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A Fair(y) use tale 

A review of copyright law created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University using Disney. At times it’s a little jarring (it’s made of clips of Disney films), but it gets the point across.

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50 Shades of Grey is a reimagined Twilight fanfiction. It is a sensual tale of Anastasia Steele and billionaire Christian Grey. Grey becomes fascinated with Ana and invites her into his secret world of erotic tastes.

I laughed many times while reading the book. Often I found myself imagining Gilbert Gottfried reading it. I did enjoy it.

Many reviews have been written on 50 Shades of Grey. I’m not going for the usual arguments of bad writing, boring sex, lack of agency, the awkwardness of a personified subconscious and sexuality (inner goddess) etc.

My issues come from disbelief and trust.

Like the series The Walking Dead, I had to tell myself a lie to suspend my disbelief. To enjoy The Walking Dead, I have to pretend they live in a world were horror or suspense movies never existed, because how else could everyone be so naïve?

For 50 Shades of Grey, I had to tell myself that both characters have sexual super powers. Steele is super responsive or Grey has the equivalent of the Midas touch for orgasms. It’s hard not to laugh when Steele loses her virginity and says “Aarg!” Appropriate? Yes, but funny.  It’s easy to cynically disbelieve that she has an ‘earth shattering’ orgasm during her first time. I would have believed it, if the orgasm was from a hand job or oral sex, but no, it was from nipple play. So she either has super powers or is the luckiest woman alive. Either which way, grats.

Yes, it’s fluff, it’s not meant for my ‘thinking brain’, but the fact I had to lie to myself to make the book a successful read is a problem. I expect authors to take me on a ride and one that I can get into without having to pretend.

I wasn’t shocked.* There’s nothing offensive about ‘consensual, safe, and sane’ sex. (The motto of BDSM). I’m no expert on BDSM, but from my point of view it was light BDSM.

BDSM is multifaceted. You don’t have to be sadist or a masochist, though that can be part of it. There doesn’t have to be ‘whips and chains’ or even sex. In fact, some BDSM relationships are a bit like a parent and child. It can be a bedroom only thing or it can be 24/7. It’s a wide open field.

In a submissive and Dominant relationship, a sub willingly gives all their power to their Dom. The Dom becomes responsible for the sub and has to ensure their needs are met. The sub at any point can make all of it stop, because they are the one that gave permission for the Dom to control them. This relationship becomes built on this trust and the power exchange between two alpha personalities. Yes, often the sub will have as strong or an even  stronger personality than the Dom. Both people have a certain need that the other fills.  The sub often has a need to serve and the Dom has a need to control. Both communicate their secret thoughts and desires in order to build that relationship. Both parties have to know who they are and what they need. In the book and in certain BDSM groups there are contracts that the potential Dom and sub negotiate over to determine the nature of their relationship.

A big part of BDSM and a lot of other fetish cultures is openness and trust, which, for me, is the sexy part of it.  You have to completely expose yourself to another person. Those aspects are hinted at in the snippets about Grey’s relationship with his first Dom (Mrs. Robinson/Elena), but it’s not openly stated. (I can’t say for the other two books).

The fact that two people could trust each other so much, that one would be willing to do anything the other tells them to do, is beautiful and far more fascinating than anything 50 Shades of Grey shows us about that world.

I won’t even play that game were you have to trust the other person to catch you.  The first time I tried it, I was dropped by the person that was supposed to catch me. She and the surrounding witnesses cruelly laughed at me, because I was an idiot to trust someone to do  what I had just done for them.  It was humiliating. After that, I felt an overwhelming anxiety when I was asked to try it again. Many years later, a treasured friend coaxed and reassured me that she wouldn’t let me fall. It was exceptionally difficult for me to let go, but I tried and she caught me. It felt good. That’s why the trust issue is so fascinating. I can’t let go. I have a hard time  imagining building the level of trust required for a Dom/sub relationship. But, it makes me in awe of people that can.

*End note:

 But there was only one part that actually shocked me, because I was 100% sure they were gonna pass over that fact since there is a culture of squeamishness around period sex.

 pg 430.

 “He reaches between my legs and pulls the blue string – what?! – and gently takes my tampon out and tosses in the nearby toilet.”

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Limbo
Joshua Barndt
Jan 8th – Feb 6th 2010
XPACE Cultural Centre
Xbase

Joshua Barndt - Limbo - 2010 (Installation shot from Barndt's website)

As I boldly stepped into the basement of XPACE I entered another world or environment created by Joshua Barndt. A new world at the end of the world, the limbo after an Apocalypse. Remnants of old cars buried in mounds soil, revealing convenient tiered spaces for wild gardens. Amongst these remains, Barndt planted wheat grass which grew in perfectly straight lines; seeming synthetic in their stiffness, but organic in actuality.  I witnessed one viewer who was unsure of the nature of the grass then, I gasped,  he pulled some of the grass out of the installation to further examine whether or not it was plastic or organic. Conversely, I asked a gallery attendant, though I did kneel and examined, with my eye, the grass trying to guess whether it was plastic or biological. Despite the viewer’s destruction, I should applaud Barndt for creating such a thoroughly illusionistic installation causing a viewer to have to pull apart the work to be convinced of its organic nature.*

Lights in the installation were strategically placed to provided limited illumination as well as energy for the grass to grow. The wheat grass was freshly planted, since I could still see the soil surrounding the individual blades of grass. I admittedly went and saw Limbo the first day it opened, which has constantly made me think back to exhibition and how it must look now. Did the grass survive? It is more lush? How does it smell now? Has the discarded trash vanished in a sea of green? I am imagining it growing (bad pun) and changing while I am away from it. I am always curious about how it will look from one day to the next and that is why I enjoyed this installation. Limbo is different every time a viewer visits it. Limbo is a rare installation that I wanted and encouraged others to visit more than once.

* As a general courtesy, one should never touch or move a work of art without the expressed permission of the Artist.  Not touching, while difficult, will save you and the Artist the anguish of damaging a work of art. If you are unsure whether it is appropriate to touch the work, ask the gallery attendant first.

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Static and Loss
Martin Kuchar and Andrew MacDonald
XPACE Cultural Centre
January 8th 2010 – February 6th 2010
58 Ossington Ave., Toronto

Bold, vibrant, colourful, unique and playful; these words struck me the moment I entered the Static and Loss exhibition by OCAD alumni, Martin Kuchar and Andrew MacDonald. Unlike many two person shows, Kuchar and MacDonald’s work flow together creating an immersive installation, blending the two artists’ work into one fluid concept. Kuchar presents a series of collaged paper works and MacDonald a series of knitted sculptures.

On the walls of the gallery are Martin Kuchar’s large paper based works resembling pixels. These pixel-like structures exhibit an obsession with the miniscule, which is then blown up to a monumental, but surprisingly intimate, scale. The collaged paper is spray painted and laboriously cut into angular shapes. On closer examination one can see that these works are comprised of hundreds of individual pieces painstakingly pinned and taped to the wall and assembled on location. Kuchar’s collage is constantly in motion, as each time it is assembled it will change, allowing for it to have endless variation. Kuchar’s interlocking Borgesian labyrinth at times resembles an intimate conversation with, in the case of Add Inches (2009), Tetris or, in Meltdown (2009), Space Invaders. Kuchar’s work exudes seriousness and commitment, but insinuates playfulness and the verisimilitude of chaos.

Andrew MacDonald’s sculptures are made from plastic household objects, a combination of found sweaters and manually-operated machine knit textiles created by the artist. The sculptures are a contrast of hard plastic forms and pillowing organic forms covered in knitted textile. Each sculpture has its own quirky personality, and each is connected through being both a tragedy and a comedy. For example, Heavy Hands (2008) resembles a stitched together monster that is bound by its exceptionally large hands, thin arms and tiny legs. I cannot help but laugh at Heavy Hands‘ out of proportion misfortune, but feel sadness for its crippling affliction. It is the hardness of modern sculpture, contrasted to the warmth of brightly coloured knitted skins, that create the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy. MacDonald also presents a series of monochromatic works, including a wall hung abstracted knitted animal head, that I could not help but imagine how fantastic it would look in my home.

The combination of the two artists’ work is complimentary and visually dynamic. Kuchar’s large paper works create a static pixelated context for MacDonald’s sculptures. Static and Loss is a unique, humourous, but complex two person exhibition.

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I’ve been putting off writing a review of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel profoundly bothers me as a  reader and a reviewer. I love novels that are patchworks of various narratives, which is what I believed Her Fearful Symmetry to be. Sadly, it is in literary purgatory. The grey area of I didn’t hate it, but I cannot say it was great, but it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t particularity fascinating either. Her Fearful Symmetry is highly problematic, with occasional meditative moments and tidbits of greatness.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a patchwork of stories taking place in and around Highgate cemetery in London England. The majority of the novel focuses on a set of mirror twins, Julia and Valentina, who inherit their estranged Aunt’s apartment over looking the cemetery. Before the twins can sell the apartment, they must live in it for one year and their parents may not set foot in it.  The apartment is haunted by the ghost of their deceased Aunt, Elspeth, who is an identical twin to the younger twins’ mother, Edie. If you’ve read any books about twins or ghosts you’ll quickly figure out where that narrative strand is going, yes it really is that predictable in a twisted Parent Trap way.

As for the twins, Julia is set on being with her sister at all costs, believing that Valentina cannot live without Julia , since Valentina is shy and sickly. Valentina slowly expresses her wish to live her own life away from Julia. Both are caught in the typical twin metaphor of being thought of as one soul in two bodies. This conflict of interest between the sisters could have taken quite a dark turn or developed into something interesting, but it simply does not.

SPOILER WARNING (Skip to ‘End of Spoilers’ if you care too)

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Instead, Valentina, who shows no symptoms of suicidal tendencies, starts to dwell on killing herself as a way to separate herself from her sister. Valentina believes that her death and resurrection via her spectral Aunt is the only way to be free of the burden of the societal expected shared existence of being a twin. (Somehow, Valentina did not think that  talking to her sister or that moving away was an option.)

The other problem is that few of the characters seem realistic and many of their decisions are forced, easy solutions for a ending that tries too hard to be poetic.  For example, I had a hard time buying that Elspeth’s devoted lover of 13 years, Robert, would only take one year to mourn her and then move on to dating one of her nieces. Many of the characters are completely vacant and lacking in any kind of self reflection or critical thinking. (hmm could my apparition of Aunt be angry that I am dating her boyfriend? No, sadly that thought never crosses Valentina’s mind.)

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END OF SPOILERS

The potential break up of the twins sounds beautiful, but it is bogged down in a multitude superfluous ideas and quick resolutions and non-resolutions that are pulled out of a hat. It is these strings of unresolved ideas and jumping conclusions that in part make the novel problematic. As though it needed to be edited down to focus on a well elaborated narrative strand or two, instead of swimming in a sea of abandoned notions.

Julia’s relationship with upstairs resident, Martin, is easily a favourite part. Martin is the most well developed and provocative character in the novel, though sadly not the main character. He is an intellectual and crossword creator suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which makes him a prisoner to his apartment. Martin’s long time wife, Marijke, finally decides to leave him since she wants to be free of the demands of of his OCD rituals. She dares him to venture to follow her Amsterdam. Julia becomes fascinated with Martin and his routines. She sets out to help fix and investigate him. It through Martin that we learn more about Julia and her particular quirks that develop her into a separate and unique being from Valentina. As I said this is a patchwork of stories, Martin’s story is the best one and by far the most enjoyable. This side story of Martin, Julia and Marijke’s interaction and affection is gloriously romantic and unusual.  Martin’s story is almost enough to make me forgive the other mistakes, but sadly it is only a small section of the book. It is these moments of clarity and development in the novel that make me love it, but the rest of the novel, as I have said, lacks cohesion, which is disappointing.

There is a part of the book where Niffenegger describes Robert’s Ph.D thesis as though it had expanded and lost all perspective. That sentiment is a metaphor what happened to Her Fearful Symmetry. Like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Niffenegger spends a lot of time setting up great ideas, and then quickly forgets them as she proposes them. Her Fearful Symmetry truly embodies this scatterbrained-ness which only miffed me in The Time Traveler’s Wife, but now deeply irritates me. I am frustrated with Her Fearful Symmetry, because I can see an awesome story about Martin, his wife and Julia, but it is clouded by dregs of former ideas and a vacant fascination with identical twins.

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Once again Body Worlds has graced us with its presence at the Ontario Science Centre. I remember going  to the first one at the Science Centre a few years back with a my best friend. We waited in a terribly long zig zag line to get in, it was cloudy and I believe the fire alarm rang. The crowd was momentous, strangely like a fanatic filled rock concert. All of us excited to see this controversial exhibition and high on the satisfaction of doing something educational. There was a twinge of  anticipation in my chest, as I had read about the exhibition years ago in an old copy of the now debunk Lola Magazine.  Now, I was there. Now, I would confronted with something to create stimulating dialogue in the car ride home.

We entered the exhibition and as the crowd parted, ever so slowly, the corpses and pieces were revealed. There was the eerily beautiful blackened and shiny coal miner’s lung, the confined and submerged stages of an embryo’s development and various athletes all in fantastic poses. The more we weaved to look at these skinned figures, the more disappointed I became.  They looked fake, like strange pieces of stitched together bacon. There was little detail about the actual people. Who were they? Why had they chosen to do this?  How had they died? Their body was not interesting, but why they had chosen this end perplexed me. I didn’t care about how marvelous their corpse was, but I wanted to know who they were. The exhibition was anonymous and I found myself completely removed from it.

Perhaps it is my many years of studying art, or all those biology classes I took. At the end of journey I wrote something like this in the guestbook:

“I expected to amazed, horrified, angry and to engage in critical thought or at least learn something. Instead I was bored. The bodies were not as interesting as I hoped. I wondered who donated their bodies and why?  Those questions were not answered.   Having only one average person was disappointing.”

I expressed my disappointment to my friend and she  laughed.

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Tamora Pierce
Bloodhound
Book 2: The Legend of Beka Cooper
There are very few authors I regularly read and devotedly followed. I have consistently read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe series for the last 15 years. Every time one of her books is released it is an event for me. Family and friends know that once I start reading a delightfully crafted Tamora Pierce book I no longer exist in this world. I leave the tedium of this world to become a silent observer in Pierce’s. However, this time I was a little disappointed with the journey.
Bloodhound is the second novel in the Legend Of Beka Cooper series. Since it is set 250 years prior to the other Tortall novels. Readers of Pierce’s novels will appreciate meeting famous characters’ ancestors, as well as finding out how women will become socially lower than men, since in this time they are equals. Beka Cooper, a member of the Provost’s Dogs  (basically a cop),  is a strong and cunning  protagonist. In Bloodhound  Cooper is lost, she cannot find a partner that as good or as interested in stopping crime as her.  She excels above most of the other Dogs and therefore often finds herself growing frustrated with her struggle to change the world, while being bounced back and forth from her old bosses to her new reluctant partners.
Once again we are thrust in the streets of poverty stricken and working class Corus. Pierce gets down to the nitty gritty details of the filth that plagues the population and then transports the reader into the exotic Port Cayann. Cooper finds herself thrust into unfamiliar territory and begins to collect evidence, in a very ‘CSI: Tortall’ style. However, this time our intrepid Cooper is not hunting a child killer, but stopping counterfeiting.
At times Bloodhound reads like a struggle to convince both the reader and the author that counterfeiting is interesting.  The constant repetitive conversations on how counterfeiting is bad, seem to fill an extra 50 or so pages. I felt a need to tell Pierce, don’t worry, you have taken me on many journeys I trust your decisions. Though, admittedly reading about economic devastation is fitting for the time.
The Beka Cooper series has not been a favourite. I appreciate Pierce’s attempt to try a new style, the entire series is written as journal entries, however at times it can be a bit limiting and annoying. One of the joys of reading is getting an idea of what the other characters are thinking, or at least being a silent observer that sees more than the main character.  It’s frustrating to have an to an intense emotion or sexual moment come to pass and the character refuses to divulge the juicy details, citing their inability to express such moments in words. Yes, Beka Cooper is a reserved medieval policewoman of sorts, probably her grasp of writing romantic literature is weak and admittedly out of character for her to dwell on such things.  Despite that, it is frustrating. However, for remaining in character the entire novel I must praise Pierce for sticking with her journal entry style.
Despite my criticisms, Bloodhound is still essentially a good read. It is well written, the story is vivid, there is an awesome sewer chase scene and many of the new characters are interesting, however, you do get the feeling you may never read about them again.  Also, it’s enjoyable to read about Cooper when she is a complete fish out of water, but still manages to remain her strong, industrious, relentless lawful self.  There is adventure, mystery, riots, police work and romance. Just don’t expect any juicy details, Cooper doesn’t kiss and tell.
Bloodhound cover
Bloodhound
Book 2 of Beka Cooper – A Tortall Legend
Tamora Pierce
Random House 2009

Reviewed by: Diana Poulsen

There are very few authors I regularly read and devotedly follow. I have consistently read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe series for the last 15 years. Every time a Pierce novel is released, it is an event for me. Family and friends know that once I start reading a delightfully crafted Tamora Pierce book I no longer exist in this world. I leave the tedium of this world to become a silent observer in Pierce’s. However, this time I was a little disappointed with the journey.

Bloodhound is the second novel in the  Beka Cooper series and it is set 250 years prior to the other Tortall novels. Readers of Pierce’s novels will appreciate meeting famous characters’ ancestors, as well as learning  how women in the future will become socially lower than men, since in this time they are equals. Beka Cooper is a member of the Provost’s Guard or Dogs  (basically a cop) and  is a strong and cunning  protagonist. In Bloodhound, Cooper is lost; she cannot find a partner that is as good or as interested in stopping crime as her.  She excels above most of the other Dogs and therefore often finds herself growing frustrated with her struggle to change the world, while being bounced back and forth from her old bosses to her new reluctant partners.

Once again we are thrust into the streets of poverty stricken and working class Corus. Pierce gets down to the nitty gritty details of the filth that plagues the population and then transports the reader into the exotic Port Caynn. Cooper finds herself thrust into unfamiliar territory and begins to collect evidence, in a very ‘CSI: Tortall’ style. However, this time our intrepid Cooper is not hunting a child killer, but stopping counterfeiting.

At times Bloodhound reads like a struggle to convince both the reader and the author that counterfeiting is interesting.  The constant repetitive conversations on how counterfeiting is bad, seem to fill an extra 50 or so pages. I felt a need to tell Pierce, don’t worry, you have taken me on many journeys I trust your decisions. Though, admittedly reading about economic devastation is fitting for our current real world situation.

The entire series is written as journal entries, I appreciate Pierce’s attempt to try a new style,  however at times it can be a bit limiting and annoying. One of the joys of reading is getting an idea of what the other characters are thinking, or at least being a silent observer that sees more than the main character.  It’s frustrating to have an intense emotional or sexual moment come to pass and to have the character refuse to divulge the juicy details, citing their inability to express such moments in words. Yes, Beka Cooper is a reserved medieval policewoman of sorts,  probably her grasp of writing romantic literature is weak.  And it is admittedly out of character for her to dwell on such things, since Cooper really only writes about information pertinent to case she is trying to unravel. Despite the aforementioned, it is still frustrating to miss out on the details.  However, for remaining in character the entire novel I must praise Pierce for sticking with her journal entry style.

Despite my criticisms, Bloodhound is still essentially a good read. Pierce is a master of dialogue and building solid character relationships. The story is vivid, there is an awesome sewer chase scene and many of the new characters are interesting, however, you do get the feeling you may never read about them again.  Also, it’s enjoyable to read about Cooper when she is a complete fish out of water, but still manages to remain her strong, industrious, relentless lawful self.  There is adventure, mystery, riots, police work and romance. Just don’t expect any juicy details, Cooper doesn’t kiss and tell.

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