ALICE SALVADOR EXHIBITION
Alice Salvador, être crânes
Dear readers of Bulb Magazine,
I am Matis Leggiadro and I was fortunate to be interviewed by Cathy Bell in the previous edition of the magazine. It is with great pleasure that I announce today the opening on October 9, and until November 7, of the exhibition "Alice Salvador, être crânes" of which I am the curator. This exhibition takes place at the La Cheminée gallery in Albi, in the South-West of France. La Cheminée is an old industry of hats of the nineteenth century. The interest of relaying this information in Scotland is to create a link between the different cultural events imagined around the world for the same thing: the flourishing of Humans in a world in perpetual change.
Even though Brexit suddenly propelled the United Kingdom out of Europe, I know how free Scotland was, remains free and will remain free of its choices. So let’s share our ideas and cultivate our common interests for art!
"Drawing on philosophical, cultural, artistic and historical references, the artist skillfully masters the tradition of Vanity, which she highlights in portraits and self-portraits. Her frightened face and hilarious skulls are superimposed and combine between the drama of the living and the laughter of the dead. The exhibition is conceived as evolutionary. During the opening, in a performance, the artist will activate her works. They will then undergo a long process of alteration. To be observed throughout the exhibition... The artist also proposes the visit of her cabinet of curiosities, metaphor of the cranial box, where cohabit animal skulls and sacred relics. Exhibition curator Matis Leggiadro puts Alice Salvador’s work in the context of the history of vanitas in art."
I would like to acknowledge the joint work carried out with Sylviane Guérin and André-Pierre Olivier, the gallery owners of La Cheminée, who were formidable and with whom a real artistic and human adventure began.
Images: Top - Alice Salvador Exhibition Poster;
Middle - Double Portrait Matis Leggiadro; Bottom - Auto-portrait Alice Salvador
BLADE RUNNER VERSUS DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?
The film Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford from 1982 is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick which was published in 1968. Even although the film is later it seems less contemporary than the book which has a more timeless feel to it. This is partly due to the 1980’s aesthetic of the film which is shot in a dark, moody environment which, for some reason not apparent, is set in San Francisco’s downtown Chinatown. The film seems dated but its real problem is its failure to engage with the issues that Dick has placed central to the theme of the book – that is, nature versus Artificial Intelligence (AI). The film smacks of Hollywood and it would seem that its main premise is to follow the same old tried and tested method i.e., handsome hero hunts down baddie. Throw in some fast, furious and whacky scenes and some women (whether they be human or android it doesn’t matter). There you have the recipe for a sci-fi blockbuster which exploits the bare bones of a good piece of literature while failing to engage with the pertinent ethical issues addressed in the book.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the hero Rick Deckard dreams of owning a live animal (the more exotic the better). He already has a mechanical sheep but it is not satisfactory, live animals, however, are hard to come by and expensive. Deckard is a bounty hunter who hunts down and retires/kills rogue androids, with the bounty he receives for each destroyed android he hopes to buy a live animal. This aspect of the story is not explored in the film, there is an unsuccessful attempt to introduce the theme of animals by having a stripper android with a live snake wrapped around her neck perform amazing contortions while being chased by Harrison Ford who wants to destroy her. There is also a fleeting glimpse of an owl (an early exercise in CGI) at the Rosen Foundation (who build the new and advanced Nexus 6 model android). This omission of the animal dimension is disappointing since this is a central and important component of what the book is about. The ideas contained in the book are questioning what human beings are doing to the planet with their quest to advance AI to the detriment of nature and the natural world.
The chapter in the book where the female android Pris cuts the legs off a live spider is a strong metaphor, it suggests a clear link between AI and the slow erosion if not destruction of nature. This scene does not happen in the film, instead the character of Pris has no real purpose as she trots around looking like a spaced-out escapee from an 1980’s indie band instead of the dangerous machine that she really is. Similarly, the character of John Isadore the lonely human who lives alone in an entire block of flats is badly portrayed in the film. It is important that he is lonely, that he has no friends as, because of this, the rogue androids can fill the void and enlist his help. So, what did the makers of Blade Runner do with this character? They renamed him Gaff and gave him a gang of crazy little robot companions thus spoiling the subtle character traits that are crucial to the situation. That is, it takes away the reasoning behind why he sides with the androids without hesitation.
Rick Deckard and his wife (yes, I did say wife) are desperate to own a live animal and not only is his wife absent in the film there is no sense at all that this is a major preoccupation of Deckard’s. In fact, there is little attempt to engage with any of the philosophical issues raised in the book regarding the human condition. Deckard, in the film, comes across as a one-dimensional character whose main source of concern seems to be that the woman he has fallen for (Rachel Rosen) is an android. He doesn’t even have to bear the burden of guilt that might come with an extra-marital affair since his wife has been banished from the narrative. And, even the leader android Roy Baty’s wife Irmgard Baty is nowhere to be found – what did the makers of Blade Runner have against wives? Yet these two characters are important, Iran Deckard provides (albeit unsatisfactory) human companionship for Deckard in a desolate world. Whereas Irmgard Baty’s character is a somewhat reasonable thinking android, a type of which does not figure in the film which prefers to take a more simplistic approach towards the androids, that is, although intelligent they are incapable of human empathy and reasoning. So, Irmgard is, therefore, an important character in the book, after all, this is what the book is hinting at – i.e., Irmgard (in Philip K Dick’s mind) is possibly the blue-print for the development of a machine/android/robot capable of compassion which could usher in the development of a comparatively reasonable co-existence between human and android? We will never know.
Blade Runner comes across as a rather diluted version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a book which displays lasting vision. A book whose message is more relevant today than ever. The film is what it is, a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, it achieved its goal of becoming a box-office hit and even today is considered a cult classic (an epithet it does not deserve). If a new film based on this novel were to be made today it would be much better if the essence of the book could be captured in a more meaningful way.
“BUT I CAN’T DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE!”
(and other fibs we tell ourselves)
First of all. I know what you are thinking - “It’s easy for you to say... you’re an artist, bet you’ve been doing this all your life? Then you tell me you can’t draw for toffee (I prefer cash, I’m rarely paid in toffee). You protest even further. “Have a look at this... I am NOT an artist. Look closely. It’s apparent to everyone, I-can-not-draw-a-straight-line!”. Easy Tiger, I hear you.
Here’s something to think about. Just look at that word you used, ‘Apparent’. The definition of apparent is ‘as far as one can know or see’. It does not mean certain, or definite. ‘Apparently’, nobody could run the 4-minute mile, then at some point in time, along came Roger Bannister. Then everyone was doing it. It was certain that my aging mum couldn’t abseil (due to a fear of heights) but years later, something ‘
apparently’ changed - She stopped believing her fears and in her mid-60‘s abseiled down the side of a tower block. She even surprised herself and gave me the heebie-jeebies!
So, ‘As far as one can know or see’, seems to be as limited as the dodgy appraisal of our own artistic skills. The honest truth is you are mistaken. In all likelihood you have hoodwinked yourself.
Ok, ok you’ll no doubt try and convince me of the litany of wonky efforts over the years. That drawing of your beloved pet, that wouldn’t look out of place in an alien morgue. Funny, if it didn’t feel so tragic.
You could do this. No seriously. Neither drawing is bad and both we’re fun to do. The right kind of belief and time is the only difference. But boy was the artist pleased with the progress.
Most of us can trace things back to a parent, teacher, or when our peers either laughed, looked confused, or were non-plussed at the drawing you (at that point) were actually quite pleased with. When you’re a nipper, it’s quite a shock to the psychological system to get this kind of knock-back.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking to those who are relatively unmoved, or uninterested in general artistic pursuits. I’m talking to the sketchers, the doodlers, the cross-stitching stalwarts, card makers supremos, plasticine pounders and the like who (though in love with their pursuits) want to stretch themselves artistically, even if it’s just a little. Most of us at some point want to go beyond our current abilities, to free ourselves from the creative mud into the wider world. AKA: “Oooo that’s good. Did you do that?”
I am speaking to those who want to draw, paint or even sculpt something that garners a positive and interested response from yourself, as well as others. Something that is wrongly but understandably called ‘Proper Art’. It’s one thing not to care about what others think, it’s quite another to realize and accept, that we all need validation and feedback, to show us our progress and possibility. In fact, it is a foundational human need, if we are to progress at all.
Ok, so it took 6 years to get to where she wanted. But the artist (previously a convinced artistic failure) was in her 30’s when she started drawing again (she had stopped age 7).
The good news for you ‘straight line’ avoiders, is that you can get there. You will. You must. But how (?) is always the next unavoidable question. I know, I know... You’ve heard it all before. You want solid advice, not platitudes. It always seems like the answers are as varied as they are obvious. Join an art group - Buy a good ‘How To’ book - Turn the picture you want to copy upside down before drawing (actually really fun and rewarding). All good advice, but they don’t get to the core of your muddy problem.
The good news is the solution has a straight forward, one-word answer. And that word is simply... BELIEF.
NO, NO, no... not belief in yourself, or the ‘artist within’, or any of those New-Age affirmations you can think of (not dissing them, they can be helpful in keeping us afloat and optimistic).
Sometimes when we stop believing we ‘can’t’ we then ‘can’, with a little help and encouragement, make great progress.
I’m talking about belief, as in, ‘dropping your belief’ Disbelieving your certainties, dropping all you might think you know, surrounding your artistic skills, worth or possibility. Once you do this, you return to the time before you ‘learned’ you couldn’t draw. You create a space for possibility. And in my experience, once you feed and water this attitude, all you then need, is time to watch your skills develop by default. Change and progress is then a given. It definitely is as they say, ‘the most fun you can have with your clothes on!’
So, go on. It’s a simple choice really. Continue to believe you can’t draw a straight line, or realize the truth of the matter, nobody can draw a straight line and you’re probably just a bit nervous to try and maybe fail, but let’s face it, this is the way of all learning, the way of all success. What do they say, ‘There’s no such thing as failure, only temporary and unavoidable outcomes’?
So why not do what you really want to do. Gently nudge yourself towards a wee change of attitude, allow some much-needed self-compassion and who knows... you might get a ruler and just possibly, some nice toffee!
Pip Denham Oct. 2021
THE MOUSE by Donald McKenzie
I was just sitting the other day. Quietly. Having a wee think. Remembering when I was wee. Well, trying to. Things are a bit blurred these days but there are some things you never forget, and one thought leads to another of special times and places that never lose their brilliance in your mind.
Benbecula is like that to me. When I think of what it used to be like all these years ago; when it seemed that the sun was always shining - and it was always warm.
Cula Bay was a favourite spot with its big white sand dunes, like castles, and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Pure magic. I also loved walking around the coastline, exploring all the gullies and the pools where the rocks had been worn smooth by the waves. Some of them looked like surreal sculpture to me, like Henry Moore statues. And there, high above the tide line and the stagnant puddles, there was an old Second World War American landing craft that had gone overboard from a ship in a gale before it even had the chance to be used in action. Still brand new when it had been washed upside down onto the shingle, but you were able to play in it. It was already rusty when I first discovered it, paint weathered and gone and the metal plates on its side flaking with brown and red shards falling like autumn leaves that stained the pebbles below. You had to be careful of terns there during the nesting season – they were dive bombers that screamed like Stukas!
I would sit and look out across the sea. Just on the horizon you can see Heisker, and I used to wonder what life would have been like on that small island, but it must have been hard with no shelter from Atlantic storms. It had been a long time deserted, and all the houses in ruins - apart from one used each year during the time for shearing. Even its lighthouse was unmanned and automatic - but it still winked at you.
The ocean and the sky seemed endless; made me feel really insignificant in the scheme of things. But what a feeling it is when you’re there looking out across the deep, and it’s easy to imagine you’re the only person on earth. Like the bomb’s been dropped and you’re the only one left. It’s not a bad sensation, I think it’s kind of spiritual, just you and nature. It’s as if you’re at one with it, like you have a real sense of belonging to the place. And all around you is beauty. Yellow lichen on black rocks and bright red seaweed piled up in purple sided gullies, the silver shell sand, and the green, purple, and blue striated colours in the shallows. Mind you, if you stood on old seaweed and broke the crust it didn’t half stink, but even so, I wasn’t averse to the smell. There’s a lot of grey and white shingle there too - spilling out into the fields where the machair flowers in spring sunshine are dazzling. And I’ve always liked the wee sea pinks on the rocks that dance in the wind.
It was also a great place for beachcombing. There’s nothing between you and the Americas, so all kinds of bits and pieces are washed up. Rubbish mainly, dumped from boats when it shouldn’t be, but also fishing gear – nets, ropes, floats, and suchlike. I used to like finding these old-fashioned floats made from glass, dark green or sometimes chocolate brown. Amazed at how you might find one wedged in the rocks and it would be completely intact!
I’ve even heard tell that you could find coconuts on the shore, but I never did.
There was the treasure contained in rock pools, the sea in miniature. I would spend an age lifting out every stone and observing all the wee animals that had been hidden scuttle, dart, or swim to another hidey-hole until I managed to remove every bit of their cover to study them. It was just so interesting. Kicking limpets off the rocks – wondering if they got a sensation of surprise, liked to touch their suckerry foot. Right rubbery so they were. And the feel of the top of a jellyfish or to watch one of these wee red sea anemones change into a bright red blob of jam when you poked it.
What a feeling it was just being by yourself. Even now I can just shut my eyes and when I think of being there again it all returns, the sounds, the aromas, and the touch of the wind on my face.
I wish I could go back – frozen in time.
My folks used to take me to my grandparents at the beginning of the school holidays and after a fortnight they would leave and go back to the mainland, and I’d be left for the rest of the summer.
I remember once when I was sitting at the table drawing pictures on the wax-cloth with my finger in spilt milk. Grandpa was supping his porridge, chewing it like it was a chop. He didn’t put the milk in the plate, kept it in a cup. He’d take one spoonful of porridge, dip it in the milk, and then sook it off the spoon. Tweed, the collie was always lying at his feet pretending he wasn’t interested but you could tell he was when he raised his eyebrows and glanced upwards at him every now and again.
My grandmother told me, ‘You should be out playing on a day like this.’ She started clearing the table and wiped my drawing away.
‘Can I take Tweed?’ I asked.
‘Of course,’ she said.
Tweed glanced in my direction when he heard his name, but he wasn’t for moving.
‘Come on then, let’s go.’
He still didn’t move, and I was already halfway out the house, but I knew when my grandfather finished his porridge, wiped his moustache with the back of his hand and pushed his plate to the side, Tweed wouldn’t be long in chasing after me. Sure enough, as I reached the front door, I could hear his paws scrabbling over the linoleum behind me.
‘Race you,’ I said as I ran out into the sun. My wellies slurped into the squelchy turf, and I almost got stuck in the mud. There had been heavy rain during the night and the sun would have its work cut out to dry the land in one day. And it became muddier in the field as I ran across to the byre and before I knew what was happening, I was on my Nellie. Head o’er heels when I tripped and one of my wellies left sticking out of the ground. I had to hop back to retrieve it. Anyway, when we got to the byre my Uncle John was still at the milking. I was standing in the door watching him when he turned around and suddenly squirted a jet of milk at me straight from the cow. Right down the front of my jersey as if I wasn’t in enough of a mess already. Aye, it was a good laugh we had about that.
I hadn’t gone into the byre as there were three cats in a line blocking the way, their tails twitching with expectation. They also wanted to be squirted at with milk – and Uncle John duly obliged
The cow was annoying my uncle because it kept flicking his head with its tail and he was swearing at it in Gaelic. Don’t know what he was saying but I knew he was swearing. I suggested he should tie a brick to its tail. ‘Aye, that’ll be right,’ he said. ‘Archie did that once and the cow knocked him out.’
Anyway, he managed to finish the milking, gave the cats a saucer each and half a bucket of milk to the calf. Then, as he was walking to the door, he surprised a mouse out of hiding and it made a bolt for it, but before you could say winkie Uncle John stamped on it. Crunched it.
It was over so quickly it gave me quite a fright.
And I felt terribly sorry for it.
One minute alive and the next dead – made me kind of think about things.
To be honest I didn’t know exactly how old my grandparents were in those days. My grandmother was lovely though. Had loads of stories and knew about a lot of things. She was quite wee and bent and was always dressed in black, apart from her pinafore, well it was also black, but it had a pattern of small, coloured flowers across it. She wore round horn-rim glasses and her hair in a bun - but there were always a few strands of wispy grey that escaped - gave her a kind of dotty professor look. The veins on her hands stood out and she had red knuckles. There were liver spots on her skin like you see on some old folk; comes from working outside in the sun at the peats, the hay and suchlike I believe. I also remember her pulling out nettles in the garden with her bare hands. I didn’t understand how she wasn’t stung but she told me that if you gripped the nettles hard enough, they wouldn’t sting. I believed her but I wouldn’t take a chance on it myself, not even these days.
They say I look like her and I suppose I do.
One morning I took tea and some bread and butter upstairs to the box room for my grandmother. The stairs were quite narrow, and the tray was really heavy, but I arrived safely. The tea was in a small silver pot with the milk in a separate jug, so it was posh-like. And when I entered, she was sitting at her dressing table brushing her hair. I had never seen it except in a bun and the length of it was a surprise, as silvery as the teapot, and I wondered what colour it would have been when she was younger. She was singing away to herself, and strange to see her dressed in a long white goonie. Just for an instant the sun shone through the skylight and lit up her face, and she looked like a little girl having a dream. She turned, smiled at me, and that was like the sun coming out as well.
She slept in this tiny space on her own. My grandfather and Uncle John shared the north room, and the south room was for visitors. But it was a grand wee place. The ceiling had the same slope as the roof, with a single-pane window, and there was a small box bed at one end. There was hardly any space to move what with chests, bags and suitcases piled up on each other. The furniture she had was squeezed in between this accumulation and the room was musty with a whiff of camphor and chamber pot pee. The dressing table was covered with all her treasures. Buckram bound books full of old photos of people I never knew that were long dead. There were small dark-brown cardboard boxes full of bits and bobs, brooches, buttons, wee silver sixpences and the like and many jars and bottles, blue and green and clear, containing perfumes and creams. In the middle of the table sat a cherry-red lacquered Chinese box with a beautiful design on its lid of exotic birds that looked as if they had been created with butterfly wings. Framed photographs hung on the walls, yellowed with age, soldiers with curly moustaches, and young men with tight collars and bright staring eyes.
I watched while she drank from the green mug, my favourite, and ate her bread and butter. I was happy that she seemed to be enjoying it and that I had done something to please her. Her false teeth clacked on shrunken gums. I found that amusing but somehow it made her seem even older. I saw the laughter wrinkles she had at the corner of her sparkling eyes, eyes of the palest blue. Profiled against the light you could see she had downy fuzz above her thin lips and even though she looked so small and frail there was something about her that was strong.
Can’t explain it.
She was still chewing away and smiling, and I was smiling back – as I watched a crumb on her bottom lip moving up and down.
She would always ask as summer drew to an end when would I be coming home again, but by the December of that year she was dead. Just like that. Sudden-like.
One minute in my life and the next minute she was gone.
WHERE NEXT FOR US?
Our latest estimate for the age of the universe, based on examining the distance away from us of the oldest stars and then extrapolating back based on the known expansion rate of the universe, is around 13.8 billion years. What we know as The Big Bang happened at this time; not so much an explosion in the conventional sense, where matter spreads out evenly from a central source, but instead an explosion everywhere at the same time. There then went on a long period of cooling during which, to begin with, electrons, positrons, neutrinos and photons (light particles) dominated along with smaller numbers of protons and neutrons. As the temperature dropped to around thirty thousand million degrees centigrade, the electrons and positrons began to annihilate each other at a faster rate than they could be created. As the universe cooled further atom nuclei of heavy hydrogen and helium formed and then later, after another period of cooling, hydrogen and helium atoms began to form by combining with the small number of electrons which had survived the earlier positron-electron annihilation. The resulting gas then began to clump together due to gravity, finally forming our stars and galaxies we see today. Our own solar system was formed in this way around 4.5 billion years ago with Jupiter being the first planet to form. Not long after the earth’s own formation, around 100 million years later, water appeared (most likely following a strike by a water laden meteorite) and the oceans began to take shape, leading to, in another one to five hundred million years, the first signs of life. It was to be almost another 4 billion years later (five to seven million years ago) that our own first primitive ancestors began to appear in Africa.
So, what have we been doing since? Not surprisingly, all we need to do is to look at the world around us today to see the answer to this question. By simply looking, we in fact see the evolution of our world in that we only see the continued existence of our ‘good ideas’ much in the same way that only the fittest species have survived. Much of what we see then, such as agriculture and our ability to make and use tools, has simply got better. Technology is now the main driver of where we go next, developing small digital devices with the power of a super computer from only a few years ago to developing an effective virus for a world pandemic in a matter of months. It is certainly the case that places such as CERN have helped to drive our technological advances as well as trying to uncover the mysteries of the universe and the quantum world. The discovery of the Higgs particle in July 2012 was the confirmation of a theory put forward almost half a century before and helped confirm the validity of the Standard Model; the theory describing all elementary particles and three of the four known forces. The fact is that we still know very little of how our world, and indeed universe, works. The quantum world is still baffling (beyond baffling to most of us!) and we only have an understanding of a small fraction (5%) of what makes up the universe. The rest is in the form of dark matter – around 27% - which holds our galaxies together and prevents them flying apart and dark energy – around 68% - whose effects can be seen in the way that the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than, as previously, thought, slowing down.
And so, life will go on, continually advancing at an ever-quicker pace and discoveries will come about that will tell us about things we don’t even know exist at the moment – at least that is what will happen for a while! The reality is that the Sun only has so much hydrogen fuel (when two hydrogen atoms fuse together to form a helium atom, excess mass is converted into energy and by Einstein’s equation, E = mc2 , this means a lot of energy is released even from a relatively small amount of mass) with which to supply us, and the rest of our solar system, with its life giving light and heat. Eventually the Sun will become unstable (in around 4 to 5 billion years – so no need to worry yet!), as the density of its core can no longer resist its own crushing gravitational force. At this point the Sun will begin to shrink, until it is yet again dense enough to re-start nuclear fusion. This time nuclear fusion takes place nearer to the Sun’s surface, resulting in an outward expansion which overcomes the Sun’s weaker gravitational force. This is where we, or at least Earth, disappears forever, as the Sun expands outwards into the solar system, engulfing each planet in turn. The Sun’s final act is to explode and as it does so, it leaves behind the building blocks (dust, debris, new heavy atoms) for the formation of a new star and new planets.
So, what about us I hear you ask? Well at the moment our main problem is the distance to other potentially life-saving stars and planets. If it was possible to reach another star then common-sense dictate that you head for the nearest – Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri could be a good candidate as it is a red dwarf star. For the human race this means that the fate that befell the Sun will not happen to Proxima Centauri since its size (one seventh of the Sun) means its rate of fusion is much, much slower – the rule is, the bigger the star the shorter its life span. Although there doesn’t seem to be any planets orbiting Proxima Centauri, there may be something similar nearby – red dwarfs are not as bright as other stars so are difficult to spot. The final requirement for our interstellar ancestors will be to find a planet with water. This means not too far or else not too close to a star, a zone known as the Goldilocks Zone.
So, what else is out there? The answer is countless galaxies like our own. In fact, if possible, we should be able to continue on through galaxy after galaxy in search of our new home and the odds are stacked heavily in our favour that somewhere out there, we find a replica of the Earth we left behind. But a note of caution! The universe doesn’t go on forever: at least this is the case for light. As you reach 13.5 billion light years from Earth you now notice that there is a lot less light; you have now entered the Cosmic Dark Ages. Eventually you come to a point, a wall, where light can no longer penetrate. The wall is opaque and made from pure energy. This is as far as we can see, as far as light can travel, the end of the visible universe.