How I found inspiration through Instagram.

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I’m not too sure why, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit disheartened a feeling that is unusual at the onset of a new year.

I am now officially halfway through my MBA and found myself propelled into motion through attending my first class of the year last night. Whether I like it or not, I am now strapped into this roller-coaster of perpetual work and study with very little sleep or leisure time with my family and friends.

However, I have recently logged back into my stagnant Instagram account and have felt strangely inspired by this idea of storytelling through pictures. It has forced me to see my mundane routine differently- to see little snapshots of beauty wherever I am- be it in an office, a class room, in traffic. I am searching for a moment of indulgence, a piece of tranquility, something to capture. And it is since I have been doing this that I have started to see the magic in the mundane and learned to re-appreciate the small things.

Here’s to a picturesque year.

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Time travel.

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This title is misleading. Allow me to clarify: even though I’d love to be able tell you my thoughts on the feasibility of time travel and wax lyrical on Einstein’s theory of relativity, unfortunately I don’t know nearly enough to even approach the topic, let alone formulate an opinion. Sadly this musing is not about time travel in the usual sense, but rather about the intersection of two minds on different timelines.

I am a first class surfer of the web, blog sourer and opinion assimilator.  I love to read (seemingly) random articles on just about any topic and I do so with vigor and enthusiasm. What I find quite interesting is the connection that I form with some of these writers, even though I have had no interaction with them at all.  There has been more than one occasion where I have found myself tearing up at my desk from a particularly touching article. I feel their pain, relish in their accomplishments and devour their beautiful turn of phrase- and for a singular moment my thoughts align with theirs at the time that they were writing. For a singular moment I am connected to them; my present with their past and in that singular moment I am able to travel to the very point in time that the writer was putting pen to paper, finger to keyboard. And therein lies my thought on time travel, posted into ether for you to use/ disregard as you see fit.

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The Beat Generation

TheBeatGeneration

(An article that I had published in Prestige Magazine in 2010, images by Marija Anja Venter)

Take yourself back to the days of ducktails, Springbok Radio, the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle and the literature of William S Burroughs. In short: the 1950s. The stench of post- World War II lethargy and resultant rebellion against “the man” was the status quo, and the buzz of activism filled the air. It was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it was Jack Kerouac who coined the name “The Beat Generation.” Generalising from his social circle to characterise the underground, anti-conformist youth of the time, the adjective “beat” referred to being “tired” or “beaten down.” The term was later synonymous with a group of American writers known as “The Beatniks.”

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The Beats were the alluring embodiment of rebellion. During the very conformist post-War era, the Beats engaged in a questioning of traditional values, which produced a break with the mainstream culture that to this day people react either to, or against. They spurred a great deal of interest in lifestyle experimentation (notably with regards to sex and drugs), and they had a large intellectual effect in encouraging the questioning of authority. Hints of their influence even began leaking into the music industry. The Beatles spelled their name with an “a” because John Lennon was a fan of Kerouac.

The three most prominent Beats are undoubtedly William S Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Remember reading and rereading and rereading yet again Naked Lunch to find a semblance of meaning? Well, luckily we have the gift of hindsight today, which may offer us a modicum of clarity into these disjointed works of art. Perhaps a closer look at these literary iconoclasts is in order?

The beginning of the Beats can be traced back to Columbia University, New York, to the meeting of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and others in the original Beat circle. They bonded because they saw in one another a potential that existed outside the strict conformist confines of the post- War, McCarthy-era America. It was on the hallowed grounds of this Ivy League university that Ginsberg discussed the need for a new vision to move away from Columbia University’s conservative notions of literature.

Burroughs was a pivotal member and was introduced to the group at Columbia through a mutual friend. Unlike the others, Burroughs was a Harvard graduate who came from a wealthy family and received a monthly allowance of $200, quite a tidy sum in that time. This allowance was enough to keep him going, and guaranteed his survival for the next 25 years. The allowance was his ticket to freedom. It allowed him to live where he wanted to, and to forego employment.

In 1944, two of the original Beats were involved in a rather convoluted stabbing affair, which resulted in murder. The stabbing precipitated a brief collaboration between Kerouac and Burroughs entitled “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks“, a novel about the killing. The book was not published during the lifetimes of either Kerouac or Burroughs. It was shortly after this incident that Burroughs started abusing morphine, which would eventually become a life-long struggle with addiction.

In 1951, Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, while playing a drunken game of “William Tell.” He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials to release him on bail. He was sentenced to two years, which was later suspended. Burroughs believed that shooting Vollmer was a pivotal event in his life, one which provoked his writing: “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realisation of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and manoeuvred me into a life-long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”

In 1954, Burroughs started working on the fiction that would later become “Naked Lunch“. Under the strong influence of a marijuana confection known as “majoun” and a German-made opioid called “Eukodol,” Burroughs settled in to write. Eventually, Ginsberg and Kerouac helped him type, edit, and arrange these episodes into Naked Lunch. This was Burroughs’ first venture into a non-linear writing style. Excerpts from Naked Lunch were first published in the US in 1958. The novel was initially rejected by City Lights Books, the publisher of Ginsberg’s “Howl“.

Howl was considered scandalous at the time of its publication because of the rawness of its language, which is frequently explicit. Shortly after its 1956 publication by San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, it was banned for obscenity. The ban became a rallying point for defenders of the First Amendment, and was later lifted after Judge Clayton W Horn declared the poem to possess redeeming artistic value.

Ginsberg was also a great advocator of his friends and worked hard to get excerpts from Naked Lunch published. Irving Rosenthal, student editor of Chicago Review, promised to publish more excerpts from the book, but was fired from his position due to the obscene content of these extracts. Rosenthal went on to publish more in his newly created literary journal, Big Table No. 1. However, these copies elicited such contempt that the editors were accused of sending explicit material through the US Mail. This controversy put Naked Lunch at the fore of attention and it was subsequently published in 1959.

Whilst Burroughs and Ginsberg toiled upon the path to publication, Kerouac completed his masterpiece, On the Road, in 1951. The book is largely autobiographical and describes Kerouac’s road-trip adventures across the US and Mexico in the late 1940s, as well as his relationships with other Beat writers and friends. Before beginning the book, Kerouac cut sheets of tracing paper into long strips, wide enough for a type-writer, and taped them together into a 37-metre-long uncomfortable with the idea of publishing a book that contained such graphic descriptions of drug-use and homosexual behaviour; a move that could result in obscenity charges being filed – a fate that later befell Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Ginsberg’s Howl. In 1957, after being rejected several times, “On the Road” was finally purchased by Viking Press.

The Beats were a generation of constant conflict. They chose to push and struggle against the grain, and in so doing opened the path for many others in terms of anti-war activism, gay rights and experimental literature. They were a group of brave souls who had the courage of their convictions. They told it like it was, no matter how hairy the truth. Their writing is entangled with their very humanity; their works are immortal pieces of their semi-lucid lives. When we read their words, we assimilate their very mortality; we inhale their ideology and ingest their beliefs. Who could ask for anything more exhilarating?

JackKerouac

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(An article that I had published in Prestige Magazine in 2010, images: © THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM; THE MoMA)

In a city that is home to 19 million people, a moment of tranquility is rarer than a Fabergé Egg, yet I was lucky enough to find this solace in the most unlikely of places.

Indeed my Nirvana came in the form of a painting…

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Inundated; the most apt description of what it feels like to be a visitor for the very first time in this electric and pulsating city. The enormous skyscrapers, the hordes of people, the absolute bombardment of consumerism and the feeling that engulfs you upon your fist glimpse of a Jackson Pollock painting. Utterly inundated.

New York, special for so many reasons, but to me, one in particular: the art. The absolute omnipresence of art in every way, shape and form; magnificent art deco architecture, the string quartet that plays Chopin in the subway, the bronze “jumper” statues that have been strategically albeit eerily placed on skyscrapers surrounding Madison Square Park. The most spectacular art of all, however, is housed in three very special galleries: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), and the Guggenheim. Each of these gems boasts a very impressive and very diverse collection.

The idea for The MoMA came into being in 1928 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D Rockefeller Junior) and two of her friends, Lillie P Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. The three rented modest quarters for the new museum, which opened to the public on 7 November, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. The MoMA has been singularly important in developing and collecting modernist art – art produced between the 1860s and 1970s – and has been identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. The MoMA’s incredible collection includes work by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Claude Monet, Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth and Jackson Pollock.

The Met is another international gem that houses art from as far back as 3500 BC. Its permanent collection represents works of art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, paintings and sculptures from nearly all the European masters, and an extensive collection of American and modern art. Interestingly, the museum is also home to a vast collection of musical instruments, including Ringo Starr’s snare drum.Image

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The Met was founded in 1870 by a group of businessmen, financiers and leading artists and thinkers of the day, who wanted to open a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. As of 2007, the Met measures almost 400 metres in length and occupies around 190,000 square metres. I was told that it would take me four full days to walk through the entire collection. I had to do it in two.

The next aesthetic wonder that calls New York home is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum or The Guggenheim for short. The building was designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is considered to be one of the 20th Century’s most important architectural landmarks. The Guggenheim opened on 21 October 1959 and was the second museum opened by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. It is the permanent home to a renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year. I was lucky enough to catch an exhibition entitled, Haunted: Contemporary Photography/ Video/Performance. It chilled me to the bone.

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As I walked through the three museums I had a bit of time to consider the various collections I’d seen; the modern art resonating the most. After extensive thought I decided it was because modern art is not only a visceral feast but also an intellectual exercise. The artist has an ideology, a message and a unique channel that conveys it. It is not just a way to reproduce form but also a way of representing the meaning thereof. The beauty of modern art is that it is yours and mine; we interpret it in our own ways and thereby become a part of the process of the art rather than just spectators to it.

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The MoMA  is located in Midtown Manhattan, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and is currently hosting a Picasso exhibit that will run until the end of August, 2010. A Picasso exhibit running concurrently with that of the MoMA can be found at the Met, located on the eastern edge of Central Park, along what is known as the Museum Mile. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is located at 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street).

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The Modernist Author and an Autonomous Art Form.

(An article that I had published in Prestige Magazine in 2010, images by Marija Anja Venter)

ImageThe stagnant Victorian era was becoming a distant memory and stance du jour was that of embracing new forms of knowledge and ideas. The start of the 20th Century brought with it a strand of avant garde thinking that rejected all previous norms and beliefs. In short, it was about questioning the very fabric of reality itself. The Modernist movement put a great deal of emphasis on radical individualism, which was executed through a writing technique known as the “stream of consciousness.” This progressive and reactive stance rocked the proverbial boat of authors, and as a result produced a new subjective and autonomous form of art.

Modern “stream of consciousness” is a writing technique that relays the direct conscious thoughts of the writer onto the page. It is not constrained by style, structure and punctuation as it comes straight from the mind of the writer, filtered only through the mind of the character. This technique portrays the inner psyche of the character and is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue characterised by associative – and at times dissociative – leaps in syntax and punctuation that can make the prose difficult to follow, tracing a character’s fragmentary thoughts and sensory feelings. Modern authors Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were both advocators of this literary technique and are regarded as two of the foremost modernist literary figures of the 20th Century.

The most noteworthy and important influence of Woolf’s life and subsequently her writing was undoubtedly her involvement with the Bloomsbury Group. The Bloomsbury group comprised an intellectual circle of writers and artists who lived in Bloomsbury, London. A common ethos concerning the nature of the fundamental separateness of individuals involving both isolation and love underlie the group’s core ideals. These Bloomsbury assumptions are also reflected in what Bloomsbury group members saw as repressive practices of sexual inequality, and in attempts to establish a new social order based upon liberation from these established norms. Love (an inner state) was held in higher esteem than monogamy (a demonstrable behaviour), and several of the members had more than one serious relationship simultaneously. Woolf herself had a lengthy extramarital affair with writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson, which lasted the greater part of the 1920s.

Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language and it is because of this concentration on the inner state of the autonomous individual that her definitive “stream of consciousness” writing style came to fruition. Her novels are highly experimental. Her narratives, which are frequently uneventful and commonplace, are refracted, sometimes almost dissolved, in the characters’ receptive consciousness. She often fuses intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions. This technique often elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings of most of her novels.

Along with Virginia Woolf, James Joyce is a key figure in the development of the modernist novel. Joyce also made use of the “stream of consciousness” technique. But, even though their works show an overlapping and an interconnected similarity of ideas, the only link between Woolf and Joyce is the period of time in which they existed.

The most significant influence on Joyce’s journey into the “stream of consciousness” stems from geography. Indeed, although most of his adult life was spent outside the country, Joyce’s Irish experiences are essential to his writings and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. Another noteworthy titbit regarding his novels is the early relationship with the Irish Catholic Church, which is reflected by a similar conflict in his character Stephen Dedalus, who appears in two of his novels. This inner conflict, pertaining to the existence of God, mirrors the Bloomsbury ideals of the time: a concentration on the inner state of the autonomous individual.

Joyce’s method of “stream of consciousness,” literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in arguably the most interesting and simultaneously frustrating book of all time: Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns. The book ends with the beginning of a sentence and begins with the end of the same sentence, turning the book into one great cycle. Indeed, Joyce said that the ideal reader of Finnegans Wake would suffer from “ideal insomnia” and, on completing the book, would turn to page one and start again, and so on, in an endless cycle of reading.

The Modernist emphasis on radical individualism is echoed in Richard Huelsenbeck’s First German Dada Manifesto of 1918: “Art in its execution and direction is dependent on the time in which it lives, and artists are creatures of their epoch. The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week … The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast to the intelligence of their time.”

The beauty of the Modernist movement lies in its subtext. The fact that both Woolf and Joyce employ similar writing techniques in order to convey corresponding ideologies even though their paths never crossed is astonishing. The very notion that two completely unrelated human beings can share the same ethos just because they share a point on a universal timeline is a testament to the profound interconnectivity that we share with one another. When we pick up one of Woolf’s novels, we take a journey through her thoughts and inadvertently through the thoughts of her contemporaries. We assimilate the mindset of the modern and become a part of the greater collective consciousness of humanity and in so doing discover the elixir of life.

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Newton’s third law of motion applied to Christmas cards.

I used to love physics when I was in high school, there was not much that could compare with the satisfaction of dappling with ridiculous hypotheticals that included throwing pigs into a vacuums and applying theories that stemmed from the displacement of bath water.

So considering it’s been over 10 years (shudder) since I wrote my final physics paper and fluttered into my university endevours in very different fields, I was quite surprised that my mind jumped to Newton after reading an article this morning entitled ‘Give and Take: How The Rule Of Reciprocation Binds Us.’

The article referred an experiment conducted in 1974 by sociologist Phillip Kunz. He decided to send out Christmas cards to 600 random strangers and just to observe what happened, the cards contained a hand written note as well as a photograph of Kunz with his family.  After 2 weeks responses started to stream in and eventually Kunz had received an overwhelming 200 responses.

It’s quite weird to think that complete strangers would encourage this kind of behavior by partaking in the madness and responding, but Kundz said this was due to what he calls ‘the rule of reciprocation’. The gist of this concept is that when we give people something they feel obliged to reciprocate in some way. It is just uncanny how this reminded me of Newton’s third law of motion; ‘for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.’

People will respond with a gesture that is equal to the Christmas card gesture by sending another Christmas card. Apparently this Christmas card game of badminton continued for 15 years! The lovely frivolity of this has kept me bemused all day.

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Dispatchwork

I was trawling Tumblr (as one does) and happened upon these amazing photographs of a global art project called ‘Dispatchwork’ by Jan Vormann.

Jan uses childlike whimsy to brighten up public spaces by sealing fissures in broken walls worldwide with pieces of Lego.

I really love juxtaposition between urban greyscale and multi-coloured Lego and I think that it provides an interesting take on the status quo making fun of the ‘seriousness’ of today. Perfect reading for a Tuesday me thinks.

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