Avatar, and the mystery of the missing cultural footprint

Friday, 15 January, 2016

Avatar, directed by James Cameron, took over US$2.7 billion at the box office, upon its release in 2009. By way of comparison, The Force Awakens, the latest Star Wars film, has taken about US$1.7 billion to date. Here’s a puzzle though, if Avatar was so popular, why is it devoid of any sort of cultural footprint?

The total absence of a cultural footprint for Avatar is fascinating… Hey. Right now. Try to quote Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time. Quote ANY line. Or name 2 characters. No cheating.

How often, for instance, do you notice certain of these lines from Star Wars cropping up? Mind you, the Star Wars story is spread across seven films, not counting animations and holiday specials, over almost four decades, so that has to be a help.

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Nomads of Mongolia, a short film by Brandon Li

Thursday, 14 January, 2016

Brandon Li, filmmaker, and self described global nomad, spent a few weeks in western Mongolia, filming the day to day, and still very much traditional, lives of the region’s nomadic Kazakh people.

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The Territories, curating all things Australian, past and present

Friday, 11 September, 2015

Image via The Territories

If the Australian Geographic and the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA, were ever to marry, would the union be a match made in heaven? You know what they say, after all, opposites attract. But take a closer look at this would-be couple, and similarities quickly become apparent. For one, both are Australian institutions, not that nationality matters of course.

What is more salient perhaps though, is that both are curators, and highly regarded curators in their respective fields, at that. On one hand there is Australian Geographic, the wildlife and adventure journal first published in 1986, by Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith, that compiles stories of the Australian milieu, and the exploits of its people.

Image via The Territories

On the other, is MONA, based in Hobart, Tasmania, an art museum that was originally founded in 2001, when it was known as the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities, by professional gambler and art collector David Walsh. Today it houses some four hundred artworks, drawn from Walsh’s private collection, and includes works by Sidney Nolan, and Wim Delvoye.

So what if the two organisations were ever to procreate, and bring forth off-spring? What might we expect from such a lineage? Blue Mountains based commercial artist, researcher, and writer, Heath Killen is pretty sure he knows, and has no reservations in saying as much, such a lovechild would be his recently launched publication, The Territories.

Image via The Territories

How then to best describe this child, a multi-platform publication and curatorial project, coming forth from a gene pool so rich and diverse? In a word, precocious, not to mention one as opened minded as they are broad minded, a prerequisite when it comes to the far from straightforward matter of defining, and understanding, Australia’s history and identity.

It’s an ambitious project, with a wide scope, that takes in diverse topics ranging from local flora, fauna, and the environment, to art, film, culture, and history, along with comment on contemporary and historical subjects. To my mind The Territories is more of a curational companion to its would-be parents, but I’m sure “lovechild” is equally as apt.

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Remembering the world’s remaining indigenous and native tribes

Friday, 15 November, 2013

British photographer Jimmy Nelson has journeyed through Africa, Asia, South America, New Zealand, and Siberia, collecting images of indigenous and native peoples and tribes, who are often isolated from the rest of the world, and living as their ancestors have for hundreds, sometimes, thousands of years.

Nelson’s efforts are an attempt to document these people, and their ways of life, before the ever encroaching contemporary world eventually sees them abandon their traditional lifestyles.

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Shoe tossing, a global phenomenon of nebulous significance

Wednesday, 30 October, 2013

The Mystery of Flying Kicks is a short documentary made by Australian filmmaker and writer Matthew Bate exploring the widespread phenomenon of shoe tossing, or shoe flinging, or “shoefiti”, or the tying of two pairs of sneakers together, with their laces, and throwing them up at telephone, or power, cables so they dangle there.

People seem to have all sorts of ideas as to what the sight of sneakers hanging from telephone lines means, and as it turns out, pretty much anything seems to go, depending on where you are.

One prevailing thought is they mark out the territory of dealers of certain illicit substances, or gangs, and maybe in some places they do, but in Sydney, for instance, their presence appears to have an all together different significance.

What about where you are?

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The hitchhiker’s guide to etiquette in many places

Thursday, 19 September, 2013

Another, this time illustrated, etiquette guide for New York City… I’m not sure why these need to be city specific though, surely this how anyone should behave where ever they are?

Mind you, not everything featured is advice on how to conduct yourself, how are short-cuts from one building to another, or tips for distinguishing the Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building, something to do with etiquette?

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Not only do we shape our cities, they also shape us

Monday, 27 May, 2013

When more than half of the Earth’s population live in cities, that, by the way, occupy just three percent of the world’s land surface, changes, be they genetic or cultural, are bound to take place:

It is having an effect not just culturally, but biologically: urban melting pots are genetically altering humans. The spread of genetic diversity can be traced back to the invention of the bicycle, according to geneticist Steve Jones, which encouraged the intermarriage of people between villages and towns. But the urbanisation occurring now is generating unprecedented mixing. As a result, humans are now more genetically similar than at any time in the last 100,000 years, Jones says.

The genetic and cultural melange does a lot to erode the barriers between races, as well as leading to novel works of art, science and music that draw on many perspectives. And the tight concentration of people in a city also leads to other tolerances and practices, many of which are less common in other human habitats (like the village) or in other species. For example, people in a metropolis are generally freer to practice different religions or none, to be openly gay, for women to work and to voluntarily limit their family size despite – or indeed because of – access to greater resources.

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Blend in, that’s how to make more friends while travelling abroad

Wednesday, 12 September, 2012

Liking what the locals like, or at least creating that impression, is the key to making new friends while living in an overseas country. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with locals being a little more accepting of newcomers… they might themselves on the outside looking in one day.

You need to know where to meet foreigners. I can tell about Abuja at least. Go to play readings and art exhibitions organized by embassies. It doesn’t matter if you do not really care about plays or if you think Australian art is just a waste of space. Join the hash. The hash is plenty of white people running or walking, wearing similar colours, drinking plenty beer and doing things you will find very strange. Don’t be a bush person. Google the hash and learn their terms. Find out what “Hares”, “On-on”, or “Down-down” mean. Sometimes there is a small fee you pay. Don’t be stingy. Pay up and mix with foreigners.

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Keeping endangered languages alive with talking dictionaries

Thursday, 21 June, 2012

With another language dying out every fortnight, The Enduring Voices project – a National Geographic initiative – that strives to preserve endangered languages, certainly has its work cut out, though hopefully the Talking Dictionaries it is compiling will prevent some from disappearing completely.

Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth – many of them not yet recorded – may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain. National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project (conducted in collaboration with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages) strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots – the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages – and documenting the languages and cultures within them.

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Efforts to better name a century’s first decade have come to nought

Thursday, 14 June, 2012

The idea of labelling time frames by decade looks to be relatively new, and may go someway to accounting for the awkward/cumbersome title accorded to the first decade of this century “the noughties”, since there was no real precedent to refer to.

You know that decades are a recent invention? Decades are hardly a century old. Not the concept of having ten years of course, but the concept of the decade as a sort of major cultural unit, like when I say “the 90s” and you think of flannel shirts and grunge music and great R&B music, or when I say “the 80s” and you think of people with big hair using floppy disks. You need a lot of change for a decade to be a meaningful demarcation. Back in the 1600s they didn’t really talk about centuries as much either. It was all about the life of the king, the reign (of King James and so forth), or the era.

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