Nuart festival: Stavanger

Stavanger has become a real cornucopia of culture of late. Not only does it have it’s share of galleries, musicals, theatre and live music, but it is rapidly becoming an international city known for its street art. Like any other moderately sized city it has it’s fair share of tagging and graffiti, but it’s also got a veritable collection of engaging stencil art covering the walls of the city.

One of the main reasons for this is NuArt. NuArt is an annual alternative art festival which is bolted on to the increasingly popular NuMusic festival which hits the city every year.

NuArt spotlights stencil and street art, pulling in international renowned stencil artists, inviting them to paint the walls black, blue and multicolour with their stencils, designs and major work of graffiti art. The hub of all this activity is the very cool Tou Senter down by Storhaug, walking distance from the centre of the city.

Tou senter - Home of NuArt

Tou senter - Home of NuArt

Once an old run-down brewery/factory, it’s still a er… run-down brewery/factory but has been claimed by the artists, making it the place to go for new and exciting exhibitions, cosy concerts, dodgy performance art and their famous Sunday brunches (known as “the English Breakfast club”).

Needless to say, NuArt is fantastic and its roots have spread out to city walls. Below is a selection of some of the best offerings from this year.

What a lovely view: This highlights one of the reasons I love stencil art – it’s humour. Ok I’m gonna get polysyllabic here but it’s the paradoxical nature that appeals.

But then again there’s the other aspect which makes street art so attractive. The social commentary. This image above is a perfect example of the role of art to make you think. These are two great pieces which you can’t ignore.

The setting of the exhibition also played a big part. I mentioned earlier it was held in an old factory. Even though a lot of these pieces featured on the outside walls, the best pieces were buried inside. Basically they were featured in parallel corridors within a dank, unused part of the factory, most of which was in darkness. So to get from one exhibit to another you walked through shadows, heading towards the next dim set of lights, which considering the kind of world street art normally inhabits was an enigmatic touch.

Here we have a colourful exhibit from DotMasters from the UK. Imagine this, you’ve just walked along a dusty dark corridor away from the light of the last exhibition and rounding the corner only to be confronted to this assault of reds, and oranges and light! The pieces in this picture are all pixelated, something you can’t appreciate until you stand up close.

And so we come back to frivolity. Saucy pope here was one of the first pieces you see when you enter these little dark catacombs. No social comment here just taking the piss out of the pope, or was it Marilyn Munroe. Actually that’s another thing i like about stencil art – anyone can do it, it’s so accessible. These days all you need is a link to the internet and some kind of imaging program like photoshop. What makes the best stencil art so good though is it’s visual impact. Sure you can tell someone you saw a picture of the pope in Marilyn Monroe’s dress but nothing does it better than actually seeing it. Right?

This one’s a pearler and the photo captures some of the elements, I’ll try and describe it. You enter this corridor and you so at the end this picture of a man with a trident and dressed in some kind steampunk-inspired regalia. But what is only hinted in this picture are that there are at least a dozen cutout sheep flanking him (if you look closely you can see the shadow of one of them).

To end I’ll post this last picture of two time-honoured heroes down on their luck – batman and robin, pasted on a wall as rusty and delapidated as they are wornout and tired. Overall it was a great exhibition and certainly one of the reasons why Stavanger is a little gem when it comes to unorthodox but approachable art. The pictures featured here are only a selection and a future post will show even more.

Welcome to Stavanger

I live in a little city called Stavanger on the west coast of Norway where I’ve been for about 4 years now.  It’s a funny little place and quite unique from the rest of the country, but the longer I came to stay here the more the city opened up to me and I discovered how much it had to offer. In short, here’s a few things about this city:

1. Rain. The first thing that hits you is the rain. It can rain and rain and rain, and coming from Australia it was a bit of a shock for me initially. When I asked why, someone told me that the west coast never really gets cold enough for snow and when the big rain clouds head east across the country they hit the long mountain range, acting like a long spine of the country, and they slide back down towards us. Sorry to blind you with science there, but that’s apparently the reason.

Norwegians have a saying about the weather which is, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing“. Yeah right. For me that’s the most pathetic excuse for shite weather! Another thing you hear a lot is that Norway is such a long country and if you were to swivel the country from the bottom, it would end up in Italy…yeah well, enough talk, let’s bloody do it!

Last year it actually rained 78 days in a row. That’s 7-8. More than two months of non-stop rain. The amazing thing was that when the rain finally stopped, the papers were complaining that they didn’t break the record of 80 days! Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to bother the local Stavanger folk who get out at any opportunity, covered in the latest shiny rainwear. The best sights are the kids, bundled up like little Michelin men waddling down the path.

Welcome to Stavanger - city of rain

Welcome to Stavanger - city of rain

2. Public Art. Stavanger has a great art scene both traditional and modern. There are, of course, plenty of galleries to while away on lazy Sunday afternoons. Worthy of mention are Galleri Sult at the end of the harbour in town, the Rogaland Kunstmuseum located on the lake, Mosvannet.

Stavanger is also dotted with some exciting sculptures and street art.  Perhaps the most famous set of sculptures in the area is Anthon Gormley’s Broken Column. These are 23 identical statues that are all over the city, which face the same direction, and comprise of one ‘broken’ column. They’re everywhere too, some in around the city, one underwater, in a school, overlooking a swimming pool and even in someone’s house.

In recent years, Stavanger has also become a bit of a centre for street and stencil art. So much so that it now hosts the annual NuArt festival which focusses on all kinds of street art, pulling in international graffiti and stencil art officiados. If you know where to look there is a veritable treasure trove of stencil art hidden within the back streets of this town. Here are a few of the worthy specimens…

Some of the street art in Stavanger

Some of the street art in Stavanger

3. The harbour. There’s a lot of history in this town, and before the oil poured in and paved its streets, Stavanger was the herring capital of Norway. You only have to look across its harbour to see how many of the old fishing buildings still exist. Nowadays, its the centre for pubs and restaurants and the harbour is a zoo of drunk Norwegians and expats on Friday and Saturday nights. During the summer days though it plays host to over 80 cruiseships each year bringing in thousands of tourists. Below is the gigantic QE2 dwarfing the harbour, with it’s last ever visit to Stavanger, before it is decommisioned later this year.

The harbour and the QE2

The harbour and the QE2

So that’s a beginning. In future I’ll post more features of this little city tucked on the west coast of Norway… As a taste for the next post, I leave you with a building that looks like Darth Vader. Enjoy…

Virtual assistants: are they really any good?

As companies fight to compete overseas they are increasingly trying to cut corners wherever they can. One such area is customer service. While some big companies contract work to third world countries like India (“can I be helping you?”), other companies have decided to use virtual assistant or “chatbots” to help answer your questions. But how good are they? Well we thought we would put them to the test and see how good they really are.

Anna – Norway

Let’s start with IKEA. Here in Norway they have Anna. Let’s talk to her now:

Ok so romance is not an option and she’s not open to talking about her obviously shady past. Never mind she seems pleasant enough.

Anna – UK

Let’s now move to a different Anna this time from IKEA in the UK:

So no help when it comes to medical issues but sly Anna here is open for a little five-finger discount. What else has she stolen? Maybe we’re being too harsh on the ladies. After all they are only trying to help.

Dave ESL Bot

So let’s restore the gender balance a little and turn our attention to Dave the ESL bot. Dave are you there?

even chat bots can be transgender!

even chat bots can be transgender!

Hmmm…Dave doesn’t seem to do anything but look back at you, with a bouffy haircut and what I suspect to be purple lip gloss.  Not quite sure what his function here is other than looking a little aloof…

Athena

OK so we’ve seen some of the bright young things in the genre but maybe it’s time to return to where it all began with the first chatbot on the web, Athena. Athena is seen as the grand dame of the chatbot world. If that’s true let’s give her the real test of her abilities. That is, by telling her that I have blood in my pee…

How zen of you Athena, thanks for that. By the way you may wish to take some fashion tips from our friend Dave above, your look is so 1985.

Ailis

Now we move on to a particularly angry virtual assistant, Ailis. Ailis always seems to be in a shite mood as if she is above the questioning. It’s as if she’s only interested in answering to rich men, wanting to sweep her off her virtual feet and taking her somewhere exotic, like Ebay. Nevertheless she has a role to fill and I thought I’d run a couple of questions by her. Let’s see what she has to say in response.

Angry Ailis

Angry Ailis

Not only ice-cold but trashing other chatbots! What would smiley friendly Anna say about that? Well we went back to Anna and asked her:

Oh Anna, look at you, putting up a brave face for the people. But deep down we know the pain you feel, let it out sister, let it out! But hey if we’re honest, Ailis does have a more modern haircut, nor does she have to wear that bright yellow shirt. Let’s face it, Ailis probably gets more ‘clicks’ than you. However, we feel your pain young lass, soldier on.

Sylvie

Finally, we come to perhaps the weirdest of all the chatbots I found.  I present to you Sylvie. Sylvie represents the Jesus Army (I didn’t even know the big fella had an army). Anyway, Sylvie doesn’t seem to be your typical choice for a church. First of all, she dresses a little like an emo. Secondly she’s not as friendly as you’d imagine someone from the church (or is it a militant group?) to be. Let’s begin:

Nice beginning, a little bleak but nice enough nonetheless. Now the pleasantries are out of the way let’s ask some more of our hard-hitting questions:

Whoa! Another chatbot who is happy that the toilet bowl is red after I pee. What’s going on with these female chatbots? Dave the ESL bot would never say something like that. After lengthy discussions I was at the end of my tether. Her emotionless face finally got to me and I told her how I felt. It was tiring interviewing all these non-existent virtual people. I admit, I took it out on her, but as you’ll see it was she that had the real last word.

Telling it like it is...

Telling it like it is...

Olympic sports we’d like to see…

With the Olympics on now we continue to be amazed by the freakish efforts of the athletes in breaking records and into nervous rashes when the doping tests swing by. Now I like to see the 100m sprint and the swimming (Go Aussie Go!) but these days there are no more big wins. No more are we seeing an athlete demolish their competition – that was done in the 80’s and 90’s. These days its all about shaving off the odd hundredth of a second from last year.

So, I’ve decided it’s time to do something new. We all assume that most of the athletes are more horse than human so let’s shake it up a little bit I say. Let’s create new sports! Sports where no one has the advantage, where everyone starts on the same level playing field.

Below I present to you my selection of Olympic sports I’d like to see mashed up:

#1: Underwater weight-lifting

#2:Long jump sumo

blending the east and the west
Sumo catch you good

Sumo catch you good

#3: Javelin and greco-roman wrestling

Watch your back

Watch your back

#4: Hurdle fencing

tuck and roll!

tuck and roll!

#5 Combative shot put pole vault

8 ways to make yourself look better in photos without PhotoShop


For some of us, we’re not so photogenic. When people take photos of us there’s always this short pause where they glance at the photo and say something like, “that’s ok, it’s a digital camera, I can take another one”. We all know the usual suspects: the guy with his eyes always closed, the woman whose mouth is always open, and someone’s strait-laced aunt who always manages to look fucked up on drugs because her eye is drooping and her false teeth have slipped down.

I’m here to tell you that no matter how many photos you snap with that camera, these and other violations of human nature will always showup and ruin the shot. These days though we have Photoshop, that little gem of a program that can whisk away those wrinkles, brighten those lazy eyes and yes, even make aunty at least look like she’s out of rehab. But not all of us have this expensive software nor do we have the time to change pixel after pixel until we start to look at least a little normal like the others in the shot. So in this entry I propose 8 alternative ways to look better in photos without having to resort to Photoshop:

1. Wear a wig. The ancient Sumerians understood the value of a good wig. Wigs cover unsightly bald spot and divert attention to the lovely do that you have. I’m in the picture below taken on some mountain in Colorado. Add a wig and all of a sudden I become Hiker Paul, windswept and mysterious. Wigs can and should be used at any opportunity, but maybe not going through customs…

Add a wig - instant charm

Add a wig - instant charm

2. Try not to smile. For god’s sake, hide those teeth, you’ll make Yaks horny. Some people just have shocking teeth but insist on showing them in every photo…bad move. Instead pensive and mysterious by staring into the camera with either: pursed lips (picture) or a closed mouth (picture). Under no circumstances should you show your smile if

a. You have more gaps than teeth

b. Your teeth look more like baked beans than enamel

c. More than 5 or your teeth look like they’re trying to escape from your mouth in every direction

3. Stand further back in the picture. If your features are not as good (or were never) it sometimes pays to stand a little further back so those peculiarities you inherited from generations of alcoholism are less noticeable. How far do you go? Well that’s up to you but here’s a little scale to help you decide:

a. You’re an adult with pre-pubescent acne: walk back 0.5 metres
b. You sweat so much you look like you’ve just done 10 rounds with Tyson: +1.5metres
c. People speak slowly to you thinking that you’re retarded: +2 metres

d. You still live with your mother (not that that’s creepy or anything): +5 metres

e. People refer to you as “that guy with the eyebrows”: +10 metres

f. Kids point and stare at you but are so frightened they can only mouth words: +15 metres
g. People ask you “So when did you become a woman”: keep going, keep going

4. Have photos taken of you while you sleep. I grew up thinking that I looked really good when I was asleep. Don’t ask me why but I think I was asleep on a bus for a school trip and woke up to find a girl from the row in front of me looking and smiling. Ever since then I would pretend to sleep in as many social situations as possible. Waiting in queues, in the classroom, driving, when being interviewed by the police…

don't the ladies just love him?

don't the ladies just love him?

5. Refuse to be in staged photos. We’ve all got that friend or family member that insists on taking staged photos at every event. “C’mon everyone, let’s get a group shot. Smiiiillllle!” and then we’re all forced to smile maniacally while the photo is taken. Staged photos make us look even more awkward than we already are. Instead insist on random impromptu shots when you’re in a more natural setting. For example, in conversation, playing with children, or watching TV… just as long as you don’t already look bad doing these things. A general rule of thumb here: keep your hands above your waist, I’m saying anything…just keep those hands high fella.

6.Stand behind the tall girl. Every photo has one, so make sure you are behind her at all times in case there is a random snap here and there. If the photographer asks you to come forward so you can be seen, simply reply in hushed tones that you have a medical condition that no one should be ‘down wind’ from. No one will ever ask again.

7. Play to your best parts. Some people have a favourite side, or think they look best with a cheeky smirk or tilting their head to the side, or resting on their hand. However warning bells should ring for you when one of your best sides is your…punctuality or god forbid, your “personality” . Let’s face it, in photos, your best part is being able to take the photo for the beautiful people…

8. Pretend you are protesting against something. Protesters are edgy, protesters are changing the world, protesters are beyond the petty vagaries of look – they have much more important things to do. Dude, in all honesty, protesters carry banners a lot and wear bandanas, both of which cover up their faces – so give that a try.

...and hide your ugly mug

...and hide your ugly mug