Takeshi Murata: Melter 3-D

Caution: Don’t view this if you’re prone to epilepsy. I was lucky enough to attend the grand reopening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this weekend. While there will be more writing of that coming soon, thought I’d give you a look at one of the museum’s coolest exhibits. Takeshi Murata’s Melter 3-D uses strobe lights to create this amazing optical illusion sculpture.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Pantheon

The Pantheon

This week’s photo challenge is alphabet themed, and I was reminded of my time spent at the Pantheon in Rome. The Latin inscription reads:

M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT

According to Wikipedia, the full message is, “”M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit,” which translates to “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.” Unlike a lot of messages these days, this one is literally set in stone! A larger version is viewable here.

The Winged Not-Quite Victory

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about art and life. Specifically, what would happen if you’re favorite work of art suddenly came to life. In my case, it would be…well, messy. Very messy. The Winged Victory of Samothrace stands majestically at the top of the Daru staircase at The Louvre. I saw it in person in 2007, and the pictures don’t come close to capturing its awesomeness. But if that ancient marvel suddenly sprung to life? It would probably topple down that huge flight of stairs, crushing dozens of tourists along the way. Since it lacks arms and a head, it probably wouldn’t be able to regain its balance or bearings. Unless it has some weird form of echolocation buried deep within its stony chest. Also, not having a head might be a good thing, because it would spare onlookers from the screams that would come from the suddenly self-aware monstrosity. How would it breathe? Does living stone even need oxygen? Assuming it doesn’t, it still wouldn’t be able to move very well. The sculpture is five and half meters tall; those wings look amazing, but there’s no way they’d be capable of flight. How durable is parian marble, anyway? They might just break off. In the end, the sculpture would end up like a wild animal tapped inside a room: feebly crashing into walls and objects in a frantic attempt to escape. I can just imagine an aged museum curator, armed with a hammer and a chisel, solemnly approaching and putting the thing out of its misery. It’d be like Old Yeller, but with classic art, French police, and tourists with camera phones.

Wow, that got grim fast.

Okay, let’s assume that the sculpture can actually function like a living creature and interact with people. The Winged Victory was designed to honor both the gods and a sea battle. The base represents a ship’s prow, giving the image of a goddess coming down to a victorious fleet. Just look at that pose: she’s graceful, even when the ocean breeze is making her robes ripple. The sculpture is also called Nike of Samothrace, which is probably the more accurate title; Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, strength, and speed. No wonder the shoe brand was named after her. She flew around battlefields and rewarded the victors with glory and fame. So if she were revived in modern times, she’d make a beeline for the nearest armed conflict. She’d probably have to wait a while, though; there are nearly as many wars anymore, and the relative few still going have no clear victors. Maybe she’ll settle for the World Series instead.

All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt is all about perfection. It’s worth noting that perfection is inherently impossible. Perceptions are subjective; “perfection” could mean “fair to middling” or even “abysmal” for someone else. It’s a matter of standards, realism, and common sense; if you have so much riding on a single thing or moment, you’ll probably be disappointed. If your expectations are too low, it’s easy to miss the real value of an experience. It’s really rare for something to turn out exactly as you’ve hoped. And while I can’t say that I’ve seen perfection, I’ve come pretty close a few times.

My visit to Paris was one of the most enthralling and awkward trips of my life. It was early March, and winter still held France in an icy, iron grip. It never went above 25 degrees the entire week I was there. It was the coldest temperature I’d ever been in; imagine a kid raised in California suddenly having to stumble around in five layers of clothing. Now imagine that same kid standing in line for the Eiffel Tower elevator for an hour and a half, trembling against the wind chill and the ice forming on his nose and cheek. Yes, the view was definitely worth the wait, but my face literally ached when I showered later. The Eiffel Tower is a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge here; they’re both amazing marvels of engineering and symbolism, and they’re huge tourist magnets. The Arc de Triomphe was slightly more enjoyable, only because there were less crowds and I’m a history geek. Its massive scale and unbelievably intricate designs almost made me forget that it stood in the middle of a gargantuan, noisy roundabout.

I could say that wandering around the city was perfect. I love exploring, so I was drooling at all the stuff to see and do. Stumbling across Les Invalides about an hour after it closed, settling for pictures of its front instead. Checking out Musée d’Orsay, specifically Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone and Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. And managing to talk the guards into letting me view a special Impressionist exhibition, for that matter. Wandering down and crossing the Seine, coming across Notre Dame without even realizing it. Walking down the seemingly endless line of cafes and restaurants as evening fell, a boisterous maître d’ trying to coax people inside with promises of amazing French cuisine. Retreating into a quiet Greek place and wolfing down my first gyro. Catching the last train back out to Marne-la-Vallée, and desperately trying to keep myself warm while waiting for a hotel shuttle.

Speaking of which, Le Métropolitain deserves a special mention. Before that, the only trains I’d ever ridden were BART, New York City Subway, and the Washington Metro. Paris’s subway system trounces them so much (the horrible, wretched stench at Les Halles notwithstanding), it’s not even funny. It’s not because of its size, but the layout. On a map it looks like a gigantic multicolored spiderweb, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate once you’ve gotten the hang of it. I got lost on it for a few hours, mainly because I didn’t speak a word of French. It took some trial and error, but I eventually got it down. At one point a beautiful young woman approached me:

Her: Bonjour.

Me: (Glancing up in surprise) Huh?

Her: Savez-vous comment atteindre cette station?

Me: (Looking around awkwardly) …Uh, no parle vous français.

Her: …Oh. (Moves away)

Me: (Mentally) Damn it. WHY? Why didn’t you study French before coming here?

Any missteps were promptly forgotten once I visited The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. If you’re a history and art geek, you already know how awesome they are. The former is the museum; 35,000+ items spanning across the whole of human history. The place looks huge on just the street level, but it’s much, much bigger once you enter that little pyramid and go underground. You’d need at least a month to see everything. If I could, I’d totally live there. I distinctly remember making a beeline for the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ancient Greece. I was positively giddy at seeing The Coronation of Napoleon, The Raft of the Medusa, and Liberty Leading the People, and so many more. It’s very different from reading about them in history books or on a computer screen; you’re confronted with their sheer size and scope. Some of them are literally bigger than the rooms in my house. The amount of effort and skill required for those works must have been mind-boggling.

That’s also true for Versailles. If you want to see “living like royalty” taken to its logical (and historical) extreme, the palace is probably the best example. It doesn’t look like much when you’re approaching it from the front; its sloped entryway looks bland and aged. But that changes really quickly once you step foot inside. I spent hours gaping at The Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the ornate drawing rooms, the Battles Gallery, the gardens that seem to stretch out into infinity, that ridiculously detailed bust of Louis XIV…it just went on and on and ON. Of course, it was also a reminder of why living so lavishly isn’t such a good idea; the amount of upkeep required for a place like this must have been staggering. This palace had so many fountains that it created water shortage issues. Such extravagant living was just one of the many factors leading up to the French Revolution. It may have been completely wasteful and unsustainable, but the king lived in style.

Looking back, the only thing that kept my trip to Paris from being perfect was the timing. I went about a decade too early; there were no digital cameras back then. I forget how many rolls of Kodak film I went through, but my pockets were stuffed with them. There’s a photo album somewhere down in storage, and there’s no feasible way to upload it for posterity. One of these days, I’m going to go back and do the adventure over. It’ll probably be better the second time around.