Thursday, 18 December 2008

Contemporary art: a laughing matter?

This week I visited the Saatchi gallery. The exhibition at current displays new art from China. Call it new, modern or contemporary art, it is the kind which usually causes a reaction from its audience. It may be a blissful realisation of the meaning of life or an angry, "that's not art!". 

Whether it is your cup of tea or not, I thought it was a playful exhibition and I often enjoy contemporary art for that reason. However it's also deeper than just fun and games. On closer inspection, and in some cases at first glance, it did feel quite disturbing to be stood in the gallery.

For example, standing below tens of naked life size human models hanging upside down from the ceiling, I wasn't quite sure what it represented. According to Zhang Dali, the artist, they portray immigrant workers who are from the rural areas all over China and work in construction sites in Chinese cities. 

Zhang thinks they are the most important people of the Chinese race as they shape our physical reality. The bodies are hung upside down, because they represent the, "uncertainty of their life and their powerlessness in changing the own fates."

Sculptures of people featured heavily in other Chinese artists works too. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu created models of elderly men that look suspiciously like world leaders. They are placed in wheel chairs. One holds a beer can, another holds some toilet paper to blow his nose and they slowly wheel round the room satirically bumping into each other. 

Perhaps one of the most visually shocking is the sculpture of a giant poo, spanning two metres in diameter. The textured detail does not politely refrain. It is as grotesque and repulsive as a giant number two can be.

One of my favourites by YueMinjun was that of the "Laughing Buddhas" (pictured above).

Sunday, 14 December 2008

What do you reeaallly want for Christmas?

After reading the Sunday paper today. If you want something that is bad for you but legal, then blame the advertisers. A heart charity is trying to nail this problem relating to kids and junk food by calling for a ban on unhealthy foods being advertised before 9pm. 

BHF (British Heart Foundation) say that too many shows such as the X-Factor, Kids do the Funniest Things and Emmerdale are sandwiched by adverts enticing parents to buy kids foods which are "bad" for them.

The BHF report says that food companies take advantage of parents' concerns about giving their children unhealthy foods by "bigging up" one aspect of the food item, such as that it is whole grain, but missing out the fact they are tremendously high in fat, salt or sugar.

And when advertising is made illegal, businesses find other sneakier ways...

Cigarette firms have been found to have set up a supposedly independent group called the "Save our shop" campaign. This is for smaller retailers to campaign against government restrictions on promoting cigarettes in shops. MPs believed they were unaware the scheme was funded by tobacco companies and over 100 MPs signed a petition in alliance with the "save our shop" campaign.

So there we have it, always question why you want what you want for christmas before you buy it. Such as the pizza maker when you're on a diet, the mini fridge when you have enough space in the big one in the kitchen or the box of 200 cigarettes when you don't even smoke...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Climate Change Rollercoaster

I don't know if it's the newspapers hyping things up or if it's true that CO2 emissions were going down by 500 million tonnes a year on Sunday, but today they aren't .... and we are in actual fact already in a haze of CO2, methane and blasting heat.

Sunday's paper said (Observer newspaper): "Melting ice may slow global warming", adding the expertise of a geologist. Sheets of ice which break off Antarctic ice blocks will form smaller icebergs which should trigger off a reaction from the sea bed minerals, which in turn causes a natural removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

But then, in the Guardian yesterday on melting ice and CO2 emissions and global warming: "Too late? Why scientists say we should expect the worst".  It was after a high-level academic conference on global warming at Exeter University, where apparently everyone had that (literal quote of) "strange feeling" that it wasn't looking good. 

The reason being that carbon emissions are soaring out of control. And it wasn't just Kevin Anderson the Climate scientist who felt doomed. Bob Watson the chief scientist at the Environment Department decided to add, "We must alert everybody that at the moment we're at the very top end of the worst case (emissions) scenario."

There was no solution. Literally an article on how species diversity, crops and low lying land is more than under threat. That we should just accept and expect the worst. Are we doomed?

What ever the outcome here, I'm definitely sticking to my recycling

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The most graceful age

Summer born babies are said to be at a disadvantage to Winter born ones when it comes to education, says a report in the Observer newspaper. 

Being the younger ones in the year, children born at the end of the academic year, may struggle to keep up with their maturer class mates, not because of intelligence, but because of age.

I possibly agree with that. Being born in October, I was always older at school. But as soon as it came to university it swapped over. All the younger ones in the year tended to take gap years. Where as I didn't because my time was ticking. So we all leveled out in the end.

But then when you go beyond university, youthful careers and your glowing golden age at work, you turn into a wrinkly figure of discrimination.  According to the Observer newspaper today again, the number of people facing ageism at work have tripled within a year.

It appears that mainly women suffer most. It makes sense. All you need to do is watch this series of X factor. Female judges Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue have an average age of 31 years old. Male judges Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh have a rather larger average of 53 years old.

I would say Cheryl and Dannii find success partly due to their attractive looks. But I wouldn't say Simon and Louis made it big because of their stunning handsomeness.

The outcome? Perhaps increasing compensation pay-outs for those who feel discriminated against. Perhaps increasing plastic surgery. Or more ideally, perhaps a whole shift in the societies views towards appearances and age... 

The older should mean the wiser, the more experienced, the more confident. Not just the more wrinkles.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Ethical dilemma: conjoined twin separation

One of the conjoined twins, Hope sadly died today after being separated from her twin, Faith. 

A view supported by some religious groups, is that they shouldn't have been separated at all and somebody asked me the question today, "Is the surgeon a murderer?" 

I said that I could not put it as strongly as that, but in actual fact, I don't think he is one at all!

Having 20 people to operate on the twins through out the night in order to give them a chance in life gives me a complete opposite view.

As far as I am aware, the twins were separated without too much debate. Although the operation was risky, being joint at the abdomen placed face to face, any quality of life would be greatly reduced otherwise. 

What I do think was controversial however, is that the couple to have the twins were advised to have them aborted beforehand.

Faith, who is at the moment in intensive care and stable could survive the trauma. A termination would have prevented any chance of survival for both. However it is a battle, which could end in devastation. It is really a matter of how willing one is to go through with the fight.

Jodie and Mary
In November 2000,  siamese twins Jodie and Mary were separated against their Roman Catholic parents wishes. The operation followed one of the biggest debates in medical ethical history. 

By separation, this would give one twin a chance of survival, where as not separating them would have meant neither would have been able to survive.

Laden and Laleh
In July 2003, Iranian siamese twin Ladan and Laleh Bijani were nearly 30 when they decided to go ahead with separation. Their heads were joint and shared some major vessels. 

Despite having coped with their attachment for so many years, having law degrees and knowing the large risk of an operation they agreed to separate because of their different career path ambitions.

Tragically neither survived the operation. Their strong desire for separation, despite knowing possible consequences suggests that being conjoined causes serious problems in life quality.

Their have been many advances in surgery and survival rates have increased over the years. We can only pray that this will mean Faith a chance in life.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Captain Corelli's mandolin - read it!

I have just finished reading the wonderful book, Captain Corelli's Mandolin. 

The author, Louis de Bernieres writes a history of the Greek Island of Cephallonia during the 2nd world war, but adds characters, personal tragedies and love stories making it emotional, funny, sensitive and beautifully written.

Captain Corelli is a young Italian officer, who is sent, as part of the occupying forces, to Cephallonia. The villagers are disgusted by him and his soldiers because they are figures of oppression on the island.

However, over time, his charm, character and passion for music and the mandolin, brings out his good human nature and love blossoms between him and the local doctor's daughter. But can any romance survive through such hostile times?

The book swings from the most serious tragic situation you could possibly imagine to the funniest most light hearted scenario possible. 

I am amazed by the writer's ability to include vast subjects such as history and medicine but still go into the intricate detail and intimacy of the villagers' and soldiers' characters. 

I would definitely recommend the book.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Living to be a hundred...and fifteen

At the age of 115, Edna Parker passed away, as the oldest lady in the world. She was an American and born in 1893, outliving both her sons according to the BBC.

She had been a widow for nearly 70 years and lived on her own in a farmhouse for most of her life until she moved to an Indiana nursing home when she was 100 years old.

Secrets as to her lengthy life can only be found to be a healthy lifestyle, not smoking or drinking alcohol and keeping active.

When Mrs. Parker was born in the 1890s, when sport became more acceptable for women to take part in. However this was an era where women wore long dresses with full length puffed sleeves to play tennis and bloomers were worn for cycling. 

1893 also saw a serious economic depression in the United States, which led to many people abandoning their homes and travelling West. 

The economy did begin to recover in 1896, which was followed by 10 years of rapid growth. Something of which we might like to be able to relate to today.

Mrs. Parker would have been familiar with a great deal more since then. It is difficult to imagine what 115 years of life could ever feel like.