Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

13 OCTOBER, 2011

Complaints Choir: The World’s Mundane Grievances Set to Song

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Rent is too damn high, the global musical.

One cold winter night in 2005, while strolling through Helsinki, Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen had an epiphany — what if they could transform the daily grievances people complain about en masse into a source of surprise and joy? In Finnish, there’s an actual word for those mass complaints — “Valituskuoro,” which translates roughly to “complaints choir.” So the duo set out capture the world’s everyday rants in actual choirs and Complaints Choir was born — a traveling record of the world’s grievances, crowdsourced from citizens and set to song.

We defined complaining as “dissatisfaction without action,” nevertheless behind most of the complaints there is an idea or a belief or a value that a person is committed to. Complaints have therefore inbuilt the potential of being a transformative power. The truth about the revolution in East Germany is, that it only happened because a critical mass of people was dissatisfied with and complained about everyday life issues.

There is another fundamental aspect to the culture of complaining. Why do people complain about things they have not the slightest influence upon, for example the weather? Here complaining is not at all about changing things, but rather to build a communal feeling: I am not alone with my little problems, we share the same burden – of an total in-acceptable climate for example.”

From Birmingham to Budapest, Helsinki to Hamburg, Jerusalem to Chicago, the choirs cover everything from the petty and mudane (job resentment, traffic, bureaucracy, the weather) to the amusingly specific and offbeat (neighbor holding Hungarian folk dance classes above bedroom, being ignored by friend’s cat, racist grandmother)

Got the itch for communal ranting? Here’s the DIY guide to orchestrating one in your city. (Did someone say Occupy Wall Street Choir?)

via Deafening Silence HT GMSV

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13 OCTOBER, 2011

Young Hemingway’s Letters: A Rare Glimpse of the Author’s Tender Side

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Rediscovering one of literature’s greatest personas through the vulnerable pieces of his personhood.

From the lovely illustrated correspondence of Edward Gorey to the touching vintage letters of luminaries on the love of libraries, we’ve previously explored how the uncovered letters of cultural icons set ajar the door to a whole new wonderland of their private selves. Such is the case of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 — a fascinating new volume that peels away at a young Hemingway different, richer, more tender than the machismo-encrusted persona we’ve come to know through his published works. After spending a decade sifting through Hemingway’s correspondence, Penn State professor Sandra Spanier collaborated with Kent State University’s Robert W. Trogdon to curate this first in what will be a series of at least 16 volumes.

Though Hemingway had articulated to his wife in the 1950s that he didn’t want his correspondence published, his son, Patrick Hemingway, says these letters could dispel the myth of the writer as a tortured figure and distorted soul, a pop-culture image of his father he feels doesn’t tell a complete and honest story.

My principal motive for wanting it to happen was that I think it gives a much better picture of Hemingway’s life than any of his biographers to date […] [My father] was not a tragic figure. He had the misfortune to have mental troubles in old age. Up until that, he was a rather lighthearted and humorous person.” ~ Patrick Hemingway

The letters — lively, quirky, full of doodles and delightfully unusual spellings — cover everything from Hemingway’s childhood in Oak Park, Illinois, to his adventures as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in WWI to the heartbreak of his romance with a Red Cross nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky and his eventual marriage to Hadley Richardson.

From lovers to rivals to his mother, the recipients of the letters each seem to get a different piece of Hemingway, custom-tailored for them not in the hypocritical way of an inauthentic social chameleon but in the way great writers know the heart, mind, and language of their reader. The letters thus become not only a tender homage to this unknown Hemingway, revealing new insights into his creative process along the way, but also a bow before the lost art of letter-writing itself.

via The Chronicle of Higher Education

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12 OCTOBER, 2011

Nurturing Walls: Indian Women’s Stunning Tribal Art Tradition

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What baby birds and tattooed camels have to do with motherhood and the authenticity of public art.

For generations, the women of the Meena tribe in India’s Rajasthan state have been decorating the walls and floors of their homes with a stunning form of public art both graphic and decorative known as Mandana painting, using a white paste made of rice and milk to paint intricate motifs on these brown mud surfaces. This remarkable craft is passed down from mother to daughter, and the drawings themselves often depict maternal motifs of birds and animals with their young.

From the fine folks at Tara Books, who brought us such hand-crafted gems as The Night Life of Trees and I Like Cats, comes Nurturing Walls — a tender tribute to the Mandana tradition of public art and the women who make it. The book itself is a piece of art, printed on thick brown craft-paper that mirrors the mud walls of Meena homes and silk-screened by hand in Tara Books’ fair-trade workshop in Chennai. Each image in every book is thus an original print, and the pages themselves emit the rich earthy smell of artisanal craft.

Between the breathtaking silkscreens you’ll find vibrant full-color photographs that offer a glimpse of the lives of these extraordinary Meena artists and contextualize the Mandana artwork in its place in the local community, revealing a kind of authenticity foreign to our culture of conjoined art and commerce.

There is something very moving about the way these humble women are driven to be creative, in lived, everyday sense. It gives us much to reflect on what we take for granted as the provenance of art: for one, their painting is not the unique creation of any single individual but a tradition grown in a community. The work is not produced for a market, but for themselves, as well as the community at large. And viewed in the context of their lives, art doesn’t seem to be a luxury that has to be bought by opportunities and free time.” ~ Gita Wolf

A poetic pinnacle of tribal art, Nurturing Walls sets ajar the door to a fascinating world where beauty, community and tradition live in their purest, most inspired form.

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