Phenomenon (n.): An occurrence, circumstance, or fact that is perceptible by the senses.
Phenomenology (n.): A philosophy or method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness.
The more I get to know this city, the more fascinated I am by the endless possibilities of cultural research. Nerdy? Yes. But duhh, I'm here for school and the hunt for potential dissertation topics is always at the forefront of my daily routine. For a subject as broad as visual culture, it's really difficult to filter through the infinite jumble of symbols that constantly affect us at all levels - even down to the subconscious and doxic. In case you didn't know, "doxa" is the official word to describe the stuff you know without knowing you know it. But really, that's just me showing off my newly acquired vocabulary.
So basically, as long as I'm awake, I'm always trying to consciously develop a heightened sense of observation for all things that can be considered cultural phenomena - because you'll never know when that light bulb will go off.
Ever wonder what makes something attention-grabbing? What is it about anything that makes it interesting to the human individual? And what exactly happens to us physiologically or psychologically when we show "interest"? Why do we like the things we like? Are we shaped by our culture or does our culture shape us?
Okay, I really don't mean to get all academic on you because I know conversations like these are only interesting to some people. So instead, I'll take a more personal route.
I like signs.
Here's one that I saw while walking through the pedestrian subway en route to the London Science Museum:
I saw this one in a sketchy part of Soho that was filled with a distinct combination of restaurants, sex shoppes and strip clubs:
(Ironic, isn't it James?)
And this one, I saw inside of a cafe called "Bite Me" in Westminster, where a few friends and I had lunch between classes yesterday:
Each one of these signs serves a specific and different purpose. The first one was part of an advertisement. The second was a typical London street sign. And the third was a decorative painting. Regardless of what they were for, I liked them all... for one reason or another. But obviously, me liking them says very specific things about who I am. And the fact that they exist says something very specific about Western culture. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Don't worry. I'm not about to get into a theoretical analysis of signs... I'm saving that for my research papers. Take this as more of a "kill two birds with one stone" entry- an update of what I've been up to AND a crude form of data collection.
Okay so moving on...
Yesterday, during my Theoretical and Critical Perspectives class, I noticed that we had a new classmate. HE (who increases the man count to a whopping TWO) has long hair and a scruffy beard, dresses like an artist, wears white converse, is a photographer by trade and is an international student from Serbia. He was cute... and by the looks of him, you'd never guess he was Serbian. Ahhh, stereotypes...
At one point during class, we were split into groups of 3-4 students, where we had to come up with and agree to a single definition of "art." Turns out, different people have different definitions, and so this little task wasn't as easy as it sounds. Long story short, the Serbian and I were in the same group and ended up getting into a heated debate about what art is. The only reason it got heated in the first place was because he flat-out said "no, you're wrong" after I gave my opinion. Pompous... I know!
Our other two group mates weren't contributing to the conversation at all and they spent the 15-or so minutes smiling and nodding. Come to think of it, maybe our little argument made them uncomfortable. It took forever, but we eventually came to an agreement on our definition, but I think I may have given up a point just to stop the arguing.
Anyway, after initially getting on my nerves because of his pretentious narrow-mindedness, the Serbian decides to drop a bomb on me (no pun intended) during our "tea break." I was outside, cigarette in mouth, searching for a lighter inside my purse... when out of nowhere, he comes up and lights it for me. (The oldest trick in the book.) Then he proceeds to say, "thanks for the debate... you're interesting... do you want to have coffee with me after class? Or maybe dinner later?"
WOAH... didn't see that one coming. (Un)fortunately, I already had lunch plans with a couple of my other classmates. AND, I still had an afternoon class to go to. I'm still not sure if that was good or bad. (Note to self: way to a girl's (or my) heart??... insult her intelligence and then, without letting TOO much time pass by, call her "interesting.")
Why is this story pertinent? Well there's a lot of cultural phenomena hard at work here: my initial judgment of attractiveness based on fashion and style, his use of the cigarette as a social tool, the connotation of having dinner and my entire reaction to how he got my attention. In terms of whether or not I'd consider dating him... I can't tell yet.
Well... I know that last bit was missing some visuals, but it would've probably been slightly awkward if I had taken out my camera in mid-argument to get pictures of him for my blog.
But I DO have some more pictures from today's adventures.
My friend Allison and I went to Waterloo to check out an art exhibit at BFI (British Film Institute) Gallery. On the way, we saw this:
London loves reading. There are independent bookstores everywhere. And book-fairs on the street are common.
We also discovered a section right off Jubilee Gardens designated for skaters and graffiti art. Talk about fostering culture and creativity:
And then, by far one of the coolest bits of high-culture I've experienced in my life... "The All-Seeing Eye (hardcore techno version)" by artist Pierre Bismuth and filmmaker Michel Gondry:
This film installation is an art-sequel to the movie Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. It places you in the movie by setting up an experience where you feel what it's like to have pieces of your memory taken away little by little. You sit in this dark room, where a projector moves across the walls - and each time it make a rotation, a part of the picture is gone or different. All the while, the accompanying soundtrack is made up of clips from the movie where they talk about "getting rid of items that remind you of her." It was a really amazing piece of work.
So that's it for now. I guess I'll leave you with one last piece of interactive cultural phenomena, spurred by the relatively new field of "net art". It's jello-time! Have fun!
p.s. I'm going to Holland and Belgium for the weekend. Let the fun continue...