Kaunas

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:15 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
I meant for this to be two separate posts: one for the fun stuff, one for the Ninth Fort, which is the most harrowing, emotionally devastating place I have visited since Buchenwald. But of course image hosting isn't cooperating, so unfortunately at the moment, if you want to see the fun pictures, you will also have to see the depressing pictures (which I promise aren't actually that bad, as I only really took exterior shots that are only disturbing if you know the context). This said, here is the gallery, and content/trigger warning for some of the photos being of a place where 30,000-50,000 people were murdered.

(Of course, I have no idea if you can even view the photos. I really need to work out my image hosting issues. Flickr is an impossibility at the moment while I'm out of Canada.)

Anyway! I'm sure somewhere in your mind, you were wondering about the fact that I keep posting pictures of pretty buildings and lovely, walkable cities. Admit it--you expected a bit more Soviet brutalist and you were wondering where it was. The answer is that it's all in Kaunas. Kaunas does have a cute Old Town but the stuff we wanted to see wasn't there, and where we're staying is pure 1960s poured cement. I will admit a slight fondness for it, though I wouldn't want to live there.

Our first stop was the Devil's Museum, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It's an excellent collection of devils of all sorts. Our one criticism is that the gift shop was missing some obvious opportunities as it practically didn't exist.

Then we went across the street to the museum of M. K. Ciurlionis, a Symbolist artist and composer. Cool, not the most exciting, but some lovely work.

We also rode a funicular, which is kind of like an amusement ride except not very good. But it's one of my favourite words now.

The main event was going about a half-hour outside town to the Ninth Fort. It's an early 20th century fort that became a hard labour camp, then a transfer point for deportations to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania, then basically a killing field under the Nazis. The second time the Soviets occupied the country, they turned it into a vast and ghastly monument to the victims of fascism, which subsequently was expanded to include evidence of their own crimes after Lithuania's independence.

I can't really describe it to you properly. Unless you've been in the remnants of a concentration camp or similar, you won't be able to get what it's like to stand in a place that is well and truly haunted by the unquiet dead. The museum consists of one building that's an overview of the atrocities committed on the premises, but focusing mainly on the Soviet occupation, several vast, giant sculptures and plaques describing the Nazi massacres, and the fort itself, which shows prison cells, interrogation rooms, a recreation of a Kaunas Ghetto house, and informational rooms with the requisite belongings of the victims. It's cold, and damp, and good luck ever not feeling that bone-deep chill again. Also, this is why we don't fucking compromise with fascists, okay?

Anyway we coped really well after, which is to say I had 1/3 of a bottle of wine and I'm just about shaking history from my head. Tomorrow it's back to Kiev, and then home.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
We rolled into Vilnius, Lithuania just before 10 pm last night after a four-hour long bus ride. It was pouring rain, which is typical for here (apparently the weather is awful in one way or another at least 60% of the time), and late, so we grabbed dinner at a vegetarian bar and crashed out at the hotel. Today, it was supposed to pour--our cab driver assured us that this time, the entire city would be flooded--but our luck held and we were able to do a walking tour of the Old Town and the Republic of Užupis.

Vilnius has a messy, dilapidated charm. I think, perhaps, my lack of bonding with Riga was due to the fact that it's kept in such good repair; letting a city crumble a bit is much more aesthetically pleasing. It's slightly less Westernized--people here speak Russian as much as they do English, though mainly Lithuanian--and just, well, weirder.

photos )
sabotabby: (doom doom doom)
Here are a few last glimpses of Riga before we hop a bus to Vilnius. We went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the Art Nouveau district, and I shot a few more pictures of the hotel.

under here )
sabotabby: (sabokitty)
I don't have a ton of spoons left over tonight for a long post, so have some photos around and about Riga.

After the aesthetic exuberance of Odessa, Riga seems much more restrained, even dour. It's impressively old (founded in 1201, and there were settlements well before that) and lovely, but also more orderly, less lively, less organic. And, of course, much more expensive: welcome back to Western Europe.

This said, it's gorgeous and fun. Everyone speaks English here, which is relaxing. I don't mean this in a chauvinist way; mainly that I don't need to bother Anya to translate everything. Actually, where we're staying in the old town, it doesn't seem like anyone other than people working here are from here; it's pretty heavily touristy.

Which also means that it's incredibly easy to find vegan food. Including an entire vegan restaurant. I was like, "GIVE ME ALL THE PROTEIN."

The most important story I learned today was this: There were two powerful guilds in Riga. One was for skilled craftsmen, and admitted every eligible craftsman who applied to join. The other was for merchants, and only admitted Germans. A wealthy merchant from Riga applied to join and was rejected on the basis of his nationality. Accordingly, he built himself a giant fuck-off house across the street from the guild building and put black cats on the roof with their asses facing the building, as if shitting. The guild immediately sued to have the cats removed, but because lawsuits take time, WWI broke out, and no one gave a shit about cats' asses. The cats were mysteriously removed anyway in the 1920s, and replaced just as mysteriously in the 1950s, this time facing towards the guild, as it is now the home of the Riga Philharmonic, and no one has any quarrel with them.



photodump )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
So the performance sucked so hard we walked out. Like, possibly the worst thing either of us have ever seen, which is saying an awful lot. The tickets were suspiciously cheap, but tbh most things in the Ukraine are suspiciously cheap. But in this case I think it was because they knew it was terrible. We'd actually gone in to see if we could get a tour or just wander around the opera house, but the lady said that there was a show that night, so we decided to give it a shot.

She described the show as a sequel to The Nutcracker but also a crossover with War and Peace, and a musical. A "wonderful spectacle," in fact. I have to admit that we were basically morbidly curious, and it would get us inside those gorgeously ornate doors.

Anyway, we made it two songs in. The thing was in Ukrainian so we don't know what it was about but I don't think it would have made a lot of sense even if we did understand the language. It was kind of embarrassing to listen to.

But! It meant that we got to sneak out and take unobstructed photos of the glory that is the Odessa Opera House, and that was worth the ticket price alone. I hope you appreciate how hard it was to narrow these down. They don't half capture the actual, real spectacle that is this building, but I've given it my best.

pretty! )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
We went to the Odessa Opera House, one of the most famous and beautiful opera houses in the world.

behold! )
sabotabby: (magicians)
Sorry-not-sorry, but you will be getting a load of pictures of Odessa because it is fucking magical. My intention at the moment is to retire, sell my house, buy one of the dilapidated old buildings and restore it to its former glory, learn Russian (it's another city where most people speak Russian, not Ukrainian, much to our joy), and wander around the glorious streets at night in a fashionable dress, drinking an open bottle of champagne.

Life goals, amirite?

In all seriousness, though, not for nothing is Odessa called Paris on the Black Sea. It has all the architectural splendour and literary tradition you could hope for, it is cosmopolitan and fashionable, and it is lit. I have never been to Paris, granted, but from what I understand Odessa is much cheaper and not as crowded. In Kiev and Lviv, people are pretty much the same as anywhere else, except with a penchant for wearing poorly translated English t-shirts bearing inspirational but nonsensical slogans, expressions of general hatred towards anyone viewing the shirt, or just vague weirdness (my favourite so far was a picture of a cat made out of ramen noodles sitting in a bowl with the caption "Pet Food").

Here, though, everyone looks like a model. The women are all tall and thin and wear flowing striped dresses, and the children prance around in tutus at all hours of the night. The streets are alive with music and performers and what I'm pretty sure is a unicorn (i.e., incentive to look at the pictures under the cut).

plz appreciate how much I had to narrow these down )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (go fuck yourself)
There's so much stupid out there, and it's hard to know when to start when savagely mocking things, even without the US elections stealing a problematic plot point from an episode of Doctor Who. But here are three things that made me roll my eyes so hard that simply a link and a snarky remark on FB was not enough.

1. Facebook, as you probably heard, took down a post from a Norwegian daily featuring the famous photo of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, best known as the "napalm girl," but be a decent person and call her by her name, okay?  Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, retaliated brilliantly, as you can read here, and eventually Facebook did relent. However, their justification—that is is just too much effort to distinguish between one of the most famous photographs of all time depicting a massive political turning point and child pornography—is what's hella stupid.

Fortunately, I don't need to do a takedown of the whole thing, because Dan Hon did it rather beautifully here, and do take some time to read that post, because it's great and includes one of the most awesome trigger warnings I've ever seen on an online article. But the key takeaway is encapsulated quite nicely here:

Facebook - and, more or less, Silicon Valley, in terms of the way that the Valley talks about itself, presents itself and so-on - is built on and prides itself in solving Difficult Problems. At least, they are now. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar public company where *some* things are difficult and worth doing (e.g. Internet access to 1bn people using custom-built drones, but other things are, by implication, *TOO HARD* and don't warrant the effort.
I was going on at great length yesterday to a friend about my hatred of Facebook's sorting algorithm, and how it can cause some friends to disappear and some to become disproportionately prominent, and make you feel as though no one is listening to you and you're shouting into a void when it decides it doesn't like one of your posts. (It's bad enough when it happens on FB; worse when it happens in cases like hiring practices or policing techniques; we are increasingly delegating large parts of our lives to supposedly objective technology that's created by subjective, and generally speaking, racist, humans.) LJ solved this particular problem in a very simple way, by showing you every post by every friend in the order that they posted it, without continuous scrolling. Now, obviously, this doesn't fit with FB's business model at all, or the way that most people use it, but it does show that the problem can be solved.

Historically, we have not asked big monstrous corporations to solve all of the world's problems, but Silicon Valley seems determined to solve all the world's problems, or at least "disrupt" and create problems where there weren't any problems before. And we seem willing to surrender the questions of what problems exist, and which are worth solving, to them, which is why the US seems to have delegated creating its educational policy to Bill Gates, of all people. Which brings me to a tangential point raised by someone in the BoingBoing forums: At what point do we make a distinction between the traditional definition of free speech being freedom from government repression, and start being honest about the control over the discourse that corporations get. At what point is Facebook equivalent to or more powerful than a state actor? I think we're there; Facebook is the primary news source for a huge chunk of the population, and at some point we need to force it to act responsibly or force it to abdicate this role.

Anyway, fucking stupid. Hire some humans who can distinguish between a black-and-white news photo of a naked child on fire and actual porn, and pay them a living wage.

2. SPEAKING OF A LIVING WAGE...Okay, I've mocked this to shit already today but I'm not done mocking, no I am not.  Via Everyday Feminism, currently vying with Upworthy for the Worst Place On the Internet: 20 Ways to Help Your Employees Struggling with Food Insecurity and Hunger.

Now, for a site that claims to be all about accessibility, EF is slightly less accessible than, say, Alex Jones after 72 hours of substituting Red Bull, vodka, and crystal meth cocktails for sleep, which is to say it's one of the worst-written sites I've ever seen. I'm guessing they don't have paid editors. Every article is skimmable at best, and tends to amount to: "Be gentle, check your privilege, and don't forget to self-care with your yogurt." But this is possibly the worst article of every bad article I've ever read there, because not one of these 20 ways is "pay your employees a living wage."

Because, sorry. A minimum wage is supposed to be a living wage, and if your employees are on food stamps, you are not paying them enough. If you "can't afford" to pay them enough, as EF suggested in their equally ludicrous rebuttal to the criticism this article garnered, you are a shitty businessperson and deserve to go bankrupt. And if you have the time and money to learn about your employee's food sensitivities—again, you are not paying them enough, and hardworking taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize your lack of business acumen.

Should you be in the odd position where you cannot control how much you pay your employees (let's say you're the just-above-minimum-wage manager of a McDonald's, though if you were, I'm not sure why food sensitivities would be an issue), plenty of helpful friendly unions would be happy to come and visit your employees and assist them in organizing to get their wages raised.

Also, they include the worst suggestion of all time, which is to load up on meat-lovers pizza. Please do not do this, whether your workers are starving or not. In 100% of catered work events I have attended, the "meat-lovers" go right for the paltry vegetarian options and eat it all up before the vegetarians can get to it.

3. Finally, let's talk about architecture. Check out York U's new building! Now, York U is already the repository for a collection of the worst architectural trends in the last half-century (as is Toronto in general; we spawned Frank Gehry, after all) but this one is just too hilarious to be believed. It's like the Edgy White Liberal of buildings. You can practically see the #hashtags in #every #sentence in that #puffpiece.

Guess what, starchitects. People figured out hundreds of years ago how to make buildings work, and you can't improve on it all that much. Human beings like to feel relatively contained, and more importantly, like their ambient noise to be contained, particularly in places where they're supposed to work or study. That's why universities have quaint, outmoded features like "classrooms" and "lecture halls." Ever tried to work in an open concept office? It's distracting as anything. I'm all for less productivity—productivity is one of the Great Lies of late-stage capitalism—but I would rather be unproductive on my own terms. And common areas for meeting with students? When students want to meet with me outside of class time, it's quite often to tell me that they're struggling with family or workload or mental health issues, so why not just shout that all over the #learningspaces where the whole #engineering program can hear it?

Plus, like every building erected in the last 20 years, it looks like the architect gave up, crumpled the blueprints, and submitted the balled-up paper as the actual design.

Kill it with fucking fire.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (red flag over TO)
The video of the Honourable Wife-Beating, Drunk-Driving, Bird-Flipping, Crack-Smoking, Possibly-Drug-Dealer-Murdering, and Evidence-Destroying Mayor smoking crack is apparently "gone." (This is why you always make a back-up, people!) The CBC was suggesting this morning that it might have found its way into the hands of police, who are refusing to comment (which means that they have it), where as the Star suggests skittishness on the part of the video's current owner. Occam's Razor suggests that the entire thing was about drug dealers blackmailing Ford, he paid up, the staffers resigned because of it, end of story.

At any rate, the laughable bumblefuck seems to have gotten away with it again. Not surprising. He routinely flouts the law, but the cops love him, so they don't investigate. Despite his everyman persona, he's a white millionaire, and white millionaires do not go to jail for breaking the law. Or lose their jobs.

(On a related note, if you haven't read this article about racial disparity in pot arrests in the U.S., you really should do that now.)

The mayor of Toronto smokes crack. It is known. It's hardly the worst thing he's done, but it was looking for awhile like the one thing that we could pin on him. But he's proven remarkably Teflon-coated. If I were more conspiracy-minded, I might point out that the crack video provided an excellent sideshow that distracted everyone from the fact that the federal Conservatives blatantly stole the last election. (I do think Ford's provincial and federal allies were completely willing to throw him under the bus, but it probably wasn't their preferred option.)

Meanwhile, Ford's actual policies still suck. Toronto recorded a $248 million surplus for 2012, mostly from the land transfer tax that he wants to cut. So there's that, but math is hard, and crack videos are funnier.

In other local news, Walmart wants to take a giant shit all over Kensington Market, while Frank Gehry is trying to take a slightly differently shaped shit over the Entertainment District. (Can't we just ship him to Dubai or something? I hear they like that kind of thing.)

You wouldn't know it sometimes, but I really do love my city. It's just run by people who hate it, which is a hell of a tragedy.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (quit your whoring now)
Pop quiz: What's worse than letting starchitect wanker Frank Gehry crumple up a bunch of paper, 3D-render it, and plunk it in the middle of Toronto like so:

Photobucket

Letting him do so in the middle of a reasonably nice area of the city, in the process demolishing the quite lovely and human-scale Princess of Wales Theatre in order to shit out his architectural abortions.

Gehry apparently intends to TP several city blocks in the heart of the entertainment district. As you might know, I have a special hate-on for Gehry because he doesn't like wheelchair ramps. He represents the worst trends in contemporary architecture: utter contempt for usability and accessibility, aesthetic hideousness in the service of appearing avant-garde, and a complete disregard for the particular context of city spaces.

My first reaction was to projectile vomit. My second was to make sure that James Howard Kunstler knew about it ASAP. He is probably sick of people from Toronto writing him to tell him about our city's perverted love affair with monuments to poor taste and unsustainability by now. But really, is there any other city besides Dubai so slavishly devoted to uglifying itself?

Oh, and screw David Mirvish, too. He's apparently determined to fuck up his father's legacy as thoroughly as possible.

ETA: And Kunstler e-mailed me back, ZOMG! /fangirls
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (commiebot)
There's much to detest in the corporate culture of late-stage capitalism, but its failure on an aesthetic basis is something that really fascinates me. Driving home from Niagara-on-the-Lake—a town with some truly lovely architecture—[livejournal.com profile] bcholmes and I passed a rather fascinating building. I wish I'd snapped a picture because there's no way I can adequately describe how ugly this building was. It was this sprawling complex with a green roof—not green as in full of plants or carrying an aged patina, but a deliberately bright green roof meant to evoke an aged patina, kind of. Because aged patinas are stately and sophisticated, even when rendered in plastic. It was impossible, at a glance, to look at this building and determine its intended use. It looked halfway between a mega-church and a shopping mall (as I put it, "a perfect symbol for our age") and fully hideous.

I'm currently reading (for class, obviously) Steven R. Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and given how vigorously this book is pushed in our education system, it's a goddamned miracle that I haven't had to read it until now. I'm finding it impenetrable. I say this as someone whose favourite author is James Joyce. But I can't read this. My eyes skim over and bounce off of the page like pebbles on the surface of a lake. There's nothing to grasp on to, just made-up businesspeak and mangled prose. My assigned chapter begins with a quote from Bush and, early on, hits the reader with this abortion of a sentence: "Synergy is the essence of Principle-Centered Leadership."

That is not writing. Someone swallowed jargon and vomited it all over a page, and then a publisher published it because that's how so many people speak (and think) these days.

I'm reminded of the contrast between the writing just before and in the early stages of the Russian Revolution, and the clunky, bureaucratic, heavily stylized prose that followed when Stalin came to power.* This shift is, of course, mirrored in the visual; think of the two impossible architectural projects, Monument to the Third International and Palace of the Soviets. You don't need to know anything about Soviet history to guess which one was designed right before purges were about to happen.

I'm no religious sort, but I remember hearing something—probably from an art history prof—that really stuck in my head about how, at one point in Western history, the tallest and grandest buildings were churches, and now they're bank towers. Think of the Gothic cathedral and the mosque versus the big glass box. Today, we can barely imagine what an inspiring building ought to look like; the best we can do is crumple up a piece of paper and call it architecture.

It's the same with prose. We're trained to believe that graceless, clunky writing with a maximum number of "impactfuls" and "bottom-linings" thrown in will somehow make us better, effective people. I don't think it does. The worst thing about aesthetics is that they come out of nurture, not nature, so if you're trained to think via ungainly prose, your very thoughts become ungainly over time. Remember, the people who crashed the economy were all about synergy.

I don't, of course, expect that every book be written in clear, graceful language, any more than I expect every building to be beautiful. But I do wonder why we promote rather than bury this sort of aesthetic. It says something ugly about our culture. How do you inspire anyone to believe in anything with buildings, and books, like these.

(Shorter [livejournal.com profile] sabotabby: But I don't wanna do my homework.)

* The best analysis of how and why this happened that I've come across can be found in Alexei Yurchak's Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Highly recommended.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (commiebot)
MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM SO TIRED. Totally worth it. But I feel like I'm going to sleep for a year and do nothing but watch TV and read cheesy fantasy novels for a bit.

Today's panels:

The Circuits of Labour and Capital. Translation: Migrant labour, and I chose this one both out of interest and because I knew three out of the five people involved. Alas, two didn't show (including the one who's in 2 Revolución). The other two were really good, though.

Marxist Aesthetics and Utopia. This was the perfect note to end on. Relevant to my interests in a big way, and we got into a debate about Tatlin's Monument to the Third International that ended up going way overtime and summarizing many of the themes in the conference as a whole. I Googled the presenter, Travis English, and I think he might also be the guy who does all of those cool minimalism posters that you see all over the intertubes. Not sure. Anyway, the discussion induced pangs in me because when I was thinking about grad school, I was thinking about working on Russian Constructivism stuff, which is at the intersection of art, design, and radical politics. Also, I love Monument to the Third International. It's brilliant on every level, encompassing both the power of the theory of dialectical materialism and the fragility of the revolutionary moment. And as someone pointed out in the discussion, as much as it was a failure in the sense that it was never built, given the history of the Russian revolution, it might have been more of a failure if it had been built. As an ethereal work that exists in the imagination instead of in reality, it's a more powerful symbol of revolutionary potential than if it existed as an actual physical object.


I shouldn't be so surprised to find out that people have Photoshopped the hell out of what it would have looked like if built.

SPEAKING OF SCULPTURE! Bad sculpture, this time. I failed utterly for the third day in a row to capture the glory that is the dick sculptures. However, I realized I could just Google it, and so here they are:

Photobucket
Fontana d'Italia by Enzo Cucchi.

Notice that the water is jetting out in the photo. In reality, it drizzles down the shaft and looks more like this. Ah, York. How much I do not miss you at all.

Anyway, all in all the conference was even better than my already inflated expectations, and I'm so glad I went. I think this is the longest I've been consistently in a good mood since Maggie's diagnosis.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (yay)
It seems that my little rant about the accessibility fail at the AGO has garnered some attention. It was apparently discussed at a conference (that I'd heard about through other means, and wanted to attend because it looked amazing) and then mentioned in the Ottawa Citizen!
"I'm so thankful that they put that out into the world, and that they put it in writing," said Syrus Marcus Ware, the program co-ordinator for youth at AGO.

She [sic] said the gallery has gone through a massive re-thinking of its existence, beginning as the new design was being planned, and has poured its efforts into trying to serve a wider population. This includes free nights for people who can't afford to pay admission, and better access for disabled visitors.

But she [sic] said there are always staff who feel defensive and resist change. The outside criticism, she [sic] said, "gave us a great push."

You guys. You guys. They are actually doing something about this, maybe. Words effecting concrete change that makes people's lives better and such.

Thanks a million to [livejournal.com profile] writer_grrrrl for passing said post around to the right people and for sending me the article.

EDIT: It is a lot dismaying to have learned that the article on accessibility!fail committed gender!fail. We have such a long way to go.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
It seems that my little rant about the accessibility fail at the AGO has garnered some attention. It was apparently discussed at a conference (that I'd heard about through other means, and wanted to attend because it looked amazing) and then mentioned in the Ottawa Citizen!
"I'm so thankful that they put that out into the world, and that they put it in writing," said Syrus Marcus Ware, the program co-ordinator for youth at AGO.

She [sic] said the gallery has gone through a massive re-thinking of its existence, beginning as the new design was being planned, and has poured its efforts into trying to serve a wider population. This includes free nights for people who can't afford to pay admission, and better access for disabled visitors.

But she [sic] said there are always staff who feel defensive and resist change. The outside criticism, she [sic] said, "gave us a great push."

You guys. You guys. They are actually doing something about this, maybe. Words effecting concrete change that makes people's lives better and such.

Thanks a million to [livejournal.com profile] writer_grrrrl for passing said post around to the right people and for sending me the article.

EDIT: It is a lot dismaying to have learned that the article on accessibility!fail committed gender!fail. We have such a long way to go.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (fighting the man)
Hey [livejournal.com profile] troubleinchina, I'm stealing your tag.

I finally got around to visiting the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario this afternoon. I went for the Surreal Things show, and the less-publicized Dada and Remix shows, but the art didn't leave much of an impression on me. The architecture, however, is deserving of some analysis.

Entering the building, I was struck immediately by two things. The first was the light-coloured wood and soaring ceilings, reminiscent of the recently built Four Seasons Centre. The second was that the twisting narrow ramp that leads to the ticket booth has enough room for either a wheelchair to go up or a stroller to go down, but not enough room for two-way wheeled traffic. Accordingly, halfway up the ramp, we had to reverse my step-father's wheelchair out in order to allow a man pushing a stroller to leave.

From the main hall leading into the museum, there's a large open court featuring a sculpture and a video installation. A ramp leads down into the court. If you are an able-bodied person, you can continue on through the court through the rest of the gallery. If, however, you use a wheelchair or you are pushing a stroller, you find yourself confused and disoriented, trying to figure out where the other ramp is. As it turns out, you have to head back out the same way you came, and then follow a narrow, counter-intuitive corridor to the exhibit halls.

At this point, we asked one of the museum guides if there was an easier way to get to the exhibits we wanted to see. (The visitor map provided was of little use; it showed things that looked like ramps but were actually stairways, with no indication of which routes were accessible and which were not.) She explained that Gehry's design was intended to encourage the museum-goer to explore the existing galleries (though one could circumvent more galleries by using the stairs), and that the re-design had taken out most of the ramps. "Frank hates ramps," she explained. She was sympathetic; it was clear that she had heard this question before, and she encouraged us to write letters and provide feedback via the website.

The architecture is strikingly sculptural: winding staircases lead up through airy spaces. But the building is primarily a self-contained sculpture rather than a functional space where the public can view art. I watched as an older woman struggled to make it up the stairs—they are tall, narrow, and lack resting spaces. But the space is even more overwhelming and difficult to navigate if you can't climb the stairs at all—you are instead forced into indirect routes that lack signage, occasionally having to cross most of the building in order to find an elevator.

Both signage and staffing are minimal—using the routes available to able-bodied people, a very alert individual can find his or her way. I found myself flagging down the guides far more than I was used to (and far more often than I have done in any other museums, including museums in countries where I didn't speak the language) in order to find routes that avoided stairs. The signage does include some Braille, which is fortunate because the lighting is so low in places that even a sighted person might be tempted to use it.

The washrooms, while they have a handicapped symbol on them, are just as malevolent as the rest of the building. The doors don't have a wide enough swing to allow a wheelchair easy access—it requires two extra people (besides the person using the wheelchair) to get the door open, keep it open, and navigate the person inside. There are things that look like automatic doors, but half the buttons to open them are broken.

The gift store is a particularly interesting case. It has two levels, two staircases, and no ramps. A person using a wheelchair can access both floors of the shop, but in order to get from one to another, he or she would have to exit the shop, find a ramp, and enter through another floor. Apparently, the AGO plans to have only able-bodied people work in the gift store.

The AGO is a public institution; its promotional material promises a welcoming space, a personalized experience, an innovative environment, and "programming and services that reflect the diversity of our audience." The architecture of the building, however, creates something different—while some people are free to experience the space in a variety of ways, a large part of the museum-going public—families with young children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and family and friends of the aforementioned visitors—do not have the same level of choices. Anyone who uses a mobility aid will have a vastly different experience of the museum than someone who does not.

The result is a building that serves the architect's personal aesthetic, but not the audience's needs. It may technically comply with Ontario building and human rights codes, but in practice, it is alienating space that creates a two-tiered experience, dividing its audience into people who are worthy of culture and people who are not. For a new building, and especially in light of the structure it replaced, this is unforgivable.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Hey [livejournal.com profile] troubleinchina, I'm stealing your tag.

I finally got around to visiting the redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario this afternoon. I went for the Surreal Things show, and the less-publicized Dada and Remix shows, but the art didn't leave much of an impression on me. The architecture, however, is deserving of some analysis.

Entering the building, I was struck immediately by two things. The first was the light-coloured wood and soaring ceilings, reminiscent of the recently built Four Seasons Centre. The second was that the twisting narrow ramp that leads to the ticket booth has enough room for either a wheelchair to go up or a stroller to go down, but not enough room for two-way wheeled traffic. Accordingly, halfway up the ramp, we had to reverse my step-father's wheelchair out in order to allow a man pushing a stroller to leave.

From the main hall leading into the museum, there's a large open court featuring a sculpture and a video installation. A ramp leads down into the court. If you are an able-bodied person, you can continue on through the court through the rest of the gallery. If, however, you use a wheelchair or you are pushing a stroller, you find yourself confused and disoriented, trying to figure out where the other ramp is. As it turns out, you have to head back out the same way you came, and then follow a narrow, counter-intuitive corridor to the exhibit halls.

At this point, we asked one of the museum guides if there was an easier way to get to the exhibits we wanted to see. (The visitor map provided was of little use; it showed things that looked like ramps but were actually stairways, with no indication of which routes were accessible and which were not.) She explained that Gehry's design was intended to encourage the museum-goer to explore the existing galleries (though one could circumvent more galleries by using the stairs), and that the re-design had taken out most of the ramps. "Frank hates ramps," she explained. She was sympathetic; it was clear that she had heard this question before, and she encouraged us to write letters and provide feedback via the website.

The architecture is strikingly sculptural: winding staircases lead up through airy spaces. But the building is primarily a self-contained sculpture rather than a functional space where the public can view art. I watched as an older woman struggled to make it up the stairs—they are tall, narrow, and lack resting spaces. But the space is even more overwhelming and difficult to navigate if you can't climb the stairs at all—you are instead forced into indirect routes that lack signage, occasionally having to cross most of the building in order to find an elevator.

Both signage and staffing are minimal—using the routes available to able-bodied people, a very alert individual can find his or her way. I found myself flagging down the guides far more than I was used to (and far more often than I have done in any other museums, including museums in countries where I didn't speak the language) in order to find routes that avoided stairs. The signage does include some Braille, which is fortunate because the lighting is so low in places that even a sighted person might be tempted to use it.

The washrooms, while they have a handicapped symbol on them, are just as malevolent as the rest of the building. The doors don't have a wide enough swing to allow a wheelchair easy access—it requires two extra people (besides the person using the wheelchair) to get the door open, keep it open, and navigate the person inside. There are things that look like automatic doors, but half the buttons to open them are broken.

The gift store is a particularly interesting case. It has two levels, two staircases, and no ramps. A person using a wheelchair can access both floors of the shop, but in order to get from one to another, he or she would have to exit the shop, find a ramp, and enter through another floor. Apparently, the AGO plans to have only able-bodied people work in the gift store.

The AGO is a public institution; its promotional material promises a welcoming space, a personalized experience, an innovative environment, and "programming and services that reflect the diversity of our audience." The architecture of the building, however, creates something different—while some people are free to experience the space in a variety of ways, a large part of the museum-going public—families with young children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and family and friends of the aforementioned visitors—do not have the same level of choices. Anyone who uses a mobility aid will have a vastly different experience of the museum than someone who does not.

The result is a building that serves the architect's personal aesthetic, but not the audience's needs. It may technically comply with Ontario building and human rights codes, but in practice, it is alienating space that creates a two-tiered experience, dividing its audience into people who are worthy of culture and people who are not. For a new building, and especially in light of the structure it replaced, this is unforgivable.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (purged!)
All you commies, design geeks, and commie design geeks, check out Unrealized Moscow. Now, if only they had something similar for architectural visions between 1917 and 1930, given that those are the best ones. The Palace of Soviets is particularly good, though, just because I remember studying it in art history class and someone calling out, "My God, it's a giant birthday cake with Stalin on top."

There's something to be said for buildings so ambitious that they can never be built. Meanwhile, construction on that horrific ROM extension continues.
Hey, Milton Friedman died. In the spirit of unfettered competition, the first person who makes a tasteless joke about it will win a special, yet-to-be-determined prize.

EDIT: [livejournal.com profile] rohmie, A WINNER IS YOU! Your slightly used copy of the latest, hot-off-the-press issue of Upping the Anti will be in the mail as soon as I finish reading it. (Hey, I didn't say the prize was any good.)

Anyway, you're all winners, really. Except for Friedman, because he's dead.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
All you commies, design geeks, and commie design geeks, check out Unrealized Moscow. Now, if only they had something similar for architectural visions between 1917 and 1930, given that those are the best ones. The Palace of Soviets is particularly good, though, just because I remember studying it in art history class and someone calling out, "My God, it's a giant birthday cake with Stalin on top."

There's something to be said for buildings so ambitious that they can never be built. Meanwhile, construction on that horrific ROM extension continues.
Hey, Milton Friedman died. In the spirit of unfettered competition, the first person who makes a tasteless joke about it will win a special, yet-to-be-determined prize.

EDIT: [livejournal.com profile] rohmie, A WINNER IS YOU! Your slightly used copy of the latest, hot-off-the-press issue of Upping the Anti will be in the mail as soon as I finish reading it. (Hey, I didn't say the prize was any good.)

Anyway, you're all winners, really. Except for Friedman, because he's dead.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (AK Hello Kitty/springheel_jack)
Some cultures deserve to perish.

But first, check out this kitty:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

What a cute kitty.

cut for eyesore )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Some cultures deserve to perish.

But first, check out this kitty:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

What a cute kitty.

cut for eyesore )

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