ANYBODY that knows me knows that I'm obsessed with all things Japanese.
You just can't beat Japan. At anything.
Japanese people have an amazing heritage to call back on. Their society, which grew in isolation from most other nations over the course of it's history, is really the byproduct of hundreds and thousands of years of selective isolation and development. In the past, Japan looked to China for inspiration, but these days there's no place in Asia at least that doesn't look to Japan to see how things need be done.
Have you been there? I don't know anyone that went away unimpressed.
I lived in Japan for two years and for me it was a dream come true. I lived in Kyoto which made things that bit more special and during that time I really dug a lot of things about the Japanese ethos. Sure, like anywhere in the world, it's not a perfect place, but I've never felt such an affinity with a place as I did there.
So in my ongoing obsession with Japan, I have added a few modern day touches to my repertoire. This includes on going championing, support and patronage of certain Japanese brands that just get me really excited in a nerdy kind of way. I hate labels but I love UNIQLO. I pine for a MOS burger every now and then. I disintegrate like a geek when I see window displays of washi (traditional Japanese paper) and I have a weakness for anything that even remotely sports a Japanese motif.
Living in Europe makes it tough for me to get my Japanese fix. At least in Italy. Yes, there are a million Japanese/Chinese/Thai restaurants but, let's face it, most of them are not any cop.
When daily life got the best of me in Rome, I would hop down to the tiny little MUJI store that exists there. It's like as big as a broom closet, but it was big enough to kind of restore the hope that this country often crushes in me.
Well, good news. MUJI it seems is moving into new territory. We're talking MUJI flat pack houses people. Prefabricated houses that sell from as little as $150K and that don't bother you with doors orr internal walls. It's open space living. And of course, being so fabulous, MUJI will send someone out to set it up for you. It's not a DIY nightmare waiting to happen.
Think neutral tones, efficiency and design, design, design.
Watch this video for some fabulous background (with computer generated narration(?) and start lining up at my gift registry for the housewarming.
BACK in my gallery days running Immersion Therapy, I had the good fortune of meeting a lot of artists who were living and working in Australia at the time. My memory isn't as precise as I would sometimes like it to be, but I think I met Shiau-Peng Chen at one of the shows that I had at the gallery through another remarkable artist that I know.
I recall heading down to the studios at RMIT in Melbourne which has played a part in a lot of artists' training there and I was immediately struck by how exact, precise and disciplined Shiau-Peng's work was. All the things that I'm not capable of, but that she nails time after time in her work. The other thing that impressed me is that in person, she's warm and funny, as if she gets all that exactness out in her artwork to free her up for day to day life.
Shiau-Peng's practice runs across different mediums: she paints, she constructs, she deconstructs and she uses print mediums in inventive ways. She is a prolific worker, teaches and is widely respected (and exhibited). She was kind enough to find some time to answer some of my inane questions. Let's meet Dr. Shiau-Peng Chen!
Is it sunny today?
Yes, it's always sunny!
Looks like you are busy as always...three shows already this year? Can you tell me about them and about any upcoming projects?
This year I have participated in three group shows so far. They are Concrete Post 2 in Project Space/Spare Room at RMIT University in Melbourne (Australia), Yi Jing: The Art Dialogue Between Different Generations and Religions in Da Xiang Art Space in Taichung (Taiwan) and Concrete Post 3 in Raum2810 in Bonn, Germany. Currently, I'm working on my Taipei Series. Next March I have a solo show coming up at IT Park in Taipei (Taiwan).
So what's taken up the most of your time this year?
I would say that's teaching and art making. I'm trying to keep the two things well-balanced.
When we first met, back in 2008, I remember that your work had a few major themes running through it. I would say that at that time you were interested in exploring spatial arrangements, socio-political geographies and art theory, and that you tended to express all those things in an abstract, but clear and symbolic way. Would you agree?
Yes, good observation Dave! I think you have a very sharp eye.
Why, thanks. Are those themes still important to your work? Are you still exploring them or has time taken you elsewhere?
The themes are still important to my work. I have tried to push the ideas further and texts are used as a new format to support the images. Works from the I Would Love to Become An Author Series are good examples.
One of the amazing motifs in your work is the way that you reduce everything down to its essential state and kind of rebirth it into something new. I recall that you even adapted your own visual alphabet into your work. Can you explain that a little to people who are not familiar with your work?
Through reducing everything down to its essential state, most of my work tends to have a flat and simple appearance. The method of reduction and simplification I used is both subjective and objective. Originally it is derived from the physical facts I have observed. I then try to adjust the images through my understanding of these facts... and sometimes just by free associations which reveal what I've perceived and thought subconsciously.
And the alphabet?
Using my own visual alphabet in my work is another method I use to combine the outer world and my inner world in a playful and humorous way. It is way more subjective though.
You are a prolific publisher and there's been a literary side to your work for some time. Will you extend your genius one day to showing the world that you are an actual writer?
Last year I had a solo show entitled Shiau-Peng Chen Publications at the NHCUE Art Space in Hsinchu (Taiwan). It was a show presenting my text-works including drawings, silkscreens, text-photographs and artist's books. I was using text to support the ideas of my work.
Most of the artists I admire are artists who create conceptual, geometric abstract works. And many of them are writers of writers. Somehow, I feel doing text-work is more like a way of saying that I want to be a good artist, just like them.
Very effective use of an amazing space in Gallipoli, even if the art exhibit, featuring one of Italy's living treasures, Michelangelo Pistoletto was a little light on in content.
Great excuse for a wander around a castle that was neglected and only received a spit and polish a handful of years back.
Worth popping into if you find yourself in southern Puglia.
Probably the most amazing photo I've seen this year with an equally Fascinating read at the New York Times about what's happening in Turkey.
'If you're going to sample anyone, sample ABBA,' our Lady of Pop once said.
Well, if you're going to (re)write the definitive A-Z on the woman who has done it all then make sure you're a super fan, meticulous about your research and a walking, talking, blogging authority on the woman. Enter Matthew Rettenmund, author, editor and one of the holy grails of Madonna fandom.
While living in London in the nineties I remember one of my favourite haunts was Tower Records. Yes, I know! I'm so old that I've actually stepped foot in a living, breathing record store that still had a fair amount of vinyl in it. I had a friend who worked at one of the Tower stores. She had this thing about stealing toilet paper from where I lived at the time but I forgave her because she has one of those Tower employee badges that hung around her neck like she was a roadie or a VIP. Anyway, I'd stop in and say hi regularly and rummage through the store for hours on end.
And thank God I did because even though I was backpacking (I know! I'm so old that I was once a young, nineties backpacker)I was determined to pick up a copy of Matt's tome Encyclopedia Madonnica that I stumbled across during one of my rummages. It was the nineties, so it was an A-Z of every conceivable thing, person or theme that was connected to M right up until her Bedtime Stories album. I snapped up a copy of that book and lugged it around with me in my backpack until I made it all the way back to Australia. Matt knew his shit. And this was pre-internet shit (I know) so imagine how much time and travel went into researching it.
Since then of course, the world has changed, the Internet has put pretty much everything out there (and usually without context) and M has racked up another twenty uneven years in the business. That means for a lot of misinformation to duck and weave through and a lot of stuff that has to be reconsidered because time is both a friend and foe to pop music.
Writing a definitive tome on anyone is hard enough but when you're doing it under all those circumstances, well, ouch. Has to be a labour of love.
So onto the Wishlist goes the new Encyclopedia Madonnica 2.0 because M's career has been constantly fascinating and Matt's effort deserves some sitting up and paying attention to. I've got a feeling that EM2.0 will at least temporarily, become the new reference tool in our house. I'm gonna give my excellent googling skills a bit of a rest for a bit.
Incidentally it's not technically a Madonna house that I live in. Even though I consider any house that I live in to be one. My partner is not an M fan. Quite the opposite really. Yes, like pretty much everyone he loves Borderline and a lot of her early stuff. But these days he just raises an eyebrow at both me and the M news that filters through. I think there was a bit of surprise on his part when he realised that Living For Love and ghosttown were perhaps not the radio hits that they seemed to be at my place. (And heartbreak city). I don't know if he thought it was just the radio that I was listening to but let's just say that in our 80 square metre apartment M scored at least two No.1 hits from Rebel Heart and he was at a loss as to why no one else seemed to be able to hum along to them.
Anyhow, I'm digressing. Visit Matt's post for more info about the book. I'm off to play the ageist card.
YOU know I often find myself wondering about how I should spend my money. I have wish lists of things that I have been meaning to pick up for ages, or sometimes I see a work of art or a photobook and think damn!
If you're a bookstore browser: (wait, do bookstores even exist anymore?) I'm sure you've stumbled upon the exhaustive series of art titles published by Taschen. Man, Taschen have a book on EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. They know how to distract me on my way to the self help aisle.
So rather than coming home with a book that is likely to help me improve my social skills, tell me how to get rid of my flab or turn me into an entrepreneur I always end up coming home with illustrated books that make me anti social, encourage me to sit at home on the couch leafing through pages while munching on corn chips and wondering why I never have any money.
Well, Taschen have done it again. They're about to release a limited edition book celebrating Gisele Bündchen's twenty years in the fashion/modelling business. 300 photos, put together by Gisele and Giovanni Bianco and full of tributes from the people closest to her.
Just a thousand copies will be printed, at the bargain price of 500 euro a pop. DAMN! I know girl's gotta pay the rent, but really? Oh, wait, they'll be signed by her too.
I know Linda Evangelista once famously said she wouldn't get out of bed for 10K, but I guess you gotta move with the times. Are we now going to go around saying I won't sign it for anything less than 500 euro dollars? Doesn't have the same ring to it I guess. Oh well, best take out a mortgage and sure up the legs on my wonky coffee table.
Ok, lately my world seems to have become INUNDATED by people with children. Babies, toddlers and bored teenagers. Gosh! They're everywhere.
Thing is I still think of myself as a kid so they don't really bother me at all. It's just important to keep things to manageable numbers. I think I'm up to about ten kids that I adore. But sometimes I get super annoyed. Not with the kids, but with their parents (my friends). Because they give their kids the world but not the one thing they really need.
No, not love and a secure, supportive environment. I mean one of these excellent dolls. OMG these are awesome! Can you imagine...if you'd grown up with these you would have no body image issues, you'd have been perennially cool and you could totally have put, like Iggy and Blondie in the barbie convertible and had them drive around the worlds that your tiny kid like brain and epic imagination would have invented. And if they were going to the love shack they totally could've stopped to pick up Madge and David Bowie and pretended not to see Morrissey cos you know he would've killed anything that even resembled a good time. And crapped on about cats or veganism or some shit like that.
Anyway, back to my cruel friends. You best be putting in your orders cos if I have to cough up some pressies this Christmas you know I'm going to want to play with them too.
Get to grips with the full offerings at Katkiller, the Brazilian designers behind these works of art. Oh man Morrissey is gonna be pissed with that too. It's just a name Mozza. JESUS!
It's almost the end of September already, meaning that a number of events are winding up.
In case you're not a regular reader of the blog, I'm an avid exhibition hopper and try to write up things after I see them so that other people can benefit (and to help you tune out the noise).
There are a few events that are winding up or on the verge of closing, so I'm reposting a couple of links in case you or someone you know is heading to any of the following events and is interested in a quick read. And I'm popping in a few other articles that might've been of interest to you as well.
The Venice Biennale runs until November this year and I've compiled my 12 favourite shows in addition to a one day guide to visiting Giardini and one for Arsenale. You can find all the solid stuff here.
There's a nice photography exhibition which is winding up in Otranto at the moment. You might not make it to see the exhibit, but the following article might give you some food for thought on our obsession about how photography shapes our viewpoint. Here.
All the controversy in the new appointments to 20 of Italy's most important art galleries here along with why Italians are up in arms for the wrong reason.
Lest we forget Khaled al Asaad, who just a month ago died at the brutal hands of IS in service of Syria's antiquities.
Beware the might of China and the weaknesses in protecting authorship and copyright. The Anish Kapoor edition.
We recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima's devastation and its moving and powerful museum is getting a (controversial) face lift.
There are a lot of photography festivals around the world: they often bring together photographers from different parts of the world, there's usually residencies or workshops of some kind, a final exhibition and sometimes, even a photobook festival. A lot of cities and organisations clamour to get them happening in their own backyards. And some of them offer a great way of exposing new photographers to the photography public and opportunities to refine their craft.
I've mentioned in recent posts that besides the other projects I've been working on recently, I've also done some work translating the catalogue and printed material for Bitume Photofest 2015. It's their second annual photographic exhibition, and as an event, it has quickly shaped up as the most important photographic event on the southern Italian calendar.
While there are so many photography festivals that seem to take place nowadays, I would say that very few of them actually seek to engage with the wider public. This is what sets Bitume apart from so many of the photography festivals that take place each year.
One of Bitume's main goals is to engage the wider public, not just those who might otherwise purchase a ticket or be willing to enter a gallery or converted loft. What we are talking about here are large scale installations that make themselves at home in and amongst the city. In public spaces, residential streets...wherever there is an appropriate space in the city.
In this case, the city is one of Italy's most beautiful (and oldest). Gallipoli. It's a scenic port city on the Ionian coast, full of charming laneways and snaking streets. And though it's just a half hour away from cosmopolitan Lecce, it's like stepping back in time, especially if you visit its historic centre which is basically a walled island. Honestly, if you have a stereotypical view of what a small Mediterranean city is supposed to look and feel like, then you're going to be pretty vindicated with the old town of Gallipoli. It really is a gorgeous place, especially when it's not overrun with tourists.
This year Bitume's event is taking place there and I head down there yesterday for the launch. It was a great excuse to inspect the large scale prints that have taken over parts of the city and that are elbowing for your attention. It was also a great excuse to take my favourite editor in the world out to Gallipoli and give her the chance to kill two birds with one stone: get some culture and see Gallipoli in action while tagging along for the curator's tour.
Bitume's exhibition is mostly an outdoors one. It takes place on ramparts, piers, city walls, balconies and other surfaces that the photography deems worthy as a temporary home. (There are also conventional indoor exhibitions).
You mightn't think it, but this is a challenging undertaking. You'll be surprised to know that beyond cities that have been schooled and educated in outdoor festivals, the realities can be difficult when you're importing the concept to somewhere new (old). There are a million considerations about how and where you're going to exhibit work, how you're going to maximise their visibility, and how you're going to protect them and ensure that they withstand the elements.
As such, the curatorial team have had to deal with a number of logistical problems with some of the installations.
Also, and unfortunately, people will be people sometimes, meaning that some people in the city took it upon themselves to deface a couple of the pieces that lined the streets. But in a way, it's almost the ideal thing to happen. Unfortunate for the handful of works, but ultimately it will act towards educating more people in appreciating such an ambitious undertaking. (And let's face it, bored teens, the likely culprits, exist everywhere in the world.)
But no matter, the issues were isolated and snaking through Gallipoli's streets over the next week or so will reveal some wonderful artwork that has been sought and collected from around the world. I'll be heading back for a proper look at the indoor exhibits later this week, but there are a host of public events also taking place over the coming week. Check the website for more information.
The photos in the post offer only a selection of the outdoor exhibits on show. Specific posts relating to the photographers featured in my post are linked below:
Lucas Foglia's A Natural Order.
Thomas Savin's Beijing Silvermine.
Gregg Segal's 7 days of Garbage
Suffering for my art today- 37 degrees and locked in a cemetery. But worth it. I think cemeteries are underrated because we are so disconnected to death in general and because we don't pay funerary art the respect that it deserves.
Personally I think a lot of funerary art is like the ultimate expression of love we have for others. Or ourselves. These days we are also about simplicity: a couple of lines on an epithet, a few dates and a photo.
But really, there are some amazing things to be seen beyond a cemetery wall if it's more than a few decades' old and there are worse places to be stuck on a hot, hot day.
I'm really pleased to see my friends at Bitume have managed to get everything in order and ready to kick off this year's Bitume PhotoFest which is taking place in Gallipoli.
I've been fortunate enough to be involved with the translations of the project and as such I've been able to get in on the inside track and be exposed to dozens of international photographers who are participating or exhibiting at this year's festival.
The festival which kicked off in August with a call for artists and a residency in the Serre Salentine area will now move into its main public phase which includes the inauguration of the outdoor exhibition which snakes its way through the port and old town of Gallipoli, more conventional indoor exhibits and a host of other events including a photo book festival, talks, live music and a pot luck/slide show event that is open to the public.
I'm going to repost some of the work by artists involved with the project over coming days but if you're around this week get down to Gallipoli or over to the website if you're not. Good luck guys.
We've been trained to question things. To be sceptical about everything, especially if it's something that paints us in a bad light.
For those of us who come from European orgin, there's a strong case to argue to suggest that our ancestors were kind of assholes in their quest to dominate and conquer lands far and wide.
Some people refuse to acknowledge this. They prefer to be unapologetic when looking back at their heritage and when considering the actions of their forefathers.
But, if you're in the very least bit compassionate and can understand that we've been plodding along in the dark, thumbing and feeling our way through things you can probably also accept that there have been quite clear cut cases that we've gotten things wrong in the past as people and that we need to address that for our future generations so that they really can live and learn.
Even before their cultures were decimitated by the arrival of British colonialists and the ongoing and systematic stripping of sovereignty, freedom and rights by Australia at large, Aboriginal culture on the island continent was already the oldest continuous culture that existed on Earth.
People make all kinds of claims about things. They harp on about being this and that but there's little evidence to back them up. In the case of Australia's Aboroginals there's a lot of evidence that points to a long period of continuous occupation (50,000+ years). It's not referred to as civilisation because Aboriginals didn't build cities. Instead they built up an amazing encycleopidic knowledge of the land that helped them adapt and move in accordance to the seasons and the available resources.
The knowledge that was shared and passed down, orally and through the prehistoric Web which played out in art on rocks, walls and in caves is remarkable. Way more appealing than a set of Encylopedia Brittanicas and much more environmentally friendly than Netscape or Internet Explorer ever were.
The ancestors of Australia's indigenous people were among the first people to leave Africa over 75,000 years ago, and, because earth looked very different back then, they crossed its lands on foot and fashioned some of the world's oldest sea faring vessels to cross the waters to get to what is now known as Australia.
It's believed that once they arrived up to 250 different indigenous languages were spoken across Australia with estimates suggesting there could've been anything up to a million people living in pre Colonial Australia, forming hundreds of different cultures, some of whom stayed in their geographic area and others who moved around.
There's a brilliant documentary from a couple of years back, First Footprints, which examines how these different groups of people overcame harsh conditions they found in Australia. The most important way they managed to adapt and survive in such an unforgiving environment was throught the communal sharing of the knowledge: including of things that you could and couldn't eat, places where you could get water and shelter and routes that one needed to follow in order to survive and prosper. In addition to spiritual imagery many of the images that they left behind were contemporary reflections of their world or of the information that had been passed down to them by their ancestors.
Among the remarkable documention of their world are references to the changing sea levels over time. Researchers Patrick Nunn and Nicolas Reid have put forward a case that there are at least 21 cases in the record that accurately document thousands of years of sea level changes over the scope of 7000 years.
After all not many cultures in the world bore witness to the climatic change that occurred with the arrival and passing of the ice age.
The research also addresses the scepticism many people have of oral traditions, particularly those that span thousands of years. It's a fascinating idea and potentially another piece in the puzzle if their theories hold true.
I for one am fascinated by this and I'm pretty sure you'll be interested in reading more too. If so there's more here.
Just add another branch to the family tree. Homo naledi has been discovered in South Africa, and despite the "orange sized brain" me thinks HN was more sophisticated than Trump will ever be. More here
Thought Rome was all coloured villas, hanging vines, potholes, attitude and smog? Well you might be right, but once upon a time it was less and more. Yet another layer of its dense history has been revealed with the discovery of a 2,500 year old residence. Smack in the middle of town. Geez the Romans have always loved prime real estate. Go here for more.
Ok, diplomatic relations are just not what they used to be. I don't know how many of my friends have been having such a hard time just getting their paperwork to join their spouses in their respective countries. I'm feeling them! It's the worst. Now consider that Israel and Iran haven't had diplomatic relations since the 1970s. But, a group of Israeli artists and curators are doing something about it. They're about to open an "Iranian embassy" in Jerusalem. And I bet you wouldn't be put through hoops to get your papers stamped there. More here.
It's the kind of news story you end up hearing at least once with every election campaign. But this one takes the cake. Michael Stipe is not a shiny, happy person and boy does he have some choice words for Donald Trump, who used his music at an event. Damn that blue eyeliner thing that Michael took to the extreme back in the day should have been like a warning beacon to all and sundry not to mess with that m*ther. The result of doing so here.
Madge's Rebel Heart starts beating live for the very first time in Montreal. Nuns dancing on poles, lots of old hits but it's a shiny, happy people Madonna this time around by all (very positive) accounts. And she -shock- covered up (and played a ukulele). Reviewed here by Montreal press and here by Matt, the world's most informed M fan.
Is your child a psychopath? It's the question I find myself wanting to ask parents here almost daily. But seeing as I'm such a frigging gentleman I won't, however I have half the mind to direct them to this article, if only to induce panic in them.
WHEN you're so accustomed to living in a big city where everything is available to you at most any time, it can take a while to get your head around smaller places and the fact that you often have to seize the moment in case you want to see something cultural.
Generally smaller population bases mean shorter runs at theatres and galleries, so I can't tell you how many times I was meaning to see something in the last year and never got around to it due to, well, a million reasons.
But this weekend I stopped by Otranto. It's a cute little town of around 6,000 people that swells into something completely unrecognizable once the summer hoards get in.
But the reason I headed over wasn't to enjoy the water, or the views of the Albanian mountains (Albania is technically closer to Otranto than Bari or Rome), but instead to check out the newly refurbished Otranto Castle and an exhibition that was being housed within.
Ferdinando Scianna is a Sicilian photographer who began working in the seventies, and who, by the eighties was invited to join Magnum Photos. Over the years he has predominantly worked as a fashion photographer and his images have also been used in countless high profile advertising campaigns. But for Italian audiences, his images particularly strike a chord for their recurring motif of the deep south, which anyone in Italy will tell you is a world of it's own in comparison to its northern counterpart.
When you've such a huge body of work to draw from, drilling in on a theme in an artist's work can be very satisfying. In the exhibition Il Sud E Le Donne (The South and the Women), Scianna's treasure chest has been raided, with around thirty black and white images of women photographed in the south having been selected for the show which has previously travelled to Bari and Matera.
There's a good balance between staging and candid documentary in the show, even if some of the staged moments can be a little overpowering. But what we're looking at are images predominantly drawn from the eighties and nineties and their aesthetic.
Remember, it was a time when Herb Ritts was the undisputed master of black and white portraiture, when staging was de rigour and a time in which the photographers were more well known than the models. But that all changed with the nineties and after almost everybody had tried their hand at black and white.
That said, Scianna is clearly a master composer who leaves traces of his own fashion background in every image. The images of women in the south are almost always in evocative southern settings: by turns Moorish, desolate or claustrophobic.
The South also provides the subtext for the show: the exhibit ties in with Tu Non Conosci Il Sud (you don't know the South), a cultural project which seeks not only to examine the south, but to contribute to its relaunch. Remember, Southern Italy is in a very different state than the Central/North.
The name derives from the Pugliese poet Vittorio Bodini and the swirling discourses that took place in reaction to the stereotypical ideas such as that of the south as simply being a place of criminal activity
But, back to the photos. It should be said that there's more than the odd nod to the times in them. But the way that fashion seems to transcend the generations and date them at the same time is pretty breathtaking.
As I've also been helping out with the translations for an upcoming photography festival here, I've found myself thinking a lot about the current view on photography. I find it amazing how we like to think that photography per se shapes our view of things and the world. But I would add that we seem to forget that framing and subjects are elements that are shaped as much by the times the photos are taken in as they are by the photographer's preferences themselves.
Beyond the black and white nature of these photos, their fashions and their styling, there is somewhat of a time stamp to them, even if as a collected group they seem to be about elegantly positioning women of the south in a way that most mainstream media refuses to do (or acknowledge).
The central placement of the female figures, the staging, the reliance on props...they're all hallmarks of an approach that you can see through if you think about it and don't allow them to define things too much for you.
But that's the same with any kind of photography. Usually, the best photography (especially contemporary) drags you towards being wowed or impressed before you even have time to think about it. Sometimes, the vocabulary, like here, is more evident, because we've had time to process the language and our own tastes have since changed.
But that doesn't detract from the fact that the images, such as the two in this post, are still compelling images, and very much documents of their time and of the tastes of their time.
If you manage to make it over to Otranto before the end of September, the exhibit and the castle grounds are well worth visiting.
Visit tunonconosciilsud for more info.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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