One of Six

In my previous post I spoke about one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice (1988). Another that I love is The Crow (1993).

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I mention this because I managed to get a copy of the movie on blu-ray recently and then watched it last weekend. This weekend I took the time to watch the extras on the disc, one of which was an interview with the lead actor, Brandon Lee. Lee died whilst making the movie which is kind of tragic and ironic and creepy all rolled up into one because the movie is about returning from the dead to set things right. This is also made all that more poignant because of the fact that Brandon was the late great Bruce Lee’s son. Bruce Lee was one of the few male role models I had as a teen and I would often spend hours in my bedroom training, trying to perfect Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was Bruce Lee’s personal style of kung fu. In the Warner Brothers film, Enter the Dragon (1973), when Lee is asked, “What’s your style?”, he simply replies, “My style? .You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

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He often referred to it as “the art of expressing the human body”. Lee believed that martial art styles had become too rigid and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”. He believed real combat was spontaneous, and a martial artist could not predict it, but only react to it. A good martial artist should “be like water”—move fluidly without hesitation. Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 from a brain aneurism. Lee had just completed making ,

Enter the Dragon, the most successful martial arts movie of all time.

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On March 31, 1993, 20 years later, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died of a gunshot wound during the filming of The Crow in an accident involving a prop gun. The Crow, like Enter the Dragon, was tremendously successful and became a cult movie. Like father like son.

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In the interview that I mentioned (Brandon) Lee is tremendously engaging, and really speaks so eloquently and passionately. He quotes a passage from Paul Bowles’ book, The Sheltering Sky, which I really love and that I want to share with you:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless…

It was a quote that was to appear on his wedding invitations and instead now appears on his tombstone. Take what you will from this, as you must from whatever life throws at you. And with that I return to my life and what is going on.

So my first week of six weeks of fasting is done and dusted! This in preparation for my performance piece, 40RTY. I have to admit it was a bit of a slog. I have cut out all processed foods and animal products. So no dairy (man, I miss CHEESE!), no meat (I don’t do meat anyway), no eggs, no soya even, as soya products are processed. That leaves me with raw vegetables and fruits and their juices. In the first three days I felt as if I had the flu which is quite normal as your body detox’s: headachey, tired, cranky. In addition I developed cold sores on the sides of my mouth. But by Friday I was feeling a little better if somewhat lightheaded. Lots of cravings also and cursing myself for putting me through all of this. I went for a run on the Saturday after work and really struggled, just no gas/energy. I am here to tell you that fasting sweat really reminds you that you are just an animated meat-shape. Then on Saturday night, like a switch clicking on,suddenly I was no longer tired, I was the opposite. This means that I have barely got any sleep since then because I am all of a sudden seriously hyper! That’s bad because I am normally like that anyway, so I am literally hyper-hyper! So now it is Monday and I have 34 days until my performance! In reality though the performance has already begun and it started the moment that I began fasting. The idea is that by doing this, when I walk into the gallery space and present my performance, my mind will already be so focused (40 days of fasting will achieve this) that I will seamlessly progress from one to the other (fasting to performance) with the exclusion of all else. I will be, quite literally, a work of art. In addition I have been working on my installation which is really coming along nicely. I am excited to see it in the gallery space. I imagine it will be quite something!

Strange & Unusual

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One of my favourite movies of all time is Tim Burton’s cult classic 1988 movie, Beetlejuice. It is honestly a work of art. Burton’s vision is just spellbinding, Danny Elfman’s score is perfect and the wonderful ensemble cast, including a hilarious Michael Keaton as bio-exorcist and “ghost with the most”, Betelgeuse, and a young Winona Ryder as Lydia, the original emo Goth teenager, are delightful! While at the 61st Academy Awards Beetlejuice won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, I thought it should have won a lot more. It is a virtually perfect movie. I have watched the movie way more than eleventeen times and it never grows old!

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One of my favourite quotes is from Winona Ryder’s character, Lydia:

I read through that Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It says, “Live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.

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I suppose I find resonance with those lines because you could definitely put them on my headstone one day when I am laid to rest – He was strange and unusual.

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I was a strange kid and I am a strange adult and that is the truth. It once concerned me, however, strangeness becomes less concerning when you allow your creative output as well as your persona, both public and private, to revolve around that fact. In fact, the most interesting and creative artists, it has been my experience, border on lunacy…and, yes, I have been known to howl at the moon on occasion! I have found my peace with who I am in my pursuit of, and involvement with, art. My acceptance in the mainstream world has always been tenuous and provisional even when I was playing first team rugby or in the military or employed in corporate South Africa. I am, by all accounts, a failure by many of the standard requirements demanded of society:  unmarried and solitary, and a financial failure for most of my life. I do not say this to show you, dear reader, how magically eccentric and off-beat I am. What I am saying, using myself as an example, is that you should, to quote Molly Crabapple:

Focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your fucked-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.

I wish I had done that early in life instead trying to fit in, instead of allowing people to tell me what I could and couldn’t be. But in saying that, it is never too late! I am a good example of that! So now I take all that “fucked-up damage” and I allow it to fuel my vision and drive my art. This does not mean that I am a success; being an artist in this world and in South Africa is tough. And failure in art is so very, very personal! It is a failure of self because that is what all good artists do, put themselves out there; their intellect and their passion and their vision. With this in mind how does anyone working in art ever get up in the morning? Well, it takes courage and endurance and tenacity, but most importantly, it takes a belief in what you have to say, a belief in your own, very unique artistic voice.

I want to end off with a few points from Neil Gaiman’s now-legendary speech:

  • I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.
  • Do the stuff that only you can do.
  • The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
  • The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
  • Make up your own rules.
  • Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
  • Make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.

 

Love it! If you have not watched it, do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI&app=desktop.

And then go and make mistakes! I have been a mistake my entire life and that, as my old friend Robert Frost says, has made all the difference.

PS. go watch Beetlejuice

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Beetlejuice!

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What I Have Been Reading

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The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.

—           Donna Tartt

I open my latest post with this quote from the author of that wonderful book, The Secret History. I really love this quote, particularly this bit: books are written by the alone for the alone. Now most people would view the use of the word alone in a negative context, lonely, isolated, insular (suggestive of an island and separated from others). Not me, I discovered the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality a long time ago. Like that most gifted writer, Virginia Woolf, I have found that lonely silence is inseparable from creative impulse. Adrienne Rich agrees, claiming that “the impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence,”

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But I digress because my actual point was to wax lyrical about the joys of reading, not of being alone…although I kind of love both.

I believe that one of the most amazing gifts you can give anyone is to pass on the joy of reading, to teach them how to read purely for pleasure. I myself am a voracious reader and a huge bibliophile. Yes! I consume books, I luxuriate in them! And I am unashamedly old school about it. I want the physical, the tactile, the actual book, not some glowing kindle screen!

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In my apartment I have a library that I am really proud of. It contains mostly academic books now, focusing on art and art theory. This is due to the demands of my studies and lecturing duties.  But you can also find Tom Robbins Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Alice Sebold and her Lovely Bones amongst them. Carlos Ruiz Zafón and his Cemetery of Forgotten Books share shelves with Francesca Woodman’s ghostly portraits while Ana Mendieta and her Blood Works are pressed up against Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the DayI even still have my old copies of Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye and Goodbye Columbus from way back when I was a teenager. I love my books.  One of my greatest pleasures is to hang out in second bookstores on a rainy day. To be surrounded by shelves of old (and new) books is something I will never tire of. For me it is an almost-embryonic sensation, as if being embraced and enveloped by dear friends. I am at peace and yet simultaneously filled with anticipation and excitement at the thought of all the wonders that await to be discovered within the covers and on the pages.

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So what have I read recently and what am I reading now?

I generally have 3 or 4 books that I am reading at one time. As I am doing my Master’s at the moment and this requires a massive amount of research reading, so there will always be at least one book related to my research next to my bed. I have just completed The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport by Varda Burstyn. In this fascinating book Burstyn analyzes how sport socializes boys into manhood by providing rituals of conquest and aggression. I played rugby from the age of 13 up until I was 36 so I really found it amazing to be able to relate my actual experiences to the theoretical thinking behind sports like rugby football. Kind of like how I felt when I began my journey as academic within the art world. Relating the thinking to the making is glorious.

 

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At the moment I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I highly recommend reading this author’s work, especially The Remains of the Day. I have to sheepishly admit something though. I actually watched the movie based on the book first. To be honest the title left me cold and still does. It is a really lame title for such a beautiful piece of writing. Anyway, so I never read the book. But once I had watched the film-adaption I really just had to read it. It is a quite stunning movie and a very British . Ironically it is directed by an American though.

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Alex Garland, who wrote another one of my favourite books, The Beach, is friends with Ishiguro and wrote the screenplay for the movie. It stars Carey Mulligan (love her), Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth who grow up together in a seemingly idyllic boarding school situated in the English countryside. The story, however, is set in an alternate history where cloning has become every day and is socially and morally accepted. I do not want to spoil the movie or the book for you so I will not reveal any more of the plot suffice to say that both are totally engrossing, thought-provoking and just beautiful. Both have a place on swany’s list of awesomeness!

 

 

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To end off I am going to reference my 2 previous posts which dealt with rape. A book that deals with the subject very honestly is Alice Sebold’s Lucky. It is an autobiographical account of her rape at the age of eighteen while at university. She describes what she was like before the rape and the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event. Her description of the actual rape is heartrending. It is a must-read.

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