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January Collage II – Ships in the night

Happy New Year! Some new work from my portfolio blog, check it out –

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The inspiration for this came when I stayed with a friend recently who hadn’t been seeing too much of his room mate, and commented, ‘we’ve just been passing like ships passing in the night’.  Nice turn of phrase.  Newspaper cut out letters are seriously fiddly and laborious, but I was rather pleased in the end.  I don’t know about the old cliche of using collage letters in crime so that your handwriting can’t be identified . . . my gluey fingerprints are all over this piece.  Decided to go for something a bit more minimalist to what I usually do, so lots of negative space here.

Belated happy new year – successful arting and crafting for 2014!

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Cancer on my mind

After my own family’s recent experience of my mum being diagnosed with breast cancer I got a bit upset when I saw this feature today, as the news is still very raw, but I thought it was worth sharing.  TV presenter Amy Robach recently had a mammogram live on air to promote breast cancer awareness and encourage more women to be screened.  Shockingly her results came back positive and she is now undergoing treatment.  While Amy Robach looks impossibly calm and together while explaining her surprise to the cameras, I can only imagine what is going on beneath the surface both for her and her family.

I thought I was dealing ok with the news that my mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  After a few tearful days of struggling to talk about it at the beginning I thought that I had made peace with it in my mind.  I could discuss it with my friends in a calm, controlled manner without bursting into tears.  I could watch adverts about cancer or tv or news items about it without having to leave the room.  It was difficult, sure, but I thought the spirit of ‘just getting on with it’ had prevailed.  How wrong I was.

I think a big part of being relatively ok within a few days of getting the news was that nothing had perceptibly changed.  Sure, cancer was the elephant in the room but life unfolded as usual.  My mum went to work, my dad went to work, my sister went to university, I unpacked my suitcase.  Surgery was four weeks in the future (I’m still struggling with this one, always a kid with a preference for having the plaster ripped off quickly, a four week wait to have a cancerous tumour removed seems like an unfathomably long time.  This is MY MUM we’re talking about here guys, why can’t it come out TODAY!?)

In a decision that doesn’t sit particularly well with me, my mum has opted not to tell my elderly grandmother until after surgery, as my grandmother is not in great health herself and spends much of the day alone.  She thinks my grandmother can do without this worry until she absolutely has to know (eg. when my mum starts getting treatment and won’t be able to hide it).  My mum has also decided not to tell her sister – my aunt.  In terms of family I feel like there’s a wall of silence, and it has been making me very uncomfortable since I think my mum could be getting a lot of (much needed) emotional support from those people around her.  On the opposite end of the spectrum I wanted all my friends to know immediately, but of course I still have to keep if from my grandmother – which hurts.

Yesterday my mum’s friend came to visit as she has also recently been diagnosed with breast cancer (they are both around the same age and were picked up in the same round of screenings in our local area).  As this lady’s cancer was more advanced she has already had surgery and hence is a few steps ahead of my mum.  I don’t know if it was overhearing snippets of this conversation full of scary things like radiotherapy, the dreaded chemotherapy, tamoxifen . . . general treatment plan stuff, or if the encroaching date of the surgery is starting to play on my mind, but in the last 24 hours I’ve been one hot mess.  Cancer is now stepping out of the abstract in our house, and is becoming real.

I’ve lost control over my emotions, and it just feels like I am surrounded by cancer.  All of a sudden it seems like so many women not that far removed from me have it, and my mind has been wondering back to all of those friends I’ve had who have lost their mother’s to cancer over the years.  At this minute cancer looks a lot like something that only effects women.  This is a dumb observation obviously, but for me right now it just seems like a veritable plague amongst women over a certain age and I am scared.  

In order to do something proactive I have booked an overdue cervical screening for myself, and I have untold paranoia and fear that something abnormal will result from this.  Guilt wouldn’t let me avoid doing it, certainly not at the moment, but there’s no guarantee that an irrational freak-out will not occur while waiting for results.

Having being generally tearful and unbalanced today the complete pièce de résistance came when I had an appointment that I had to reschedule.  The receptionist wanted to book an appointment for two weeks time, and was fairly forceful about this.  Two weeks time is the day my mum has surgery.  And while I tried to explain that even though I know they aren’t flexible about days I really couldn’t do that day etc etc. I properly broke down.  Along with the public embarrassment of this I am sad and upset that I’m not dealing with the bad news as well as I had thought.  Even afterwards I was completely scattered and distressed.  I didn’t know what to do to calm myself down or make myself feel better.  Should I have attempted to placate myself with coffee and cake?  Bought myself a dress to cheer myself up?  Called one of my friends, in one of those blundering phone calls where you don’t have anything to say but just want to hear a friendly voice – which inevitably then makes you cry a bit more?  I decided instead to first go to the bathroom to calm down and wash my face, only to be confronted with: cancer awareness posters!  It feels like there is nothing I can do to ‘escape’ or ‘forget’ because no amount of distractions are going to make my mum not have cancer.

All this being said my mum herself is currently looking distinctly unruffled, maybe Amy Robach is coping a lot better than my initial suspicions.  Whether this is acceptance, determination or denial remains to be seen . . . I’ll support my mum in any way that I can, and I’m eternally grateful to others who in turn are able to support me.

Copenhagen creativity

Hi guys, here is a post from my other blog of some new work from my sketchbook inspired by my recent travels.

Portfolio

In September I went on a brief trip to Copenhagen and I was delighted with the colourful houses and myriad array of boats in the Nyhavn area.  Here is a drawing I made of one of my photographs with my favourite new 0.3mm pen; I really like what I have been able to produce with this pen so far!  It is much thinner than the pens I usually use so I have been able to get in a lot more intricate detail, which is something I really enjoy putting into my work although it can be frustrating at times.

As I wanted to keep the original black and white pen drawing I made a photocopy of it and was then able to add watercolour to the copy.  I have also done a little scrap-booking on adjoining page, adding some Copenhagen related things (Danish stamps, rubbings of Kroner coins, transport ticket…

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Corporate Responsibility

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Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Last year while helping to put together a travel guide on Berlin I wrote a review about this memorial.  It’s a clever little space occupying a dark corner of the tourist trail only a short stroll from the Brandenburg Gate.  Undulating pathways rise and fall through the 2711 concrete blocks; but gradually towards the centre the path slopes lower and the blocks begin to rise above you.  It gets dark.  The width of the pathway has been designed to only allow for one person to walk down at a time and you quickly find yourself alone.  Your friends become lost amongst the blocks as they take their own path, and you catch glimpses of the others as you make your own way to the other side.  The design is simple and effective, it works on both a visual and emotional level and certainly made me think – I thought it was a worthy memorial.  However, as I began to conduct some research for my review I discovered a mammoth controversy surrounding the project.  A company called Degussa was involved in the estimated 25 million euro construction process, providing the anti-graffitti for the ‘stelae’ concrete blocks.  It just so happened that the collection of companies that Degussa belonged to (under the wartime umbrella of the behemoth IG Farben) had been responsible for the production of Zyklon B – the pesticide used in the gas chambers.  All work on the memorial ceased while a decision was being made on Degussa’s involvement.  Despite much criticism from the Jewish community and journalist Henryk M. Broder commenting that “the Jews don’t need this memorial, and they are not prepared to declare a pig sty kosher” the board of directors decided to continue building with material from Degussa.  The argument for this was that it would have been ‘impossible’  to exclude companies who had collaborated with the Nazi’s as German politician Wolfgang Thierse stated, “the past intrudes into our society”.  No doubt financial constraints also influenced decisions.

The controversy surrounding the Holocaust memorial (as it is often referred to) left a bitter taste in my mouth.  In no city that I have ever visited has the past ever intruded so much as it does in Berlin.  No matter where you go the war and the wall have a way of creeping into your conscience; history is everywhere.  I read some arguments suggesting that it was fitting that Degussa should take part in building a memorial as acknowledgment of their past and reparations for their part in the Holocaust.  But hold on just a minute; Degussa got paid for their construction work, they didn’t offer it as a too-little-too-late goodwill gesture.  Nor did they bid for the contract with the aim to make amends, I’m sure they hoped that in the mess of subsidiary companies, and merged companies, and disbanded companies – plus several decades – their connection to the gas chambers might be overlooked.

At the moment I am working for a German chemical company which was one of the collection of companies which merged in 1925 to form IG Farben, which collaborated closely with the Nazi’s before being disbanded for war crimes in 1945.  IG Farben held the patent for Zyklon B.  It used slave labour from concentration camps  in the manufacture of materials for the armed forces, most notably the Buna synthetic rubber factory at Auschwitz.  A number of employees were prosecuted for war crimes.  Understandably IG Farben was not allowed to continue to exist after the war, however, the original founding companies were quickly reestablished under their old names and continue to exist to this day.  And I am working for one of them.

It surprised me to learn that actually quite a lot of well known companies have a brush with the Nazi’s, although come to think of it – if a German company pre-dates 1939 it’s likely that they’ve had a tryst with party one way or another.  Kodak used labour from camps, so did Volkswagon and Siemens.  Hugo Boss got a contract to produce SS uniforms, and the parent company of Random House, Bertelsmann A.G, published Nazi propaganda.  So cameras, cars, clothes.  But I’m part of the company that has Zyklon B languishing in its back catalogues, no matter how much they try to sever the tie from IG Farben.  Over the past few months that I have been working there this subject has been on my mind quite a bit, which has prompted me to dig deeper.  Surely, I thought, this company must have issued a formal acknowledgement and corporate apology for its prominent role in mass murder – and in order to satisfy my uneasy mind it was necessary for me find this apology.  But no such apology exists.

On the company website there is a detailed run down of the long history of the company, from it being founded pre WWI to the IG Farben merger and the reestablishment of the company after the war – and up to the present day.  There was a little bit of information about use of slave labour at the Buna factory, but absolutely no mention of Zyklon B, let alone anything resembling an apology.  The company has skipped over this, expunged it from the records – and they are not alone.  Several other ex-IG Farben companies, and these are very big multi-nantional companies with turnovers running into several billion euros, have also not apologised for their collaboration with the Nazi’s.  I find this deeply disappointing, and I have lost a lot of respect for the company I am working for as a result.  I appreciate that the Holocaust is a period in history which they would rather gloss over as obviously it is a terrible business association, but an apology would gain my respect, and an apology is what I would expect from any company after involvement in something so awful.  The company I am working for has a set of ethical guidelines outlining a long list of things it will not take part in today – however, without an apology for the past these guidelines are a mockery.  How can we be sure that they won’t participate in chemical warfare the next time around?  In my opinion these companies should not have been allowed to reestablish themselves under their old names as if the Holocaust had not happened.  With German infrastructure so delicate after the war it would have been cruel to completely bulldoze what was left of these chemical/construction/medical companies as they were much needed to rebuild the country.  However, I do think they should have been forced to properly rename and reform as entirely new companies, with no link to the past.

At the opening of Berlin’s memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Holocaust survivor Sabina Wolanski emphasised that the children of the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not responsible for the acts of their parents.  While the employees of today are not responsible for the acts of the past, the companies still are.  It is not too late to apologise, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one waiting.