Sunday, June 29, 2008

Euro 2008 for the Spaniards!!

Could not resist posting this video celebrating the spirit of football.

Courtesy: Andrew Sullivan

Weekend Photo

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Of swift boats, baby mamas and long term cortical storage

Tell a lie a thousand times and people might (just might) start to think that it rings true. An elegant explanation of how the brain achieves this is documented here and is attributed to a phenomenon called 'source amnesia'.

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a non credible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength

The news channel FOX has been burning the midnight oil in the recent weeks and have come up with the following innovative things to say about one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States:

- A commentator accidentally confused "Obama" with "Osama" and then joked on the air about killing Obama.

- An anchor talked about a playful fist bump by Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama and theorized that it could be a "terrorist fist jab"

- The news network also managed to label Michelle Obama "Obama's baby mama"— slang for an unmarried mother of a man's child...

The connections between this pattern and the one seen during the Swift Boat days four years ago are not lost on the political observers among us… Fortunately, Obama has started a website that aims to counter statements that could contribute to ‘source amnesia’. I am not too sure how successful this endeavor might be, but personally I am bracing for a long, hot summer ahead where barbs are certain to fly back and forth and the latent animosities between blacks and whites will reach fever pitch. My only wish is that after all the dust settles post elections, the rancor between the races should come to an end. More than Republicans or Democrats ruling this country, simmering and uncompensated race dynamics could do the most harm to our fabric.

Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), ‘Le rendezvous des chats’, 1968, French lithograph, 42 X 33 cm (source JAMA magazine April 18, 2007 Vol 297 No. 15)


Friday, June 27, 2008

Chronicles in mollycoddling

I ran into some footage of a new scramjet type aircraft that NASA was developing using a propulsion technology called rapid pulse detonation. The newscaster on a news show was asking a NASA analyst to explain the engine and emphasized the following words:

"Can you explain in English and not in science-talk?"

I have heard numerous variations of the above. A common reaction to puerile requests like this results in the dumbing down of presentations to three word Powerpoints, explanations being made more palatable for mass consumption, acronyms that half explain the real thing being tossed around and a host of other flotation devices used preventing one from diving deeper to understand a concept more deeply. This necessarily raises the following question: Are we as a group too inept and stupid to deal with a little bit of science in our daily lives? Are we so coddled by the ready acceptance of lower expectations and availability of simpler explanations that we refuse to tax our brains even a little to gain a better understanding of concepts involved?

The larger issue is that the cultural malaise propagated by the newscaster’s outwardly innocent sounding question is slowly transforming us a very superficial, surface skimming group and in the long run will effect the nation's competitive and scientific edge. Just my view…

In an orthogonal reference to the above, I also read that eighteen percent of people in our country believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Not to mention of the legions who think that the earth was created about six thousand years ago

Kasimir Malevich, 'White on White', 1918, Image from the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Thursday, June 26, 2008

NYC waterfalls project

The spigots opened this morning on Danish artist Olafur Eliasson's NYC Waterfalls project. This was the view in the morning as I was riding the ferry. Most people on the ferry did not know or did not care too much, someone said it was a waste of public resources, others were heard saying that this is uplifting and reminded them of the Bushkill falls… I do not know how Bushkill got into the discussion… WNBC yesterday had an art critic telling us that 'it is not what you do with the water that matters - what matters is the space between you and the work and how that space is transformed as the viewer takes in this work'. I am not too sure about that, sounds concocted for some reason. People will find their own reasons to like or dislike this thing… Sure, this will generate a lot of press for New York, but on first looks, it seemed like a little bit of waste - maybe it is the times we live in with all the events around the world buttressing ones subconscious and here we are pumping water to a height of 100 feet and letting it flow down makeshift scaffolding...
Anyways, this is expected to bring in about 60 million dollars of tourist revenue on a total spend of about 15 million. He has built four of these waterfalls that range in height between 90 feet and 120 feet. The first image is the installation on Governors Island whereas the second is at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (on the Brooklyn side).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Sometime back we had talked about Mr. Patrick Kennedy brutally raping his eight-year-old daughter. The Supreme Court today decided not to kill people like them. Sad.
This would have been the only instance where I would have been for the ultimate penalty. Scotus coverage here.

Signs of our times...

A new video game named “The Torture Game 2” has debuted recently. It is available for free and it allows you to... well, torture the lead character to death. The player may use any of the following to commit the torture: chainsaw, razor blade, spikes, pistols and a variety of other devices.

In the words of the reviewer: Sure, it’s a computer game in which you, the player, are asked to do horrible, unspeakable, and totally sick, sick, sick things to a defenseless man-like person tied up in some dark room from which he has absolutely no hope of escape. And, sure, one of the horrible, unspeakable, and totally sick, sick, sick things you might, perhaps, do to this man is put a chainsaw to his neck until his head falls off. And while you could choose to do nothing worse than splatter him with paint, most players probably won’t stop there. I didn’t. Curiosity got the better of me and before I knew it I was jabbing giant spikes into his belly, peeling back his face to the bone, and sawing the poor guy’s head from his neck. Because I could.

On torture by Dr. Inge Genefke (Founder of Copenhagen's Rehabilitation Center and Council for Torture Victims) in Vol 74 No. 2 of the New Letters magazine. Translated from the Danish by Thomas E. Kennedy.

The problem with torture is that when you even open the door an inch and say it is acceptable to torture a terrorist to get information about plans that will lead to deaths, it is soon impossible to shut that door again. How much torture can we use on terrorists? Is it also permissible to also threaten their families? And in which cases is torture permissible? The answer is that when you begin to use torture, it will automatically spread, and suddenly we have betrayed all those rights which belong to civilized society.

I remember two brothers who were ordered to beat one another in prison. The torturers knew that the one who hit hardest loved less. The one who hit least was trying to protect the other. Later, they tied the gentler brother to a chair and forced him to watch while the torturers poked out the eyes of the brother who had hot the hardest. They knew that for the sensitive brother, it would be a trauma he would never get over. I met that man, the one who had been forced to witnessed this atrocity, and it was as though he had turned to stone. He only sat there, staring.

Trevor Paglen: KEYHOLE/IMPROVED CRYSTAL Optical Reconnaissance Satellite (USA 129) near Scorpio, 2007; C-print; image from Bellwether Gallery, New York.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin and sarcasm for evolution

George Carlin, an original stand up who died last Sunday had the following to say about freedom, abortion, the weather and being cynical…

If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?

How come when it’s us it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?

Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.

"Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist"

Sometimes, the biting cynicism got him into trouble, but it should be remembered that a cynic’s weapon of choice is sarcasm and recent research has shown that sarcasm is an essential evolutionary survival skill. Or, to stretch it a bit, sarcasm was actually good for the human race…

It's also easy to imagine how sarcasm might be selected over time as evolutionarily crucial. Imagine two ancient humans running across the savannah with a hungry lion in pursuit. One guy says to the other, "Are we having fun yet?" and the other just looks blank and stops to figure out what in the world his pal meant by that remark. End of friendship, end of one guy's contribution to the future of the human gene pool.

Fast forward a few million years and the network of human relationships is wider and more complex, and just as important to survival. The corporate chairman throws out a sarcastic remark and those who "get" it laugh, smile, and gain favor. In the same way, if the chair never makes a remark, sarcastic people are making them behind his or her back, forming a clique by their mutually negative, but funny, comments. Either way, sarcasm plays a role in making and breaking alliances and friendship

Andrew Wyeth, 'Combers', Watercolor on paper, 22" X 30"

Monday, June 23, 2008

A thought provoked by some recent events in Africa

I hope not to alienate readers of this blog with a post like this, but I had a thought I wanted to share on reading about the current demagoguery unfolding in Zimbabwe. Is it fair to expect England (and like nations who plunder and pillage) to work with the citizenry of Zimbabwe and mediate the current electoral crisis there and ensure that a smooth runoff election is conducted? I know people will accuse me of talking through my hat (no, do not wear one; but the metaphor was irresistible) but is it not true that Zimbabwe was under British rule until as recently as the 1980's or the fact that the previous name of this country (Rhodesia) was after Mr. Cecil John Rhodes; a British colonial statesman and diamond miner who decided to ‘found’ this country from parts of South Africa?
I guess the bigger question is this: Should the countries that had ruled and exploited other nations and made their billions in these nations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries continue to have responsibilities and obligations towards their vassals even if the said nation had declared independence? For some reason I feel they should (at least in a ‘responsible parent’ sort of way). For some reason, I feel, in a majority of cases the Brits seem to have run away with the riches of the land, sucked the land dry and then left the land when it became politically, culturally and racially uncomfortable for them to stay on... Just a thought...

No, this post was not motivated by xenophobia or any such thing – it was just motivated by a distaste provoked by what one sees as one surveys the failed democracies of Africa trying to find their ways out of quagmires that may not have been created by them.

This image from Associated Press shows an armed guard providing caddie and security services to golfers in the background at the Leopard Rock Hotel in Rhodesia on Dec 15th 1978. Image ripped from here.

Glass half empty

A column in Art World Salon has sobering news for artists (culled from a new book by Don Thompson named The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Art and Auction Houses)

Some of the more interesting albeit dreary and downshifting points of note were as follows (of course, a lot of these could just be hearsay, but somehow for me it seems to resonate appropriately – maybe it is all those rejection letters that I routinely get):

• Eight of ten works purchased directly from an artist and half the works purchased at auction will never again resell at their purchase price.
• Only one artist in 200 – and that is 200 established artists – will reach a point where her work is ever offered at Christie’s or Sotheby’s auctions.
• There are approximately 40,000 artists resident in London, and about the same number in New York. Of the total 80,000, seventy-five are superstar artists with a seven-figure income
• Fewer than half of the modern and contemporary artists listed in a Christie’s or a Sotheby’s modern and contemporary auction catalogue twenty-five years ago are still offered at any major auction.

Full article with commenting here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Friday evening was good. The children and their friends played their little game of soccer interspersed with mock fights emanating from quick bursts of cold water from water guns while our one year old practiced the art of walking. Of course, we also did not let the wine rest cozy in its bottle. Miraculously, the children found a little time to paint too.

Hari, Age 4, Watercolor on paper, 5” X 9”

Gayatri, Age 6, Watercolor on paper, 5” X 9”

Aswin, Age 9, Color pencil and graphite on paper, 6” X 6”

Friday, June 20, 2008


After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics - W. H. Auden (full poem here).
This passion of our kind
For the process of finding out
Is a fact one can hardly doubt,
But I would rejoice in it more
If I knew more clearly what
We wanted the knowledge for,
Felt certain still that the mind
Is free to know or not.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Money + Politics = Comfortable Bedfellows

Senator Obama has opened the sluice gates of money flow to his campaign by his decision to forgo public financing for his presidential campaign. Maybe it is a pragmatic thing to do in the coming five months of what will primarily be a race driven rivalry to the finish, or maybe it reflects how easily money could tip the scales. From this quote in abc news...

"He's going to be able to raise almost unimaginable amount of money," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who was a top adviser in the Gore and Kerry campaigns. "This is an incredible advantage for him and his campaign. He'll be able to dictate the terms of this election."

Fools Gold

The other day someone enquired as to why I was not selling any of my paintings and I told her that I was not really ready to… On thinking about it some more during our conversation I also remember mentioning that I was really not too sure if anyone would want to buy works of mine. To this, the individual countered that only if one plans on selling the works does one know the true worth of the work.
I replied that they were worth a lot to me and I was happy with that for now...

Untitled_061808′, Sunil, latex based house paint, kumkum powder, oil paint, dirt and gesso on canvas, 36″ X 48″

Collage mélange at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

An exhibition featuring a selection of collages from 1968 to the present year just began at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in Chelsea. I had not paid much attention (although I had read that this has rich and varied possibilities) to this artform until I actually stepped into the gallery and spent time looking. I came back humbled by the opportunities this seemingly simple yet complex artform offers. It goes to say a lot to our ingenuity when one can create compelling works such as these from bits and pieces of planned and unplanned assemblages. The exhibition runs till the middle of August.

Robert Warner, Over, 2008, Mixed Media Assemblage, 14" X 12"

Felix Schramm, Untitled, 2008, torn ink jet prints, 14" X 11"

Miriam Wosk, Bones of the Golden Serpant, 2008, paper collage, painted foils and butterflies on canvas, 40" X 50" X 3"
This made of Hershey wrappers was my favorite - could not catch the name of this one, but this is a collage from the 60's. The fact that the words, 'her', 'she' and 'yes' were scattered over the figure somehow plays with ones mind...

Mark Wagner, Wading in it, 2008, Currency Collage on paper, 15" X 12"

Antonio Puleo, You are right, 2008, acrylic, and paper on panel, 36" X 24"

Javier Pinon, "The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian", 2008

Jonathan Solo, Still Life, 2008, Graphite Collage on paper, 23" X 17"

Josh Dorman, Ad Infinitum, 2008, ink, acrylic, antique maps and paper on panel, 20" X 16"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Evening Stormfront

Yes, it has been digitally altered for effect...

Triangular trades

More colonialist chronicles here in a new book by Amitav Ghosh (earlier in this blog). Reviewing the book 'The Sea of Poppies', the Financial Times book review section says it like it is:

Poppies revolves around Deeti, a poppy farmer’s wife who escapes from her husband’s Sati pyre and, like Naipaul’s forbears, is forced to sell herself into a form of legalized slavery as an indentured laborer bound for the plantations of Mauritius. Ghosh’s anger at the hypocrisy and violence inherent in this trade is well justified: it is one of the most shocking episodes in the violent history of the British Empire. By the late 1830s, the European market in spices that had first brought the British to India had slumped.

The East India Company kept itself solvent by a triangular trade that involved growing opium in India, and selling it in China. In China, the company then bought tea, which it sold in Britain. In order to grow the opium needed to buy enough tea to satisfy British appetites, the company wreaked havoc across the Gangetic plain, compelling peasants to abandon their traditional food crops and plant poppies instead

I thought the only triangular trade the Brits were involved before this was with slaves, but what do I know. Need to read more history...

Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1889, Snake Charmer, 33" X 48", Oil on canvas. Image from here.
Note: This painting is the cover of Edward Said's book Orientalism and is mentioned in regard to an exhibition titled ‘The Lure of the East’ currently underway at Tate Britain that looks at British Orientalist paintings and the related effects of cultural imperialism.

A review of the exhibition here traces some of the roots of cultural imperialism and notions of self-pity in the minds of the oppressed (as seen from the passage below). Reading it also made me re-think the commonly touted, romanticized version of India as being the land of fakirs, snake charmers and gilded elephants that was held in thrall in most Western minds before the current (and hopefully not temporary) aphrodisiac of globalization and outsourcing…

Said’s cover featured Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Snake Charmer”, a tangle of naked boy and serpent performing to a ragged assembly slumped against crumbling tiled walls, which embodies the orientalism of historic western prejudice. According to Said, by misrepresenting the Middle East as a place of exacerbated sensuality and decadence, incapable of adapting to the modern age, western cultural discourse licensed European strategies for political domination of the region. Reread that today as America’s battle for hearts, minds and oil, add the west’s panicky interest in Islamic culture, plus a recent backlash against “orientalism” by scholars such as Robert Irwin and Ibn Warraq, who claims that Said “taught an entire generation of Arabs the art of self-pity”, and the painting becomes more inflammatory than ever.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Painting Post

Sunil, 'Rendile', Oil on unstretched canvas, 72" X 101"

Detail of above

Relative size

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers Day quote

Though I do not believe in commercialization of emotions as is what is characteristic of Fathers Day (and Mothers Day and Assistants Day and take your child to work day and the millions of others 'days' advertisers have dreamed up to keep the consumption habit honed), the following quote from Obama today was interesting in its political and emotional undertones... (link courtesy of Andrew Sullivan)

Too many fathers are MIA. Too many fathers are AWOL, there’s a hole in your heart if you don’t have a male figure in the home that can guide you and lead you and set a good example for you. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Spam scam slam

Spammers keep finding new and mischievous ways to burrow through our electronic and emotional systems. Chief among the strategies employed in recent times was the Nigerian or the 419 spam scam. Faith based approaches seem to be gaining popularity (as opposed to good faith spam). A recent letter that landed up in our supposedly staid inbox seemed to have dodged the myriad filters setup to snare the dodgy bytes. The combination of bathos, folksy wisdom and religiosity convinced me that this was no ordinary random word generator type spam. This must have been devised by someone who spent quality time and effort in coming up the words. To think that a human being actually creates stuff like this to hoodwink is inconceivable to normal minds, but then these are the creations of the abnormal designed to prey on the normal. Late one night in a cathartic fit, I decided to take up creative license with the content using some commonly available image manipulation packages. The results…


Lewis Lapham mashes up Gitmo, Milton, Iraq and Sean Bell in a three page broadside against erosion of individual rights in the July issue of Harpers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Group Show on Nature

I am not sure what got me interested in Christopher Reiger's artwork. Was it the fact that the iridescent greens and the vermilions in his art reminded me of native India or was it the fact that the writings on his blog conditioned my mind to receive his artwork with relevant appropriateness? One does not know these things. When he invited me to come by for a group show he was participating in, I tried attending the reception, but work got the better of me on the designated day. I decided to go at some point of time before the show closed and that is what I did this afternoon. A quick afternoon jaunt uptown on the number 5 subway to Union Square, a brisk walk 8 blocks north, a very rickety elevator ride culminated in me standing face to face with a little Chinese man guarding the doorsteps of the World Cultural Open (WCO Center) offices. Neither the pre-war type construction nor the creaking floorboards deterred me from stepping into a well lit inner gallery laid out with about 30 pieces of artwork dangerously close to each other – no, this was not the Chelsea setup with monumental walls and wide polished hardwood vistas. With a cryptic title that read, ‘Flight of the Mechanical Bumble Bee’, one surely is intrigued and this show had all the elements to fuel the feeling. It was readily apparent that all of the works in the show were inspired by nature. The mediums included sculpture, photography, mixed media and painting. The modes encompassed realism, abstraction, whimsical, fantasy and sometimes confusion.

From here: The show brings together twenty exciting emerging artists whose works deal with the complex relationship between nature and artifice. Some view nature as an extension of the self while others take a more methodical approach to controlling nature through pseudoscientific inventions. Natural space is transformed into an idiosyncratic architectonic space while natural forms converge to create new hybrid creations.

I remember leaving the exhibition thinking that the multiplicity of forms, expressions, patterns and dialects introduced to the viewer at this little show closely mirrored the stupendous multiplicity of patterns that nature manages to effortlessly bring to our eyes – provided one knows where to look. The show closes in three days.

Participating Artists and websites (Christopher Reiger's artwork is the fifth picture from top):
Amy Talluto, Boyce Cummings, Choi Sung-Hun + Park Sun-Min, Christopher Reiger, Diane Carr, Dooeol Lee, Eliza Fernand, Eric Graham, Eunjung Hwang, Felix Esquivel, Geujin Han, Hyungsub Shin, Jaye Rhee, Jena H. Kim, Jennifer Viola, Miyeon Lee, Si Yeon Kim, SunTek Chung, Tony Luib, Tricia Mclaughlin