A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bruddah Iz

Last December Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole was named one of the 50 great voices on NPR.  This was one of a vast number of accolades given to the man, most of them posthumously.  When he died at age thirty-eight he was honored by having his coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu - the third person so distinguished and the only non-government official.  His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people, and the state flag flew at half-mast, so beloved was he.

Born three months before the Hawaiian Islands became the 50th state of the U.S. in 1959, he was and is heard all over the world.  His father was a bouncer and his mother managed a club where he was exposed to a variety of musicians and entertainers.  He became known at an early age as "the kid with the ukelele" and was often called on stage to jam.

Iz with the Makaha Sons at the 1982 Hoku Awards.  Image courtesy of KGMB.

Along with his brother Skippy, Louis "Moon" Kauakahi, Sam Gray, and Jerome Koko, Iz became part of the Makaha Sons of Ni'hau.  The group gained popularity as they toured Hawaii and the mainland from 1976 into the 1980s.  They released fifteen successful albums.

Iz with the Makaha Sons.  Image courtesy of KGMB.

In 1982 his brother Skippy died of a heart attack.  That same year Iz married his childhood sweetheart, Marlene.  They later had a daughter whom they named Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".  Knowing his lifetime would be brief, he packed a lot into the years he had.

With daughter (l) Ceslie-Ann and wife Marlene.

The Makaha Sons of Ni'hau became Hawaii's most popular traditional music group.  Their top-selling album was Ho'oluana, and that was Iz's last with them.  In 1990 he released his first solo album Ka'Ano'I.  This album won awards for Contemporary Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year from the Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts (HARA).

Image courtesy Betty Stickney/Honolulu Advertiser.

The album Facing Future was released in 1993, and it debuted #25 on Billboard's Top Pop Catalogue chart.  In October of 2005 it became Hawaii's first certified platinum album, selling over a million CDs in the U.S.  It featured his famous medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World".  In 1994 he was voted "Favorite Entertainer of the Year" by HARA.

In 1997 he was again honored by HARA at its Annual  Hōkū Hanohano awards for the "Male Vocalist of the Year", "Favorite Entertainer of the Year" again, and "Island Contemporary Album of the Year".  Unfortunately he had to watch the awards ceremony from a hospital room.  On June 26, 1997 he died of weight-related respiratory illness.
Image courtesy of Craig T. Kojima/The Star-Bulletin.

He had always struggled with his weight - top recorded weight was 757 pounds, and he was 6'2".  Most of his immediate family had died relatively young of complications from obesity.  He told his friend and producer, Jon de Mello:

I was scared when I lost my mother, my father, my brother,
my sister.  I guess this is gonna sound kind of weird, but I'm
not scared for myself for dying.  Because I believe all these
places are temporary.  This is just one shell.  Because we
Hawaiians live in both worlds.  It's in our veins.  When our 
time comes, don't cry for me.  Don't cry for me.

He was aware that he had limited time.  His sound engineers were told to keep the tape rolling for all of his rehearsals.  Although he no longer existed physically, his popularity soared.  The use of his music in television commercials and shows like ER, as well as films such as Meet Joe Black, Finding Forrester, and Fifty First Dates led to more exposure and widened his fan base.  When authors began to cite him it was clear he had attained celebrity.

His album Alone in Iz World (2001) debuted at the #1 spot on Billboard's World Chart and #135 on Billboard's Top 200, #13 on the Top Independent Albums Chart, and #15 on the Top Internet Album Sales Chart.  His famous medley passed the 2 million paid downloads mark in the U.S. in September 2009.

Last year "Over the Rainbow" was #1 on the German singles chart, was #1 seller single of 2010, peaked at #6 on the OE3 Austria charts, and became #1 in France and Switzerland.  It was certified 2x Platinum this year.

His wife Marlene with a bronze portrait sculpture at the Waianae Neighborhood
Community Center.  Image courtesy of Jan-Michelle Sawyer/Around Hawaii.

Known for his promotion of Hawaiian rights and independence through his lyrics and his life, this man was given the burial due the king that he was.  Childhood friend Del Beazley was among the people who were on the traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe that carried his ashes to be scattered in the Pacific Ocean.  Beazley described big semi-trucks on the island blowing their air horns, echoing out to the canoe.  He likened it to when the mo'I or "king" passed away and the people would wail.  Thousands stood on the shore that day to pay their last respects.

But he lives on...

Unless otherwise stated, images courtesy of 
his official website.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The House of Elsewhere

Maison d'Ailleurs in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pierre Versins was a French encyclopedist and scholar, and archivist.  He devoted his life to the study of "conjectures romanesques rationnelles" or "rational romanesque conjectures".

He amassed a collection of science fiction works and related memorabilia and wrote a major opus in the field, the Encyclopédie de l'utopie, des voyages extraordinaire et de la science-fiction.  In 1976 he donated his entire collection to the Swiss spa town of Yverdon-les-Bains with the provision that it be made available to the public.

The Maison d'Ailleurs (House of Elsewhere) is a place that humanoids and robots, among others, call home.  It holds two or three temporary exhibitions a year that explore themes such as space travel, alien life forms, futuristic cities, and lost and parallel worlds - the standard stuff of sci-fi.

It was originally located in a three-storytownhouse, but in 1991 it was moved to the middle of the city in a building that was once a prison built in 1806.  Further additions caused a new space to be built in an old casino, connected to the museum by a footbridge.  The new space houses workspaces for researchers, administrative offices, and an important collection.

In 2003 Jean-Michel Margot donated his extensive collection based on Jules Verne.  This contains some 20,000 documents, including rare items such as hand-written notes, posters from the end of the 19th century, and the complete collection of Les Voyages Extraordinaires.  This, "The Extraordinary Voyages", was the publishing title used for the novels and non-fictional work of Jules Verne.

Portrait of Jules Verne by Félix Nadar.

Verne was meticulous in his attention to detail, and part of the attraction of his work was the learning factor.  Readers learned something about a myriad of subjects - astronomy, biology, geology, oceanography, for example - and experienced the exotic locales and cultures of the world.  Because of this his works are often called "encyclopedic novels".

He is the most translated science fiction author in the world, and is the second most translated fiction author next to Agatha Christie.  Even though his works are outdated scientifically, he wrote with a sense of wonder that still enthralls readers. The collection of Les Voyages Extraordinaire was donated by the granddaughter of Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel.

A model of a "véhicule extraordinaire" built by JM Deschamps.

The Maison d'Ailleurs is the only museum of its kind.  It is public, non-profit, and a unique research center.  The museum is in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the University of Lausanne, the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse, France, and several film festivals.  It has a large collection of pulp magazines, and the most important sci-fi image library in the world.

So, if you have some spare time, check out its archives - 70,000 documents, books, art, toys - some dating back to the 16th century.  Who knows what might inspire you there.  As the American computer scientist Alan Kay once said, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the website.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Curiously, Not a Piece of Furniture

The Domenico Remps Cabinet from 1690.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The earliest form of museums in the West is the cabinet of curiosity.  They were also known as cabinets of wonder, or in German kunstkammer (literally, art room) or wunderkammer (wonder room).  The word "cabinet", however, meant a small room and not a piece of furniture.

Kunst- und Raritätenkammer, by Fran Francken II, circa 1625.
Image courtesy of this site.

These cabinets of curiosities were an eclectic collection of objects that were popular since the Renaissance. Although their inventories would be hard to categorize today, they mostly contained objects we would assign to natural history (although some were fakes, such as unicorn horns), but also included ethnic artifacts, geological items, religious and historical relics, and things we would label as art and antiquities.  Christian I of Saxony was advised in 1587 that a kunstkammer included three indispensable items:  sculptures and paintings; curious items from home or abroad; and pieces of strange and curious animals, such as horns, claws, feathers, etc.

Narwhal tusks were often exhibited as unicorn horns.  The horns were made of
a substance known as alicorn, and was believed to have magical and medicinal
powers.  False alicorn powder made from narwhal tusks was sold as late as 1741.

Going off on a tangent, some of the art included were known as cabinet paintings. These were small, usually no larger than two feet square, finely detailed paintings that included complete scenes with full-length figures, as opposed to just a portrait. These paintings were kept in a small room, or cabinet, where they were accessible to a select few.  In time they were housed in display cases, also called cabinets.

Saint George Fighting the Dragon by Raffaello Santi, known as
Raphael, circa 1503-1505.  This is a typical cabinet painting and
is 12.02"x10.62".  Image courtesy of the Louvre.

The cabinet of curiosity emerged in the 16th century.  The earliest pictoral documentation is Ferrante Imperato's Dell'Historia Naturale from Naples in 1599. The engraving (below) is meant to establish Imperato as a knowledgeable source of information.  The pharmacist is shown with his son, Francesco, escorting visitors.  The entire ceiling is covered with fish, stuffed animals, and shells.

A fold-out engraving from Dell'Historia Naturale.
This image and the one below courtesy of this site.
One of the most famous 17th century cabinets was from Olaus Wormius, also known as Ole Worm.  Worm's claim to fame is he correctly identified the narwhal's tusk as coming from a whale and not a unicorn.  Many of the specimens in his collection came from exploring and trading voyages.  The catalog of his collection was a springboard for his ideas on natural history, science, and other fields.

Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities from Museum Wormianum, 1655.

Indeed, cabinets of curiosities helped the advancement of science when the collections were published.  Since they were limited to those who had the means to collect and to house them, many monarchs developed collections.  Part of the lure was not only to present oneself as wealthy AND erudite, but there was also the opportunity to impose one's sense of order on the natural world, a very heady power.

This is a depiction of the collection of Marchese Ferdinand Cospi, who gave
it to the city of Bologna in 1657 for the use of scholars.  Image courtesy of here.

Cabinets functioned to bring nature together in one space for study.  In 1714 Michael Bernhard Valentini published Museum Museorum, an early museological work that was a list of all the cabinets he knew of and their contents.

An 18th century example of a German Schrank (cupboard) showing a display
of corals.  Image courtesy of LoKiLeCh/Wikipedia.

The cabinets and their contents invited comparisons, analogies, and parallels, and changed the prevalent view of a static world to one that was dynamic and ever changing.  New observations paved the way for new methods of scientific investigation.

The British Museum's "Enlightenment Room", showing a conception of a museum
during the Age of Enlightenment.  Image courtesy of Mujtaba Chohan/Wikipedia.

These early collections in time became the first museums.  Although museums have existed in one form or another throughout history, it was in the 1800s when rising nation-states of Europe began a nationalistic fervor of establishing paternities and displaying objects recognized as important that museums really came into their own as entities.  Today museums are open to the public, and no longer the domain of the elite.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beyond Glass Slippers

"Floating World" exhibit of Karen LaMonte's work, 2011.

Unlike animals, people seem to have two physical appearances:  our bodies and how we present them, from head to toe.  Some people have little or no concern about appearance and others spent inordinate amounts of time contriving for an exact look.  This is an interesting topic, and glass artist and sculptor Karen LaMonte plays with the concept in her art.

LaMonte explores the contrast between real skin and social skin.  Just like a lot of people, she uses clothing, or rather the form of clothing, to project social information.  Or maybe to camouflage or obscure information, instead.  Only LaMonte uses the body in absentia.  She refers to clothing as a "vestmentary envelope".

She is well-known for her life-size sculptures in ceramic, bronze, and most interestingly cast glass.  She currently lives and works in the Czech Republic, but is from the U.S.  She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. She was awarded a fellowship to the Creative Glass Center of America in Millville, New Jersey right after graduation.  Then she moved to Brooklyn and worked at a not-for-profit public access glass studio.  She began working in blown and cast glass at this time, and displaying her work in galleries.

In 1999 she received a Fullbright Fellowship to work in the Czech Republic.  She began working at the  Pelechov glass casting studio in Eastern Bohemia.  While she was here she created her famous sculpture Vestige, a life-size cast glass sculpture of a dress.  It took one year to complete and during the process new technologies were developed, including a lost wax technique.  This piece is seminal, not only for her own oeuvre of work, but in the field of art glass.

Karen LaMonte and Vestige.  Art critic Arthur Danto wrote that the dress
belonged to a wearer that was captured in a moment of time, a point in history.
If she were still alive she would no longer look like this.  Therefore there is a
double melancholy in the piece - that of fashion and bodily changes.
"Their poetry is the poetry of beauty and loss."

Her interest in transparency manifested in monotype prints that she called "sartoriotypes" (sartorial meaning related to tailored clothes, and type meaning image or impression).  These works were shown along with her cast glass sculptures in 2002 in Venice, Italy.

Using mirrors and photography, she began a new line of art.  These mirrors were exhibited in Prague, Czech Republic, and in Tacoma, Washington at solo exhibitions of her work.  These are glass cast hand mirrors with photo-etched steel.

The Lark Mirrors, above and below.

In 2006, she was awarded the Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.  She spent seven months studying the kimono as part of an examination of Japanese concepts of clothing and social language, thus looking at the same themes through the eyes of a different culture.

Bronze kimono.
Ceramic kimono.
Child's kimono in cast glass.

In 2009, she studied the use of ceramics at the European Ceramic Work Centre, and was the recipient of the Corning Museum of Glass/Kohler Arts Center Joint Residency for her work in glass and ceramics.

She has received many awards, and her work is featured in the permanent collections of museums in Germany, France, Australia, and all across the United States, including the forthcoming Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  She has also had a number of exhibitions.

Not only are her concepts unique and fascinating, but so are the processes.  These are not easy to create but that doesn't seem to stop her.  She has achieved a body of timeless art - well worth the time and energy that went into their creation.

Images courtesy of the artist.
Please visit her website to see more of her work.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The "F" Word

WARNING:  Explicit words used in this post!
No one under the age of 18 should continue!

My first time in the reference section of the research library at UCLA I came across the complete, multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  Impressed by the footage of verbiage, I took the opportunity to seek words I could never find before, such as antidisestablishmentarianism.  Boring!  So then I decided to look up the mother of all forbidden words - fuck.  As I leafed through the F volume, I noticed the pages were worn...very worn, as a matter of fact.  I was very disappointed when I came across the entry, as not much was said.

The look on my face must have been perplexed, because a reference librarian came by, saw me, and came over to offer assistance.  I unabashedly showed her the word I was looking up, and pointed out how worn the pages were.  Giggling, she looked at the volume and the entry.  She, too, was disappointed.  Not having any other suggestions as to where to look for any etymological information on the word, she asked if this was an assignment.  No, just personal interest I said, whereupon we both chuckled.

The word is unique in that it can be used in one form or another as an adjective, adverb, command, interjection, noun, or verb.  It is considered obscene in social contexts but is common in informal and domestic circumstances.  A 2000 study in Great Britain yielded that it was the third most profane word, the number one spot going to cunt, and in second place was motherfucker.  It remains taboo in English-speaking countries, but is not so censored in non-English-speaking countries where it is, however, recognized as vulgar.  The Canadian Press considers it commonplace and has added the usage to the Canadian Press Caps and Spelling Guide.  

One reason it is hard to trace the etymology of the word is because it was taboo. When the OED's F volume was originally compiled in 1893-1897, the editors omitted it, but did include it in the 2nd edition.  It cites the word fukkit used in 1503, with the earliest instance of the current spelling in 1535:  "Bischops may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit," (bishops may fuck their fill and be unmarried) from Sir David Lyndesay's Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits.  It is presumed to be a much older word, but not the kind that was written in the type of texts that have survived in Old English and Middle English.

The word is hinted at in a 15th century poem "Flen flyys", from the opening line "Flen, flyys, and freris" ("Fleas, flies, and friars") written in Middle English and bastard Latin.  The questionable lines reads:  Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.  This was a substitution cypher that requires replacing each letter with the next letter in alphabetical order:  "non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vyivys of heli", which translates, "they are not in heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely."  This poem satirized Carmelite friars of Cambridge, so was most likely coded because of the accusation of misconduct.  "Fvccant" (with a "v" for "u") was from a common device used in Middle English which approximated Latin when a Latin word was unknown.

Cognates of the word include ficken/German, fokken/Dutch, fukka/Norwegian, and fokka/dialectal Swedish.  Thus it may come from the Indo-European root meaning to strike.  It could also be from Old High German pfluog, meaning "to plow, as a field".  (This brings to mind a Spinal Tap song - "Sex Farm", for all you Tapheads.)

There are rumors that it is an acronym, but most sources deny both this and another rumor stating it came from plucking a bow made of yew.  The word goes back much farther than the circumstances in these rumors.

The word was outlawed in print by the Obscene Publications Act in 1857 in Great Britain, and by the Comstock Act in 1873 in the United States.  It may have been banned in print, but it thrived in conversation.  It is part of military acronyms from WWII - SNAFU and FUBAR.  WTF is a recent coinage, widely used on the internet, and it counts as a meme.  In 1971, nearly 100 years after its usage was outlawed, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Cohen V. California, 403 U.S. 15, that the public display of the word is protected under the 1st and 14th amendments and cannot be made a criminal offense.  Paul Robert Cohen had been convicted in 1968 of disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket with the words "Fuck the Draft" on it, in reference to Vietnam.

In 2009, the European Union's OHIM (Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market, the trademarks and designs registry) disallowed a German brewery to market a beer called "Fucking Hell".  The brewery sued, claiming the beer was named after an Austrian village called Fucking, and "Hell" is the German word for light, and it is a light beer.  On March 26, 2010, they received permission to market the beer.

The Catcher in the Rye was published in the U.S. in 1951 and featured the word. It was number 13 on the ALA's most banned books from 1990-2000.  Norman Mailer's publishers persuaded him to substitute the word "fug" in his book The Naked and the Dead in 1948.  The musical group The Fugs named themselves after his euphemism.  Tallulah Bank head's PR guy famously quipped, "So you're the young man who can't spell fuck."

The word is now so commonplace in mainstream movies from the U.S. that it almost goes unnoticed.  This becomes problematic when the movies appear on television.  The line from "Diehard" - "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker" became "Yippee-ki-yay, Mister Falcon".  John Goodman's character in "The Big Lebowski" has a popular line that he says repeatedly, "This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass".  On TV he says, "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps".

Most people think of classical Greece and Rome as civilized, erudite, polished and tasteful.  Not so!  The middle finger gesture, and its meaning, was used in ancient Greek comedy to insult someone, although some would argue it was a method of diverting the threat of the evil eye.  (My Greek grandmother used to aim her hand with all fingers out and slightly curled to curse, saying the word "Nah!")  The Romans adopted the gesture we know as the finger, or flipping the bird, calling it the digitus impudicus or digitus infamis.

So, the notion and the word fuck have an ancient pedigree.  Interesting that it is still considered one of the worst words.  There are far worse words to my mind - racist, bigot, pedophile - that are perhaps less crude but certainly more foul.