Archive for July, 2011

Today I went to see the MOMA exhibition by Francis Alÿs which is very aptly named A Story of Deception.

One of his works, When Faith Moves Mountains, was inspired by a phrase from the bible (Mark 11:23) when he asked  a group of 500 volunteers to move  a 1,600-foot sand dune just  using shovels.

The work is neither a traditional sculpture nor an Earthwork, and nothing was added or built in the landscape. That the participants managed to move the dune only a small distance mattered less than the potential for mythmaking in their collective act; what was “made” then was a powerful allegory, a metaphor for human will, and an occasion for a story to be told and potentially passed on endlessly in the oral tradition. For Alÿs, the transitory nature of such an action is the stuff of contemporary myth. (The Guggenheim)

To go with the piece were some definitions of faith provided by Alÿs, which chime with my own views of religion :

The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with evidence (William Harwood, Dictionary of Contemporary Mythology, London, 1st Books, 2002)


Faith is a means of by which one introduces resignation to the present, as an investment in the promise of an abstract future. This off course is the Catholic church par excellence.

I would also recommend his video Tornado where he literally runs into the eye of the storm :

For Alÿs, the dust storm suggests the imminent collapse of a system of government or of political order. The act of running into the storm, which we see repeated over and over again, also invites interpretation: is the artist no longer able to combat the chaos he encounters? Is he recognising the vanity of poetic gestures at a time of calamity? Or is it only within the chaos that he can challenge the turmoil around him?

Reaching the centre of the storm, the artist is breathless and almost blinded, yet he encounters a furtive moment of peace that could hint at a new moment of possibility. (BBC)

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– Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo‘s poignant  op-ed on the shootings in his native country: The Past is a Foreign Country :

“On Monday night, more than 100,000 citizens gathered in the streets to mourn the victims of the attack. The image was striking. In Norway, “keeping a cool head” is a national virtue, but “keeping a warm heart” is not. Even for those of us who have an automatic aversion to national self-glorification, flags, grandiose words and large and expressive crowds, it makes an indelible impression when people demonstrate that they do mean something, these ideas and values of the society we have inherited and more or less take for granted. The gathering said that Norwegians refuse to let anyone take away our sense of security and trust. That we refuse to lose this battle against fear.

And yet there is no road back to the way it was before. ” (The New York Times)

– Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, provides a hopeful lesson on how bigotry can be overcome as shown by the experience of Australian football :

The evidence of the last few weeks is that history, at last, really has moved on. The revelation of the abuse of players of Sudanese and Nigerian origin generated a surge of genuine, visible, and tangible public repugnance – a very real sense that the perpetrators had shamed not only themselves, but also their country. For an Australian of my generation, that is a very new, and hugely welcome, experience. And there is every reason to hope, and believe, that our experience is gradually becoming universal. (Project Syndicate)

– a 617-digit prime number (BBC) ;

– as someone who took nine months to travel the world, and then decided to change careers, I heartily agree with this suggestion of a gap year for grown-ups (Harvard Business Review) ;

– because you get to see sights like these volcanoes (The Big Picture)

I will not be seeing volcanoes this weekend I will be staying within the boundaries of Manhattan but won’t let that spoil my fun .  Have a good one.

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From the Financial Post :

“As Republicans and Democrats continue to work towards a compromise to the US debt ceiling crisis, the US Treasury Department said that Washington now has a total operating balance of only US$73.768 billion.

Meanwhile, Apple currently boasts a cash reserve of US$75.876-billion, as of its most recent quarterly earnings report at the end of June.”

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These both come from the same article,  a wonderful op-ed by Tim Rutten in the LA Times on the danger posed by hate speech :

It ought to be clear by now that hate-laced propaganda poses a particular challenge to open societies in this new age, when their contagion can be spread by little more than the click of a mouse.


It no longer will do, as Isaiah Berlin once pointed out, to shrug and say: I believe in kindness and you believe in concentration camps, and let’s leave it at that. That’s not tolerance; it’s indifference in which respect for free speech is less a value than an alibi.

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My June 2011

Very late because of my holiday:


The Transfinite (Park Avenue Armory) : Ryoji Ikeda’s installation was an amazing immersion in sight and sound

Set in Style: The Jewellery of Van Cleef & Arpels (Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum) : set in style is a very apt name because each piece was a miniature work of art.  I have always thought of myself as not being motivated by money but the stunning exhibition came close to changing my mind


The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood) :  the title is also the title of  a novel within this novel but the multi-layered structure fits perfectly with the multi-layered story which encompasses the multitude of layers in love and life


The Trip (Michael Winterbottom) : wanted a dose of British humour and found myself laughing at completely different times from the American audience

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“If Islamic people do something bad, you think, ‘Oh, it’s Muslims.’ But if a white Protestant does something bad, you just think he’s mad. That’s something we need to think about.”

– Sigrid Skeie Tjensvoll, Norwegian citizen (Global Public Square)

Norway attacks and multiculturalism (GPS)

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It was sad to hear of the death of Lucian Freud.  He was my favourite living British artist and I can still remember going to his exhibition at Tate Britain way back  in 2002. The best description of his work is the one from Freud himself that accompanied the show:

“I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

The Economist finds a description from Sue Tilley, the 280-pound (20-stone) subject of Freud’s painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, which sold for $33.6m in 2008:

He wasn’t cruel—he painted what he saw. What strikes me most is, I look at my fat ankles and my fat feet every morning and I think they look just like that painting. Even the skinny girls don’t look good, do they? He painted out of love.

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping is also one of the paintings in The Guardian’s gallery of Freud’s Life in Pictures.

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Today is the 93rd birthday of a true hero, Nelson Mandela. Although it is hard for one image to sum up his many achievements and his dignity, I would choose the famous picture of Francois Pienaar receiving the rugby World Cup from Mandela in 1995.

John Carlin, author of Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, beautifully explains its significance :

Mandela’s coup de grâce, the final submission of white South Africa to his charms, came minutes before the final itself when the old terrorist-in-chief went on to the pitch to shake hands with the players dressed in the colours of the ancient enemy, the green Springbok shirt.

For a moment, Ellis Park Stadium, 95 per cent white on the day, stood in dumb, disbelieving silence. Then someone took up a cry that others followed, ending in a thundering roar: “Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son!”

And that was almost it. White South Africa had crowned Mandela king with the fervour black South Africa had done five years earlier at a stadium in Soweto, in the week after his release. (The Telegraph)

– Mandela’s birthday also reminded me of a fantastic  article in National Geographic last year  on what the football World Cup meant to South Africa which included truly inspiring stories of reconciliation between individuals still dealing with the legacies of apartheid;

– as confirmation of how things have thankfully changed: in 1988 in South Africa the government banned all outdoor events that had been scheduled to commemorate Mandela’s 70th birthday (The New Yorker);

– John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria and political counselor at the US embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid writes that South Africa’s first post-apartheid president may have given the country the tools to find greatness :

Mandela’s vision for his country, which reflects his great strength of character, is based on the inherent dignity of men and women of all races. His courage shares similarities with that of Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war. His inclusiveness toward the Afrikaners that jailed him for 27 years shows an extraordinary generosity of spirit that recalls Martin Luther King. And his dogged determination and high political skills remind us of Winston Churchill in Britain’s finest hour. Perhaps above all, Mandela illustrates the crucial role of individual leadership in state-building. And, like Lincoln, Churchill, and King, Mandela has been remarkably successful in securing the support of his fellow citizens for his vision — in Mandela’s case, a “non-racial” democracy. (The Atlantic)

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I am off to see my family in Spain and England so thought I would use the time to catch up on some prize-winning  reading:

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer Prize)

I have read this already but loved it so much that I am already looking forward to reading it again.

“If you haven’t already read Goon Squad, which the committee aptly described as an “inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed,” get on it.” (New York Magazine)

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (Orange Prize)

Bettany Hughes, Chair of Judges, said: “By skilfully spinning a series of magical tales she has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms with a bittersweet vivacity. The book reminds us how easily we can slip into barbarity, but also of the breadth and depth of human love. Obreht celebrates storytelling and she helps us to remember that it is the stories that we tell about ourselves, and about others, that can make us who we are and the world what it is.”

  Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)

The novel explores the intertwining lives of a radical Irish monk in the Bronx, an Upper East Side bereaved housewife, a proud young woman suffering years of hardship, a drug-addled young artist and a prostitute and her daughter.

“The judges described the book as “a genuinely 21st century novel that speaks to its time but is not enslaved by it. Its beguiling nature leaves the reader with as much uncertainty as we feel throughout our lives, but therein lies the power of fiction and of this book in particular.” (BBC)

The Long Song  by Andrea Levy (Walter Scott prize)

“The Walter Scott prize is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, whose ancestors were closely linked to Scott, and uses Scott’s famous novel Waverley to pin down what constitutes historical fiction: events must have taken place at least 60 years before publication, making them outside the author’s own “mature personal experience”. Last year’s inaugural award was won by Hilary Mantel, for her story of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall.” (The Guardian)

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