I miss this kind of rain, he said. We never have this kind of rain. Yes you’re right, I miss the heavy rain, she said. It used to be just like this.
There are few instances which remind us of tacit value of experiences. This was one of them – a visit to rAndom International’s acclaimed Rain Room, an installation on display at The Curve (Barbican Arts Centre, London). The room has been prey to an insatiable and unending crowd over the past few months. We ventured there to discover why.
Our investigation was interrupted by a malfunction with the installation. The rain, audaciously, had fallen directly onto one of its passers-through. It was thus switched off in a swift and mock-divine manner so that its settings might be restored to normal. Normal being the sensing of any corporal movement below a suspended black plane, and the controlling of falling water so as to avoid that moving mass at all costs.
Once the room was cured of its misbehavior we continued our research. Our methodology was walking. We moved slowly through the expanse of downpour, allowing the simulated elements to attack our senses.
It’s always difficult to decide what is and what is not Art. What has been prescribed as a major characteristic of that which makes the bill is the object having the power to be transformative. Art can transform one’s senses. But I have to ask – albeit feebly, like a lonely school girl raising a shaky hand at the back of the classroom – transform them into what?
Older feelings. To elaborate:
As I walked around the raining expanse a multitude of feelings stirred within me. I could not put my finger on what it was that I was feeling, but I knew it was familiar. The truth is that in this instance art was being used to transcribe elements that occur in nature. Standing beneath this giant watering-can, it was impossible to separate its sensual stimuli from those which I had previously encountered in actual life-occurances.
Human memory has boundaries – we are restricted to a limited version of our own past experiences because of the inadequacy of our minds to archive what ‘has happened’ with photographic accuracy. It’s difficult to define ‘memory’, because our facility to store it is so apparently flawed. We fixate on certain details and forget others so that our version of things is decidedly fuzzy around the edges. Metaphorically, the materiality of our memory would be best represented by layers of filo pastry. Each one thin, delicate, organic and subject to changing its molecular make-up over time. And like that feathery brand of pastry, memory crumbles whenever we go to touch it. When we try to interrogate it without inflicting damage we only end up with a flaky version of what was before. Thereafter we try, mostly in vain, to dust up remains of the truth, or what was already a morphed version of the truth. Again, we are left only with fragments of what really transpired.
Art, however, has an innate ability to re-embody memory. Not in a documentarian manner, pinpointing details in their natural correctness, but in sentiment. Art relays a lucidity to our senses alowing them to tune into a previously encountered emotion. It’s because the feeling art elicits is at times as strong as those created by life moments.
Perhaps this is the reason behind the Rain Room’s perpetual queuing of would-be visitors. Although the pulling power of the installation has been its genial facility to allow people to walk through the rain without getting wet, our experience yielded a different kind of enchantment. We were elated by the sound, cold and general dampness in the air, gripped by the feeling of being surrounded by something we had each experienced before in our lives. Even if we could not accurately know when.
In a mere set of weeks the rain will stop permanently and the eternal human lines will vaporize. But I do suspect that one day he and she and I will feel that heavy rain again; nature will imitate art in its transformative power, and the dusty memory of being in the rain room together will momentarily regroup in our senses.
With festivities, food and folly ebbing as the first week of the new year reaches it’s end, there now appears to be a prevalent sense of (expected) resolve in the air. Where we were once binging we are now contemplating on bettering. We go for walks, we cut back on drink, promise ourselves that we will no longer lay siege on our body with murderous toxins.
This change occurs as an almost instant and automatic psychological shift. One moment we’re gyrating against animate/inanimate objects, yelling obscene remarks over blindingly loud music, and smudging make-up onto anything that will absorb it or allowing ourselves to get smudged onto; the next we’re self-spamming ourselves with all things detoxifying.
Why now? Why do we not, on a remote day in mid-Summer, wake-up and suddenly feel as though we’ve been given a fresh page upon which to pen a new and better life? How can one year turning into another represent an emotional force that essentially encapsulates the entire human psyche?
Perhaps the reason is because it is a time which is so intensely juxtaposed against excess and amplification of our vices. Maybe it is because of that sense of community, the knowingness that we all are resolved to doing things which make us better human beings. Or, maybe, it is because we are giving ourselves enough time to fail.
If you had the kind of memory which would allow you to list all the resolutions you have ever made at the dawn of a new year you would not only be a candidate for superhumanism but also, a little bit depressed. We fail, recurrently, to live up to what we would like to make of ourselves. Or at least, we fail to do it in the chronology that we self-stipulate.
But I wish to propose here that this is in actuality – a good thing. The truth is that our own lack of stamina is what works to maintain normalcy in the face of this unrelenting force of goodwill. We cannot all be getting thinner, kinder, more active as each new year is birthed. We must pace our growth steadily and ensure that we set ourselves back with failure on each and every try.
This time next year, if we stay on track, we could be having a functional, healthy, nourishing Christmas. There would be no over-indulgencies, no extremities, no misguided acts. Isn’t the beauty of humanity held most significantly in that which is flawed? Imagine a year where we would have all evolved into resolution-keeping drones with nowhere else to divert our wanting ‘improvement’ energy.
This year, I resolve to embrace my weakness and vulnerability in the face of challenges I’ve set myself. To ‘punch a hole in positivity’. I resolve to do this for the good of humanity, with the notion of devolution in mind. I promise I will not allow myself to reach all of my goals, only a few. And certainly, I will ensure that I will not become much of a better person than I currently am.
*Above - clip from the 1994 single season phenomenon My So-Called Life, episode 16 entitled ‘Resolutions’.
It’s a strange thing to understand, that instance when someone makes a deliberate attempt to hurt you. This is not in reference to the activity of arguing wherein two or more people make points to counteract against each other’s opinions or actions. This is in reference to unprompted attacks. Abuse that is hurled out of left field, swung from an oblique angle, without any hint of warning or disclaim.
It’s been said by many that when your body’s surface is cut, or your bones broken, the fibres of your skin and cartilage grow and infuse together with greater strength. I’ve come to pass this off as a sweeping biological myth, as I have a personal rule not to believe things that more than ten people repeat without the citation of knowledgeable source.
However, it does seem to be true that if you know the way a specific type of pain feels, then you are more prepared to succumb to it. This is purely because if it hasn’t killed you, then you know you are able to withstand it. It goes towards reminding you of your own resilience.
So, as much as pain hurts, there is a part of you that welcomes it. This is not so much the case for new, unsolicited pain.
Until recently, a painting by Mark Rothko entitled Black on Maroon had been subject to the routine turmoil that comes in hand with the life of any painting. It had been judged, perhaps harshly at times; it had been moved from context to context; it had been exposed to the elements; it had to continually prove itself to those who refused to grasp its true meaning. All this it withstood – and possibly more (for no one really knows the private lives of paintings) – with utter and immovable nobility.
Then, something irrevocable happened. One Sunday evening, with no prior signs, no build-up, no apparent plan-of-action, Black on Maroon was attacked by an alien hand. It was an action that came out of left field, swung from an oblique angle, without any hint of warning or disclaim.
It’s a strange thing to understand, why someone would do this. Although it may be argued that it was not a malicious attack.Because of course, wrong-doings are never objectively seen as wrong-doings by all. What is surely true is that in our attempt to understand the motives of the actions in place, we cannot help but know that we have all been Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon - going about our business, trying to be the best we can be, hoping that no one will attack us unnecessarily.
Black on Maroon will eternally be an object of complete, mind-numbing awe. And from henceforth it will be that, as well as an object which withstood and (undoubtedly) will survive a strange and uninvited assault. Perhaps then, when someone attacks us, hurts us, or does something which is out of tide with our expected range of discomfort, we should think of ourselves of being as noble as that beautiful piece, and carrying on existing. At times when we are rendered ill-equipped to fight our aggressors, we should take their attacks as prompts for measuring our own purpose with a newly reinforced awareness of how strong we actually are.
We sat around leftover barbequed food, and in the length it took to reach for a beer, our conversation turned into a (tepidly) heated debate. The argument was such that it would have had any eavesdropper feeling nauseous from the fumes of pretention. Yes, we were talking design. The future of design, no less. More specifically – the future of a logo.
“But how can you design something for a future that is so distant? I mean take the Olympics logo, do you think they captured the year 2012?”
“Trends and derivation is all we ever see anyways. One decade recycles another constantly. It’s the way it goes.”
“Well, I see no problem with having a traditional serif font for a contemporary logo. Just look at the V&A…it still works”
“Yes. The answer is timelessness.”
“No…the answer is looking ahead.”
“There isn’t an answer. All we can do is try to create something that signifies what we’re about at this moment.”
That last one had us all silenced, and we quickly returned to our sausages. Yet the conversation continued to resonate in my thoughts even as the smoky aroma disintegrated into the summer air.
The concluding statement had been donated by a Maltese graphic designer who’s final year at UCA Farnham (B.A. Hons Graphic Communication) had seen him grappling with the question on how to create a visual signifier for a city. Before Ed Dingli left the party, he asked if I would come to his end of year show, just off Brick Lane, on the 12th July, in London. Knowing that student shows can, on rare and miraculous occasions, prove to be a gold-mine of innovation, I accepted with contained vigour.
So a week later, I found myself unwittingly immersed back into that hot summer night, and that conversation about a logo. Essentially what was on trial here was the visual representation of a city. The creation of an emblem which would capture the past, the future, the meaning of one place. A place that for a nation embodied its entire cultural identity.
Maybe a tall order for just one student. But Ed’s intention with this project from the get-go began with finding foundation criteria. What was Valletta (the city he sought to represent) inherently about?
Now, like the project’s creator, I know the city in question well. I’ve worked there, walked up the heaving streets in the treacherous heat of day, and down the balmy limestone steps at night. Therefore, being affronted with a proposal for its branding was somewhat taxing to digest. I had to look at the project with the untainted aim to find out what it is stating, without imposing on it my own version of what I felt the city was.
The design spoke for itself. A visual vocabulary that breathed modernity, yet drew its intrinsic meaning from tradition. The brand was created for a city that sees itself as a capital of culture in six years six years time. It was created for a city with a deeply layered past, full of visual diversity and historical design allusions.
The diversity of thought and sheer magnitude of exploration rings clear in Ed’s sketches for the concept. But out of the gothic, over-embellished motifs somehow sprung a fresh, clean design with an intellectual pattern scheme that ties back to the design hallmarks of the city. In the geometric formations, you can make out the old tiles on the floors of Valletta’s houses. In the palette you can see the night-lights of the city. The lines, although bearing relation to the strictness of the city’s bastion walls, are new; allowing the brand to jolt itself into contemporariness.
I remembered what I had heard Ed say before I knew he had been working on a project which would brand the capital city of Malta, Valletta: “All we can do is try to create something that signifies what we’re about at this moment”. I understood that this, perhaps unbeknownst to him, was not just his graphic vision but also his vision of a cultural identity. Of course, there remains room for this vision to incorporate the conversations and critique of others. Perhaps after that process is over, this design will be in itself the answer to our conversation.
The In Crowd: ever the nightmare for anyone who while growing up fell even just below ‘average looking’. The soul-anaesthetising curse of any adolescent’s life belonging to either gender (probably even more dramatically so if belonging to both), is that single group of people who excel at everything that is important in the world. Looking beautiful, having clean hair with bodies that seem to fit so perfectly into clothes, and generally being able to walk as though in slow motion and with wind blowing perfect locks away from their foreheads as they manage with their superhuman ability not to blink or become watery-eyed against the elements. Anyone who has been in the In Crowd might be alien to the utterly demonic sensation of resentment that becomes instilled into the very bones of those who belong outside of it.
Now this is quite extremist. People-leagues are not so defiantly cutthroat in whom they choose to promote and discharge. Some people have been in the In Crowd, but decided to leave, some people have never been inducted but have friends who are and insist that honestly “they’re different when you get to know them”.
As I perch my lonesome self on a stone ledge, after quietly rejoicing the fact that I’ve scored a free beer (I don’t even like beer) because it’s the opening night for an exhibition at a super trendy gallery in London, I look around. After all these years, I’m still standing (or sitting, rather) on the periphery of that which is significantly chic. I’m still attending the most glamorous of parties, but I’m standing behind the velvet rope, trying to resist holding my hand up to shield my eyes from the glitter glare.
Now I’ve come, over the years, to bury any form of resentment towards people who are members of the In Crowd. Because it really isn’t their fault that they are so beautiful and pointless; and I actually am one of those people who has known a few ‘inners’, and they are pretty much harmless and often quite nice-ish. But as I sit, looking at the two hundred or so people who are infinitely trendier, edgier and more popular than I am, I uncompromisingly forget how okay I truly am with this social phenomenon, and I become steadily and haughtily enraged.
I’lm sure these people aren’t even here for the art. They’re just here to pose! And how the hell does everyone know each other? And why do they each throw their heads so savagely backwards when laughing? And why can all of them afford to buy cigarettes? They’ve probably paid for the free beer just because they’re so much richer than everyone and…oh dear, I loathe myself.
Right. So, really, In Crowds don’t actually exist. Wait…just, wait. Let me unpack that gross and seemingly misguided statement. In Crowds can’t exist unless we allow them to. Of course there is such a thing as inequality. Yes, some people are more good looking, more intelligent, more interesting, more flexible etc. But even if some of us are sitting alone on a stone ledge, we are still there: In the crowd. Maybe not in the In Crowd. But we exist, and somehow, we’ve managed to be in the same place as the plastic people.
As I continue to sit, I remember the various exhibition openings I attended back home in Malta. I remember how I would wake up in a fog of old cigarettes fumes with my neck aching. I remember how I would walk into whatever gallery or event it was and, quite literally, know everyone there. So was I, dare I say it, an ‘inner’? Surely not? Well…I don’t think I will ever know. And maybe the people I so fanatically hated for those fifteen minutes at the gallery opening don’t see themselves that way either. In fact, I’m assured they don’t as I walk up to the bar to procure myself another bottle. “I just love a freebie, don’t you?” says a perfectly coiffured human being to me. Yes, I think, to myself. And apparently, we all do.
Q: Consider the following scenarios and explain in brief the process by which the individual(s) concerned may elicit a more positive outcome, providing the specific term intended for use as a solution to said scenarios.
Scenario No. 1: Making Friends
You’re about twelve years old and it’s time to make real friends. Ones you actually will talk to for more than three hours at a stretch, and about things that matter (only) slightly more than who’s going to be the ‘counter’ in hide and seek this time around. So you go about the matters of procuring classroom companions. You are under the naïve impression that mere kindness and an outreach of a fruit-pastille filled hand will garner you acceptance into the barbed confines of the tween clique. It won’t. Well, what stickers/ posters/ previously unseen Justin Bieber Youtube links can you bring to the table? None? Sorry you’re out. Go find yourself ten overpriced free hours of your future to put aside for some couch revelations.
Scenario No. 2: Getting a Guy/Girl to Like you
You’re about sixteen (girls) or twenty-seven (boys) years old and you’re tired of over-the-clothes groping, tongue aerobics, dry-humping, and essentially uninspired pretend sexual intimacy. You want conversation. You want to be able to get to know a person in conjunction with all of the rubbing. So you go about searching for something different; thinking, surely someone else is doing the very same thing. Suddenly, and quite quickly, you meet a potential ‘someone else’ and you hope that merely putting forward the notion that you are ready to actually like someone is going to get you someone. It won’t. The sole admission of the fact that you are sound enough to be looking for a solid rapport with a person you would also like to have sex with is the same fact that will repel that potential into the smoggy fumes of ‘I’m so not interested’. Don’t worry there will be countless more failed attempts.
Scenario No. 3: Trying to Learn More
You’re nearing the end of your undergraduate years and you know you are not done with learning things. You feel like you’re smart enough to embark into the postgraduate world and you know that continuing your studies is going to take you places. You rummage quickly through a few prospectuses without a crumb of insight into what you’re actually doing. You have no idea what universities are reputable in your field, nor do you know any names of big shot professors you want to be taught by. You just want to wear black polo-necks and have a leather diary instead of the paper spiral bound one you’ve normally kept. You want to meet new people and have profound conversations with them, push your scholarly boundaries to limits you had no idea existed, you want to grow and stuff. It will be easy, you think, I have the grades or whatever. Sure. Next you have to write a personal statement where you’re basically giving yourself a intellectual hand-job droning on and on about your inconsequential achievements and feeling like an utter douche-nozzle in the process. And if you don’t hype yourself up enough, you’re out. Try again next year. Meantime you can go on a gap year and get a menial job as a youth tour leader or professional suicidist.
Scenario No. 4: Finding a Real Job
You’ve done it all, you’ve managed to get to university, you’ve gotten the grades you needed, you’ve had all the specialist speak you can possibly muster. You’re ready to go out into the new world. You’re ready to put your skills into practice, to earn money to buy food that doesn’t taste like it’s been melted and re-composed three times over (…university canteens), to go to bars where your shoes don’t stick to the ground, to shop for clothes in real shops not the ones with stuff that people have already worn, or that toddlers have made with their bare hands. So you set about applying for things, thinking, I’m surely unique and perfect for a number of jobs that 500,000 people aren’t equally or more qualified at doing. Not entirely. You have first got to reflect that in a cover letter which needs to be as memorable as a nipple slip on the red carpet of countless of other eager cover letter submittors. And after rejection letter upon rejection letter, you have to pick your self-esteem out of the pile of tissues gathering on your night table and instantly become the most perky human being ever to have walked into an interview in history.
Scenario No. 5: Moving into your own Place
Okay, now you have the job, you have real friends, you have/cling onto the reality that one day you might have a partner to share your days and nights with. You need to live somewhere. So you embark on a journey into the real estate world. You’re sure it will be easy. After all, they should want YOU. You’re paying the rent, you’re filling their tenancy gap, you’re the one they need. Of course, you’re wrong again. Your credit history isn’t good enough, you need a reference from a landlord you never had, you aren’t the right gender, you’re a smoker, you have a dog, you have a tattoo, you’re Mediterranean (a.k.a. you break things in fits of passion and/or rage), you’re anything remotely off-putting to someone who has the power to render you homeless.
A: It’s all about packaging, dropping the right bait, being the most attractive book cover you can be. Recently, Creative Review editor Mark Sinclair spoke to me (and other people who were in classroom) about the perfect ‘pitch’. He said quite plainly, that you must always explain why you would be the best person to do something. He was referring to the pitching of article submissions to magazines, but I will be so bold as to point out (the obvious) that the same position needs to be taken for any and all endeavours embarked upon in one’s life. I’m the most interesting friend, I’m the hottest girl you’re ever going to have, I’m the smartest student you’ll ever meet, you won’t find a better more dedicated employee, I’m the only person in the universe that will treat your house the way it deserves to be treated.
Since Mark so kindly spoon fed us with the acquired tasting advice for how to pitch, I have heard nothing but just that. It’s completely and utterly about how you present yourself, people keep stopping me on the street to tell me. And it’s finally sinking in. After all, I’ve gotten at least three out of five scenarios under my belt. The rest will come I guess, so as long as I’m pitch perfect.
In a manner of blatant self-promotion, this post is about my first printed piece of writing in London. I very scarcely engage in any kind of creative writing output. Just because every time I write something that is solely reliant on the architecture of my imagination, I discard it as being akin to a pastiche, patched-up version of a building which someone else could have finished with superior results.
Despite this aversion, I did stumble upon a gorgeous literary zine whose editor deemed one of my prose pieces to amount to some measure of worth. You Stumble Into a Room of Poets is a simple and elegant zine filled with a mixture of both poetry and short stories. It’s very plainly designed with a quirky illustration on its front, and a stylish font used throughout (I suspect something on the lines of Baskerville, or Didot…only my favourite typefaces). The writing included is far more special than my own contribution, and for that alone I would suggest hunting down a copy of this humble collection of bound literature. To do so have a search at the poetry Library in Southbank, and Hatchards, which is the oldest standing bookshop in London, located near Piccadilly.
I received my own copy this morning, and couldn’t keep captive a tiny shriek of excitement at seeing my name printed on the creamy page. Enclosed with the zine was a short message from its editor. “Shine on”, it said. So here I am, obeying. Or trying to.
It’s called Dinner and a Walk.
He walked in looking very much the same as he did when he left that morning. He looked disheveled around the waist and sleeves. He also appeared older than he had earlier. He looked a bit fatter. His route to the kitchen was invariably taken in four steps. The first, a pause at the front hall sideboard, an unload of metal and paper objects into a silver tray that lay un-shining upon that very piece of furniture. The second took him to the hat stand, upon which he stood his fifteen-year-old grey coat. A third stop brought him to a burgundy, leather chair. Its purpose was merely to hold the day’s newspaper for him to collect when he came home from work, on route to the kitchen. Step four brought him to the latter, and to the food prepared and laid out on two plates.
He sat in his designated chair. The one which had a chip in its arm-rest from a knife he had once stabbed into it as a reaction to a heated argument. It was one of the many before yelling turned into bitter remarks and loss of eye contact, and before that turned into complete silence and numbing nods of the head. Now it was just lifeless blinks and sighs.
She sat in her unwounded chair, and picked up her fork. He noticed her for the second time that day. He always waited for her to start eating before he began himself. It was a gesture he provided her, allowing her to feel as though she held some charge in the household. He had denied her the role of mother when he refused to go to bed with her again six years into our marriage of two decades. It was not a sudden and abrupt refusal. He continued to accept her advances for some years. Yet, he eventually moved his reading lamp into the phantom-child’s bedroom, where he said, in one sentence, his back reacted better to the mattress there.
She took a bite, and he started his meal. She could not recall the last time they made eye contact while eating. Or at any time. She struggled to structure the sound of his voice in her mind. Instead, she heard only the breaths and phloem-filled grunts of a middle-aged ghost. She wondered what his name was, for she hadn’t uttered it in years. She wondered what her name was, for she hadn’t heard it said in years.
“can we go for a walk tonight?” she said.
It was as though the walls bent inwards in anticipation of what would happen next. The kitchen utensils vibrated in expectation, and the temperature of the unfinished food stopped falling, waiting patiently for what was coming.
“yes, we could.” He said.
Her coat felt as heavy on her shoulders as it had three hours earlier when she’d gone out to buy their dinner’s makings. The night was a pleasant one, with a wetness on the ground that invited not just physical reflection.
She saw the phone kiosk first in her mind’s eye, before her legs could bring her round the corner. It had stood there for so many years, lonely yet dignified. She passed it everyday. It came up finally, to her line of sight; she softened her pace and moved towards it knowing he was behind her watching. She stepped inside and felt that he would follow.
With inches between them, she could smell the ingredients she had chosen for their dinner on his mouth. Her eyes fixed on his lips and her limbs lay beside her, dead. Even when his hand gripped her arm firmly, she could not feel it. When his lips crashed against her own, her blood remained a cold and steady stream, moving cautiously through her calm veins. He pulled her closer and she could feel his reaction to their embrace through her clothes. Meanwhile her eyes were fixated on one thing.
The details as to how she pulled the wire over his head and around his neck remain vague to her. She remembers that his hands had scarcely left her breasts and waist while the breath from within him expired. And while his body lay limp and cold, she recognized him more. She stepped out again into the night, and left the kiosk again until tomorrow.
Tags: Telephone booth