Saturday, November 14, 2015

Love and New Media

Summer of Love @ the Chicago MCA, 2009.
A good friend of mine, E. Marie Robinson, sent me a missive she wrote when she met me in 2008:
Love and New Media: 2008.

I was surprised that I had been talking about this that far back, as my work with the Summer of Love project and Ghosts of Adak started in 2009, and the Cura Bodrum and Love at First Site projects were 2010.  The Kaleidoscope project was last year, I think (2014).

As I spend my 400 days (metaphorically) in the desert, I've been at a quandry in regard to my work as an artist and critic.  I can't really do the critical/activist work out here at all, and this has hobbled my work.  I'm planning on going back to my work regarding the conversations between my father and I on the Aleutian Island of Adak soon.  It's just that while I was a central player in a group called The Yes Men, graduate school and family pressures pushed me back, and I wonder how I can best serve society now.

Love. Especially given the events in Paris, what a concept, eh?

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Russian Cargo Plane near the Barracuda - What is it?

Sand, wind and the searing heat have not been kind to this old aircraft - the engines have long gone, its tyres and landing gear sink into the dunes and birds nest in the wings.
The abandoned plane, with adverts for the Palma Beach Hotel emblazoned on its sides, is a familiar and odd sight for many people as it sits beside the Barracuda Beach Resort in Umm Al Quwain (UAQ).
But like many strange and unexplained landmarks across the country, it has a story to tell.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Rain Day. Yes. Rain Day.

I rode my bicycle to work today and noticed that the tiles were wet in the courtyard.  For some odd reason, I found this a bit jarring along with the clouds and the slight chill in the air.  “None of these things happen here, right?” I thought.  It’s hot, sunny, and dry. ALL THE TIME.   But it rained.

Actually, up in the more mountainous areas like in Ras al Khaimah, you have more rain than here in Sharjah, as my students told me. But as my students told me in October-November this happens. But actually, this was really unusual as twin cyclones hit Yemen in the past couple weeks, and Cyclone Megh is supposed to create rain here for the next couple days. 

Why is rain enough of a hardship to shut down a major university?  Simple – environmental factors and lack of certain types of infrastructure.  Many areas simply don’t have storm sewers and catchments, meaning low-level flooding.  I mean, why would you need it in a place that usually only has rain a couple times a year?

Secondly, the dust that is pervasive here creates a slurry on the marble courtyard here , and it’s just slippery – I just think it’s like ice and go with that.  But like sudden ice storms in the South of the US, rain creates problems of its own, and while my friends in Illinois scoff, rain here is actually a serious thing to deal with. 

So, you get snow days, we get Rain Days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

7 Reasons You Should Date A Guy Who's Obsessed With His Cat

Why cat-daddies are awesome. (Orientation non-specific ;) )

Missive 1: Food in the UAE Part 1

For my first compartmentalized entry I’ll start talking about food., which is non-offensive, but reveals a lot.  In some ways, it reminds me of Japan in that you get the local food, the immigrant food, and the weird version of American food.

Let’s take the last first and take it from there.  Here in Sharjah you have small malls like Matajer and the Sharjah Co-Op, which is actually an amazing grocery store/ general store.  But in them are McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Hardee’s and the like.  What I have to say about them is much like the famous scene in Pulp Fiction in which John Travolta talks about there being a Royale with Cheese because they’re on the metric system.  But this isn’t exactly true.

What you get is American fast food with weird variations to the menu that address regional tastes.  This could include Emiratis, Indians, Filipinos, and the like as well as expats.  Considering that the hierarchy here goes from locals to expats to the upper working class, you will find things like a Peri Peri Chicken and Chicken Tikka sub at Subway or a Date Pie at McDonald’s.

 Probably one of the stranger things that I  found was a “Chicken Loader” at Hardees, which is a grilled chicken tortilla wrap, stuffed with Jalapenos.

This brings me to the idea of “spicy” here at fast food joints.  First, Rule 35 of Emirati Fast Food Culture: If it can be made, it can be made “spicy”.  In the case of the Burger King Chicken Tendrgrill, Spicy isn’t some sort of Cajun spice, it’s Tabasco. Lots of it.  And in the case of the Chicken Loader (strange name, by the way), nearly enough jalapenos as chicken.  Maybe not, but seems like it.

The second rule of Emirati fast food is Upsell, Upsell. Upsell.

In other words, the very nice Filipino woman behind the counter asks,
Chicken Fries?
More fries?
Orange Juice?

My favorite incident was (twice) a nice African guy tries to upsell me on American cheese like I’ve never had it on a chicken sandwich like THIS. “American Cheese, very nice…”, and he gets me a slice of the luxury Velveeta like it’s this exotic import product (which I guess it sort of is), but wow.  Next comes the kettle cooked potato chips, where he personally gets one fresh from the vat on a plate for me to sample like it’s foie gras.  I find this fascinating and gratifying, if a little bizarre.  He’s puzzled that a guy with a little paunch can pass up these delicacies, it seems.

But there you have that. And every fast food place delivers by motorcycle. Yes, take out Subway – Actually ShoBi the driver is a really nice guy at Subway here on Campus, but I haven't done that yet.

Being that the UAE is about 80% expat, you find almost everything here. The Indian food isn’t like the States, it’s serious. At the Gazebo, the menu is about a quarter inch thick and there’s all this Southern stuff I’ve never even heard of – ever.  There’s almost anything from this general area, Turkish, Lebanese (not so much, surprisingly),  Iranian (Again not as much as there are tensions),  Bangladeshi, you get the idea.

The strangest thing I’ve found is NORTH KOREAN. Yes. There is a restaurant run by the Dear Leader in Dubai, and it is worth a go.  It’s a small place with a half dozen identical, immaculate slim young women who not only serve you things like Codonopsis Root, “Vitality Health Drink (dessert)” and the national cold noodles (not my liking, but worth doing) to standard Korean BBQ.  The waitresses have name placards with the national flag on it and perfectly serve from the right, and so on.  After the meal, there is a floor show where they sing Nationalist K-Pop and hand out apples to the audience while playing accordion in front of a big watercolor backdrop of the Motherland. No value judgment, but my mind was blown.  The one thing I noticed was one of the waitresses staring outside the door, and I don’t know if she was thinking, or if I’m projecting.

I’ve gone on long enough about food for this time without even touching on the local stuff.  But eating here is an adventure, and I’ll get to more of this in a future entry.

Next - the National Drink - Lemon Mint ;)

You need this. Play with Orbital's "Girl with the Sun in Her Head"

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Entering the Sandpit, building the archive, feeding the cats.

Welcome -
Although I have done some blogs, a friend in Minnesota challenged me to write about life in the UAE.  I've been doing a journal for the past couple months that actually sloughed off a little the last month because of working on a paper/book chapter, and that's about to be done.

The title describes the point in time that I inhabit and where I live.  Although I think it's much nicer than this, a colleague calls my university, the American University of Sharjah, "The Sandpit", because of Sharjah being filled with nearly nothing but...  I guess you're right.

Building the Archive, refers to a couple things.  Tomorrow I go to Montreal to talk about an archive on an obscure form of video art from the 1970's that I am creating an archive of here.  Also, I am creating a body of work that I call "The Archive", which means simply that there are works as a critical artist that I cannot talk about due to the laws or traditions under which I'm living.  So, you may or may not hear about these things, but you'll surely hear about the things I can talk about.

Lastly, feeding the cats.  As a single person, being an expat is challenging.  As a professor, you're responsible for creating a good experience in the classroom. As a person, waking up alone every day means you throw your own party every day, and if you're having a bad time, it's your own fault.

What does that have to do with feeding the cats?  Simply put, life isn't so much about what it gives you but how you shape it and how you make it better for others as you move through it as you build a corridor of light for others.

Part of that is my playful obsession with cats.  We have lots of feral cats here, and there's a real culture about that - I'll talk about that later.  But feeding cats is a metaphor for life.  Since I decided not to bring my girl Haley for 9 months because of my being all over the world this year, I feed the cats here.  Sure, ..., but now they are fed and played with.  Again, throw your own party, be generous, be good to others.  That's the gist.

I hope I can give you a little insight as to what it is to live here in the UAE, share work, and share fun cat links.  I'll categorize pretty tightly, so if you're interested in one thing or another, just click.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the ride.
Welcome to the Sandpit.