About Time

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In this newsletter:
*** About Time
*** News & Current projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: The Christmas Feature
*** A Christmas Carol for You

About Time

As a global culture, we are time fetishists. I struggled a bit with this sentence - almost I wrote "We live in a time of time fetishism". But, pretentiousness aside, what I mean is this: if there is one obsession that defines our modern global culture, time is it.

Take this time of the year: in a short while, we will be watching (if we are so inclined) the countdown for the new decade circle around the tv stations of the planet, to mark the rather fluffy moment when the earth has completed yet another circle round the sun (who defines where it started, anyway?). Missed your toast in your own time zone? In New Zealand we're lucky, we got 23 more chances. Well, that is, if we haven't succumbed to alcohol poisoning by then.

The most frequently asked question in internet chatrooms and on social networking sites has go to be "What time is it where you are?" — To sit down just before bedtime and chat with someone who is just having breakfast – not to mention, roasting on the beach while you are watching the snowflakes outside – or to spot someone's insomnia when realizing that where they are, it is something like four in the morning - hasn't yet lost its fascination.

Did you know that standard time only came about in the second half of the 19th century - as a direct result of long distance railroad travel, and the need to coordinate timetables? Before that, it used to be that by the time you had reached the next town, you needed to reset your watch. Due to the slowness of travel by foot or ship or horse, that didn't really seem to bother anyone. The establishment of uniform global timezones, and especially the definition of the Greenwich meridian, were a much fought over politicum. More of this can be read in a book by one Clark Blaise, rather quaintly titled Time Lord.

The latest in popular cult phenomena? A time traveller in a blue police call box. But it isn't just the Doctor: time travel seems to be a feature in quite a lot of stories and movies these days. It even made it into Harry Potter! The Prisoner of Azkaban is actually one of the cleverest treatments of the idea, and the paradoxes it involves, which I have read.

Now that we have managed to travel to the furthest regions of our own planet, and even as far as the moon, I suppose travelling in time really is the next frontier. After all, relativity theory teaches us that we won't be going anywhere much, apart from maybe Mars, unless we master that. Relativity theory also teaches us that time is just another dimension in what we now refer to as the space-time continuum. It seems a fairly logical leap to assume that if that is so, there is no good physical reason why it would not be possible to move in this dimension in both directions. If we can rewind a video tape, perhaps one day we can rewind and replay our own lives. An appealing idea? I suppose it would be an incentive to try to live our lives well.

As to the Second Law of Thermodynamics - the one that says that disorder always increases, unless energy is expended - apparently that is directly linked to the setup of our brains. According to Stephen Hawking, the fact that we can only remember the past and not the future, just means that we experience the increase in the amount of information stored in our brains as the arrow of time. Which makes me wonder, what about people who suffer from Alzheimers? Are they already living backwards in time?

Yes, I have been watching my way through that Doctor Who box set, and my previously expressed high opinion holds. Though I did hate the denouement at the end of season four (then again, show me one person who didn't). I haven't quite gotten round to watching the last of the 2009 Specials yet - the end of the Doctor's 10th incarnation as David Tennant. I had scheduled that pleasure to brighten up my Christmas eve, but am currently running a bit behind with re-watching season four. People tell me that the fifth season is even BETTER (I find that hard to believe), though admittedly, one has got to look forward to a whole season helmed by Stephen Moffat. His episodes sure stand out. Why? Because he is so very good at using timey-wimey stuff as a plot device. In his scripts, from "The Girl in the Fireplace" onwards, Time is the real monster.

Mostly, what it has given me is ideas. There is a whole new painting project waiting in the wings - hopefully with another show at the end of it - but meanwhile, I've been reading up on the subject of time. It has brought me back to an old and long buried interest in modern physics. It may be a little known fact, but I was a voracious reader of popular science books on astronomy and nuclear physics when I was a teenager, and I did do a "Leistungskurs" (I suppose in English that would be A levels) in physics in high school. Which only succeeded in putting me off making that a choice for study and career - but that's a different story. It has been quite a thrill to pick up that dangling strand. I find that the intervening quarter of a century has given me quite an interesting new perspective on these things.

One of the basic concepts of Relativity Theory is that the only thing in the universe that is always constant, is the speed of light. Space, time, distance, everything is in flux–- and I mean, physically, not just as we experience it. There is no such thing as a center, or an outer border, or indeed any fixed point of reference – perhaps not even a Beginning and an End (this is still very much under debate). Except for the speed at which light moves, which is always the same, regardless of the distortions of the space-time continuum around it. If that is not a profoundly spiritual concept, then I don't know what is!

Well, actually, e = Mc² – the formula that says that energy is equivalent to mass, and vice versa – is another case in point. And Black Holes! The Void! The "singularity" where the laws of physics break down and time itself comes to a halt! Talk about the Devil.

Reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, in any case, is not so different from reading any book on religious or mythological archetypes. Light and Dark, Being versus Non Being, the concept of Eternity, it's all there. Not so surprizing actually: after all, the author explicitly believes that if modern physics would – or WHEN modern physics WILL – manage to find a unified formula which covers both General Relativity Theory, and Quantum Physics (so far, the two ways of describing the universe don't quite match) then we would "know the mind of God" (whatever that would be, in this context).

Rather more on the let's say speculative side of science is John Gribbin's In Search of the Edge of Time - an exploration of "the physics behind time travel". According to this author, there is no good law in physics as we know it, which would say that time travel is theoretically impossible. He also quotes, at one point, an essay published in a scientific magazine in 1989, which claims that if one were to build a time machine, a box would be the most likely design (blue, one wonders? Police call, perhaps?). Fiction informing science, or proof that the BBC employs prophetically gifted people? Perhaps it *does* all come down to the way our brains are set up.

Funny though, that we tend to think of people who seriously investigate the possibility of time travel, as a little bit mad, while most of us are completely willing to accept a Cambridge physics professor who believes that modern science is just steps away from knowing the mind of God, as perfectly sane.

For a look at time – and its function, speed – as a socio-cultural phenomenon, I highly recommend James Gleick's Faster. The book had the interesting effect of making me feel, at the same time, tight in the stomach and short of breath, and laughing out loud at fairly regular intervals. Perhaps it is only a New Yorker who could have written that, but so many of his observations of our everyday foibles are, as they say, "bang on". Having read (and much admired) his previous book Chaos: Making a New Science, I was expecting something rather a bit more rooted in the natural sciences, but what I got, it worked for me.

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News & Current Projects

December is the time for markets, and I have been hawking my things on a couple of the Christmas markets here in Featherston. I finally put an old idea into practice, and created a set of small scale artworks that are appropriate for selling at a market stall – they have the added advantage of being eminently shippable! They are now also available in my online shop. There is a series of Miniature Angels (five so far), another of watercolour flowers, and the Happy Tikis are back as a series of small 20 x 20 cm acrylic on canvas paintings.

The Wairarapa: Magic Places calendar I put together last month as a trial project, evidently hit a local nerve: between selling them, and giving a few away as gifts, and keeping one as a demo, I am now down to one copy, which is at the time of this writing, still available at Wit's End in Featherston.

I've discovered a whole new income stream: homemade Elderflower cordial! Having gotten into the swing of it, I made rather a lot, and it has been my best selling item on those markets. Finally, something that matches role expectations! I'm already growing my own elder bushes in my garden, to secure the supply for future years.

The Middle Earth New Zealand calendars have been selling well - and the calendar & CD combo deal proved quite popular! I still got a little stack of copies left - seeing that they are approaching their "best before" date, I have adjusted the price downwards a bit, they now sell for Euro 12. I also got a few copies with minor damages, which are even cheaper - please check out my Ebay auctions if you would like to purchase one of those.

Last but not least: Travel plans! My mother's 75th is coming up in June, and since I already missed her 70th, I promised I would be there. But I've planned a bit of time for visits, sightseeing and "networking". The itenerary includes London, Kent, and (I expect) Edinburgh, as well as a few yet-to-be-defined places on the way. I have lived a year in London and never got further north than Cambridge, which is really very boring of me! Time I made amends.

I am also having thoughts of popping up to Stockholm for the World Science Fiction Convention, 17-19 June – probably a day or two early, in fact, as this would also give me the opportunity to catch up with some very old and dear friends.

Obviously, Berlin will be on the itenerary, and I expect, Bremen will be. A little time in Bavaria is a must, and my mother has set her heart on showing me around Torún, Poland, where she spent most of her childhood. The parents have been to visit there a couple of times this year (for the first time since 1945), and I rather think they liked it! I am looking forward to that trip.

This already seems like a fairly full itenerary for six weeks. I will be arriving in London Heathrow on Tuesday, 31 May, and leaving on Saturday 9 July, to be back in Wellington on Monday, 11th July. I definitely hope to meet a few people in London, and perhaps other places in the UK – if you would like to meet up, please get in touch early! Any suggestions for things to do, events to attend, or people to meet, send them along for due consideration! :D

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Cool Things Friends Do: The Christmas Feature

Christmas is, traditionally, a Time for Giving. Charitable organizations of all kinds vie for our attention, and our spare pennies. I don't want this to sound cynical, or if I was not aware of the important contributions that some of these organizations make – our family has a long tradition of spending quite a bit of money on UNICEF greeting cards every year. But sometimes, it seems to me, this whole business of organized charity is akin to the medieval practice of buying indulgences from the church, to spare the soul some years in Purgatory.

If we give a little – or perhaps even a lot – of money to a charity each year, is that it? Does it make our consciences feel at rest? Do we expect them to then take care of all the dirty and time-consuming work of actually caring?

Most people who are in need of our attention and generosity, aren't cute round eyed babies from Africa or India. They may smell bad, they may swear, they may babble incomprehensibly or not talk at all, they may drink too much, have a disfiguring disease, dress badly, fail to clean their houses, eat smelly food, make a lot of spelling errors, or be otherwise not fit for polite society. They may threaten your comfortable assumption that if you work hard, behave yourself, and think lots of positive thoughts, nothing bad will ever happen.

Quite a few of them live right amongst us - whereever it is that we live. No need to travel to the farthest reaches of the, ahem, "Dark Continent", to find someone who would benefit from most people's perfect willingness to make another person's life better.

It doesn't even take becoming a social missionary and volunteering at an old people's home, rape crisis center, care unit for people with intellectual disabilities, homeless shelter, mental health helpline, alcohol and drug therapy clinic, migrant advisory organization, or any such exotic and dangerous place. Nor are all people who could use a little help from someone sometimes, necessarily in danger of starving or being tortured to death.

Just look around you. How many people do you know – people of a certain age usually, though not necessarily – who live by themselves, don't go out, and hardly ever have someone visit? What about your kid's classmates – anyone who struggles because their single parent can't help them with their homework, or because they speak a different language at home, or because the family is too poor to pay for the school trip? Donate some money to UNICEF, or actually go the extra mile and invite them to come over for an afternoon perhaps?

What about that little shop where you always used to buy your veggies, until the big chain store moved in? Have they been forced out of business and into unemployment yet? What about that show in that grungy alternative venue, your friend says it's really good though they haven't even had a review in the paper – do you make the effort to go and check it out, or is it easier to plop down in front of the tv and watch a broadcast of Pavarotti, or invest in your fifth must-have recording of Beethoven's third symphony?

Which brings me elegantly to the purpose of this rant, and indeed the purpose of this whole series of features.

Artists, generally, don't need charity. Artists just need a little bit of attention and encourage­ment, sometimes. Well, usually they can also do with a bit of extra cash, but hey, we are not talking starvation or homelessness here. No cute round eyed babies. Just a bunch of people who are, every one who has been featured here, talented, hard working, intelligent and driven, and who (in most cases, anyhow) could have chosen to spend the time they invest in honing their skills and creating, some other way - lazing at the beach perhaps, or playing the career game in their day job.

None of the people I have featured here – as far as I am aware – is able to make a living solely from their art. Some are working on it, others haven't quite got up the self confidence yet to think they might succeed. None of them is "famous" – however precisely we measure that. But they all are serious enough not only to continue putting out considerable quantities of interesting and original work, but also, to work on getting it "out there". These days, this usually means, selling things on the internet.

So, if you are contentedly digesting your pre-Christmas shopping spree, and perhaps, hobbit- fashion, feel like "filling out the corners" – here are some things that are not only eminently worth buying, but would also make someone very happy if you did.

I give you — the first ever "Cool Things Friends Do" Christmas feature!!! ::: round of cheering and applause :::

First up, a fellow Wellingtonian: Brendan's work first caught my attention on Deviantart, several years back. Since then, he has come along in leaps and bounds: he's had a few shows, travelled the world, and created a massive body of work, most of them street scenes and city scapes. I like that he doesn't romanticize things. To my mind, his most successful paintings are not the obvious tourist attractions, but the completely ordinary snapshots of a completely ordinary part of town. His images of Central Wellington, especially, truly capture the feel of walking through those city streets, here, now, in the early 21th century. Traffic, advertisements, and all.

Brendan has his own website www.brendangrantartwork.com, and sells his prints on Trademe

Monument Tipping calendar by Grace Ogawa Dragons over Tuscany calendar by Grace Ogawa SW USA photo calendar by Stéphanie Noverraz

Art calendars © Grace Ogawa ::: photo calendar © Stéphanie Noverraz

Calendars! Everyone needs a good calendar. Or maybe two? I was seriously tempted to buy one of Grace Ogawa's calendars, featuring her fantastically fantastic illustrations of various self-invented fantasy realms, or her painted account of a recent trip to Tuscany (complete with dragons) – but I couldn't decide which! Grace is one of those people who do it all themselves: she makes up her own stories for her paintings (or the other way round?) and is currently working on a complete WebManga, AngelDevil - which can be purchased here.

Stéphanie Noverraz's photos from her trip (or several trips, I think) to the South-West of the USA are truly spectacular. I actually bought a calendar with her illustrations a couple of years ago (and treasure it) - but now, it seems, she has decided to focus more on her photography. She is currently travelling in New Zealand, and I expect to see her over an Indian dinner in a few day's time (not the first time, either - the seeing, or the Indian dinner). Have a look at her Deviantart gallery, where she also sells single prints of her photos (including quite a few from her several travels through New Zealand).

Hood in the Wood greeting card by InKibus Silver and Gold greeting card by InKibus customized US postal stamps by InKibus Knight who says Ni and Rabbit costume by InKibus

Photos and costume © InKibus

After calenders comes cards: Alana Schmitt, aka InKibus, has some very beautifully wintery ones for sale in her Zazzle store. When I read her address, I am never sure if "Green Wood" is a place name, or just that - a piece of woodland. Judging from her photos, probably the latter! Well, it would be green, in summer.

If you are living in the US, you might want to try her customized US postal stamps! I know I would, if I did. Or if you are into something a bit more adventurous - Alana is quite a skilled costumer, and might just be able to whip you up the Halloween costume of your life. Her specialty: The Mouth of Sauron. Oh, and in case you wondered: she also breeds rabbits. :D

The Butterfly Effect by Monika Baum Swiss Army Knife by Monika Baum Frohe Weihnachten by Monika Baum

Images © Monika Baum

I am not usually a big fan of Art on Mugs, but I think Monika Baum's ethereal design "The Butterfly Effect" might just work. Yes, that is the butterly that causes a hurricane. Very apropos – maybe I should get myself that mug! If mugs are not your thing, the design is also available as a postcard. And look at that beautiful Christmas card design she has made! Frohe Weihnachten.

Antikimena - Steampunk pendant, model 4.1 by DragonladyCH Antikimena - Steampunk pendant, model 2.1 by DragonladyCH Antikimena - Steampunk brooch, model 3.1 by DragonladyCH Silver Tree by DragonladyCH

Jewellery designs © DragonladyCH

No Christmas feature of things artists sell on the internet could be complete without some jewellery. Steampunk jewellery, at that! I have featured DragonladyCH's illustration work in a previous newsletter – and in a way, her jewellery is also illustration. The "Antikimena" series of Steampunk artifacts is inspired by the author Tim Powers, who has also given his endorsement of the series. Or if you wanted something a bit more Tolkien-themed, "Silver Tree" might be the thing for you!

I bought myself one of DragonladyCH's pendants for Christmas - as a piece of good luck, because I am a firm believer in the principle that "what goes around, comes around", and of course, because it is a beautiful piece. I might have found something more flash looking for much less money at the Warehouse, but hardly something that is so truly unique, or would have the same significance. Here's to friendship!

Ice charging by Juri N. Christmas Counter by Juri N. Niguliste Church by Juri N. The time contrast by Juri N.

Photos © Juri N.

Some little while ago, I bought this photo of Tallinn, Estonia, from a fellow Deviant. Juri N. specializes in HDR (high dynamic range) photography – a superimposition of photos taken with a range of different exposures, which makes it possible to capture detail throughout the full range of lights and darks. Strangely, the result makes those photos look rather like paintings! I suppose, adjusting the exposure is what a painter does automatically and instinctively – it is only the photo camera that has taught us about things like overexposure, or lens flare. I think some of his photos are also patched together from photos taken from slightly different angles - which would account for the strange sense of distortion. However it is done, it is pretty cool stuff! Treat yourself to some expressionist HDR photography from Estonia, and impress your dinner guests! :D

Finally: Ekaterina Shemyak is another artist I have featured previously. We hooked up, also on Deviantart, when she was preparing a show in honour of Ursula Le Guin's 80th birthday, with some artist friends in Moscow, and I was working away on my series of Earthsea illustrations. Much of her work is fantasy themed: she has some beautiful Tolkien illustrations in her gallery, and occasionally makes up her own unique creatures. Most of her works are monotypes, a printing process which creates only one unique print from each plate.

Reproductions of those original prints are available from her Deviantart gallery.

From: Brendan. Submitted 7 January 2011 1:50 pm NZDT

Hey Asni, thanks for the feature! Great newsletter! and happy new year to you!

From: Asni. Submitted 7 January 2011 2:29 PM NZDT

Cheers mate, and the same to you! Keep up the good work. :)

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A Christmas Carol for You

Last but not least: A merry Christmas to you all! Or as the case may be, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Lithe, Midsummer or Sunreturn. And all the best for the new year 2011!

Last year, I swore I would never sing in public again (not even recorded, not even over the internet), but this year, I couldn't resist - so here's another old German Christmas carol for you: Es kommt ein Schiff geladen, just uploaded to my Reverbnation profile. If you thought old German Christmas carols are boring... well, have a listen, and judge (just please don't judge me on my singing) ;)

Arohanui, from Asni

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