Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
: Middle Earth New Zealand photo calendar 2012
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- In this newsletter:
- *** Occupations
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: New Art Book by Sunila Sen Gupta
- *** Childhood Memories: Spreewald and Torún - Photo diary
This month has been such a whirl of things, I can hardly remember what I was doing at the beginning of it. Ah yes. I occupied Wellington! Admittedly, it was what you might call "occupation lite". One afternoon after I'd done whatever business I had in town – getting the new sheet music books printed, I believe – I went down to the waterfront, and politely asked the pink haired woman (roughly my age) who was one of the people I found there, if I might sit next to her and occupy for a bit. She said I was most welcome, and in a short space I found myself involved in the most outspoken political discussion I have ever had since touching down in New Zealand.
I can't remember exactly what the gist of the conversation was, but part of it was, what do we actually want to happen? I staunchly advocated that the one thing we don't need, are any more -isms. Some people there, it seemed to me, clearly did have an agenda: one guy had written up a leaflet claiming that what we need is good old Socialism, another was telling us something about some idealized organizational structure – supposedly it exists, somewhere, organizations like Google, or Weta perhaps, or at least they advertise themselves that way. But then I ask, who gets to be admitted to these utopias of self-realization? Not me, that's for sure.
I remember a conversation I had with a young fellow who was sitting on the floor opposite me and agonizing about the fact that here he was, talking, while he could be doing something more "useful". I told him that I thought talking to other people was actually very useful, because it was bound to influence behaviour in small and subtle ways. What could he be doing that was more important? "Well - earn money", he said with a wry grin, obviously realizing the irony of that statement, in that context. We talked a bit more, and I said that what I thought was needed, was not one big massive change, but a hundred thousand billion tiny little changes. How people always want to see some drastic sign that something has changed. Statues of Lenin toppled over, aristocrats beheaded, or whatever. While really what matters are all the tiny little acts that people do in the course of a day, and everyone – absolutely everyone – has the power to make that sort of change. That seemed to impress him somehow. He came to sit next to me, and fell silent, thinking it over. After a short while I turned to him and pointed out that he had just spent the last five minutes thinking, because of something I'd said.
It was the day of the Oakland strike – surely you have heard of the Oakland strike? Actually, I can't blame you if you haven't heard of the Oakland strike. If you've paid attention, you might just have heard about it on the news (the Guardian, for one, had a reporter on location who kept a blog) – the thousands (how many thousands, is a matter of dispute) of people who turned up to shut down Oakland harbour, in reaction to the events in Oakland of the previous week, which were rather conspicuously absent from the headline news, both in the US and elsewhere (I did check). The brutal crackdown on the group of people who were camping in a public square in Oakland, a large contigent of police in full riot gear, visors down, throwing tear gas, shooting at people with rubber bullets, sent in to deal with the public threat of ... people camping. The tv stations may have ignored it, but there were numerous videos posted on Youtube – I'm posting links to a small selection here.
The unabashed State violence that I'm witnessing on these videos absolutely apalls me. This is the Land of the Free, the society that styles itself the paragon of democracy and civic liberties? What I see in those Oakland videos, is Tianamen Square, without the tanks. I only hope my little brothers in the States will remember those videos from Oakland, next time someone tries to draft them to put their life on the line in the name of "defending democracy" in some country with rich natural resources, which isn't complying with the needs of the 1% who run the US economy.
And it doesn't stop there. I haven't been following events closely for the rest of the month – my own life has been keeping me pretty busy – but I did find the video of the police officer casually pouring pepper spray on students at UC Davis, as if they were so many garden weeds. * UC Davis pepper spray incident * That police officer there would have made an excellent KZ gas chamber operator! He's got just the right attitude for the job.
There has been an investigation into this particular incident, but one has to ask, why only now? According to this article, these things have been going on at Californian universities for years, to the extent that a number of my US American acquaintances couldn't understand at all what I was so wound up about, when I posted those videos on my Facebook account, and commented upon the inappropriateness of using that amount of brutal force to crack down on protesters who, by all accounts, didn't do a thing to provoke it with any aggression on their part. People who were simply exercising some of their basic human rights, in what is after all a public space – such as the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to Have an Opinion.
Shame on you, indeed.
News & Current Projects
First of all, I proudly present my latest website, Belinda Brown Photography. I can't tell you what a relief it is to be finished with this project, which has kept me busy for a fair while, but which I have good reason to be proud of. I'm very pleased with how the site looks – and even more pleased with the things you can't see, the functionality that drives the site, which includes a full content manament system, enabling the client to add and delete text, images and galleries at her own discretion (fortunately....).
The web savvy amoung you might have spotted that the site is not yet active on its proper domain, www.belindabrownphotography.co.nz (that's the old site which you see there, and which some of the links still point to until the domain is transferred to the new server – just in case you thought there was something broken). That isn't my job, and I don't take any responsibility for others to get their act together, or not. It just makes me heave a deep sigh. However, I was not going to wait *yet another* newsletter to finally be able to present my work of the past months.
Oh and btw – if I said "finished", that's not strictly true. The client did request a 150th change putting in a feature which I originally suggested, and which she asked me to take out. I'm not gonna sigh. I'm gonna bill her.
The 700 Years of Pop CD is now available for digital download on CD Baby – downloads will also be available from Amazon Mp3 and iTunes shortly, if they aren't already. Of course you can still get physical copies of the album – either directly from my online shop, or from CD Baby, or from Amazon, as soon as they will be available there. Tell your friends! :) - And I am still looking for reviewers! If you already own the album, why not jump on Amazon or CD Baby and leave a short statement there. Or even just rate it on iTunes. It would really help enormously, and you'll have my undying gratitude!
A contingent of my Middle Earth New Zealand calendars has been sent on their way to California, and will soon be available for sale at Alexander Book Co. in San Francisco! How cool is that. Meanwhile, you can still get your copy from my online shop – to make your buying decision easier, I have adjusted the price downward a bit, they now sell for Euro 15/US$ 20. The Travels in Middle Earth CD + calendar combo is also still available, I have knocked off a proportionate amount of the price of it, too. So what are you waiting for? Orders received within the next week or so have every chance to still arrive in time for Christmas.
Also available in the shop is my newest batch of small size original artwork: the 2011 series of Guardian Angels, and some watercolour studies of flowers from my garden - the latter are postcards, so you can either frame them, or send them to a friend!
Last but not least, the new sheet music books Diego Fernandez de Huete: Baroque Dances Volume II, from the Compendio numeroso de cifra para harpa (Madrid, 1702) are now all printed up and ready for shipping. You can order your copy here.
For a bit of a treat, I signed up for Viv Walker's life drawing class this month. Viv is one of the professional artists and illustrators working here in the Wairarapa, and also a member of the Wai Art group. I'd attended her children's book illustration course last year, and I really appreciate her work. I've done life drawing for years, of course, but the sessions I usually attend aren't tutored, so was looking forward to getting some proper tutoring, and from a different perspective than what I had received previously – I'm still trying to find out what I missed by not going to art school! It was well worth it, and a real relaxing treat to spend a day drawing, in the middle of what has been a hectic and stressful month.
The last couple of months have been exhausting – too much work, too little pay, as the saying goes. Besides, I suddenly seem to find myself in the middle of buying a house! Not with my own money, of course – I wouldn't even be able to get a home loan! But it became an urgent issue, when the landlord came by one weekend to tell me he was thinking of selling the place to someone else, unless I was still interested in buying it? So my parents decided that, rather than continuing to pay my rent, as they've been doing for the last several years, it would actually make more sense to invest a chunk of money they have sitting in a bank account as insurance for their needs in old age, in a property I can live in instead. And boy am I glad they did. I must have moved house at least 30 times, since I moved out from my parents, and I really couldn't face the thought of getting kicked out of this place, again. I mean, I've been planting trees, and all.
I'd been planning to take a week off in November for my summer holiday, before the hot summer weather kicks in and I need to stay home and water my garden. The timing turned out perfect: I'd just finished Belinda's website, and after all that excitement about the house, I felt like I'd been drawn through a shredder.
Where to go? I'd been thinking, Northland would be nice at this time of year, probably warm enough already to go for swims, and I hadn't been there in a little while. It's a bit of a drive, seeing that I only had a week, and considering the chronical shortness of cash, but then again, a couple of months ago I had a call from a fellow who runs a reggae band up in the Bay of Islands, to talk about a website. So I thought, why not go chat them up, then find a nice beach somewhere (or the other way round) – and thus combine the practical with the useful. It was just the excuse I needed!
It all worked out perfectly – Northland is always worth the trip, even if only for a couple of days, and I stopped over at my favourite campsite-cum-hot-spring near Matamata both on the way there, and back. And dropped in with my friend Robyn in Auckland, who understands my worries about houses – she and her partner have been renting a gorgeous palatial mansion on the Waitakere side of Auckland for the past 14 years, but they know they can get kicked out of there any time, if the landlord decides she needs the house for another purpose. Not a great feeling, that! And houses in Auckland, I can tell you, are a wee bit more expensive than here in the Wairarapa.
I had a great week off – and as soon as I finish this newsletter, I'll be putting together a proposal for a new website project. Fingers crossed! That, and that other project I have just sent a proposal for yesterday. Perhaps there is life after Belinda Brown.
Artwork © Sunila Sen Gupta
Cool Things Friends Do: New Art Book by Sunila Sen Gupta
Sunila has been one of my staunchest mutual-support-giving fellow starving artist friends, ever since we met on a certain internet forum, what – 7 years ago?? I have featured her work here before, but today is a special occasion: She is publishing her first art book of her own work, and raising funds for the production expenses! Read more about her project here.
You can support her project by pledging to buy one of her beautiful art prints – I got a copy of Two Face in the mail some weeks ago, she was kind enough to offer me a swop for a print of my Bob Dylan/Joan Baez picture. But I will certainly help her out by getting another one or two – perhaps the two gorgeous portraits of mutual online friends from "the forum"? After all, she also supported my Travels in Middle-earth CD fundraiser, some years ago.
I would really like to get a copy of her book, actually, but I'm a bit too broke to afford that at the moment, what with buying houses, and all. But if you are interested in up and coming fantasy artists, hey, here is your chance! Not only to give her a leg up along the way, but also to acquire a book which may well be a sought-after rarity one of those days. Or even one of her originals! She is offering those up for sale, too.
Artwork © Sunila Sen Gupta
Childhood Memories: Spreewald and Torún – photo diary, part IV
Weekends boating in the Spreewald is a childhood memory I never had. The wetland area south of Berlin, with its net of river branches and irrigation channels, has long been popular as a holiday destination for stressed city people – it's just an hour and half's or so train ride away from the city centre, right at the outskirts of Berlin's once super efficient network of local trains. But of course, at the time I grew up, the Spreewald was on the other side of the Iron Curtain, so those weekend breaks never happened. Since I come from a family of keen kayakers, more the regret.
When my former highschool pal and best friend Sanne suggested that we should go somewhere together for a couple of days while I was visiting my parents, the Spreewald seemed like the perfect destination. Kayaking in the Spreewald! A childhood dream come true. Besides, it would give me the opportunity to hunt for some Wassermänner, for that illustration project I am still working on (yes, still working on it. No, haven't given up. ONE DAY, I trust, I'll find the time to finish it!). If there is a place in the world where I would go looking for a Wassermann, the Spreewald would definitely be it.
Sanne had booked us a holiday flat near Lübben, on the Spreewald's northern outskirts, which came with a couple of bikes for hire. She had also booked us kayaks for the next day, but somehow, in the midst of what was otherwise a hot dry midsummer, we managed to hit on the one rainy weekend for our excursion. Besides, the kayak hire place in Lübben proved to be less than customer service oriented, so rather than spending all day in their open boats getting thoroughly soaked from top and bottom, we decided to wait out the downpour over a hot chocolate, then got on our bikes and rode down to Lübbenau, a lovely ride through fields and along canals.
Turned out that Lübbenau was where the action really was, anyway. That day, they were having their Schützenfest – a mysterious ethnic celebration involving quantities of beer, bratwurst, Blasmusik, and old men dressed up in funny outfits. Undeterred by the rain, people had turned out en masse, determined not to have the weather spoil their day. There was a time when I would have run away screaming. But after years in the antipodes, the whole thing struck me in a different way: That small town with its church and grey sky, Blasmusik, bratwurst, and all (I never had much objection to beer): It is something so quintessentially German. If I was a foreigner, looking for an "authentic" experience, well, this would be exactly it. So I decided to, for once, enjoy the privilege of not being a foreigner, and we both gave ourselves over to the pleasures of beer, bratwurst, and even Blasmusik. It was actually a pretty good band.
One part of the market featured stalls selling traditional craft items – and the culinary specialty the Spreewald is famous for, pickled gherkins! In all shapes, sizes and flavours. My personal highlight was the basketmaker: I didn't even know there were still people who made those beautiful handwoven willow baskets! I brought one with me, and a couple of Scherenschnitte, which I found in one of the local boutiques – another craft I had thought to be extinct.
Being swampy and inaccessible, the Spreewald is home to an ethnic minority of Slavonic people, the Sorben – the last remnant of the Wenden who used to settle most of what is now Germany east of the river Elbe, before they were driven out or absorbed by the Germans pressing east from the Rhine area, all through the Middle Ages. The area is officially bilingual. On special occasions like this, there will be people dressed up in their traditional outfits – involving quantities of lace, and a distinctive style of headdress – mingling happily with the jeans and sweater wearing crowd. One of their traditional crafts are elaborately decorated easter eggs, and since I couldn't resist to buy one, and didn't think it very practical to try to take it to New Zealand in my suitcase, it ended up a birthday present for my brother –– on the principle that one should always buy gifts one would like to receive oneself. :P
Toward afternoon, the rain cleared up a bit, so we decided to go and find out if we couldn't hire some kayaks for the rest of the day. We soon found the local kayaking club, where one could also rent boats – proper boats with all the necessary accessories, such as a spraycover, a rather desirable item in rainy weather! Besides, Lübbenau is situated close to the heart of the Spreewald, and the boating options from there were much more attractive than we would have had in Lübben, so our earlier decision proved to be a good one all the way through! Being years out of training, the 3 hour tour we ended up doing, was just about as much as we both could cope with, anyway. By the time we finished, the rain had returned in force, so we got thoroughly soaked on our bike ride back, but was it worth it? I did my best to capture some of the magic of that afternoon in my photos, I'll let them speak for themselves.
The week before the Spreewald trip, I had spent a few days in Torún, Poland, with my parents. My mother lived there as a child – from age 3, when the family left Estonia, to age 8, when she and her sister were put on a train and sent to relatives in Silesia, only to take to the street and run away from the advancing Russian army a few months later – the year was 1945. (I have written about this in a previous newsletter). Torún, not Pärnu, is the place my mother's memories of a happy childhood are attached to. After our trip to Estonia a few years ago, my parents have made a couple of trips to Torún, which is after all, only a day's drive from Berlin. They seem to have enjoyed themselves on those previous trips, and wanted to show me round, so we decided that it would be a nice thing to do for my mother's 75th birthday.
My parents have managed to locate the house where my mother used to live – a turn-of-the-last-century town house not very different from the houses from that period one still finds everywhere in Berlin. When we came there so she could show it to me, to our delight, we found the street entrance open. We couldn't resist taking a peek into the stairwell and backyard, where my mother remembers playing with the neighbourhood kids. I shot some video footage of that visit as well: there's another future project I hope to one day find the time for!
Torún is one of those best kept secrets – despite its well preserved medieval town centre, which has UNESCO World Heritage status, it doesn't seem to attract large crowds of international tourists (unlike Gdánsk, for instance!). One of its most striking features are the medieval city walls with their various shapely gates. My mother especially remembers the Maria church, with its painted ceiling, where the family's Polish – and catholic, of course – house maid used to take her along for the service, much to the discomfiture of my staunchly protestant grandmother, apparently! Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous astronomer, was born in Torún, his birth house is now a museum displaying period furniture, and a variety of astronomical instruments and maps. The town is situated on the river Wisła, or Vistula, Poland's main river, connecting the capital Warszawa with the main harbour, Gdánsk.
In many ways, Torún reminded me of Bremen, where I have studied and lived for many years. Looking over the photos I have taken of the three historical towns or cities I visited on this trip: Brugge, Stockholm, and Torún, I was struck by their obvious similarities. All three cities were associated with the Hanseatic league in the Middle Ages – a confederation of cities and towns along the coasts of the Baltic and North seas, to facilitate trade, and in some ways, a precursor of what is now the European Union. Typically, the towns belonging to the league were governed by a council of citizens, and answered directly to the king, rather than being subject to a local noble. The German Hanse cities Hamburg and Bremen still maintain their independent city status to this day.
This is clearly reflected in their architecture: typically, the heart of these towns is the market place and guildhall, or Ratshaus, rather than the main church, as in so many other European cities. Being trading cities, they are also generally situated along a waterway or close to the seashore. The Wisła in Torún, the Weser in Bremen – the slow flowing, wide rivers of Northern Europe, where one can sit by the banks in summer, drink beer, eat ice cream, and dream along with the slow flowing water. It wasn't hard for me to feel quite at home in Torún.
It was the last days of June, and the weather was bright sunny and hot. Doing a lot of sightseeing was exhausting, under those conditions, and so we ended up indulging in what is apparently a favourite pastime in Torún: sitting under an umbrella in the street or by the banks of the river, and drinking large quantities of the excellent Polish beer. We also went for a boat ride on the Wisła, and my parents took me to their favourite cafe, where we overdosed on some of the richest hot chocolate I've ever consumed, and – chocolate cake. I paid a visit to the Maria church and did a sketch, while my parents rested, and of course I had to see Copernicus' birth house. The second day, we went to visit the part of town where my mother used to live, and the park where they used to go skating and sledge riding in winter – as well as the train station, on the other side of town, where her childhood abruptly ended that day she was put on that train to Silesia.
Arohanui, from Asni