Roundabouts in Martigny

I am in Martigny, le Valais, Switzerland. The small town sits comfortably in the Rhone valley surrounded by precipitous mountains. Travelling to ski in Zermatt, Verbier or Crans-Montana, you are likely to pass through here. Historically, it is a gateway to the high passes that access southern Europe. There are the remains of an old Roman fort. It is the hub of a centuries-old wine growing tradition. It is also a surprisingly rich centre for “modern art” (whatever the phrase means) and is home to the Gianadda Foundation.

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Rudolf Blattler

My first impression is that of a clean and quiet town. It seems that the inhabitants of Martigny go about their business quietly and in an orderly fashion. Careful drivers of German cars respect the speed limits, each other and those on foot. The first impression lasts. A stroll around the streets instills a feeling of calm. For a moment, I thought I had come across the Big Luggage People from Amsterdam!

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André Ramseyer

The major difference between this Swiss town and others is the roundabouts. In Martigny, each is a carefully maintained grassy dome on top of which sits an intriguing if not beautiful contemporary sculpture.

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Josef Staub

Josef Staub’s massive ribbon of twisted stainless steel catches my eye. It reminds me of Gayle Hermick’s “Wandering the immeaasurable.”

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Hans Erni

The streets provide a unique big sculpture exhibition that’s worth a visit. You can find this work by Hans Erni only fifty metres from the railway station.

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Yves Dana

More gratifying than finding these wonders so well presented in the streets of such a town is that the brave sculptors who have allowed their souls to be bared are adequately acknowledged with handsome little signs bearing their names. These signs face the traffic coming into each roundabout; I imagine this is so the names can be read by drivers and pedestrians alike. Fantastic! Such thoughtful practice is rare in the domain of big public sculpture. Bravo, Martigny!

Gavin Bowyer’s Hanoi Twins

Social media pushes thousands of images across my visual field daily. Why am I stopped in my tracks by a photograph taken recently by Gavin Bowyer that captures a pair of the cutest smiling twin girls on roller-blades in Hanoi? I study it minutely. I return to it. I download it. I show it to friends. I decide to talk about this beautiful stuff.

Roger Clark

Copyright: Gavin Bowyer 2017

The photograph is beautifully composed and would have been very difficult to stage. The scene is set in a road but there are no cars or bicycles. An ignored pedestrian crossing gives space between the twins and the backdrop of out-of-focus people, trees and buildings; this gives an impression of social distance or even separation. The delightful and delighted twins set up a sort of symmetry tangled up by their arms and their heavy plastic-metallic footwear. Their matching black hair-dos quad the black of the roller-blades. The bright red of the roller-blades picks out the pinks of the motif on the right twin’s t-shirt, their lips and some muted reds in the far background. The bright machined metal cluttered around the twins’ unsteady feet contrasts with pretty much everything in the picture especially their bare legs; their legs, in turn, stand out from all the legs in the backdrop. Bravo Gavin! Good eye!

At first pass, this is an accomplished photograph that is at the same time very, very cute especially as the clinging twins seem so happy to be photographed. Gavin has established a rapport with them. But what I admire more about this photograph is that it generates so many questions. Are the twins clinging to each other for stability on their roller-blades or did they simply grab hold of each other in a fit of twinsome giggles when the attention of a westerner with a big camera was turned upon them? There are no obvious scratches or bruises on their knees or elbows. Is there a parent or older sibling out of field who has held their hands to prevent them falling? Why are they not wearing helmets and protection for their elbows, wrists and knees? Is this because the family is too poor? Or are the two of them simply expert roller-bladers? They seem so happy but maybe they are street children who have worked out how to appeal to and pose for snap-happy tourists? (The possibility of their being orphaned or abandoned is visually accentuated by all the background adults walking away.) This sets up a darker reflection. Are our little not-so-street-wise roller-bladers vulnerable to much, much more than scratched knees? I find that the longer I look at this totally compelling photograph, the more questions arise and the more I move from being charmed to being intrigued or even concerned. I started by admiring a twin-portrait photograph and end up wanting to know the story of its two subjects. The last question I find myself asking is: Who else thinks this is a perfect photograph?

Epilogue

Whoops! I originally attributed this photograph to Roger Clark. It turns out that the talented image-maker is Gavin Bowyer photographed here by Roger Clark with those adorable twins.

Copyright: Roger Clark 2017

Cosplay at the 2017 Geneva Gaming Convention

Cosplay 1

I’ve been looking forward to the Geneva Gaming Convention for a very long time. In happy anticipation, I drive down to Palexpo. I’m in heaven. Surrounded by hundreds of gamers, all there to celebrate their love for games. I particularly enjoy the retro corner. I grew up with many of these games. GoldenEye! Street Fighter! But, my favourite thing this year? Cosplayers!

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In case you missed it: Cosplay (costume play) is a rapidly growing hobby-verging-on-culture in which the participants dress as specific characters from films, games, cartoons or books.

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Cosplay has multiple long roots that can be traced to the carnival dress of the 15th century, the costume balls of the 19th century and the “fancy dress parties” that were in vogue at the beginning of the 20th century.

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The first big leap was when attendees at 1930s science fiction conventions increasingly turned up in a pertinent costume. As a hobby unrelated to a specific event, it began to boom in 1980s Japan. No surprise there!

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Now, cosplay is much more than a costume ball writ large. It is globally connected being fuelled by social media, dedicated websites and specialised conventions. A hijab wearing Captain America even made the BBC news!

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There are cosplay competitions too. Cosplayers are judged on: resemblance to the original character in terms of appearance; quality and details of the costume and props; character portrayal and performance; stage presence and connection with the audience.

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An undercurrent of cosplay is based on sex appeal – by choosing a particularly alluring character – and changing gender (crossplayers!) This, unsurprisingly in today’s non-fantasy, pc world has precipitated fierce debate about what is and what is not appropriate.

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I’m a role-playing, hack-n-slash kinda guy, but I’ve never quite had the nerve to dress up as a character from a film, game or cartoon. I’ve always admired those that did. They really throw themselves into it.

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What is it about dressing up as a fantasy personage? I admit, it kind of appeals. Maybe next time. Maybe in a Vault 13 jumpsuit. Yea!

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A Sudden Death

That awful unexpected phone call. He’s dead. Your world kind of crumples. Incomprehension. Nausea. Anger. Family members converge from all over; they hang on each other’s necks and sob. Fast forward three weeks. Boat-scattered ashes and roses intermingle on the surface of a river with two hundred friends and relatives cheering. A fitting send-off for this big-hearted husband, brother, father and friend loved and admired in equal measure. Poignant, almost joyful, beautiful stuff.

Bruce

Do not believe that your sudden death or a sudden death in your family is not in the deck of cards from which fate is dealing your hand. For your family’s sake, think now about the possibility of your sudden death. Have you written a will? Where is it? If it is not obvious, who is your formal next-of-kin? And if that person is indisposed, who might stand in? Make sure someone knows what you want done. Do you want to be an organ donor? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want a religious or non-religious ceremony? Where will the grave be or the ashes scattered? Is there a charity you would like to support as an alternative to people paying for flowers or gifts? It is surprisingly important for your family to know what kind of music you would want played.

All your paperwork will be required by your family. Can someone else find your bank accounts, insurance policies, birth and marriage certificates, passport, national health card, your doctor’s name and address, national insurance number, mobile phone provider, your address book and many more. Accounts have to be accessed and closed. Make sure that passwords can be retrieved. I cannot stress this enough, make sure passwords can be retrieved.

And so to the family. You will find yourselves having to function practically in new emotional territory precisely when you are all in emotional turmoil. You will face a mountain of tasks. First, how do you tell everyone who has to be told? There is an outgoing phase of painful telephone calls, emails and facebook messages. Be prepared for the incoming phase from distressed family, friends, former colleagues, old school pals, team mates etc. Be prepared for people calling round throughout the day. Be prepared for their emotions. Be prepared for his mobile phone ringing. Be prepared for bizarre comments (such as a suggestion that the grieving wife might find solace in on-line dating!) Be prepared for more flowers than the house’s vases can accommodate. Be prepared for bundles of cards ranging from the touching, to the cute and even the distasteful. Be prepared for more cakes, casseroles and home-made biscuits than you all can possibly eat. Be prepared to be bowled over by peoples’ kindness. Be prepared to hear so many times “If there’s anything at all that we can do…” Just smile and say “Thank you.” Throughout all this, you will find steel friends.

Seemingly small practicalities kick in hard. Did he pay the car insurance that was due? Didn’t he have a dental appointment this week? Should we inform the police that there is no longer anyone with a shotgun certificate for the shotgun in the safe upstairs?

And there is more. Much, much, more. Be prepared, in parallel and from the first day, for the legal and administrative matters relating to a sudden death. This – in the UK – involves the police, a funeral director, the coroner’s office and the registrar of births, deaths & marriages. The procedures and papers to be completed are different from those of an expected death. For example, there is no medical certification of death. A heavyweight moment for everyone is the formal next of kin being informed of the cause of death. This precipitates another wave of outgoing messages to those who said they wanted to know.

The officials you deal with in person or by phone can be caring and sympathetic or they can be infuriatingly incompetent and rude. All is set to test your self-control. For any meeting or signing, carry all his official documents and carry all your official documents and proof of address. Make sure you have cash and that credit card payment will not be rejected. Certificates and services such as cremation have to be paid for up front. See your bank manager as early as possible. Probate, life insurance, pensions and savings have to be taken in hand. You will find on-line how to inform different government agencies such as those responsible for driving licence, tax, passport, health care etc.

In the first two weeks, one person should be the point of contact for and coordinate all this on behalf of the family. At all costs, avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Buy a book to write everything in. Record all contacts, meetings, telephone numbers and decisions. Encourage everyone to write any new contacts, suggestions or developments in it. Have a “team meeting” each day initially. Opinions differ. Listen to others. Be flexible. Cry together. Hug.

A reality creeps up on you and sinks its claws in. There are “arrangements” to be made. This is where your time and energies are expended. The funeral director needs to discuss burial versus cremation, choice of casket, flowers, the urn for ashes and what kind of event is being planned (we went for and recommend a humanist ceremony), where and when. Ask questions. Say what you want. Be firm. And then… Do you want to view your dead husband, brother, father? What clothes is he going to wear? This stressful stuff comes with short deadlines, a need for rapid decisions and long daily to-do lists.

Discussions and decisions increasingly focus on the event that symbolises public grieving: the cremation, memorial service, the funeral, the wake, the scattering of ashes or combinations thereof. Its organisation by necessity starts early. Get it right. I repeat, get it right. This is so important for you. Do not leave things for tomorrow that can be done today. The team meetings really help. Share the tasks. Here’s a checklist: What would he want? What do you want? Where and when? Who will be in charge of the ceremenony? Will that person be religious, civil or humanist? (The funeral director will have people on their books. Meet them beforehand.) How do you announce the event whether to individuals, collectively and publicly? (We found social media very useful. The funeral director can organse a local press announcement) How long will the event last? Critically, how will it end? Who will write the eulogies? Who will read the eulogies? (Gulp!) Who will read what poems? What about songs? What is your estimate of how many people will come? Decisions have to be made about orders of service, flowers, food, drinks, music. How can guests contribute to the chosen charity? Visit the event location well beforehand. Develop a working relationship with whomever is in charge. Check the seating. Check the sound system and microphones. Who will cue the music? Will guests be asked to place a photo or object on a memory table? Will they write in a book? If ashes are to be scattered, where will this be, when and will this be in the presence of other mourners? Do you have permission to scatter them there? Avoid surprises.

A great send-off is a great part of healthy grieving. It really is possible to organise it in those difficult early days. Doing so brings the family together. So line it all up. Take a big breath in and let the show begin. Be ready for unexpected guests and expected gusts not coming. Be ready for tears. Lots of tears. Your tears, your familys’ tears and the tears of others. Tears are great ! Let it all out and you will feel, for the first time since the phone call, that maybe there is still a glimmer of sun behind that big, black, heavy storm cloud.

Print this out. Keep it safely. If you need it one day (and I hope you don’t,) you will really need it.

It’s her day!

Andy Denzler 1

Andy Denzler “Liquid Walking Woman” 2016 Bronze

I stroll through down-town Geneva. It is hot. Very hot. Every-language tourists swarm the luxury shrines to chocolate and watches. A stunning new bronze sculpture in Place de Longemalle stops me in my tracks. It is a young woman in hoody, cut-off denim shorts and trainers walking with confidence. She holds a smartphone. Like her living counterparts, she seems unaware of her allure or the conveniences brought by smartphone culture. She is constructed of horizontal segments re-stacked. The texture contrasts effectively with the smooth skin of the presumed model. Somehow, this sculpture captures the young woman of today. It is very beautiful and very gratifying.

Andy Denzler 2

Andy Denzler “Selfie” 2016 Bronze

I look around for the plaque that names the genius behind this work. Instead, I spot the same young woman only forty metres away. She has both feet firmly planted and her smartphone held up towards her other self striding to meet her. She has that small-screen look of concentration. Is she photographing her twin, taking a selfie, recording the street scene or checking her make-up? I am captivated by these works individually and as a pair. Finding them makes my day. I wander round them admiring the poise, youth and statement that the sculptor has accomplished here. Eventually, I find a little sign that tells me these are recent works of Andy Denzler from Zurich. They are presented by and just outside the Opera Gallery.

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Andy Denzler “Selfie” 2016 Bronze (detail)

I did not grow up in the internet era nor even with a mobile phone. Denzler’s subject cannot possibly know existence without a smartphone. It is also her camera, her street map, her address book, her pen and paper, her mirror, her compass, her library, her photo album, her stereo, her shopping mall, her magazines, her cinema and much more besides. Her friends and friends’ friends, real and virtual, are connected, categorized and communicated with by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram. As for all of my generation, what mobile technologies bring to humanity is both fascinating and intimidating. Were I to find myself in conversation with Denzler’s young woman, I’d be interested to know whether she could conceive of life before smartphones. And if I said something stupid like “Well, in my day, we didn’t have such technology.” I am certain she would simply look up from the screen for a second or two, look my squarely in the eye and say politely “But it’s not your day!”