My Pursuit of Van Gogh: The True Story

Life is remarkably circular. Sometimes life works in ways you can’t even predict. Fifteen years ago, I encountered a story that little did I know will touch my heart in the most unexpected way.

In the early 00’s, encyclopaedias were still our default search engine as the ultimate source of information. Thick, hard-bound books shelved in glass cabinets, catalogued alphabetically according to the sets where it belongs. One day, it was one of those times I was hanging out with a life-long buddy at the library during lunch break when this person handed me an infamous story about a famed artist of the nineteenth century who cut off his ear and shot himself. My 12-year old naive, innocent and Catholic-oriented self was undeniably shocked. Back then, I looked up at these magnificent people from the past as glorious beings who ever walked on earth; Faultless, infallible and immaculate. A quintessence of an ideal human being.

“How could one of the most famous and influential post-impressionist painter lived such a life?”

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Image source: Holland.com

It was the time I was still obstinate and intolerant to the imperfections of life. The story was incomprehensible for me to accept and digest. From then on, I only focused on his works and refused to read about his life. It was simply unsuitable to take a young mind’s innocence and corrupt it with the dark intentions of human beings. So I thought.

Over the years, it has been my personal goal to expand my views and be more open-minded as possible. I allowed to put myself on someone’s shoes in every subject matter, remove all prejudice, breakdown every cultural norm and understand the root of such belief, behaviour and mindset. Since then, it has been my ultimate goal in life: To understand everyone and everything. Everything is a though word and impossible to achieve, but hey, we got to set the bar to the highest level.

One and a half decades later, I’ve pretty much achieved my goal in every subject that crosses my path. By removing personal preferences and inhibitions, I am able to dissect every detail of a fact, opinion or argument. It’s a very liberating thing to do. It’s the perfect time to go back to one story that I tried dancing around for quite a long time.

Life took its turn and presented me with the opportunity to revisit an old friend I’ve kept buried in my memory. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in partnership with Art Exhibitions Australia and independent art historian Sjraar van Heugten curated Van Gogh and the Seasons as one of its international exhibitions for 2017.

“Hey! It’s Van Gogh. Not to be missed for sure!” I thought. It’s true. It was a wonderful once in a life time experience to see such an exhibit that focused on the four seasons of his works. The storytelling of the exhibit was impeccable. One, if only he will allow to immerse himself to the experience, will clearly feel the connection with Van Gogh’s personal life; How he came to be as one of the most renowned artists of all time.

 

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Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy

After going through the exhibit, I exited into the souvenir shop without the intention of purchasing any merchandise. There was a large coffee table book, most likely 12″ x 12″ in size detailing the entire exhibit which I personally find above my budget to own. Everyone seems to have bought it. Besides, it was an exclusive publication for this particular exhibit. My best friend bought one, being a huge Van Gogh fan that she is. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of impressionist paintings so I gave it a pass. While browsing through the books section, I saw two copies of Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy in paperback neatly placed on a table, seemed untouched. The title is very catchy, I scanned a bit, read a few pages and left.

Days later, the book seems to be calling out for me. NGV was conveniently located two blocks away from my workplace so I went back to the souvenir shop during my lunch break. I went back to the table where I last saw it but to my surprise, there’s none left. I saw an elderly man, around 70 years of age, intently reading the only copy of the book in sight. I wanted to wait for him so I can grab it for myself but he seemed so serious and wouldn’t put it down any time soon.

I asked the first staff I could find but I was told that it was completely sold out! I couldn’t accept it. “She seems like one of those staff who are lazy to get some stock.” The person I happen to asked must be a newbie. So I looked for the most easily swayed staff, younger than me, someone who looks like he doesn’t want to upset anyone, from the minority group, and asked again. I explained to him how badly I wanted the book. I know that I can purchase it online, but sometimes, you just want it right now.  I waited for some time and he came out with a bunch of new stocks. I was delighted and thanked him repeatedly. I got two copies and sent one to my best friend who lives in Sydney.

I started reading it as soon as I got the book. I couldn’t just put it down. The investigative, story-telling narration style was so captivating. The enigma of the book piqued my curiosity and I was completely sold. The story revolved around the pursuit to identify “Rachel”, the allegedly prostitute which Van Gogh offered his ear after cutting it off one night of December 1888. There were a lot of times while reading the book, my mind was impatient and furious, “Who the f*** is ‘Rachel’?!” But of course, I knew that her identity will only be revealed in the end. I didn’t want to skip anything! Every detail is vital to the story. I’m a lazy reader and I’ve got to say that not a part of this book bored me neither gave me a reason to give up.

Van Gogh’s mental breakdowns – why, when and where it happened – were all essential in understanding the ultimate act of insanity that went down to his story and eventually to history.

This book revealed so much from what I have expected. Bernadette Murphy took seven laborious years gathering information and ID-ing every single resident of Arles in every situation. She traveled in every place mentioned in the book to see first hand and imagine what it was like to live during Van Gogh’s time. Her effort in completing this book is truly amazing. This book explains the different medical diagnoses of the painter and uncovered the truths behind the sensationalised newspaper prints during his time. It also allowed us to see and feel the ultimate bond between two brothers despite the financial hardship they went through.

After all these years, I have finally able to embrace his story in perfect timing. It’s utterly overwhelming to have finished the book with a tragic end (as we all know) but it leaves a heartwarming experience that will forever linger in the soul.

 

 

Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum

Who would’ve thought that somewhere in the historic town of Leura, a suburb in Blue Mountains west of Sydney CBD, Australia’s largest toy collection can be found. A mixture of railways, cars, planes, action figures, Children’s books and vintage dolls, particularly, Alice in Wonderland, Barbie, Popeye, Noddy and Harry Potter.

The Federation Free Classical style of the two-storey house was built in 1910 for the wealthy yachtsman Harry Andreas and his family after the first house on the site, known as Leuralla, built in 1903, was burned down by a bushfire. The entire property including the garden is 12 acres in size. Harry’s daughter, Marjorie, married Clive Evatt, an Australian politician and barrister and took over the house. At present time, their son, Clive Evatt Jr and his family owns the property and are responsible for the current museum exhibiting their railway and toy collection including his uncle HV Evatt’s memorabillas.

Toy and Railway Museum-2The interior of the house is furnished with Queensland maple notable for its extensive paneling and carvings. As soon as you stepped inside, you’ll immediately be overwhelmed by the heritage and extensive history that will unfold before your eyes. The toy and railway collections dates back in the early 19th Century manufactured by different companies all over the world.

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It is noticeable how the owners have a special inclination towards Alice In Wonderland. You will be able to find it in every room and every corner of the house.

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The railway collection is indeed massive. I’ve never seen so many train sets in my life. It ranges from different types of locomotives, railways, trams and trains that dates back to the industrial revolution up until late 20th Century. My photos can not even justify the number of sets displayed in the museum. Here are a few of them:

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There are also a small collection of Children’s vintage hard-bound books. I was surprised to know that Noddy, a fictional character by English children’s author Enid Blyton, was created in 1949. I can still remember my little brother watching a new TV cartoon series of Noddy, back in early 2000s.

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A number of die-cast model cars can also be seen throughout the museum. Notably, the owners must have travelled to Germany to collect some of them. The presence of toys made in Germany and Nazi figures can easily be identified.

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If there are car model toys, there should also be planes and ships! Hanging in the ceiling of the staircase are two huge model biplanes.

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Another Alice In Wonderland collection from the latest franchise can be seen at the top and bottom of the glass cabinet.

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Lehmann Toys by Ernst Paul Lehmann Patenwerk, a famous German toy maker in 19th Century. Toy and Railway Museum-33Toy and Railway Museum-34Toy and Railway Museum-40

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There are tiny model houses that is run by electricity. I used to have one when I was little and just by looking at these makes me want to have my own collection too. The tiny details and the amount of work put into it are incredible.

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Of course, toy collections wouldn’t be complete without vintage board games. But this one is just a collection from Noddy.

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Surprise, surprise, the owners must have been a fan of Archie comics. They even collected cosmetics apart from dolls.

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Apart from Alice In Wonderland, it seems like the owners are huge fans of Popeye too. Their collection range from books, merchandises, figurines and toys.
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Toy soldiers are displayed neatly and organized according to its time period in history. There are medieval knights, soldiers from World Wars and warriors of ethnic tribes.

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I tried remembering the name of this castle but I couldn’t. Anyway, it’s on display too.Toy and Railway Museum-88

Part of the museum has been dedicated to HV Evatt’s memorabilla, an Australian judge, lawyer, parliamentarian and writer. There’s a collection of matches, tin cans, art materials, household products, pins, banknotes and what seems to be – coat strings.

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The doll collection is so varied in styles and time in history. The oldest one I can date back is a 19th Century ceramic doll called bisque dolls made in France and Germany wearing affluent clothing of the period. These kinds of dolls were popularized in the market until after World War I and marketed to the rich families. Some of the dolls from the collection were owned by the daughters in the family of this house. Toy and Railway Museum-76

There are also special edition dolls after the Queen and Princess of the British Monarchy.

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Fast forward to present time, Harry Potter and James Bond toy and merchandise collections are the first ones you’ll see as soon as you step into the house.  The James Bond collection has been arranged according to its franchise timeline too.

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Last but not the least, an extensive Barbie and Friends collection from the very first Barbie, Ken and Skipper dolls, designer editions, anniversary editions, movie merchandises, and limited editions to mark historical events.

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The very first edition barbie doll (1959) in its original packaging and stand wearing striped bathing suit, large white sunglasses, ring earrings, black stillettos, brushed wavy hair in pony tail. Available in two different hair colours: Blonde and Brunette. The first reproduction was released in 1994 in celebration of her 35th birthday and another was released in 2015.

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The first Ken doll was introduced in 1961, the toy displayed is still in its original packaging.Toy and Railway Museum-108

Skipper, Barbie’s younger sister, introduced by Mattel in 1964, a shorter doll standing 9.25 inches in height on its first release.

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Some designer Barbies including Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, Anne Klein, Macys, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani.

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Barbie’s 50th Anniversary, MAC Cosmetics edition and Millennium Princess edition.

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Barbie Coca-Cola editions.Toy and Railway Museum-60

Barbie pageant editions:Toy and Railway Museum-65Toy and Railway Museum-66Toy and Railway Museum-68Toy and Railway Museum-109Toy and Railway Museum-110

Movie editions of Barbie dolls featuring Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, The Munsters and Wizard of Oz. Toy and Railway Museum-118Toy and Railway Museum-119Toy and Railway Museum-120Toy and Railway Museum-117Toy and Railway Museum-116Toy and Railway Museum-67

Barbie outfits throughout history:Toy and Railway Museum-121Toy and Railway Museum-122Toy and Railway Museum-43Toy and Railway Museum-44Toy and Railway Museum-86Toy and Railway Museum-81

Leuralla Toy and Railway Museum is located at 36 Olympian Parade, Leura in New South Wales, Australia. It’s included as one of the stops of Blue Mountains Explorer Bus  in Katoomba.

 

How Quora Awakened My Curiosity Again

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Some of the best things in life are those that comes at the most unexpected times.

It surprises and awakens something inside you.

When I discovered Quora back in 2015, I never expected to enjoy the site as much as I do now. I’ve often encountered people mentioning it before when I was randomly reading through blogs after blogs, forums after forums and social media sites after another. At first I was hesitant to join another site. All of us have countless memberships we’ve already signed up for and I reached to the point where I didn’t want to join anymore at all. But then I got curious and when curiosity strikes, nothing can stop it from killing the cat. A day came when I decided to give it a try.

It was a period in time where I got obsessed in reading about the most popular HBO series, Game of Thrones, based from George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novel A Song of Ice and Fire. My Quora newsfeed was filled with back stories, fan theories, speculations, predictions and interpretations both of the novel and TV series. Honestly, my feed was only about that!

Reading about it day and night, that’s when I encountered the first Quoran I truly admire, Kelsey L. Hayes. She provides in-depth analyses and interpretations of every part of ASOIAF. She even understands how GRR Martin’s mind works, which is incredible. I’ve never seen someone who had so much depth of knowledge and who possesses such deep understanding on a literary work.

The realization of her character as a person changed my view on a certain aspect of the world. I began to question myself, “What have I been doing all this time?”

I realized that there are a lot of amazing people to meet and interact with; There are so many things to read about; Things to have in-depth knowledge of; Things that will expand and provide thorough understanding on a variety of subject matters.

I got excited.

Really excited.

For the first time in a long time, I was inspired again. My ultimate goal in life has been revisited and re-evaluated. It has been right all along – My search for knowledge and broad understanding of everything in this world. That is still my ultimate goal and Quora is one avenue for that.

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It reminds me of an important episode in my life a decade back.

When I was still a sophomore in high school, I discovered a book at home that awakened my true curiosity and it triggered the formation of who I am today. I can still vividly remember that particular night: There was a major blackout in the city on a weekday. We only relied on our emergency lights to guide us and illuminate our paths as we fumble in the dark. I still don’t know what’s gotten into me but somehow, I grabbed this 3-inch A4-size hard bound book, published in 1975, and started browsing instead of playing my portable Nintendo like an ordinary teenager of that time.

The book smelled like it hasn’t been flipped for ages. The pages were turning yellow but still thick and crisp. It was a special edition Readers Digest that we picked up from my grandma’s house a few years back. The book’s content covers from ancient history up until humanity’s prediction of the future. It is filled with interesting, factual, mysterious and trivial information such as crop circles, peculiar diseases, the case of Mary Celeste, the two Titanics, and the bizarre story of a young girl (which I’ll never ever forget). Despite relying on a dim light I managed to read it for hours. I just couldn’t put it down.

Years passed and I’m pretty sure that I’ve read it cover to cover x number of times.

Since that night, I went to bed with a realization and understanding of what my interests are and it explained a lot why I enjoy documentaries and other science and history-related books/movies/TV shows. Thus, my interest with Mythbusters, Ancient Aliens and Fringe Science.

I met myself. As if for the first time.

It was absolute bliss.

Every time I read or watch something about a topic I’m interested in, I feel like a little kid going all thrilled over a piece of candy.

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Throughout the years after, my attention and focus somehow diverted to college and everything Advertising-related. A few interests were added along the way. I found myself reading about different religions, philosophy, sociology, psychology and surprisingly literature.

I spent my lunch breaks browsing in our college library, seated in the least explored corners closest to the bookshelf of choice, and getting annoyed at anyone reaching within a 5-metre radius.

I found people I can share and discuss ideas with both in real life and online.

It was a period of awakening.

Reading about all these subject matters opened doors to a whole new view of the world. It was the kind of realization with no point of return.

My own paradigm shift.

I embraced the change and a lot of the knowledge I acquired. Things that used to be important to me seems to have become insignificant. Irrelevant to my everyday life. I found them shallow and childish.

I simply lost interest.

Up until today, I can’t manage to go back, peek and enjoy a little of things that used to be my source of entertainment.

It was the point where I accepted that I’ve clearly outgrown them.

IV.

After college, as a new graduate who just entered the real world, work seemed to be the only thing that mattered. Work seems like how a minor subject acted as if it’s a major one back in the day. In short, it consumed all the time I had, which in all honesty, wasn’t the best choice at all.

I consider that as my dark ages.

My judgements at that time have been clouded by an artificial form of lifestyle. Masked happiness, materialism and high-end way of living. PR was the only thing that mattered. What’s inside has been neglected.

When I quit and focused all my time studying again, this time, a diploma course focused in arts, I looked back to prior and questioned how I lived my life for that short period of time. It wasn’t the corporate life I imagined it to be.

Corporate Sellout. 

That’s what my friends in the creative industry used to refer people who have chosen to be part of the corporate world when clearly they have future in an industry with more intellectual freedom and creative expression.

Apparently, giving up what you believe in and performing tasks you consider unethical for some temporary monetary gain hurts ones character.

Where was the substance?

It was another turning point in life and a chapter to be closed.

V.

If passion is lost, then what’s the point of living?

Fast forward to present day, Quora is a site that continuously inspires me to create and enrich myself. It constantly awakens my curiosity, provides valuable information with a right balance of satisfying entertainment and helps focus on the important things in life. Most importantly, answering on Quora challenges writing, comprehension and researching skills. It’s a site with the right balance of learning and creating without any unnecessary stress.

From the site’s analytics, my knowledge, based on my answers, encompasses Haute Horlogerie and surprise, surprise, Melbourne, Australia. Apart from basic questions about watches, I get a lot of requests about migrating to Australia; Most likely because of my unbiased and subjective answers in regards to the topic.

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The ultimate question is, “Who are my top picks of Quorans to follow?”

To be honest, I cannot consider myself to have explored the site to its maximum potential. I’m still enjoying the tip of the iceberg and little by little savouring my way down to its depth.

So far, the top Quorans on my list are as follows:

  • Richard Muller – A physicist at University of California: Berkeley, author of “Now, The Physics of Time”. Apart from science related answers, he also writes about interesting personal stories that comes with an important life advice.
  • Robert Frost – Works at NASA. Obviously answers a lot of interesting NASA, science and astronomy-related questions.
  • Franklin Veaux – Writes mature relationship advice and an author of a book and site on polyamory, “More Than Two”.
  • Kelsey L. Hayes – Provides in-depth analyses and interpretations of the entire A Song of Ice and Fire novel and Game Of Thrones TV show.
  • CJ Lee – Provides in-depth analyses and interpretations, quotes page references and movie parts of the entire Harry Potter franchise.
  • Jake Williams – Very opinionated and his writing has a satirical nature.
  • McKayla Kennedy – Answers a variety of topics and it’s always rational and mature.
  • Josh Fechter – Gives insightful advices regarding startups.
  • Jordan Yates – Answers a lot of questions about everything.
  • Dan Holliday – He claims to be an “agnostic-atheist-humanist-materialist-utilitarian” Pretty much what he writes about apart from personal experiences that he shares.

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I have yet to discover more interesting Quorans. There are so many more topics to cover and to read about. Hopefully, a lifetime would be enough to satisfy ones intellectual cravings.

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei

It is such a privilege and a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a major international exhibition featuring the late pop icon Andy Warhol and political artist Ai Weiwei. Being the two of the most significant artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, I was so thrilled when I first heard the news (a year before the start of the exhibition) that the National Gallery of Victoria has teamed up with The Andy Warhol Museum, in cooperation with Ai Weiwei, to organise such event.

The major exhibition explores the influences of both artists in modern art and contemporary life, which focuses on the parallels, intersections and points of difference between the two artists’ practices. Due to transportation, gallery’s area and other limitations to consider, not all iconic artworks of the artists have been exhibited at NGV for this particular event. Nevertheless, over 300 artworks of both artists’ significant contributions that delivered evocative messages were curated, which lead to my cultivation towards their remarkable life-long journeys. (National Gallery of Victoria)

I’ll start exploring the journey of Andy, who’s art I’m the least a fan of amongst the two. Ai’s extensive, massive and evocative installations beat Andy’s flat, complacent and mass-produced paintings. Ai’s works cover as far back as Ancient China up to the latest societal issues. But to be fair, Andy’s audacity and unconventional art practices have defined a new era of revolutionary artists and may have majorly contributed to Ai’s bold, dissident style.

Andy Warhol

andyAndy Warhol carrying a Brillo Soap Pads Box photograph by Billy Name

I first heard of Andy Warhol when I got into Advertising. I wasn’t talking about the time I majored in the field in college, but the time I got really interested in the history and admired the glory days of the industry back in mid-40’s. (cue Mad Men’s theme – TV Series) One of Andy’s famous paintings is called the Campbell Soup Cans (1962) series in which he hand-painted each can of the product, arranged each variety according to its date of release, and observed uniformity through merchandising in grocery shelves.

Warhol.-Soup-Cans-469x292Image Source: MoMA

The Campbell Soup Cans (1962) is the epitome of Andy’s style when it comes to paintings. Detailed, commercial, low-cost, and mass-produced, similar to the popular products he took inspirations from. His silkscreen medium allow him and his assistants to instantly produce similar huge paintings in a short period of time.

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Another famous series of paintings by Andy is his tribute to the late Marilyn Monroe, which he created after the iconic actress’ death. He used a single photograph from the 1953 film Niagara as reference to re-create an entire series as a form of “..memorial and as a reflection of the media’s insatiable appetite for celebrity and tragedy.” (NGV Label of The Three Marilyns 1962)

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The Marilyn Diptych (1962) contains fifty images of Marilyn Monroe. Twenty-five images on the left are brightly coloured while the other twenty-five are in black and white, that suggests the relation between the celebrity’s life and death. The particular painting above is currently owned by Tate and unfortunately was not part of the NGV Exhibit.

IMG_6169Andy Warhol – Filmography 

Most people would associate Andy with the expression “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and his popular talk show “Fifteen Minutes” which aired from 1985-1987. Through my readings, I’ve seen at least three different interpretations for this famous expression:

  1. German art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh suggests that Andy’s style invalidates the hierarchies worthy to be represented, and once abolished, will be an opportunity for everyone to be famous; Or
  2. Fifteen Minutes represent the limited time a celebrity can only be famous; Or
  3. Due to the technological advancement and level of accessibility of today’s society, anyone can actually be virtually famous. (Wiki: Fifteen Minutes of Fame)

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I also came across different articles refuting the expression’s origin to be the words of Andy. The critics have suggested that the famous phrase was actually taken from the text of an exhibition brochure written by the curator rather than Andy himself. He tried to honestly confess the truth through interviews but it was too late. The society has already branded the expression as his and still continue to do so today.

Screen Tests (1964)

Throughout his career, celebrities, poets, musicians, socialites and other personalities posed for a short film at his legendary studio in Manhattan, the Silver Factory. The films capture the actions of the subjects at natural state and let the viewers interpret whatever narrative they desire.The Silver Factory has attracted many prominent people and has become a space for Andy’s social scene. In a span of two years, Andy has shot over 500 Screen Tests, which he prolonged to imbue a dreamlike stillness. Some of these prominent people include: Cass Elliot, Ann Buchanan, Bob Dylan, Donyale Luna, Billy Linich and Jane Holzer.

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Silkscreen Paintings of Mao (1970’s)

Andy’s repetitive paintings of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong portrays media’s proliferations of the image and advertising’s promotion of consumers’ desire and identification. Andy created these paintings during the height of cultural revolution in China that has been a global media spotlight. Andy’s numerous works of Mao portray him as a pop-cultural icon during his time.

Andy’s other silkscreen paintings throughout his career that defines today’s definition of pop-culture.

The core of Andy’s career is the portrayal of American’s consumerism: Inexpensive, low-cost, mass-produced, charismatic and popular. His means and the final products of his works both satisfy his core, which are clearly seen through his inspirations and the media he utilised.

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Andy’s painting of Coca-Cola first appeared in 1961. Six years later, he coated Coca-Cola bottles with silver paint as representation of source material. Three years more,  Coca-Cola Company responded with a cease and desist letter when he expanded his project to 100 bottles and filled it with his own You’re In / Eau d’Andy’ (1970). Get it? You’re In…

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Andy did not only focus on the glamorous lifestyle of popular products and celebrities. One of his thought provoking artwork tackles the clash of American Dream and violence in America. Incorporating a tabloid style, gloomy and sombre, Andy replicated the photograph from a newspaper with a headline ‘Did a leak kill … Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown?’ referring to the two women killed due to expired canned tunas. In Tunafish Disaster (1963), Andy portrayed how consumer products actually failed its consumers.

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In Silver Clouds (1966) and Cow Wallpaper (1966), Andy expands his artistic style to a theatrical scale by offering an immersive experience that encourages participation through floating metalised polyester films propelled by air currents floating from the walls into space itself. This particular installation exemplifies his fascination with serial production and repetition of pop-cultural imagery. Andy’s deployment of modern manufacturing techniques served as an introduction to a whole new era of art installations.

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Ai Weiwei

A Chinese contemporary artist and activist, I first heard of Ai Weiwei during the preparation of Beijing 2008 Olympics when he collaborated with Herzog & de Meuron in designing The Birds Nest.

birds nestImage Source: MondoArc

However, my interest in Ai Weiwei’s life only began in 2011 when the international media caused a stir on his arrest at the Beijing International Airport. Initially reported as arrest due to incomplete presentation of documentation for travel, the media uncover his alleged tax evasion case. Ai Weiwei has been known for his online presence writing social commentary and criticising government policies aside from sticking to his autobiographies and thoughts on art and architecture. He has always been known for his bold and unapologetic nature which are then transmitted through his art.

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Personally, I believe that Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (2015) is the quintessential artwork of Ai Weiwei. As one of his iconic works captured in both in video and photographs, this particular performative action of holding, dropping and smashing a cultural heritage clearly demonstrates his critical engagement with China’s violent cultural tradition. It draws attention to the continuous desecration of cultural heritage. As shown in the photograph, these images were re-created in plastic blocks representing pixelated forms for the distribution of his powerful message in the digital platform. He originally wanted to use Lego blocks for his other works as well but the company refused to participate in his political activism.

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During the dynastic changes in China in an attempt to erase the past and start over with the new regimes, much of Buddhist statues dating from the Northern Wei (386–535 CE) to Northern Qi (550–577 CE) dynasties were looted and only a few pieces survived today. In Ai’s Feet (2005)he sculpted stone feet on these remaining statues to show that the past cannot easily be erased and eventually catch up with the present.

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At some point in his life, his audacity lead to his detention for 81 days. Every morning, he placed a bunch of flowers in the basket of a bicycle outside his studio and captured it on camera as a form of protest against his restriction to travel. He has posted images of these flowers on social media which emerged a movement called Flowers of Freedom.

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Ai Weiwei created this series in another art form through Bicycle Basket with Flowers Porcelain (2015) and Blossom (2015), this time, to protest against the restrictive rights of people through speech and human-rights. He collaborated with the skilled porcelain craftsmen from Jingdezhen province, whose predecessors once produced the highest quality of porcelain in Ancient China. Through this complex project, he has provided temporary employment to hundreds of people, whose livelihood has been declining through the years.

IMG_6087Blossom (2015) Bed of flowers made of porcelain

Ai Weiwei’s projects do not only focus on his bold actions against government policies and protests against restricted human rights, but he also continuously provides livelihood to the very victims of injustice. 

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Another perfect example would be the Sunflower Seeds (2010) which he created for his simple yet poetic exhibition. The extensive project has been collaborated again with approximately 1,600 skilled artisans of Jingdezhen producing over 150 tons of man-made Sunflower Seeds out of porcelain. Each piece have been individually hand-painted comprising of 2-3 strokes per side by the locals of the community and the entire project lasted for two and a half years.

Ai-Weiwei-Sunflower-Seeds-Still-from-Tate-video-9Image Source: Ai Weiwei Seeds

An excerpt from Ai’s Sunflower Seed’s website – Ai Weiwei Seeds – perfectly expresses the multiple yet simple meaning behind this project:

“For Ai Weiwei, ‘Sunflower Seeds’ is one piece of art that is composed of 100 million pieces of art. As a singular tiny sculpture, every seed is submerged by a hundred million ones with subtle nuances, similar yet each unique, just as 1,600 workers in Jingdezhen performing repetitive duties; as 1.3 billion Chinese, silent in the crowd; as every fragmented individual in this digital era. Through a sunflower seed, Ai Weiwei triggers a Domino effect, enlarging the lengthy, complicated and exquisite process by 100 million times. Devoting unimaginable patience, time and energy, he brings into focus the significance of individuals, and the imposing strength when they gather together.”

The video below shows the extensive and laborious process each Sunflower seed went through for this project:


Video Source: Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds by Tate

 Ai retells his detention for 81 days back in 2011 through a series of dioramas entitled S.A.C.R.E.D. Maquettes (2011). The acronym stands for  Supper, Accusers, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy and Doubt, which are the six parts of this series that are all made of fibreglass. It depicts scenes at the cell where he was imprisoned without charges that serve as evidences of oppression, denial of personal freedom and loss of dignity, he and several victims went through.

IMG_6141One of the dioramas in the series. It clearly portrays his lack of privacy and dignity throughout his time at the detention cell.

Ai do not only portray his messages through sculptures, print and dioramas, but he also take in consideration the type of material used in each masterpiece to deliver his evocative messages.

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In Surveillance Camera (2010), Ai’s practice of incorporating traditional materials in addressing contemporary cultural issues is evident. By using traditional marble to portray the elevated status of a significant artefact in this particular sculpture, this piece is very personal to Ai that relates back to his confinement at his studio while all his actions were being monitored.

handcuffsHandcuffs (2015) were both sculpted in jade and in wood. Jade is considered to be the most precious stone in China. Historically speaking, jade is worn only by the members of imperial family. Ai portrays the similar cuffs he wore during his imprisonment to address contemporary issues in the government.

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If there’s one project that clearly defines Ai Weiwei’s character and controversial career, I personally believe it’s the Study of Perspective (1993-2005). As seen in every photograph, Ai is giving a finger in every iconic location around the globe to express his disdain for authority. His audacious behaviour and poetic forms of powerful communication have inspired a new generation of artists in the 21st Century.

Andy Warhol x Ai WeiWei

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Some exhibits showcase a parallel in artistic value and in speaking social context beyond the world of art. In Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo (2007), Ai portrays a pop-cultural imagery through the influence of Andy by painting a Chinese artefact and branding it with a logo that represents American capitalism.

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Myths are traditional stories explaining historical events or natural and social phenomenons. Ai and Andy both explore these myths through cultural archetypes from two different parts of the world. Circle of Animals (2010), is a reinterpretation of the twelve zodiac heads ransacked by French and British troops. It functioned as a water clock–fountain in the European-style gardens of Yuanmingyuan palace. “Ai focuses attention on the ethics of looting and repatriation, the role of the fake and the copy and power relations between China and the West.” (Source: Circle of Animals label)

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On the other hand, Andy presents the cultural archetypes in the American popular culture through a series of silkscreen paintings that run from Uncle Sam to the superstardom of Hollywood screen siren Greta Garbo and the innocent charm of Mickey Mouse. (Source:Narrative, myth and memory label)


Further Readings:

TokyoTreat: Matcha May

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TokyoTreat is a monthly Japanese candy and snacks subscription box that directly ships worldwide from Tokyo. I have always been a fan of Japanese candies and snacks since it constantly evolves to fit consumer needs by offering seasonal and limited edition products. I have enjoyed hundreds of them growing up back home, but since moving to Australia, each of these products cost a fortune! I’m so glad I discovered TokyoTreat that doesn’t only ship worldwide for free, but also delivers the latest candy and snack trends in Japan!

Since it’s my birth month x Matcha Month, a combination of two of my favourite things in the world, it’s only rightful to do a review on this particular month. My May box came in as early as 25th of April since TokyoTreat ships every week to reduce delay in shipping and to ensure quality freshness of every treat in the box.

PREMIUM – MAY 2016

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It’s evident that this box is for Matcha Month with all the green tea goodness filled in one box. Quite frankly, this is the best deal in all subscription boxes out there including boxes from other categories (beauty, wellness, crafts, games etc). EVERYTHING in the box is a full size product. Not single one of them is a sample size, which is the usual size in subscription boxes. Plus, Tokyo Treat offers free shipping worldwide!

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These are all the Matcha goodness in the May box. I can’t wait to try the Matcha Soda! Matcha Crunky chocolate, Matcha Friend Bakery and Matcha Pocky are all common in today’s time but the other two treats are unexpected. Matcha gum? And Matcha brownie freshly packed to spread mouthwatering satisfaction worldwide? This will definitely be a great month!

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TOKYOTREAT BOOKLET

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Every box comes in with a booklet with English translations of the names and descriptions of every candy and snack in the box so you’re assured that you know what you’ll be enjoying.

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It also contains an English instruction of the DIY Candy of the month for non-Japanese subscribers, an anime comic strip, brief background of the featured product, and the delightful FREE goodies a lucky subscriber is awaiting to receive for the random draw of the month.

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SUBSCRIPTION OPTIONS

There are three subscription options to choose from: Small, Regular and Premium, all three offer free shipping worldwide.

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Honestly, for the price, it’s basically a steal! Here in Australia, a Japanese candy costs at least AU$5 each for the small one. TokyoTreat‘s Premium box offers the best value with 13-17 full-size candies and snacks + a DIY Candy kit a special item of the month + free shipping, it’s the best deal out there! Not considering, you’ll also have a chance to win the monthly draw. =^_~=

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PS. This is not a paid blog post and I don’t get discounts if you subscribe. I’m just very satisfied with this wonderful find. Thank you #TokyoTreat!

Berry x Mauve

I have been experimenting combining two or more colours in painting my nails to make it less too common and show a bit of my quirkiness. I gathered all my nail polishes and ended up combining two of them – Sally Hansen’s Berry Important and Mauve Along.

My normal nail paints is either a plain natural colour for everyday wear or something more striking and bright on spring and summer seasons. Good thing I’ve been having spare times lately to explore a bit of my creativity through trying out different things.

(L-R) Sally Hansen Diamond Shine Base and Top Coat, Dashing Diva Cuticle Nectar, Sally Hansen Berry Important 543, Sally Hansen Mauve Along 374 and The Face Shop Nail Dot Pen (white).

I believe a nail art should be suitable to the shape and length of the nail because some arts require a lot of space especially those with intricate details. Also, the capability of the one doing it should be taken in consideration.

In my case, I do it to myself rather than going to a salon and spend over AU$20 just for a manicure + depending on the type of nail polish I have chosen. That’s just too expensive! I’m so glad my mom taught me how to do my own manicure since I was 11 years old. This way, I’m certain that my tools are sanitised and very personal unlike going to a salon and sharing the same tools with other people. It’s one of my pet peeves >.> *health conscious*

I like keeping my nails as short as possible for convenience in cooking/baking, doing house chores, working with my hands and spending hours in front of the computer. So, for my short nails I have chosen the V-style 2-colour combination (I just made up that term by the way *LOL*) to make it appear longer, not too young for my age of 24, and still work appropriate for my day job.

My Manicure Kit: (L-R) 4-Step Buffering Block, Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover, nail brush, emery board, cuticle pusher and a nipper (which is not in the picture *oopsie*) ^^;

My step-by-step process:

Step 1: A manicure. It’s very important to clean your nails first before applying nail polish to ensure that your hands are bacteria-free from all the  work you’ve done in a week. This step includes buffering your nails and removing excess cuticles.

Step 2: I applied the base coat to protect and avoid my nails from turning yellow after applying nail polish. I believe this is an important step as well especially if you’re the type of person who does not go out of the house with bare nails. I used Sally Hansen’s Diamond Shine that also provide stronger nails. Win-win isn’t it?

Step 3: I applied my base colours alternately. Sally Hansen Berry Important on my ring and index fingers, then Sally Hansen Mauve Along for the rest of the fingers. I’ve already worn bright red last week so I wanted to tone down on the red this week. ^^

Step 4: Let it dry. If there’s one thing I learned from applying nail polish, it is “patience is key” to a perfect finish. I’m usually the type of person who jumps from one activity to another – I get bored easily. (Must be a gemini’s thing. >.>) Thus, I end up with scratches or fingerprints on my nails most of the time.

Step 5: Applying the second colour in V-shape. Cover the nails using plain sticker strips or masking tape and leave the part of the second colour to be painted on. This way, it’s easy to apply the second colour! I applied Berry on top of Mauve and the other way around. Let it dry again.

Step 6: Cover imperfections between the two colours by applying white dots using The Face Shop’s Nail Dot Pen in white. I got this before I left the Philippines in 2012 for Php 150.00 in their Glorietta branch and still it’s not dried up at all. Talk about getting your money’s worth. 😀 

Again, let it dry. This time, since the white paint is a bit 3D, it requires more time to dry up.

Step 7: Apply top coat to protect the nail art. I used Sally Hansen’s Diamond Shine again since it serves as both base and top coat! It promises not only to provide high-gloss, but also it’s quick drying, it prevents your nails from chipping and extends the wear of your nail colour up to 10 days! Isn’t it a bargain?

Finally, the last and my most favourite step that most people skip.

Step 7: Apply cuticle nectar. Most people would apply hand lotion, which is totally fine but this formula is especially designed to make your cuticle moisturised and healthy with that salon finish look. *wink wink* I got mine at Dashing Diva in Greenbelt 5 branch before I left the Philippines. *LOL* I hoarded a lot of skin care products before I left.

And that’s it. It only took me 1 ½ hours to do everything, which is already a quick one for me. >.> Last week, I spent 3 hours using one nail polish. Haha! Amateur~

Toodles~

HADA LABO GOKU-JYUN Review 2014

I’ve been using HADA LABO Goku-jyun moisturising skin care for about six months now and it deserves a review. After all the rave in and out Japan, I finally gave in, tried it and it did not disappoint at all.

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HADA LABO Goku-jyun is a particular line of HADA LABO provide intense hydration by harnessing the water-binding power of Super Hyaluronic Acid. It’s a system to cleanse, hydrate, and treat your skin for healthy looking, more youthful, and beautifully radiant results.

I’m not using all products in the line since I’m using a Shu Uemura Porefinist Anti-Shine Fresh Cleansing Oil as my make up remover and a generic non-foaming facial wash to cleanse my face. I don’t opt for classy and rich in soap facial wash since my Shue Uemura cleanser does all the work! It’s like magic and a sweet candy treat for my skin.

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I only chose three of the products that would suit the Melbourne weather here in Australia. To give you an idea, Melbourne is a city known to have four seasons in one day. Even in summer, it can be cold in the morning drying the skin. And the heat of summer is dry enough to vaporise the sweat and damage the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays.

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Among all the products in Goku-jyun line, I have been using three of them: The HADA LABO Goku-jyun Clear Lotion for my toner, HADA LABO Goku-jyun Serum for my essence and the HADA LABO Goku-jyun Milk for my moisturiser. From time to time, I’m also using the HADA LABO Goku-jyun Mask every two weeks for a spa-like treatment for my skin.

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For a start, applying the products are super easy! You don’t need any cotton pads for application. After washing my face, I squeeze a few drops of HADA LABO Goku-jyun Clear Lotion to my palm and pat it on my face until the skin thoroughly absorbs the product. It feels so refreshing to pat it on a freshly washed face. Even if it looks clear and serves as a toner, it’s actually a moisturiser too that prepares the skin for the ultimate hydration from the rest of the products.

You can watch the TV commercial to see how it is applied. Watch it here >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrrK_MdaemU

If your skin does not need extra hydration like me who lives in a cold dry place, it is also recommended to use this product alone. Toner and moisturiser in one bottle!

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Next, a couple of pumps of HADA LABO Goku-jyun Serum would do to boost the moisturiser that I put afterwards. It’s a highly concentrated formula that hydrates even the driest part of the skin. In Japanese and Korean skin care, this particular step is very important in moisturising the skin. It helps the skin absorb all the wonders of any moisturiser you use thus making this the most expensive among all the products in the line. But in HADA LABO’s case, all the products are affordable because everyone deserves proper skin care.

My Malaysian boss who is actually over 60 years old use this alone and does not apply any make up on her skin everyday. Yet her skin is extremely moisturised and clear. I wish I would have that kind of skin when I reach her age.

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Lastly, when my skin has absorbed the essence, time to put on the milky goddess HADA LABO Goku-jyun Milk. It provides deep nourishing hydration and skin-smoothing conditioners for the face and neck.

What I love about HADA LABO Goku-jyun skin care line is that no matter how much product you put on top of one another, it still feels light and not sticky for the day. It actually makes my make up stay longer and lasting. Plus, it’s affordable and suits any one. It’s the basic moisturising line that HADA LABO offers.

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For those who want extra anti-aging or brightening products, you can try their two other product lines. My mum is using the HADA LABO Goku-jyun Alpha for anti-aging and firmer results. And they also offer HADA LABO Shiro-jyun for luminous skin.