Found Art

Anyone who has read my blog knows my fondnesses (films starring puppets, a good cry) and peeves (Tom Cruise, people famous for nothing). But only a few of you know about my special interest in art.

No, it's not Lindsay Lohan's mug shot, though it is equally hot.

Feast your eyes on the very special sight that is Ebay Toy Auction Portraiture. To enter this realm of the unreal, first you have to be strange enough to be interested in used dolls on Ebay, coupled with a love/hate feeling about dolls in the first place. As Hollywood becomes more plastic, static, and botoxed, this portrait of a 1970's Farrah Faucet Charlie's Angels doll (sold "nude, as is") takes on a deeper poignance. Or at least that's how I will sell it to the fat cats at my gallery show someday.

There is something creepily beautiful about these pictures- the way they are usually photographed (a cropped headshot) makes them suggestive of a portrait. From a distance, you have to sort of look twice. Think of the person who spent their time posing these dolls for sale online. These are no doubt normal people ( I have done similar things myself for ebay) but there is something so strange about it that makes it entertaining. Or creepy.

1970's Farrah, nude, as is, sadly walking around her apartment. There is no telling what the hair was once like, if it was always this post-coital or like the real Farrah's.

Is this a gorgeous art effect? Yes and no- it's accidental art created by someone putting poor Farrah in the scanner (light table?). Their strangeness is the obscure toy art world's gain.


Happy Holidays to all- courtesy of The Killers

Please see / hear also The Killers "Great Big Sled" which is an instant holiday classic..

Bad Cover Version

I was thinking about writing something about my complicated feelings re: Bob Geldof- and I do have them, and then started watching old timey Christmas videos on You Tube. (For fans of the original Band Aid song (or those nostalgic for 80's greats like Paul Young and all that great, impossible hair sported by men and women alike, the video is a must see now and then.) This led me to this great Pulp video "Bad cover version (of love)" which spoofs charity music (and makes a clever point about its own message by using celebrity impersonators. It's so good and bad that your head will spin. Liam Gallagher, Bjork, Tom Jones... and Jarvis Cocker as Brian May from Queen at then end.


The Gift

The Gift

Why was she keeping that box? Was she a child? For almost a year the Tiffany box had sat in a basket of toiletries (very near the toilet) and served as a reminder of her failure to hang on to jewellery and the disappointing quality of the earrings it had contained (though this didn’t preclude the former thought), the way the posts had bent and the backs were always loosening, forcing a certain paranoia tied to their wearing which was far from all the company promised in its advertising. Oh she pretended to have forgotten it and pretty carelessly housed it with hair clips and a foot file, but she wasn’t fooled. She was keeping it.

The studs had been a gift to herself on her wedding trip to New York City. She freely would have admitted if challenged that it was all a bit silly, she was a tourist, and besides, there was a Tiffany in Toronto. But for 50 years now women had worshiped and identified with Audrey in that cliché film, and she was unabashedly shallow and silly in her post-modern phony sentimentality wrapped in the values of a film about a whore saved by love and capitalist symbols. The marriage was to be in New York and so this was her souvenir: sterling silver balls, affordable, simple, yet, as always a cheaper substitute for the diamonds or pearls she imagined she suited. (She would never wear fakes! Real or nothing: so far, nothing).

Once you have coveted, worn, broken, lost and begun to resent earrings like this its hard not to regard the whole thing as phony. But like all phonies of this type she was utterly sincere about it. And like an abused woman with the sense knocked out of her rather then the knock that would kick-start her self-esteem and escape, all this had not cured her. She still loved Tiffany and had shamefully added a replacement pair of the shitty earrings to the secret / not-so secret list of things she carried in her head that he “should” surprise her with. Never mind that a replacement pair of sub par $100 (Canadian) earrings was hardly a rewarding choice for the intended giver or recipient, or that he didn’t take well to explicitly being asked for certain pieces of jewellery as a gift, it had never worked and often backfired in 13 years, she was never good at creating any magic at all and he didn’t pick up on hints or have the gift of gifting, which, perhaps, is only present in people who are highly susceptible to advertiser manipulation and naturally covetous themselves. She had developed various theories as she had spent her entire adult life, her formative gift receiving years, with him, and confusingly, considered among her guides trust fund babies in Vanity Fair who had huge rocks and lived in another culture where diamonds were affordable and social customs were taught early.

Perhaps someone should do a study on the generations of women who, rather than the thousands of ads we are exposed to yearly, were stamped early and permanently as wannabe customers and wannabe Audreys, like regenerated photocopies looking very little like the real thing, who was never real but a movie image created by a strange concoction of Truman Capote, the filmmakers, Audrey’s genes, her anorexia (which her biography reveals was caused by wartime starvation), Edith Head or Givenchy and the clean scrubbed streets of New York in 1955. None of it real. But very pervasive, as evidenced by the fact that the couple’s trip to buy these earrings on a Saturday near closing time in July revealed that thousands of tourists who never buy anything wander like cattle through Audrey’s Tiffany daily, embarrassingly reminiscent of theme park bodies, distracting from the magic. She wasn’t one of them! A packed elevator ride to the 4th floor led to the correct counter. As always, she was not treated like anyone special which fed her consumer appetites further, but after the salesclerk disappeared for minutes and minutes the earrings were presented in their corporately mandated fetishistic beauty, if with no love from the giver. Thrillingly, maddeningly, they were wrapped in 1) a “Tiffany blue” paper bag, 2) a knotted white fabric ribbon of good quality, 3) the box itself, 4) the foam inside boxes for jewellery, a falsely reassuring guide to the care of sterling silver, and are you sitting down? A lovely soft pouch in “Tiffany blue”, stamped “Tiffany and co.” with a snap for the earrings to live in. (Also included was a 15 page brochure of much more expensive jewellery modeled by Shalom Harlow, which was read and the appropriate shame and lust was internalized.) Because of all this, the package would have to be unwrapped, adding the admittedly unsavory reality of buying a gift for oneself. (One had to do what one had to do, and one liked to think of oneself as an independent woman). Oh - the reflective humiliation of the memory of retying the ribbon after to pretend that she could keep getting the gift. He never blinked. Tiffany had no effect on him whatsoever. His ability to resist advertising fascinated her and gave her the same curiosity and envy as a foreign culture whose language and traditions she didn’t know. She was in love with it and it was a puzzle she longed to crack. Maybe that was love. Perhaps years of no jewellery buying from him would be solved in this way. Or perhaps somewhere he felt inadequate too. She had no way of knowing. The earrings would be shortly inspected during the walk in central park, after the carriage ride which sounds like the height of tourist cheese but was really just a coincidence.

Typical of someone with humble and hungry origins (and same or lower economic strata now, a temp job worker with no high school diploma), the fear of losing the earrings after the wearing on the trip required them to live in their pouch, foam and box most of the time. Everything was like diamonds when you have little and have been frequently told by your mother, still your lifetime’s largest buyer of gifts of this type, that you lose everything! (She had lost, well, thrown away on the front lawn a cheap ring from her high school Romeo, lost her mother’s own high school boyfriend ring, lost or given away to other boyfriends claddagh rings, and to her misfortune had grown up in the eighties so had worn her share of cheap, plastic, likely fluorescent earrings and other jewellery, but had blocked this out and fortunately, managed to lose all of it. Gradually, the notion that the earrings were bought with the purpose of not only satisfying some deep symbolic shallow Hollywood love story need, and to be a souvenir from the wedding trip, but also meant for everyday use brought them out of their box. A child of the 70’s who longed to identify with children of WW2, she knew how to ration and get her money’s worth! Worn most of the time, these earrings notably survived almost getting lost in the tent up in the wilderness, and lasted 6 months from the marriage trip. They made her happy - the religious ritual quality of the little pouch did its job. But they were still lost. Who to blame, her stubby fingers and worrying over the backs and posts? Or the manufacturer, who would laugh and say, you get what you pay for, and that packaging was worth as much as those earrings, dear! Shalom Harlow looking balefully at you in expensive black and white photography, carelessly wearing $40,000 on her wedding ring finger. Might as well have been her extended middle finger.

The backs loosened, they had to be watched. Spot checks had to be done throughout the day. Somehow, the posts were getting bent. Faulty, but the thought nagged that she couldn’t keep anything nice.

The death of the dream occurred on New Years Eve, a drunken haze where fun was had by the group but she never liked to be out of control, share a room with other couples and be told she snored all night and they had had no sleep. One earring had escaped its spot check, she blamed wearing her hair down, slipped off during the New Years evening, a fact she was not to drunk to miss. It was probably during the countdown. She and her friends looked all over the dirty carpet of the ski resort bar where they were spending the evening in vain. The next day, she awoke with a life-changing hangover that gave her the unshakable feeling that she had murdered someone, she felt so low. It wasn’t over the earring, it was just Jan 1. In a way it was a relief, they were really a lot of work. Jewellery is probably meant for people who can afford to lose it and replace it, but this thought contradicted every thought she ever had about the specialness and the metaphysical effects of 20 years of “ A diamond is forever” magazine ads.

How freeing it must be to have a sense of entitlement that enable some people to actually throw Tiffany boxes away. As disappointing as the project had been (another study, the link between women’s jewellery and disappointment), she still had the bag, ribbon, box, and care guide, foam and pouch. Maybe she could take care of things. How do you keep things safe besides keeping them in a drawer in 3 layers of protection? Here was the proof. Or maybe she just liked reminding herself of her self-created, avoidable, disappointments.
The Gift. An original work of fiction by Jacqueline Howell. 2007
Picture credit: Tiffany & Co. , whom I still love pathologically and whose website is, currently, breathtakingly divine (though, sadly, uses flash).


Trainspotting and Ewan McGregor: Lust For Life

Ewan McGregor exploded onto mainstream movie screens with the exuberant, hungry performance as Mark Renton “Rentboy” in Trainspotting (1996). This film bears (demands) repeated viewings and if you have never seen the film, it’s a beautiful thing packed into 90 minutes. Audiences didn’t know what they were looking at, or if they were attracted or repelled by this performance, and indeed, the heroin chic look McGregor adopted for the role was a few worlds away from an obvious leading man. But as the heart, brains and comic spark at the film’s center, McGregor’s Renton left an indelible mark on cinema.

Viewing Trainspotting is to see a hungry, focused, talent, working in his element and familiar environment (Scotland, not drugs), at home in every sense. For those who love film, it’s comparable to watching an athlete execute a perfect movement at a crucial moment, when so many others might freeze. It’s poetry. Trainspotting is impressive in many aspects– music, set design, direction, and performances; most of all McGregor- it’s impossible to imagine someone else at the center of this storm. What McGregor communicates skillfully is what is at the heart of this character’s struggle – he wants to feel something, to be ALIVE. The different avenues taken – sex, drugs, crime - to shake up his world and to rally against the slow death of his parent’s domesticity are primal screams of rage and despair that are global and timeless. What the filmmakers and writer Irvine Welsh found in their star was a voice who could convincingly utter the piece’s central message:

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television; choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers... Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday night. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else.

Through the window of unflinching drug addiction, and the film’s refusal to condemn it, Trainspotting offers a view to the big, impossible questions that keep us awake at night, as characters stumble through their choices, clinging to their friends and something like love. To condemn or avoid the subject matter is to miss an opportunity to benefit from the possibilities, which are implicit in the act of choosing, and the repeated use of the word “choice”. For those not “afflicted” with addiction, the narrative gives voice to frustration, passion, and chaos that we can channel in myriad ways other than hard drugs, and through Renton we can short-circuit the possible devastation while embracing the spirit of rebellion and dissent that is essential to feel alive.