Gallery

Pergamonmuseum — Museum für Islamische Kunst

Wednesday is not Museum Sunday. Nonetheless, having spent Sunday with Daniel and David, avoiding all museum visits (though plenty of talking thereof), today was the first day I had time, and having been entirely absent from museums since before Zürich, today it was. The Pergamonmuseum is one of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, so I got to use my Classic Plus Jahreskarte for the first time. Sadly no queues to jump, but the attendants seem more than usually smiley when I waved it in their presence.

I’ve been to a couple of museums with Dasniya; mostly though I go alone. Today was an exception being accompanied by David and his very own Jahreskarte. We met at the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, which is a perfect précis of this museum: colossal archaeological ruins dissected and transported to Berlin during the golden age of colonial pilfering. It’s magnificent, as are many of the pieces in the museum, not a few wouldn’t have survived the 20th century were it not for that museum-establishing period when they were acquired — some didn’t anyway, destroyed or looted at the end of World War 2 — either way, a museum visit for me is often coloured by this unease and tension surrounding the origins of the exhibits, and the Pergamonmuseum more so than most.

No plans to see the whole museum though; this is one of those behemoths like Gemaldegalerie which butchers the viewer with size and quantity. I was here for the special exhibition of Indian miniatures, Genuss und Rausch. Wein, Tabak und Drogen in indischen Malereien. Eine Ausstellung im Buchkunstkabinett, and imagined if I had enough time, I’d see the Museum für Islamische Kunst. The miniatures appropriately took up two small rooms, with around thirty works from the 16th to 19th centuries, all of men and women drinking and smoking, wine and other alcohol, tobaco, hashish, opium. They are uniformly beautiful, and one of my favourite art forms (how could I resist the group high on opium and hunting rats?). Sadly they suffered from two museum-wide annoyances.

The audio guide, while comprehensive for the works that did have an accompaniment, was sparse to the point where whole series of rooms were absent and none for the miniatures (or did I miss something obvious?). Most of the works had no more than a description and date, with no way of locating the item meaningfully within a temporal, geographic, or cultural context, and with the preponderance of archaeological megafauna getting the audio attention, virtually all the small works, ceramics, jewellery, artefacts of daily life went past in silence.

Then there was the light. Works behind glass lost in a glare of reflection; glazed ceramics with harsh top-lighting blowing out the details in more reflected glare; other works completely unlit or dim to the point of obscurity, or in the case of a beautiful shadow puppet a hideous combination of the two. The Gemaldegalerie also suffered from this but here it reached a new level of horribleness.

Finished with the miniatures then, it was back through the carpets rooms, around the corner, past the Astrolabe, and back to the 7th century city of Samarra. Many rooms later, I fell into the small part of the wall of Qasr Mshatta, massive, more than 30 metres long and 5 high, it’s only a very small part of the original which formed a square 144 metres a side and reached more than 20 metres high in places. Each section is a repeating pattern of a zig-zag line with a rosette in each triangle, and each section is uniquely carved with vines, leaves, flowers, animals. Preceding this in other rooms, exquisite and delicate glassware that somehow managed to survive centuries unharmed, plates and bowls glazed with arabic calligraphy like abstract, minimal line work, vast prayer alcoves, everywhere the words, “lā ʾilāha ʾil ʾāllāh, muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh.” Past the Mshatta and back through the miniatures (as usual, not performing correct museum wandering), and arriving at carpets. From kilim prayer rugs to massive, wall-covering tapestry-resembling works of geometric and botanic repetition. More ceramics also. I realised I photograph the objects I intent to steal. The carpets especially; I’ve wanted to have one of those huge ones composed of large blocks of colour like the prayer rugs for my room, but suspect I’ll only ever enjoy them in a museum. Finally to the Aleppo-Zimmer, too big for me to purloin, but to spend a night there at the start of the 17th century …

All of which is a single floor of the Pergamonmuseum, and but one of the several on Museuminsel. I’m not sure whether to see the last third of Gemaldegalerie next or continue here, or perhaps suffer paralysis at the vastness of museums in Berlin.

Reading: Lizzie Collingham — Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

This has been on my reading list for years. I read about it on a now long-departed blog and somehow imagined it was more cookbook-sized, despite being a history of rather than how to make tome on my favourite nosh. Being somewhat bereft of reading stuff on my return from Vienna, I ordered in a haphazard manner of things I thought could be entertaining, and Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors which I’ve looked at on my list every time I wonder what to read next and the pass over this time I decided either I buy it or I delete it.

Mainly it first entered my list because I love curry, especially the northern Baltistan varieties (though an introduction to Afghan wok-style curries in Vienna has me off on another bender),and I also love the history of food. It also has – for a history book – recipes! So I am sincerely hoping it is some euros well-spent and I can cook new things.

Reading: Mike Searle — Colliding Continents: A geological exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet

Here comes a deluge of serious reading. Well, another serious than the sci-fi I’ve been on of late (though with a new one from Charles Stross, and Iain Banks’ – sadly sans-M – last one in the next weeks, I’m well-stocked for that flavour of serious), or perhaps gratuitously indulgent, after all, what could be more appealing that bloody massive upheavals of granite which can be either climbed or geologised, or in the case of Mike Searle’s Colliding Continents, both at the same time?

This turned up in my feed from Oxford University Press’ blog, and I decided to dispense with the actual reading of their post for the important act of ordering the book. Which arrived on Saturday, and which, obviously, I’ve devoured a third of already.

This is one of those very nice, medium-large hardcovers with barely a page empty of maps, illustrations, diagrams, or more importantly utterly gorgeous photographs of mountains. It’s light on the technical side of geology, meaning someone with no prior knowledge of the subject would nonetheless not feel bewildered, yet equally there’s a lot of terms even I, who used to slip into the Geology department and temporarily purloin monographs of the Karakoram had to pause to visualise what was actually meant. Lucky there’s 30 pages of appendices covering all of this, and I think reading those first is probably a good idea.

Quite a bit of my interest in that region where Tibet becomes Central Asia becomes Indian subcontinent comes from geology. Also it comes from Deleuze and Guattari and reading of Steppe nomads, then looking at maps and trying to pin into that vast blankness between the Black Sea and the east coast of China names like Gobi, Taklamakan, Kashgar, Karakoram. Vast and blank indeed. So I set out to rectify my ignorance, becoming years – probably a lifetime as I’ve never been bored by this – of reading and reading and yes, still planning to go there.

A book like this is mainly a small moment of satisfying this love of mountains and this part of the world, and it does both superbly. Searle is one of those sensible geologists who realise early on it’s the obvious career choice for someone who thinks suffering their way up glaciers and cliffs is most excellent fun, and whose love of both subjects only adds to his abilities in each.

The only thing that’s missing for me is a map or maps of his annual-ish field trips. There are plenty of geological maps accompanying each chapter but either my map-reading skills have descended to bathic levels, I’m missing something fundamental, or there’s a lack of correlation between those maps and the paths of the journeys he undertook. Perhaps unnecessary, but for me this would be an essential inclusion.

So, 464 pages of mountains! The cover pretty much sums it up; it’s all just a lover’s ode to the most beautiful upthrusting of granite in the world.

Reading: Gordon Mathews — Ghetto at the Center of the World

I once stayed a night in Chungking Mansions, when a flight from Canada arrived too late to catch even the cross-border bus to Guangzhou. I was given the address by a woman at the information booth just past the exit gates from customs, and probably told to make certain not to get off the city bus one stop too early. Someone was waiting for me, amidst the hysterical confusion of touts, and led me into the depths, up an elevator and to a small guesthouse, run by an older Pakistani man. My room even had a window, from which I could see the street below, washed in rain, with a throng of bodies like no other.

Another time, after a climbing trip on Hong Kong island, I went with a group for dinner in a Pakistani restaurant. Once more up elevators and along corridors. As we departed, I glimpsed through another door momentarily opened and saw groups of serious islamic men eating their own dinners around wooden tables.

I stayed there because of course living in Guangzhou and having a fascination with the Pearl River region how could I not hear of this place with the dangerous reputation — especially given my taste for Wong Kar-wai’s films. Were I to get stuck again in Hong Kong now, I’d likely stay there again, given at least it’s a name I know.

There is a compulsion in accounts of globalisation and the developing world to make the story about us, we who live in the global north, who either speak english, are of european descent, or both. That there could be a parallel yet predominantly disconnected globalisation, a flow of trade, people, ideas and culture is often seen as irrelevant or incomprehensible to the central narrative, if even addressed.

Gordon Mathew’s anthropology of this building, Ghetto at the Center of the World — Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong appealed to me for more than just what goes on in the confines of its seventeen stories and five separate blocks. As he points out in the introduction, the history and culture of the building is also one of low-end globalisation. This is not a narrative of the developed world’s arrangement with China in providing cheap, off-shore manufacturing, but rather that of a globalisation in which Europe and America are at best ancillary nodes on multiply-layered and discrete trade routes that span from Africa to South-East Asia by way of Dubai, India, and Guangzhou, and more often simply don’t occur at all in the narrative.

I’ve already spent much of the morning perched on the windowsill in the sun, having knocked off half the book in a sitting, which should give an idea of how fascinating I find the topic and book.

Burka Bondage

The past couple of months Dasniya has been rehearsing with Helena Waldmann, in a piece she helped with last year in Shibari instruction. She left for India and Sri Lanka with them yesterday, for a three-week tour. Originally the tour was to go to Iran and Afghanistan, but political issues made that impossible. For those of you in the region, here are the dates:

‘BURKABONDAGE’ VON HELENA WALDMANN

mit Vania Rovisco, Dasniya Sommer, Acci Baba und Mohammad Reza Mortazavi

Infos unter: www.burkabondage.de

Indientournee Dezember 2010
06.12. – Chennai
10.12. – Colombo
12.12. – Bangalore
16.12. – Mumbai
19.12. – Delhi

— Burka Bondage

miscellaneous tranny stuff … coz we rule

Someone, obviously stupid, whom I haven’t bothered to remember despite having a vague association in the Melbourne contemporary dance SCENE, when finding out early last year Frances was a tranny mused that perhaps I was doing it as a career move, coz y’know, I’m a crazy artist an’ shit. Yeah so jumping on the shemale bandwagon, as Becky points out in her TG Predictions for 2007, “TG Sells”, and I’m a desperate whore for small change.

While still being able to lay claim to being the first foreign tranny choreographer in China, coz every transsexual is first at something, in the meantime before I’m the first tranny to do something else (probably first tranny rock climber in China is another title I’ll claim), here’s all the transsexual, gender, cross-dressing, art, film, music, books, politico-legal-socio-cultural stuff I remembered to bookmark from the last month, and there’s been stacks of it.

First with books and previews from She’s not the man I married, by Helen Boyd, which I really hope I get a copy to review, along with all the other books I prattle on about here.

Then there’s Transparent, Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Cris Beam that got a write up in San Francisco Gate, “Real women can have penises. And “the brain and the heart are the only organs with a gender, and … all genital modification or lack thereof is simply a personal aesthetic choice.””

I’m quite fond of using science to cudgel ignorance and bigotry if not into realising the error of its ways and subsequently proseletysing, then at least being rendered incapable of further harm. So, a couple of research papers for proof that intelligence begets human rights:

50 under 30: Masculinity and the War on America’s Youth, or “don’t call the police if you get a beating for wearing lipstick, boy”.

More interesting for me in that geeky viscera obsession, Changing your sex changes your brain: influences of testosterone and estrogen on adult human brain structure from European Journal of Endocrinology. I think the title pretty much says it all, and the part of me that goes, “yay, science!” thinks this is quite cool and the next person who inadvertently ‘he’s’ me is gonna get a paint-stripper drenching of vitriolic abuse based on this paper’s abstract. The part of me that is always deeply suspicious of the motives, interpretations, and ethical dubiousness in science, viz. finding a biological cause and subsequently a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, transsexuality and any other otherness thinks, “well in spite of their brain structure in what was a pissy small sample to start they were tranny both before and after hormone treatment, so whatever part of the body this identity resides in, it’s exterior to the scope of this research”.

Anyway, on to where transsexuals belong, in entertainment.

Miss K is continuing the totally fucking rock story of Six Inch Killers, and it’s getting more smacked out by the minute, I’m surprised anyone even remembers they were there.

Over in Thailand, Venus Flytrap have their first album out, plus videos and their first single. Not to be outdone in the battle for Asian tranny-pop (that’s t-pop, like j-pop and canto-pop), Lady have some videos out too.

Off to the movies, and Lee Kyung-Eun, better known as Harisu from Korea is in Bjarne Wong’s Possessed.

A big “I shit on ya!” to any asshole who thought making “he she it?!?” jokes about Santhi Soundarajan was funny. I’m not even going to waste my time trying to explain why I will poison your whole family to seven generations, and give you syphilis till your rotting brain drools out your nose. You don’t use it anyway. She is an unimaginably superior human than you could ever be, and won a silver medal in the 800 meter sprint at the Doha Asia Games to prove it.

And finally, ex-Guangzhou artist Cao Fei gets in on the crossdressing scene too, and asks
男人么?man? 女人么?woman? 男人 man 女人 woman 不是男人 not man 不是女人 not woman 我是男的 I’m man 我是女的 I’m woman 成为男人 be a man 成为女人 be a woman, while looking dead sophisticated in suit and goatee.

shashwati talukdar

The guy who makes the amazing ecto, which gives me blogging pleasure on a daily basis started a ‘blog of the week’, on his own blog that showcases some of the sites that post with ecto. And last week the spotlight was on Shashwati’s Blog, a New York-based Indian filmmaker. She writes about Indian Films of course. And other stuff, like Indian politics, and of course her own work, which is pretty cool. And check out the background.