Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ephemeral on exhibition

I knew there was a reason why I didn't post the rest of the "Ephemeral" series... Actually no, it was just me exercising my natural gift for procrastination, but now I'm glad I didn't because they're forming part of a kinda-emergency exhibition at Trent Gallery where I work. So, if you're free on Saturday come by and see my six views of the same still life, along with some amazing work by the talented Freddie Claassen. After that I'll post them all up here so everyone can see them.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


A little while back I was planning a small series of work to send to The Art of Silver, a gallery / shop in Cullinan (here's the Facebook page). Anyway, they wanted skulls, and flowers, and maybe other things, but definitely skulls and flowers. So I was thinking, which is dangerous, because often I start thinking and forget to stop, and then I don't do anything because I'm thinking about it too much. And then a bit later I was in the bath reading a book about ancient Greek philosophy (you can tell I wrote this entire blog post just to let you know that I read Greek philosophy in the bath, can't you?)

And I read that the ancient Greeks were obsessed with the idea of permanence. What, if anything, was permanent? And what was transient? And I jumped out of the bath yelling "Eureka!" and made that the theme of this series.

Now, I know skulls can be seen as a bit morbid, but try not to see it that way when you look at these pictures, if you can help it. I know that to be Serious Artist you need to deal in death, mutilation and sex, preferably all at the same time, but these skulls and bones aren't supposed to symbolise death except indirectly. My work with skulls is informed by my background in archaeology, and usually refers to the past and what remains of it.

Here the skulls and bones represent permanence in the material world, and more broadly, non-living matter. The whole series is about the question of what is more permanent: the material (represented by the bones) or the immaterial (life, and the patterns passed on in the genes). The title of the series is "Ephemeral".


That's what this first one is about; the title refers to the "covenant" that non-living matter enters into (yes, anthropomorphising here!) when it agrees to come together for a while in set patterns to form a living creature. The rabbit's hipbones are the non-living matter, and the flower represents life - I used the most ethereal and fragile-looking one I could find. The arrangement of the flower making a division between the two sides of the animal refers to the Ancient Near Eastern tradition of formalising a covenant by cutting an animal in half longitudinally and walking between the halves. After the duration of the covenant is over, the life sometimes leaves its imprint in the non-living matter, in the form of bones that remain, and that may then become fossils which are even more permanent. It seems that the question is resolved, and that non-living matter lasts much longer than life does. But what about the descendants of that rabbit? In all likelihood, they will still be living and reproducing (like rabbits) long after those bones crumble to dust.


Ha ha, I made a pun. I have a sad addiction to the lowest form of humour. "Temporal" means having to do with time, temporary, not eternal. But it also refers to the sides of the head (up there, the sticking-out bits behind the eye sockets.) The watch is set to 5am (the "eleventh hour") of antiquity, and the alarm hand to 11, in honour of the last minute before the deadline - the only time I ever do anything. That is not an exaggeration.


"Arrangement" - I have arranged the bones neatly and formally, in reference to the way the molecules of non-living matter are arranged according to the blueprints of DNA to temporarily form a living creature. I wish I had a more creative title!

Prey (Ambition)

I've left my favourite till last. This one is about the other way that the matter making up a living creature gets recycled (cue Lion King music here). It is a tribute to the display in the Ditsong Museum of Natural History that has a taxidermy owl posed on top of a mountain of all the birds, rats, insects and so on that one owl eats in a year. I think it's a year, I haven't seen it for a while. The museum was the ULTIMATE TREAT for me when I was a child, besides the zoo of course. I still remember clearly how my parents let me choose what we would do for some special occasion, and how buzzing with excitement I was at the thought of going to the museum! Anyway, this is an African Scops Owl, and he was a little bit over-ambitious thinking he could eat a whole rabbit by himself. I just love his little face to bits! I want to do more owls. 

Anyway, that's it for now. The last 6 in the series are much more closely linked; it's just one still life viewed from different angles over time, and I will make them another post.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Life lessons from doge

Today I took my dog to the vet to be spayed, and learned a valuable life lesson about the Internet.


Most important things first: Kaori is home and running around as if absolutely nothing happened, so that's cool. She's a little mini tank, NOTHING bothers her, she's like the honey badger. 

Yeah OK we get it, I hear you saying, you think your dog is so great. Well, I'll have you know, my dog is not just great, she's the greatest. She is objectively the best dog in the world. Sorry not sorry, joking not joking. The vet thinks so too. I love my vet because he loves my dog. Mostly because she stoically ignores all injections and similar indignities rather than trying to murder him, but also because she's a seriously beautiful dog. He was telling me, when I picked her up this afternoon, that "all" (direct quote), I repeat, all the people who came in to fetch their pets from the recovery area were staring at her. Because she's the best dog in the world. All right, I'll stop bragging and get to the point. They were looking at her and saying "That's a beautiful dog... what is it?"

That's also what the vet said when he first met her. And both the vet's receptionists. And the people in the waiting room. And I'm really used to it, because wherever I go with her we get the same reaction: that's a beautiful dog. What is it? And because my dog is the best dog in the world I never get tired of saying, she's a Shiba Inu. S.H.I.B.A. New word. I.N.U. It's a Japanese breed. Inu means dog. You can just call it a shiba. No, she doesn't mind the heat at all, she has a long nose. Yes, her fur is really soft. No, it wouldn't be a good idea to shave her. I LIKE people asking the same questions and making the same comments because hey, I've got an unusual dog, I chose to get an unusual dog, I love my dog, and I enjoy talking to people about her. 

I'm really used to people asking me what she is - there have been maybe two people ever who have seen her and said "is that a Shiba Inu"? - but it was only today that it actually struck me: No one knows what she is. Not one of these people in the vet's office, at the farmer's market, in the physical world I inhabit, has come up to me and "Doge! Shibe! Shiba Inu Puppy Cam! That Jezebel article saying no one should get a Shiba ever!"

Real life is not the Internet. 

                                such profound
     so revelation

I am being a hundred per cent serious here. What I mean is not that the human interaction that occurs on the Internet is not real - it is absolutely real. And I don't mean that my online friends aren't my real friends, they are. What I mean is that I have had it brought home to me, profoundly and through the medium of Doge, that the generalised other that I have been living with lately and which has caused me a great deal of pain, is simply not representative of the people I interact with every day (online or in the physical world). And that has made me breathe one great big sigh of relief.

The Generalised Other (also known as Everybody) is a concept that I came across reading Martha Beck. There's a decently comprehensive article on the idea here. The short version is: My - and your - idea of what "everybody" thinks (and especially what they think of us) is an artificial construct that each of us forms from the stated opinions of only a very few actual people or groups - maybe about 5 or 6. My Everybody, for the last while, has been "everybody on the Internet", which means a composite of the most vocal denizens of the corners of the Internet that I choose to frequent, and this Everybody is seriously pissed off at me

She doesn't like me because I'm privileged (even though she falls into exactly the same group that I do). She's an extremely accomplished scientist who thinks I'm an idiot and a bad feminist for not going into an STEM field, a loser for being an artist, and a terrible oppressor for using the word "idiot". She thinks I'm rather stupid to believe in God, though she doesn't really berate me for it too often. She does berate me for having bought a dog from a breeder, because good people only have rescue dogs. She also side-eyes me for having a Japanese breed - she thinks that might just constitute cultural appropriation although she has conceded it's a borderline case. She thinks pretty much everything else in my life constitutes cultural appropriation. She lives in America. She really, really does not like me. She thinks my very existence is illegitimate and that the world would be a lot better off if I were to simply disappear. She thinks I should probably become a vegan. She says that my friends and co-workers are figments of my imagination, I am making them up, or perhaps I have intimidated them into pretending to think I am an acceptable human being. She looks exactly like me. She sadly wonders why I do not ask every new acquaintance their preferred pronouns before entering into a conversation. She thinks that maybe it is because I just don't care. 

I care, I care so much, and that's why she lives in my head, telling me that I'm a bad, bad person. Not all the time, but some of the time, my Generalised Internet Other makes my life a misery. I know very well that her opinions are not held by the majority of actual human beings. I know that I have invented her out of a combination of what I'm afraid people are thinking of me, not what they actually think of me. 

I also know that there are real people out there who do actually subscribe to those opinions. My boss, for instance, definitely thinks I should be a vegan. My sister thinks people shouldn't keep any exotic pets, like fish, and I do. But they don't yell at me, or "call me out" or think I'm an all-round rotten human being. They're just people. We have differences of opinion, and that's OK. 

What I learned today from my dog's hysterectomy is this: No one in the vet's office knows what Doge is. My co-workers do not know that I should not be wearing the geometric pattern on my T-shirt. The people I meet at an art opening do not know that I should be asking them their preferred pronouns. My husband does not know that we should never sleep together when one of us has been drinking alcohol, even though we are married - and I'm never going to tell him, either. And if they don't know these things, they are not judging me according to them. Real life is not the Internet. 

When I walk down the road with Kaori people say 
"That's such a beautiful dog, what is it?"
They don't say 
"Doge! Shiba Inu Puppy-Cam!"
They don't say
"I read a Jezebel article saying that no one should get a Shiba"
They don't say 
"You are bad for buying and not adopting"
They don't say
"You are culturally appropriating from Japan, you are a racist"
They don't say
"I don't like you and you are a bad person"
They don't say 
"Be grateful for the callout"

I have a Shiba Inu. She's the best dog in the world. I bought her from a breeder because I wanted a Shiba Inu and not any other dog. She's a Japanese breed of dog and I named her "Kaori" which means "perfume" or "smell" in Japanese. That's funny because she looks like a fox and foxes are smelly, but I chose the name mostly because it sounds nice. I don't speak Japanese. I am not Japanese, but I have a purebred Shiba Inu named Kaori, and she is the best dog in the world, and I am not ashamed.