Saturday, March 24, 2012

The movement of motionless man.

 'The first air show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. September 30th, 1909. Photographed in Autochrome Lumière by Léon Gimpel.' - AnOther Magazine
I love the soft colours, the momentary stillness, the quiet magnificence of hot air balloons fully suspended underneath a ceiling.

Penchant for neon installations continues. 

underwater + x-ray + couture.

Vintage blue taffeta skirt that puts me in mind of Jil Sander under Raf Simons (partially excited to see Sander herself resume the Creative Directorship, partly in woe for Simons' departure. Still not over Spring/Summer 11. The tangerine skirt continues to haunts me.)


That is, if I'm not mistaken, a paper bustier. How awesome is its exaggerated shape? Like the prow of a ship.
Also: I love her white t-shirt, the simplicity of her hair and her expression. It looks like a catwalk candid but she seems so contemplative, so in her own world.

What a photograph. 
It reminds me of Man Ray and his manipulation of light and shade, or Olive Cotton's photograph Teacup Ballet, the way her camera rendered quotidian objects abstract, startling. 

Well. I really should get onto my marking. I just needed to swim in images for a little while before abandoning myself entirely to words. 
Happy Saturday, nerds x

images from AnOther Loves

Friday, March 23, 2012

Passing like happy shadows.

"A true masquerade of space- that is what the British embassy's ball on May 17, 1839, must have been. "In addition to the glorious flowers from gardens and greenhouses, 1,000- 1,200 rosebushes were ordered as part of the decoration for the festivities. It was said that only 800 of them could fit in the rooms of the embassy, but that will give you an idea of the utterly mythological magnificence. The garden, covered by a  pavilion, was turned into a salon de conversation. But what a salon! The gay flower beds, full of blooms, were huge jardinieres which everyone came over to admire; the gravel on the walks was covered with fresh linen, out of consideration for all the white satin shoes; large sofas of lampas and of damask replaced the wrought-iron benches; and on a round table there were books and albums. It was a pleasure to take the air in this immense boudoir, where one could hear, like a magic chant, the sounds of the orchestra, and where one could see passing, like happy shadows, in the three surrounding flower-lined galleries, both the fun-loving girls who came to dance and the more serious girls who came to sup." H. d'Almeras, La Vie parisienne sous Louis-Philippe , pp. 446-447. The account derives from Madame de Girardin. Today, the watchword is not entanglement but transparency. (Le Corbusier!)"

I find the excerpt above so evocative it verges on the tangible. If I were a womenswear designer, this would propel a new collection. Think of the colours of the grass and flowers on the fringes of the party, catching only the last evanescence of the lamps. The muted, cool warmth of the night air, the distant noise of the revelry intensifying as your carriage draws closer and closer to the ball. Of the colliding sweeps of trains of dresses as women pass, of the 'serious' girls fixating on their jellied chicken legs while the dance floor thrums with social graces and the brief touches of gloved hands. 

I dimly recall an excerpt in a convolute of a man falling in love with a woman when he caught a glimpse of her slippered foot- did I make that up? Yet I don't think I did.

And marvellous, this: "Hashish. One imitates certain things one knows from paintings: prison, the Bridge of Sighs, stairs like the train of a dress."

From M The Flâneur, The Arcades Project by my main man, Benjamin.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Seeing, memory and longing or 'a morning with Roland Barthes'

Image by Deborah Turbeville

When all else fails, there's Roland Barthes' lovely Camera Lucida. I really needed this book today- just like I always need Benjamin and Bachelard near at hand, to catch me up in expansive idea-worlds. The inexplicable relief of reading, the instantaneous whisking into other lives, the forgetting and remembering. And here, Barthes writes beautiful prose, elegant, thrumming with careful imagery. He lightly uses words I've never before encountered: fulguration (to flash or dart like lightning); advenience (coming from outward causes); hebetude (dullness). I like that, the deft use of obscure words, even when he's clearly showing off (come on, dude, recantation and palinode mean the same thing!) 
Here are some fragments, anyway, perhaps frustratingly anonymous out of their context, and yet... some particular cadence in and of themselves, too:

'Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.'

'I lend myself to the social game, I pose, I know I am posing, I want you to know that I am posing, but (to square the circle) this additional message must in no way alter the precious essence of my individuality: what I am, apart from my effigy. What I want, in short, is that my (mobile) image, buffeted among a thousand shifting photographs, altering with situation and age, should always coincide with my (profound) "self"; but it is the contrary that must be said: "myself" never coincides with my image; for it is the image which is heavy, motionless, stubborn [...] and "myself" which is light, divided, dispersed.'

'the emphatic truth of gesture in the great circumstances of life'- Baudelaire.

'odd contradiction: a floating flash'

'History is hysterical: it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it- and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it [...] That is what the time when my mother was alive before me is - History [...] No anamnesis could ever make me glimpse this time starting from myself [...] whereas, contemplating a photograph in which she is hugging me, a child against her, I can waken in myself the rumpled softness of her crêpe de Chine and the perfume of her rice powder.'

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Outfit Post: Walking in water

This dress-! I actually gasped the first time I saw it. The top panel is a photographic print of the Los Angeles skyline at night, stripped down to pinpoints of light in the darkness by James Reeve, who Dries Van Noten collaborated with for the prints in the collection this dress is from. Underneath is a 17th century woodcut and under that a photograph of water which ripples around your knees when you walk... 

or twirl.

So this is me, obviously, grinning because yesterday I had the utterly inspired idea to layer the dress over my favourite pink pants. I love the dappled green and pink together. And also the slight weirdness of wearing a dress and pants at the same time. I've been layering skirts over each other too lately, and wearing skirts over pants- there's something very satisfying about having as many layers of clothes as possible on at one time. Why show your figure off when you can shroud it underneath a mountain of fabric, I ask you? 

What may appear to you as some kind of awesome jazz move is actually my effort to make the skirt ripple for a photo. I tried for a while, I really did. The next photo is kind of my proof... notice how my right hand looks like a Tyrannosaurus Rex's claw, so chic. 

See what I mean? Attractive.

I have basically haven't taken this dress off since I redeemed it off lay-by. And that's how I do it, readers. I used to wonder that about some style bloggers- how they afforded the clothes they wore, especially Jane of Sea of Shoes or Rumi from fashion toast. I mean, top to toe Proenza, Wang and Prada? How? Me, I save my pennies, I don't really eat* or go out for big nights or anything (the PhD is useful in this regard, my lunch buddy and dinner date all week every week.) And I also have a credit card... you know, which helps. So anyway the take-home here is that if you don't have a car or dependants of any kind, don't own a house and don't mind eating the same leftovers for lunch five days in a row, it is possible to slowly afford dresses that swim in the air around you. 

So this is me laughing because Juliet was instructing me on how to pose. 'Move your skirt- slower. Don't flick it out, just across. You're not a cancan dancer!

dress and pants: Dries Van Noten // shoes: Rittenhouse sandals

*EDIT: Shivers, that came out ALL. WRONG. Of course I eat! My word. I meant I don't eat OUT all that often. More the cook at home for the week type. The make a kilo of granola that last three months type. So... are we good? Cool.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ideas and quotes and a shout-out to Benjamin.

Sometimes when reading, I come upon a sentence that coalesces seamlessly with an idea I've been toying with. It will overlay itself on my fledgling thoughts and cast a depth, an insight that propels me further. So to reflect this process and in the spirit of my department's Desert Island Discs* discussion last week, I will take up the manner and method of my main man Walter Benjamin to offer you a convolute of where my head has been lately. It may be useful to note that I am a reader who grazes through a number of books at a time, so these will be somewhat jumbled- welcome to the inside of my head.

Image by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue India

'Feuerbach observes about "our era" that it 'prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being.'- Susan Sontag (On Photography, p. 153)

'To experience a thing as beautiful means: to experience it necessarily wrongly.'- Nietzsche (p. 184)

Sontag writes that photography beautifies everything it captures by framing it and presenting it as something to be seen and appreciated. 'Even the most compassionate photojournalism is under pressure to satisfy simultaneously two sorts of expectations, those arising from our largely surrealist way of looking at all photographs, and those created by our belief that some photographs give real and important information about the world.' She refers to W. Eugene Smith's 1960s photoseries of the inhabitants of the Japanese fishing village of Minamata who were slowly dying of mercury poisoning: '[the photos] move us because they document a suffering which arouses our indignation- and distance us because they are superb photographs of Agony, conforming to surrealist standards of beauty.' (p.105)

So true, this: 'many people are anxious when they're about to be photographed: not because they fear, as primitives do, being violated but because they fear the camera's disapproval. People want the idealised image: a photograph of themselves looking their best.' (Sontag p.85)

The idea of becoming symbolic of yourself- an image of yourself that is taken to be representative of your entirety as a person. I'm thinking of social media profiles, blogs- the representation of who you are as reduced to what you can transmit about yourself, your tastes, your life. 

'Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of motionless man. It is one of the dynamic characteristics of quiet daydreaming'.- Gaston Bachelard
Have I blogged this before? Incredibly lovely to contemplate.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a self in the world, lately. Always a compelling consideration but changed and challenged recently by a friend whose thoughts are propelling me into foreign territory almost despite myself. Trenchant ideas like that the self can be expressed- that we can know ourselves- are up in the air. Can we ever truly know ourselves? Is it worth trying, is it important? What kind of expression is it, to express the self through our personal style? How do we do that? I mean, I think we do, but what aspects of ourselves are we expressing, and what aspects can we never know or would never wish to express? 

I think I need to challenge my own adoption of the idea that 'dressing expresses the self'- not because there's not an element of truth to it, but because it's not as straightforward as that. This development is a bit intimidating- I've thought through these ideas for two years, coming up through the tradition of fashion theorists before me. I think their nuanced ideas have been adopted in general and are now just a pat statement of intentionality- implicating myself in this, you just have to watch the 'Fashademic' video to hear me all over town. I watched it again recently and marvelled at how my thinking has shifted. It's not a bad thing, it's just a process- an ever-changing process of re-evaluating, of thinking 'what do I think? what ideas most accurately cast light upon this aspect of human experience?' It's immense.

*In our first departmental seminar of the semester last week, our discussion required us to each introduce ourselves by sharing of what theorist, book and album we would take to a desert island with us (with a nod to the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio program.) I am heartily ashamed to admit that I have never actually listened to this program but I want to! It's on my 'to-do' list right under watching 'Hunger' and a few notches above 'learn how to make cheese soufflé'. Anyway, apparently it involves the presenter and a guest talking about the guest's desert island selections- what book they would take, what luxury, what film etc. The assumption is that you get to take a Bible/religious/philosophical text of their choice so that's a given. 

It was really hard to narrow it down- I mean, how to choose?!  And then as soon as you've given your answer, a million other alternatives crowd howling around your ears. But I said that my theorist would be Benjamin because I love cities and if I was stuck on a desert island I'd want a work that reminds me of them- namely Paris, which is an extraordinarily interesting and beautiful place. Also, his writing is boss. So 'The Arcades Project', done. Book? I said a really good compendium of fairytales. Before you judge, think about it- I'm talking about the good stuff, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, George Macdonald. These aren't Disney stories, but muscular, hard and fantastical folktales that reveal so much about fear, love, loyalty and bravery. Very inspiring to me; and they remind me of childhood, and there's a comfort in that which I think I'd need on a desert island. As for music... well, I got a bit cheeky. I said because I didn't choose to take Benjamin in person  (we could either take our theorist in person or one of their books) I would take my musician in person instead- Sufjan Stevens. For two reasons, one being the two times I've seen him in concert are two of the most wonderful live music experiences I've ever had and I would want that every day if possible; and two, the man's a babe, so... What would you have said?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Outfit Post: In defiance of a grey day.

I woke after brief sleep and it was still raining. No, not raining- it was like the end of the world coming down outside my window. Strange somehow for it to be torrential first thing in the morning; I tend to assume that thunder and storming rain belong to dark nights alone. Well, we've passed through a few of those recently, too. So what else was there to do but accept that my umbrella would be hopelessly inadequate in the face of the elements and arm myself against the inevitable drenching by choosing the cheeriest outfit I could? Which is how this happened:

Pretty much impossible to be made miserable by sheets of rain assaulting you through your umbrella when you have a giant face on your jumper. This little beauty was a find from one of my favourite stores in Melbourne, Kinki Gerlinki. It's a Sonia Rykiel sample, all fine wool and warm colour. And the eyes have lilac eyeshadow on. Irresistible.

Not to mention that wearing this outfit makes me feel like doing this all day. I know academics (even proto ones) are supposed to be intent and think about, you know, serious ideas and stuff, but I defy you to wear a face-jumper and a balloon-esque plaid dress like this Bernhard Willhelm one (worn under) and not want to spin around all afternoon. 

In which I look surprised for no particular reason but the colours in the bricks somehow do nice things to the colours in my hair. 
Fashademic: offering insights on important stuff since 2010.

I put a vintage yellow coat over the top before I left the house because you can never have too much colour or too much check in one outfit, don't you think?

I reckon if Sydney is going to get into winter in a big way this early in the year, it's only fair if we respond by dressing as colourfully and cheerily as we can. There's something to be said for defiantly striding around in green, pinks, yellows and prints as if your hems aren't getting soggy and your umbrella isn't convulsing inside out at the bus stop. A small gesture, to find some comfort in wearing brights on a gloomy day but maybe an inoffensive one. Maybe a quite nice one, actually.

dress: Bernhard Willhelm (bought third-hand) // jumper: Sonia Rykiel // coat: vintage // boots: Dries Van Noten

NB: No, eagle-eyed readers, that ring on my left hand is not an engagement ring. Breathe a sigh of relief, fellas. It was a graduation gift from my parents when I finished my undergrad and it fits my ring finger alone, so... that's the story.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Point and Shoot: Cameras and Photography in the Contemporary Age and Their Effect On Those That Use Them."

Technology made possible an ever increasing spread of that mentality which looks at the world as a set of potential photographs. - Susan Sontag
Aka 'The Instagram State-of-Mind.'

Curious to me our modern impulse to photograph everything. Curious to me that I too experience this impulse- because don't think for a moment that I'm exempting myself. I recently Tweeted a photograph of my pencil underlining the very book I just quoted from, so you know, implicit in the thing I'm talking about.

But why do we? Not why do we take photographs, obviously- but why do we increasingly photograph everything? In my own lifetime, I've seen cameras go from things that were used to take photos at family events (when we remembered to pack the camera, which was patchy at best) to devices that are embedded in our mobile phones, so enfolded into how we perceive the world that we hardly notice how frequently we use them. Why do we feel the impulse to catalogue the smallest details of our lives, and not only that, but catalogue them for an audience of peers (and, increasingly  strangers)? I guess it adds a connection, a hook between strangers to share experiences and satiate our curiosity... but what does it mean for how we conceptualise our lives? To see the world at a distance even while we are enmeshed in the moment of experience? Because isn't the very act of taking a photograph to step back from your position as one who is in-amongst to a position of observer, of archivist? 

Someone needs to write a thesis on this. Maybe for my next one... Jokes! JOKES. 
O man. 
Way to give myself a heart attack.

But seriously- Instagram users. Do you ever question the impulse? It's kind of curious, isn't it?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Winter blues.

Last night I was walking to where I was going and suddenly it was winter. Summer has been a teenager all season, all mood swings between thrumming heat and torrential rain, but at least we have still been able to enjoy the long light that lingers to seven o'clock, eight o'clock in the evening. Until yesterday night, when I was striding up the street through rain-soaked leaves and the streetlights were on and even the shadows had shadows. I felt that cold clutch, like I just wanted to get where I was going and fast, because it was cold and utterly dark out. Then I realised- this is exactly like mid-winter. It's February. And we have nine more months until the hope of cicada-laden, irradiant heat slowing through the night again. Yes, I felt a pang.

Luckily, for my mental health (you will be pleased to learn, no doubt) there are things to distract from the prospect of an early, long winter. Such as a newfound obsession with finding the perfect black turtleneck and cutting all my hair into a modish bob so I can feel like a Jil Sander model of the mid-Nineties (as above). I'm going to scour the GAP and op-shops until I meet success! (Yes, none of this Alexander Wang inspired cropped turtleneck business- I want long ribbed sleeves, a long ribbed trunk. I pretty much want to feel like I've stepped out of a more minimalist version of 'Murphy Brown.') Am confident this is a constructive way to keep my chin up in this cooler weather... or my neck warm at the very least.

image from AnOther Magazine

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Online Shopping

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance recently and she told me that she had never shopped online. She is not of my generation (actually, she was a hippie at Woodstock when she was younger than I am now) so I wasn't that surprised- but she does like beautiful things, so I asked her if she isn't sometimes tempted to look for items she can't find here in online stores. "If I can't get it here, I'm not supposed to own it," she said. "Isn't there enough stuff to choose from here? How much stuff do I need, anyway?"

'If I can't get it here, I'm not supposed to own it.' Isn't that the opposite of how we usually feel about goods? That if we see it and like it and can afford it, we should be able to have it? That we should be able to have the entire world and have it now- why not? That's the modern privilege. And the internet makes it possible- we can shop in the middle of the night if we want to. We can buy goods in Alaska and have it in Sydney within the week. We can get what we want more cheaply and with more ease by sitting at a screen and clicking 'check out' than by walking ten minutes up the street to a shop.

But at what cost? The virtues of online shopping are easy to extol- fast, easy, direct- they're also all virtues that centre on the self and our personal comfort, aren't they? 

What about the significant downsides of online shopping? I don't think they get spoken about quite as much. If you can get a good cheaply and fast from the other side of the world, what does that tell you about production time and freight? I just read this article, which is a personal account of an ex-worker at the pseudonymous "Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide" (which I take to be a company the size of an Amazon or an Ebay.) She writes of the degrading ways that workers at warehouses of goods sold online were treated during her employment there (undertaken as a means to gather information to write this story.) She writes of the conditions in which they worked- eight or ten hour days standing on concrete or walking on metal stairs, yelled at, pushed beyond their capabilities and threatened, always threatened with being fired if they failed to meet their ever-increasing targets. That is not to say that every online business treats its employees this way, of course- there are small businesses, ethical businesses operating online who care deeply about their staff. I imagine such conditions would be more endemic in larger companies- but as the writer outlines in her account, such working conditions are not limited to just one (i.e. the one where she worked for this story) but are common practice. It is a corporate culture of treating employees like cogs in a machine, working them long hours for minimum wage, holding their job security over them at the slightest misdemeanour (such as bursting into tears or being one minute late to your twelve and a half hour shift): "we don't want to be so intense... but our customers demand it." That's you and me. Are our expectations as consumers contributing to this toxic culture? Yes, of course. So what do we do with that?

Questions like what kinds of people are driven to take jobs like these also come into play- I would suggest it's not people who have had the opportunity to go to and stay in school, or who would have the means to choose an alternative who sign up for a warehouse job like the one described in the article. The fact that prospective employees get asked numerous times in different ways if they have ever been to prison seems to confirm this impression. 

Questions like what toll online shopping is taking on the environment come to mind; all of this transportation of goods between manufacturers and processing stations, foreign post offices and our homes by freight trains, container ships, aeroplanes... you don't see any of that when a postie hands you your parcel.

Questions like what toll it is demanding of us, being encouraged in this manner of thinking that we are entitled to buy whatever we want when we want. What about your needs? Not 'I need these Proenza boots that aren't sold in Australia!' but 'do I need boots? Do I actually need them?' Most of us have the luxury to not to have to consider this so much any more-  we don't have to buy for need, and often don't. We have the luxury to buy for pleasure. And it may not necessarily be a pair of expensive boots that at stake but books, furniture, organic produce, stuff for our bikes- whatever it is you buy online. Can you get it locally? Do you need it? Is it worth it? And aren't there more factors to consider in your decision than what is the cheapest and easiest alternative for you? 

Which is to make no mention at all of the experience of shopping, of browsing on your own two feet. That experience of sociality, curiosity, engagement, that being in the world- well, I think it's irreplaceable. 

I'm not wanting to be on my soapbox about this, I just have been pondering it lately. The way that online shopping has been embraced in Australia has been so wholehearted yet it's profoundly affecting our local retail economy. It's also affecting the people we're indirectly employing in sub-standard conditions (question: is it better to have a job or to be unemployed if your job is exploitative and dehumanising? I really don't know), it's affecting our environment and it's affecting the way we think about ourselves in relation to others. I don't have an answer to this at the moment, I just felt like firing off some of these questions. Let me know what you think, if you have thoughts about this too.