Sunday, November 30, 2008
I was in the shower today when my eyes caught a glimpse of something that I couldn't believe. A face, a marble face was hanging on the bathroom door. My imagination is playing tricks, I thought, there is no face. But the smoothly sculpted female ghost with heavy eyelids didn't go away. It took a few more second for my brain to grasp that my underwear hanging from the door handle was accidentally draped in such a way as to suggest this apparition.
I fetched the camera and took this photo and I swear I haven't altered or enhanced the picture or the objects in any way: this is exactly what I saw. Once you've noticed the face, you almost obliterate the fact of what it actually is. But if you focus on the facts, then you might not see the face at all.
I often see faces within random objects but this was one of the most striking examples I've ever encountered. Leonardo da Vinci wrote about seeing images in clouds, on walls etc. Face-recognition patterns are built in to our brains right from the start but these unexpected and fleeting ghosts are interesting in their own right. Are there some around you right now that you could photograph?
UPDATE: For the benefit of those who couldn't see the face in the first photo, I've added a smoothed-by-Photoshop version. Now do you see it?
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Continuing my recent exploration of emotional patterns, this short video focuses on facial expressions and hand gestures.
It doesn't represent how I'm currently feeling: I'm just experimenting with ways to illustrate questions that are on my mind.
I find that when I give concentrated attention to a subject, relevant items quickly seem to appear from anywhere, as if thoughts are magnets attracting similar particles.
In the blogosphere this happens all the time in a kind of group telepathy: you're working on or thinking about a particular topic; you take a break and go surfing and - lo and behold - you come across several blogs or websites which are discussing the very same theme, asking the very same questions. Often, in such a chain of synchronicity, I also discover that an intuition I've had about something turns out to be confirmed by experts, even though I had no prior information on that particular subject. One of the many fields I know very little about but am interested in is genetics, and I had a big AHA! moment last week when I came across a book: The Genie in Your Genes, by Dawson Church. That our genetic structure can be altered by our thoughts and feelings is something that many people, including me, instinctively believe but I for one didn't realise that current scientific research confirms this is literally true. I get very excited and start underlining sentences in red ballpoint when I read words like these (all quoted from the above book):
Our emotions and behavior shape our brains as they stimulate the formation of neural pathways that either reinforce old patterns or initiate new ones......when we think an increased flow of thoughts on a topic, or practice an increased quantity of an action, the number of neurons our bodies require to route the information increases.
What you are thinking, feeling and believing is changing the genetic expression and chemical composition of your body on a moment-by-moment basis.
Experience-dependent genes are genes that are activated by learning and novelty.....The experiences we are having each moment are actually changing the structure of our brains.....our brains keep adding new neural links throughout our lives, as long as they are stimulated to do so. This process is called neurogenesis. Learning experiences and other highly attentive states of awareness switch on the expression of genes that stimulate the formation of new neurons.
There are several ways of profiling genes, and one way they may be catalogued is to look at the speed at which they reach peak expression when stimulated by an environmental influence....Some genes are activated quickly; others more slowly.....Certain classes of late activated genes, once expressed, may remain "on" for your entire liftetime.
One of the newest tools that has enabled researchers to conduct experiments that show particular genes being triggered is the DNA microarray. Such gene chips assemble thousands of different strands of DNA onto a single wafer. When exposed to a sample they can then demonstrate which of the strands have been affected by the sample.
The diagram below is from the same book. Needless to say, I instantly saw its resemblance to sound-wave patterns, such as my voice patterns in the previous video clip . I don't (yet) know why there should be a similarity but hey, it's another area to explore.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Click to Play
By the way, in case you're wondering, the voices don't express how I'm feeling at present!
This audio-visual experiment is the result of my current thinking about emotions - specifically the unhappy kind - and how they shape the mind and body by constant repetition, like the slow drip-drip of water on stone. Somewhere in our inner album of memories there must be a key frame, a feeling or sequence of feelings we experienced very deeply in response to something. So deeply that it began a process of repetition which perhaps continues to this day, even if we have forgotten the original event.
Anything in our present reality which even vaguely resembles that original key frame acts as a trigger and can start up the whole sequence again, ringing that Pavlov bell. I'm fascinated by how repetition works on the mind and body, both in negative and positive ways, and how we can consciously alter a process which has, by force of repetition, become unconscious. Devising strategies to create new patterns, those we want rather than being trapped in those we don't want, is fertile territory for the imagination to explore. I prefer to approach subjects like this adventurously and playfully rather than to rely on the vast body of accumulated knowledge. If I come to similar observations, so much the better, but I'll do it my way......my wa..a...aaa..y!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Formats available: Quicktime (.mov)
Sunday was Ethical Fashion Day at the Victoria & Albert Museum and, since this is something completely different from my usual interests, I thought I'd go along. One thing on the programme really appealed to me: it was called Swishing (exchanging your good but hardly worn items of clothing with someone else's). Since there are always mistakes hanging in my wardrobe and I hate being reminded of them, it seemed an opportunity to do something more fun than taking them to my local charity shop (though I'll keep on doing that anyway). So I packed up several striped tops, a long striped skirt, a hideous print wrap-around dress and a lovely pair of lace-up shoes (bought in Paris and worn once; they take half an hour to lace up) and schlepped the lot to South Kensington.
When the time came to allow us to enter the small room where swappable clothes were displayed, a horde of women swooshed in like a swarm of locusts and in what seemed like about five minutes, had gobbled up everything of any interest. It wasn't so much an exchange of goods as a demonstration of survival of the fittest. I noticed my stuff being tried on and taken and I was quite pleased to have got rid of my bad-judgement purchases within the hallowed premises of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But all I found to my liking was a pair of red trousers and a yellow belt.
The rest of the day was definitely worth making the trip for. Some fun activities, eg: drawing on small squares of organic cotton which were then pinned to a dressmaker's dummy to make an Eco Dress, a talk on how to restyle/recycle your wardrobe, etc. Best of all was the fashion show and presentation, setting out the principles behind the term 'ethical' as applied to the fashion industry, whether you're a consumer or producer, and there were lots of interesting web-links to firms I knew nothing about. I managed to get a few photos during the very brief catwalk and the slideshow is above.
My one objection is a familiar one: why can't designers ever use models who look like normal women? ie: women who have breasts and hips and buttocks and thighs which are not necessarily slim, whose legs and necks are not necessarily long, whose faces do not necessarily have razor-sharp cheekbones and who are not necessarily, always, absolutely young, tall and skinny? The majority of women do not look like fashion models and do not have the bodies of boys, so why do designers - even worthy ethical, ecological, sustainable, organic fashion designers - still insist on showing their clothes on only one type of body? Yes, these model creatures are gorgeous and fabrics do hang well on them but come on, get real!
Friday, November 07, 2008
I can't resist a creative challenge, especially one with fixed parameters as well as freedom of execution plus a fixed deadline. So, eager beaver, I've entered this competition. Did some fooling around with animation and live action and uploaded a (nearly) five-minute movie to the Guardian YouTube page. Read Mark's story first and you'll find the parts I decided to play with.
Watch my movie here and comment, maybe.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
In many of the post-election reports and commentaries I've been reading, the initial celebratory euphoria is gradually being doused with expertly worded buts and ifs and maybes and don't forgets and so on and on. I am just as inclined as the most seen-it-all-before cynic to mistrust politics and politicians and to despair about the state of the planet in general. But not right now. Right now I only want to praise, to laud, to honour and to celebrate the two sides of one coin:
An individual: president-elect Barack Obama.
A very large crowd: the people who supported and elected him.
In his acceptance speech, Obama said:
But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to – it belongs to you.
I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.
It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers.......
Clever political speechifying? Yes, of course. But above all, it is true. The Yes-We-Can slogan was actually experienced and acted upon by millions of people, energised by hope, inspired by a man who represents the possibility of change and who is totally unlike the current resident of the White House.
'Charisma' is a word which provokes instant suspicion among thinkers/observers, especially those of us who have been around the block a few times. We've seen too many feet of clay on the idols we ourselves raised up on pedestals when we were naive, or on other popular heroes we never believed in at all. So if someone mentions a leader's charisma our eyebrows are likely to shoot upwards, our lips to curl into the skeptic's sneer and we will say something like: "Well, Hitler had charisma. So did Attila the Hun and Charles Manson etc. etc." We will probably also bring up 'mass hysteria', recalling the terrible extremes to which a whipped-up crowd can go and, therefore, how you can never trust the emotions of a crowd in the grip of charismatic individuals, be they politicians, prophets, soldiers, football players or rock stars.
Well, yes and no. Whatever circuitry in the human brain is responsible for hero-worship and for mass movements, it surely does not always produce negative effects. Was it the same brain circuitry which inspired the followers of Ghandi to non-violence as whipped up the followers of Hitler (and other criminals) to unspeakable violence? And was it 'mass hysteria' when I and millions of others around the world took to the streets to march against the Iraq war? Or when we marched against nuclear weapons? We may not have succeeded in our immediate aims, but these were still victories for people-power. Major changes occur slowly and we may not live to see the results, but I believe that something extraordinary happens to human beings when they come together in large numbers united by good will, concern for each other and a powerful desire to end injustice and corruption. And yes, if a leader can reflect, embody that spirit and inspire people to believe that they themselves have the power to change things, then such a leader is needed. He, or she, is like an orchestra conductor whose skill is to get the best out of each individual player and out of their combined voices, at the service of the music.
Imagine for a moment the kind of radical changes which could happen in the world as a result of concerted people-power. Make a wish-list. Yes, it will look completely unrealistic, naive. Realists will tell you it can never happen.
Yes it can.