Monday, September 29, 2014

Corals and Crochet at NYUAD

To provide some context to its two-month-long exhibition of "crochet coral", beginning this week, NYU Abu Dhabi is hosting two panel discussions on crochet art, one of which I attended.

Each of the three crochet artists in the panel introduced their very different approaches to crocheting.

Shauna Richardson (left), spoke about her "crochetdermy" of animal forms with dense "skins" of crochet, including some inspired by public figures, and large outdoor projects like the three over-sized lions of Lionheart. As she confirmed, she does them in aggressive poses and natural colors, in order to avoid the toy look.

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam's (center) presentation drew many amused reactions from the audience, since her contrasting use of bright colors and playful shapes in huge, heavy-duty, netting-type crochet installations made them popular as jungle gyms for kids (and some adults), as many of her pictures showed. These and some of her less physically interactive works additionally employed interesting use of layering, as well as deliberate anchoring and weighting for dramatic surface contortion.

Finally, Christine Wertheim (right) began her segment with a fascination comparison of crochet to the ferrite core memory boards used in computers nearly half a century ago, pointing out that contemporary women's handicraft skills made them naturals when it came to weaving core memory boards, and supporting her opening statement that "crochet is a digital technology". She is also a co-founder of the Institute for Figuring and its Crochet Coral Reef project, assembling brightly colored, organic-looking hyperbolic crochet surfaces that bunch up into forms that resemble corals. She described how the artists' allowing variation in the crochet "formula" resulted in diversity akin to that found in nature due to genetic mutations, and how they preserved their plastic waste for years to weave them into the project's "toxic reefs".

After the event, I had a look around the reef exhibition. You had to go up close to see the use of various waste materials -- such as plastic piping, cable ties, and bags -- among the brightly-colored yarn coral bunches, balls and stalks, and even some full-blown crochet marine fauna. There was much variation in size and shape as well, and some also included beads and other effects. A beautiful exhibition, and worth checking out on the Saadiyat campus before it closes on December 4th.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Grassroots Revue Dubai

Dubai community theater The Courtyard Playhouse held another Grassroots Revue event this season to showcase local talent -- a mixed-form potpourri of performances, introducing audiences to arts and artists to which they might not otherwise have been exposed.

A double feature of poetry was on the bill, with Zeina Hashem Beck (left) reading from her new book, To Live in Autumn, and Frank Dullaghan reading his series of poignant poems about a missing child incident.

Comedy also took center-stage, with well-received performances from the likes of Luke Haecker (top left) and Sameer Abdul Rehman (top right), and local improv troupe Improv Anonymous (bottom) playing short-form scenes and games (including attempts at musical improv) across two slots.

Musicians galore too, as the programme was peppered with four acoustic guitar instrumental or singing performances -- including classical guitarist Valentin Spasov and David Beats Goliath frontman George Driscoll -- and closed on a violin note.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

NYUAD Saadiyat Campus and Hamama screening

One of the first events of the NYUAD public programs season was a screening of the Emirati documentary film Hamama. I rarely pass up opportunities to watch a nice local film, so I signed up. Also, it would be a good opportunity to check out NYUAD's new campus on Saadiyat Island, to which its public events have been moved from various locations around Abu Dhabi city, and which also happens to be more conveniently located for me.

The campus is impressive: large, fitted well, decorated subtly and interesting architecturally, with broad paths, big courtyards, and spacious interiors. There is still some work going on in the area surrounding, but the inside seems about completed.

The film was introduced by a faculty member (top left) and screened (right) in a conference center auditorium, followed by Q&A with director/producer Nujoom al Ghanem and writer/researcher Khalid al Budoor (bottom left). While I think the POV shots detracted from the documentary style followed otherwise in the film (I'm sure blindness could have been conveyed in other ways, or established in a single fade shot), and some of the setups looked a little implausible (shayla on head with bare belly?), the film was overall a pleasant watch, with sharp cinematography, some interesting characters, a bit of humor, and good lighting, transitions and sound.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A look at the Recent Acquisitions of Barjeel Art Foundation

The last time I went there, the Barjeel Art Foundation showcased exemplary modern Arab World art with RE: Orient. About a year later, hearing of an upcoming few weeks' exhibition of some of its recent acquisitions -- appropriately entitled Recent Acquisitions -- I drove down to Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah to catch opening night, betting on a show as good as before.

The exhibition included a selection of paintings and drawings from among the foundation's art vault newcomers, ranging from modern to contemporary, and by artists from several countries around the Arab World. I recognized some of them, such as Guirguis Lotfi (bottom left), and discovered many more I liked, like Yaser Dwaik (right).

Overall, I liked the quality of the artworks, as well as the broad and interesting range of styles, ages and origins represented in the curator's choice. If you want to see some great diverse art from the region, I once again recommend a visit to the Foundation, before the gallery's contents are archived after the first week of November.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The basics of finance at in5 Innovation Hub

Dubai Internet City's in5 hosted an hour-long overview of finance, followed by a networking reception, this Tuesday evening. Apart from taking in some useful knowledge, it was also an opportunity to have a look at a part of Knowledge Village I had not seen before.

Genesis Institute's Binod Shankar delivered an adage-replete presentation, starting with a couple of lists and local real-life examples of good and bad financial practices, then briefly dissecting income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements, before closing with a summary on ratios. Much of it was familiar to me from my B-school days, but it was nice to refresh on the topic after so many years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Magazine Shop launches Cult Film Nights

At the screening of The Big Lebowski

Dubai's The Magazine Shop is adding to the diverse array of public film screening options in Dubai with the launch of Cult Movie Nights this season. Cult film standard and internet meme fodder, The Big Lebowski, was selected as the cult film of the month, complemented by the addition of two gourmet popcorn options to the menu of the magazine library cafe's Media City branch. I greatly enjoyed their choice of film, as well as their fresh coffee and their invitation of nominations for next month's cult film screening.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review of Chu Han Chuan Qi

The Chu Han Contention, the story of the struggle for supremacy between two factions of a rebellion that resulted in the rise of the Han dynasty, is one of the great epics of China. It features a huge ensemble of complex characters, shifting alliances, and stunning battles that determined the course of Chinese history and became the sources for several idioms, folk tales and national legends. As such, it has been the subject of numerous TV series and films. I already have one of both, and my purchase of 2012's Legend of Chu and Han marks the first time I have procured a TV series about an historical period that I already have covered. Why not? After all, I have made the pilgrimage and all.

Me at Han GaoZu ChangLing (top) and HongMen (bottom)

It's also one of the longest historical TV series in my possession. Prior to ordering, I had read online of skepticism as to whether the history of the Chu Han Contention could really provide enough material to stretch into 80 episodes without taking significant liberties. I'm pleased to say that it was actually generally true to the source material, with only a few, mostly non-obstructive fictional bits of dramatic garnish thrown in. In fact, my other (and shorter) series about the same period, 2003's The Story of the Han Dynasty (which I am using as the standard henceforth), had left out quite a bit of the historically very detailed story. Legend of Chu and Han, on the other hand, covers all the bases, at least within the rebellion/contention period itself. If anything, they could have gone on a little longer (I'll get to that in a bit).

The scale of the series is also enhanced with the deeper treatment of the Qin side of the conflict; nearly all the characters in that camp are given a much larger slice of screen time, instead of turning them into caricatures or human plot devices. Zhang Han and Sima Xin, especially. A bit of license was taken with the whole (seemingly entirely fictional) Qin princess subplot, however, but it was not as bad as some romantic fiction I have seen in other series.

Lead characters are generally cast well. While there were some concerns online about whether idol Peter Ho could take on the role of Xiang Yu, I thought he did a good job with the brooding, stubborn warrior type. Come to think of it, I have only seen him play this role, specifically as Yang SiLang in 2006's Young Warriors of the Yang Clan and Lv Bu in 2010's Three Kingdoms. The eyebrows and hair helped with the "tiger look" too. As expected, Chen DaoMing also did well playing Liu Bang's flawed good guy role.

One character I liked a lot was that of Fan Zeng, played by Sun HaiYing. Strategists in Chinese TV tend to be articulate pontificators, whereas he would fumble and gesticulate now and then, yet maintaining dignity and wisdom in his portrayal. Even a little humor, like when he almost tripped while sizing up Liu Bang and Zhang Liang from a distance. Zhang Liang, his counterpart played by Huo Qing, was a little more traditional in that role, but still written and portrayed well. Members of Liu's Pei County gang was also given expanded roles, and a good deal of time is spent early on with introducing them and their relationship with Liu. Zhou Bo and Guan Ying were not only included, but had significant screen time, and Xiao He's screen time and importance was increased a lot (as should be the case).

Lv Zhi was written well too; a credible case for why she turned out so ruthless was offered in this series. Qin Lan, who also happens to be a real looker, did a good job portraying her transition. Conversely -- and this is not to justify her eventual fate -- consort Qi was portrayed as being not as innocent as she is seen historically. Connecting her to Battle of Dingtao, incidentally, is actually a good example of the keen sense of the writers. Another female character given more importance and time was Consort Bo; while a bit of license was taken with her early story, the writers did justice to her significance for the Han dynasty. Consort Cao was also given a much bigger role, although I doubt that this was necessary or even historically accurate. Overall, though, excellent writing that manages to fill 80 episodes without dilly-dallying.

Costumes and sets in the series are top-class, and armor/weapon design is very good. While the CGI battle/siege "bird's eye" scenes look a little, well, CGI, close-up battle scenes are executed well. The frequent focus on bloody soldier-to-soldier engagements and actual attack and defence techniques adds to the grittiness and realism of the war epic. The occasional focus on individual stories extended beyond the battlefield too. This may have not been executed perfectly all the time, however. For example, one thing that later became a sort of inside joke for me was the noticeably repeated use of two particular very recognizable extras in a number of different minor speaking roles.

Cinematography is overall extremely good, and I loved the inclusion of deep focus and tracking shots, including those on the battlefield. Thankfully, one of my Chinese war film/TV peeves -- wire fu -- was nowhere to be found.

It was impossible to not notice that English translation for subtitles had quite a bit of Engrish. Different episodes' subtitles seem to have been handled by different translators, because the same scene ending one episode and starting another often had different subtitles for the same lines. There were also some awkward machine translations that the editors didn't look at closely enough; for example, "韩国" kept getting translated literally, as opposed to in the historical context, which resulted in the odd situation of Zhang Liang trying his best to restore "Korea" in 206 BCE.

One thing I would have really liked is for the ending to have been less awkward. It would have been better to just end after Wei River with the coronation and an epilogue, because what happened after is a whole 'nother TV series (on that note, does anyone have a freaking clue as to where I can buy or otherwise get my hands on an English-subbed copy/stream of Da Feng Ge?). Also, the final battles that culminated in GaiXia were not quite historically accurate; Yu Ji, for example, was not used as bait by Han Xin, and there was no "song attack" either. Considering this, I have to wonder if the crew were under pressure to wrap things up earlier than anticipated. Anyway, this will only bother history geeks like me. Otherwise, Legend of Chu and Han is a winner, and I strongly recommend it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review of Onmyoji - The Yin Yang Master

I have been interested in the practice of onmyodo and in the stories and legends of Abe no Seimei ever since watching Abenobashi Mahou Shotengai many years ago. My recent wrap-up effort on my Japan travelogue rekindled my interest, leading me to come across the film online. And despite still having a few hallmarks of 90s film techniques, Onmyoji: The Yin Yang Master is redeemed somewhat by its interesting take on Heian Era history and characters, as well as some of its actors.

Apart from Seimei himself, we also get some historical fiction thrown in through the inclusion of the historical characters of Minamoto no Hiromasa and Prince Sawara, as well as a "hidden history" version of why the Heian Era began. Nomura Mansai works well in the role of Seimei, especially with his naughty kitsune face. Ito Hideaki's Hiromasa was played well too, and Sanada Horiyuki did a good job with the role of Douson, even though the character could have been written with more depth.

The demon and magical sequence effects are a little awkward, but the costumes and sets are great, and the cinematography is otherwise up to contemporary standards. I also liked the use of silence and ambient sound in this film. The plot, however, is a tad confusing; the reason for Douson's hatred does not seem very well explained, and there is a lot of hand-waving and just-so employed. Ignore that, though, and it's not a bad film.