Saturday, December 29, 2007

From all angles

In my days back in the UK for Christmas and New Year I'm trying to pack in as much as possible, seeing friends, and family and some of the exhibitions I've had to miss out on while away.

My first trip to London was an enjoyable couple of days catching up with friends. We took a trip to the South Bank to the Hayward Gallery, a rather fine space where I've seen a number of exciting exhibitions over the years (Howard Hodgkin being one of the most memorable). The Painting of modern life is a rather strange show of paintings made from photographs of subjects from the mundane to the revolutionary. A large percentage were close reproductions of the original photographs using some style that the artist thought would bring out an aspect of the subject matter, though most of these I thought I'd rather own the original in its unadulterated form. In the age of Photoshop, even the pictures which had been dramatically altered didn't have the impact that they may have had in the age before digital photography, when the manipulation of the photographic image was a much less trivial affair. Anyway, a mediocre exhibition in a pleasing space with a few gems (Liu Xiaodong amongst the top) made for a relaxing morning.

Going back a few weeks, but the exhibition of photography in Santiago by Sebastiao Selgado was absolutely mesmerising. His work in war-torn African over the last 3 decades is one of the most powerful sets of photographs I've ever seen, not only because of the subject matter, but his technical abilities are incredible. His photographs along with a few other exhibitions I've seen over the last few weeks are teaching me that for real impact I need to tell a story with my shots, not just get a pleasing configuration of angles and tones. This is one of my new year's resolutions. Others surely to follow.

We made our way to the Tate Modern where the crack in the turbine room continues to generate discussion. Apart from being technically very impressive, the whole thing feels rather tired to me. The Louise Bourgois is still on display which I thoroughly enjoyed last time I was in London, but forking out the huge prices for two exhibitions in a day is a little beyond me for now.

Sadly the Terracotta Warriors and Tutankhamun exhibitions have waiting lists of several months already, so that was out of the question.

In the evening we went to the Clapham Picturehouse cinema to see I am Legend (see review at Bad Astronomy Blog for a pretty good picture of it). Sadly the film is only 3/4 of the way to being a great zombie movie and the very sudden ending is a huge anticlimax to the combination character study and suspense fest of the first part of the film. I'm still not sure whether this detracted from the film or added to it but I've just read a book entitled The Hot Zone (recommended by a good friend from Beijing) which tells the tale of the Ebola virus and how in the 1980s it found its way into an US monkey house just outside of Washington. This is a nightmarish story about an even more nightmarish virus, the effects of which are simply beyond belief. The illness in I am Legend looks is a mild head cold in comparison. The book is well worth a read, though don't be surprised if you end up waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, and checking for one of the endless list of symptoms which come on before you end up a big bag of mush.

I want to end on a slightly lighter note so I'll point you back to some art. First to Hare and Bear designs who have a few of my photographs in their collection of unusual greetings cards. and secondly to the webpage of a friend of mine, David Crooks who is living and working in Santiago as an artist. Formerly a string theorist and an ex student of my PhD supervisor in Southampton as well as an ex-employee of the department in Santiago, he's now a full time artist and his work is displayed in various cafes around the city. Take a look around his website. Though he confesses that it's a little out of date it has some great work, the drawings I think are particularly fine.

I now have 4 more cities to get to before heading back to Spain in a few days and I think that getting back to research is going to be wonderfully relaxing after this. I've projects which are heading in the right direction and it's a lot of fun to be working on slightly new things...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Beijing smoking

I've spoken many times about my love of Beijing. Sadly, these days she's a sick, sick city and I'm glad I'm not there. The API (pollution measure) which usually hovers around the 100-150 mark (compare with London which is rarely above 40 on the same scale) today hit 500 (which seems to be the top of the scale from what I can tell).

This is really serious for the inhabitants of the city. China has around 400,000 deaths directly related to pollution every year and I can't see that number lowering with the current trends. Beijing has just eight months to get its act together before the curtains open and everyone comes coughing and spluttering to the start line. I hope for everyone's sake that the media frenzy is enough to shame them into getting this sorted!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Season's Greetings

My first Christmas back in the UK since 2004 is a lovely chance to catch up with family and friends. The weather is crisp and a little misty and so walks out on the nearby fields are wonderfully atmospheric. Season's greetings to all!

Christmas card

Monday, December 17, 2007

The year's best astronomy images

No rest for the wicked, but I didn't want to miss pointing you to this year's top 10 astronomy photos, from Bad Astronomy Blog - another awe-inspiring set of images!

I think that anything more detailed from me is likely to have to wait until the Christmas break. Setting up home, settling in and trying to get a project finished before the break has been filling all hours.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advanced study in Dublin

Sorry, things are quiet on the blog front and I'm very busy with running round in circles.

Having spent a very enjoyable few days in Cambridge at the Newton institute with my former supervisor, chatting through ideas both new and old and possible new directions for further study I have now made it to the Institute for Advanced Study, in a very rainy Dublin, where I'm spending a couple of days. Today I gave my talk and tomorrow we will be hearing from one of the professors here on some interesting work related to emergent geometry.

Hopefully I will have a few hours on Saturday to see the city before flying back to England for less than 48 hours, and then back to Santiago to try and furnish my flat (my first night in the new flat, just before flying to England, was spent on a half inflated airbed covered only by a winter coat!).

A 4.15 start this morning to catch my 6.30 flight means that I'm a little tired, but the talk seemed to go ok and the questions were all interesting. Now, with a few loose ends to tie up I'm going to see if I can get me a Guinness.