In brief, David Attenborough is a British Geologist, Zoologist, Educator, Explorer, Author, Broadcaster, Narrator, Environmentalist and all round Cool Guy. If his name is unfamiliar to you, one of his multitude of nature shows is not. With over six decades of educational programming under his belt, Attenborough has fascinated ongoing generations with his always interesting and always edifying films about nature, Earth and you. Strange and beguiling creatures are brought to the light by the gentle hands of Attenborough as he provides insights into the behaviours and lives of these beautiful animals and shares in the joy of knowing they exist. Fossils and geographic upheavals are dissected and explained by a master of rhetoric and communication. Go watch any Attenborough hosted video just to get a taste of his curriculum and explorations.
Many teachers tried to sink facts into my thick skull as I ran through the gauntlet of educational mazes and towers, but no prof or intellectual provided me with more clear observances of connections and relationships as Attenborough. He showed me the dances of the cocks in the amazon and the cliffs of ancient Pre-Cambrian life imbedded in the rocks of Mistaken Point. He showed me the bigger picture of the world we all exist in, sights my limited opportunities denied me. In a time when my Father was too busy busting his ass to feed 4 kids, a wife and a cat; Attenborough played the role of Science Daddy for me, just like he has for countless people around the world, through his natural history programs that will always be accessible, educational and entertaining. Yes, it’s okay to have more than one Daddy.
James Randi has contributed to the progression and promotion of human thought and ability for his entire life. Everyone deserves to know of and should be encouraged to explore his work and efforts. Randi offers amazing insights into fantastical claims and the real powers of the human mind, deductive reasoning and applying the scientific method. While there is much on the web that details the accomplishments of Randi, what follows is a brief discussion about this great man and why we all owe him our attention and a big "Thanks!".
In 1946, he began his public career as an illusionist and magician. He performed admirably in this role for many years and as time went on, he was no longer satisfied with simply astounding people, he wanted people to think. Think about what they were seeing and be critical of it instead of blindly being overwhelmed by awe. As Randi made moves to promote the skeptic movement he became the voice and beard of investigative and rational explorations into various paranormal claims. Hucksters and con-men ran to hide from the light shone on the industry by Randi and the infamous Uri Geller learned, like many others, that you do not fuck with the Amazing Randi. In case you don’t know, Uri Geller was a “psychic” working predominately in the 70's and early 80's who would bend spoons, stop watches and perform other typical slight of hand and illusionary acts. Geller was gaining quite a reputation internationally in a climate where people wanted to believe in the paranormal and the psychic powers of the mind. Randi came to show that every display of power Geller performed was just that, a performance. Randi was armed with a thorough knowledge of illusionary and stage magic tools and saw Geller for the charlatan he was…and oh man, did he ever make it a goal to crush Uri. If Randi’s late night talk show appearances and various demonstrations exposing Geller’s “skills” weren’t enough, he wrote “the Truth about Uri Geller” in the early 80’s. This exposé pretty much destroyed the career of Geller and while multiple lawsuits were filed against Randi by him, none really succeeded and Geller ended up having to pay those he brought suits against. Yes! The Amazing Randi strikes again! While he has written numerous books on the topic of scams and the paranormal, worth seeking out is “Flim-Flam”, published in 1982, which endeavours to promote skepticism and scientific method in the investigations into far flung claims.
The One Million Dollar Challenge remains a brilliant PR tactic by Randi to allow those that announce they have fantastic powers to prove as much (Influenced by the earlier Skeptic P.T. Barnum 's The Humbugs of the World Challenge) . This test simply asks that people who make incredible claims should be able to provide the proof under simple, clearly controlled, agreed upon parameters. This call out was initially started in 1964 at $1000 dollars (from Randi's own pocket) but has since been bulked up by donors, eventually reaching the now one million value. Many have tried but none have succeeded in claiming it…not even close. Once the “psychic” is put into a controlled environment, all the slights and trickery are exposed, each and every time. The JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) has been the overseers of the challenge since 1996, with the criteria to even get their attention being refined. Too many whacks, cranks and freak shows were wasting the foundations time and resources so now it is expected that if you want to take the challenge, you must go through some basic preliminary testing. None have made it past the preliminaries. Not a one.
We all want to believe in wondrous abilities and strange capabilities of the brain, but the fact of the matter is that the real powers of the human mind lie in its observational and deductive capacities. Bullshit claims and unprovable nonsense only distract us and numb us from our real strengths that should be encouraged. Strengths and assets like logical thinking and the utilization of criticality to gain invaluable insights into truths. James Randi has shaken the world of scam artists and cheats for the betterment of everyone and reminds people that believing in yourself and the certainty of provable facts can lift all of us from the murky, darkened depths of ignorance. Thanks again to the Amazing Randi for opening minds and slamming doors in the faces of those that would deceive and take advantage of the naiveté that so many of us hold.
Check out the James Randi Educational Foundation HERE.
Science has led us to an understanding of reality that has nullified the previous societal crutches of mysticism and ignorance based superstitions. The unknowns of the past have shed the cloaks of mystery to be revealed in truth under the light of scientific method. What once caused fear in hearts is now understood. Lighting is not the wrath of an angry god and droughts are not punishment from above (or below). The power of science has lifted humanity from the darkness of limited thinking to the clarity of precise observation. The combined scientific efforts to observe, understand and validate what the real is can be found in the greatness of space exploration. Through the tools we have created, we can peer into the oceans of space and understand our own world as it exists among many. There is no other social, economic or philosophical exploration that can aspire to these great heights.
The Cassini-Huygens Mission was launched in 1997 and after numerous fly-bys and accelerated ricochets, the Cassini cameras continue to click away, showing, documenting and educating minds as to the amazing properties of cosmic interactions and further proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. The physics and the mathematics behind these endeavours is astounding and impressive. The proven fundamentals of science have led us to true understandings of what the big picture is. No smoke and mirrors and no bullshit. Every solution and every bit of data that leads towards those discoveries should be celebrated as ground breaking events. Outside of humanity’s struggles with itself and misunderstanding about what the focus of life should be, there is a celestial orchestra and dance that despite our ignorance, we are part of. This is truth and this is all we can really be sure of. Most obsessions we hold are ephemeral and transient, while the truths we can gain through the obsession of scientific endeavour hold far more value in concrete terms. The Huygens probe would have never made it onto Titan with prayer or chicken blood. What it took was looking at established facts, predictable outcomes based on these facts and scientific and technical focus to produce the equipment required for discovery.
If as much energy was put into the pursuit of scientific truths as it was in the pursuit of folk tales and consumer plastic junk, humanity would more than likely have done away with ongoing ailments like poverty and war. More than likely…but we’ll never know until we stop wasting our time by hiding from facts and blissfully playing into the greedy hands of those that want you to remain ignorant and unaware. Knowledge really is power and while we live in an age where information is accessible in ways never previously presented, much of the population chooses to stay in the darkness of the cave. Science has taught us, all life must adapt or perish in the onslaught of change.
A quote by the great Carl Sagan:
"We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."
When I first arrived in Winnipeg circa 2002, I was intrigued and curious to discover the seemingly happening art world that lurked deep within Winnipeg culture. Being from insecure Alberta art circles, I had heard rumours and speculation that Winnipeg could be the next big scene. A history filled city that had high attendance within the two university art programs and a bevy of starving artists. This was an exciting and enticing prospect and opportunity...then reality hit. I quickly realized that the raging and respected punk vibe of the early 80's Winnipeg scene was a corpse. The commercial gallery scene was stuffy and boring. The non-profit art groups were self-serving and incestuous. The desire and passion for the appreciation of art and the creation of it had withered and frozen. I quickly learned Winnipeg was not unique in this, there was a larger international movement, where galleries and auction houses had the monopoly on the business of art and artists were left with a gaggle of art and no one to care. The general public was alienated from what art was/is and elitism and nepotism took firm hold...again. In theory, the audience should always dictate the market and all galleries can do is feed off of the interests and demands that are already there. Galleries, like art critics, are whores of the aura of art. They should not demand what you as the viewer get to participate in. This is succinctly expressed by Herr Doktor in his excellent blog post, “I am a Philistine”, and I will second his motions. Suffice to say, the role the gallery clings to is bound by self-preservation and bottom feeding tactics instead of community and co-operation.
In the Artspace building of the past was a somewhat contemporary gallery called Site. It would showcase local talent, particularly U of M art profs. The work was current, generally brave and in tune with contemporary art practices. Then it closed in 2005 due to lack of sales. Who should be faulted for this lack of sales? The work was predominately solid. The pricing seemed reasonable. The truth is the business of art is a tough one. It is not like I discovered Site because of a happening event or the such...I knew someone enrolled at the BFA program at U of M and one of their Profs had a few pieces up. Like a good, ass sucking student, my friend wanted to go to be able to discuss the art with said Prof. I only knew of the Gallery because some art student felt obligated to go and hauled me along. Why had I not known about this gallery? Why was it not shakin’ things up? I was confused. Most commercial galleries start as poster and frame shops. Not surprising when you look at the actual work within...but...Site was a gallery that had current non-cliché art (mostly). The problem is, no one was buying...and the sellers weren’t really trying to sell it. The Public was not being engaged with the Art in a bigger, social way. Elitism inevitably becomes incestuous and self consuming.
This problem with being able to market the art has troubled galleries for some time. Conceptualism confused galleries. Multi-Media installations perplexed their marketing strategies. “How can we make money from this?” was the commonly held thought. Why should or would this dictate to you, what is relevant artistically and what is not? Why should some gallery sales person’s ability to make money on an object dictate what is evaluated as art? The onus of responsibility falls on the Artist and the general Public. Times have changed and not only the actions of the Artist are evolving but also the established power balance. Art is for the People and it becomes the Artisits' responsibility and honour to do what it takes to get the conversation to them...outside of hegemony and corporate coddling. The scam is up and Artists need to think about their creative act as a gravitational force with orbiting satellites. One...maybe a few, of these satellites are business built. When intent, production and marketing are held to the foundation of Creativity, galleries will act as great homes for the works that require that space as opposed to dictating who is and is not "worthy". Galleries have a role as facilitating the artist, not controlling them. There is no positive reason that passion, relevance and profundity should ever be housed by the elite and denied to the rest of humanity. Art can hold many diverse practical business modes and who better to navigate this than the Artists' themselves. The pressure is now on the producer of Art is to adapt, take chances and speak loudly... if whispering is not turning ears. Gain the publics participation through strategic stakeholder meetings and commitment to the power of Creativity and Art to everyone. The gallery is to be used and at the call of the artist, not relied upon as the adjudicator and regulator of what art should be. The gallery is most importantly, a facilitator.
A sculptor I knew in art school said it wisely, as we debated the social implications of post-modern bullshit as it relates to the art making process. When asked what an artist was to do in this challenging time, he simply stated,
“Just Fucking Do it.”
An Early Saturday Morn in Downtown Winnipeg
The Birth of a Fetish (In Downtown Winnipeg)
A Tuesday Morning in Downtown Winnipeg
Fauna of Downtown Winnipeg
Many artists have attempted to document the horrors and perversities inherent in human nature yet few have achieved the intensity and conflict between sensuous detail and suffocating physicality as the artist Hans Bellmer. Looking upon his photographs and drawings that fetishized and revealed extreme personal desires, one is mutually repulsed, disturbed and enthralled by their dark beauty. His subjective work has endured harsh criticism, called everything from obscene, perverted and pornographic. The fact remains that the work of Hans Bellmer is technically profound and thematically disturbing, reaching into dark recesses that most viewers would rather avoid. His combination of skill and twisted representation has endured his work into the history of alternative artistic chroniclers. Both erotic and horrific, his art stands as some of the bravest expressions to come from the inner mind of an artist.
Born in Katowice, Poland in 1902; Bellmer began his artistic career in Berlin under the tutorship of George Grosz. Grosz himself specialized in social commentary that never shied away from representing the people as visually disgusting and viscerally ill. The common view that these two artists shared of representing humanity as grotesqueries, was unwelcome is late 30’s Germany. The Nazi’s had their own idea of what was acceptable as art and Bellmer was labeled a degenerate. Bellmer did have some admirers at the time, the Surrealists that worked and played in gay Paris loved his work. The deformed torsos and sexually confrontational work harkened to the Surrealists, whose own work dealt with psychology. With a massive series of disturbing photographs of life-sized handmade dolls (poupees), Bellmer fled to France. He was detained in a detention camp by the French authorities until 1940. Destitute before making his way to France, he was even more impoverished as he shuffled out of prison. Disowned by his homeland and treated as a war criminal in France, his career seemed dead. Encouragingly, Bellmer was hired by the French erotic writer, George Bataille, to create prints for the book, Historire de l’oeil . Bellmer’s images of decaying, diseased bodies and entwined limbs lent themselves well to Batailles’ writings. This relationship was extremely fruitful for both, and Bellmer continued producing prints for numerous editions of books including, De Sade’s Petit Traite de Morale. Empty stomach behind him, Bellmer created numerous photographs and prints that showcased his disturbing bend towards physicality and eroticism.
Bellmer died in Paris in 1972, respected by a few, unknown to most. While his subject matter upset and disgusted the timid; history has embraced Bellmer as a visionary of horrific images and deeply personal eroticism. His work has been gaining respect and tomes detailing his work are trickling into popular culture. A unique talent, Bellmer’s work confronts the viewer head-on, making some observers very uncomfortable, but those that can stomach it are entranced by the skill and bravery displayed.
One of Bellmer’s drawing for Batailles’ Story of the Eye 1950, showcases his obsessive sense of detail, and his penchant for the disturbing. With disdain for organized religion and a depiction of swine and sex, this work stands as one of his more accessible pieces. The translucent body of the “takee” displays Bellmer’s obsession with the visceral insides of life. Indicative of much of his work, this view through the skin presents itself as sickly fleshy in some of his more extreme works. A skull stares blankly, while being anally humiliated by a pig-headed sodomizer. Standing on the pig’s shoulder’s, with ankles that expose muscle and sinew, a woman “christens” the act with golden illumination. Bellmer’s flowing line work contrasts the necrophilia, warm showers and prickly fuckers to create a work of disturbing beauty. This piece stands as a primer to the more extreme of his work and just scratches the surface of the depravity and artistic insanity that he treats the brave to.
Hans Bellmer’s work resonates in the under currents of subculture and has influenced the likes of H.R. Giger and Chris Marrs. Books detailing the twisted visions of this artist are few but The Anatomy of Anxiety by Sue Taylor covers his photos and prints remarkably, while taking a psychoanalytical approach to his work. Uncover his art in Surrealist anthologies and on the net, a strange visionary worth discovering and well worth the hunt. You may even realize that you’re not the only one that is intrigued by diseased zombie-like nymphs awoken from the hidden recesses of your subconscious.
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