I just realise I may not hate Brutalism after all. But, there are still problems.

I used to hate this architectural style with a passion. Just like other people, I thought it created nothing but monstrosities which oppressively sucked the life out of their surroundings. In fact, filmmakers love to use them as settings for evil corporations and dystopian future.

But, after reading some comments by the style’s admirers, I have changed my mind.

They remind me that architectural styles are also art styles and art works are meant to evoke certain emotions. So yes, brutalist buildings are works of art.

After seeing them as such, I have started to sincerely appreciated their beauty, not despite of their bleakness but because of it! I am one of those people who believe beauty does not have to be remotely positive; when it comes to aesthetics, negativity can be beautiful. I will come back to this later.

I have actually found brutalist buildings that I like. They are the works of Studio Granda and Tadao Ando.

While theirs are not categorised as brutalist, their grey concrete exteriors give them the appearances of ones. In fact, not only they are not oppressively lifeless, they also blend in with their surroundings! That’s because they are designed using the critical regional approach, which calls for simplicity and consideration of the physical and/or cultural environments; it is basically the respectful version of international style.

This makes me realise the problem is not on brutalism, it is on the implementation!

Remember my comment about the aesthetic beauty of negativity? It seems some people – particularly brutalism lovers – forget that architecture is not just an art form, it is also an applied discipline; it is meant to bring immediate and tangible practical benefits!

Maybe it is just me. But, even if my house is not the most beautiful ever, the least it can do is to not suck the joy out of me. Surely, there is nothing beneficial about not feeling at home in your own house.

As works of art, most brutalist buildings are a success due to their adroitness in engendering emotions, galvanising us into conceding that something can be monumentally alluring not despite of its despotic despondency but because of it.

As practical tools, they suck ass.

I do acknowledge that every single architectural style – even the classical ones – can be incongruous when there are no consideration for the locality and utilisation. But, at least, those buildings still provide some kind of liveliness, albeit not the kind we need.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: there are no architectural styles reviled like the way brutalism is.

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Violence needed?

Before I talk about violence, let’s talk about sex for a moment.

I don’t remember who made the quote. But, reading it, I felt stupid for not realising it sooner. Basically, it asserted that depiction of sex should be more acceptable than the depiction of violence.

Why? Because sex is nice and violence isn’t. Religious sins aside, I am certain every non-asexual person who has ever lived finds consensual sex pleasurable. I would be surprised if you can many people who enjoy getting stabbed and shot at.

Unnecessary depiction of sex -even in a small amount- can be distracting. But, unless I am a small-time actor who cannot opt out from performing the scenes, I prefer that over excessive violence.

This makes me wonder: why do creators love depicting violence?

Obviously, unless they need psychiatric help, the answer is not that they love it.

If they openly admit they create anything that is popular, they are profoundly intrigued by the existence of violence or they just love action-oriented scenes, then I get why they create violent works.

If they dwell with stories of superheroes, criminals, martial artists, soldiers or adventurers and claim such stories won’t work without violence, then my feelings are mixed.

On one hand, I do get why said stories need violence. All of them deal with lots of physical actions and may feature violent characters, which are not inherently out of place.

But, on the other hand, what I said above is arbitrary.

Superhero and war stories can focus on the nature of heroism and morality and how the actions psychologically affect the protagonists; the latter can also focus on the validity of patriotism. Crimes do not always involve violence and their stories can also explore the nature of morality. Martial art stories can focus on the characters’ journey of improving their craft and that can be very psychological. And adventure stories? I am certain we don’t need violent villains to experience greater risk in our lives; life will provide it for us.

If you want to depict abusive relationships, the depiction of physical aspect is just a bonus; the most painful part about it is – once again – the psychological effects. Words – even ones uttered by the calmest and honeyed voice – can hurt more than cuts and bruises… and I personally can attest to that.

From my perspective, those creators appear to possess limited amount of imagination; they are unable to conjure narratives devoid of violent acts. They are unable to be creative with their supposedly beloved genres.

I have very limited experiences immersing myself in works of various genres. And yet, I can easily conjure war, superhero, martial art and adventure story ideas that do not involve violence.

Admittedly, I have problems writing stories inspired my own life using magical realist and surrealist styles – styles which I find most comfortable writing fiction in – , let alone writing genres which I clearly have no skills and knowledge in. It would be a miracle if I ever finish more than ten short stories in my lifetime.

But, one thing for certain: I don’t feel insecure about my own imagination.

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The Orange Girl

I am talking not only about the Jostein Gaarder’s novel, but also about the film adaptation. After immersing myself in both, I realised something: I actually don’t care for Jan Olav’s love life.

For me, it is not about how ‘beautiful’ his romance with the orange girl was (it is less beautiful and more sickly sweet). It is about how his son Georg utilises the tale as a tool for contemplation.

Even though I have read only three of his novels, it is obvious that Jostein Gaarder’s specialty is philosophical fiction; the contemplativeness is expected. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to say romance is not the novel’s main focus. As much as some of you may dislike it, the mind of Georg the pretentious is the main focus.

While the pretentiousness can be off-putting, I actually think it is understandable. If you receive something similar to a sentimental letter from your long-deceased loved one, existential musing is inevitable. If you are a teenager, the musing would be inevitably unrefined.

Of course, it may seems I am excusing it, considering Gaarder’s other novels Sophie’s World and The Solitaire Mystery are not (as) pretentious; it shows he has the capability to write (relatively) well-rounded philosophical fictions.

But, here’s the thing: they have leverages.

Sophie’s World revolves around an interaction between a student and a teacher of philosophy; the presence of an authority figure may help the titular character to be more grounded. The Solitaire Mystery is not even explicitly philosophical; it prefers to express ideas through allegorical means.

The Orange Girl, on the other hand, is explicitly philosophical and none of the living adult characters serve as the main character’s “philosophical mentor”, leaving him “unsupervised” with his musings. So, not only the pretentiousness is hard to evade, it also makes perfect sense.

It is a reason why I can still re-read the book to this day despite everything.

Now about the film adaptation…

Just like many people, I am also disappointed when the adaptations of my favourite books liberally change the stories, especially when the changes do not improve them, if not worsen.

But, in this case, there are two changes which may seem trivial for some, but personally infuriating for me: the setting and Georg’s love interest.

Why does Georg have to go on a skiing trip? Why can’t he simply contemplate inside his bedroom?

Okay, this is not one of those ‘finding-yourself-while-travelling’ stories. The skiing trip only lasts for a few days and it ends before the climax.

But still, I despise the belief that you can only “find yourself” by leaving home. It ignores one crucial element of such experience: the genuine desire to learn. It does not matter if you have visited every country on earth; if you don’t have the desire, you would always be the same pathetic loser of a person.

And why the love interest? The point of the letter is to appreciate life as a whole! But, it seems the filmmakers believed otherwise. Maybe they idiotically mistook the novel as a romance one.

Either that or they thought protagonists must always had love interests.

In both changes, it is shallowness resulting in dumb changes.

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A fan of things

Films, TV shows, songs, books, why do I have my personal favourites among them? Why am I a fan of anything?

I always wonder how critics compile lists of works they consider to be the objectively greatest. If I ask them, it is very likely they would claim that they only take things like originality, executions and legacy into account.

But, do they, really? Do they actually care about the quality? Or do they only pander to self-righteous snobs? Or are they the self-righteous assholes who think their tastes are objectively the most refined?

Regarding the self-righteous pricks and the panderers, they are relatively easy to detect. All of you have to do is to see if the right to opinion or appeal to authority fallacies are being used. As long as they are a bunch of big mouths and you are capable of reading between the lines, you won’t fall for their deceit.

I do know people who can only enjoy arts and high-quality entertainment exist… and I have no doubt those on the opposite side of the spectrum also exist. Obviously, they frustrate me.

On one hand, I understand why some people can only love escapism; life truly sucks, after all. But, on the other hand, I hate it when they go full pseudo-intellectual populist and assert how there is no such thing as ‘bad taste’.

I also hate the ‘high-quality’ crowd because they can be a hoard of sanctimonious pricks; I have complained about this lots of times. But, recently, I noticed something potentially eerie about them. Let me explain.

When one thinks of a work of high quality, one thinks about the techniques. From my experiences, techniques can improve the human expressions. Can, but not always.

Sometimes, I encounter works of high quality (or seen as such by critics and snobs) which I have a hard time liking. I have a hard time finishing the unnecessary visceral films of Quentin Tarantino, I find Kanye West’s songs undistinguishable from many other pop songs, I find ‘common practice’ classical music too sugary at times and I am inclined to believe some ‘realistic’ films are emotionally heavy-handed just for the sake of being so.

Here’s a list of my favourite works and the reasons why I enjoy them.

I enjoy films like Your Name, The Man From Earth and My Dinner With Andre and anything by Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick. They thrive to understand humanity through metaphysical means. Even Bergman’s psychological films incorporate metaphysical themes at times.

I enjoy compositions by John Coolidge Adams, George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky. Unlike ‘common practice’ music, they don’t sound saccharine. If anything, they have an ‘edge’ which I find lacking in ‘common practice’ music.

Despite Rowling exposing herself as a shit worldbuilder and a TERF, I still have to commend Harry Potter for turning me into a book reader and for creating escapist works dense with social commentaries which I wholeheartedly support.

I love Michael Jackson for introducing me to music in general, Phil Collins for introducing me to more offbeat pop music and Chrisye for introducing me to quality Indonesian music.

I love Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code for providing me nuanced takes on religions’ place in our lives, despite Brown’s poor writing skills and the inaccuracies.

I love Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia for changing the way I see myself through the lens of Indonesian national identity.

I love Enya for her ethereal, borderline-spiritual music and I love Mahavishnu Orchestra for their ethereal Jazz Fusion.

I love some Marvel films for their ability to incorporate genuine emotions within  action superhero narratives.

From all of them, you can easily tell they have something in common: I love them because they personally mean something to me; it is obvious I don’t always care for virtuosity.

I thought Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite was an anomaly. Immediately after watching it, I was mesmerised by the acting, directing and unpredictable plot. Not long after, I was mesmerised by how fun it was to analyse the film; the interpretations seemed never-ending!

I was surprised that I would have a black comedy crime thriller as a personal favourite, that I would like a work simply for its virtuosity. But, after I thought about it, that was not the full story.

The film is a cynical satire… and I love cynical satires; in fact, much of my earliest blogs are cynical satires that felt cathartic to write. The film also has an ominous atmosphere almost right from the beginning… and I am a sucker for subtle sense of terror, which I find more ‘traumatising’ than the conspicuous one.

Speaking for myself, I love the arts and entertainment because they make feel like a human being in a world where cold-hearted pragmatism is king and make robots out of us. Loving them solely for their techniques feels antithetical to what arts and entertainment are meant to be.

As frustrating as the exclusively low brow crowd can be, I still can relate to them on some level; their desire to ‘escape’ feels perfectly human.

On the other hand, I cannot relate to the exclusively high brow crowd at all; their inability or unwillingness to ‘escape’ does not feel human at all. What I am saying is I often wonder if they are even humans.

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Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus: unexpectedly nostalgic

Yes, I will spoil it. But first, I want to talk about its genre.

I was searching for magical realist novels recommendations on Google… and an article suggested this book. I bought it, I started reading it…. and it is disappointingly not magical realist. It is fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy fantasy. I am disappointed because I want to read more magical realist novels as I find the genre interesting and the article’s writer clearly did not understand it enough.

If one reads novel and does not pay much attention, it does seem every character associated with the circus sees magic without any sense of wonder. Every time we enter their perspectives, the depiction of magic does feel matter-of-fact.

And that’s the thing: their perspectives.

The public -the rêveurs AKA the circus’s admirers especially- see the circus as an otherworldly entity instead of something one expects in the everyday life. That breaks the illusion of mundanity. If they don’t have that sense of wonder, the novel would definitely be a magical realist one.

And now, for the nostalgia….

I am surprised the novel compels me to feel nostalgic. Yes, it is a story about a magical world and my young self loved magical stories. But, its ending is rather gloomy.

Yes, Marco and Celia do not have to kill each other and Bailey stays with the circus which he has loved since he was young. But, Marco and Celia also end up living as ghost-like entities who cannot leave the circus… and Bailey -despite being young and still has his life ahead of him- chooses to be magically bound to the circus for eternity.

It is less sad and more bittersweet. But, my young self would still hate the ending; he would want an entirely sweet one.

My childhood fantasies also involve lots of actions, good vs evil physically embodied. Contrast that with this novel which is more dependent on the dialogues and the atmosphere.

To make it more confusing, I have read Harry Potter books; despite being more aligned to my childhood fantasies with their happy endings and actions, they do not feel nostalgic for me.

Maybe it has something to do with my maturity.

The older I get, the more I am not into happy endings and action-driven narratives. The former can deceive us by hiding the bitterness underneath. When excessively made, the latter can be sensory overloads and -unlike the more immersive ‘quiet’ scenes- they can distract us from the actual story-telling in the name of ‘not being boring’.

But, even if Harry Potter is less sentimental and more dialogue-driven, I doubt it would evoke the same nostalgia.

The most common criticism regarding Rowling’s worldbuilding is its clumsiness. While I do agree with the assessment, I also feel hers is a bit too unconcealed, too transparent. I mean, if you intend to explain almost everything, losing the enigmatic atmosphere is inevitable.

In The Night Circus, the magic is unexplained. Characters associated with the circus perceive it as a mundane entity while the outsiders perceive the magically-enlivened circus as something to be simply impressed, baffled and haunted by. The magic is mysterious.

Young me also loved mysteries… and I still do. They compel me to be curious about the world I live in and they encourage me to explore it. When it comes to fiction, I want the revelations to be subtle and polished instead of dry and excessively expositional. I want them to be aesthetically pleasing instead of feeling like I am reading a textbook.

I am hesitant to say if I have definitely found the cause of the nostalgia. The combination of my personal growth and my love of mysteries feels inadequate as a hypothesis.

But, for now, I am satisfied. This is an abstract topic in which I am trying to decipher my own personal feeling. As long as it makes sense to me and I am not projecting myself onto others, the explanation is valid enough.

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This Earth of Mankind: How it took me to a bumpy journey

This Earth of Mankind -or Bumi Manusia, as it is known in the original Indonesian title- is a novel written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an Indonesian author who was so politically rebellious, he was hated both by the Old Order and New Order regimes.

In fact, the latter even went on accusing the Buru Quartet -a tetralogy of novels which includes the aforementioned one- of being communist propaganda.

This novel is set in 19th century Indonesian -then-known as the Dutch Indies- and it centres on the life of Minke, a young blue-blooded Javanese man who was educated among the Dutch.

He is opinionated, critical-minded and not afraid to debate the so-called superior white people. He also falls for a young biracial woman, a daughter of a lunatic Dutch businessman and his well-educated Javanese concubine.

Basically, it is a historical/political/romance/philosophical novel.

Anyway, this novel has brought me to both ends of an ideological spectrum: a zealous nationalist and an anti-nationalist… well, sort of.

It turned me into a nationalist because, after just one reading, it convinced me that Indonesians had the potential to be more cultured and civilised than we were.

To this day, I still think we do have the potential. But, I was about twelve or thirteen when I first read the book. I was a fucking idiot.

I did not see the big picture and I couldn’t comprehend intricacies. I preferred to focus on the main character’s intelligence and sophistication and some of the Dutch characters’ lack of thereof.

As a result, I ended up believing that a true Indonesian should only embrace Indonesian things. I did not care about what it meant to be one, I only cared about the label.

Of course, I was a hypocrite. Despite my outward nationalism, I still loved anything foreign; in some cases, I preferred them over the local ones. In fact, instead of reading the original Indonesian copy, I read the English translation due to my lack of interest in reading anything written in my mother tongue.

When I read the novel again as an adult, I realised how nuanced the story was.

While the story clearly depicts the discrimination faced by the indigenous population, it is anything but black and white. Not all of the Dutch characters are bad and almost every native character seems unwilling or intellectually incapable of politically empowering themselves and fellow natives.

After realising the existence of the shades of grey, I gradually lose my nationalism and end up as an anti-nationalist.

Okay, calling me an anti-nationalist is inaccurate. Me before reading this novel was an anti-nationalist. I hated everything about Indonesia and I wished I was a citizen of a foreign country.

I don’t know which label that perfectly describes me now. But, one thing for sure: I don’t see anything wrong about avowing love for one’s country… as long as one acknowledges it is entirely based on emotional attachments.

Yes, emotional. You love a country simply because it is your home sweet home, NOT because of its so-called absolute and divine perfection… which existence defies common sense, unless you live in the land of make-believe.

Believe it or not, you can praise and condemn your country at the same time. Millions of people have done it millions of times. It is literally that easy.

Oh, and I can relate to the character on a personal level. He is Javanese yet educated among the Dutch (back then, indigenous identities were mostly regional and ethnic). I am Indonesian who grew up almost entirely on western entertainment. He is too indigenous for the Dutch and too Dutch for his Javanese family, I am too Indonesian for westerners and too western for my fellow Indonesians. We are stuck between both worlds.

The more I see the complexities of my self-identifications, the more I find labels grossly superficial. The more I think so, the more I despise any forms of identity politics, nationalism included.

I don’t think this novel is the sole reason why I reject nationalism. My interactions with foreigners online and my curiosity about history and culture are also instrumental in my personal growth.

But, as it successfully makes me contemplate about my Indonesianness, This Earth of Mankind is a big deal in my life and I would be surprised if it does not have the same effect on my fellow countrymen.

No wonder the Soeharto regime banned its publication. Tyrants love their sheep.

Being Indonesian

 

I was born in Indonesia. The first language I learned was Indonesian. Both of my parents are Indonesian citizens and my mom is a Sundanese speaker. Before university, I only attended one international school; even then, I was still surrounded by other Indonesian citizens and some classes still used Indonesian as a medium of instruction. In high school, I was surrounded by students who spoke with various regional accents. I started to form relationships with foreigners when I became active in social media, when I was eighteen.

But, somehow, my Indonesian-ness started emerging when I was an adult.

I grew up preferring foreign foods and looked  down on Indonesian ones which I dismissed as ‘traditional medicine but in food forms’. I preferred to appreciate western-influenced arts over ones with distinctively Indonesian characteristics. I also hoped to leave Indonesia for good. I felt like a westerner.

Of course, I have changed.

I am now able to eat Indonesian dishes and watch traditional art performances with sincerity. My desire to leave and my western inclination have also diminished.

I still don’t know why my old self was like that.

Maybe it has something to do with my childhood which lacks exposure to anything Indonesian. Maybe it is my mom who inexplicably did not teach her children a regional language. Maybe it is me constantly eating foreign foods.

But, after I thought about it, what I just said were also experienced by others; from my knowledge, they never feel alien in their home country. Their identity has always been Indonesian.

Of course, my horizon widens as I get older. I undoubtedly get exposed to more things western. But, at the same time, I am also exposed to more things Indonesian.

The more I taste different types of European cheese and bread, the more I taste different types of gulai and Indonesian ‘salads’ like gado-gado and urap. The more I listen to western music, the more I listen to Indonesian folk songs and works of musicians like Guruh Soekarno Putra and Kua Etnika. The more I listen to cases of sectarianism in western countries, the more I realise how our inter-ethnic relations are relatively peaceful and harmonious according to international standard.

I am finally able to compare Indonesia with the western world  more meticulously and the comparison shows how Indonesian-ness is a very unique and complex which is impossible to be summarised.

Some of our traditions are clearly results of different foreign influences, we boast cultural diversity which can only be rivalled by India, Papua New Guinea and certain African countries and Indonesia is a predominantly-Muslim country which national symbols are Hindu in origin. How can you summarise that?

Indonesia is a country that can easily shine. If its citizens sincerely embrace our Indonesian identity, we would be more accomplished in generating innovative ideas and hence, making us more contributive to world developments.

Obviously, I don’t praise things simply because they are Indonesian.

Our cooking is still too dependent on palm oil and white rice, our pop culture is unsophisticated in regards to its aesthetics and originality, we are too dependent on conservative mindsets which hinder us from being reasonable. Moreover, our inter-religious and inter-racial relations are not as good as advertised.

Counterintuitively, the more I know about the ugly side of my nation, the more I embrace my Indonesian identity.

Unlike my old self, I am no longer infatuated with absolute perfection, a thing that only exists in fairy tales; presenting it as the truth is deceitful. Imperfection is never compelled to be so; as a result, the authenticity of its good side is more guaranteed.

Blind nationalism comes into being because the citizens feel their country is entirely ‘attractive’. But, from my experiences, they don’t know how the ‘attractiveness’ looks like.

Because of their black-and-white perspectives, they don’t realise how life is full of grey haze which is almost impenetrable. They are certain stereotypes are a hundred percent valid. Unless you see prejudice as a virtuous trait, you surely realise stereotypes will always mislead you and drag you to a deadly dark realm which you will have a hard time escaping from.

I do sound over-the-top. But, that’s what I have experienced myself.

I should tell you that my biography is incomplete. My old self did dislike anything Indonesian. But, at the same time, I was also a blind nationalist.

I did not care what being Indonesian entailed. I only cared about the ‘Indonesian’ label. I looked down on anything that had foreign labels stamped on them, even though I secretly preferred them and I did not want to admit it. In fact, I used to believe we were obliged to defend our country all the time, even when it was in the wrong.

Nationalistic, but did not know anything about his own country and refused to respect his ancestral heritages.

I admit that my story is confusing and unbelievable. Moreover, I don’t know how to persuade others to believe me. So, all I can do is to ask these questions:

Why do you consider yourself Indonesian? Don’t answer ‘citizenship’ and/or ‘was born and raised here’. It is too easy.

What are the things you love and hate about Indonesia? Have you experienced or observed them in person? Or are they things you only have heard and read about AKA rumours?

I consider myself Indonesian because I am already emotionally attached to the country, no matter how ugly it is. Even if I end up living overseas for good, I am sure my Indonesian-ness will never go away.

You already know what I love and hate about Indonesia and they are the things I have experienced and observed in person. Most of the feel-good stories disseminated by parents, schools and the media turn out to be balderdash; the splendour is either exaggerated or never exists in the first place.

Indeed, public figures constantly call us to collectively contemplate about our national identity. But, I don’t know if I miss the memo, I have never heard them make any calls to contemplate individually.

A group definitely consists of ‘members’ who are distinct from one another. Therefore, I find it strange if a contemplation that involves many is not implemented on an individual level.

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What a fugly piece of work

 

In a busy part of Jakarta, there used to be a rather infamous art installation called Getah Getih, created by artist Joko Avianto. This is the picture:

Getah Getih.jpg

Every time I look at it, I can’t help by thinking how fugly it was. It looked like carrots that were so deformed, they almost looked like a reclining nude body. Half a billion Rupiah was spent on that monstrosity. As the governor claimed it was meant to be a temporary installation, it was eventually disassembled… thankfully.

In a comment section of a newspaper’s Facebook page, me and other readers bashed the artwork for its ugliness. Unsurprisingly, there was that one person who thought the installation was beautiful and the haters were uncultured peasants.

He praised the installation because it was made out of bamboo, which he said was traditionally Indonesian, and it supposedly signified the battlefield flag of the soldiers of an ancient kingdom; I did find out Getah Getih was the flag of the Majapahit kingdom.

The more I think about those arguments, the more I find them idiotic.

The installation was an abstractly-shapedbamboo-based public art work that supposedly depicted a historical event, located in an arguably westernised Indonesian big city dominated by concrete-dependent international style architecture, asphalt roads, machinery and strong disregard of the country’s own heritages.

As it was meant to be public, it had to blend in with the surrounding; but, instead of doing so and -as it was meant to be artistic- enthralling the urban inhabitants with visual beauty, the ill-conceived contrast made itself a giant eyesore. Being different just for the sake of it is a good advice… if you don’t care about contributing anything.

If Getah Getih was a stand-alone installation in an art exhibition or used as a decoration of an indoor place with ‘traditional’ or ‘natural’ aesthetics,  it would be a lot more beautiful!

And surely, if you want to teach the historically-illiterate masses about history, shouldn’t you be careful when utilising abstract shapes and make sure they cannot be interpreted too loosely? Even after knowing what the title means, I still cannot unsee the deformed carrots. At least, make the shapes more clear-cut!

I know I sound like bashing the artist. But, I have seen photos of his other works and they actually look beautiful! Even without any thematic contexts being presented, their abstract bamboo aesthetics harmonise really well with their surroundings; I love The Continuous Stage way more! The problem seems to lie on the poorly-thought-out commission.

Oh, and about that pretentious snob (no, I am not talking about myself)…

He said his museum visits made him an art expert. When I said I also had visited museums, he chastised me for being conceited. So, you know, he was hypocrite…

… And too delighted of himself.

He patted himself on the back simply for calling an art work ‘beautiful’ and ‘meaningful’. While this sounds like an angry and far-fetched conjecture (which it is), I would not be surprised  if he call a literal pile of shit ‘beautiful’ and ‘meaningful’ if it was presented as an art work that represents human shittiness. As much as I love the arts, I would never praise any art works willy-nilly, regardless of their styles and themes.

I also don’t know why he was so obsessed with bamboo; Indonesia is not the only place where it is a traditional material. But, even if it is exclusively ours, I don’t see how it makes an art work more profound. If there is a bamboo art work that glorifies our colonial past, I doubt that person would see anything profound about it (or maybe, he would).

 

 

 

 

 

Jiří Trnka’s The Hand: not falling for the other side

If it wasn’t for my Intro to Animation class, I would have never heard of this stop-motion animated masterpiece.

To summarise the plot, it tells the story of a harlequin whose impoverished yet contented life of flower pot-making is disrupted by a literal and seemingly-omnipresent hand who demands him to make hand sculptures instead, compelling him to constantly fight for his freedom. Unfortunately, near the end of the story, he dies when one of his pots accidentally fell on his head (seemingly foreshadowed by the recurring accidental pot-breaking). He is given a lavish funeral by the hand.

One can guess why I love this short film.

It is an allegory of censorship enforced under authoritarianism. It sublimely evokes the terror of living as an artist and entertainer in such condition, amplified by the fantastical elements and the atmospheric percussion-oriented soundtracks. In fact, both Wikipedia and IMDB categorise this film as horror.

Unsurprisingly, I picked The Hand as one of the animated shorts I analysed for the final essay. My writings were even abysmal then. Thankfully, I lost it. But, I remember having a great time analysing every single one of them.

While analysing it, I found two peculiarities.

First thing first, the funeral. Why would the hand hold a state funeral to a rebel? Surely, shouldn’t he be demonised as an enemy of the state in the end?

Well, I found an article (forget which one, cannot find it again) about how the USSR and its satellite states honoured their artists posthumously, regardless of how obedient or disobedient they were; the writer said even Trnka himself was given a state funeral.

As I am too lazy to do more research, I cannot confirm or debunk the article’s factual validity. But, as the hand symbolises an authoritarian government (I cannot think of any other interpretations), what the article is saying makes too much sense for me to dismiss.

This reminds me of the legendary and ideologically-dissenting director Andrei Tarkovsky (can’t stop referencing him). After his death, the Soviet authorities regretted that he died in exile. Yes, linking Trnka, a Czechoslovakian puppeteer and animator with, to Tarkovsky, a live-action Russian director who loved exploring the metaphysical aspect of humanity, is far-fetched. But, I can’t help myself.

Oh, and the hand.

At first, I noticed the hand was a left one. I assumed it represented the far-left government of Czechoslovakia. But, when I took a greater look, the hand was not always left.

Sometimes, it appears as a right one. In fact, the first hand sculpture to appear in the video depicts a right hand.  So, I quickly dumped the interpretation, dismissed it as reading too much into things. But then, I remembered the funeral scene, where the hand can be seen making a salute eerily similar to the Nazi one; I could hear my classmates’ shock.

I was more baffled than shocked, as Czechoslovakia was a communist country, not a fascist one. Due to my slowness, it took me days to realise the film criticises authoritarianism in general, not just the communist Czechoslovakian government.

The film also subtly warns us to not fall for any forms of extremism. Your suffering under a far-left government cannot morally justify your support of a far-right government… and vice versa. One form of  zealotry does not justify the other.

I write as if I grasped the thematic depth immediately. I didn’t. Back then, my mind only thought about the Far-Left vs Far-Right.  It took me years to realise how the message is also applicable to any kinds of extreme dichotomies.

Yes, I know I seem to be reading too much into things again. The nazi salute may not be one after all and I don’t know enough about different types of salutes. I also cannot prove that extreme dichotomies in general were what Trnka had in mind.

But, you have to admit: the film does not target a specific ideology. My interpretation fits really well into the narrative.

The overtly-polished Casey Neistat style

I call it the Casey Neistat style because that’s how others call it (even though some people think the style predated him) and I don’t have an alternative name for it.

From the title, you can easily tell I am not a fan.

Okay, I am not saying I hate the aesthetic. I actually think it looks beautiful and proves every image can look pretty when captured by the right person. But, that’s also my problem with it: it looks TOO beautiful.

Before I was immersed in Youtube cultures, I had already watched arthouse films like Andrei Tarkovsky’s and Ingmar Bergman’s. They are visually stunning and narratively compelling (for me), exposing me to cinematic art works.

Also resulting in my high expectations of vloggers like Neistat.

It is already ingrained in my mind that good cinematography HAS to be accompanied by compelling stories. But, vlogs don’t tell ‘profound’ stories (mind the quotation marks), even when they showcase out of the ordinary events or the lives of perpetual travellers.

If anything, those vlogs feel pretentious. The polished cinematography seems to do nothing but overcompensating the passable narratives.

Oh, and when I said that vlogs are not narratively profound, I meant it as a compliment. Because they are supposed to narrate Youtubers’ semi-personal lives, I always expect raw and mundane storytellings; that is what I find attractive about vlogs in the first place!

I actually do enjoy some Neistat-esque vlogs, like the ones of Evan Edinger, Terry Song and Adam Neely. The difference is theirs are more stylistically restrained, allowing a greater presence of rawness and mundanity.

Thanks to its participatory nature, Youtube has opposites for almost everything. For Casey Neistat style and the likes, there are content described by Nerd City as post-ironic.

I cannot make myself enjoy the works of Youtubers like Filthy Frank, MaxMoeFoe and IDubbz (his Content Cop videos are an exception). Apart from the crassness which I find extreme (even for a relatively crass person like me), I am also anxious about the blurred lines between irony and sincerity.

But still, despite my inability to relish such content, I cannot help but respecting those creators for their unsuppressed mockery of the insincere and synthetic charm endorsed by the establishment. While I admittedly do embrace some of the establishment’s ideals, I also despise the idea of venerating them.

Thankfully, despite the increasing pressure of uniformity, the platform still has a sizeable freedom to dissent, something those employed in the ‘traditional’ media can only dream of. Therefore, almost every imaginable type of content has a place on Youtube*.

Whether it is aesthetically and thematically extreme** or middle-of-the-road, you will definitely find it.

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*Obviously, there are restrictions to what can and cannot be uploaded. But, it is no secret Youtube content policing is both ineffective and misguided. ‘Lawful’ videos can get taken down and ‘unlawful’ ones stay. Supposedly, people have found porn on the site; while I do have found softcore films, I have yet found hardcore ones.

**Post-irony is extreme due to its depictions of life as an inherently ugly entity. But, I would argue overtly-polished aesthetic is also extreme for its overtly beautiful depictions of life; once one is accustomed to it, acknowledgement of the ugly reality feels taboo.

A bit of tangent here:

Andrei Tarkovsky said he utilised both colour and monochrome scenes in his films because those shot entirely in colour felt like animated paintings for him and therefore, felt ‘too beautiful’ to be realistic.

I never thought that I would reference Tarkovsky’s philosophy while discussing Youtube.

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