pretty pretty #2

In Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons there is this whole thing about precious jewels and the pull, comparable to madness, that they have on people. The rocks in this story are a giant pile of emeralds and I will always remember the ending, where one of the characters gets to keep a single emerald as a sort of kindness on Poirot’s part and there is a great line about how all sorts of jewels are beautiful, but emeralds suit her the most, because green is the colour of magic. :B And it totally is. Green is also associated with water in western culture, especially deep, mysterious water. It is not a coincidence that the Hollywood remake of Dark Water is full of a murky, sickly, dangerous green:

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Incidentally, both the original Japanese and re-made Hollywood versions of Dark Water are great movies, and amazing haunted house stories. Really atmospheric and gloomy and sad.

In the early years of the 19th century, green was dangerous, because green paint mixtures  and green dyes were made using arsenic as a main ingredient, which provided the paint with a rich, emerald colour, but then also provided people with death. Green is obviously no longer the silent killer it once was, so thankfully for all of us, we can now enjoy the following photos in the privacy of our own homes and underwear, even if our houses don’t look like this themselves.

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domestic tick tock and lifestyle blogging

PoorPolly

I’m not a giant fan of house/lifestyle blogs a lot of the time because they seem to always just read as either an enormous shopping list, or a continuous ad. Plus the way the internet makes it easy for people to show only the parts they want you to see, and in the best possible light, is kind of exhausting. It’s not that interesting to read (or look at, lets be real) perfectly arranged snapshots of a very select part of someone’s life, even if it’s very pretty. And a lot of the time it’s very, very pretty. So if I am in the mood for some quality interior porn, I usually tend to turn to tumblr or Pinterest, because every picture in the cosmos will be right there at my fingertips, without needing to filter through unnecessary crap.

However! I do have a few home blogs I really like, and you can find them in the links section to the left, but what they have in common is this very intimate approach that doesn’t try and gloss over the dirty little bits of life that we all know exist. I like when people post about things they’re actually interested in, that have relevance to their everyday lives. When Meg Zandi of the really fun Radical Possibility made a post about re-arranging her living room and put up photos of every possible furniture arrangement she was thinking about, it hit this switch in my brain where I was like Yeees, This Is What Home Blogging Should Be About – I want to get a glimpse into your real home and the real way you live your (domestic) life. The images in the r/p post, or maybe the idea behind these images, are also oddly soothing. Like there is this domestic rhythm that everyone has in their lives, and it was cool seeing a concrete demonstration of a small part of that.

The final Radical Possibility living room - isn't it it lovely though?? Also see Meg's tutorial for the HELLO here.

The final Radical Possibility living room – isn’t it it lovely though?? Also see Zandi’s tutorial for the HELLO here.

Back at uni I read this great essay called The Aesthetics of Everyday Life by Michael Owen Jones and I keep coming back to the ideas in there whenever I think about the culture of blogging, particularly home/lifestyle blogging. The text starts of by detailing the everyday, household, personal rituals of the author’s friends, Norm and Jean Smith. This elaborate, anecdotal list of their preferences was really intriguing to me and it set an atmosphere of a really tidy, calm domesticity, with a definite sense of different rhythms of living during the course of a day. This kind of thing has always appealed to me because I really enjoy the idea of people doing little things every day that create a kind of contentment – little things that enrich a person’s life. And that’s really what I’m interested in seeing in lifestyle blogs; something really personal to the author and also genuine, without ulterior aesthetic and/or commercial motives.

Michael Owen Jones goes on to say that what the Smiths do is to actually produce art, because “art consists of behaviors and products considered special that generate an appreciative, contemplative response in the recipient.” Putting aside the fact that this is a pretty limiting statement, what art consists of, according to the author, is certainly what Norm and Jean do, and what most people do as well, whether they’re trained artists or not, just by making sensory-based decisions daily – what colour to wear, what food to eat for lunch, how to arrange their living space etc. It’s a very democratic viewpoint – everything is worthy of notice and aesthetic appreciation, even the everyday things we choose to do (and sometimes don’t even think about while doing them) because they make us feel more content. I like when a blog becomes an archive of these small decisions on the blogger’s part, particularly because a lot of it is so glamourised and magaziney instead.

The author goes on to state that “most folk-art belongs to ordinary day-to-day experiences.” The assumption being, of course, is that ‘real’ art is removed from, or above ordinary day-to-day experiences, which is not something I personally agree with.  However, even though what Norm and Jean do every day can be read as art in this way, I’m guessing few people would actually do so. The essay does pose the view, though, that Norm and Jean have achieved “formal perfection.” That is, they have succeeded in being able to create things every day based on sensory and aesthetic decisions that give them satisfaction and enrich their lives. And also probably prompt compliments by other people, meaning Norm and Jean’s (and Ms. Zandi’s etc) creations are also appreciated by others.  And that’s really nice imo. A life doesn’t have to be airbrushed and hidden behind screens – there can be something good and interesting in even the most mundane things, or to be honest, in even in the most nasty little stains (there is a lot of those in my own life, but yeah I can see why people don’t blog about them).

P.S. If you are interested in reading this essay, you can find it in the book Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics in American Vernacular Art edited by Charles Russel. The google books preview unfortunately doesn’t have those pages available for viewing, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find this book in your local library, uni library, or even on Amazon if you’re in a buying mood.

top 5 matisse interiors (imo)

5. Interior with a Goldfish Bowl, 1914matisse_interiorwithgoldfishbowlMatisse is one of the artists that just make me so happy that art exists. I feel satisfied just looking at his work and the colours and patterns etc. There’s that whole thing about the pleasure of painting and just basic visual pleasure, and Matisse epitomises that for me. Interior with a Goldfish Bowl was painted during the beginning of WWI at a time when Matisse was becoming more interested in Cubism and was making friends with Picasso and Juan Gris (as Spanish nationals, they were not subject to conscription, so remained in Paris). What I love the most about this painting is all the different blues in it and how tranquil it seems. Although he obviously uses certain Cubist concepts (rectilinear divisions, intersecting planes etc.) I really like how he doesn’t ~go all the way and we still get to be treated with this nice chunk of his studio. And those orange cigar fish lol.

4. The Black Fern, 1948
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Bright colour and pattern everywhere (dat spotted jaguar skin…). Love the scraggly paint application and the different approaches to the various parts of the painting. LOVE that black chunk of paint at the bottom in which he’s scratched his signature and the date (Venice, 1948 – and basically ~mattise waz here~). Many of Matisse’s late-life works are interiors that have been squished into one plane, so like in this one, although the floor and wall are separated through colour and pattern they share the same plane, so that the rectangular window showing a ‘view’ of some nice trees actually looks more like a painting itself. And that fern! It has more sass than the human figure in the painting.

3. My Room at the Beau-Rivage, 1917-18
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Apparently people were disappointed upon seeing the actual hotel room this painting depicts because it was nothing like Matisse’s inviting and cheery rendition. I like that he turned this default (and probs quite ugly) hotel room from something anonymous into a lovely painterly piece of candy. It’s just such an appealing and charming painting. It radiates light and colour and a kind of domesticated contentment.

2. The Pink Studio, 1911
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This was one of four massive paintings that were later named Matisse’s “grand symphonic interiors“… !!!! It’s a very all-over painting and the eye is free to move around at will and greedily suck everything up. There is definitely an aesthetic delight in this, like in so many of his other works. To me it seems very happy (that pink!), but I also like how he’s included so much of himself in it, even without depicting himself at all. Instead he shows us the things he was working on at the time. The book I was reading about him described it as a “parade” of his work in every medium and I think that’s totally fitting!

1. Harmony in Red, 1908
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This is my favourite painting of all time ever. That red with the electric blue… It’s pretty stubbornly two-dimensional, so everything seems to only just cling to the surface. Like I just want to reach in and pluck things out and eat them. Also the garden view could again be mistaken for a hanging painting. I personally really like the lovely, colouredy, patterny domesticity of this painting, but I learned that to draw attention away from the human element and the human action in the painting, Matisse renamed it Harmony in Red, to place emphasis on the formal elements of the painting, when it was originally called La Desserte – obviously referring to the figure placing fruit on the table. For me this painting basically defines the phrase ‘the pleasure of looking’ and fills me with happiness. It’s just full of painterly fizz. This was one of the paintings people living at the time really didn’t like (like much of the Fauvist works of many different artists), because it was too wild for them and thought of as ugly, but like whatever shows what they knew which is NOTHING.

edith amituanai and creating a home

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai is an Auckland-based artist whose photography I really admire. She’s still a really young artist and has achieved so much and consistently makes really interesting work. I can’t really help but view her work through the lens of an immigrant. Although I am not Samoan, I obviously come from a culture that is pretty different, both historically and in more contemporary times, to the English-based culture of non-immigrant New Zealand that dominates here, so as I was reading I came across a particular series of photographs she had exhibited, that sounded really interesting and relevant. It’s a body of work called La Fine Del Mondo that examines the immigrant experience in New Zealand.

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Her work on this (which through the magic of the internet I’ve been able to view, despite not seeing it in person) as well as what she talked about in various interviews, really ~*spoke~*~ to me. I feel like she’s one of the few people who make art about things that truly matter to people, like on an instinctive level. And those things are about the concept of home and community and how a person or family creates a home, especially when they’ve moved away to a new country, where their cultural practices cannot be taken for granted anymore because they’ve been eye-dropped into a bucket full of English (Western?) water. And then of course, what happens when this move is not voluntary, but forced and how does a family negotiate this new life in that context and when it’s perhaps not permanent?

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

In 2009 Ms. Amituanai first exhibited La Fine del Mondo at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington. This is a body of work documenting the settlement of the Lai family, recently arrived from Myanmar, into their new lives in New Zealand and their new home in West Auckland. It is a series of photographic portraits of the Lai family showing their efforts in negotiating a new house, school, culture and life, and was complemented by archival footage about a wider immigrant experience in New Zealand, including clips of Polish children who came to NZ as World War II refugees, as well as a TV3 news story on the Tampa asylum seekers, who had just become New Zealand citizens.

I really liked what Ms. Amituanai talked about in relation to La Fine Del Mondo in an interview here, and in particular I was struck by this idea of the common immigrant experience in New Zealand (which I guess must be similar in other countries) and what affects people the most and the things they think about while creating a new home in a foreign land. She saw that a lot of what she had been exploring in her work through her own Samoan – New Zealand upbringing and culture appeared in the experiences of the Lai family –  “It occurred to me that many things that I had been looking at in my own cultural milieu could be found in other immigrant cultures”.

And in particular, this statement really spoke to me:

“The adjustment to a new environment’s climate, language, new systems and finding new communities is one major effort. While another is not always being fully accepted by the new homeland. Also the experience of feeling like being in two places simultaneously, one in the new adopted country and the other placed in the ancestral homeland seems to be quite common.”

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

I also really like how intimate her portraits are. I think her curiosity about people really comes across, and also a kind of realisation that she really tries to understand her subjects and never puts anyone on the spot. I also like the domestic scale of her work and how nicely they could fit in someone’s suburban home, even in the homes she depicts. There’s a nice feeling of a family snapshot in a lot of her work, and this is tempered by the fact that they are obviously works of art for the public, so there’s always a kind of shift between the two when you’re looking at them (especially in real life), which is really satisfying.

Also, this is much more superficial, but I really love that feeling of driving around at night when it’s quiet and people’s curtains are open and you get quick little flashes of their living rooms through the window as you drive by – a little whirl of warm light and things hanging on walls if their lamps are on, or flickering blue colour and little lightning bolt snippets of furniture if they’re just watching tv, that let you see for a short time how that person or that family lives their life, and the commonplace things they’re doing in that particular moment. That little secretive thrill, a flashing spy feeling, is what I love in some of Edith Amituanai’s photographs also.

All the photos in this post have come from the Pinterest of Anna Miles Gallery here, and you can also see more of Edith Amituanai’s work at the Anna Miles Gallery website here.