Monday, September 30, 2013

Time flies.

A few weeks ago I saw Rachel Biel’s post on the TAFA-Forum for members in response to her friend A. Abdul Wardak’s poem on time. Rachel wrote something about trying to balance out everything by keeping a notebook, getting rid of clutter, and focussing.
Through these posts I was reminded of my former life as an academic - to be more precise, a linguist - and the research I was conducting at that time, on usage of the English word ‘time’. It was a large post-doctoral study in which I looked at more than 150,000 instances of the word and the context it appeared in, all of these instances taken from ‘real life data’. (They call that a ‘corpus-based study’ and it was all in vogue at that time.) I left my position at the university for personal reasons before I had completed that study, and decided I was going to something else in my life, so I can’t give you a concise presentation of the all-over final results it might have yielded had I just held out long enough. But I did find out a few things about the word ‘time’.
Please note: I did not find out the real solution to many people’s problem(s) with time as such, of which St. Augustine supposedly said that he knew exactly what it was as long as he wasn’t asked to talk about it. It was not a study on time management.
Anyway – the English noun ‘time’ is very frequently used in combination with a verb, and much more frequently so than in a phrase such as “the time is right to...” or “on time” or even “at that time” (which I have used above). The most frequent combinations in which ‘time’ appears (linguists call that a collocation) are the verbs spend, waste, take and have. In that order of frequency. So we talk or write a lot about how we “spend a lot of time doing this and that”, or that we “can’t spend a whole lot of time on...”. We are very much afraid to “waste much time”, or we “don’t have enough time to...”. And we are concerned with the fact that things “take (up) too much time”. We try to save time wherever possible. (I had not started looking at that collocation when I left, but I had written the four chapters on the most frequent collocations.) And we try to manage time. I wasn’t planning to look at that last combination in particular in my study, in fact, I don’t remember it appearing noticeably frequently in my data – perhaps due to the fact that the corpus I used had been assembled in the eighties and early-to-mid-nineties and the real obsession with time management came only afterwards?
These combinations tell us a lot of things about how we perceive time – it is a commodity, it has value, it is an asset. At least the western world’s thinking is strongly characterized by this conceptual metaphor (see  Metaphors we live by by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson) of time as an important commodity that can be dealt with in earnest, very similar to money. Many of the contexts I found in my corpus were negative, either explicitly negating the verb (“I don’t have enough time to…”), or in meaning (“I’m spending a whole lot of time these days…”). We do not have a positive relationship with time.
Which is why we end up writing lists of all the things we have to do “by that point in time”, try to learn how to arrive at perfect self- or time-management. And still there never seems to be just enough of it to get all the things done that we would like to do or have to do. And never is there enough time to not do anything at all. (Which is the only reason why it has taken me several weeks to put all this into writing and share it here.)
Having done all this research, of course, does not guarantee that I am not prone to having periods when I fall into that trap myself. But I do tell myself to remember these results, and it does give me incentive to at least try and change my thinking about it all. We do have a lot of time – our entire life-span. Of course, we don’t know how much that is in terms of years, i.e. amount.
But what really counts is the quality we give it. One big help in this thing might be humor – linguists put it like this: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

And perhaps this approach by Amber Kane  is a good first step into the right direction.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Last days of SAQA Benefit-Auction

Since I returned from Ste. Marie-aux-Mines I have felt like a little hamster running in its wheel, which is why I haven't had time to sit down and compose a post proper. I hope things are getting better now, though.
I could not give you a really good report on Ste. Marie and its exhibitions, because I really did not get to see enough. But Quilthexle did a very interesting job in several posts, and I am sure there are other reports around. Next year I hope to spend a more leisurely time in Ste. Marie, and perhaps I will be able to give a decent (subjective) report again then.

But the title mentions the last days of the SAQA benefit auction.
Have you taken a look at the site lately? This is where you can see the quilts still avaible.
I was happy that my little quilt sold for a little more than the ones in earlier years. And I am definitely planning to contribute one again next year.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Love-Hate-Relationship

Actually, you can delete the item ‚love’ in the heading, at least from my side... I have taken several trips to the customs offices this year already. One in May on the occasion that my quilt “Illuminated” was returned to me early, taken out of the show “Beyond Comfort” after some crew had managed to lose the plug and adapter. I had to prove that it was mine indeed, that it had not been out of the country for longer than three years, and then I was questioned on why I had not had export papers done when I sent it in the first place. I did not have to pay taxes or fine or customs, though. But they told me I should make sure I got export papers from them the next time I sent a quilt to non-EU countries. At that point, I told them that I would be expecting a second quilt from this same exhibition later on.
In August, I had bought a few printing stencils and a necklace made from old glass beads via the TAFA-List, which were sent without a proof of purchase or value. In order to retrieve this I had to go to customs twice because they would not accept my paperwork the first time, and I had to bring proof of the actual amount of payment. I had to pay slightly over 12 euros VAT on this occasion. (Not to mention the gas money for two trips.)
Today I went to retrieve that second quilt from Beyond Comfort, “Yellow Line”, which again had been caught.
My husband has already asked me who this boyfriend is at the customs office...
To be correct  – by now I know them all, the guys who work there. One is friendly ok, he is the one who took care of me and "Illuminated" earlier this year. One is efficient, strict, and correct, but not necessarily assuming you are trying to cheat him personally by millions of dollars when importing three printing stencils and a glass-bead-necklace, he took care of me and my little items on my second trip in one day in August. The third one, however, is small, very young compared to the other two, hyper-adhering to rules and regulations, and definitely trying to give everybody who has to come there a hard time. He took care of me on my first trip in August, and I had the bad luck of hitting onto him again today. The friendly one was present, too, but did not interfere in the process after they had agreed which one of them was going ‘to do her’ (except for sending me an eye-rolling look behind his colleague’s back when he was giving me a hard time). I brought all the same papers as I did when negotiating release of "Illuminated", thinking that that would be sufficient, after all, it had worked once. This included a catalogue from the exhibition, a print-out of the email telling me when to send the quilt so that it would arrive in the States on time, and my proof of identity. I also repeated the story from May, and stated that this was the second quilt I had mentioned then and that I did again not have export papers...
At first he questioned my explanation about a quilt going to an exhibition – but his colleague remembered me from May and spoke on my behalf. Then he questioned the validity of the e-mail message because it was sent such that the curator’s name appeared in the sender and the recipient’s space as she had bcc’ed it correctly to prevent every artist in the exhibition getting everybody else’s mail addresses. Then he said this didn’t prove anything at all about the time the quilt had been out of the country (it explicitly stated that the show premiered in August 2011 in Birmingham). What was the worth of the item? Why had I not got export papers?
I felt almost as badly as approx. 25 years ago when I was trying to enter the US in Dallas with an open return ticket – on that occasion I was retained by immigration for over an hour, questioning me because they thought I would go and catch myself an American husband. My parents were waiting outside and getting worried whether I had actually been on the plane.
Actually, I think the customs officer today didn’t know enough English to completely understand the content of the e-mail message, but I held back my offer of translating it for him, telling myself to not let this get out of hand. Finally, he graciously agreed to treat the packages as a ‘gift’, but warned me yet again about the export papers. And that next time he would be the one to estimate the worth of the item and that it would then be taxed accordingly. Again I bit my tongue and did not ask how much he would have estimated the item in question today...

Just how could I manage to not have to deal with this particular guy anymore? I certainly don't know enough about this kind of psychological warfare that these people have been trained in.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Teaching in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines

Last year, I had my exhibition at the European Patchwork Meeting in Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, and this year I was teaching a two-day-class, my “IQ – from inspiration to quilt”. It was scheduled to start one day earlier than the EPM itself, which it think is a very smart idea as it still gives the participants (and the teacher) enough opportunity to participate in the festival itself.
So I left home on Tuesday, and drove across southern Germany mostly in the rain. I don’t understand why most of the way the autobahn is covered with a kind of tarmac that makes driving in the rain a much more unpleasant experience than driving in the rain on normal roads. The cars produce a kind of dense fog, which is very tiring for the drivers, and, I think, rather dangerous. The whole problem is even visible when you leave the autobahn and look back onto it – the fog produced by the cars is clearly limited to the highway.
I am commenting on this because on this entire stretch of about 600 km autobahn you can indeed find two short sections that do not have this problem - there, instead, the road seems almost dry despite the rain. I wonder why construction firms decide on using this kind fog-producing kind of tarmac when there is clear proof that there are other possibilities? Surely I am not the only person to have noticed. And suffered – I wonder how many accidents could be avoided in rainy situations if they used the other kind of tarmac now that they are rebuilding long stretches of the autobahn across the south? Probably a question of costs – is that what we have come to? We have good solutions for problems, and we don’t employ them because it costs more?
Luckily, nothing happended on my trip, but I was much more tired after the trip than last year.
Anyway – I got there alright, I returned to my little enchanted castle on the hill, and I started teaching on Wednesday.

Seen from the parking lot in front of Espaces Tisseront:
'my' castle on the hill

Staying in another blue saloon, on the second floor this time

The class was full – fifteen students, and very attentive at that.

A new experience was that I had a translator at my side, as 13 out of the 15 students spoke French. Some of them understood German, but I certainly felt much safer not to have to explain the technique of individually crafted paper templates in a language that I am not too firm in because it’s been 30 years since I actually studied it in school. It was hard enough on the second day when Andrea was delayed due to an accident on the road and she had to stay and give her witness’ statement to the police, and the students and I were left by ourselves for almost two hours. But we managed fine.

When I showed students how I weigh down pattern pieces
(usually with little heavy weights I brought back from the US),
one of them came up with a new method -
she claims it's not only for the rich and beautiful...

We even had a reporter from the local TV station who came and interviewed me and some of the students. 

I did not get to see the program, but since I am not so sure that I really would have liked to see myself talk on TV, that’s ok.
In the end, the students were happy, I was very tired, and two full days of teaching had gone by very quickly. 

Students showing their first practice pieces they had made
with individually crafted paper templates. Individual designs are already
 in progress.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Little escap(ad)e: Art immersion, part 3, and finale

The third part of my art immersion trip week before last was a trip to my favorite painter Emil Nolde. The Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden is currently showing a large exhibition of his paintings and water colours. Although I grew up in that area of southern Germany I had not yet been to the museum, which was opened only after I moved to a different part of Germany.
It is a very nice museum, with lots of light, an open-view walkway instead of a stairwell, and wonderful presentation rooms.

Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden,
picture taken from museum's website
However, it was so packed with people that it was hard to get to see the paintings at all. It was rather noisy, you could hardly concentrate, and as I am thinking back to it after a few days have gone by, I realize that not too much of this exhibition visit has stayed with me... Too bad. I didn’t even take any decent pictures of the four flower beds that municipal gardeners had arranged in front of the building from inspirations of some of Nolde’s famous paintings of his garden. Of course, I have seen the garden itself several times, and four individual flower beds don’t match the overall ensemble simply due to size difference, and location matters as well (the clouds look differently in Seebüll than in southern Germany). But the only thing I can say of this suggestion at art immersion is: pick a day with decidedly fewer visitors!
However, a week after my return from that trip one other chance opened up: a day excursion to Murnau, village of the “Blaue Reiter”, where the Schlossmuseum Murnau is currently presenting the results of their extended searches for Erma Bossi, a friend and colleague of Gabriele Münter and Wladimir Kandinsky. She is included in Münter’s painting of a discussion scene in her house from 1909/10, 

"Kandinsky and Erma Bossi at the table, 1909/10" by Gabriele Münter,
picture of postcard of the painting
she exhibited with the circle of Blaue Reiter several times and has all but disappeared from art history books.
Born 1875 and raised in northern Italy, Bossi started paiting in Triest. She came to Munich and became a part of the circle trying to establish new directions in art that later became the Blaue Reiter group, travelled a lot, and returned to Italy probably before 1920. She continued painting, lived in Mailand mostly, and died in 1952.
The exhibition is an interesting show of a wide combination of items: paintings from Münter and other members of the circles they belonged to, photos, report cards from her school years, and a number of paintings by Bossi, sometimes accompanied by other painters’ paintings on the same subject or in a similar manner.

Erma Bossi, "Bathers", approx. 1911, picture from postcard
Erma Bossi, "In the Garden", approx. 1910,
picture from postcard

The problem about Bossi’s paintings is that the whereabouts about many of them seem to be completely unknown. The catalgoue lists at least a dozen of paintings which were catalogued and photographed in the nineties by a researcher who had started working on Bossi in the early seventies – but which could not be found for this exhibition.
No comment here on why the male members of Blauer Reiter only became the really famous ones...
In the afternoon I went to Münter’s house, located just on the other side of the railroad tracks, where she and Kandinsky spent several summers while painting in and around Murnau before the war. 

Gabriele Münter's house - view from the garden

view onto garden and Murnau castle and church,
from upstairs window

inside the house

This is the house where Gabriele Münter lived permanently after 1930, and where she kept all those paintings that she later donated to the city of Munich and which became the biggest asset of Lenbachhaus, known today as THE museum on Blaue Reiter.

No comment here on whether Münter would be as known today as she luckily is if she hadn’t been the one to make that donation...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An outsider's view of the studio...

We had friends visiting us a couple of weeks ago who stopped by on the tail end of their bike trip along the Danube River. (We’re not really on that river, but our little local river runs into it.) They had exhausted their camera’s batteries, and as he is an avid photographer, he ‘borrowed’ my camera to take his pictures while they were staying at our house. He also took a few pictures while I was showing both of them my studio. It is interesting to see what he noticed in terms of nicknack and crammed situation...

So after looking at his pictures I took a before-New-Year’s-resolution: get rid of some of the stuff that is accumulating here! (I have almost four months left...)