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A Culture of Magic Boxes

It’s ugly, it sits in your kitchen taking up about 3 feet cubed of space and it is fed by tubes that gurgle and regurgitate a soup of water, soap and filth for about an hour, before finally coming to a steamy halt.

But this box of tricks has an abundantly important task; a universally despised task: the task of cleaning up filthy dishes, bacon fat pans, and our multitude of soiled eating and cutting tool.

Let us think for a second why this contraption is so in demand, why is it we have scores of factory workers, suppliers, businessmen, transporters and middlemen all toiling away madly to output enough metal boxes to fill all the kitchens in the world. And don’t we need the damn thing. Apparently, we so hate washing dishes that we will ceaselessly argue over who is going to be the unlucky one to do it, or we will bicker over the fact that it has not been done at all. Moreover, we should not discredit the suggestion that more than one marriage has fallen victim from one man’s tendency to shirk his chores.

Universally, in the West, we begrudgingly accomplish what is now – with the fantastic, the incredible, the extraordinary dishwasher – magically done away with as painlessly as flushing the loo. The dishwasher is in essence a kitchen toilet, through which we flush our crap. This act of clearing up, which fills us with revulsion, fear of contamination – symbolic expulsion of disease – now can be accomplished with peace of mind. Our scientists have worked hard to build us this box, into which we throw our greasy pans and our sauce-soiled plates and out of which will issue shiny, sparkling as good-as-new dining stuff.

But is the dishwasher everything it claims to be?

Consider the various requirements necessary to possess and run your very own magic dish box:

First, of course, we need money to purchase it, deliver it, and to pay for the running expense, then the labor and energy consumption expense used to fix it when it malfunctions.

The irritating piece of junk will clap out! We now have to pay to add it to the collective garbage heap – note: it has now become a public responsibility – that’s ok, the tax payer will foot the bill – and also, fuck the earth, the environment, the universe… the everything.

Firstly, let’s ask ourselves, how many dishes are needed to fill up one load? Either you have too few dishes or you have too many! A couple of dishes, inside the box or outside it, will doubtless be sitting around like orphans.

Secondly, in this world of convenience it is important not forget that having a dishwasher necessitates putting dishes in. Perhaps I’m not too bright, but am the only one struggling to find a place that fits the frying pan? What a bother… Here, furthermore, we must spend a portion of our time first rinsing the dishes…why? Because our dishwasher is so exceptionally ‘good’ at its’ job.

Though putting dishes in is a necessary hassle, laced, it’s true, with confusion on where to put weird shaped things, essentially we still must rinse the dishes beforehand. Wait, doesn’t that means we are doing half the job by our own very hands despite the promise of the machine’s super intelligent? What the fuck!

It’s not over yet. After putting in the soap and the salt, and, hopefully, pushing the right buttons (read the manual stupid), we must at last take the dishes out and put them away.

Quite understandably water has collected in various hollows and puddles, never mind…do as I do and stick the dripping cups in the shelves regardless. Ok, I am being unreasonable; we would have to take dishes out and put dishes away anyway, would we not? Yes of course we would, but why, I ask you, does the machine not do it for us? Are we living in the technological age or what?

So, most eloquently, I have shown why we should all have a magic box, how we are a culture of magic box lovers, that we love to throw things in a box and then tadaaa there we have it all new again. No-more do we live in a dirty, contaminated, disease ridden, sausage-grease world of dish washing, we are an advanced society and all thanks be to China or wherever who made these wonderful, indispensable, masterpieces of modern culture.

Liu Zheng’s, The Chinese

The Chinese” Liu Zheng’s vision of – something akin to Robert Frank’s over indulged “The Americans”- is something of a retort to an enduring party line of perfect people with a perfect future under, of course, a perfect leadership, who might even be so bold as to claim immortality were their optimism not already spouting beyond capacity.

In Liu Zheng’s tragedy we have Chinese who actually get old and die, have accidents or live in a less than perfect world, among a wide cast of subjects, from strippers, to beggars, to predatory business men to entertainers and asylum cases. If the ‘perfect leadership’ were to actually spend a moment or two reading this book they might find themselves having to sweep quite a few, well, marginal folk, up, in preparation for their perfectly happy olympics.

Liu Zheng’s dedication to what appears to be a rather too true reality, allows us to register our own impermanence – we all share the same fate – while also questioning whether these Chinese are in fact marginalized and on the fringe, perhaps they are rather more the diverse norm, there might even be something of them in us.

An exceptional book, really, and in my view transcending by far Frank’s self obsessed work. I always get the feeling that Frank describes something not even there. By not allowing his own interpretation – he does have one doesn’t he – he’s kind of letting the storm carry his work where it will.

Furthermore, while Frank seems to heavily criticize, there’s always a statement to be found somewhere in his work, Zheng allows his subjects to speak. His images reflect people in a world that really exists. Were it not for the notoriety of the ‘Americans’, perhaps there should not even be a comparison, save the stringing of images bit. Maybe we’re really looking more in the line of Diane Arbus, without the freakery side.

Bang Bang!

I read The Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva in one sitting.

Before you’ve even hit the second page, you’re immersed, bullets singing past you, rusty bars and heavy knives jabbing as though into your own body, and the smell of petrol on flaming flesh.

The insanity of racial violence bought to you by way of ‘beach bum’ photographers and, dowsed with dollops of intimacy and history; girl friends, mandrax and bhang parties, Reuter contracts, suicide and Afrikaner gunslinging racists (itching for a full on battle to the death with black people). Out of this chaos emerge images that win the pullizers, sell newspapers and signpost history.

But the awe dies, you’ve realised, that in fact, bringing yourself to within a hairsbreadth of death (yours or someone else’s), might not be so heroic after all, its like voyeurism into lunacy, but once you’ve seen it, an apathetic deadness sinks in, faith in life destroyed when you see how much is now left to repair.

Apartheid has barely faded and the Rwandan genocide is coming alive and then Iraq and Iraq, and shit you know I’ve missed some….bang, bang, bang!

Photographs as lie

Take this question put to Guy Tillim:

PM: At the same time you admit to capturing the ‘worthy moment’, which also points to all the countless moments of truth which go undocumented. Are there any photographs you have taken, which beyond the notion of looking for the photographic moment, have amounted to a visual lie?

and the answer:

GT: Yes, but I won’t tell you which ones! Perhaps in this context there are no lies, but then there is no truth either.

Then you look at Tillim’s images.

We don’t need much to realise images can lie, but we need superhuman abilities, to find the lie. If there is any judgment to be planted, perhaps it should be sown near the intentions of a ‘peddler’. In the case of the british media, the sentence? Life. In the case of Guy Tillim? The right to lie.