31 May 2011

The Monastery built on A Volcanic Plug

Yes, that’s right. A volcanic plug. Take a look at this amazing place. Taung Kalat, located in central Burma, thirty miles or so from the ancient city of Bagan, towers above the earth like some sort of giant’s sand castle. Atop it there is a Buddhist monastery which rests upon the precipitous volcanic plug.

It sounds dangerous but at this stage in its life, Taung Kalat poses no threat. A volcanic plug (sometimes called a ‘neck’) is formed when magma, on its way up through a vent on an active volcano, hardens inside the vent. While the volcano is active this could well lead to the mother of all explosions and it would, you have to admit, be a shame if this beautiful monastery was to be catapulted in to the stratosphere. However, the volcano is thought (perhaps we should say hoped) to be extinct.

The monastery is still actively used in the practice of Buddhism. Although many locals divert from the religion in its strictest form, also worshipping the Nats, thirty seven spirits revered in conjunction with Buddha, the monks retain an important role in the community. The volcano is thought by the Burmese to be the home of the most important Nats and as such is often referred to as their country’s version of Mount Olympus.

At dawn there is little to compare to the serenity and beauty of Taung Kalat. It is unsurprising that the local people believe it to be the home of the Nats. Which semi-divine being wouldn’t want to make his or her home here?

To get to the top of Taung Kalat is arduous, but once there the views are breathtaking. There are an astounding seven hundred and seventy seven steps up to the top of the volcanic plug. One of the more renowned Buddhist hermits, U Khandi, who died in 1949, maintained these stairs for many years. A shame then, that the Burmese Government does so little to protect the site or the local people.

The monastery is often called Mount Popa but this is a misnomer. That is the name of the volcano. The volcano, thought to be extinct, dwarfs the monastery, the name of which translates to ‘pedestal hill’.  The local people call the volcano Taung Ma-gyi which means ‘mother hill’ to avoid confusion between themselves, but tourists tend to get it wrong.

The stupa of the monastery are remarkable pieces of work. From this vantage point it is best not to look down as the walls of the plug seem almost vertical from here and there is little protection in terms of hand rails. In other words, don’t get dizzy and slip from this point.

The Macaque monkeys have made their home on Taung Kalat. However, they are wild animals and should be approached with caution. They are quite likely to steal anything you place on the ground for more than a few seconds so tourists are always advised to carry their belongings at all time.

If you can manage the steps up to the top of the plug then you will enjoy views in all directions around the monastery. There is the city of Bagan, ancient and inscrutable from one point. From another the volcano rises like a Burmese Mount Fuji. The caldera (its cauldron like shape, created when land collapsed) of the volcano is huge so that the mountain takes different shapes from the various directions.

As well as being the bringer of death and destruction the volcano has ensured the area is rich in both flora and fauna, including the ubiquitous Macaques. Popa is thought to come from the Sanskrit language and means ‘flower’. While the areas around the volcano are fairly arid, the soil here is extremely fertile, being made up of so much volcanic ash. In contrast to much of the region, Popa has around two hundred streams and rivers.

You are guaranteed a friendly welcome from the local vendors who rely on tourism for their living. It is unfortunate, however, that the military junta which runs the country neglects its citizens. The sites are not adequately protected from either the elements or the tourists and the army may even have used forced labor in the area. However, when stable government is properly returned to the country, this is bound to be high on the list for many to see.

30 May 2011

Partitura 001


Quayola is a visual artist based in London. His work simultaneously focuses on multiple forms exploring the space between video, audio, photography, installation, live performance and print. Quayola creates worlds where real substance, such as natural or architectural matter, constantly mutates into ephemeral objects, enabling the real and the artificial to coexist harmoniously. Integrating computer-generated material with recorded sources, he explores the ambiguity of realism in the digital realm.

Partitura (in collaboration with Abstract Birds) is a custom software which generates real time graphics aimed at visualising sound. . The term “Partitura” (score) implies a connection with music, and this metaphor is the main focus of the project. Partitura aims to create a new system for translating sound into visual forms. Inspired by the studies of artists such as Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oscar Fischinger and Norman McLaren, the images generated by Partitura are based on a precise and coherent system of relationships between various types of geometries.

With thanks to Kuriositas reader William DeLeonardis who suggested that we feature Quayola

Michael Jackson V Mr Bean


With so many superheroes and villains going up against each other something like this had to happen at some point.  Michael Jackson and Mr Bean go head to head in this ever so slightly mad stop motion animation by the Pascal Blais Animation Studio.

Now in its twenty fifth year the studio specialises in animation for advertising and film and is based in Montreal.  Why have they created this?  The fact that it exists is good enough reason in itself.  That it is completely bonkers is even better.

So, do you really need to ask – just have as much fun watching it as they did creating it!

Standing Up for Freedom – Amnesty International at 50


You have probably read, seen or heard that Amnesty International, the international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated is fifty years old this month.

In order to celebrate this landmark Eallin, a Prague based motion art production company has produced this wonderful animated video. 

It is an emotive piece, which as well as celebrating the achievements that Amnesty International has had over the last 50 years, reminds us that the struggle for freedom is not over for many people.

It is directed by Carlos Lascano with music by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe.

The Ocelot - Really Back from the Brink?

Do you hear a lot about the Ocelot? Hunted for its pelt for hundreds of years, the Ocelot was classified as a vulnerable endangered species until 1996. One look at this still rare animal and the attraction is undeniable but why is it no longer considered endangered? The Ark in Space takes a look at this fascinating cat - and asks some probing questions about its status.

29 May 2011

Manhattan 4.33pm


This is short but sweet.  Manhattan as the sun goes down is re-imagined as a pinball machine.  It was created in After Effects and was directed by Lizzie Oxby.  It 'stars' John Taylor who also worked out the compositing details, set up the After Effects project and did the final grading. Perhaps this should be the first in a series of different world cities being given the same treatment.  It would be fun to see which place would win the game!

The Sky Blue Mushroom

It looks like it could be something offered to Alice just before she makes a journey in to Wonderland but this sky blue mushroom is not a product of the imagination of Lewis Caroll.  It can be found on both islands of New Zealand – and bizarrely enough in a few places in India.

The sky blue mushroom does not have a common name other than, well, sky blue mushroom but if you have a moment for a real tongue twister its scientific name is Entoloma hochstetteri.  It gets its very distinctive blue color from pigments within the body of the fruit known as azulene. Azulene is found in nature as a constituent not only of pigments in mushrooms but of some marine invertebrates.

The mushroom appeared briefly along with five other native fungi on a set of stamps issued by the New Zealand government in 2002 and it can also be seen on the reverse of the country’s $50 note which was released in 1990.  Outside of New Zealand, however, and people seem blissfully unaware of the existence of this incredible blue mushroom.

The fruiting body (or basidiocarp) of the mushroom is usually found among moss, ferns or fallen leaves and the cap grow up to around four centimeters in diameter.  With a conical shape it does look like something out of a fairy tale or children’s story and the lush green backdrop of New Zealand’s woodland simply adds to the expectation (albeit a little infantile, but hey) that a pixie will start to leap around it at any moment.

Although the mushroom is not edible it is not known if it is poisonous or not – no one seems to have tried to eat it so far in its history.  It was first described by a European in 1866 so it is a little surprising that there has not been a willing Alice in the interim to furnish us with details of its edibility or otherwise. Yet other species in its genus are known to be poisonous so the likelihood is that this beautiful blue mushroom would not be much good in an omelette.

28 May 2011

How Green Is Your Internet?


Oh dear.  Just when you thought you were being really green someone comes along with some information that makes you heart drop.  This is a thought provoking animated infographic by Dan Ilic which gives us an idea just how much energy computer usage takes up. The statistics are a little bewildering but it does make you consider switching off your computer and never bothering with YouTube and Facebook.  But not for long.

Perhaps there will be a future where we as consumers can chose how our energy is produced or perhaps it can be offset in one way or another.  Until then I am afraid I will be continuing with my (rather heavy) internet usage and trying to cut down in other ways.

The video was directed and designed by Patrick Clair and originally created for Hungry Beast on ATV in Australia.

Stinging Caterpillars of the United States

Animal, vegetable or mineral? In fact the creature above is the caterpillar of the White Flannel moth. Below all that 'fur' is a caterpillar but one which, when it feels threatened, will sting. Stinging caterpillars are, in fact, more common than you might expect. Click on the links and take a walk on the wild side to our sibling site the Ark in Space!

27 May 2011

Dystopia


Dystopia – a grey, bewildering and repressed place, ruled over by an unseen elite. Yet in to this dark place a little color somehow finds it way. It has an effect on one individual who begins to express himself using forbidden colors. This wonderful piece of animation is by Daniel Leyva, Esteban Fernández Dagach and Dieter Schindler at the Animation School of Hamburg.

Please note that this animation does contain a little grown up imagery, so if you are easily offended, best not to click play!

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 - the Highlights in Pictures

The Royal Horticultural Society is one of the world’s leading horticultural organisations and the UK's leading gardening charity. Each year the society puts on just about the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to showcase the highest quality horticulture. If you were unable to make it, don’t worry. Here is a selection of the outstanding exhibits of the 2011 show. They will hopefully inspire you, perhaps frustrate you a little (or a lot) that however hard you try your own garden is never going to look like this!

Image Credit Flickr User Gavin Anderson/a>
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