Let's play Arty Dominoes.
It's kind of like my variation on the old Kevin Bacon gag where you could reduce all of Hollywood down to a connection to Bacon. Starting with China, who Trump had a lot to say about...
CHINA turns to crowdfunding in its bid to restore parts of the Great Wall.
AI WEI WEI, one of the Chinese government's favourite ever people, hits up Palazzo Strozzi in Florence with his Reframe installation, continuing his art-activism in service of the refugee crisis.
A Russian clone of David, Florence's beefiest resident, and owner of its best hairstyle ever, is being forced to cover up due to the some local prudes in St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage Amsterdam is hosting a show dedicated to Catherine the Great, including more than 250 pieces on loan from St. Petersburg's hallowed Hermitage Museum [which she herself founded].
Victorian era painting by Anglo-Dutch artist named most valuable painting ever appraised on Antiques Roadshow.
In keeping with the presidential debate theme, and with Trump in particular, I thought it was great timing that CLET, an artist whose work I've had the luck of stumbling upon in Florence in the past just posted the following image on his Facebook page.
I love the playfulness of what he does with street signs around Italy - he's certainly inspired a lot of copycats and makes those nights ambling around Italian cities that little bit more enjoyable as a result.
Sad that it has come to this, but gosh, they still have it, don't they?
Of course, some more Rosario would've been great, but who am I to complain with their brilliant chemistry and the writing that made Will and Grace so great for so long? It was like eight seasons crystallized into ten minutes with a lot of venting and great gags.
Meanwhile, did you watch the debate?
I did this morning, having gone to bed with that uneasy feeling about what the box of kittens would bring with it.
Watching it was like watching something on the Discovery channel. Where the big, bulky species was constantly being pushed back into its cage by the smaller but smarter opponent.
That said, is it just me, or do you increasingly get the feeling that Trump's boiling anger acts like some kind of catharsis for the wider population? Like he says everything people from anywhere have wanted to say to a politician - especially one like Hillary - but never get the chance to because they don't want to sound like a rambling lunatic, or because reason, intellect [and facts] stops them?
Watching him stab his words out is like listening to half a country getting everything off its chest in a group therapy session, amplified as it is through all that fake tan and that comb over.
The commentators and media have already decided it was a win to Hillary, but the response from, well, I don't know, a third of the world [hello China, Russia, Iran, Japan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia and congratulations on your special mentions] is going to be just as fun [and disturbing] to watch. If that debate doesn't justifiably make their blood boil in the process. Please America, make it end.
There has to be a motive behind what's going on at the health ministry in Italy at the moment. Surely the infantile approach to its fertility day campaign is a joke that we haven't been let in on yet. Or perhaps it's a marketing technique designed to get everyone talking about them irrespective of the consequences. Perhaps it's a case of even bad publicity is good publicity when it comes to public health.
At the beginning of the month I posted about their horrible online campaign which due to the public backlash was over before it began. The one which likened women's bodies to being public incubators.
Well, the ministry and its "graphic design team" are back at it again, achieving a status that is more virus than viral.
This ad hit the Internet this week:
Let me break it down for you. It's from the new the right lifestyle campaign launched to 'combat infertility' and, um, 'sterility'.
The top image is accompanied by a message that translates as 'the right attitudes to promote.' In it we have a kind of German poster child aesthetic kicking in.
Then, we have the other image. The one accompanied by the warning that the people depicted are examples of the kind of bad friends/company that you should abandon and avoid in order to achieve the goal of remaining fertile.
The ad immediately hit a nerve, touching off a storm of debate relating to its implied racism and its reliance on stereotypes. It's all the more disturbing given that it was issued by an arm of the Italian government whose stated mission is the promotion of health and harmony.
I mean, I don't know about you, but I think I'd rather hang out in the haze of second hand smoke from the second group than be surrounded by churchy do gooders with those sitcom white teeth that will leave you instantly blinded if you look into them. They're like modern day Medusa heads, just with bad styling.
If all that wasn't bad enough, there was something fishy about the whole thing. The feeling that there was something not right about the images led people to do a bit of research on the web.
Savvy commentators - who availed themselves of a quick Google image search quickly worked out where they'd been sourced from.
Erm... Stock photos or blatant theft, no one is sure. But it's yet another strike against an agency that is completely out of step with Italians and is really making a mockery of itself, leading people to wonder: is it intentional?
At this point I might just start begging the ministry to look towards North Korea or China for inspiration. They should just delve into the propaganda archives and come up with a poster that at least has some kitsch or aesthetic appeal.
In the meantime, Italy has pulled off its fake at week so far this yet! Hurrah to fake values and outright plagiarism from government departments.
Finally, we have reached that point in history when we can associate Coldplay with a sense of humour.
I know, it's like one of those days that you thought would never happen: like hearing that person in your life finally utter I'm sorry and then you watch as hell freezes over right after.
I started noticing all these Coldplay concert events on my social media feeds and wondered what was going on.
The events were being set in places where even locals think twice about setting foot: Tor Bella Monica in Rome is a place on the city's outskirts associated with high crime and a general lack of any culture or safety. Just the kind of place I'd like Coldplay to disappear into, but that's just me.
The parody events were inspired by the latest online hoax here in Italy: a fake listing for a Coldplay concert in Bologna in 2017 which got fans and the media worked up over nothing, which is not too different to the real thing if you ask me.
Of course after the Bologna incident, participants in the fake events are just playing along and if you can understand Italian you'll see that there's a fair bit of regionalism and piss taking going on in the comment fields.
And Italy can rejoice in the meantime: the economy sucks, the government is f*cked, but at least no one has to sit through a whiny Coldplay concert this year to boot! Hurrah!
If you ever watched Sex and the city back in the day, you'll no doubt remember Samantha Jones' altercation with a playboy bunny at the PB mansion over her Fake Fendi.
Fake Fendis are a dime a dozen around Rome. You practically trip over that shit when you walk anywhere in the Centro storico or through the metro foyers.
For shoppers they're like an unobtainable oasis. From far away they seem to glisten and sparkle but that delusion vanishes into thin air when you get up close or worse, when the vendor quickly conceals his wares in his blue garbage bag and abruptly ups and runs off - practically tearing out your hair extensions as he runs off trying to avoid the cops.
If you've been to Rome I know that you've been to the Spanish steps. You know, the gorgeous stairway that links the Church of the Trinity of Monti to Rome's high end shopping area.
Wait, I'm being too arty...
You know, the staircase where you can sit and catch your breath and watch nervously as glowing, humming pieces of plastic are thrown up into the air by street vendors and you remain in a horrified stupor, hoping that they won't land on your head even though you can't look down otherwise you're forced to watch as the guy's colleagues are busy throwing that other kind of plastic at the pavement, watching it ooze and stick to the floor like green vomit.
A classy place.
Well some Romans with money (the Bulgari folks) decided they were fed up with the condition of the steps so they financed their cleaning and restoration. After years of work, the steps were finally reopened this week to great fan fare and a nighttime unveiling, complete with a pack of journos in tow.
Awkward then that the city's cultural attaché - Claudio Parisi Presicce - gaffed his speech and thanked Fendi for their generosity in restoring the staircase before realising his mistake and thanking the Bulgari group instead. Bulgari, probably to avenge the slight [not the way to treat a corporate sponsor tsk tsk], are now demanding that the staircase be closed during evenings to protect its restoration.
Erm, isn't that like being gifted an expensive handbag at night, realising that you can finally go all Joanne the scammer when you get trashed, but then the person who gave you the bag threatens to take back the gift unless you keep it indoors, wrapped in tissue paper and, like, in a safe.
The debate about how and when the Bulgari stairs can be used will no doubt rage in Rome - Romans love a good ideological argument- but for a brief moment in time at least, Rome, in addition to so much inauthenticity in its city centre, also officially had its own Fake Fendi Staircase. #awkward
If you've never seen it and are looking for a great nostalgic ride back through the late eighties, there's a great documentary on Stock, Aitken and Waterman on youtube.
I guess if you grew up in the UK, Australia [or even some parts of Europe] you're more likely to feel the connection to the bubble gum/hi NRG music that those guys came up with while creating their empire.
For a few years they were everywhere - and their distinct sound proved to be huge, almost guaranteeing hits for their artists: among them Bananarama, Mel & Kim and... Jason Donovan.
A lot of their stuff was repetitive, similar and so sugary that it should've come with a warning. But they also came up with some of the period's most defining pop songs. They had a knack for making stars out of unknowns [though at one point even Donna Summer came their way]. Of course, their golden geese were Rick Astley and Kylie Minogue.
Pretty much everyone - bar Kylie - that was involved with SAW is now a distant memory [or on the nostalgic 80s tours that are snaking their way around the world] although Rick Astley has recently had a comeback.
People magazine recently profiled Rick Astley who had a comeback album earlier this year. Checking out the statistics on youtube, Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up has racked up almost 250 million views since being the target of the Rickroll. That's about $2m of revenue if you believe the estimates based on what PSY's video publicly made even if Astley, who sang and didn't write the song allegedly has seen a lot less than that.
You - like most of the international press - were so excited about the prospect of Rome having its first ever female mayor. And one who has promised to make it a transparently run city free of graft and the sordidness of Mafia Capitale.
Romans on the other hand looked at the new mayor like the best of the worst- a rejection of the establishment more than anything else.
But Virginia Raggi is struggling and just a couple of months in has already been plagued by high profile resignations, accusations of improper process and, worse still in the eyes of Italians, incompetence.
After watching some of the Rio Olympics I've decided that I too want to become an Olympian. I'm thinking something sexy like archery or shooting or the like so that I get to maintain my current physical state and still get to be an Olympian.
But it looks like Raggi is going to quash my dreams of competing in Rome in 2024. It looks like Rome is not going to proceed any further in its bid to host the games. On this one, I can't say I blame the mayor. Rome is still having all sorts of woes with the basics that it has never been able to achieve; sanitation and transport. They're the issues that are as eternal as the city itself.
You might notice the occasional stink if you're in Rome, but if you're planning on visiting Rome you'll barely notice the transport problem. You can see most of its greatest hits on foot and there are a plethora of sightseeing buses that offer pretty comprehensive itineraries.
But if, like most Romans, your plans don't necessarily revolve around the Colosseum or the Vatican, you might just want to do as Romans do- or as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck once did- and experience it from the back of the scooter.
"But Italian roads are terrible" I hear you cry! It's true. A lot of Italians drive like insane people but most Italians are capable of driving alongside the hoons and getting from A to B quite safely. And in Rome moving from A to B isn't always logical when it comes to transport. I have a friend who has to travel 15km as the crow flies to get to work. That takes her almost two hours by public means. So, to that end, the newish batch of apps that have hit the market make a lot of sense to Romans, and the more adventurous folk amongst you.
You see you can now choose from a variety of apps to organise a scooter pick up. You'll get picked up and taken wherever you want to go in the Eternal city for just €3 a ride. It's Uber, Roman style! Of course there are restrictions on how much of Rome is actually serviced, but if you want to see the sights from a scooter ala Audrey I can highly recommend it. It's bumpy but there's nothing quite like it!
So my Olympic journey is not likely to take me out into outskirts of Rome where they'll have spent millions making stadiums that will then go unused, but next time I'm in town, I just might treat myself to a little nip about town on the back of a scooter to remind myself how beautiful that city is regardless of its eternally incompetent administration.
There is something remarkable about being a fan of someone. How it predispositions you towards being in favour of their every move - and how it brings out the extremes in some of us.
Fandom these days is all about marshalling the troops. We watch as a generation builds an army and names it and then does all it can and must in the name of the war for supremacy.
Conscription is as easy as a hashtag, a vine or a cutting remark all in the name of elevating or protecting status, position and perception.
In the world of pop, die hard fans (or stans as they are colloquially known) usually duke it out online for boy bands and divas. There is some special thuggery also reserved for male artists but it doesn't seem to capture the imagination in the way that the great Diva battles do.
It's a tale as old as time (thanks Celine) but the diva wars as we know them now started back in the nineties. By then women were regularly chalking up multi-million sellers and competition amongst artists spilled over to the fans, the biggest fans amongst them choosing their allegiances carefully.
Twitter and Instagram would be dead and buried were it not for the endless armies that now wage war on their heroine's behalves. While the strategies and tactics have changed since the nineties, the end goal is always the same: utter supremacy at the cost of all competition.
This year there have been some brilliant misfires in the social cultural wars. With the release of her Lemonade album, Beyonce's fans went on the war path on the implication that her husband had cheated on her. The first assumption had been that he'd cheated on her with fashion designer Rachel Roy so her minions - the Beyhive - launched a stinging attack. Some didn't read the memo correctly and incorrectly targeted a TV chef - Rachel Ray- online stoning her with virtual lemons and making increasingly shocking threats - until their sub commanders got wind of their mistake.
While some armies famously take on those of rival divas (often with the circumspect complicity of the stars themselves) many use social networks simply to mobilise fellow fans, and to help manipulate the measuring sticks of success.
It's no secret that the great leveller - the pop music chart- has increasingly struggled to make sense of a world in which we barely need to buy music anymore. We can watch it free on YouTube, stream it on Spotify or, download it through official and unofficial channels. Concert attendances remain steady but record sales have plummeted to all time lows suggesting that we still consume music on the same level we once did but just in increasingly harder to measure ways. But just as the race to No.1 defined the diva battles of the 90s, the accolade of a No.1 spot is still highly coveted. It's like conquering a foreign land and taking it as your own in the diva wars, and when it comes to the battle of metrics and numbers - no army fights harder than the Little Monsters.
Time after time, Lady Gaga's Monsters have proven the extremes to which dedication pushes Stans as well as a kind of ingenuity that manipulates an already convoluted process of measuring commercial success.
True to form, Gaga's soldiers won't stand for a drop on the commercial side of things- and typically won't stop at anything to help snare her a number one hit. Twitter has been abuzz with their excitement over the last few days - and reveals how fans are buying and then gifting up to 60 iTunes copies of the song in order to help her secure a debut in the pole position - especially in the USA.
This week is a busy, festive resumption on the battle lines for the Monsters. Gaga is back after a pop hiatus with her new single Perfect Illusion in a week which has also signalled the return of the likes of M.I.A and Nelly Furtado. Gaga is of course one of the most talented artists of her generation- a great voice and when the moment is right also a brilliant songwriter- but she was largely seen as having lost her way a bit by the time her third album dropped.
I guess it's more constructive than throwing lemons at innocent people, but a few days into the campaign it's increasingly looking like fans will be deprived of another #1 at this stage- Sia, someone who has written songs for pretty much all the current group of top tier divas - looks like she might just land herself a worthy #1 spot this week with The Greatest - her tribute to the Orlando Pulse victims.
You know when a news story just leaves you feeling, well, awkward?
A new candidate for Awkward! shuffled forward this week out of a court room in Sicily. From the minute you hear Sicily and 'courtroom' you know you gotta perk those ears up because you just know it's going to be juicy.
Well, I think it's more juicy as in moist. See? Got you feeling just the right kind of awkward now. Let's proceed.
Story goes a little something like this. A 69(!) year old man in the greater Catania area apparently just felt the need to throw a bit of caution to the wind and to, erm, give himself a little bit of pleasure in front of a group of teenage girls who are students at the university.
He was initially arrested for indecent exposure, but just this week had the charge overturned as the judge has ruled that it (i.e. the act of masturbating in public) is not a criminal offence. You see, in Italy, law is basically divided into two camps: criminal and civil. He'll be fined a few thousand euro for taking the liberty onto himself in front of others, but no criminal act will be entered onto his record. Which means, due to a change in the criminal code, masturbating in public is now technically not a penal crime.
So for you perves who want to get it on by yourselves outdoors and in front of Italy's greatest landmarks, the judge has basically paved the way for you to do it.
To avoid a fine, you might want to content yourself with just being out in the open air though, and not bother trying to get yourself an audience as it sounds like the law's interpretation is less about exhibitionism and more about the right to, erm, derive satisfaction in the open air.
Original report in Italian here, translated in English here.
THERE'S something about Tom Ford.
I don't know if it is just the devilish good looks, the straight out sauciness or the hint of Botox, but whatever it is, me likey.
Apparently the jury at this year's Venice Film Festival half what agrees. They awarded him the Silver Lion for Nocturnal Animals. Well, half of the award for Best Director anyway, as he had to share it with Amat Escalante who was also awarded for Untamed.
Those jurists were clearly feeling a bit frisky, and wanted to give in to their wild sides based on the titles of those films.
But seriously, Tom Ford is an icon and a reminder that you too can be recognised and rewarded for your brilliance, even if your past involves getting down and dirty with inanimate objects!
A dear friend of mine is involved with a recently launched project based on the conversation about place and you should check it out.
If you're a fan of publications like Monocle that are all about the idea of connection with place and improving the (mostly) urban experience, but you don't need all the gratuitous product placement and emphasis on luxury goods, you might want to check out the In Place online platform instead.
There's an Asian Pacific slant to it: not a bad thing considering how well Aussie and Kiwi cities tend to poll in liveable city indexes and how well they rate for community spirit and engagement compared to other places.
Some interesting and really well written (and edited) pieces over on the website which you can visit here.
Photography is pretty much always in flux. Its increasing shift towards multi formatting has altered the landscape and opportunities for the current generation of photographers.
In some ways, this creates a challenge for events like Bitume Urban Layers which champion large scale works that are reproduced and exhibited in public areas.
But as gratifying as a large scale exhibit is for both photographers and curators, the reality is that many contemporary photographers are favouring their own small scale, self-produced books.
Working within a book format allows for freedoms that large scale work sometimes doesn’t: it enables photographers to create extended narratives within a setting that's ultimately more flexible than the large scale, and which can of course be reproduced [and sold] at will.
Some work naturally lends itself to being reproduced on different scales: Sam Harris’ In the Middle of Somewhere - winner of the 2015 Australian Photobook of the Year Award - is an example of this: an intriguing selection of the images holding court in one of Lecce's prettiest piazzas - while the book reads as a gorgeous travelogue/diary etched out between India and Australia.
The shifting lure of crossing fixed borders is the strongest theme to have arisen from the 2016 Identity Flows edition of Urban Layers - both in print and on the walls. How could it not be? The idea of immigration has transfixed us and is taunting us all, wherever we are in the world.
And just as everyone has their own layered opinion on the matter, each of the Bitume photographers who address the theme of immigration and borders does it in their own style and from their own perspective. The first of my favourites this year on this topic - Ekaterina Vasilyeva - a participant in last year's festival - takes a personal approach to the topic. She returns to her native, rural Russia, documenting her journey on the hundred year old, thirty two kilometre stretch that separates Petergof from St. Petersburg with new eyes. Everything is familiar but somehow different because its the return from a journey that defines the travel experience more than the travel itself.
A similar sense of familiar but strange marks the work of Fabrizio Albertini's Diary of an Italian Border Worker. This is a project that marries and blurs the concepts of travel and borders. His project lends something ethereal to something we are so used to understanding in black and white terms. As an Italian who has grown up near the Swiss border, Albertini's work is a brief, 'confused' pause and reflection on the phenomenon of his 60,000 neighbours who cross the Swiss/Italian border for work and who, in doing so, enter into an uneasy treaty between the familiar and foreign.
The sensation of flux isn't limited to the idea of people from moving place to place. Its something that can be experienced in the one place, when identity shifts.
Bitume takes place in Lecce - for years, an unknown and unforgotten part of Italy. Closer to Albania than Rome, and a regular stop on the African migration route, Lecce is now regarded as the jewel of the Salento [southern Puglia] and is the focal point of a renewed appreciation of the area.
Salento is a place now noted for its olive groves, beautiful beaches and its natural beauty. Each September it begins its recovery from the growing influx of hundreds of thousands of tourists that brings with it both new opportunities but also incredible strain and exploitation on local resources.
Local photographer, Alessia Rollo, takes this into consideration with her Fata Morgana project. Despite the allure of Europe as a destination for migrants and a growing luxury tourist industry in Salento, it's still by and large an agricultural area, powered as much by the tourist dollar as it is plagued by illegal, exploitative labour practices of the migrants who pass through it.
At one point, Rollo's series uses the leitmotif of the year to provide the festival with one of its strongest images - a figure wrapped in a space blanket. It's an object which has become synonymous with the thousands of at-sea rescues taking place just a few hundred kilometres from South Italy's shores. It's a leitmotif that reappears throughout various photographers' works and which has become an unofficial emblem of the refugee crisis. Its visual importance even led to one being unfurled on Saturday night, symbolically taking the place of the EU flag on one of Lecce's public buildings. Elsewhere, Rollo's photos take on a local view of the symbols and views that mark the Salento experience in contrast to the glossy, tourist industry's own.
There's a lot more on show this week. For more information on the Bitume exhibition visit their website, Facebook or twitter pages. Bitume's Photobook 2016 expo - dedicated to the growing photobook niche kicks off tonight.
Just for something different, I'm having another face palm day here in Italy. I know right? Life is full of surprises.
I don't know about you but the countries that I have spent the most amount of time living in all have the same problem: a population that is getting older. Some deal with it by trying to entice young, upwardly professionals over, but, immigration being the dirty word that it is now makes that a touchy subject.
Thank God for the Italian government. They've brought ingenuity to the problem.
You see, Italy is chock full of oldies. Oldies that the government tries to throw a pension at and ignore. You see, the mentality is largely, 'here, take your cash but don't come a knocking for any support: you want home care? You can pay for it with that wad you just risked your life withdrawing or, be a good Italian parent and ensure your own children look after you."
Don't worry. The government's ignorance towards its aged citizens is matched only by the contempt it has for its youth. Youth unemployment is currently at 39.2%. No, it's not a typo. 39.2% - with no real hope of improving at least in the forseeable future. [The national figure is 11.4%.] Those that are in work are most likely to be on temporary contracts, or worse, as I can attest, working as independent contractors who, regardless of how little they might be earning, have to pay thousands of euros worth of retirement contributions out of their own pocket in addition to their taxes even if this equates to more than 50% of their salary.
Italian families also have it tough: there's very little in the way of public childcare here: it's mostly a private gig and an out of pocket scenario meaning those grandparents better put aside some cash to make sure there's always a Kinder surprise in the house for those pesky grandchildren.
To address the problem of the growing grey army, the Italian government, in its infinite wisdom, has declared September 22 to be Fertility Day. Basically a stay in and procreate day. This week, it launched a particularly gruesome online campaign right out of the 1950s. The above images respectively translate as: "Beauty has no age but fertility does" and "Fertility is a public asset".
Leaving aside the economic absurdity of straight out encouraging people to have children in a country whose economy is on the brink of collapse [in 2013 more than 90,000 young Italians left Italy in the search for work elsewhere], the campaign has also touched off debate about people - especially women's - right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and the life choices they make. The tone of the government's approach is shockingly old school - basically labeling women as incubators for the public. Additionally, the emphasis on fertility has been perceived as a tactless affront to those with fertility issues, or, construed as a campaign to make people feel guilty about having children later [if at all]. This in a country where most women need to go abroad in order to have fertility treatment if they're having trouble conceiving.
Italians were already weary enough of their government. Growing numbers are rejecting the established parties in favour of the new, populist reactionary groups like Cinque stelle. This kind of propaganda is seen for what it is: an out of touch campaign based on the Italian guilt complex that many grew up with but no longer tolerate.
That it made it through so many levels of government, that so many people clearly worked on it to get it out into the public is incredulous. Did nobody stop to think for a moment the outcry this was going to cause?
Say what you want about Italians, but they're not afraid to share their opinion on things, especially if the topic is divisive. The huge debate that these images and the ideas driving them has created led to reports of the #fertilityday website being shut down last night, just hours after it went live.
The debate though will rage over the coming weeks but the damage has already been done.
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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