Friday, October 23, 2009

Piazza San Marco

As all tourists know, Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice. That's where Saint Mark's Basilica, the Campanile, the Clocktower, the Doge's Palace, and the Procuratie are. They are why the area feels so touristy. But, this is also one of the most beautiful spot in Venice. I went to Piazza San Marco twice during my two and a half day stay in Venice. Each time I went, the feel to it was perfect. The sunlight was soft, the atmosphere was a bit hazy, and the air was romantic. This is where you would imagine those European couples, like in jewelry commercials, chasing after pigeons and spinning in circles.

Surprise discovery! This is the Four Tetrarchs. Everyone who has taken a survey of art history probably have learned about this. The sculpture is of the four emperors who co-ruled the Roman Empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries. I can't really remember the significance of it but it was such a surprise running into this sculpture as we were just walking in the square.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

London Film Festival!!!

The London Film Festival is taking place right now. Yesterday, I went to watch the film The White Ribbon by Michael Haneke who also directed Funny Games starring Naomi Watts. Tonight, I went to watch Chloe directed by Atom Egoyan starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried.

I chose to watch The White Ribbon, an Austrian-Germany film that tells the stories of these villagers living in Germany before WWI, because it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I'm a sucker for films shown at the Cannes. Sadly, the film was a letdown. For the most part, I enjoyed the black and white film, the storyline, some of the cast, and the narration. But, I had a problem with Haneke's way of telling his story--by leaving too much space for imagination. At the end of the film, you are abandoned with numerous loose ends, inconclusive plot lines that you are dying to tie up. Soon after the film, I wrote my film professor an email about my thoughts on The White Ribbon. She said, quoting Andy Warhol, that Haneke's films are "better talked about than seen."

Outside the venue. What's more appropriate than a white ribbon tied up on the sign of the theatre?

Q&A session with the director after the film. It was quite enlightening.

The second film I saw was Chloe which is about Catherine (Moore) hiring a prostitute (Seyfried) to test her husband's (Neeson) fidelity. The film is intense and suspenseful leaving me disturbed. I thoroughly enjoyed, from beginning to the end, the film's storyline, acting, cinematography, and soundtrack. I thought the casting of Neeson was a bit questionable though; there was little chemistry between Moore and Neeson. Moore and Seyfried gave powerful performances that supported one another.

(Sorry! I'm not able to find any videos about the film yet.)

The best part of the night was that I got to see Julianne Moore up close as she walked down the red carpet. She was so beautiful and graceful; she, in a long dress, flowed down the red carpet into a crowd of photographers. I've never seen so many flashes!

This was when she stood in front of the photographers for photos. The blonde is blocking her. :(

Atom Egoyan, Julianne Moore, Amy Seyfried, producer, Time Out Magazine staff

Sunday, October 18, 2009

First View of Venice

This is Gatwick Airport. They have pretty cool benches but a strange way of tell you your gate number. Usually, your gate number is on your ticket and on departure information screens even before you check in. But at Gatwick, they don't tell you your gate number until like 45 minutes before the gate closes. It tooks 10 minutes alone to walk to the gate. I thought method was a bit strange.

At around 4:30 am on October 7th, when it was still dark out, my trip to Venice began. We planned to give us just over one hour at the airport while many other people in our program planned around two or three hours. So I was a bit nervous about the amount of time we had to go through security, gather ourselves together, and get to the gate in time. It turned out one hour was plenty of time for our flight.

This was pretty much our first view of Venice. Our hotel was on the mainland along this road. In fact, you can see it in this picture. It's the yellowish building right in the middle of the photo. The name is Hotel Primavera. It was actually quite nice little place to stay. There were A/C, single beds for everyone, free breakfast, a really cheap eatery, and clean linens. The front desk receptionists were twins. On the first night when we came back from the island, we thought it was weird that the receptionist who was ever so helpful changed her clothes. I thought she took a shower and was wearing clean clothes but it was also strange that she seemed to be working a 14 hour shift. The next night, we saw the twins standing together. I had quite a good laugh about it.

These are just some random pictures I took while wandering through the city. We were trying to get to Piazza San Marco. I was amused by the crooked chimney.

I took the picture on the left because of the small stone relief on the right of center window. It shows St. George slaying the Dragon. The legend is depicted quite often in both Venice and Florence through architectural details, sculptures, paintings, and so on.

Quintessentially Venetian.

To be continued...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks, Self-portrait, 1923, Oil on canvas, Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian)

Romaine Brooks' paintings are dark, intense, exceedingly haunting, yet mesmerizing. As a child, Brooks was neglected by her abusive mother who spend all her time caring for Brooks' older, mentally ill brother. Her childhood is strongly reflected within her depressing paintings of cold, dark, and heavy colors.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

This is where I live.

The front door to my dorm. The dorm is called Sorbonne. It was, formerly, a hotel. Fifty-two students live in this building. Every room has its own bathroom and each floor share a kitchen. About 13 people share the kitchen that I use. It can be either really hot or extremely cold in there. It is never at the perfect temperature.

That bay with all those small windows is my room. I never noticed how many small panes make up those windows or that there are 15 larger windows or that there are 180 small window panes until this picture. That's a lot of windows! I guess it's good that if one small pane breaks, the others don't break. What I like most about the room is the high ceiling. People who know me know that I like emphasis on verticality in a room.

Queensberry Place -- The road that my dorm is on. One end is the Natural History Museum. (You can see it in the picture on the left.) The other end is the Lycee Francise Charles de Gaulle's preschool. In the morning, there is major traffic on the sidewalk. There are tons of kids with their scooters, parents, strollers, and cars to weave through. During the day, buses, trucks, and all other type of cars drive through. It can be annoying loud.

Cromwell Road -- This is a major road in South Kensington. The Circle and District Line tubes even run under this road. On this road are the Natural History Museum (in the left picture), Victoria & Albert Museum, and a lot of hotels. A few minutes northeast is Harrod's.

On the way to the South Kensington tube station. There is so much construction going on around this area. I think they are trying to make the area pedestrian only. Every day, the path you are allowed to take changes due to construction. It can be a bit confusing.

The South Kensington Station. From this station, you can take the District and Circle Lines and Piccadilly Line. The District and Circle Lines are the original lines of the London Underground system. Because it's so old, a lot of the times it doesn't work well. Piccadilly Line, on the other hand, works well but it's really deep underground so it takes like five minutes to get to ground level. At some station like Gloucester Station you have to take an elevator down to the Piccadilly Line. I quite like the sign and ironwork as seen in the left.

Harrington Gardens -- This is where the classrooms are. The architecture along this road is one of a kind. It's from the Arts and Crafts Movement. It reminds me of Dutch architecture especially the upper part of the buildings. There's so much details on the facade which make the flats even more beautiful to look at.

I don't really want to mention this place but here it is--this is where the laundromat is. See that green sign? It costs about £10 or $16 to wash and dry one load of clothes. I'm proud to say that I haven't gone there so far. It's been five weeks and counting.

Zetland Arms -- Not too bad of a local bar.

And finally a Lamborghini dealership. This neighborhood is not complete without it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I am Obsessed! Deux

At last, the Anish Kapoor exhibit opened at the Royal Academy of Art. I have been anticipating for the exhibit since the semester began. Anish Kapoor is a Indian-British sculptor whose art is often quite minimalist, colorful, and monumental. He designed the famous Cloud Gate in Chicago.

His latest exhibit at the Royal Academy is a sensory wonder. He created several mirrored objects that distort your image and even your vision. They're almost like carnival mirrors but beyond. What I meant by distorting your vision like how your head feels when you stare at a black and white checker pattern for too long. I had the most difficult time figuring out what exactly is happening. After staring at them for too long, I got a bit sick.

Another piece of art is called Yellow. It's a gigantic yellow wall that is concave. At the first glance, it was hard to tell if the wall is concave or convex. And after a while, it's still very difficult to tell exactly how deep the wall curves in.

The centerpiece of this exhibit is titled Svayambh. It is a 30 ton block of red wax that moves at a snail's pace through five galleries. When passing through each gallery, the wax pushes itself through the arched doorways. The process leaves behind residues on the walls, the arches, and the ground. (It's incredible that the Royal Academy allowed Anish Kapoor to do this. The building is a beautiful, I'm guessing, late 18th structure with marble arched doorways and ornate, carved ceilings. Clean up will be a huge tastk!) But also through this process, the wax block is creating a form for itself. The idea of this piece is well reflected by its title--Svayambh means "self-generated" in Sanskrit. Anish Kapoor wanted to create an artwork that breaks away from the traditional method of making sculpture which is through the hands of a sculptor.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos inside. It is often the case that photography is not allowed in temporary exhibits, and especially in the UK, not allowed in "galleries." In the UK there is a clear distinction between "galleries" and "museums." Galleries hold paintings while museums hold objects. I think this is a brilliant way of distinguishing between the two type of museums.

What I was allowed to take photos of is this fantastic sculpture in the Royal Academy's courtyard. Anish Kapoor works are innovative in the use of unexpected materials, explosively vivid in the use of colors, and minimalist in the use of simple shapes and clean lines. Once again, I am obsessed!!!

Click here for more photos and the official website of the exhibition.