Waves: A review, of sorts

Some preliminary thoughts about the sea as a place of epistemological potential, prompted by my weekend, which featured The Honeymoon Suite‘s exhibition Waves, Kristina Davidson’s beautiful sculptural work Disconnect[i] (pictured), and the first episode of the new BBC documentary series Blue Planet II.

 

Disconnect

Disconnect (2017) by Kristina Davidson

 

Martin Buxbaum’s oft-cited reflection on the sea goes a long way towards describing many people’s affinity with this great body of water: ‘I have seen the sea when it is stormy and wild; when it is quiet and serene; when it is dark and moody. And in all its moods, I see myself.’

Many of us quote this because when we see the ocean we do see our moods, our behaviours, and our attitudes. Sometimes this “we” is singular: today, I am irritated and here is the sea, choppy and murky, just like me. Sometimes this “we” is extrapolated to mean humanness, but a very particular humanness, such as the flippancy afforded to some humans: yesterday, we stepped out hurriedly to grab toilet paper and milk, we forgot our calico bags, and we returned with an assortment of things including bananas, deodorant, and crumpets. We bought the toilet paper but forgot the milk. We shoved the plastic shopping bags inside other plastic shopping bags we keep beneath the kitchen sink. This morning, we grabbed takeaway coffees because we had no milk to make them at home. Later in the day, we went swimming in the bay and we saw at least two plastic coffee lids floating past, and for a moment we hated ourselves.

Momentary guilt is another type of “we.”

Most often, I think about the ocean as a place I long to be, a place I want to dive into so as to experience a different kind of momentary mood: solace. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep at the forefront of my mind the reality of the ocean as a place that others—Others with a capital O—long to be beyond, a place they want to cross, if they must, and then forever leave behind. When the ocean is this place it displaces both moods and moments. Forever is less of a moment and more of a life sentence when you can neither get beyond the sea in front of you nor put it fully behind you. I am sure this is what it must feel like for my father, still afraid of the sea after being forced by his orphanage Nuns at age five to venture into a great mass of water foreign to him. He ran away and is still running, as far as I can tell.

The sea is both dependable and menacing: carrier, continuum, and connector/ barrier, blockage, and bully. The sea might engulf us or deliver us; welcome us home on a Pacific liner, or refuse us entry on a small orange boat owned by the Australian Government. We can be flippant, but when we look at the sea we also sense that at any moment it might decide it has had enough of our nonchalance and become flippant, as well. After all, the world is mostly water and our bodies are at least sixty percent water, too. This water might become so wild on the last stretch of a P&O honeymoon cruise that we vomit all the way to shore, or so calm during a rescue by the Italian Navy that we can hear First Seaman Saverio Rizzi clearly counting the members of our family as he pulls us to safety after a long and treacherous journey from Syria: ‘One, two, three, four, five, six. Welcome!’[ii] The sea is, therefore, nothing but potential, at all moments, and this potential can disrupt our sense of time and the way our bodies feel moving through it.

Last night, my boyfriend and I watched the first episode of Blue Planet II. During the episode, an encounter between false killer whales and bottlenose dolphins was carefully manipulated for us, the viewers. An anticipated bloodshed became, at the last moment, solidarity and togetherness. Two marine species formed an unexpected alliance. Two humans watching felt their mood transition from dread to relief, despair to hope. Buxbaum was right: we see ourselves when we see the sea—but at the last moment we might also see others. Maybe sometimes we even glimpse unexpected ways of being, an alterity that helps us reframe the world. Maybe if we do not see these slippages when we see the sea, we are not looking hard enough.

 

[i] Kristina Davidson, “Disconnect”, 2017, wire, paper, glue, plastic. Featured as part of Waves exhibition curated by Charlotte Cornish, The Honeymoon Suite, Brunswick VIC.

[ii] First Seaman Rizzi was captured on film speaking these words to a Syrian refugee family he helped rescue as part of Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum in 2014. (ABC, “The Italian Solution”, Foreign Correspondent, 14 October 2014, available: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/the-italian-solution/5813806)

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Southern Italy

I am on a train travelling to Palermo, Sicily. We were delayed in Messina for dieci minuti, which made the Nonno sitting next to me very annoyed, but ten minutes doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the five hours I was told to expect these Calabrese trains to delay. Prior to our arrival in Messina the train was put onto a ferry so we could cross the stretto di messina, the passage of sea keeping Calabria and Sicily apart. My claustrophobia kicked in and I wanted to stay inside the train for this brief but unnerving oceanic passage. “But,” I thought, “if the ferry starts sinking I will not just be on a sinking ship: I will be inside a train on a sinking ship.” I grabbed my backpack and hustled off the carriage. As I drank a bitter, black coffee from the ferry bar, I comforted myself by thinking that if there was a Titanic situation I could at least dive into the sea. Hopefully, an old door would float past soon after, I could push Jack off, and await rescue.

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Train travel through Calabria

 

I cannot tell if everything is before me or in front of me. For the first time in my life I feel like I am exactly halfway. Half of everything falling away behind me in the distance, and half of everything stretching out ahead of me. One long train track, and there I am, in the middle. I have just come from a conference about the Italian diaspora, where I spent a lot of time with Italians—some of them “more Italian than others,” some of them keener to assert this “more Italian than others” than others. From a purely critical thinking point of view, nothing about my participation at this conference felt particularly cutting edge. However, I think the robustness will become apparent via my reflections of the whole experience, beginning with someone’s argument that theorising the Italian diaspora must begin in Italy, and must be in Italian, and ending with someone else’s boozy, 4am quip: “when I told my Dad I wanted to be a poet, know what he said to me? ‘What are you gay?!’” The haughty principles of the first argument counterpoised against the mundane hurt of the second. Yet, why do I feel these two incidents are somehow related?

 

I will take all of these moments and slip them into my pocket: the misogyny hidden beneath one man’s sarcastic jokes and ever so slightly raised eyebrows when a woman—me—was talking about her work; the feeling of alienation on the bus as everyone chatted excitedly in Italian, a language intimately familiar to me in sound and rhythm, but foreign and incomprehensible in meaning; the way my body shook very early in the morning on the day I later presented; the tears that spilled over when Giovanna Riccio read a poem, Namesake. All of these things I will gather like small flat stones and add to my pocket, waiting for a calm day by the sea when I will pull them out, one by one, flicking them onto the glassy water’s surface and counting how many times they skim.

 

I feel my body relaxing into a place of placidness as I watch the sunset emerge. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the sun melting crimson all over the blue-green sky so consistently, as it does this evening, as it has done every evening this past week in Southern Italy. In Australia, the sun drops cleaner, brighter, creating a yellowy orange sky; but here, the sun drifts towards the horizon like a hard-boiled lollie that has gone soft on the dashboard of a car. Allora, such sticky joys—sweetness tinged with sadness because you cannot suck on it any more today.

 

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Sunset, Tropea

 

What will I do when I arrive in Palermo? What will I think of? How will I move my body? Will my hands find themselves on the small of my back again, just as they did in Tropea, the moment I stepped onto the main street sans suitcase? How is it that a place you’ve never been before can draw your body into a shape its known its whole life, learned discreetly from the quiet strolls with your father, as he peered into shop windows or stood back to assess how much fruit the birds had ravaged from the backyard trees? Allora, such sticky joys, sweetness tinged with sadness.

 

Sunset in Tropea

Buonasera, Stromboli

 

 

On trust

Some of my recent research has led me to engage more deeply with the notions of hospitality & ethics towards the Other. This work, combined with the hyper-affective state of the political climate, has subsequently led me to thoughts about trust; how our encounters with one another–in both public & private realms–hinge on trust.

When do we embody trust and what are the conditions of this embodiment? What does trust ask of us, and what happens when we fall short? Is the relationship of trust actually *always* one of short fall? What happens when trust is sieged, breaks, does not meet its promise? Does what follows equate wholly to distrust, or is something else also created?

Slowly, hesitatingly, I inch towards responses to these questions, knowing that when the articulations eventually come they will be incomplete and unsatisfactory. Tonight, however, this image allows me to see trust, albeit briefly, as simple and fullsome. Originally posted by The Good Win Way (Aamion and Daize) on their Instagram account, and then shared via professional surfer Carissa Moore, the image does something crucial for my thinking on trust. Namely, it reminds me that regardless of what trust claims to be or hopes to become–or, rather, what we wish it to be or hope it to achieve–every now and then it exists as real and true. And when it does, it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

TheGoodWinWay

Woolf’s Wisdom

Today I have found myself looking in corners for inspiration. It seems to be such a hard time for many people in my life at the moment, and if there is one thing as inexplicable as personal loss and grief it is the loss and grief found in a friend (the philosophy student in me thinks immediately of Levinas and Butler and wonders, are they not the same thing/the same undoing?). The political climate here in Australia does nothing for this mood. So, I am thinking of the one thing I always think of on days like today, and that is these words from Virginia Woolf:

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

Today, in text messages about daily life and the grim state of “Abbott’s Australia”, one of my brothers asked (rather rhetorically, such is the level of the grimness): what are we to do, dan?!

I’m referring to Woolf’s Wisdom for an answer. I think all we can do right now is arrange, arrange, arrange.

 

Seasons

I left Melbourne for Vancouver in mid-August 2012, the last slog of Winter, a time when my spirits are usually about as grey as my sun-deprived face. I was very excited that I would be arriving in the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer. Sure enough, stepping off the plane in Vancouver I quickly became hot, partly because I was layered like the Michelin man so that I would not tip the baggage allowance over the limit, but mostly because the seasons were reversed. I waited in the customs line with sweat on my lip and a back on fire, a combination of backpack strain and warm, sticky, airport air. When I finally escaped the clutches of immigration, I stepped into fresh air and sunshine. The stark difference in light  felt almost blinding, especially given my increasingly jet-lagged eyelids, and looking out of the taxi everything seemed sepia-toned, making my new city seem all the more foreign and exciting.

Walking through the sunshine over the next two weeks was magical. Sunflowers towered above me on the sidewalk, daisies and geraniums were sprinkled in front yards and along windowsills. Vegetable patches grew randomly on street blocks and I plucked figs from big trees. I was enamoured by the heady smells of Summer blooms and shiny air—a romance back-dropped by the glorious mountains forever framing Vancouver.

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Soon I watched the colours change in the wide streets and walked through waves of orange, red and yellow leaves. It was romantic in a different way. Like something from a 1920s film where the lure of affair and adventure provokes reserved social conduct. Often I felt like I was dwelling in a neighbourhood that The Babysitters Club might be found:  the high houses, stair entrances, basement windows and towering, leafy trees seemed just like the streets described in the girl fiction series I read as a child.

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Halfway through October I awoke to vast sheets of water hitting my basement window. It was darker than usual and the pounding sound was everywhere. Later that night I was told: “this is it, Danni. Prepare yourself. It is going to be like this for five months.” I laughed about this.

Five months later I was not laughing about it. The relentless rain had taught me many good things, like the importance of leather-proof boots, jackets with hoods and careful planning of my backpack. It also taught me that Vancouverites are resilient, adaptive and opportunistic: always making the most of a break in the rain (“look, it’s sunny” meaning “look, it’s not pissing down”), managing to walk through rain with little more than a thin poncho and then stepping onto the bus like they just walked out of a salon. It also taught me that I can find value in dismal weather and to really savour small things like hot chocolates, dry socks and a night-in trying to learn how to knit. And I simply adored the brief falls of snow. But when February came and it was still raining I began to lose patience. By May I truly felt I was drowning in excess moisture. My basement apartment felt damp and I was sick—very sick—almost permanently. Colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, laryngitis. I’d lie in bed resting but felt like every breath I took was filling me up with more cold, more wet, more sick. Dragon’s “Don’t You Got Out in the Rain” played through my mind on loop (which actually was a good thing) and I wondered if these Australian-based rockers wrote this song while in Van?!

During my final weeks in Vancouver the blossoms ignited the trees and daffodils poked up to say hello. And, oh, the tulips! The beautiful, beautiful tulips! Slowly the sun appeared more often and people began to appear bouncier, healthier and happier. The day it reached 13 degrees I took a walk around my neighbourhood and smiled at people sunning on their decks, drinking cider on their lawns and basking in every piece of light. Shortly after this it reached 24 degrees. My friend and I had planned to meet for coffee that day but she wrote to me and requested we go for beer instead—it was just “SO HOT, TOO hot, for coffee.” The Australian in me smiled quietly… and pretended that I was not feeling hot, as well. (Here is a secret: I was. I even bought gelato to cool down. Well, to cool down, and because gelato rules, obviously!).

I arrived back in Australia in June. It wasn’t as cold as I remembered Junes being, which was a great thing. Sadly this soon changed, and I found myself feeling colder here than I ever was in Canada. Australians live in perpetual denial about their Winters: because it gets so hot in Summer it’s assumed we do not need sound heating or insulation in our homes and buildings. That’s until it hits 2 degrees overnight and we complain for weeks on end but do not actually do anything about it. We even forget to dress appropriately.

I knew I was longing for Summer. I am a cold-blooded lizard/girl of the sunshine. I exult in the feeling of being hot, and I quickly feel cold at the slightest drop in temperature. I wear jumpers whenever I visit my Dad’s house in Summer because I hate the feeling of cold air-conditioning on my skin. My toes and fingers are frequently blue and I long to roam barefoot. Needless to say, I am very proud of myself for enduring three back-to-back Winters.

Still, I did not realise just how eager for the season change I was until last month when I was strolling back to my house from uni. It was six pm but not yet dark, an exciting symbol in itself, and the air felt slightly thicker and softer to walk through. It was still and warm and pleasant. I was neither hot nor cold. I became aware that my senses were working overtime and I was overcome by a feeling of safety and comfort, though it took me some moments to pinpoint exactly why. It was the smell: the sweet tinge of jasmine, mixed with fresh cut grass and yellow eucalyptus blooms that can make me want to sneeze, but can also leave me hopelessly nostalgic. Combined it was the smell of my everyday life, but it seemed pronounced and special in that moment; extraordinary.

I guess it was the smell of home. 🙂

Oh, this journey we call life

Recently I went to a very quiet place to be very quiet. I will write about this quiet time soon (which in my head was, in fact, quite noisy), but for now I wanted to leave you with this from the delightful Margaret Atwood. It really says everything I want to say about my recent journey and, yes… life.

Mostly

that travel is not the easy going

from point to point, a dotted

line on a map, location

plotted on a square surface

but that I move surrounded by a tangle

of branches, a net of air and alternate

light and dark, at all times;

that there are no destinations

apart from this.

“Journey to the Interior” — Margaret Atwood

20 Historic Black and White Photos Colorized

My immediate response when viewing these colorized pictures was: “oh, no! That’s not at all right.” I wondered what the reasons were for my abrupt reaction. Was this initial response an objection to the particular colours used? Upon closer inspection I couldn’t say that it was. The hues and tones seemed fitting for each context. ‘Well, fitting enough,’ I thought, ‘because how would I know what the colour of the world looked like at this time?’ I realised then that my initial objection had nothing to do with aesthetic techniques and everything to do with the rupture in time that the manipulated photographs caused. In short: it offended my sensibility of time. The past—the “long ago past,” or what children endearingly refer to as “the olden days”—has always been represented in photography in black and white. Painting and written text have gone a long way to colour this era for us, but photographs assume a certain authority on ‘reality;’ an authority that, however false, has clearly fooled some part of my brain into categorizing a large portion of history as black and white, as colourless. These artists have messed with that categorization and ultimately provoked a question I am always interested in exploring, namely, is time and history static, or is it something moving, complex, and non-linear? Projects like this move us towards the latter position. They allow us to problematise grand narratives of time and history; to think about what is in the frame and what is left out; to interrogate how representations affect our understandings of the past and the present.

Needless to say, I like this project a lot 🙂

TwistedSifter

 

One of the greatest facets of reddit are the thriving subreddits, niche communities of people who share a passion for a specific topic. One of the Sifter’s personal favourites is r/ColorizedHistory. The major contributors are a mix of professional and amateur colorizers that bring historic photos to life through color. All of them are highly skilled digital artists that use a combination of historical reference material and a natural eye for colour.

When we see old photos in black and white, we sometimes forget that life back then was experienced in the same vibrant colours that surround us today. This gallery of talented artists helps us remember that 🙂

Below you will find a collection of some of the highest rated colorized images to date on r/ColorizedHistory.

I’ve also provide a list of some of the top contributors (in no particular order):

zuzahin aka Mads…

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