Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nifty exercise in writing and interpretation. I just found this website One Word, where you're given one minute to write whatever you want about one word. It's an exercise in trying not to over-think things (which is how I spend my entire life). Here's what I just wrote.


He tried not to think about his friends – what they were doing right now, pushing through the crowd, the heat. He knew his role and he was going to play it. He felt bulky and ungainly as he made his way up the steps to where the flag snapped in the breeze, his fingers at his waist, feeling for the switch.

Bit naff, I know. Here's what other people wrote about the same word.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I can count on one hand the things I know about Torchwood. The second post in a series, the first being about Ryan Adams. I'm always inspired to ponder how little I know about a pop-cultural phenomenon when it's something that other people tend to get really excited and obsessive about. Hence, Torchwood. Here are the things I know about it.

1. It is a TV spin-off of Doctor Who.
2. It is set in Cardiff.
3. There is a motley crew of people involved, led by someone called Captain Jack (but not Captain Jack Sparrow).
4. Captain Jack is handsome and wears a dark-coloured military-style overcoat.
5. He sleeps with men and hence is a queer icon.

And there you have it: the sum total of my knowledge of Torchwood. If I stretched my synapses to their limits, I could come up with a bit more:

6. There is something supernatural and/or extraterrestrial about the nature of the motley crew's activities.
7. I think Torchwood is an 'Institute', which implies some kind of official status and/or funding.

Okay: now for the fun part: seeing if I was right! Yes – the Torchwood Institute "deals mainly with incidents involving extraterrestrials". Its authority seems to come straight from the top, having been established by Queen Victoria but yet enjoying a status "beyond the UN".

There is a branch office in Cardiff because there is a space/time rift there. Okay. BUT WHAAA – Wikipedia describes Captain Jack Harkness as "an immortal ex-con man from the distant future who has lived on Earth since the 19th century". So far, it seems to be a bit like Men in Black, but more steampunky.

Here is Captain Jack in his dark-coloured military-style overcoat, with members of his motley crew. He's pretty handsome, all right.

Oh but UGHHH – it was intended to be in the spirit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that inane, self-important show that everyone else likes but me. I think this both explains its popularity among a certain segment of people I know, and also reassures me that it is quite all right to leave my knowledge of Torchwood right there.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's okay you guys, Graham is home! Just before, I was doorknocking the neighbourhood. I had made flyers in Microsoft Word because I lost my Photoshop when my computer was stolen over Easter. It is pretty hard to make a two-up flyer in Microsoft Word.

Anyway, so most people are away for the long weekend, but this one lady answers her door and she says, "I think I have your cat!" AND SHE DID IT WAS GRAHAM THAT SHE HAD.

He had jumped into her lightwell garden – the sort that's walled in on all sides but has an open roof – and couldn't get out. He was pressed into a corner and wouldn't come out, but he came out as soon as I called him.

Now he is sitting on my study floor as if nothing had happened and he hadn't caused me this terrible amount of stress and heartache. Also now I feel super embarrassed about being so sad before.

Now I can get on with my uni marking, which has to be done by Tuesday.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I am totally devastated right now. Graham, my boon companion, pillow-percher and inspiration for my stupid cat songs, went missing on Thursday morning. I let him out shortly before 10am and when I got home at around midday he was nowhere to be seen, and he hasn't come back!

I have walked around the neighbourhood several times, day and night, calling his name and jingling my keys. Graham was classically conditioned to associate that sound with me, as he'd come running when he heard me on the front porch fumbling my keys to find the right one to let myself in.

That's the thing – Graham would always eventually come running when he heard me call his name, or any one of the various shameful nicknames I bestowed on him, which include "Puff" and "McGra". Or even me clicking my tongue like Skippy. It is also really unlike him not to show up to be fed, and he has never stayed away overnight before.

I have put posters all around the neighbourhood, and my kind friends have circulated messages on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Even though well-meaning people tell me that cats always do this, and cite real-life cases where the cat came back after more than a week, or even after months, I can't help thinking I won't see Graham alive again. Ever since I got Graham I have always worried about him dying or going missing, and kept the worry stuffed deep down because of the shame of being seen openly to care about my cat, but that hasn't stopped me from feeling absolutely distraught now that it has actually happened.

Even thinking about him makes me cry. Or seeing the tufts of fur on the carpet, or his bowl, still with dry Whiskas in it that I poured out for him on Thursday morning, or the marks he left by rubbing his cheek on the edge of the shelf where his food is stored. Even his litter box makes me cry. Every morning when I wake up and remember he is gone, I feel so sad and empty.

It is so shameful to be a single woman who loves her cat, but I am so sad I don't care how embarrassing the following recording is, as it's my only record of Graham miaowing. Typically, he interrupted me as I was trying to do some work – in this case, testing the sound levels on my iPhone so I could use it as a dictaphone:

Graham interrupts voice recorder test by incrediblemelk

And here is the last photo I took of him, the other day, as he gnaws on my hand, triple-threat style.

What if these scars are all I have to remember him by?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Irony and aesthetics (NSFW). I am thinking about former UK politician David Miliband, who invited the media into his home and then became a laughingstock because of an ugly painting on his living-room wall, which it turned out his wife Louise had given him for his 40th birthday.

It seems so English to me to see snobbish newspaper headlines such as "David Miliband's awful painting: what it tells us".

The painting is offensive to aesthetes because it pastiches Matisse's La Danse in a watered-down, middlebrow way, because it is the handiwork of Michelle Dovey, a London yummy mummy, and also because it clearly gives the Milibands pleasure despite this.

I'm thinking about the Miliband Painting because tonight I was browsing on eBay and stumbled across the work of Darling Downs artist Lynne Pickering. I find her work hilariously bad, but also mesmerising.

Enormous Kitten Abstract

Rainy Day Abstract

Enormous Large White Cow

Massive Ned Kelly

Mother and Child in Flowers

And I feel guilty about my own aesthetic snobbery. How come Sidney Nolan's similarly crappy paintings of Ned Kelly get to be national treasures and Lynne Pickering's don't? How come Picasso and Modigliani get to draw wonky heads on people and it's called a bold signature style?

There are lots of issues about gender and professionalism circling around both Dovey and Pickering. You would never find a 'serious' artist selling their works on eBay; the gallery system gives them industry validation. Also, mastery of technique and visual language is constructed as the result of formal artistic training, despite the odd Henri Rousseau slipping into art history.

What's especially poignant about these kinds of bad artworks is how much they cling to and reference venerable (and even anachronistic) artistic traditions. Compare them to the conceptual, minimalist, installation or media art that attract esteem and serious discussion. There's something lovely and honest in Pickering's unambiguous faith in painting as an artform.

The Museum of Bad Art also treads a line between ironic and sincere appreciation: an inclination to laughter and an affection for the artist's effort. Can we hold both ideas in our heads simultaneously? The museum volunteers clearly care about preserving the evidence of artistic ambition, however hilariously failed that ambition is, and they do so in the language of art curatorship. Here is a recent acquisition, Ronan the Pug by Erin Rothgeb:

A while ago I discovered a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Terrible Art. This plumbs the appalling art posted online, and so most of it is really inept manga, a disturbing amount is erotic fan art, and an even more disturbingly large chunk involves furries.

'Terrible' in this case is about subject matter as well as technique. Somehow, the worst part about this one is that it's not even Donatello – it's Michelangelo! And click through, if you dare, to see an anthropomorphic Nazi alsatian being sucked off, or perhaps Steve Irwin getting a 'death blow' from a stingray.

There is always something poignant about a passionate fan's struggle to accurately capture the physiognomy of his or her favourite celebrity, which leaves the casual observer able to recognise the subject and yet cackle cruelly at the poverty of the likeness.

This is meant to be Hugh Laurie in House!

This is not the original Fuck Yeah Terrible Art blog. Tumblr shut down the previous one because it provided links to the artists who unwittingly contributed their work. FYTA readers then trolled the artists, who complained to Tumblr, who shut down the blog.

So you can see that to maintain even the most appalled, ironically distanced appreciation of bad art, you need to maintain a certain respect for the artists.

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