Have you ever thought of an old friend who you hadn’t seen in years, and then met them minutes later?
As I was writing this post, I was in conversation with my brother while walking down the road in Dublin, talking about this type of coincidence. As luck would have it, we were midway through this conversation when an old friend who I hadn’t seen in years appeared directly in front of us. Coincidence? Read on.
On April 26, 1986, in northern Kiev Oblast, Ukraine, a fire started in Reactor 4 of a large nuclear power station near the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat. The Chernobyl power station, which had begun operations nine years earlier, went into crisis as the fire spread and soon a small explosion occurred in the reactor. An evacuation was ordered, and fire services entered to attempt to reduce the damage and the spread of radioactive material into the air. However, it was already too late. Irradiated gas leaked into the local area, and within hours people began to feel nauseous and light-headed. Soon both towns were evacuated, and have never been repopulated to the same extent (although some people live there, in a fascinating story uncovered by Holly Morris).
One of the first rules of writing is to open with a catchy line, and never with a technical topic. So I’m going to blow that one right out of the water and start by writing about entropy.
Entropy is a theory in thermodynamics (yes, I’m doing it!) that has also crossed over into the fields of astrophysics and philosophy. It is used to describe a sudden change that causes erratic and chaotic events, often leading to the creation of entirely new objects. Entropy always moves forward with time, and creates events that cannot be undone. A good example is the collapse of a star, folding in on itself and becoming (perhaps) a black hole. Stephen Hawking describes the idea of entropy nicely in A Brief History of Time when he refers to how an “intact cup on the table is a state of high order, but a broken cup on the floor is a disordered state.” (p 161) Continue reading “Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction”
Fadó, fadó in a world not unlike our own, a group of people embarked on an amazing journey through the stars.
Our journey, as Homo Sapiens, started approximately 400,000 years ago. Like all stories, there is of course a long history to our arrival at the start of this journey, but this story is about our collective selves and how we have travelled. Before the castles and the aqueducts, before we farmed animals or spliced atoms, our collective protagonist (we) was about to embark upon one of the most astounding journeys ever taken through the stars.
From the moment we learn to read the English language (presuming you can if you are reading this), we learn to decipher a series of characters twenty-six letters long, give or take. Each character has a sound associated with it, and we hear these sounds as we read. The characters are all symbols, each with its own significance to our understanding. SSSSSSSSSSSS can represent a long, hissing sound, just as KAKAKAKAKA could be a machine gun. We learn this system of graphics, recognising the line across the top of a T as opposed to the one that is missing on an I, and we make sense of the words that are written by scanning these graphic signs and creating words from our understanding of their sounds.
Far before we learn to read and decipher the graphic symbols of this Latin alphabet, we learn another language. This is the language of the visual, and it involves the same method of deciphering what we see into other forms, but it is different as with this language we do not necessarily have a spoken language to go along with it. At our youngest and most naive, we decipher the symbols of the people raising us, seeing their representations as those of family or friends, but we do not recognise any link between these people and language. Instead, we simply categorise and recognise, realising that there is something different about these people to the people that we pass in the street. Continue reading “Seeing Scene Seen – Everything we read is art”
In 2010 James Elkins, Art Critic and Historian of the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, wrote a piece entitled How Long Does it Take To Look at a Painting? for The Huffington Post. In this piece the author describes an encounter with an elderly lady who he estimates, over decades of visits to the Art Institute of Chicago, spent at least 3,000 hours looking at Rembrandt’s painting Young Woman at an Open Half-Door (below).
The basic premise of the Daily Mail’s piece was to prove via observation that viewers spend an average of as little as 5 seconds looking at works by important contemporary artists such as Rachel Whiteread or Tracy Emin in the TATE Modern. Their conclusion was that viewers do not like looking at modern art.
On a very recent trip to the north of Ireland from my home south of the border, I was asked by a friend and fellow traveller if I had encountered any culture shock after crossing into Northern Ireland. She had never visited up north before, being from further south in the country. The thought had never struck me.
When I was growing up Northern Ireland was the place that scandalised the headlines constantly with news of the bombings and beatings and various atrocities of the ongoing war in that area, and also where my parents would go to shop cheap. As a young child the troubles were an ambiguous thing at the very least, and the mention of towns I knew quite well like Omagh and Enniskillen were just mentions of places where awful things happened, but they never seemed that bad. The money was Pound Sterling, not the good old Irish Punt, the post-boxes and phone-boxes were red, not green. Continue reading “Red Phone-boxes: Ireland North and South”
While browsing a shopping aisle in a Tesco supermarket some time back I witnessed a young child sat in the constrictive rear-facing child seat of a shopping trolley. I would have passed little notice of this regular occurrence had the child not been in some consternation as to its current predicament. The young fair-haired boy wailed repeatedly at the top of his voice, to the pained facial expression demonstrating his busy mother’s exacerbated patience “I want to get out!”
It may have been the fact that I was on the way to the Electric Picnic music festival with my girlfriend, full of anticipation for impending youthful whimsy and unsolicited feelings of freedom from the rat-race for a weekend at least, but the repetition of the phrase, and in particular the context of uttering “I want to get out!” repeatedly in the anti-labyrinthine supermarket geography made me turn and muse whimsically to my better half, “Is that not the perfect social statement?” Continue reading ““I Want to Get Out!” – Supermarkets as Non-Places”