Thursday, 28 August 2008

China Vs. The Green Slime!

Perhaps the single most impressive thing about this year's Olympics was the massive effort put forward to fight a particularly beautiful bright green algae bloom on the shores of Qingdao, a city site for event sailing competition. Press reports detail a million tons of the stuff, covering one-third of the surface area, was removed after a month's work by a team of upwards of 2000 boats, and some 30,000 students, volunteers and soldiers.

King Knut himself might have been impressed, I daresay.

Other tactics to wipe out the slime included simultaneous construction of two 20,000 metre 'goo gate' barriers, preventing algae from floating into the sailing venue proper, as well as regular ship patrols to monitor for future algal concerns. The green stuff is reportedly being shipped to farms for pigs and other animals to munch on, although I've also seen photos of it being left to rot in huge piles so I dunno. Don't they know that's cash in the bank?

Special props for this post must go out to the Guardian (who had the best seaweed porn gallery on the interwebs) and the AP photographers who shot all this messy majesty in the first place. Some video reports here and here.

And speaking of props, how cool is this? Not very at all from an ecological point of view I understand, but as knickknacks go, it's pretty nifty I'd say.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Art Therapy Atrocity!

Nowhere is the intersection of creative expression and psychological trauma more obvious and striking than in art therapy - the creation of artistic works designed to exorcise horrors, express the inexpressible, and, ideally, bring some equilibrium into the artist's life. Running through art therapy is the idea that art is de facto positive; as the AATA puts it: the creative process of art is both healing and life-enhancing.

I confess I originally imagined such therapy would benefit mostly children, who after all may not be able to communicate clearly yet, but this assumption ignores many of art therapy's qualities which can be beneficial to anyone, young or old, and whatever their physical or mental condition:

- art can be fun and relaxing, a creative play time
- the concentration inherent in creating art may provide a distraction from regular thoughts
- solitude and silence if desired (equally, one can create art in groups or even as a group)
- art can be very cathartic and provide insight and release
- creating something is gratifying and empowering. If other people enjoy this art, that effect is only multiplied

Perhaps most interesting of all is the idea that people express things in their artwork that they themselves are neither intending to convey nor even conscious of; that expression is the stuff of the subconscious.

Art therapy was arguably born of war (the artwork of children during the Spanish Civil War is the earliest example I've come across) and has proved enormously beneficial to those involved in wars and, more recently, genocides: casualties, soldiers, prisoners, even if the artwork is not the artist's idea - as in the fascinating case of Cambodian prisoner/artist Vann Nath (who really deserves his own post here).

WWII vets are famously reticent to speak of their bloodier experiences; an entire generation whose preference seemed to be to keep silent, perhaps with some assistance. One wonders how different things might have been were art therapy widely available back then. Is it helping soldiers today, coming home from Afghanistan or Iraq?

If art therapy works wonders for those undergoing the hell of warfare - in hotspots as varied as Uganda, Columbia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Lebanon, Sudan, and Chechnya - it provides help for all manner of other hells as well: anorexia, child abuse, rape, you name it. The last decade has seen an explosion of art therapy for those who have survived terrorist attack or 'natural evils' such as tsunamis and hurricanes.

The phenomenon also seems to have caused a stir in Darfur, posing the question of whether such artworks can constitute evidence of war crimes.

The questions posed by such depictions of life's horror are many - in part because, though the effect of creating such a work may be utterly beneficial and positive to the artist, the resultant artwork nonetheless carries the subject of its genesis. Can the viewer enjoy or appreciate such therapeutic works with a clean conscience? What is the moral status of such art? Does its backstory inevitably alter its appreciation? How does the role of artist differ for works of art therapy? How does the relationship differ with patrons or with the public?

Have you ever created art in this spirit and was it therapeutic for you? How would you feel about that work being displayed in a gallery or on a website? What if that art were on someone's wall, in their office or home?

Most of us are lucky in the present day. We expect our children will never paint such pictures.

Update: Vank Cathedral Armenian Genocide Memorial Kids Pics (see comments for details)

Friday, 22 August 2008

Come out to Oshawa for The Last Shwaltz!

September 13th. Free. Beautiful Downtown Oshawa.

Details are here.