Friday, September 30, 2011

Science Reading List

I'd better schedule a trip to the library. (Redondo Beach Main Library)

Every year over the last decade, I've made a point of reading nonfiction books on scientific topics. My academic background is in the liberal arts and fine arts. Science was not a subject in which I excelled. I grew tired of being totally ignorant about a vitally important aspect of modern life. So, I began a long, informal process of self-education in the sciences.

The Royal Society Winton Prize shortlist is one source of input that I use to sharpen my science literacy. The nominees for 2011 were recently announced.

Here's the list:

Woo hoo!!! Looks like some fun reading is in my future. ;-)


Friday Flowers: Lotus and Water Lilies

Yellow Lotus among the lily pads at the Water Garden at Suiho-en.

The Old Pond
(By Basho, trans. Fumiko Saisho)

The old pond--
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

While visiting the Japanese Garden, I took more than a few photos of the gorgeous lilies and lotuses in the flower pond. Heck, I was tempted to grab my sketching supplies and draw some en plein air pieces. But it was infernally hot, so I contented myself with camera work.

Pink waterlily

Thank goodness for sunblock. ;-)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Garden of Water and Fragrance

Suiho-en: View of the Shoin Building from across the lake.

In the city of Van Nuys, there is a gorgeous Japanese garden, Suiho-en, the Garden of Water and Fragrance. It often baffles Angelenos as to why such a lovely place is hidden away in The Valley. For some curious reason, when the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant was planned, it included plans for a Japanese Garden. That's a peculiar conceptual combination, but it turned out to be an excellent idea. The esteemed garden designer, Koichi Kawana, created this lovely enclave of tranquility.

Southern California has many Japanese gardens, but I think this is my favorite. It's almost definitely the biggest. There are events held throughout the year, such as the origami convention that occurs in October.

In any case, a stroll through the garden is a relaxing experience. In theory, I prefer flower gardens, but, in practice, I always have a peaceful state of mind after walking around the lake.

Suiho-en: Karesansui, the dry garden

Although there are two odd things of note when visiting the garden. Because it is part of the Water Reclamation Plant, there is a security check point when entering the parking lot. I suppose they are worried that somebody might try to disrupt the Los Angeles water supply. Second, because it is adjacent to the reclamation facilities, on hot and muggy days there is occasionally an unpleasant scent in certain parts of the garden. In fact, if you have an interest, you can go up to the observation deck to look upon the water reclamation process. Personally, I don't have such an interest. ;-)

Between the Blocks and Buildings

Build Boom Bust (2011) by Brian Cooper

The Torrance Art Museum is currently showing Cities: Visionary Places, curated by Camilla Boemio and featuring a wide variety of artist. The premise is based upon the exploration of the Urban Streetscape as a source of aesthetic inspiration, be it from the Beautiful, the Banal, or the Sublime. The works range in style and form including video works alongside paintings and photography. I found it to be an interesting collection.

My favorite piece on exhibit is Jeremy Kidd's Ruby City 1, which offers upon a dream-like image of nocturnal downtown Los Angeles. The photo seems to portray a twisting space, imbued by a subtle crimson light. Without the presence of people within the weird urban scene, it has a haunting presence.

Detail of Ruby City 1 (2008) by Jeremy Kidd

I had recently seen some of Jeremy Kidd's work at the Leslie Sacks Contemporary show, Perception, in late June. His work really challenges the viewer's conceptions of spatial arrangement. They seem to lose their stability; the cityscape becomes "ungrounded."

But there are many other interesting pieces in this show.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Weekly Wrap: Wednesday Night #11

Aldebaran Nao robots dance at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Wow! This has been a productive week with fifteen posts on a wide variety of topics. There's no thematic rut that dominated the blog. I hit all my scheduled features, including the rescheduled Terror Tuesday. And I'm over 300 posts for the year!!!

I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. I hope you are as well. ;-)

Is there room for improvement? Yes, but I'm going to enjoy hitting my stride as a blogger for a little while before getting more ambitious with my writing. Once I establish both quality and quantity reliability, we'll try to expand the features of Paideia. It's going to be fun!!!

The Very Best of Julie London

So here are the week's topics:

We covered three art shows. Anne Veraldi's Plastic Rose series is exhibiting at dnj Gallery. Christopher Murphy's Forget That You Were Young is showing at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery. Finally, Tim Yankosky's Measure for Measure is on view at the George Billis Gallery. We also celebrated the birth date of Mark Rothko.

Our music features were not as dominant as in recent weeks but we did deliver on yet another monthly Dance Party of diverse songs from over the last four decades. Moreover, we celebrated the birth dates of the classic torch singer, Julie London, and the iconic "rocker chick" Joan Jett.

Our nature blogging was in full swing this week. Friday Flowers showcased some pretty plumbago. We visited a beautiful begonia show at South Coast Botanical. Finally, we ventured into the Madrona Marsh to admire the flora and fauna.

Terror Tuesday gave us the opportunity to view some funerary sculpture. I'm looking forward to offering some more classic ghost stories over the next month.

We celebrated the arrival of Autumn. Then we took note of National Bluebird of Happiness Day.

After a long hiatus, our review of commercials and ads returned with a look at the Verizon "Arena" ad. You can never go wrong with killer robots. However, dancing robots are more fun. ;-)

And last, we visited an obscure Los Angeles landmark, Rocketship Park. Good stuff!!!

Well, here's hoping that next week is even better than this one. And now it's time for our weekly dose of the weird and absurd.

You Get More Bees with Hammers (2011) by Christopher Murphy


Ready for Takeoff

Rocketship Park in Torrance

There are three areas that provide especially awesome views of the Los Angeles basin. The first is the Griffith Observatory, viewing the urban sprawl from the north. The second is the Getty Center, viewing from the northwest. And the third is Rocketship Park in Torrance, viewing from the south.

Aside from the view, the main attraction is the old "Rocketship" from 1960. It's a big, metal playground rocket, with a slide. I remember thinking it was the coolest slide EVER when I was a child. Not because it twisted or turned or was especially long. Rather, it was so exciting because it seemed as if you would go sliding down from the Palos Verdes heights into the city itself, at least within my youthful imagination. The slide faces a long, sloping cliffside with nothing between the rocket and the panoramic view of the Los Angeles urban sprawl.

Of course, the rocket is set far back from the cliff. Yet, for a child, it seems to be so amazingly close to the edge and so beautifully elevated over the city.

The rocketship was restored in 1993.

Given the constant rebuilding and devotion to novelty that characterizes LA, I'm constantly surprised that the rocket still stands. It was "dated" when I was a youngster and it's been a very long time since then. ;-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Malign Sentience of the Souless Stone

Tomb effigies of the Knights Templar, Temple Church, London

Have you every looked upon a funerary sculpture and imagined the horror that you would feel if it suddenly began to move? There is something vaguely disquieting about such statues and carvings. It's as if they are receptacles for the disembodied spirit of the restless dead. The body of flesh and blood may have decayed into nothingness, but that enduring stone figure presents a cold home for defiant, damned spirit.

And that's the premise of E. Nesbit's classic ghost story, Man-Size in Marble, written in 1893. A newlywed couple finds a delightful cottage, but it has a dreadful connection to the effigies of two knights, known for their maliciousness, entombed at the nearby church. And one night of the year, as local superstition would have it, the inanimate stone becomes animate.

This isn't the best of ghost stories. It's a predictable plot and has annoying characters. But the concept is delightfully chilling. Yeah, it's kind of a cheap thrill, but I always enjoy the dark visions that Man-Size in Marble conjures up in my imagination.

Effigy of Sir Richard Lee in St. Mary's Church, Acton Burnell, Shropshire (Photo by Tom Oates, 2009)

I read this story as a child. Nesbit was a writer of children's fiction. So, I had developed an interest in her stories. Wow! Her Tales of Terror gave me many a sleepless night. But it helped build the foundation for my lifelong explorations into ghostly fiction, both as a reader and as a writer. So, this tale has sentimental value for me. ;-)

Exploring the Madrona Marsh

The Madrona Marsh during the Dry Season of early Autumn on a dismal gray day.

The urban sprawl of Los Angeles hides many strange and hidden features. One of the most peculiar is the suburban wetlands of the South Bay, the Madrona Marsh. Yeah, just a couple miles from the stereotypical SoCal beaches is this primordial marshland, hidden between a shopping center and residential neighborhoods.

I'm a flower and plant enthusiast. So, I love heading over to take photos or botanical sketches. But I don't often head into the marsh proper. It isn't very big, but, when your inside of it, it feels as though you've entered a "transitional" space, a liminal area that doesn't quite synch up with the typical vibe of suburban LA life. But I'm not an "outdoors" type of person. I normally stay close to the Nature Center.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful place to visit. The plant life is gorgeous in its wild state, certain to please the flora fanatics. Likewise, birdwatchers can spot many a fine avian subject throughout the year. Bug hunters can also find a myriad selection of diverse species. In short, if you have an interest in ecology, then you ought to visit the Madrona Marsh.

The Madrona Marsh on a sunny day.

If you're interested in experiencing the wetlands but have no knowledge of what to expect or appreciate, then check out the Nature Center adjacent to the marsh.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Measuring Beyond Expectations

Detail of Monster Under My Bed (2011) by Tim Yankosky

Let me confess.

When I saw that the George Billis Gallery was exhibiting a series of works composed out of vintage measuring tapes upon panel, I had low expectations. It felt a bit gimmicky. The photographs at the gallery site didn't inspire much excitement either. However, art needs to be seen in person to be properly judged. So this exhibit of works by Tim Yankosky, "Measure for Measure," might be better than I was expecting, but I wasn't putting this show onto my "must see" list.

Last Saturday, I found myself walking north along La Cienega from the Moby photo exhibit at the Kopeikin Gallery on my way to see the KAWS show at Honor Fraser. About midway up the street is the George Billis Gallery. As I passed it by, my conscience started acting up, expressing disapproval of my unwillingness to even give "Measure for Measure" a cursory viewing. Well, I am a slave to my scruples. So I stopped in to take a look.

Wow! I was so wrong about this show.

The patterns of the different tapes create a compelling visual rhythm. It hints at abstract shapes that exists just beyond perception in the staccato space that is created by the contrasting color values. It's almost like a visual form of electronic voice phenomenon. On the surface, it's just a bunch of measuring tapes arranged in rows, but, when you open up your mind to the structure of the works, apophenia takes over. Yes, you might catch a hint of that monster lurking under the bed. ;-)

Chasing the Answers (2011) by Tim Yankosky

The numbers are also important compositional elements. They influence the way we perceive the work by capturing our attention and driving our eyes along the horizontal in either an ascending or descending numeric sequence. Since we are incapable of turning off our ability to recognize and follow numbers, it is an unconscious and involuntary manner of surveying the art. It's an effective way to keep the viewer engaged with the image.

Torch Songs

Julie London from the cover of Lonely Girl

Whenever I think of "torch songs" or the cool jazz/blues vocal standards of the '50s or early '60s, the performer that immediately comes to mind is Julie London. Her smooth and sultry voice defined the way "sexy" sounded in that era. Yeah, there were singers with greater vocal talents in terms of range or technique. But Julie had a special quality of sensuality and suggestion in her performance style.

Sometimes she would be warmly inviting. Sometimes she would be playful and mischievous. Sometimes she would passionately express her yearnings. Whatever the premise of the song, it was delivered with a melting seductiveness. Classy but coquettish, Julie was the Torch Singer.

Julie London was born on September 26, 1926.

And so we celebrate Julie London's music today on what would have been her 85th Birthday. We still carry a torch for her. ;-)

Killer Robots of the Arena

Verizon's ad "Arena" features a cool action sequence with KILLER ROBOT!!!!!

Normally, I hate ads that pass themselves off as some type of action movie. They usually are cheap flash and pointless mayhem that fail as a "teaser" and fail to get the product message to the consumer. Moreover, there is a sense of overcompensation that I get from such ads. It is as if the design team would rather be working in "real" movies and are using the commercial to show that they've got the talent to deliver on "Hollywood" material.

But the biggest complaint I have is just the pure stupidity of the concept. Most "action" ads have no narrative connection to the product that they are promoting. At best, the product makes a cameo somewhere along the way, like a car that is driven away at the end. And, unless you're constantly reminding the viewer like Erin Esurance's "Quote, Buy, Print," they'll just remember the commercial as a series of high adrenalin hijinks.

But Verizon's "Arena" ad that promotes the Droid Bionic does the job right. The protagonist is in a gladiatorial conflict with a series of killer robots from which she creates the product. Moreover, the robot theme goes perfectly with the product name. It's easy to remember this commercial because of the dramatic action and it's easy to remember the product that it is promoting.

Mini Radiocon is ready for its turn in the Arena

If there's a flaw in this commercial, it is that it doesn't really make a sell as to why the consumer would want the Droid Bionic. It's working purely off of the cool factor. Who wouldn't want a smartphone built from the remains of killer robots? ;-)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beauty and Begonias

Begonia: Lomita Lady

Yeah, I went to another flower show at the South Coast Botanic Garden. The starring attraction this time was the beautiful begonia. I was a bit surprised to realize that I have never been to a begonia show. Orchids, roses, tulips, fuchsias, dahlias, magnolias, these are flowers that I've seen showcased on numerous occasions. But somehow begonias fell off of my "to see" list. Well, now I've got that box checked off. ;-)

I'm not a gardener. Most of my botanical knowledge comes from drawing and painting flowers. And it turns out that I've never even sketched a begonia. So this show was a totally new experience for me. It was very interesting.

Begonia: Achimenes "Jennifer Goode"

Here are some more begonias to brighten your day.

An Anecdote of the Spirit

Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, USA.

Mark Rothko was born on this date in 1903. He is generally classified as an abstract expressionist painter, although he did not approve of such a classification. I view his work as being closer in spirit to the post-painterly work of later color field artists, such as Helen Frankenthaler. The essence of Rothko's work is the exploration of color in rectangular compositions, multiforms, and their representation of emotional or spiritual states.

To be honest, I was disdainful of Rothko's work in my youth. His paintings looked like vague blocks of random colors to my untrained eye. Certainly, some were attractive in a meaningless decorative manner. Other were obscure and ugly. But I felt no significance behind these random color globs.

Then I heard Morton Feldman's 1971 composition Rothko Chapel, inspired by titular building in which fourteen black paintings by Rothko are featured. In Feldman's music, I could feel the spiritual significance of the paintings. The drifting rhythms and indeterminate compositional style of the music captured the profound apophatic aesthetic that Rothko was expressing.

Orange and Yellow (1956) by Mark Rothko

So I "got" Rothko. But I still didn't adore him. My disdain was replaced by respect, but his work was still not my thing. Then I took a trip to Washington DC. Among the things I wanted to see during this trip was Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection. The Renoir was absolutely amazing, putting me into a positive state of mind and full of aesthetic contemplation. And then I wandered into the nearby Rothko Room. In my receptive state of mind, the psychological intensity of the paintings hit me like a lightning bolt.

I felt like a new type of cognition had been opened in my mind.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

September Dance Party

KC and the Sunshine Band scored a #1 hit with (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty

It's time to celebrate a month's worth of music. Honestly, September can be really hit or miss over the years. So, this month's selections will be all over the place. We even have a country classic from Tammy Wynette for our dance party. Yee haw!!!

So hold on to your hats and glasses. . . And get down on it!!!

Crystal Waters' Makin' Happy was a chart topper in September 1991

And now for some music.

Bluebird of Happiness

Blue Jay (2007) by Vern Hesketh

Today is National Bluebird of Happiness Day!!!

I don't really know why. It's just another odd celebration day, like Frankenstein Day or Teddy Bear Day. Who comes up with these ideas? Anyways, since I have some photos of this cool woodcarving by Vern Hesketh, I figured we would celebrate Bluebird of Happiness Day here at Paideia. ;-)

And here are some words from the song to lighten your day:

You will find
Greater peace of mind
Knowing there's a bluebird of happiness

And when she sings to you
Though you're deep in blue
You will see a ray of light creep through

And so remember this
Life is no abyss
Somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness.

Blue Jay (2007) by Vern Hesketh

Such lovely lyrics for a lovely bird. ;-)

Fractured Reflections from Bygone Days

Chomp (2011) by Christopher Murphy

Do you ever look back at your youthful days and shudder with embarrassment at the stupid things you did? Or recoil with chagrin at the awkward situations in which you got involved? When your mom or an elderly aunt opens up her photo album from the days of your childhood, does it feel like they are about to reveal conclusive evidence of your undeniable folly? That's the type of vibe that I get from Christopher Murphy's exhibit "Forget That You Were Young" showing at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Bergamot Station.

These paintings capture life's absurdities, moments that the subject might prefer letting slip away into the fog of distant memory. After all, would we really want that time we took a hammer to a beehive to be documented for future mockery? Or how about that time you botched an attempt for the "Coolest Dive Ever" and the photo snapped just as you realized it wasn't going as planned? Or just being wildly inappropriately dressed for the situation?

Future Vegetarian (2011) by Christopher Murphy

Yet, there is a nostalgia to these images. They may be depicting times and situations that we wish didn't happen, but, since they did, are they really better off forgotten? Aren't the humiliating moments of our lives part of that which built our character?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Flowers: Autumn's First Post

Plumbago Capensis, also known as Cape Leadwort (South Africa)

Autumn Movement
(By Carl Sandburg)

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman,
     the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things
     come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go,
     not one lasts.

Well, I had promised some orchids, but I thought to change it up. We'll share the orchid photos with you all eventually, but how's about some lovely leadwort? Got to love the protocarnivorous plants. ;-)

Plumbago Capensis (Plumbaginaceae)

Why would anyone name such pretties something as unattractive as leadwort?

New Beautiful Things Come

An Italian Autumn (1844) by Thomas Cole

Summer passes without giving the South Bay much of a visit this year. Our marine layer has started each morning with a gray ceiling that lasts deep into the day. From early May to this September morning, the Gloom blots out the sky. Oh well, let's hope that Autumn clears away the mists.

Folks foreign to the Californian climate will scoff at the notion of a "seasonal" change in Los Angeles. They claim that it is always summer here. Always green and without color. Well, it's true that we don't get the intense reds, oranges, and browns that characterize much of the rest of the States. However, the Fall subtly creeps into the trees and gardens. The bird songs and animal activities gradually alter. It's a slow walk into the darkness of Winter.

This isn't my favorite season. But I'll keep my complaints to a minimum. ;-)

Autumn (1896) by Alphonse Mucha

And we can't pass up the opportunity to post another Mucha beauty.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wrapped in Plastic

Blimp (2007) by Anne Veraldi

While I was visiting Bergamot Station last Saturday, I was able to catch an opening at dnj Gallery of Anne Veraldi's Plastic Rose series. In essence, it's a photographic series of toys wrapped in plastic bags. The plastic works as an obscurement device, a filter, through which the details of the subject are muted, resulting in a dream-like image that provokes uncertainty in the viewer as to the actual nature of the subject. Is it a real blimp or a toy? With the detail made vague, the answer is not immediately obvious.

Moreover, the use of toys as the subject of the photos evokes a sense of childhood fantasies. With the ambiguity of the subject's nature, the childlike ability to imagine a toy as the actuality that it represents is recreated in the viewer. It's a skill that most adults have left behind as they've matured beyond the desire to play "make believe" with toy vehicles, dolls, or soldiers. Therefore, the reactivation of this cognitive ability provokes both a sense of amusement and of nostalgia from the viewer.

It's a simple concept, but it elicits a deceptively complex emotional response.

Rider (2007) by Anne Veraldi

The plastic serves as a filter, but it also functions as the space in which the subjects exist. It suggests the terrain features, environmental effects, and spatial reality of the subject's imaginary world. Additionally, the color and texture of the plastic inspire certain moods or "atmospheres" of emotion.

Bad Reputation

Joan Jett was born on September 22, 1958.

Let's wish a Happy 53rd Birthday to Joan Jett, one of my favorite ladies from the 1980s. ;-)

In the Los Angeles area of the early '80s, Joan Jett was the image of post-punk/pre-metal hard rock. Her music had insistent guitars and a hard-edged rhythm. And her style was the paradigm of rebellious, anti-authoritarian youth. In short, she was the essence of how an early '80s Rock musician should be.

Even now, her iconic look from back in the day is still the "quintessential rocker babe" in the nostalgic memory of popular culture.

Joan Jett performing in 2009

So let's send appreciative vibs to Joan for a Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weekly Wrap: Wednesday Night #10

Anna Netrebko as the title character of Donizetti's Anna Bolena

It's that time again when we review the past week and assess our blog quality. Well, I fell short of the 14 post goal. That's bummer. It was attainable but I just didn't put out the effort when it became inconvenient. However, I also didn't give into the temptation of tossing up some blog fluff. I'm satisfied with this week's posts in terms of quality.

But we did lean a bit hard on music related birth dates. Eh, that's fine with me. It's not as if we arranged a whole bunch of our favorite musical inspirations to be born in mid-September. ;-)

Another disappointment was the inability to put up a Spooky Sunday post. As I declared last week, we'll be migrating the theme to Terror Tuesday. Hopefully, with a lighter social schedule, I'll be more reliable in bringing the horror to you all. With Halloween coming up, now is the proper time to be diligent about ghostly delights.

Gray Whale Migration (1991) by Wyland

Let's look at this weeks posts.

We had a bunch of music celebrations including the birth dates of Cannonball Adderley, B.B. King, Hank Williams, Anna Netrebko, and Gustav Holst. Yeah, a bit of jazz, blues, country, opera, and orchestra. That's some variety!

Our art review schedule was attained this week. Our three posts were Koplin Del Rio's exhibit of DJ Halls "Kodak Moments", Thinkspace's group show of works by Aaron Nagel, Jeff Ramirez, and Jennifer Nehrbass, and, finally, LaBasse Project's display of Yoskay Yamamoto's "Picking Up Where We Left Off." Very good stuff!!!

Friday Flowers were Osa Pulchra. Then we visited an Orchid Show at the South Coast Botanic Garden.

Other locations that we visited were Wyland's Whaling Wall #31 "The Gray Whale Migration" in Redondo Beach and then Bergamot Station in Santa Monica where we observed an saucy image of Daphne Blake exposing herself in a most unladylike manner. ;-)

Yeah, I missed my goal of 14 posts and failed on Spooky Sunday, but, overall, it was a fun week. I hope you all enjoyed it. Here's our weird image of the week.

Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost (1999). Run, Daphne, Run!!!


Songs of the Celestial Beings

The Planets orbit the Sun.

I know we've been celebrating a lot of music related birthdays recently, but I've got yet another one for you. Gustav Holst was born on this date in 1874. His most famous composition is the orchestral suite, The Planets.

This work has served as a source of inspiration for many 20th century orchestral composers, most notably John Williams and his score for the Star Wars movies. Although it was written without a direct programmatic element, the inherent sense of drama that the music conveys seems to tell a story, like a tone poem. This has made it a paradigm to which modern soundtrack composers turn when arranging an orchestral score.

Holst felt a great deal of ambivalence towards The Planets. He was of the impression that it overshadowed all of his other works. That's a valid complaint. However, I'd say it dominates his compositions because it is it is by far and away his strongest piece of music. Heck, it's one of the most powerful works of the standard Classical repertoire.

Mars (Photo by NASA, J. Bell, M. Wolff)

My favorite part of the work is Mars: the Bringer of War. It's a wonderfully dramatic and strong piece that captures the "warrior" vibe.