Contemporary Art and My Problem with "Supposed-To"

By: leelefever on January 2, 2007 - 3:40pm

 I wrote this just before coming home and it's hard for me to post it because I don't want to sound completely ignorant of art. I think my feelings are related to a distaste for the art critic establishment (or what I know of it).  

I suppose you’ll say I’m shallow, or cynical or lack sophistication, but I am not moved by the majority of contemporary art I’ve seen lately – particularly multimedia art.  Yesterday we went to MACBA (Barcelona’s contemporary art museum) and I left exasperated and with a crinkled brow after seeing slideshows, films, photos and sculptures that, aside from the meaning assigned to it, seemed to mean or symbolize very little for me.  I think I’m growing tired of feeling like I’m supposed to feel, see or “get” something that I simply don’t.

Over the past year, we’ve both tried to take a de-mystified look at the world we’ve seen and I think it has extended to art in some cases.  This means looking at something in terms of what we really see or feel and not what we’re supposed to see or feel. In MACBA, it frustrated me to read the cards by an art expert or the artist that decodes the artist for the layman. An actual example:

Though his oeuvre is difficult to classify in one specific tendency, it possesses a significant conceptual component that expresses displacement and lack of communication and thus a negation of the very existence of contemporary society.

Oh, I get it now. He is negating the existence of contemporary society.

For multimedia art, I don’t want to have to be told that there is a statement about the world hidden in the slides of suburban Reykjavik.  To me, it looks like a slideshow of houses in Iceland. That is, of course, until I’m again enlightened via a laminated card about the piece. 

Aside from the artist’s peers, art critics and the artists own statements, I wonder how meaning or statements would be derived?  How closely would the artist’s vision of the piece translate to those of us that operate outside the art world?  And, if meaning is only derived from those privileged few, does it matter that I don’t get it?   Is it even supposed to have meaning for me? 

Here’s an example.  This is a 22 second video from a Tokyo subway station.  Is it art?  Does it affect you?  What does the experience of this piece make you feel about the world?

Now, consider the exact same video.  Only this time, consider this statement:

The artist is clearly making a statement about the closed and oppressed nature of Japanese society. The commuters are being closed off from the rest of the world - even as they are squeezed from every side to fit in behind society’s closing doors.  It makes painfully clear the nature of the Japanese experience.

OK, maybe you see it a little differently now, maybe not. You know what though?  This is what I was thinking when I shot this video – er, this was my vision for this piece:

I wonder if this is rude to video these people? Man, that train is crowded.  I’ve really got to hold this camera still.  Oh look, she’s wearing mask - that will be interesting.  They are so quiet.  It is ever going to leave?  I’m getting hungry.

My point is to illustrate how a lot of the contemporary art we’ve seen makes me feel by assigning extraordinary meaning to a video that was never intended to have deep meaning in the first place – it is just a video of people on the subway – right?

Perhaps I lack depth, intellect or an eye for art, but some of it just doesn’t move me and I’m not going to pretend that it does just because its how I’m suppose to feel. The art establish may agree that a piece is a statement about transcendence of gender roles in urban civilizations, but to me, it’s still just pictures of old people in a park. And I am OK with that.

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Gaudi Day - Barcelona

By: leelefever on November 25, 2006 - 8:41am

Antoni Gaudi is my home boy.  In all of our travels, in all the buildings we've seen, nothing speaks to me like his buildings.  I'm not alone of course, and I realize that it is almost pedestrian to proclaim a love for his work, but man is it fascinating.  

In a lot of ways, Gaudi has become THE symbol of Barcelona. His buildings and structures are the main feature of almost all of Barcelona's tourist souvenirs - and well deserved in my opinion.

What I value so much about his work is sheer originality.  His work has a unique flair and nature-inspired look that is all his own.  Even a century after most of his work was designed, it seems timeless, as if it still looks like some vision of a more beautiful future.  It leaves me quite simply, inspired.  Here are some photos from what we called "Gaudi Day" - the day we dedicated to exploring his creations in Barcelona. Hint: it requires more than a day.

His crowning acheivement (though left unfinished) is the La Sagrada Familia, a church...  This photo provides further proof thati it is impossible to take a picture in a city wihtout including at leasr one construction crane.

 This is the ineteriour, not finished by a long shot.  Construction was started in 1882 and we heard a possible date for completion is 2025. 


 Park Guell is like walking around in a hallucination.  It was supposed to be a neighborhood is 60 houses designed by Gaudi, but only two were completed - his time was focused on the Sagrada Familia (above).


He also desinged a number of residences around the city. This is Casa Batllo...


Cadaques, Spain

By: leelefever on November 22, 2006 - 2:53am

In terms of seaside villages, it really doesn't get much more charming than Cadaques, which is near the Spanish border with France.  It's a whitewashed town that has built a reputation for art and bohemian culture. Indeed, it is one of Spain's locations that attracts rock stars, artists and anyone seeking to get away from it all.  I'll let the photos say a little more...



 One of my all-time favorite passtimes... skipping rocks.


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Off to Northern Spain

By: sachilefever on November 21, 2006 - 2:54pm

We highly recommend renting an apartment in Barcelona if you are here for more than just a few days. It feels so nice to stroll back to our flat (right in the heart of the Gothic quarter) with a few bags of cheese, veggies, fresh seafood and pasta from the local market after climbing a few hills in the area. Lee will have more pictures coming of course - Gaudi buildings are not to be missed - but for now we are saying a heartfelt goodbye to our washer/dryer, kitchen, separate bedroom, and terrace looking over the city. A perfect place for a short break from moving every three days.

Tomorrow we are catching a train to Zaragoza and Pamplona for just a night or two each on our way to San Sebastian on Spain's northern coast. The guidebook reads, San Sebatian is..."the undisputed queen of Basque resorts". And it is supposed to have the best restaurants in the country.  We can't wait.

The Tangled Web We Weave

By: leelefever on November 21, 2006 - 3:01am


We are both continually amazed at how having this web site has connected us with people we would have otherwise never known.  Just a couple of nights ago, we had dinner with the sister of a friend’s former roommate, Maria.  I was asked her in an email how in the world she knew about us. Here is the connection…

Maria was a housemate with my long time friend JJ in Seattle (1999-2002).  We met a few times, but only at parties etc. A couple of years ago, JJ moved to S. Carolina and Maria lost touch, so she recently Googled him, hoping to make contact.  She then found a blog post from me about his wedding in 2003.  While reading about his wedding, she noticed a reminder that Sachi and I were traveling around the world and started reading TwinF.  Once she saw us reach Barcelona, she contacted her sister Camila, who got a group of her friends from business school to take us to their favorite local tapas bar in Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood.  Though we only barely know Maria, the tiny connection was enough to help us make new friends in a foreign country. Thanks Maria and Camila!

If this wasn’t enough, Maria also reminded us that we help her brother too…

My brother Fernando and his wife printed out all your Thailand dispatches and read them on the plane to Thailand in early September.

Crazy. We both think it is pretty amazing that suddenly, because of blogs and the Internet that these sorts of connections are possible. What a world in which we live. What a world.

Cat Burglar? Tightrope Act? Lunatic? We’ll Never Know

By: leelefever on November 19, 2006 - 2:34am

 This morning we experienced one of the strangest, most perplexing things ever.  To give you an idea, at 7:30AM this morning, from our 6th story bathroom window in Barcelona, I watched a guy walk across the gap between the roofs of two buildings on a wooden garden umbrella. I’m not kidding.

Let me start from the beginning.  We awoke to the sound that was something like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz climbing up a fire escape – all bangs and crashes.  It sounded like once he got up onto the roof (we’re on the top floor), he then dropped a bag of kindling sized wood onto the street below, 50 feet down. I rose to investigate these weird sounds.

Looking out of our bathroom window, I looked up to the roof to see the heels of a pair of feet shuffling across the very edge of the roof above me with about an inch of each foot hanging off.  I thought it might be a suicidal person.  Then, after a scuffle, an umbrella appeared right above our bedroom window.  The garden-sized umbrella stretched from the roof of our building to building next door over a small alley about 70 feet below. 

After a bit, the umbrella started to bow and tremble, obviously under significant weight.  I went to the bathroom and looked out the window again and caught eyes with the perpetrator for an instant. He was taking practice runs on the umbrella. A bit scared, I retreated to the bedroom window view, where I watched this guy walk very carefully across the umbrella to the building next door; a feat of bravery and amazing stupidity to be sure. You can see his foot and leg in this photo…


Now in plain view, he proceeded about his business with a cigarette in his mouth the entire time. This is "Roof Guy".

On the other building, he found an aluminum step ladder and proceeded to carry it up and over the terrace of the building to the other side, out of my view. He seemed to care little that he was making a HUGE scene with the ladder banging about like a wind chime.  We were both concerned that he may be trying to get into buildings and considered packing our valuables and leaving for a while.  We didn’t. 

He returned to the visible side of the building with the ladder a bit later and tried to place it in between the two buildings, perhaps to come back across to our building.  This time, as he swung the ladder out over the alley it unfolded into the A-frame position, perpendicular to the wall, much to his disway. For a while he was stuck – the ladder was caught on the edge of the building and he had no where to go as the ladder trapped him against the wall over the alley. He finally coerced and kicked at the ladder until it cooperated and I snapped this picture as he fell back over the wall with the ladder in hand. If I wasn’t a bit more freaked out I would have laughed out loud (and taken more pictures).  It was amazingly poetic. 

He was an English guy who seemed to be talking to someone the whole time.  I heard “of course they’ll call the cops”, “no cops yet” and something about “catalan drug lords”.  When a baby started crying, he said “oh screw you!”, prompting Sachi to say “… “a model citizen”.

He didn’t seem to be drunk or intent on breaking into homes. He just seemed intent on using whatever he could find to move around the roofs of the area.  He had no regard for the height of his adventures – a misstep and he would have met his end.  What he lacked in grace he made up for in confidence.

About 2 hours later the police arrived and I peered out of the bathroom window again to see them questioning him on the ground below, much to the enjoyment of everyone on the street.

 He had emptied his pockets and was pleading that he did nothing wrong.  I think he may have moved the umbrella from our roof-top terrace (which can surely be found on the neighbor’s roof now) and generally caused a scene, but I don’t think he was out to hurt anyone or take any property for himself.  He was just a weirdo climbing around on the roofs of Barcelona on a Sunday morning and I really, really wish I knew why.

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Video: Barcelona's Bizarre Human Statues

By: leelefever on November 18, 2006 - 3:40pm

You've likely seen the people who paint themselves silver and pose on a box to earn spare change.  The folks in Barcelona takes this whole idea to whole new level.  The creative, the absurd, the animated, the banal, it's all there and it's all just so weird.


Correction:  In the video, I mention an article by a UK paper called the Guardian.  I meant to refer to this article in the Independent - not the Guardian. 

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Meeting Malcolm Gladwell

By: leelefever on November 17, 2006 - 9:43am

Sachi and I were just minding our business at a cafe in the Barri Gothic of Barcelona, just off the Ramblas on Ferran. I looked out the window and glanced up at a hip-looking guy with a bag slung across his shoulder and a head of huge curly hair.  In knew in an instant that it was Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker writer and popular author of The Tipping Point and Blink.  Being one of my favorite authors and a blogger, I knew his look and seemed nearly unmistakable as he walked by.  Then, just as I mentioned to Sachi that it looked like him, he came into our cafe and sat down across the room from us.

How random! How often could that possibly happen - even in New York? But in Barcelona it was almost surreal. I had to investigate.

After we finished lunch I walked over to him, a bit nervously and feeling a little intrusive and said "Are you Malcolm?"  He smiled and said "yes!" and I introduced myself and Sachi.  We talked a bit about why he was in Barcelona (a speaking engagement at a conference) and our trip.  He was surprised that Sachi and I are still on good terms after nearly a year. I tried to resist the urge, but I ended up doing the ultimate fanboy action and asking for a picture with him - I just had to.  Malcolm was completely gracious about it and seemed like any other nice guy you'd meet on the street - in Barcelona.  Good guy that Malcolm.  After a bit of small talk we left him with his hand written notebook and coffee.  I couldn't help but wonder - is that his next book?  Maybe it's about chance meetings.

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Barcelona Beach

By: leelefever on November 16, 2006 - 4:21am

Just sharing a quick photo from our day at the beach in Barcelona - yes even in November.  This post was created during the filming of this video about travel blogging.


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On Spanish Time

By: leelefever on November 15, 2006 - 3:37pm

From the roof of the Gothic Cathedral La Seu in Barcelona 

We're pretending we live in Barcelona, sort of.  We've rented an apartment and stocked it with food and drinks and made ourselves at home as much as possible.  Along with this comes trying to adjust to the Spanish lifestyle, which is decidedly time-shifted.  The Spanish seem to take the day and shift everything a couple of hours later and throw a mid-day break into the mix - the siesta.

This is surely one of the only times I've posted something close to 1am.  That's because we ate dinner at around 11 and will sleep late tomorrow. Being a morning person, I'm having a hard time adjusting. Getting up after 10am makes me feel like the best part of the day was wasted and I might as well give up on the rest of it.  In reality, the morning hours I missed are just appended onto the end of the day - I'm writing this post in on borrowed time from early this morning.  So, it's a matter of perspective I suppose.

As for the rest of the Spanish lifestyle, we'll see.

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