chicago o’hare: my most hated airport

With the crazy weather out East, I’m thankful as heck to be way over in Nevada! Although I’ll actually be going out East next week, so hopefully things are better by then. A few weeks back I spent a few days in New York (no snow at the time), and on the way back had a layover at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport … reaffirming ORD as my most hated airport. Then again, they do have this amazing tunnel, which is by far the coolest thing at O’Hare!

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The tunnel connects United’s B and C concourses, has a mirrored ceiling and neon lighting installation by Michael Hayden (Sky’s the Limit, 1987), backlit colored panels on the wall, and was just wow. It almost made up for a delayed flight, horrendously long trek across the airport, and lackluster chicken quesadilla I wolfed down. Rainbow colors, mirrors, and neon lighting? It’s like I was back in China! It was also a complete surprise to me because even though I’ve been to ORD many times before, I normally don’t fly United and had never had the pleasure of seeing the tunnel before.

So why, might you ask, do I so dislike Chicago O’Hare? Three reasons: A) I always seem to have a delayed flight (either to or from there), B) It’s such a crazy large airport that it takes forever to get anywhere, and C) I’ve only ever been to ORD on layovers, and layovers inherently suck. It’s not the airport’s fault that it’s a major hub, it’s incredibly busy, and Chicago weather causes a lot of delays, but I still prefer to change flights elsewhere … especially in winter.

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My flight into Chicago was delayed an hour because it had just started snowing in Chicago and ORD was backed up, but thankfully my layover was long enough that the connection was ‘a bit tight’ rather than ‘run like you’ve never run before’. My flight out boarded on time, but was delayed due to the de-icing process, which was actually pretty cool to watch from my window seat on the wing (my favorite seat). Basically a giant mechanical arm with a bright light and sprayer head on a pivot just went back and forth spraying the wing down.

In the end, my flight landed on time due to favorable winds, so all in all the experience wasn’t that bad. But I still just do not like Chicago O’Hare. Because as much as I bemoan the pretty-much-given delays and borderline-incompetent staff at some Chinese airports (oh PVG, will you ever get your act together?), I always feel like Chicago should be better. But alas, one change the weather.

Safe travels to all you out there!

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strange fruit in suzhou

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A few weeks ago I went to the opening of an outlet mall in Suzhou (random, I know) and there was a performance by Australian dance and theatre group Strange Fruit. It was downright amazing. They were swaying back and forth on these 5-meter-long poles, and it was completely beautiful, mesmerizing, memorable.

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The promotional material said their performance “fuses theatre, dance and circus.” It totally does.

old suzhou at night

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Downtown Suzhou is a historic area under cultural protection. Therefore there must be rainbow-colored lights and ridiculous lit-up sculptures! Oh of course. Welcome to China!

In all seriousness though, Suzhou’s a lovely town with that crazy Chinese mix of really old and insanely new, and even though it’s quite close to Shanghai, it’s oh so much more peaceful. Old Suzhou has some pretty canals, bridges, and traditional architecture, but it also has that fake touristy sheen that most historic places in China have. It seems kind of unavoidable unfortunately. It’s a nice place to take a stroll though … if you don’t mind the crowds, if you don’t mind the same ol’ trinkets being hawked in every other shop, and if you don’t mind that you feel very little sense of actual history.

night lights from the overpass

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Architecturally speaking, sites of government and worship are often placed on higher elevations (atop hills) because of our societal connotations of height with power and oversight. This picture looks south from the pedestrian overpass that crosses Yan’an Road, which is a major road that runs east-west through basically all of Shanghai. I love walking on it because, a) it’s the easiest way to cross into Xuhui, b) it offers a nice view, c) I love when cities consider pedestrian circulation, and d) it’s a weird power trip to walk over the cars below. Especially when the weather’s nice and the lights aren’t murked out by hazy skies.

Shanghai at night is quite peaceful, because unlike cities like New York, Shanghai closes pretty early with most restaurants closing around 9 and the subway done by 11ish. The main exceptions would be the Bund area and the former French Concession. For all intents and purposes, Yan’an Road can be considered the dividing line between the more business and residential Jing’an to the north and expat- and restaurant-heavy Xuhui to the south (part of Jing’an is south of Yan’an … but whatever). This follows the historical lines between the International Settlement of which Jing’an is a part and the French Concession, now part of Xuhui. I’m completely oversimplifying this, but let’s just say that I’ve crossed this overpass many times and often at night – either on my way to dinner or on my way back.

rain rain go away

This past month or so has been absolutely damp. It’s rained almost every day. Kinda depressing, but acid rain is better than choking air, right? Er … or is it a toss-up? When there’s bad air, everyone is basically forced inside and you start writing your will because you figure you’re going to die soon. When there’s rain, there are umbrellas hitting you in the face left and right and taxis are near impossible to find.

However, rainy days make for some pretty reflections with the wet pavement. Shanghai loves its bright rainbow lights, and while they generally come across as ostentatious and gaudy, they can make an otherwise gloomy day a bit more fun. Take for example the below rainbow-fied East Nanjing Road, one of the main shopping streets in Shanghai (at least historically). Kinda cheery, right?

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Rain rain go away, come again some other day. It’s got the “come again” part down, if only we could work on the “go away” part ….

a dream i dreamed in the park

Today is March 29th, which means that tomorrow, MoCA’s exhibition will close. So of course I’m just now getting around to posting about the exhibition. ‘Cause I’m on top of things like that. The exhibition A Dream I Dreamed is a solo show by the really famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. And it was good. Lots of dots. Very playful. Though the 50 RMB ticket price seemed a bit steep and the waits were crazy, I definitely enjoyed myself … though would’ve had a better experience if there was more time and fewer people.

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With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever

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Narcissus Garden

The roof/top floor balcony of the museum was a nice spot for a break from the hustle of the floors below and Narcissus Garden worked well up there. Since MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) is located in People’s Park, there was a great view of the hazy Shanghai skyline and the surrounding park. This was easily one of my favorite moments of the exhibition because I love it when art interacts with architecture and the city, when there’s that sense of context and space. Plus, the stainless steel spheres are much more in line with my personal aesthetic.

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Obliteration Room

This room was like a nightmare for me. The exhibition started in December with Obliteration Room as a white space with white furnishings. Upon entering, you’re handed a sheet of stickers, which you can place anywhere. I like the interactive aspect of it, but I HATE STICKERS. Or rather I HATE (pressure-sensitive) ADHESIVE. If they’re firmly adhered and there’s no possibility that they would have to be removed later on or they’re loosely adhered to be easily removed (like drafting tape or price tags) – that’s fine. Stickers in that gray area of semi-permanence, that eventually start to peel up and leave that icky residue … ew ew ew.

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My Eternal Soul series

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Love Forever series

I felt that her flat works were much less successful. Strong use of color and line, but nowhere near as evocative as her more spatial works. These were just kind of eh and easily forgettable.

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Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever

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Dots Obsession

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Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of the Souls

Where Yayoi Kusama shines is in her installations. Color, light, and mirrors, oh my! Amazing. Very well thought out and constructed. My only complaint was having to queue up for so long for such a brief glimpse! It would be nice to go back and see some parts of the exhibition again (especially the Infinity Mirrored Rooms!), but the last days of an exhibition are always the worst and I really have no patience for some of these Chinese crowds. Factor in the cost and time as well, and I think I’ll have to pass. It was a very cool exhibition though, so if you haven’t had a chance to see it … make haste! I didn’t find it profound or awe-inspiring or anything lofty like that, it was just … fun. And sometimes that’s enough.

Kusama Yayoi: A Dream I Dreamed
December 15th, 2013 – March 30th, 2014

MOCA Shanghai
mocashanghai.org
People’s Park, 231 Nanjing West Road, Shanghai
Sunday to Thursday, 10 AM – 6 PM
Friday to Saturday, 9 AM – 7 PM

turrell at the guggenheim

I have a shameful secret that I would like to share with all of you. Even though I am an architect and even though I enjoy modern architecture and modern/contemporary art, it took me two whole years of living in New York to visit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Why did it take me so long? $18 tickets – and that’s the discounted price! And when you can get into MoMA and the Met for free (with a Columbia student ID), that’s just exorbitant.

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However, the temporary exhibition by James Turrell that’s up in the Guggenheim (June 21, 2013-September 25, 2013) called “Aten Reign,” combined with my impending move from New York to Shanghai, prompted me to suck it up and shell out the dough. Was it cool? Yes. Was it “oh my goodness, drop everything and go” cool? That depends on if you’ve seen a Turrell before. To me, it wasn’t worth 18 bucks. But hey, it’s the Guggenheim and it’s New York, so you have to visit at least once.

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First off, the building. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (aka “the only architect most people have heard of” aka FLW), the architecture is truly impressive. Built in 1959 and located on 5th Avenue at 89th Street, I’ve passed it plenty of times as I walked down 5th … but normally I pass it because I’m heading to or leaving the Met. It’s one of those buildings that always gets a mention in architecture survey classes, and for good reason.

For the Turrell exhibition the building was basically empty with its signature curving walls (where artwork is usually displayed) completely blank, and a netting on the other side so you couldn’t look into the main space as you normally would. There were two unrelated galleries for “Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944” (nice) and the Thannhauser Collection (blah), and then the store and cafe area were untouched.

There were a few areas with other Turrell pieces such as “Afrum I (White),” but let’s be honest: No one really came to see that stuff. People didn’t come to stand in a dark room and try to see some optical illusion, or to check out Kandinsky’s work; they only check out that stuff because they spent so much cash on the darn tickets they have to recoup it somehow by ingesting culture. When you visit the Guggenheim you’re supposed to start at the top and circle your way down. But seriously, I wonder how many people just walk into the museum, lie down on the floor in the main space, and never leave. Or just take a nap.

Cool. Do you remember those commercials for those Popsicle Lick-a-Color pops? “The COLORS, Duke! The COLORS!”

carnegie hall

Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall. Yeah, it was pretty amazing. Saw a choral/orchestra performance there a bit back. Carnegie’s located two blocks south of the park and not near the subway lines I frequent, which means I had to transfer, which was annoying and led me to declare that Lincoln Center is so much better than Carnegie (and yes, I fully realize that this is petty). The performance itself wasn’t anything special, but whatever … it’s Carnegie Hall. Outside of New York, people don’t really know Lincoln Center … but they know Carnegie!

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time warp: i hope i survive(d)

Am I alive? No, seriously … did I survive this past week? I honestly don’t know because I’m writing this post a week in advance of when this is being posted. Why? Because the next week (er, the past week) is my hell week. Paper due. Final thesis presentation. Hence the label of hell week. And hence this time warp. Are you humming “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror in your head yet? Or even out loud!? You should be.

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Image is from the National Gallery of Art in DC. “Multiverse” (2008) by Leo Villareal is an underground light tunnel in the concourse connecting the NGA’s east and west buildings. Reminds me of James Turrell’s “Light Inside” (1999) at the MFAH, which also acts as an underground connector tunnel and uses light. Very trippy.

artist: ai weiwei (pt. 2)

Ai Weiwei at the Hirshhorn, yadda yadda yadda. This is a continuation of my previous post, but I’m too busy with thesis to post insightful detail. Ah, exhaustion. So voila. These three were some of the larger pieces in the exhibit.

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“Names of the Student Earthquake Victims Found by the Citizens’ Investigation and Remembrance”

When you go upstairs into the main gallery space, this curved wall is what greets you. It’s basically a giant spreadsheet and looks kind of neat, like someone’s idea of creative wallpapering. But then you hear it. The names being read. Huh? Then you read the description of the piece. They’re the names of the dead children. And then you feel like you’re going to cry. And the starkness of the rows and columns feels so inadequate. And it reminds you of 9/11 and then you really, really wanna cry.

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“Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”

This was considered a separate exhibit to the “According to What?” exhibition, but whatever, it’s all Ai Weiwei. The Hirshhorn is basically a giant hovering donut. In the center of the space situated around the fountain were 12 sculptures representing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. I didn’t really like my dragon. I think he looks weird. Neat, but I didn’t really like their placement around the fountain – found it distracting.

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“Cube Light” (2008)

To be honest, I’m not really sure what to make of this piece. Ai Weiwei’s work is successful because of the political/cultural/social messages … but this is just glitzy. It is pretty though. Nice and sparkly. Shiny. Perhaps it’s a commentary on China’s vapid turn to the purely aesthetic? While “Cube Light” is impressive … is it really by Ai Weiwei? Really?

The end. Back to thesis now.