Thursday, August 18, 2016

Expat skills

DSC02926Being a expat can change your life for the better. And we bet you can be proud of your accomplishment whilst being a expat. 

I’ve trained Medium to highlight articles that deal with the expat experience, and it returns a generally satisfying steam of young-ish consciousness.  Many folks are  wide-eyed in their first year, musing on homesickness, language learning, cultural adjustment, and making friends.  Seasoned hands, a rare flower, offer hard-knocks advice: settling in (Start in big cities, avoid villages), tolerance (You are the best joke around.  Get used to it), and vice (Alcohol is the go-to in the expat community, but its a cocktail for dark days).

Self-congratulatory experiences are rare, but this essay claimed that living abroad yielded skills that changed their life:

  • Cultural intelligence.
  • Empathy and ability to relate to people of different personalities and backgrounds.
  • Good observation and listening skills.
  • Enhanced cultural awareness and sensitivity to the traditions and cultural differences and
  • The ability to maintain an open mind and be tolerant of others.
  • Diplomacy, tact and patience.
  • A sense of humour.
  • Flexibility and readiness for change.

It made me smile and made me critical, so I’m not going to attribute it.  I (cynically) suspect that any self-defined community can claim similar self-benefits from their lifestyle choice.   Self-assessment is an interesting rationalization for superiority, but unlikely to be generally prescriptive.

What it is, though, is a reinforcement of Paula Caligiuri’s 2000 paper on the Five Personality Traits that predict expat success.   A ‘successful expat’ is one who performs well and does not terminate early.  The key traits are Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, together predictive of expat resilience, and Emotional Stability and Intellectual Openness, predictive of high performance.  The relevance is explained as:

Evolutionary personality psychology suggests that the Big Five personality characteristics are universal adaptive mechanisms for humans to ultimately do two thing: reproduce and preserve live.  For example, a person who is agreeable, extroverted, emotionally stable, conscientious, and open may have the ability to form important work relationships, get promoted, attain a higher status , and so forth.  This person’s economic success will result in greater success at finding a partner, having children, buying food, and living in a safe neighborhood.

‘all activities that test and define expat success as well.

So, the list of qualities that Medium’s essayist believes derive from the successful expat experience?  I would counter that these are inherent qualities that must be present in order to become a successful expat.

So,selection bias is at work here.  Those who have the qualities to be successful cannot, reciprocally, claim that success has given them these same skills.  They’ve found their niche, and, at best, its amplified their latent talents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Evening light across the Thames

‘just a warm summer’s evening sharing a drink and conversation, watching the light and colour change, riverside in Henley.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sculptures and Installations

DSC02911Work and travel kept me away from the opening weeks of the Tate Modern’s new extension, the Switch House.  Ten stories set atop The Tanks, the angular brick structure is dedicated to interactive art and video.  It opened to generally positive reviews , and invited members in for a preview ahead of the opening week last June.  This was my first chance to give it aa wander though, entering from the Turbine Hall and then up to Viewing Deck and back down level by level.

DSC02934I can’t say I’m a fan of the new building.  The lowest levels are close concrete caves: dusky lighting, low ceilings, and industrial ambiance.  The exhibitions, corporate sponsorships, feel more like rough ideas than insightful art.  Posted signs warn that the staff will periodically enter to rearrange the blue scaffolds on the floor, emphasizing the rigid transience of the work.  Alcoves conceal flickering video screens, the sparse art overpowered by the heavy architectural elements.

The elevators were inadequate for the flow of visitors, often arriving full or passing completely.  Eventually we got up to the tenth-floor viewing deck, which is spectacular.  The wrap-around balcony gives wonderful views of the city, the river, and the adjacent £15 million+ apartments at Neo Bankside.  (Predictably, the gallery’s heeled neighbors are not too happy)

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The floors beneath feel limited and claustrophobic: the slit wrap-around windows pull the spaces in rather than open them up in the CafĂ© and the Member’s Lounge.  There’s little space given over to showcasing art and, while I’m sure that the building will grow into it’s purpose, it doesn’t yet feel like an expansion for the museum’s collection.  It is more a working extension of its premises.


Image result for mona hatoumLess time spent in the Switch House translated to more time spent among the sculptures of Mona Hatoum.  A Lebanese . Palestinian artist, she works with installations of everyday objects that play with light, sound, and space.  The Tate’s overview closes in a few days, but I was particularly charmed by her illuminated and motorized works.


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A sand table that creates and erases grooves beneath a rotating arm (+ and –) was nicely executed, as were two works with intricate metal and tonal meshes around flickering lights (Light Sentence and Grater Divide).  Finally, the full-room high-voltage humming of Homebound was fun, both playful and lethal  in depicting domestic confinement and small-scale threat.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Not missing the flowers

imageGeorgia O’Keefe is an iconic twentieth century American artist, whose paintings are instantly and uniquely recognizable.  Robert Hughes characterized her as “a ‘natural': not a naive or primitive painter by any means, but one who seemed to be instinctively in touch with the vibrations of the cosmos.”   I’ve visited her museum in Santa Fe, filled with simple, bold depictions of sensualized flowers, bleached bones and southwest landscapes.

The Tate Modern is hosting a retrospective of imageher work, on view through the end of October.  It’s themed as ‘A century of O’Keefe’, celebrating 100 years since her first gallery showing.  We spent a couple of hours exploring the thirteen rooms, nice for not focusing on the expected canvases.  Although there were a few of her recognizable blooms, most of the exhibition has early works that  anticipate the well-known paintings, showing how her methods and vision developed in the early decades of her work.

It also holds a number of photographs by her husband, DSC02913Alfred Stieglitz, that range from insightful (the portrait of her hands, above) to embarrassing (I can imagine him reassuring her that nobody would ever see the bedroom photographs as they were being taken).

DSC02991I really liked her early abstract work in charcoal.  When I took still-life classes, they were very geometric exercises, gridding off spaces and squaring off angles.  Life drawing, in contrast, was all arcs and curves and living shadows: infinitely more appealing.  I see that feeling in works  like No. 12 Special, right.


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The organic exploration of edge, contrast and shadow continued through her early watercolours (Pink and Blue Mouuntain) and oils (Abstraction Blue), which almost foreshadow later flowers.  Abstraction – Alexius and Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow were also really striking close up.

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The early landscape paintings were nighttime urban canyons , New York rather than Santa Fe.  The liquid clouds and reflections of the moon in the lights are a nice unifying feature, repeated as she works through the ideas.


The  realism gave way to full abstraction, soft and pillow-y, full of currents and storms.

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And it’s easy to see it all coming together as she discovered the desert Southwest.

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It’s a lovely show to spend time browsing the works, connecting the styles, and reflecting on her career.  And, in the end, I didn’t really miss the flowers.

‘a bit like seeing beyond the wall of yellow sunflowers  in the van Gogh museum as well