Friday, July 25, 2014

Disobedient Objects

Since I have at least one reader that enjoys hearing about my escapades into the cultural scene of London, I figured I would document another I have been to recently that has likewise shaken my world:

Last night Churches and I went to a corporate opening night of the V&A's latest and controversial exhibit: Disobedient Objects. This covers objects designed, appropriated, and created by social movements between the late 1970s and now. It was absolutely fascinating, and extremely powerful. The range of topics was astounding.

There were objects against educational price hikes, the death penalty, undocumented and uninvestigated disappearings of children, sexism in art, disparity between the wealthy and poor, destruction of historical buildings, and more.

They weren't what I had expected them to be. Sure there were normal banners and things that were marched down the streets in nonviolent protest...

...but there were also things like:

A death mask car. This was made in response to an inmate put to death in Texas. The friends and family of the deceased created a mosaic art car with a death mask of the executed man (made within hours of his execution). They rode this around Texas and London to spread the awareness of what the death penalty actually means - how the families of the criminals are affected, how one person's life has been extinguished, not a number or a crime.

[Side note: I did some research on the executed man and he was charged with robbery and murder of a taxi driver. He and a 16-year-old female accomplice had the taxi drive to a remote area in the country, where he shot the taxi driver in the back of the head, then rifled through the driver's pockets and fled. The reason they were caught and identified is the 16-year-old accomplice shot another person accompanying the taxi driver, but this person survived and later identified them.]

Notes hidden in crafts. Chilean women used to create arpillas (stitched blankets) to express opposition to authoritarianism, the violation of human rights, and the disappearance of loved ones during the rule of the military government. These disappearings went undocumented and uninvestigated, so these blankets were sewn with images to represent this, with notes tucked inside for the future owner to find. They knew the blankets would be sold elsewhere and some owners might eventually find their notes, spreading knowledge of what was happening.

Shields made in the shapes of books. When educational costs were being cut in one country, students made battering shields to fight riot control police, choosing a book to defend from the cuts. The images of riot police hitting students with these large books was deep indeed.

Shackled arm tubes. A particular group (one of whom I met at the exhibit as she was taking photos of the video she is in, which is on loop in the exhibit) protested the expansion of British roads into the countryside, which in turn was demolishing historic houses and "uglifying" the landscape. They argued that instead of creating more pollution and destroying what was beautiful and should be preserved, the government should invest heavily in public transit instead. Better for the environment, everyone gets to stay happy (including the 93-year-old woman they were trying to evict from one of the historic houses, who had lived there literally all her life). To move against this, they padlocked their arms inside metal tubes that could not be removed without sawing (or the key). The government in turn starting using the same saws and technology used to remove casts (so it wouldn't cut into flesh accidentally), so protesters got more creative and started shoving other objects in the tubes with them, to confuse the technology. Eventually they did prevail and road expansions were halted.

Though I don't agree with everything that was being fought for or represented, I do acknowledge the powerful messages that were trying to be conveyed and how many of the things we have today were achieved by means just like these. It was fascinating to see and I applaud the V&A taking a controversial subject as this and giving it a spotlight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Artist is, really

A few of you may remember when this particular video went viral.

Marina Abramovic had an exhibit called, "The Artist is Present," where visitors were invited to sit across from her for a few minutes. For the majority of these she sat stoically, until she was reunited with another artist she'd worked with 20 years earlier. They were lovers and performers together, finally ending things by walking from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China, meeting in the middle, hugging, then never speaking to each other again (or so the legend goes). This was the first time she'd seen him since that moment. I think the reaction speaks for itself.

Naturally when her name came up on YPlan for her exhibit in London, called "512 Hours," I was intrigued. It's not everyday you can see an internet sensation! Of course she is also known for her rather controversial work including orgasming on stage, letting visitors do what they wanted to her body with a variety of objects laid out (some of them did cut her, while most were more gentle)...but let's make it clear I haven't looked deeply into her previous work for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately I couldn't make it the first few times I intended to - it's a free exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in the middle of Hyde Park, open six days a week (closed Mondays) from about 10am-6pm. I figured weekends might be busy and lunch times were probably out as well. Because it was free, there was a potential for queuing if others wanted to come at the same time. They employ a one-in-one-out policy to keep from overcrowding the exhibit.

This past weekend I finally made time to go. It was a bright sunny day, hot by all British standards (a solid 25 degrees C I'd say). It was gorgeous. I walked through Hyde Park and read in the queue, getting further towards the end of Alice Hoffman's "Here on Earth" (my then-current pick from the library).

I got in and was told that I would have to leave absolutely everything I'd brought with me (including my watch) in a locker before entering. I was then handed a pair of soundproof headphones and allowed to walk in.

Now the idea behind this exhibit was to force visitors to leave all of their baggage behind (literally and metaphorically). No sense of time, no sound, just interactions with other people visiting and the artist herself.

There were three rooms.

The first you stepped into had a wide wooden cross platform set up in the middle of the room, with wooden folding chairs enclosing it in a square. People were sitting in the chairs, standing against the walls watching, or a few had even taken to standing completely still (most with their eyes closed) on the stage. I watched for a few minutes before deciding to move on.

The next room I went into had two rows of colorful, simple cots. They had a single pillow and sheet on each, and there were people lying in them. Seeing Marina herself helping people into cots, I walked over to one and tucked myself in, unsure of how to react because there were no instructions other than simply being. It was clear she would interact with you if she desired, so I laid down and waited my turn, if it was to be my turn.

It was easy to tune everything out at that point. You're lying in a comfortable clean cot in a blissfully air-conditioned room with soundproof headphones on. I was able to think clearly for the first time in months with all the sounds and noise that London typically brings. other words I completely fell asleep. I took a nap in the middle of a performance art exhibit.

I woke up some time later (naturally no clocks or watches, so I don't know exactly how long I was there), and there was someone standing watching me. It didn't feel weird, but after I opened my eyes I wasn't sure what else I would do other than nap again.

So I got up. An exhibit helper (they were all dressed in black) smiled at me and I smiled timidly back before looking down quickly. It felt weird to interact with others, especially as I had just commandeered that cot for who knows how long. Considering no one had seemed to move around me, it seemed I took one of the shorter amounts of time. I awkwardly made the bed after slipping on my shoes again and made my way to the final room.

I could only peer into it, because so many people were clogging the entrance, but it looked like a room where people were walking very very slowly in straight lines, from one end of the room to the next. After my refreshing nap I almost snorted, but people take art so seriously (especially in London), so I just thought my silly thoughts and decided maybe it was time to leave.

I bought some postcards (unrelated) for my fridge at the shop to support the museum, and made my way out into the sunshine again.

To be honest, seeing Marina interact with others in the occurred to me that she's just another middle-aged woman. It was nice seeing her be a normal person, someone who didn't take things as seriously as her exhibits suggest.

Well-done, Marina. You were able to completely take me out of the context of noisy London and put me into peace. I read the rest of my book on a park bench, finishing it perfectly in time to leave for a free comedy show I was seeing that night with Churches.

Wonderful summer day with Don.

Friday, July 18, 2014

That's nacho's mine!

In light of what happened yesterday to many of my friends and coworkers, I am going to post about something senseless. My heart goes out to all of them, some of the situations were incredibly abrupt.

There is nothing constant in life but change. Embrace it and adapt, you'll always land on your feet.



After the nacho incident of several weeks ago, I'd been wondering when I would get back on the nacho horse. If I would ever get back on the nacho horse.

In my mind I always knew I would; it being one of my favorite foods it's not like you abandon it simply because you had a bad experience (or few).

Over the weeks I've tried nachos a few more times: while watching Brazil win over the Netherlands (big yay), then again at the girly Benefit pop-up bar that appeared for the World Cup and Two and I found out about a week before its unfortunate closing.

There were good nachos and bad. Nothing amazing, but luckily nothing that made me sick again.

In a way to face the experiences of bad nachos (whether via food poisoning or just by taste...everything here has been disappointing instead of delicious), I've decided the only way around this is to make my own goddamn nachos. That way I can ensure:

  1. I will not get food poisoning (unless I handle stuff badly, in which case it is literally my fault).
  2. All appropriate toppings will be made fresh (this especially goes towards salsa and guacamole, pinnacles of proper nachoing).
  3. I will get all desired toppings (real nachos should have melted cheese, onions, meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and maybe some spicy sauce).
  4. It will be delicious. 
It just seemed like destiny when this article came out on cheese dips you can make at home.

My god the nachos that will ensue. It's time to throw another party at mine. Gotta make proper nachos, once and for all.

There is an art to this, and I intend to master it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Being a unicorn

Working in the secretive design department is sort of like being a unicorn: rarely seen or heard from, but lots of talk abound about what we do and how we come up with the magic that is seen later.

I have to say, it's funny being a unicorn. "You must work in the design department because I don't think I've seen you around." You're right I do. We're magical.

I believe the term I've heard repeatedly is, "soooo secret squirrel."


I do love working here, even if lately it's been harder for me to keep focus because of my feelings. I get bored more easily, am not as motivated. I have less patience for people. 

But I do still love the perks and the people I work with (generally speaking), and where I live. I've come to love Don in a way I never expected. I can see what people mean when they say that it takes a long time to get into London, but once you do, it never takes its claws out of you.

The reason I am bringing this up is once again our company is faced with layoffs. There are rumors abound that 10% of the total workforce will be cut. We're at 127,000 employees at the moment. That means 12,000 are going to go in the announcements next week.

I'd like to believe the rumors that it will mostly be where there are overlaps (we now have marketing teams from our old company and new, for example), dead program teams (e.g. their products were cut but they're still around and aren't being used for something new), parts of the system that are no longer used (we brought over many small outposts of employees, because we were so completely global).

But the fact remains that once again it is a toss up. Even knowing what the company strategy vaguely is, it doesn't always (in fact usually doesn't), correspond to reality in who gets cut and who stays.

On the one hand I'm glad they're moving so quickly and decisively, it seems we finally have someone at the helm who is willing to make the changes we need to become competitive.

On the other hand I'm sad for those who will lose their jobs, no longer be with us. We've been bleeding employees here in the meantime because people feel uncertain about the future.

Either way I know I'll be fine because I have my accepted position at UCL. Should things go sour (and I really hope they don't), I'll merely switch to full-time study and finish in half the time. I know I'm safe and secure.

Having emotions this time around though, has made the layoffs harder. I now fear much more than I did before. But I guess this is just part of life, people keep telling me it's natural.

So I guess in conclusion I'll just say this: I'd like to remain a unicorn, with all its goods and bads. This world needs to retain a bit of magic.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Betrayed by nachos

This is one of the saddest blog posts I've had to write in awhile (and yes, that includes the recent one about being three months clean and full of so many emotions).

I was betrayed by my beloved nachos.

You readers, are aware of my love of nachos. I was so sad when Finland was pitifully devoid of one of my favorite snacks. Really, things were not cool. Though that nacho burger from Hesburger was pretty awesome. But I digress.

American J was visiting for the weekend so we assembled the Iceland crew for a reunion: Actor, Nonsequitor, Two, and Olive. We all gathered at Actor and Nonsequitor's house for an indoor picnic before being kicked out because both had to go to church.

Seeing as how it stays light outside now until about 10:30pm (it's awesome), we decided to make use of the day both FIFA soccer games in pubs. Such a great use of the outdoor light. It was the Netherlands vs. Mexico first then Greece vs. Costa Rica.

We went to a pub near Canary Wharf for the first one, then a pub near Oxford Circus for the second. The second is where we finally sat down and ordered some dinner food. I got pulled pork nachos (what else would I have chosen on the menu when their salad was strangely all sold out?) and shared it with American J, who also ordered us a beef roast.

The nachos came and looked something like this (I didn't take an actual photo, this is just an internet facsimile):

Large amount of pulled pork with sweet bbq sauce piled on top, vague corn chips that already had some spices on them, sliced pickled jalapenos, some sort of mature cheddar cheese that had been sprinkled and melted, three little dipping bowls full of guacamole, cooked salsa (hmph), and something resembling sour cream.

I was happy; it'd been awhile since I had nachos (it probably wasn't that long ago but offhand I can't remember...sure seems like a long time).

I dug in. Like literally dug in. I was eating just nachos (e.g. not the roast) for a solid half an hour or more. I love nachos, I really do.

Especially when the entertainment is not living up to its reputation. I was rooting for Greece (I have several Greek friends and have no special ties to Costa Rica) and no one was scoring. Like not at all. It was one of the dullest FIFA games I've ever seen. First half and then eventual call for overtime was sort of like torture. No one was making moves and everyone kept missing. Too much defense, not enough action.

Anyway I polished off those nachos and we eventually all decided it was time to call it quits. American J and I headed back on the tube and even walked home from Ealing Broadway, it was such a pleasantly warm night. I felt fine, if a little full, from all the food we'd eaten that day (breakfast at Cafe Oink, full indoor picnic, extreme nachos and roast for dinner...not to mention several beers).

We got ready and collapsed into bed; it had been a long day.

Sometime around 2am though, I was woken up by extreme stomach pains. I tried to ignore it (my usual MO for when I wake up with any kind of pain...just try to go back to sleep and it'll go away on its own), but it was persistent. I had no idea what was going to happen; not like I felt particularly nauseous or needing to relieve myself. It just really really hurt.

And strangely sitting, squatting, and standing all felt better than laying down. Haven't had that before.

So I lived in the bathroom for a few hours, trying to figure out what to do about it. I took my emergency purse-dose of pepto bismol and prayed that it would work its magic quickly.

It didn't. The vomiting started soon afterwards.

Strangely this didn't make me feel any better. Just squatting and sitting did. I tried it a few times, just sitting up in bed, but eventually I would get tired and lay down. Only to be reawakened to the pain I thought had quieted.

By this time it started to get light outside and at some point the pain did go away enough for me to fall asleep. I slept until about 8:30am when the construction across the hall started. OMG shut up drill I hate you so much right now.

Needless to say I took a sick day and saw American J off.

I later messaged Olive and Two and inquired whether or not they had felt okay after the food. American J had said she felt queasy but this was not an unusual thing for her.

Turns out Olive had a horrible night the night after mine, American J quickly following suit (and unfortunately on her delayed plane ride back to San Diego). I can only imagine what it is like having that kind of pain and sitting in a plane that has sat on the runway for an extra hour and a half longer than it should have. My god.

Needless to say, we blame the nachos. It's the only thing everyone shared (minus Two, who was fine).

Beloved nachos, noooo! How could you do this to me?! Clearly that place (Shakespeare's Head) near Oxford Circus has been put on the black list for us. No more going there. Like ever. be honest this hasn't really put me off of nachos. I still love them and will continue to love them. My love for them is too deep. In sickness and in health...

But I am starting to come to the conclusion that Britain really doesn't do nachos. Really. They're all decent versions but...sigh, there's just something so not right about them here. Perhaps I will need to only eat nachos in America. Where it's likely I will not get sick. At least not from anything other than overeating.

Nachos how could you!?!
It's okay I forgive you.