Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Museum Musings: Joyful Activism

This is kind of what I imagine, except not all the Jubilee fairies
are pretty white ladies. Titania & Bottom, circa 1790,
by Henry Fuseli [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although I've been working to focus this blog towards visions and inspirations for the Museum, occasionally I run into something so fabulously and uniquely related to joy that I just have to write about or feel I'm somehow failing in my mission. Today it is my pleasure to write about the Rolling Jubilee, a work of activism so brilliant, beautiful, and far-reaching that I get that kind of proud inflated feeling in my chest that is you might recognize if you've ever sung a national anthems in a large crowd or watched a male pigeons strut around trying to impress the ladies. No, but really. Snark aside, the Rolling Jubilee is amazing. So what's the deal? Just this: The Occupy movement has birthed a legion of sparkly fairies who go around magically forgiving people's debts. Yes. For actual. And while there may not be any real glitter involved, this phenomenal piece of activism is absolutely, solidly golden.

Here's what's up. A lot of people in this country have debt, right? Like a lot a lot. And banks do this shady thing where they sell your debt for pennies to people who then go after you for the full amount. Those people are involved in one of the more uniquely horrible professions in this country: their job is to hound you until you die or give them money. So Strike Debt, the folks behind the Rolling Jubilee, decided to do something astounding: they would become debt buyers. And then...

...they would forgive the debt completely. 

Just make it go away. They buy it from the bank, it belongs to them - and yes, they can simply make it vanish. Into thin air. And remember, the bank sells the debts for a fraction of their worth. Which means that the $368,428 that Rolling Jubilee has raised so far can forgive seven million, three hundred and forty-three thousand, three hundred and seventy-seven dollars of debt. Yes, that's right. That means you can buy a dollar of debt for around a nickel. Which means some pretty astonishing things....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Let's Taste This Matisse

This painting was not in the "Taste For Modernism"
show that Naomi & I saw, but there was a Degas there,
and all the other interesting paintings I wanted to us are
still under copyright - including the Matisse that inspired
the headline. If you live in SF, go taste the show!
I studied art history somewhat extensively in my undergrad years, with a primary focus on the two wildly diverging categories of Symbolist art & poetry and revolutionary cinema/performance art. Which admittedly is kind of like saying I studied cooking and focused on Japanese sushi-making traditions and Azerbaijani cuisine, but whatever, I went to Hampshire. I got super into it, joyously into it, and yet, despite cutting off all my hair in a performance piece about subverting the expectations of the oppressing gaze and all the hours I spent writing analytical essays about the urban sublime in the paintings of Fernand Khnopff, I still secretly hated art museums. Classical art museums were boring; modern art museums were infuriating. (I still have a draft of a five-thousand-word two-part rant about Jeff Koons sitting around here somewhere, but I'll spare you the yelling and the aggravated caps locking.) Every now and again I'd stumble into an exhibit that was a total revelation, but for the most part I was bored stiff and/or angry at all times. Until, that is, this past Friday's excursion to the de Young with Naomi of Brush Fire Painting. Naomi, it turns out, had read my post about synesthesia, and it turned out she, too, is synesthetic - in fact, she has a form of it I envy greatly, color-taste synesthesia. For example, she informed me, my bright cobalt blue jacket tasted of mint.

An art museum, needless to say, is an extraordinary place to hang out in the company of someone whose perception of color so obviously and radically differs from your own. You've all probably had that one stoned moment where you and your habitual partner in drugged-out-revelations were all like wait, dude. What if the color you see as red...is totally the color that I see as green? and then you were both all like whooaaa and then you both forgot about it because how could we even know, man and anyway, icccce creeeeeam. (No, really, I know this isn't just me. Come on.) Now, that's partly crazy because there's just no way to know for sure. So when someone comes along who definitely experiences colors differently from you - because she freakin' tastes them, man - it can make for a pretty radical moment. Or, at least, it did for me. Because, of course, I wanted right away to know what every color tastes like. And was it different seeing this painting of brightly colored gumballs than this abstract with blue blobs? What about charcoal sketches? What about the color of the walls?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Prismatic Windows

The Exploratorium's windows have prismatic treatments on them,
meaning that certain angles of light produce spectacular displays
of rainbow light all over the gray, industrial walls of the building.
I love my job at the Exploratorium with a degree of fervency approaching obsession. It remains incredible to me that somebody actually wants to pay me real money to hang out in the world's best science museum all day long. I work early hours, which suits me fine, since I'm that chipper morning-lover who drives everyone else crazy with my cheery ebullience in the wee hours of the dawn. This morning I was startled by something I'd never seen before: I walked into the cavernous darkness of the museum, maybe ten minutes early for my shift, and stopped short, bewildered, dazzled by the rainbows splashed across the walls. Gorgeous, rich, glowing rainbows. The grungy pipes and dusty beams were covered in them. Wires hummed with them. I've written before about the rather delightful darkness of the museum -- in fact the shadowy gloom is one of the things I will miss the most after our move to Pier 15 -- and it was just that darkness that made the sudden apparition of a glory of color so strange and wonderful. That, and the fact that I'd never seen it before. Not because I'd never noticed - it had simply never been there. I stood and stared. Five minutes later the brilliant colors were bleached and pale; ten minutes later they were completely gone.

What the heck just happened? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Kinesynesthesia

Check out this fabulous anatomical(ish) drawing of the eye
by Johannes Zahn from 1687! The closest thing I could really
find to illustrate the bizarre ways that synesthesia makes the
senses overlap. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Let's talk about synesthesia for a minute. I want to sketch out an idea, and it's going to need a wee bit of context to make sense (and even then, of course, it's anybody's guess how much the machinations of my brain translate to comprehensible reality.) Synesthesia is all of the awesome. It's a "neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway," according to Wikipedia, which means that when you have it, what you usually experience through one set of senses sometimes comes out simultaneously through another. The common example is people who perceive numbers as colors or colored, but you may recognize it as well from any exposure you've had to various forms of psychedelia, where under certain circumstances music may become color, color may become scent, and scent may become music, among other, weirder things. There's also ideasthesia, which is a word that attempts to identify more accurately what happens in certain experiences usually called synesthetic. As far as I can understand it,  synesthesia refers to a union of sensory experiences (for example, those who experience the color pink as tasting sweet, or "hear" the yellow of a lemon), while ideasthesia refers to an association of a concept with a sense (for example, those who experience the number five as red - which I do, as it happens.)

There are all sorts of ways to be ideasthetic or synesthetic, and many people have varying degrees of it. I have mild grapheme-color ideasthesia, which generally speaking refers to people who see letters, numbers and/or typographical symbols as vividly colored. I see some numerals very strongly: 3 is very green for me and 5 is very red, but 6 is a pretty washed-out yellow, 8 is a muddy dark blue, and 1 is sort of colorless; I see 4 as pink, but only barely. When I say I see it, I mean that when I think of a 3, it is always a green three; even if you present me with a 3 written in red pen, the concept of 3 is green to me. (My father started an experiment a long time ago where once a year he asked me & my sister to list the colors of the numbers 1 through 20. Mine have been the same every year; there is something inherently green about 3 to me. I can't see it any other way. Other people I have met with grapheme-color ideasthesia only occasionally share the same association, and we are always sort of aghast when we hear differing colors - the idea of a blue 3 is very upsetting in its wrongness to me, and a green 3 equally repulsive to them.)

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