Friday, August 24, 2007

How Chinese is it?

After the recent crash of the China Airlines plane at Nagoya Airport, in a fantastically revisionist gesture worthy of Stalinist Russia, the airline painted their logo out in a hamfisted attempt to avoid bad publicity. Since, as with all airline crashes since the dawn of airlines, the crash will henceforth be known as “the China Airlines Nagoya crash”, it’s hard to think of a more futile gesture. It’s now also likely to be known as “the China Airlines Nagoya crash where China Airlines painted out their logo”.

Creating a stink

Browsing through SASA (a truly excellent, and very cheap, Hong Kong make-up store, which proudly sells individual miniature items of skincare products by Clinique, Estee Lauder and LancĂ´me et al clearly labeled “not to be sold individually”) and idly glancing at the perfumes, I was astonished to see that there’s a cologne (itself somehow a wonderfully dated word) for men called “HUMMER”, the bottle decked out in suitably masculine steering-wheel type trim.

Not only does the Hummer pollute the streets (I saw a large yellow one with blacked out windows in Phnom Penh, a truly vulgar statement and a revolting contrast to the bicycles, beat-up trucks and pedal taxis that otherwise crowd the narrow streets), now Hummer drivers (aspiring or otherwise) can wear the cologne. I didn’t smell it – that would have been a bridge too far – but presumably it reeks of arrogance.

Hello pity

I’ve commented before about the inexplicable proclivity of women in Asia for Hello Kitty and other infantile icons. Only in Asia would you see a top-of-the-range Mercedes with its back shelf packed with wince-inducing cuddly toys. In a Tokyo department store recently I saw the reduction to the absurd of this phenomenon: a display of Hello Kitty kitchen implements from toasters to microwaves, plus Hello Kitty bra-and-knicker sets (for adult women?) and an entire display of accessories and gewgaws dedicated to Hello Kitty’s evil twin, who bestrode the stand like a colossus complete with goth-style black cape and skull and crossbones logo. The evil effigy had not been graced with a name but clearly it was Hello Sickie.

I wouldn’t want to imply that I’m insulting the intelligence of Asian women but there is a huge market out there for this dross and the infantilism it encourages is to be deplored. As for the Hello Kitty vibrator - you couldn’t make it up.

The pictures (to follow) are not all that great – I took them in a hurry lest anyone think that I was snapping them in order, god forbid, to have them copied cheaply in China.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Colour me bad

Wandering around the shops in Richmond, where the new season's clothes have just arrived, I was struck by the fact that the two most ubiquitous colours were those of my least favourite foods: beetroot (more charitably described as puce, and euphemistically as burgundy) and tinned sweetcorn (mustard, or "chartreuse"). It's another injustice perpetrated on the unsuspecting. At least autumn ("fall") brings with it remotely wearable clothes, although legions of infantile smocks and balloon-shaped skirts are still in evidence; but the magazines (and you've got to believe them) are all saying that it's OK to wear a pencil skirt again.

The heart of light, the silence

We went to the Tate Modern in London last week. Despite the fact that it's such a huge space, I find it strangely disappointing that the gallery rooms are all small, so that it feels as though you have to file by the artworks, which is a bit too close to ticking off the sights for my taste, and follow the familiar pattern of white walls and pale wooden floors. What's exhibited consequently seems somehow stale and dead.

On each of my visits I am always drawn to the same place: the Rothko room. Rothko was commissioned by the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, to create artwork for their walls, but before he'd even finished the sequence of paintings he abandoned the idea of putting them in a room full of people eating, as being incompatible with what the paintings ask for, which is contemplation. This was the right decision (although when I first saw them, in a room at the old Tate Gallery, I was childishly moved to comment that they were rather foodlike - one of them clearly depicts two fish fingers on a slice of burnt toast - as usual in attempt to avoid being pretentious I went to the opposite, prosaic extreme). What springs to mind on looking at them is the line about looking in to the heart of light, the silence. They are displayed in their own room, although there is no door, in dim light as specified by the artist. Having been to Stonehenge for the first time a few days earlier I was struck by the parallels between those bold shapes. Doors open or closed? Gateway or barrier?

The most compelling for me is T01165 - portrait-shaped, with blood/rust red oblongs on a pale, almost lilac background. I'm pulled in to thinking about nothing and minutes pass by effortlessly.

After seeing them I wandered out into the gallery again, but the rest just seemed like noise.

-Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Meer.

TS Eliot, The Waste Land