett, but he's not a bad variation.

...When he's working. The episode, however, opened with Watson finding that he had not one, but two women (sisters, apparently) in his apartment in t-shirts and underwear, both very perky and more than happy to engage Watson in conversation. Sherlock later explained something about studying differences in identical genetic sources. I... the less I say about that the better, I think. I don't have a problem with a sexual Holmes, per se, even a heterosexual one, but... that whole scene was all sorts of surreal.

Although, even with a heterosexual Holmes and a female Watson, I didn't see a whole lot of subtext going on. Sure, there was plenty of fuel for the inclined shipper, but I never got the feeling of sexual tension added in just because the leads were of the opposite gender. Maybe there just wasn't as much in this episode. I wouldn't really mind if that sort of thing developed, but I kind of liked them interacting just as weird semi-friends.

Two further points, more on Jonny Lee Miller himself than on his portrayal: I was seriously thrown for a few seconds when he came on screen, because he looks a lot like BBC's Moriarty at first glance, and that was weird. This was not helped by him spending the entire episode with a layer of stubble, which is my second gripe. I'm slightly more okay with him having stubble than with RDJ, because at least here it's an explicit AU, but I'm more bothered by the fact that the stubbly look doesn't really suit Miller, and it's a shame because he looked to have some nice, boyish features that would show best with a clean shave.

So, yeah, that's my not-so-in-depth take on Elementary after having seen one episode in the midst of a season. Even if I wasn't planning on my Sherlock Showcase, I think I'd give this one more of a chance before I judged it too harshly. It's certainly got some potential.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

So I was in Italy, part three

Fixit notes on last couple entries: It's 'Castel Maggiore', with a 't', and the cat's name is spelt Emilia, not Amelia. Also, the last few entries are being updated with pictures where appropriate. I'll apply cuts in places so as to avoid loading issues.

Anywhoodles. I need to hurry it up so I can get to posting Bunraku fics, so let's see if I can get the rest of this in one go, and how obnoxiously long this entry gets as a result.

Obnoxiously long entry and a few pictures after the cut.

So, I'm moving soon, but...

It's starting to get a little nerve-wracking, realizing how little time I have left to finish things up at home here. I've only got one more day of work left, then another week before I have to have my bus tickets bought, and then two weeks and it's off into the wild blue yonder.

What makes it worse is that the validation deadlines at my school are coming up hard, and I haven't heard anything about my housing in about a month. Last I heard it was 'under review'.


Edit: And just a few hours after posting this I hear that it's finally gone through. Turns out I'll have somewhere to stay, after all!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Om Nom Turkey Heart

Happy Thanksgiving, American readers! And a merry Thursday the 22nd to the rest of yas.

I swear, I have been working on my third Italy entry, despite being now over a month behind on it. Unfortunately, I have a longstanding relationship with losing focus and wandering away from projects, particularly when I have easy internet access and oh-so-distracting review shows (that reminds me, I still haven't gotten to this week's At4W...)

Oh, and fanfiction, too. I inflicted Bunraku on the boy not too long ago and remembered how fun Yoshi/Drifter is, so expect some Bunraku slash soon involving various levels of fluff and porn.

But there will be a conclusion to the Italian portion of the Incredibly Mundane Adventures of Cryptix! Eventually!

Anyhow, I need to go fix some candied sweet potatoes, so it's a short entry for now, I'm afraid.

Edited: Also, I'm cleaning up my tags a bit. 'News' and 'OOC' are going away for all but the oldest entries, and instead becoming 'Journal', because otherwise is rather silly.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So I'm in Italy, part deux

Deux is french, not italian, but 'part due' (doo-ay) just reads funny.

I intended to add more to my last entry, since I posted on Tuesday and had written all but a few words on Sunday, but by the time we'd hit the internet café I was tired and not thinking too clearly. I chalked it up to jet lag and possibly having spent part of the morning driving up in the mountains, so when we got back to the apartment I took a nap before dinner.

I woke up feeling a little off, a bit dizzy, little nauseous, and the feeling slowly worsened, until I was quite sure that no, that wasn't hunger pangs (my stomach is very, very annoying in that it likes to flash the 'SICK' flag when actually I'm just hungry), I was actually feeling sick. Mom promptly put on water for tea and then went to get me soup, which she stayed and made for me while Alex went out for dinner.

I felt better after curling up on the couch while the soup cooked, ate a couple bowls, and then headed off to bed. By morning I felt quite fine.

Still, suppose I should take this opportunity to talk a bit more about Italy. Cutting this entry for length, but no pictures, as Lucio doesn't want pictures of the baby on Facebook and I assume that extends to blogs as well. I don't blame him.