Monday, April 17, 2017

Kusama, Museums, and the Experience Economy

Last month, I visited the record-setting, hard-to-get-into Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum here in DC. 

I went, I stood in line, and I selfie-d. 


The exhibit is based on standing for 15-30-second timed sessions in around a half dozen "Infinity Rooms," which are small installation rooms with different designs of lights and mirrors illuminating their interiors, suggesting the feeling of infinity. They're beautiful and evocative. Three or so hours later, though, because of the long lines and limited time in each, I had probably actually experienced them for less than five minutes total. 

This article in the Washington Post today puts into words a lot of what I thought of the exhibit, and raises some really interesting questions about museums and art, as well as the mixed outcome of the so-called "experience economy" in general. 

Regarding the Kusama exhibit in particular, the author makes a great point about how the rushed experience gets in the way of the ultimate objective of the art: 

"Unfortunately, Kusama’s basic aesthetic — her fascination with infinity and repetition and the way these things can obliterate the ego (like being dwarfed by a sea of stars on a cloudless night) — is lost when the time in each room is so rushed. You have barely registered the basic look of the space when there is a knock on the door and it opens, daylight rushes in and you’re on your way to the next one."

He also introduced me to a label for a phenomenon I've definitely noticed of late, which is that many services are geared towards an "Experience Economy," meaning that people, whether they are museum patrons or customers, are "more interested in experiencing things (like travel, art, social gatherings) than buying material objects." I'm sure we've all seen a heap of think pieces in the last few years about the value of prioritizing experiences over material possessions. 

The article's author has something really interesting to say about both the opportunities and problems presented in such an economy for art and museums. By design, museums and art offer an experience, suggesting that museums could be more popular than ever in such a context, but that experience can also be commodified, arguably interrupting the experience. 

On the opportunities for museums in an "experience economy:"

"The Experience Economy also seems to promise a reservoir of fundamentally aesthetic interest in the world — better to enjoy a sunset on the beach or an afternoon at the Kusama exhibit than hoard up useless money in your back account. That seemingly anti-materialistic energy could be diverted into a more prominent social role and perhaps better bottom line for museums. It seems to be an egalitarian system, too, rewarding people for their curiosity, engagement and willingness to wait in line rather than merely for their socioeconomic status."

And the potential pitfalls: 

"And it is something that can be exchanged. Placing the selfie on social media not only substitutes for the experience that didn’t in fact happen, it engages the audience in an economy of images, including exchange, competition and reward (praise, “likes,” retweets). The experience at the core of the Experience Economy is now looking not so different from any other commodity, although it is less tangible."

The more popular and more easily captured for social media an exhibit is, the more likely it would seem that the experience would be compromised, resulting in the exact opposite of what we might hope for for art in an "experience economy." 

What do you think? Can art be popular today without being turned into a commodity? Is social media to blame? What's positive about the experience economy?


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Chasing the Light in Phnom Penh

On a work trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia last month, I was lucky enough to get a lazy Sunday to myself amidst a busy work schedule. I got out my camera and wandered over to a park surrounding the Independence Monument, which is in the middle of the city. The sun was setting, and families and young people were out, either playing soccer, sitting and enjoying the end of the weekend, or chasing each other around, as these two girls were. I love the energy of these, and they capture some of the magic of Phnom Penh.




Monday, December 19, 2016

Photos of the Week: Lights at Night

The other week, I took a photography class that was focused on night photography at a holiday lights display at a botanical garden in Virginia. It was a chilly and lovely night of wandering around and taking pictures at night. 


There's something so nice about lights in the dark at this time of year, when there are so many hours of dark, and it makes me think of this Mary Oliver poem:

The Buddha's Last Instruction
by Mary Oliver
"Make of yourself a light"
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I'm not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cucumber Rickey

Though it's mid-September, it still feels like summer in DC (it was 97 degrees out last weekend!), and we technically all still have another week before autumn officially starts. 

I made this cocktail a few weeks ago with mint that I'm growing in my small-but-mighty terrace garden, and it was really refreshing and different. I personally love ginger beer, and this is a great way to incorporate some fresh elements into a cocktail.

So if you are still craving a bit of summer before fall officially starts, try these out!



Cucumber Rickey 
Adapted from shake 
Makes two

4 shots of vodka
1 handful of fresh mint leaves (plus a few for garnish)
6 slices of cucumber (plus 2 for garnish)
1 T fresh lime juice
1 can ginger beer
Ice cubes

1. Add the mint leaves, cucumber, and lime juice to a cocktail shaker.
2. Using a muddler, muddle the ingredients in the bottom of the shaker until thoroughly crushed.
3. Add the vodka, and then ice to above the level of the liquid mixture, and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
4. Strain mixture into pint glasses containing ice cubes, top with about 1/2 can of ginger beer, and garnish with remaining cucumber slices and mint leaves.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cherry Blossoms Photography

The cherry blossoms were in peak bloom this weekend in DC. Thanks to some amazing spring weather, I was able to soak them up in two different locations: walking around the Tidal Basin area on Friday after work, and then exploring Dumbarton Oaks park on Saturday afternoon. If you've never been to Dumbarton Oaks, it has beautiful grounds and is a great way to see cherry blossoms without the crowds. 

There are my favorite shots from the weekend. Happy spring, Easter, and blossom season! 

 
 





Saturday, August 29, 2015

Wisconsin

I'm one week back from vacation at home, including some very relaxing time at the lake in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a beautiful place in August - warm but not too hot, green everywhere, and the full of the scent of pine trees. One evening I got some great golden hour photos of the trees by the lake and my sister and Neko the dog. 






Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blackstrap Molasses Walnut Ice Cream


I think this molasses ice cream recipe by Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is my new favorite holiday ice cream. I was a little surprised that it could have such a rich taste, since it's not a flavor that at first I thought would stand out as much in comparison to peppermint or chocolate, but there's something about the simplicity but depth of this that makes it really stand out. It kind of tastes like a molasses cookie distilled into ice cream. So if you are looking for a Christmas recipe, consider whipping some of this up! There are so many interesting things I think you could accompany this with: a chocolate-orange sauce or cookie, a glass of egg nog, or a plum or apricot sauce. Or just eat while sitting by your tree.


Hope everyone has a lovely holiday and some delicious meals! :) See you in 2015!

Molasses Walnut Ice Cream
From Jeni Britton Bauer
Makes about one quart
(requires an ice cream maker)

Ice cream: 

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch 
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened 
1/4 t fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 c blackstrap molasses 

Blackstrap walnuts:

1 cup walnuts,  halved
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1. For the ice cream, mix about two tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. For later, fill a large bowl with ice and water. 

2. Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar and molasses in a four-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for four minutes (the mixture may appear curdled from the acidic molasses, but it will come back together in the finished ice cream). Remove from the heat, and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. 

3. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about one minute. Remove from heat. 

4. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a one-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes. 

5. Meanwhile, for the blackstrap walnuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the nuts with the remaining ingredients in a bowl, tossing to coat. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for about eight minutes. Stir, and then bake for another five to six minutes, stirring twice. The nuts should look bubbly and somewhat dry. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, stirring the nuts every couple of minutes to break them up (they'll harden togeter if left sitting for too long). 

6. Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker and spin until thick and creamy. 

7. Pack the ice cream into a storage container, folding in the walnuts as you go. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, about four hours.