According to a recent HSBC Bank advertising campaign: "How the world sees you depends on how you see the world."
This simple sentence basically sums up my entire purpose for being here. And quite appropriately, this concept (not just HSBC's but also in various other formats) is what my classmates and I spent nearly 6 hours trying to decipher today - during our second official school-day as postgraduate students in Visual Culture.
This is what my schedule looks like from this week to the end of December:
Tuesday 10-1 : Visual Culture - Theoretical and Critical Perspectives
Tuesday 2-5 : The Human Image
Thursday 10-1: Creative and Digital Technology Within the Arts and Contemporary Culture
Thursday 2-5 : Visual Culture - Production, Display and Discourse
As you can probably guess, the last few days have been very tiring for me. We've hit the ground running in terms of delving into social theory and I've already begun to feel that familiar academia-related brain-drain. You know, the one most commonly caused by extended hours of critical thinking and serious caffeine deficiency.
I know my schedule looks fairly simple, but what you don't see in the official hours is all the extra stuff that's required... like the massively long readings full of social science jargon, the hunt for visually striking images to bring to class for discussion, the off-site gallery visits accompanied by lots of note-taking and my favorite part: the seemingly-simple-but-stupidly-complicated act of checking out books from the university library.
I don't know if every university collection in England is like this, and excuse me for being so politically INcorrect, but the library system at my campus is totally retarded. Or maybe my head is just too exhausted to function properly today. No... I take it back... I blame the library.
I took up about half of my lunch hour today searching for one book:
Normally, this wouldn't be so hard to find in a library. But when I walked through those double wooden doors, I was absolutely baffled by the inconspicuous absence of a cataloging system. I circled the room several times and walked down a few of the aisles to make sure I wasn't missing something... but nope! No catalog! And yet, there were students sitting at the tables with their books, completely absorbed in whatever subject it was they were researching.
I probably could've gone up to one of those students to ask them how to find my book, but my pride just wouldn't let me do it for risk of sounding stupid.
So instead, I wandered the aisles a while longer hoping that my psychic powers would kick in and magically help me find the book. Needless to say, I failed miserably. I was just about to give up and go to my 2 p.m. class when suddenly... I had to pee. So I walked out of the library and into the hallway looking for a restroom (by the way, they simply call it "toilet" here and asking for a "restroom" will just cause you to get some confused looks). But instead of a restroom I saw a sign that said "1st floor - Library Counter" with an arrow pointing DOWN.
Yeah, somehow in this strangely backwards logic, I was on the ground floor and the first floor was below me... and if you go down one more floor past that, you'd be in the basement (which I found out later was another extension of the library). But above the ground floor, is the "upper ground floor" and then above that is the second floor. Are you confused yet?
With less than 10 minutes left to get to class, I decided to risk being a little late and stepped into the "lift"... which then took me down to the 1st floor. And aha... there it was, the manned library counter with a computer cataloging system right next to it. How annoying. Let me also mention that none of these library "rooms" are connected. You have to go through a maze of hallways and lifts and/or staircases to get to each room.
This means you have to go down a floor to use the catalog, then depending on where your book is, you maybe have to go back up or down another floor to get to the section. But if you're like any normal person who might need to look-up some additional material in the catalog, you'd have to go back up and/or down to the first floor again. It's like being stuck in an Escher drawing.
And to make matters worse, the library isn't organized by author. So I found out that works by Pierre Bourdieu are scattered all over the place... which then infuriated me and made me LEAVE the library without my book. I'll have to just set aside a few hours on Monday to navigate my way through the ridiculousness that is the Regent Street Campus library. Or maybe I'll just go to Border's.
Anyway, besides class and the library debacle, I actually had quite a culture-filled week.
[I have to insert a note here... I began writing this blog on Thursday night and had to save it and close it because it was late and I was too sleepy to continue. It's presently about 2 a.m. on Friday night/Saturday morning now, which may explain some potentially confusing references about days of the week. Okay, moving forward...]
For my dose of leisurely "high" culture: a visit to the Tate Britain. My "colleague" (what my professors think us master's students should call each other) and I decided to visit the contemporary art gallery at the Tate Britain on Wednesday afternoon. We had spent the morning going to a gallery in Harrow for an assignment and figured we'd complete the rest of the day doing something fun for ourselves.
The exhibit was full of your typical contemporary art... collages, photo montages, strange installations - things like coats hanging on imaginary copy machines and pieces of cloth sewed together to form something that is WAY beyond my personal understanding. But out of all this stuff, one particular work stuck out to me.
Martin Creed Work No. 850
See those guys running through the gallery? THAT is Martin Creed's art piece. When one of these guys first ran past me in the gallery, I was pretty confused. But when I actually read the description on the wall, it made so much sense... and I just loved it. Here's part of the description:
Work No. 850 extends Martin Creed's career-long investigation into physical experience and everyday life. In lifting an ordinary activity out of its usual context and dropping it into the long gallery halls that form the centre of Tate Britain's Millbank Building, it upsets any preconceived ideas of how to move appropriately through an art space. At the same time, it asks us to reassess a mundane activity as if it were an important event.
Take what you will from it, but I thought it was brilliant. I love that the piece did exactly what it was meant to do... As the runners sprinted through the building at 30-second intervals, the visitors in the gallery who hadn't read the description yet all stared in confusion. We all did the same thing... we looked around to see if anyone else was reacting to it, as if it WERE an important event. But because it was such a mundane activity, there was this urge to sort of ignore it as well, as if it was just some people going for their afternoon run in the park. I don't know much about art, but I thought it was cool and wanted to share.
As for my bit of "low" culture this week: a small concert at Koko in Camden Town with some friends.
This is Allison (from Texas) and Marius (from Oslo, Norway):
Marius, who I think is studying undergraduate communications at the Harrow Campus, is also "editor-in-chief" of an independent Norwegian online gaming magazine. Sounds glamorous, doesn't it? But really, the guy just likes video games... and so he used his self-imposed title to get special admission into the "X-Box 360 MyGig" show at Koko. Basically, because the show was sponsored by X-Box, his online magazine was completely relevant to the show and he was able to score VIP access into Koko for Wednesday night (including free drinks for all of us). SNEAKY.
The guy at the door with "the list" was probably a little surprised that this guy who wrote to him about being an "editor-in-chief" turned out to be this 19-year-old CSS groupie who looked nothing like a professional, and more like an indie kid who carries around his Norwegian passport to prove he's old enough to drink. I thought it was pretty funny and clever. It makes me want to try and claim my status as an "American Freelance Journalist" to get special access to shows as well. Maybe it will work for Oasis at the Roundhouse... we'll see.
Anyway, Koko is pretty famous around here, similar to The Whiskey or The Troubadour in Hollywood. The inside reminds me a little bit of the Wiltern because it's decorated more like a theater than a concert venue. But then you have the bars and the floor space usually used for general admission shows. Because the three of us had VIP access, we had this perfect spot on the balcony, which was furnished with big black leather couches and some nice tables to set down our pints of beer. Also... a great view of the giant disco ball, accented by the funky red lighting:
The show was really high-energy and even though I'd never heard of any of the bands, it was just nice to hear some live music again.
Florence and the Machine (my personal favorite of the night)
and CSS (the headliner)
Generally speaking, I think the music atmosphere is awesome out here. It seems like people really get into their bands and the whole "show" experience is like being in Hollywood again. I've been to some shows in other places... like Santa Barbara and even New York, but there's definitely an obvious difference in the kinds of crowds that attend these shows. It bothers me when people purchase hard-to-get tickets and end up spending the whole concert talking to their friends instead of enjoying the music. Then, because you're standing right next to them, it gets in the way of your enjoyment because they won't shut up.
So yeah, my frame of reference might still be a little small - but so far, the music scene here seems to be pretty fun and I can't wait to go see more bands. I'm especially excited to see some of the smaller bands that I've never heard of before, because it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised.
Normally, I try to match my song choices with the theme of my entry. But in this case, nothing really comes to mind in terms of "culture" in general... ah, the story of my life. I could think harder.. but it's late again and I'm thoroughly tired. So in closing, I'll leave you with a little something by CSS. Think post-modern Brazilian 80's and this is what you get: