Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
Sun and Stormy Weather
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: Selected drawings available on Ebay. A different selection every month!
NEW SHEET MUSIC: Huete Dances vol. 3 now available for pre-order – ships early December
NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card
TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC:
Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes
Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography
- In this newsletter:
- *** Sun and Stormy Weather
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Fractal Art from Sweden: Ingvar Kullberg
- *** Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" Trilogy (part 2)
Sun and Stormy Weather
The month has been a bit of a mixed bag. It is the middle of summer, of course, so going to the beach, and lounging under the plum tree in my garden, have been reasonably high on the priorities list. I spent one gorgeous afternoon on the other side of Castlepoint: it was a bit of a scramble down the steep slope of Castle Rock, following what might have been a footpath or a goat track – and then I had to come up that way again. But it was well the effort: no one else came, so I had that whole long pristine stretch of beach all to myself, all afternoon.
On New Year's Day, I headed out to Cape Palliser and did the walk out to the old Maori settlement again – the one I discovered last autumn. In summer, it is less eerie, but still a magical spot. This time, I went down the coastline a little further toward White Rock, then sat on a stone and had a picnic. There are times when I still can't believe that I actually get to live in a place that has so much beauty. A perfect start for the new year.
The middle of the month brought more strong winds – late in the season, usually they die down after Christmas. This put a damper on most outdoor activities, but then there is always plenty to do inside the house. Still – a bit of a waste of summer, if you ask me. And besides, it wasn't good for my capsicums!
Then there was another earthquake: I was sitting under my plum tree one day when the earth began to move up and down. It went on for a bit, too – but given that I was already in a safe spot, no action was required really. I was lucky that my precariously stacked crockery didn't fall off the kitchen sink. The epicenter of this quake was near Castlepoint, which is really quite close to home. But no one was hurt, and apart from a building in Masterton that had to be cordoned off, there seems to have been no damage to property that would be worth noting.
The worst thing that happened, was that one of the giant eagles that are part of Weta Workshop's Hobbit movie decoration in Wellington airport, came crashing down. Here we were thinking these things are supposed to fly – but I'm guessing there was a bit of a problem with the suspension of disbelief.
News & Current Projects
The last oil painting of 2013 was the yellow lilies in my garden – I posted the image in my Christmas mail – so it seems appropriate that the first painting of this year, should be my red (well, purple. Well, magenta) lilies. Both paintings are for sale – I plan to get around to setting up a proper online shop for my artwork this year, but for the time being, just contact me per email if you are interested. They sell for NZ$ 180 / US$ 150 / € 110, plus shipping.
A friend of mine likes to doodle in front of the tv – to me, such a feat of multitasking always seemed quite beyond my abilities, but this month, I thought I'd give it a go. I've been obsessively watching and re-watching the Millennium trilogy film version: I am trying to beat my own multiple viewing record, which is currently held by Fellowship of the Ring. Besides, it has a calming effect on me and helps maintain a healthy sleep rhythm. Plus, it does wonders for my comprehension of Swedish!
But obviously, it does do weird things to my subconscious. I have no idea, really, what it is I was doodling there. I've decided it must be Tentacle Mating Season on Titan – that seemed the closest approximation – and I actually quite like it, so I went and coloured it in. I'm thinking, I might print it as a Valentine card: guaranteed to freak your beloved out. Keep your eyes peeled for it to be listed in my Etsy shop!
Speaking of which, I have now sold all but two copies of my New Zealand Film locations map A3 poster – so next week, I'll do a reprint! If you want to get your hands on a copy of the first edition, be quick – you can order them here.
After procrastinating for an entire year, I have now seriously begun to sketch some hares – so my children's picture book to be will eventually take shape! I have also done a few digital drafts: at this stage, the aim is to settle on a suitable style and look, and a colour scheme for the illustrations. I imagine I will go with working in Adobe Illustrator: I have also done a test image in Photoshop, but I think my work in Illustrator is stronger and more unique, and since everyone tells me that I need to develop "my style", it makes sense to go with that. Besides, I enjoy working with the program.
Illustrator favours a "graphic" look with lots of flat colour and clean lines, and in a way it does not lend itself so well for the fluffy softness of a hare's fur. So one challenge will be to create a convincing fluffy, furry look. I may not be 100% there yet, but I am quite happy with the two hare pictures I have done, and am beginning to see how that could work! Admittedly, the landscape study is at this stage still a bit, shall we say minimalist. There will be more to come!
Now that I have completed the edition of Diego Fernandez de Huete's Compendio numeroso, it is time to think about my next sheet music editing project! One possible candidate are the Neapolitan triple harp pieces by Trabaci. Another option is to do a "Renaissance primer", to go with the Medieval Tunebook, and Baroque Delights. Or I could stick with Spanish music – there is a whole lot of 16th century repertory for tecla, vihuela y harpa there. I am happy to hear your suggestions – let me know what you would like to be able to buy! :)
On Amazing Stories, I have mused, once again, about time: a slippery concept to represent visually! The Concept of Time features some surreal and abstract art. Time Artefacts brings you the latest in Steampunk inspired time travel devices. I've been assured they work, too! Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.
Artwork of the month: Nude pencil studies, now available on Ebay
ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: I've selected another set of A3 size life drawing studies: one sheet with dynamic gestural drawings of several short poses, and two longer poses of sitting women (in the nude, of course). View my Ebay listings here.
The garden is now in its full summer glory. The cornflowers and Mexican hat plants by the side of the house are waiting their turn to be painted, and even the herbs and spices look pretty when they blossom. I've harvested my one German prune plum – a little prematurely, since I was afraid that otherwise the birds might get the precious fruit. It was very sour, but also very tasty. Next year better!
On the homegrown menu this month have been green beans, Italian cavolo nero cabbage, beetroot, more cabbage rolls, and lots of leek. And walnuts! A whole big box of walnuts from last year, ready to grace my ice cream. I've harvested the very first tomatoes, and by the looks of it, will end up drowning in them come February. Well – it would be nice to grow enough to preserve some for winter! My horticultural studies are paying off – there are decidedly more veggies than this time last year.
My old broccoli plants have shed their seeds all over the place, so the garden is full of volunteer broccoli plants, and I've had to weed out quite a few! They are fast growing, I have already begun to harvest them. Just as well – there is currently an epidemic of white butterflies, and in a week or so their caterpillars will be out feasting on my brassicas, so I'd better harvest them before that happens. There is some kale to make into sauerkraut, too. And at the time of writing, I've started on my third jar of pickled gherkins.
There are some newcomers in the garden: for Christmas I bought a second almond tree, which now graces my front lawn along with the one I planted last winter. I also spontaneously acquired a miniature peach tree – they were practically throwing them out at the Warehouse before Christmas, and I've got just the suitable spot for it.
My next gardening project is to try to establish some subtropical plants in a particularly sheltered part of the garden: just for the heck of it I planted a coffee bush, which will be a challenge – they can't stand frost, but I have a plan, and I'll also make sure to take some cuttings: so if the plan does not work, I'll have a backup. And I have caved in to temptation, and acquired two tiny little jabuticaba trees! Someone was selling them on Trademe, and they came in the mail a few days ago. Apparently they take up to 15 years to grow up and start fruiting, so I'll try to live and see that – it might be my special treat for my 60th birthday.
Fractal Art from Sweden: Ingvar Kullberg
Writing a bi-weekly art blog for Amazing Stories, has the amazing advantage that it has exposed me to an amazing range of new art over the last year or so. Since I am beginning to run out of friends who do cool things and have not been featured here two or three times already, perhaps it is time to widen the scope of this feature section a bit.
Fractal art is a sub-genre of digital art, which is based on letting the computer do what a computer does best: calculating mathematical equations. A number of software programmes have been developed since the 1980's, which are capable of generating visually interesting results from the mathematical parameters they are being fed. The artist inputs those parameters, and then evaluates the results, choosing the most interesting patterns and compositions from the resulting graphic – much like a photographer chooses the most interesting aspects in a landscape or an object. These are often purely abstract, but sometimes they are suggestive of figures, landscapes or maps – much as we can often see figures in the clouds.
Fractals are geometrical figures which are similar to themselves when viewed at different scales: a bit like Russian dolls. They occur often in nature, for instance in the formation of crystals or snowflakes, in the growth patterns of trees and the flow patterns of rivers – or in the formation of galaxies.
Fractal geometry is an important concept in Chaos Theory, a field of study in mathematics concerned with non-predictable dynamic systems: for instance, cloud formation, and the weather. Chaos Theory has a number of practical applications in physics, engineering, biology, meteorology, and economics, among other fields.
You will probably have heard of the Butterfly Effect: the one that says that a butterfly flapping its wings in a certain way, can be the cause for a hurricane. It is an illustration of the mathematical concept that minute changes in initial conditions can lead to vastly different outcomes.
Philosophically speaking, Chaos Theory is the opposite of Newtonian physics, which assumes that the universe is completely deterministic, and that if all initial parameters are known, the exact outcome of any given situation can be predicted by applying the natural laws. The unpredictability of chaotic systems like the weather, or the stock market, is explained by the fact that all the initial parameters can never be known in their entirety.
Chaos Theory, on the other hand, poses that these systems are intrinsically unpredictable, and that even if all initial parameters were known, we would still be unable to calculate the outcome – or recreate a situation where identical initial conditions lead to the exact same outcome.
One of the icons of fractal mathematics is the Mandelbrot set, a distinctive fractal geometric shape which is the result of a fairly simple mathematical operation. It is named after the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who discovered it in the 1970s. Visualisations of this set have turned into something almost like a religious icon, and indeed they can be reminiscent of Asian religious mandalas – or psychedelic art.
Ingvar Kullberg has written an extensive series of articles on the mathematics and computer science behind his artwork – a great read, if you have an interest in these things.
If you are adventurous and want to have a go yourself, here is some freeware for generating fractal images: Apophysis (2D), and Incendia (3D). Both are Windows only, alas. If you want to go professional (and MacOs), try out Ultra Fractal, or buy it for a moderate amount. Enjoy!
Acts of Love: Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy – part 2
*** SPOILER WARNING: this essay reveals major plot points in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy : Men Who Hate Women (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – The Girl who Played with Fire – The Cloud Castle Blew Up (aka The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)
** Part 1
The comparison with Dostojevski is not random: Stieg Larsson's novels really do have that kind of scope. Among other things, they are an investigation of human relationships, early 21th century style – in a sexually liberated society, where casual relationships are freely available, and physical intimacy is no longer an indicator of the depth or "seriousness" of a commitment – unlike in the olden days, when people wooed and married first, and then had sex (unless they were scoundrels or whores).
How do we even know when we are in love, or if the relationship we are in is casual, committed, or somewhere in-between? What constitutes a happy end to a love story, if women no longer regard the acquisition of a good husband as their main aim in life, and "they married and lived happily ever after" (or the 20th century update, "they lived happily and had lots of highly unrealistic sex") -- no longer cuts it?
One of the central tenets of feminism is that "the personal is the political". Emancipation, equality, a just society need to start with our most personal and intimate relationships – in our bedrooms and our kitchens. How are we ever going to achieve equality and world peace, if we cannot even handle our own personal relationships without the urge to control, manipulate, exploit, habitually belittle, lie to, or outright abuse our partner?
So it makes perfect sense that a novel whose main theme is violence and injustice against women, should have a plain old love story at its centre. And this is probably the reason why, despite the grim topic, and the violence and ugliness we are being shown, the Millennium trilogy is not a depressing read.
Unlike many other stories I have read, whose aim is to draw attention to social injustice, Stieg Larsson does not drive his point home by unrelentingly grinding his heroine down. He lets her suffer, but he lets her win. For every character who is cruel, cowardly, and destructive, there is another who is empathetic, conscientious, and quietly heroic.
If the villains of the novel are people who think they can bend society's rules in order to satisfy their own cravings for power, control, money or sexual satisfaction, the heroes are people who simply take responsibility to do their assigned jobs well: the doctor who goes to extra lengths to ensure that the emergency brain surgery he is confronted with at 1.30 am goes well. The police officer who isn't swept away by prejudice and the urge to go for the seemingly obvious solution. The lawyer who chooses to defend vulnerable and economically disadvantaged women, rather than working for the rich and famous. The journalist who does not compromise his professional ethos for his own personal comfort and safety.
We are presented with the whole spectrum of human relationships – and this spectrum ranges from the hell in Martin Vanger's basement, to the selfless, and mutual, support and concern for the other person's well-being and growth, which characterizes the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth. The novel doesn't offer the false comfort of a traditional "happy end" – that is, we are not promised that Mikael and Lisbeth will live happily ever after in love and bliss. But we wouldn't really believe that anyway: it would be making light of the damage which has been done to Lisbeth, and fly in the face of what the novel is all about. But the story does hold out the hope of healing. If Martin Vanger's basement was hell, then Lisbeth's flat could be heaven, and in the end she opens her door and lets Mikael back in.
The concept of "romantic love" as we know it, is largely a literary construct. In Europe, it can be traced back to the Courtly Love of the Middle Ages, where a knight would do deeds in service to a lady who was generally married to his feudal lord, and unattainable for him. Medieval literature teems with erotic fantasies about knights actually winning their lady through some superior feat of combat – be it with a dragon, or a competing knight. The lady was then practically obliged to reward the winning knight with her sexual favours.
Medieval literature also teems with erotic fantasies about peasant girls being dragged behind the bush in a flowering meadow – sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. If the courtly lady was generally unattainable, the peasant girl was all too attainable, and rape culture is not a privilege of our modern times.
The echo of these attitudes still reverberates in the 21th century. Lisbeth is a direct descendant of that socially unprivileged, powerless peasant girl, and her guardian Bjurman takes advantage of her because he is in a position of power – just as the medieval "gentleman" felt entitled to have his way with the peasant girl he came across in a meadow.
Mikael, on the other hand, frames Lisbeth as his "Lady" and himself as her Knight in Shining Armour, when he sets out to prove her innocence, and helps her win her trial. He is, of course, an investigative journalist whose job it is to expose injustices of precisely this kind – and what he finds out about Lisbeth is one hell of a journalistic scoop. But it should be clear to the reader – just as it becomes clear to several characters involved in these investigations – that his efforts in this matter go well beyond the call of journalistic duty, and that his ultimate, very personal aim is to win back Lisbeth's favour. To him, she *has* been unattainable – unreachable, even – ever since she broke off their relationship without an explanation.
Mikael himself is wryly aware of this – he refers to the task group he assembles to work on finding evidence that can prove Lisbeth's story, as "The Knights of the Idiotic Table". His attitude to relationships has always been that if the lady does not want to see him, he will respect that – there are, after all, plenty of fish in the sea, and Mikael does not appear to have the slightest trouble finding women willing to hop into bed with him. He feels like a fool when he finds himself vainly ringing Lisbeth's doorbell week after week for an entire year – as well as trying to get in touch via Armansky, and sending her emails and letters which she never replies to. His very 1970's attitude toward love and sex makes him feel that this is really quite an outdated way of doing things! Much as he is shocked and angered by the unfounded murder accusations against Lisbeth, and the prejudice they are based on, he does welcome the opportunity it offers to get back in touch with her, and prove himself as her friend. He can't help himself but fall back into the old storytelling pattern of the faithful knight, when he tries to get the point across that he really cares about her, and wants her in his life.
Our present idea that marriage (or partnership) should be based on mutual love (and, by implication, great sex) is even more recent. It doesn't become a dominant topic in literature until the late 18th, and through the 19th century – which coincides with the rise of the novel. The original romantic novel, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, does not even go quite so far: it only poses that a young lady should have the right to reject a potential husband whom she finds physically repulsive, or morally objectionable, and live "the single life" if she chooses to – and if she has the financial means, as Clarissa does.
Similarly, Jane Austen's Elisabeth Bennet insists on her right to choose a husband she can at least respect, rather than cave in to family pressure and financial necessity, and marry a man she considers ridiculous – but she is lucky enough to find, in Mr Darcy, respect, genuine love and financial advantage all wrapped up neatly in one package. Jane Eyre chooses to follow her heart, rather that what others present to her as "the call of duty" – but only after Mr Rochester is widowed, and can offer her the respectability of a valid marriage. Not to mention that by then, she has come into a fortune of her own, and is no longer economically dependent on him.
But the 19th century has also bequeathed us a fascination with rule bending, no-holds-barred stories of love and sexual passion, which rarely end well. Catherine and Heathcliff torment each other until they find some sort of consummation by haunting Wuthering Heights together as ghosts. Yet their passion is so epic that it is seen as some sort of ideal in itself.
Lord Byron created the type of the charismatic hero who insists on his right to follow his passions even when it flies in the face of all social conventions, and regardless of the consequences – and by all accounts, the author lived his own life according to those rules. His legacy is the seductive tall dark stranger who still haunts popular romance novels to this day: the passionate man torn by his demons, who requires the self-sacrificing love of a woman to save him. The pirate, the vampire, the charismatic criminal, the object of many a rape fantasy. The ultimate Narcissist: the man who thinks that his own obsession with a woman gives him the right to demand that she love him back, or else.
19th century literature is full of femme fatales who generally die tragic and often violent deaths: Carmen is stabbed by her former lover when she takes up with someone new. The reader is invited to sympathize with the murderer, who acts out of an overwhelming passion for this faithless, worthless gypsy woman. Likewise, Nastassja Filipovna, in Dostojevski's The Idiot, is stabbed to death by her excessively passionate lover – who has up to that point beaten and abused her. Her choice to go with him, rather than with gentle, generous Prince Myshkin, is presented as a self-destructive trait in the heroine – but we are still invited to sympathize with the man who committed this crime because he could not control his passionate nature.
Then there are the self-sacrificers and the suicides: Anna Karenina jumps in front of a train when she finds that her stab at finding happiness in a relationship outside her marriage to a man she finds physically repugnant, only leads to social ostracism, and being abandoned by the man who seemed to offer her an alternative – and who does not have to pay a similar price. Marguerite Gautier, aka the Lady of the Camellias, selflessly pretends that she has left her lover for another man, so that he will not compromise his sister's marriage by his association with her. She then dwindles away from consumption. We are allowed to sympathize with her despite the fact that she used to be a prostitute, because her sacrifice, and her lonely, painful and long drawn out death are oh so moving.
The epitome of the passionate lover who, literally, cannot live without their beloved, is Wagner's Isolde: she sings her lungs out in romantic ecstasy before she dies, for no apparent reason, over the body of her dead lover. We are led to believe that there is some sort of bliss in this – or perhaps just the ultimate orgasm. And it might be interesting to count how many times the line "I can't live without you" appears in pop songs! Talk about emotional blackmail.
These literary examples – all of which continue to be part of our cultural canon of "eminent classics", and have spawned endless offspring in popular literature, film and pop music – hardly promote a healthy attitude toward love and relationships. On the contrary: they are selling us toxic co-dependency as an ideal to aspire to. They elevate various forms of abuse, up to and including jealous murder, into an object of aesthetic contemplation, and invite us to empathize with the perpetrators, as well as the willing victims. They perpetuate a cultural climate in which various forms of emotional, and even physical abuse are seen as normal, even somehow a desirable part of the experience of passion. Love is *supposed* to hurt, right?
No. That is not love. That is abuse and co-dependency. That is possessiveness and control. That is lack of empathy, inability to deal with one's emotions, and plain old narcissism. That is saying "my feelings are important and you should act so as not to hurt them", rather than saying "your feelings are important and I should act so as not to hurt them – but I expect you to do the same." On the victim's part, it is lack of self-worth, and an inability to set up healthy boundaries, or to walk away.
This is well more than just an academic question: the books we read, the films we see, the stories we tell and get told, have a huge impact on shaping our attitudes, and the ways we think we are supposed to, or allowed to act.
How many women, I wonder, have stayed on in an abusive relationship because romance novels and tv soaps convinced them, again and again, that "love cures all"? That they just have to try a little harder? That it is probably their own fault? That there is nobility in sacrifice? That next time, things will be different? That he has apologized, after all? That his excessive jealousy is just a sign that he really loves her? That he is the one who owns or earns the money, so it is normal that she cannot make any financial decisions? That he only means well? That he is a good person underneath? That it is worth putting up with all that for the sake of whatever intimacy remains in the relationship? Or for the sake of the children? That it is better than being lonely? That they need to be more patient, more forgiving, more beautiful, thinner, better dressed, better read, better cooks, better cleaners, better in bed, funnier, sexier … and things will turn out well, like they always do in the stories?
How many women – and men, too – are not even aware that the relationship they are in *is* abusive?
Hell, do we need people who tell a different story.
Rather than insisting that true love means that we cannot live without our beloved, wouldn't it be far more interesting to figure out how we can live with our beloved, and have a relationship that deserves the name "love"?
The transgressive woman of 19th, and much 20th century literature is generally punished, if not by a miserable and tragic death, then by living out her life socially ostracized, in poverty, and/or prostitution, and/or madness. For Lisbeth, poverty, (alleged) prostitution, and (alleged) madness – as well as near complete social isolation – are her starting point. She lifts herself from there by dint of her exceptional capabilities, resourcefulness and resilience – and a certain amount of personal charisma.
By the end of the story, she has a massive (if not, strictly speaking, legally acquired) personal fortune, employs several people to manage her assets, and owns the second most fancy piece of real estate in Stockholm. She has sent her former torturer to prison, set in motion a chain reaction of investigations into the operations of several social services agencies, and blown up a conspiracy which had been operating unnoticed for three decades, right under the nose of several governments. She has been acquitted of all crimes she was accused of, and her declaration of incompetence, as well as her diagnosis of mental illness, have been shown to be fakes and declared invalid. She is the subject of a bestselling book written by Mikael Blomkvist, whose aim is to clear her public image after the media smear campaign she has been subjected to. And the man she knows herself to be in love with, but whom she has given nothing but unmitigated rejection for the past two years, still stands on her doorstep with a bag of bagels, wanting her company.
*** To be continued
Arohanui, from Asni