Tuesday, December 28, 2010

About the making of a beautiful object

A passage from Annie Dillard's excellent book For the Time Being, describing the blades made by the prehistoric Solutrean people in central France eighteen thousand years ago:

     "Hold one of these chert knives to the sky.  It passes light.  It shines dull, waxy gold - brown in the center, and yellow toward the edges as it clears.  At each concoidal fractured edge all the way around the double-ogive form, at each cove in the continental stone, the blade thins from translucency to transparency.  You see your skin, and the sky.  At its very edge the blade dissolves into the universe at large.  It ends imperceptibly at an atom.
     Each of these delicate, absurd objects takes hundreds of separate blows to fashion.  At each stroke and at each pressure flake, the brittle chert might - and, by the record, very often did - snap.  The maker knew he was likely to lose many hours breath-holding work at a tap.  The maker worked in extreme cold.  He knew no one would ever use the virtuoso blades.  He protected them, and his descendents saved them intact, for their perfection.  To any human on earth, the sight of one of them means: someone thought of making, and made, this difficult, impossible, beautiful thing."

Monday, December 20, 2010

MLoH #5

1.  Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages.  I started reading it on the plane on my way to Hong Kong and have been dipping in and out since I got back.  How inspiring that he wrote this lovely little jewel when he was only 26.  Eco talks about how medieval art theory was rooted firmly in Classical philosophy but became, basically, too big for those traditional britches and evolved into something very distinctive.  He describes the medieval aesthetic as something very sensual and preoccupied with utility and craftsmanship.  Two interesting bits:

"In fact the difficulty which they had in distinguishing beauty and function shows how there was an aesthetic element in every department of life.  They could no more subordinate beauty to goodness or use than they could subordinate goodness and use to beauty."  pg. 80

"There is an ingenuous liking for anything giving an immediate pleasure - and this is an elementary form of aesthetic response; and there is also an uncritical awareness of the materials used in works of art - and awareness that the choice of material is itself a primary and fundamental creative act.  This pleasure in the material, rather than in the shaping process, suggests a kind of commonsense stability in the medieval aesthetic response."  pg. 14
2.  Trader Joe's Fig Bars and Apple Bars.  The former tastes like Fig Newtons, but with better pastry.  The latter is like a much tastier and healthier version of those wax paper packaged apple pies at the checkout line in the supermarket.  You know, the ones that have way too much pastry and practically no filling and just tastes generally too sweet and plasticky.

3.  The prospect of getting my hair cut on Wednesday!  Finally.

4.  Carrie Boucher's work here: Pink Crow Studio.  What a creative and talented metalsmith!  Her work has this great steam-punk/medieval/art nouveau look and is also very well-crafted.  Her sawn edges are smooth and sure from endless sanding and filing, I'm sure.  And her textured surfaces are treated with intention.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Maisie Broadhead's Jewellery depicted

I just read about the most amazing artist, Maisie Broadhead, who is a trained goldsmith making pieces of jewelry to use in photographic spoofs of old paintings that incorporate jewelry.  Her photos are fun in themselves because of how closely they echo the originals but with the inclusion of purposeful little anachronisms.  Like a portrait of a diamond dealer who has a Macbook at his side instead of a jewelry case and the "portrait of a gentlewoman" clutching yellow rubber gloves instead of white kid leather ones.

Portrait of a Diamond Dealer

Broadhead's Diamond Geezer

Portrait of a Gentleman by Hans Eworth

Broadhead's English Gentlewoman
The best part is that she makes all the jewelry that goes into her intricately staged tableaux, altering them to create a photographic illusion or changing what the jewelry originally signified by changing the jewelry itself.  Like replacing 2/3 of the beads of a candy necklace with silver beads:

Keep Them Sweet
 And here's the original, titled Allegory of Wealth by Simone Vouet:

In Presentation at a Group Crit, a brooch with a huge stone is being offered up for scrutiny.

But the real brooch used in this photo actually looks like this, with the stone on an elongated setting to make it look much larger to the camera:

Here's the original Presentation of a Medallion by Caspar Netscher.

So clever!  More cool pieces on her website: http://www.maisiebroadhead.com/work

Monday, December 13, 2010

MLoH #4

1.  Delicious kale dishes.  Kale is always in my CSA box in winter.  I'll probably be completely sick of it by the end of January, but right now it's still quite welcome on my plate.

Rob made this yesterday for breakfast.  
2.  Aural joy.

Fiona Apple's Red Red Red

Blonde Redhead's Oslo.

3.  My sleepy cat Louis XIV.

4.  Catching up with two excellent lasses I hadn't seen in a long time.  I worked with the gorgeous and whipsmart Jessica for almost a year.  And Angie owns Lamb's Ear Shoes, which is an amazing shoe store filled with beautiful and cleverly designed shoes and accessories.  She carries the best Rachel Comey shoes.  WAANT. 

5.  Purplish red lipstain and gray nail polish.  Makes me look like the goth girl I wanted to be but never was in high school.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie

Last week, Rob and I had a giant party for our friend Mariana, who successfully defended her dissertation for a PhD of anthropology.  And in cases of parties, I always always always end up providing something sweet to nibble on.  And about 75% of the time, I end up making Orangette's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.  In my oven-less kitchen in Japan, I would "bake" it with my rice cooker.  It would be dense and slightly spongy, but still wondrously decadent and delicious.  The cake was a big hit among the Japanese teachers I worked with, even though most Japanese don't exactly love very sweet, rich desserts.

So last week, I followed the recipe exactly and baked it in a real oven.   The batter was gorgeous:


I was nervous.  Especially after skimming some of the comments on Orangette, disappointed readers whose cakes collapsed even after baking for much longer than the recipe called for.  

But my cake...  it was beautiful.  Observe:

Here were some other delicious things we had.  Stephanie made a crisp green salad with walnuts, feta cheese and beets and Sam made the most mindblowingly flavorful and juicy Korean beef ribs with dried dates and cranberries and daikon and a touch of anise.  The sweet and savory caramelized meat was following off the bone.  Words fail me.  Oh yes, they do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mythology - then and now.

This morning, I was pleasantly surprised by the pictures for the 2011 (always nude) Pirelli calendar shot by Karl Lagerfeld.  The theme was Mythology.  The black and white shots are beautiful and spare and didn't portray the naked female body in an overtly sexual manner, unlike past calendars (ahemTerryRichardsonahem).  Here are a few to sample:

Artemis, the virgin hunter.
Aurora, goddess of the dawn.
Flora, goddess of nature.
My absolute favorite.  She is Hades and I love the body paint evoking the look of a skeleton, standing atop a heap of abandoned and useless armor.
Hermes on the go.
Orpheus and Eurydice.  She died on their wedding day.  He was so overwhelmed with grief that he bargained with Hades to bring her back.  In order for her to stay alive, he could never look at her.  Unable to resist, he turned around just as she was exiting the underworld, so she died again.  
However, they still cannot rival Madame Yevonde's work.  She was an English photographer who's known for her series of gorgeously rich and colorful photos of high society women dressed as Greek goddesses in the 1930s.  Take a look.

Arethusa, who turned into a spring.
Daphne, who turned into a laurel tree to escape the unwanted attentions of  Apollo.
Hecate, goddess of crossroads, magic and the night.
Flora.  I think I like the Pirelli one better.  This is a little too sweet. 
Ceres, goddess of agriculture and the harvest.  Suitably earthy and magnificent here.
Artemis.  I love this one.  Love her helmet and gun and her owl familiar.  She looks totally uninterested in the attentions of men and strong enough to blow away any idiot who would try to subject her to the male gaze.
Helen of Troy.  I like her crafty and disdainful expression.  
Penthesilea, the Amazon warrior who died at the hands of Achilles.  In some translations, he fell in love with her in the moment he killed her.  In some, he raped her dead body.

Monday, December 6, 2010

MLoH #3

1.  The blog Hyperbole and a Half.  The blogger Allie Brosh tells hilarious stories about her everyday life using amazingly simple yet expressive little cartoons drawn with MS Paint.  I giggled myself to sleep thinking about this one:  I CAN'T FEEL MY FACE!!!

2.  Pu-er tea and slices of apple, pear and orange and dried mango on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a friend that I hadn't seen in ages.  Seeing her house with its many pillow strewn window seats.  Crawling through her tiny window onto a flat roof to watch the sun set over downtown Seattle and Puget Sound.

3.  The anticipation of watching Jane Campion's movie about John Keats, Bright Star.  I have a feeling it's going to be good.  Just look at these stills; they make me want fall over:

4.  Delicious food that I've had this week: Greek yogurt with honey, yam fries, Korean roast beef with shiitake mushrooms, daikon and dried cranberries and dates, Russian meatballs with sour cream and dill sauce.

5.  Baking a pretty damn good chocolate cake (pictures to come soon!)

6.  Knowing that I'm going to see my family for Christmas!  Unexpected.  It'll be five or six days of stuffing myself with Chinese food.