Archive for alex

Ten Views of God

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by javedbabar

It was Alex’s last PIA: Philosophy In Art class this term. Though he was still annoyed that The Authority had made him include teens in what he had wanted to be adult classes, the course was going well.

In the spirit of Japanese Ukiyo-e – woodblock – artists, they’d examined many views of different subjects, including mother, father, myself and teacher. In the last class, Alex decided to examine God. He felt this would provide a sort of progression in the subject matter.

He’d noticed a difference in behaviour between adult and teen students. Adults had begun enthusiastically, but were becoming tired of the format he’d created, exploring ten facets of each topic in turn.

However the teens were really getting into it. They’d started slowly – due to self-consciousness caused by adults’ presence – but were now very comfortable. Whereas the adults’ thoughts were flowing like canals, teen’s thoughts were turbulent, with today’s topic likely to produce extra froth.

“God is the creator of everything,” said a woman. “It says so in the Bible. Other religions say it too, in other books and languages, but they all say it somehow.”

An older man said, “But he – or she – is also the destroyer of everything. In the Bible there are so many stories of destruction – the Great Flood, warfare, plagues, and eventually Armageddon, the end of the world. In science too – whether you believe in endless expansion of the universe or the Big Crunch, the world – at least for us – comes to an end eventually. So God is ultimately a destroyer.”

An Indian girl said, “In my religion, God is also a preserver. That is what God is doing right here, now. He is keeping the universe ordered and running as it should be.”

“Call this running smoothly? With all the hatred, war, disease, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods? There’s racism, sexism and homophobia. Corruption, discrimination, genocide! That’s not running smoothly. Any God out there must be cruel!”

“But there’s also love and peace and joy! There’s sunshine and sunsets, and rainbows! There are babies being born, and birthdays, and weddings. People finding each other and hidden treasures. God is kind and compassionate.”

“God has the power to do anything. He or she is omnipotent.”

“God knows and sees everything – omniscient.”

“God is everywhere – omnipresent.”

“But is God real?” asked a boy. “Or not? Maybe God is unreal.”

“God is personal,” said a girl. “And impersonal. Sir, do you know the holy man Guru baba? He lives in Lucerne.” Alex nodded. “He says there are two laws in the universe. The Law of Attraction is that you get what you want. The Law of Karma is that you get what you give. So you get what you give. So you should give what you want. In a sense you are a gifting God. You give what you want to yourself. You make your own world.”

Thank God the bell rang. Everybody was confused. Life was no clearer in the classroom than in the outside world.

Ten Views of Teacher

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2012 by javedbabar

After covering myself in his PIA: Philosophy In Art class, Alex thought that students should cover himself – the teacher. The adults and teens may see him in different ways, like Hokusai found thirty-six ways to view Mt Fuji. Let’s see.

“Okay, everybody, what do you think of me?”

There was general silence – even more than there usually was in class when nobody said anything, but a proportion of students were fidgeting, whispering, texting, flicking through books, picking their nails, yawning and crunching candy.

They had all ceased activity and become quiet.

A girl put her hand up, slowly. It seemed that she felt responsible for the class. “We like you, Sir. We think you are a good teacher. We are enjoying your class. I’m sure we will give you good marks at the end of term…” She tailed off, running out of words.

Ah! thought Alex. So that was it. They thought he was concerned about his ratings. This was the crazy situation in schools these days, where teachers were forced to give poor students good marks for everything, so as not to disappoint them. Many students savaged good teachers because they made them work hard and enforced discipline. This could lead to their being sacked. Thank God he wasn’t a full-time teacher.

He said, “I don’t mean me as an individual. I mean me as a teacher. In how many ways can we view teachers?”

Light commotion resumed in class. The terrible silence was broken. A woman said, “Teachers provide education. They share their knowledge of subject matter on which they are experts.”

I wish that were the case, thought Alex. We’re generally just coping.

A man said, “Teachers provide both formal and informal teaching. Beyond their academic lessons, they show us how to speak to groups and behave as individuals.”

“My favourite teacher was my RS teacher,” said a woman. “He told me about God. He said that the word religion comes from religare – to connect. He said that religion provides a good way to engage with the world.”

A boy said, “A teacher is a coach. He or she gives you training that you use to improve your skills. I mean mainly in sports, but in everything else too.”

“Teachers are role models,” said a girl. “If they’re good, you want to grow up to be just like them.”

Some of the adult students were much older than Alex. They looked bemused.

“Teachers are leaders. They help you to advance in learning.”

“They must be disciplinarians. Their attitude must be that of in loco parentis – like absent parents. If you do something wrong, you should expect to be walloped.”

The teens looked horrified. This was not the way these days.

“Sometimes there are substitute teachers, just filling in. Their job is not to teach you anything, merely to avoid disaster!”

“What about teaching assistants? Are they sort of teachers too?”

Alex said yes.

An older woman stood up, grabbed her bag and prepared to leave the room. “This class is getting on my nerves,” she said. “Ten views of this! Ten views of that! The best teacher is no teacher. I am going home to think and learn things myself.”

Ten Views of Myself

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2012 by javedbabar

Alex wondered how many topics they could cover, inspired by Ukiyo-e, before they should move on to something else. The Japanese artist Hokusai had created thirty-six, then ten more, and later a hundred more, views of Mt Fuji, showing that there was plenty of mileage for any subject.

Alex decided to keep going in his PIA: Philosophy In Art class. He would push out the metaphoric boat, not just the one on Lake Kawaguchi.

A girl asked, “What subject are we covering today?”

He said, “By covering, do you mean touching upon, or exhausting?”

“We’re doing a good job of exploring them. I guess we’re exhausting them.”

A middle-aged man put up his hand. It was funny how adults were behaving more like schoolchildren than the teens were. Maybe they were just being more old school.

Alex said, “Yes? What’s your name? Tony? Sorry, I haven’t got everyone’s name yet.”

“It seems to me that we are only touching upon them. I’ll bet that if he’d wanted to, Hokusai could have done one thousand views of Mt Fuji, and if he lived long enough, a million views. Aren’t all things multi-facetted? Sort of never ending? The English philosopher William Blake talked about seeing the world in a grain of sand.”

“You are right, he did. In a sense yourself and, sorry what’s your name? Amanda? Yourself and Amanda are both right. We are only really introducing ourselves to these topics, but we are covering them off well in the time available. So keep up the good work. You are doing a great job. And that’s today’s topic – yourself.”

They all knew the format. Amanda started. “I am a physical entity, formed of skin and bone and blood.”

Tony added, “I am mentally conscious. I think therefore I am. Spinoza said that, I think.”

“Actually it was Descartes, but very good.”

A woman said, “I am more than just physical and mental though. I am a spiritual being, born of the intention of a self-conscious universe, that wishes to be aware of itself, and appreciate itself.”

Some of the teens – who Alex had been forced to include in this class by The Authority – were looking confused. This class was being led by the adults.

“I am primarily ego, driven by the need for food and sex.”

Now the teens looked scared.

“I think that persons are driven by their subconscious – so many things that you are not really aware of. Hidden fears and desires. And there are symbols and myths. We are all on our own hero quest, battling monsters and searching for home.”

A girl said, “Our public image is very important. It’s what defines us in society.”

“We are citizens in nation states, celebrating our common heritage and values.”

“In cosmic terms, beings are just energy and information in differing forms.”

An older man said, “That’s all true, what everyone’s said. But in the end we are all just food for worms.”

Ten Views of Dad

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by javedbabar

Alex’s PIA: Philosophy In Art class had started well. Inspired by Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji, he had asked the class to look at ten views of various subjects.

Last week they had discussed mothers, and he thought that today they should look at fathers. After all you needed both. Even if you had two mothers – like the boy last week whose lesbian mother was marrying her partner – you still needed sperm.

Alex said, “Okay class, who can tell me what a father is?”

A boy at the front said, “A father is a man who has fathered a child.”

This caused some smirks. Alex said, “Yes, that’s true. But you are using the word father to describe a father. It’s called a tautology – something that is self-referent. The thought is correct, but can you think of a better way to explain it?”

“Like what?”

“Let me help you,” said Alex. “Another word for father is sire.”

“Like we call you Sir? Is it the same?”

“No, it’s a different word. Sire means to produce a child. Sir is just a term of respect. They are related etymologically though. Sire is how you address a male monarch; in olden times they had special rights to women of their estates, and could indeed be anyone’s father.”

“Sir, should you be respectful to your father?” asked the boy. “Should you call your sire Sir?” The class laughed.

“Yes, Sir!”

A woman said, “A father is someone who protects you, or at least he should do. Mine tried his best but I was determined to harm myself.” She rolled up her sleeve to show cut marks. “I only stopped when he died.”

A boy said, “A father is someone who supports you financially. My dad works hard in the auto-shop. He says his job is to make sure that we have three meals a day, two holidays a year, and one happy home.”

“I had a stepfather,” said a woman. “I hated him initially for replacing my real father. God knows why, as he’d left us anyway. But then I got to know my stepfather and grew to love him. He was the best thing that ever happened to me and my mum.”

“My father was a rapist,” said an Asian boy. “My mother was raped by a soldier in Salistan during the civil war.” Alex didn’t know whether to speak or remain quiet. He was about to say something comforting when the boy continued, “So I was born to an unwed mother, which is not an acceptable situation there. I was hidden away at first, and then said to be my grandma’s child. We left there as soon as we could and came here.”

A man said, “I spent a lot of time with my uncle. He was like a second father – he took me hunting and fishing, and taught me how to survive in the wilderness. These were things that my own father didn’t know.”

“I have a father-in-law who drives me mad,” said a woman. “Whatever I do is never good enough for his son.”

“I am a weekend dad. My ex- only lets me see the kids on Saturdays.”

“I may be a DI Dad. When I was at university I sold my sperm for Donor Insemination. It brought in fifty bucks a week.”

A boy at the back said, “I am a surprise father. My girlfriend just told me she’s pregnant.”

The class cheered.

Ten Views of Mum

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by javedbabar

Alex had been forced by The Authority to mix adults and teens in his PIA: Philosophy In Art class. This could get complicated, so he’d decided to keep things simple.

After an introduction to Japanese artist Hokusai, famous for his series of one hundred, thirty- six, and then ten more, views of Mt Fuji, the class had agreed – or at least not disagreed too strongly – to take ten views of various topics.

“Welcome to class,” said Alex. “I’m delighted to see that most of you have made it back. We could have done thirty-six views of things, one each! But you opted for ten views. So who’s first?”

A girl said, “What’s the topic?”

“Ah yes, the topic. Hmmm…” Alex kicked himself. Why hadn’t he prepared something? How stupid. “The first thing I can remember in life is my mother. So let’s start with that. Who can tell us something about their mother?”

“Are we going to draw her?” said the girl.

“Maybe later. Right now I just want you to use your imaginations. Think of as many kinds of mothers as possible.”

The adults were holding back for some reason; they were leaving it to the teens. More precisely, to the girl.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“Okay, I’ll start – a mother is a woman who has given birth to a child.”

The girl made a face, others did too. “Why do you need to tell us that? Mothers are just mothers.”

He felt strongly self-conscious. Did these teens respect their mothers? Would some soon be mothers themselves? Why didn’t the adults say something? Were they scared of looking foolish? He’d known it was a bad idea to mix adults and teens.

“A mother is someone who has raised a child.” It was a boy at the back speaking. “I was adopted at birth. I don’t know my biological mother. Mother for me is the woman who fed and clothed me, and rubbed my knees and elbows when I fell in the street.”

A man in his forties said, “A woman can become a mother by donating her eggs, which are united with sperm and implanted into another person’s womb. It was the only way my wife and I could have children.”

“I was suckled by a wet nurse,” said an overdressed woman; she seemed to be a present to herself in yellow wrapping. “My own mother dried up. The wet nurse was a mother to me too.”

“Are grandmothers also mothers?” asked a boy. The class giggled and he looked down.

“Of course they are,” said Alex. They are…”

“I was raised by a stepmother,” said an old man. “She was a horrible woman, always cruel to me. She said that if I ever told my father, she’d tell him to send me to an orphanage.” This made everybody sad.

“We eat the lush fruits of Mother Earth,” said a woman that Alex knew was a poet. “Gaia gives us all.”

“In mythology there are mother goddesses – Hera, Durga, Amaterasu, Isis, Kwan Yin…”

“And don’t forget the Holy virgin – Mother of God!”

A boy shouted out, “My mother is a lesbian and recently got married, so now I have two mothers.” Everybody agreed that he was very lucky indeed.

Points of View

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2012 by javedbabar

Though he was forced by The Authority to mix adults and teens, Alex’s first PIA: Philosophy In Art class had gone well. Everybody had contributed something to the session. He had chosen to focus on Japanese art; it was full of surprises but also somewhat familiar.

While the class settled down, Alex looked out of the window. He saw sunlight pouring onto Mt Alba. The mountain stood guard over Lucerne, glowing as white as he’d ever seen it. It seemed a pile of lost salt, ready to tumble or be blown away.

He decided to introduce Hokusai’s famous views of Mt Fuji. It was good to move students on to topics in an easy manner, as naturally as possible. How could he get them to Hokusai? Let’s start with what they knew already.

“Just the teens please. Who remembers any names from last week’s class?”

They began shouting out the names of popular characters, some previously mentioned and some new ones.

“Doraemon!”

“Pikachu!”

“Super Mario!”

“Hello Kitty!”

“Chimichanga!” said a boy with red hair and freckles. Even his classmates turned and frowned.

Alex said, “Come on class, you can do better than that!”

A boy called out, “Yoshitoshi!”

A girl replied with “Moshi moshi!”

There was a chorus of “Yoshitoshi!” followed by “Moshi moshi!”

“Yes, Yoshitoshi, but let’s not start all that again. Who knows another name? Adults can you please help me out? Yes, Hokusai! Thank you.”

“He was the son of a mirror-maker, which affected how he saw the world. Imagine seeing reflections, and reflections within reflections, all day long. How would that affect you? He became obsessed with a particular mountain. Who knows which one?”

“Mt Alba!” said a girl.

“Mt Negra!” said a boy.

“I’ll save some time. It was Mt Fuji. In a famous story called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a goddess deposits the Elixir of Life at its peak. Mt Fuji was then seen as a source of immortality. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is also said to live there. There is a story about her and mirrors too, but I’ll tell you that another time.

“Hokusai revealed Mt Fuji in many ways – in different seasons and in changing weathers, with diverse people and animals, and from many places and varying distances. He did a series of a hundred views, but his most famous series has thirty-six views. Let’s take a look at that.”

They saw the Great Wave off Kanagawa causing fishermen to cling to their boats, and a little Mt Fuji far away calling them back to safety; the south wind and clear sky around a slim red Fuji, lashing rainstorms upon Fuji, viewing it beneath bridges, beyond pine forests, from mountain passes, fields, shops, temples and tea houses, from watermills, in boats, near bays, from lakes, its reflections, its cone smoking, rising beside rivers, above beaches, and alongside islands.

“How did he make them?” asked a girl.

“He drew the image on paper and used it to guide the cutting of the wood block beneath. He made different woodblocks for each colour.”

“That seems like a lot of work,” said the girl. “Did he make lots of money?”

“Not really. Mainly he just wanted to know Mt Fuji. To really know something we must look at it in many ways.”

He had an idea for a class exercise. “Next week, we will pick a topic and look at it in one hundred ways.” The class protested strongly. Most people were only used to one view – their view. Anything more was a challenge.

“Okay, we’ll just do thirty-six views.” There was still strong opposition.

Alex recalled that due to popular demand, Hokusai had added ten additional views to the thirty-six. “Okay, we’ll just do ten views.”

There were still protests, but not so many that they could not be overcome.

Yoshitoshi Moshi Moshi

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by javedbabar

Alex wasn’t sure if this art class was a good idea. He had wanted to teach only adults, but The Authority had a policy of community-building and insisted that classes at the Transparent Temple – nickname of their glassy community centre – should be open to all. The Official Response Document asked the question, “Do children benefit from inter-generational interaction and instruction?” and then answered it too, saying, “Yes, they do. They should thus be offered classes alongside adults.”

The school thought this was wonderful. It was a good way to stretch their resources – they could send Year Twelve students to Alex’s art class instead of running one themselves.

Alex’s first term focus was PIA: Philosophy In Art. Now with two audiences to please, he wondered if that would work well. Maybe he should simplify the topic and start with a particular style of art, and see how that went before broadening its intellectual scope.

The audience had self-segregated. Adults sat along the left of the room and teens along the right.

“Good morning everyone,” Alex said confidently. “Welcome to PIA:Philosophy In Art class. It is wonderful to have both adults and teens present. I am looking forward to hearing a wide range of views and opinions from you all. I’d like to start with a particular style today, something very distinctive. Who knows something about Japanese design?”

The teens were more enthusiastic than he’d supposed. Their hands shot up and they began calling out.

“Pac Man!”

“Manga!”

“Godzilla!”

“Transformers!”

“Pokemon!”

“Tomagotchi!”

Yu-Gi-Oh!”

This wasn’t really what Alex had wanted, but the last example was fortuitous. He decided to pick up on it.

“What is Yu-Gi-Oh? Oh, it’s a card game? The King of Games! Is it good? What are the characters like? Who is the main hero? So it’s Yugi Mutou? Thank you for enlightening me. I’ll prepare myself for battle! I’d like to introduce you to a similar word – Ukiyo-e. Can you say that?” Some of the class had a go.

“Well done! Ukiyo-e is traditional Japanese woodblock printing. Who has heard of Hokusai?”

Most adults put up their hands, but none of the teens.

“He was the son of a mirror-maker and became obsessed with Mt Fuji. He spent much of his life drawing it in surprising ways. Another artist is Hiroshige, the son of a fire fighter. When he was a child he loved to play with miniature landscapes, and later experimented with many different perspectives. The third artist I’d like to consider is Yoshitoshi. He lived in a time when feudal society was breaking down in Japan. It was a time of great chaos, and many of his images feature violence and death. So which of these artists shall we deal with first?”

A boy shouted out, “Yoshitoshi!”

A girl shouted out, “Moshi moshi!” Alex couldn’t help laughing. This was the usual way that Japanese people answered telephones.

A chant began in the classroom, with boys shouting out “Yoshitoshi!” and girls responding with “Moshi moshi!”

“Yoshitoshi!”

“Moshi moshi!”

“Yoshitoshi!”

“Moshi moshi!”

“Yoshitoshi!”

“Moshi moshi!”

Alex joined in with both chants. This class would be more fun than he’d supposed.