29 November 2012

Introducing 2wenty4se7en

In my other life (or perhaps I should say the real world?) I teach Information Technology and English at a South East London college. This year I have a particularly web savvy cohort of young students aged between 16 and 19 who are just beginning to make their first real impression of that monster we call the interweb.

Part of their college diploma demands that they set up individual blogs, which they have done. Now they have (under their own steam but with moral support from yours truly) decided to pool their talents to launch a professional blog. Although it is still nascent, more features have yet to appear on the site and they need to further tweak the HTML, 2wenty4se7en is looking good for a newborn. I know, I would say that but go check it out for yourself!

The primary aim is to attract advertisers to the site so that they can generate some income with which to go on trips (the college does not have huge funds available for this and besides, they want to fund any excursions themselves). They have set up a Facebook page and a Twitter account to go with the site too.

Please take time out to visit the site if you can – and don’t be afraid to offer any tips and advice you may have to my students. All positive guidance is very welcome! Oh - and if you are a potential advertiser, please get in touch!

Changing Landscapes: A Story about Living with HIV 30 Years On

On December the 1st 2012 it is World AIDS Day; it is thirty years since the beginnings of the HIV pandemic.  

Guest writer Danny West (left), trainer, coach, mentor and leadership consultant, reflects on thirty years that changed the world.

In October 1985 at the age of 24 whilst at the beginnings of my career path I was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed as being infected with HIV, the virus now known to cause the medical condition AIDS. My doctors gave me a life expectancy of 18 months.

In 1985 whilst at the beginning of what appeared to be a bright social work career I attended a routine appointment at a leading London hospital sexual health clinic. During my consultation the doctor suggested to my horror that along with the usual blood tests for syphilis and gonorrhoea I should also have as he termed it ‘the AIDS test’. He subsequently explained that as I was gay I was likely to have the disease. This was to be the extent of my pre test counselling where upon I was advised to return in two weeks for the test result.

At this point in my life I had only just begun to hear about this new disease and had never considered that I may be at risk or that I myself could possibly have the virus. I spent the following two weeks in a state of high anxiety; I shared my news with a few close friends and gathered together as much information as possible. The two weeks passed and I returned to the hospital with a friend to receive my results, my doctor sympathetically informed me that my results were positive and that in the absence of a cure I had 18 months to live. I left the hospital in a state of shock and returned home to an awaiting group of friends who shared my state of anxiety. I was initially unable come to terms with this information and was unable to work; I remember feeling completely immobilised, helpless and terrified by new circumstances.

Eventually a close friend came to me and informed me that she had heard of an organisation called ‘Body Positive’ and that it was to hold a social evening at a gay venue called ‘The Market Tavern’ in London. I was extremely anxious on the evening of the social event and along with my supportive friend found myself in a room filled with other gay men who were also HIV positive, this event was to be a turning point in my life and it was on that evening that I met my first partner who was also living with HIV and was to die of AIDS two years later.

During my journey I have experienced many losses and many inspirational acts of strength and courage. My career and life paths have taken many unexpected turns and I have lived an unimaginable life. From the moment of my diagnosis I refused to accept an impending death sentence. I rejected the possibility that I would die at an early age as a result of HIV and strategically set about creating a vision for my life; a life that would have purpose, meaning and impact.

The backdrop of this article is set against the medical and social responses and models to HIV/AIDS and a landscape of death, suffering and dying.

At the beginning of the 1980s when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United Kingdom, AIDS was considered to be a gay men’s disease. This assumption within the developed world and the medical profession led to both hysteria and an overt rise in homophobia. The cause and origins of AIDS were as yet unknown, the “Human Immunodeficiency Virus” had yet to be isolated and the medical world had only just begun to grasp the concept that AIDS was linked to a breakdown of the immune system. Large numbers of gay men began to get sick and die on both sides of the Atlantic and the medical world was impotent in its attempts to explain or cure for this new and frightening disease.

The general population’s response to AIDS was one of blame, fear and ignorance this was reflected in the apocalyptic government health campaign in the UK, we were bombarded with dark images of tombstones, graveyards and the Grim Reaper. Society was frantic in its search to find the origins of this new disease and blame the assumed perpetrators. These assumptions lead to a rise in prejudice and the mistreatment and isolation of the gay community.

This was also demonstrated by the medical profession’s response to AIDS by isolating gay men in side wards and the gowning up in space suits by medical and domiciliary staff. Within local communities there was an increase of violence against gay men on the streets and within their homes. Social services departments were refusing to provide services to gay men or anyone suspected as having AIDS.

As the AIDS epidemic grew other people began to present with symptoms of AIDS, some of whom were also from marginalized groups such as IV drug users and people from the BME communities. In the early 80’s the ‘Human Immunodeficiency Virus’ was isolated and was recognised to be blood born virus and to be the cause of a medical condition called AIDS. Transmission of the virus was identified as being through blood and blood products, vaginal and seminal fluids and from mother to child during pregnancy or child birth.

AIDS confronted society with all of its taboos and opened a very large can of worms which required the caring professions, local and central governments, the third and public sectors to review their equality policies, staff training, employment practice and client service provision.

Issues of equality had to be addressed for the groups who were becoming affected by HIV ensuring that people living with HIV received services, which specifically met their needs and enabled and supported their well-being, human dignity and upheld their human rights.

Society was being confronted with many issues which ordinarily it chose to ignore such as Death, Dying and Bereavement, Confidentiality, Addiction, Sexuality, Racism, Disability and Illness (my caps). For those of us affected or infected by HIV these issues were high on our agenda. We were gaining confidence and becoming proactively involved in developing health and social care programmes and the new HIV third sector which were to empower and meet the needs of people living with the HIV.

Within weeks of the gay and lesbian community becoming aware of the first cases of AIDS in the UK amongst gay men ‘Body Positive’ and the ‘Terrance Higgins Trust’ were formed. Soon social groups, counselling and education services began to develop. These groups were being formed and developed by predominantly well educated, relatively affluent, politically aware gay men and lesbians from a broad spectrum of professions who were increasingly confident and effective in getting their voices heard both locally and nationally and were to become the leading force in the development of services for people infected and affected by HIV.

The gay community responded with courage and intelligence in the face of this frightening new disease and was able to join forces as a response to stigma and societies prejudiced reaction.

In the hospitals and clinics around the country large numbers of gay men were presenting with symptoms and opportunistic infections associated now with the virus and the medical condition AIDS. In hospital wards gay men were dying and in the absence of a cure symptoms could only be treated as and when they appeared.

Death was now on the agenda for a group who had spent their lives believing they were immortal, in a society where death and dying is a taboo subject, rarely discussed and explored. Friends, lovers and on occasion families became the primary careers of the sick and dying men both at home and in hospital settings and in the absence of a cure, death was seen as inevitable. Gay men began to make decisions about their health care and treatment and supported by their loved ones began to challenge both doctor patient relationships and the manner in which they utilised health care and social care support services.

I remained in social work until May 1986 whereupon I retired on medical grounds as I felt unable to cope with the associated high stress levels and because I wanted to commit my time to supporting and working alongside people living with HIV. In October of 1987 I moved to Brighton (TAY, the AIDS memorial there is pictured above) to work closely with a friend and founder of ‘The Sussex AIDS Help line’ and for the following 18 months helped operate the telephone support service, raise funds and provide one to one mentoring/counselling in this pioneering support service.

In 1986 Graham Wilkinson, founder of the Sussex AIDS Helpline and I were amongst a small group of gay men convened by Christopher Spence OBE to explore a vision of a innovative new centre for people living with HIV. The centre was to become the London Lighthouse and Christopher Spence its director.

Our vision for this innovative project was to establish a unique holistic centre and residential unit offering respite and hospice type terminal care, a place where people living with HIV and AIDS could receive care, support and treatment in an environment where people living with the virus could embark upon a self empowered and dignified journey of recovery or death and dying. When London Lighthouse opened it become the first centre of its kind and though it received initial opposition went onto become a leading campaigning and educational centre, which provided extensive training and awareness to local government, third and medical sectors throughout the UK and Europe.

Within local authorities, especially the inner cities, large numbers of gay men were for the first time requesting services such as domiciliary care, social work input and housing support, yet local authorities had no experience of this new client group and had no policies, guidelines or trained staff to provide services. Staff within local authorities reacted to this new client group and new medical condition with fear and apprehension and many refused to carryout their duties.

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is historically home to a large gay community and is of geographical proximity to Earls Court a traditional gay ghetto in London and close to the Chelsea & Westminster hospital a leading medical centre in the research of and the treatment of people with HIV infection. Within the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham one of the first local authorities to provide services to people with HIV and AIDS the first local government officer was appointed with responsibility to develop strategies and services that were responsive to this new challenge.

I was subsequently appointed as training officer for HIV and AIDS and set about establishing an extensive HIV/AIDS awareness and training programme for all the local authority staff. An HIV unit was established and further officers were appointed with specific responsibility to address issues for women, housing, drug use and the black minority ethnic (BME) communities. The development of the largest HIV training programmes within the UK was developed and established within the borough which addressed all the taboo subjects raised by AIDS such as Death and Dying and Sexuality. This training programme ensured that staff were trained and supported to provide high quality services to people living with HIV and AIDS.

Over the next few years I was to experience my own deteriorating health, the dying and the death of hundreds of gay men in the wider community, two partners, my two closest friends and a young child who I mentored for a number of years. In the gay and lesbian community everyone knew someone who had died and everyone knew someone who was dying. Expressions of grief within the pubs and clubs were commonplace and attending funerals became a frequent occurrence.

At every turn someone was involved with the care of someone with HIV or AIDS and this consequently meant that many of us were involved on some level in the empowerment of someone who was dying of AIDS. The gay and lesbian community had confronted its denial of death and was actively involved in talking openly about death and dying. The community was challenging the professions ordinarily associated with dealing with death such as doctors; community based nursing services, the church and undertakers. We were now taking a proactive role in the care of the dying and the dead.

HIV charities were increasingly offering or supporting education and training on Dying, Death and Bereavement, extensive support group and counselling services were being developed for those living with or affected by AIDS and HIV. Counselling services were specifically developed to assist those who were dying or who were in grief or bereavement.

The development of similar counselling and support services was to be reflected across social services departments and within medical services throughout the UK in addition to the development of numerous independent locally based HIV charities and treatment centres across the UK.

In modern day Britain the extended family was in decline; replaced by the nuclear family it was unable to maintain responsibility for extended family members especially the elderly, sick or dying. People with long term or terminal health conditions were now placed in hospitals and the elderly in residential homes where they were cared for by strangers with whom they often died. Within the UK 58% of us die in hospitals and yet the hospital was intended to be a place of treatment and recovery from illness.

The hospice movement in the UK, which is primarily charity funded and organised is only able to provide a small number bed spaces for the terminally ill and dying throughout the UK. The gay hospice movement began to demonstrate a mutual sharing of values and principles for the care of the terminally ill and dying and included the rights of the dying to be supported by close friends and family, to be pain free, to die with dignity, to have peace and privacy and to have options and choices of treatment and care.

The gay community set about establishing its own resources for the sick and dying, these places include ‘London Lighthouse’, The Mildmay Mission’ and ‘The Sussex Beacon’. In hospital settings the introduction of “Palliative Care Consultants and Teams” began which provided holistic care packages for people dying as a result of HIV.

Medical and Scientific advancement throughout 1990’s resulted in the early introduction of antiviral treatments which are able to interrupt virus activity and slow down the progression of HIV, these drugs could not be tolerated by everyone but they did began to change and extend the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.

New drugs such as AZT and DDI were both toxic and had a number of unpleasant side effects; I personally had an extremely violent reaction to AZT and so it was at this point in my treatment history that I decided to take a treatment vacation and only consider treatment that would provide me with quality of life as opposed to quantity of life. I have now been on “Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy” or highly active antiviral therapy (HAART) for eight years and have found a combination of medication which has few side effects and has boosted my immune system and given me a blood count or (CD4) count of 750, an undetectable viral load and a new lease of life.

Government health and safer sex campaigns declined in the mid 1990s, along with funding to local government and smaller, local HIV charities. Within society a misconception that HIV and AIDS treatments were a cure and that HIV remained the problem of the traditionally affected groups led to a perception that HIV and AIDS had ‘gone away’.

In 1997 the respite and residential unit of the London Lighthouse closed and gradually training and education around issues relating to Dying, Death and Bereavement began to fall from the agenda of the caring professions.

Combination therapy is a lifeline to people living with HIV; the numbers of people dying from HIV and AIDS in the UK has declined dramatically, many (though not all) people living with HIV are now expected to have an almost normal life expectancy. This raises new challenges; many people like me who are living long term with HIV are confronted with the impact of HIV and the ageing process, as well as the physical, emotional and psychological impact of living with and managing a highly stigmatised complex chronic health condition into the future. There is an increasing group of older people living with HIV who face more uncertainty in the future. Many of us have been in long term unemployment, have no financial security, live in isolation, have limited support networks and face a range of complex health issues as we age with HIV.

 Recent evidence suggests an increase of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases not only amongst gay men but also amongst the general population. World Health Organisation statistics report that HIV is now considered a predominantly heterosexual disease with world figures currently estimating that there are 33.3 million people living with HIV worldwide and a calamitous total of 114,766 people have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK. By the end of 2010 more than 30 million people in the world had died of AIDS.

In 2006 I returned to work following a fourteen year period of living with my partner and relying on the benefits system, I enrolled onto a back to work programme with the UKC and was appointed my own life coach who enabled me to develop a business plan and eventually set up my own coaching and training consultancy. To my surprise I quickly realised that there had been a significant shift in focus in the HIV community; people infected with HIV were now living with HIV, there was a new sense of hope and people living with HIV now had a future.

Based on my experience of being coached I decide to train and qualify as a coach myself with a view to developing coaching services and projects that would enable people living with HIV. I approached The Coaching Academy, Europe’s largest coaching school and was refused my initial request for a free training place on their diploma level coaching course. Not being discouraged I approached the CEO of the academy and explained my vision of utilising coaching to enable people living with HIV and people living with disabilities to achieve their goals. I was offered a scholarship and qualified at distinction level in 2008.

It was whilst working as a trainer at the United Kingdom Coalition of People Living with HIV (UKC) I picked up a leaflet in the lobby which advertised a leadership programme delivered by the then Disability Rights Commission. I was successful in my application and introduced myself to the then chief executive officer (CEO) Mike Adams who trusted in my vision and skills and was to later appoint me as a leadership coach on subsequent leadership programmes. I have continued to work in partnership with Mike Adams in his current position as CEO of the Essex Coalition of Disabled People (‘ecdp’), and amongst other initiatives have been commissioned by Mike to co-design and deliver an innovative leadership programme called ‘LeadingAbility ‘for people living with long term health conditions, injuries and disabilities (IID) which has included working with veterans of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Parallel to my work with Mike Adams I have worked as a lead coach and advisor to the former Royal Association of Disability and Rights (RADAR) which was recently renamed ‘Disability Rights UK’ who now provide a range of highly successful leadership programmes for people living with disabilities and long term health conditions across the UK, these programmes have become increasingly inclusive of people living with HIV. Additionally I have continued to work with my former coach in developing coaching projects and successfully sourcing funding through the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) which has enabled us to deliver a number of significant coaching projects in partnership with key HIV organisations in the UK.

As we remember 30 years of the AIDS epidemic and the many people who have died we see a move towards marginalising HIV and people living with HIV even though the majority of those infected worldwide are heterosexual. We are also experiencing an increase in negative and damaging stories portraying disabled people as scroungers in the media.

Additionally I am concerned about recent reports and evidence which demonstrates that there has been a significant increase in sexually transmitted diseases and HIV in the general population and highlights the fact that there has been an absence of any significant government HIV or sexual health related campaign over the past 20 years.

The introduction of the 2010 Equality Act has finally addressed our employment and equality rights yet there is a real danger that the values and principles contained in this essential piece of legislation may fall from the agendas of our government in a current climate of recession and uncertainly . Many organisations are experiencing significant cuts in funding or the complete withdrawal of funding as we have witnessed with the disastrous loss of UKC and The Positive Place and other charities across the UK. With radical changes to the benefits system and changes in the way people living with HIV are supported by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) anxiety levels are high and the future uncertain; I am currently proactively supporting the ‘Hardest Hit Campaign

I believe that the time is right to readdress HIV and its associated issues and place HIV firmly at the forefront of our society’s awareness and our nation’s health and human rights agendas.

In August I celebrated my 51st birthday and in October another anniversary, 27 years of living with HIV. As I look to the future and semi-retirement I am sure that I will encounter many potential challenges associated with growing older with HIV.

I am now live in a landscape of living with HIV and I am determined to continue to contribute to the HIV community to enable people living with HIV to achieve their potential and develop their leadership contributions.

As an advocate for ‘NAT’ I am committed to ensuring that I continue to address our rights until people living with HIV experience their human rights as an actualised reality in their everyday lives.

As for my future I intend to continue to work tirelessly to secure funds for coaching and leadership projects to this end and support organisations such as a National Long Term Survivors Group (NLTSG) for whom I have served as trustee and vice-chair. I have recently decided to join the new Opening Doors London support group for older gay men living with HIV and I hope to be able to offer them some of my skills and experience into the future.

Whilst I lack the ability to foresee the future I am determined to make some sort of difference otherwise my life would have been without meaning and I would have failed in my own endeavours to inspire at least some of the people that I have met on my journey. I have become the person that I am because of and in spite of my HIV status; I know that my life has been shaped by HIV and that though it has often been heartbreaking and challenging I also acknowledge that it has also been an amazing and now continuing journey.

A lot has happened over this time; I have learnt to remember and value many significant dates and the faces of many loved ones who have gone on ahead of me. I dedicate this story to the many friends who have gone before me, they include Graham, Gary, Chris and Mansour and to the friends who have remained by my side and have supported me and encouraged me on my journey these include Carl, Sue, Yvonne, Trish, Mike, Isaac, Kiki, Sanna and Josef..............

By Danny West – Coach, Trainer & Leadership Consultant
Email - danny.west944@btinternet.com
Website - http://www.dannywest.co.uk/

Additional Image Credits
First Image Credit Flickr User ttfnrob 
Girl with ribbon - Image Credit Flickr User Seemak
Red Ribbons - Flickr User Sibley Hunter
Ribbon mosaic Flickr User alephnaught
Red ribbon beige background, Flickr User Auntie P 
Christmas tree ribbob Flickr User ginnerobot 

27 November 2012

Memorize


It is the near future. The population have been implanted with chips which record their every move. Law enforcement officers can then see exactly what happened at the scene of a crime. One particularly grisly murder needs to be solved and our masked and silent protagonist tracks down the suspects one by one.

Memorize, written and directed by Eric Ramberg and Jimmy Eriksson is seriously cool. I wasn’t sure about it to begin with – it seemed to be so full of science fiction tropes that the territory upon which it treads was in danger of being just a little too familiar.

Yet that is one of its strengths – we are all fully conversant in its imagery and, considering its brevity, that means we know exactly where we are from the beginning. We can just settle in and enjoy the action – and as that constitutes 90% of the plot I’m happy.

Plus, it’s a gadget feature! The weapons effects are truly well done, particularly if you take in to account the fact that this short movie has (I suspect) a budget that doesn’t go anywhere near 5 figures. While many science fiction shorts go for the ethereal and fx-lite option, Memorize is packed with action and extremely well realised effects. Hats off to Ramburg and Eriksson.

Other shorts that are, like Memorize, shoot 'em up or chase 'em down movies sometimes fall in to the trap of focusing on the shooting and chasing with little regard to visual backstory, both in terms of realistic future technology and setting.  Memorize obviously has had a lot of thought go in to both.  

If you would like to learn more about this short movie and how it was made, then visit Ramberg and Eriksson's production blog - I particularly like the weapons and tech concepts they have on it.

26 November 2012

Mouse for Sale


Snickers is a sad little mouse. He has been waiting for someone to come in to the pet shop and buy him for as long as he can remember, but unfortunately for the poor little guy one thing stands in his way.  He has the most enormous pair of ears and children being children all he receives is ridicule and not the home for which he so longs.  Will Snickers ever see his wish fulfilled?

You will have to watch this charming animation by Wouter Bongaerts to find out (even though I know you already suspect it has a happy ending!).   Wouter created this animated short as his graduation film, during the last year of his animation studies degree at the Media and Design Academy in Genk, Belgium.

25 November 2012

Bruce Lee Statue

On the 27 November Bruce Lee, perhaps the most influential martial artist of all time, would have been 72 years old. Almost forty years after his death his legacy continues. In Hong Kong, where a number of his movies were made, a statue was erected in 2005. The stunning backdrop of the Chinese city is perfect for Bruce Lee’s famous ready to strike pose from the Fist of Fury movie.

21 November 2012

Dumb Ways to Die


See all the guys on the left? They are going to die – and in some of the dumbest ways possible.  This rather amusing animated short was actually made to encourage people to be safer around trains – and although the Darwin Awards are not mentioned here, all of the characters featured would possibly win if they were real!

The eponymous website gives more details and there are also plenty of facts about staying safe when you are at the train station.  Although it is primarily aimed at younglings it is great fun for all ages!

Requiem 2019 Starring Rutger Hauer


I had to watch this short film more than once before I could lift my jaw from the floor.  Directed by Sil van der Woerd and Rutger Hauer (who also stars), Requiem 2019 takes the last remaining blue whale and takes it eye to eye with its nemesis – us.  What can a single individual say to the last surviving member of a species which has been around for millions of years? Requiem 2019 is a melancholy demand that we take individual responsibility for preserving the largest animal to have ever lived.

Despite restrictions in hunting it still continues. In the Antarctic it is estimated that the population of blue whales is at one percent of its pre-hunting levels. What would become of human kind as a species if 99% of us were wiped of the face of the earth is, of course, conjecture: I sometimes wonder if we should even be classified as a species – virus seems a more appropriate term!

18 November 2012

The Travelers Have Arrived

This is quite extraordinary work – I expect it gained your attention the moment you saw it.  It was created by husband and wife, Gillie and Marc Schattner who work together to craft art as one. This piece – called The Travelers Have Arrived is currently part of the Sculpture by the Sea Exhibition in Bondi, Australia. The rugged Australian coastline certainly makes a stunning backdrop for art.

Blood Ink


The writer does not always have a comfortable relationship with the words that he writes or with the ink with which he writes the words. Anyone who has attempted to create something special in the written form will probably recognize that sentiment, and here it becomes a stunning visual metaphor.

Blood Ink (Sang d'Encre in the original French) was created by three students at Bellecour, Tom Gouill, Jeoffrey Lavanche et Mélanie Tournois.  You can see more details about this short – and others created at this outstanding school of the arts, over at their blog.

I’m Retired


The American nation is in a state of turmoil.  Government, armed forces and security agencies are all confounded. There is only one man they can turn to for help but years ago he retired and disappeared in to the backwoods. Yet an army general manages to track him down.

This short skit takes the old tired Hollywood action movie starter and turns it on its heads with panache. It is from Key & Peele, a US comedy show which premiered this year stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and was directed by Peter Atencio. As someone who lives outside of the US I had not heard of this particular comedic pairing and found this most amusing. You can see a whole lot more of Key & Peele on Atencio’s Vimeo page.

17 November 2012

Obama Not Impressed by Maroney

Meanwhile in the White House, President Barack Obama got to meet US Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney.  It seems he was not impressed as it were. You have to admit, McKayla has certainly turned things around.  The world initially looked on her as something of a spoiled brat when she pulled that infamous face at the London 2012 Olympics.  Having said that, most of us, having prepared for something for four years and then being disappointed in front of the whole world, may well have pulled worse faces (albeit when the cameras were off us!). It’s good to see that she can take a joke, again and again and again.

16 November 2012

Gollum Catches Lunch at Wellington Airport

The muck and pool is nice and cool, so juicy sweet! Our only wish, to catch a fish, so juicy sweet! Well, yes. Exactly.  We all know how Gollum liked his lunch, wriggly and raw, but how would you like to be reminded of the fact while you are having yours?

Very much so. This amazing – and huge – sculpture has just been installed at New Zealand’s Wellington Airport. It has been designed by Weta Workshop which designed props and effects for The Hobbit trilogy of movies coming our way very soon.  It also gave them the opportunity to not so gently remind people that the country was used as the stunning stand-in for Middle-earth in the movies.

Brett Neal Store Launched

Brett Neal, whose brand is epitomized by his highly collectable oil painted and stainless steel 'Beagle in Boots' and 'Luvbuloon' pieces, has taken steps to make his work more accessible by developing an online store; brettnealstore.com.

Brett is a British artist who has been creating a diverse body of work for over 30 years.  Notably his achievements over the years include a host of portraits of the great and good.  Overwhelmingly Brett is known for his love of perfection and simplicity.

15 November 2012

Pocket Poland


Kuriositas has a large and growing band of readers from Poland which is as great as it was unexpected. It’s always great to be adopted by citizens of another country and Poland now ranks number 5 in terms of countries from which Kuriositas gets hits.  Not unsurprisingly a show of interest provokes another and there is much to be admired about the 9th largest country in Europe, not least the mix of the modern and the medieval to be discovered in a number of its cities.

This short film shows the country off in a somewhat unexpected but nonetheless delightful way.  Captured using the tilt-shift effect, Joerg Daiber of Spoonfilm takes us on a short tour of Slupsk, Leba, Gdansk, Malbork, Torun, Warszawa and Wroclaw.

The Guardian


Nora is the last Guardian Angel on earth.  It is a lonely job and one which is fraught with problems as she comes to grips with both her gift and vocation. Yet Nora is biding her time – she knows that at some point in her life those who she is destined to guard will cross her path.

This short film written and directed by Joseph Marconi manages to combine melancholy with sweetness and fantasy with naturalism in a compelling way. It tells a very simple story but I was gripped throughout.  It is beautifully, almost languidly shot and although it is bittersweet in some ways it has romance at its very heart.

14 November 2012

NFN Kalyan – Nature of the Beast 5 and 6 - Kardashian and Mandela

Over the last year Kuriositas has featured Miami based artist NFN Kalyan’s ongoing project, Nature of the Beast. He has now released the 5th and 6th installments in the series – Kim and Nelson, two very disparate souls, it has to be said!

12 November 2012

Monday


It seems an appropriate day (this being a Monday) to post up this animation. Tap, tap, tap – tell me you haven’t had a Monday like this. You get to work and you are already bored.

The weekend seems a lifetime ago already and all you can think about is that couch at home, upon which you could be languidly reclining, a glass of something or other in hand. Well, Monday by The Magnificent Itch shows what you can do when daydreaming can become a reality.

Yet, what’s that old saying about the gods and punishment? Directed by Stefan Wernik and Guy Jamieson this animated short may not give any answers to any questions (but that’s not quite what it sets out to do). You may well, however, recognize yourself in its hero. Futility really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, is it?

Salarymen


The working life – sometimes you can feel as if it is all about to overwhelm you.  So, when a dejected young salaryman stumbles over a noodle shop on his way home from work (in the rain of course!) he stops by for a little ramen.  If you are not sure what that is, it is a Japanese noodle dish.

It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat- or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, kamaboko, green onions, and occasionally corn. Or at least that’s what Wikipedia says about it. Well, the ramen certainly does the trick in this case.

This animation was made by Michael Chen, during his last year of a Media Arts Production degree at the University of Technology Sydney. He was inspired by his stay in the Japanese city of Sapporo where he befriended a ramen chef who made him feel just like the guy in his animation!


11 November 2012

Stickwork Cathedral Wows Melbourne

Australia is not without its invasive species and a large number of them are plants.  Brought in to the country by European settlers, many of these species have come to threaten the local flora and fauna.  One such species is the willow – a beautiful riverside tree but one which has clogged up Australian waterways for decades. Now, with the help of American artist Patrick Dougherty, Melbourne Waterways has come up with a novel approach to conservation.

Daisy Cutter


Zaira is a ten year old Iraqi girl with the misfortune of having been born in a time of war.  She goes to school but each day she is reminded of the loss of a friend by his empty desk.  To remember him she picks daisies each day and takes them to his graveside. 

Daisy Cutter is a simple tale beautifully told and I would be giving too much away if I tell you any more of the plot than that.  Believe me, though, this animated short will stay with you for some time. It was written and directed by Enrique Garcia and Ruben Salazar.

Please note: some of you may find the imagery in this short upsetting. However, you may want to stick with the credits on this animation too.  It tells us the other meaning of daisy cutter and as such makes this animated short even more poignant.

10 November 2012

Last Drop


Edna is a desperate woman.  On the run and out of supplies she has only one option – to rob the Last Drop supermarket and liquor store.  Yet she has not factored in the indomitable Amber, willing to protect the shop to the last. 

This very funny animated short was directed by four students of L'école Georges Méliès in Orly, near Paris - Thomas Dufour, Quentin Retif, Benjamin Weislo and Marc-Antoine Cesari.  I think if Tarantino did animation (well, all the time, I mean!) then it could look something like this!

5 November 2012

Diving Off Mostar's Sloping Bridge


Mostar’s famous bridge was destroyed by the Croatian Defense Council during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. The bridge had stood for over 400 years and had withstood many conflicts – until this one.

With the demise of the bridge another tradition was to die – that of the young men of the Bosnian Herzegovinian city diving off its side in to the Neretva River. It had been a rite of passage for the town's young for as many years as the bridge had stood.

Fortunately the bridge was rebuilt and the tradition could continue. This short, by DGA Productions shows the diving competition (it’s only for the bravehearted) but also looks back with some feeling to those young men who lost their lives in 1993.

4 November 2012

Dimensions


Metaphysics: a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world.

How can we tell what is real and what is not?

3D animation, for example, is becoming more and more sophisticated with each passing year. In this short film combining live action and, you've guessed it, animation, one young man sits down to write a childhood friend a letter, describing just how this state of affairs came about.

It is almost as if he is convincing himself of his own argument, in order to give himself the courage to, once and for all, discover whether the world in which we live is true or not.

Plenty of food for thought, then, in this short film from Auke Rick Akkerman and David Oldenburger.

3 November 2012

The Maker


You may remember a while ago we featured Zero, an amazing stop motion animation by Australian husband and wife film-making duo, Christopher and Christine Kezelos who work together under the collective name Zealous Creative. The Maker is their follow up and, if anything, is more ingenious than their previous work.

The Maker is a strange creature but he is on something of a mission. A mysterious timer demands that he finishes the most important and beautiful creation of his life. Slowly but surely the process of manufacture reveals itself as the sand inexorably falls. You must watch it all the way through – your patience (not that you need any in this case) will be rewarded with an ending that certainly put my jaw on the floor.

Aliah


Between reality, dreams and dreams of reality, time goes by.  Aliah is a young girl living in the ruins of a once prosperous town in Afghanistan.  War and civil strife has taken its toll and the young girl is left to her own devices, playing in the rubble.

Yet one day she discovers a music box. Through its sweet melody the girl relives years gone by and it comes to represent her hopes for a better world.

Written and directed by Valentino Bedini, this moving animated short was produced by LAB81, a young advertising agency that deals with business communication planning.

Walk of the Immigrants – The Next Step

In 2010 Saul Flores (above) walked across ten countries to raise awareness about the issues facing people living in South America.  The Mexican-American student did this by creating a photographic record of his journey – which came to be known as The Walk of the Immigrants. The pictures you see here are all from Saul’s immense walk.

Saul captured his journey on camera to show the commonalities that we all have as people. His aim was not to simply record the lives of these people but by doing so to raise money to rebuild the dilapidated elementary school in his mother’s home town of Atencingo in Mexico. His journey inspired many people to help out – and enough money was raised to rebuild the school. Yet much more needs to be done.

1 November 2012

Meet Me Far


Meet Me Far is one of those rare and lovely pieces of animation which stay in your head for a long time afterwards.  It was directed by Ran Sieradzki and is the latest single by Israeli singer Anat Ben Hemo.  In it we meet a cute little guy who just seems to get immense pleasure out of watching his world pass by.  That’s it really, just a very simple storyline but exquisitely executed.

It makes some difference that Anat has such a lovely, ethereal voice.  Having decided that she was going to be a singer as a child that is exactly what she did.  As well as appearing in jazz festivals around the globe her work represents a number of genres, including folk and electronic.  This is just lovely – let’s hope it’s a big hit for her.

Jungle Brawl Episode Two (Trailer)


We don’t usually feature trailers on Kuriositas, simply because we then get inundated with messages from people who want to know when the finished work will be available (and we don’t usually know!). However, the response to Jungle Brawl Episode One was so great that we decided to make an exception – what are rules for except to be broken, after all!

As all good trailers should, this doesn’t give much away – except that it promises to be much bigger and louder than episode one!  We can only guess at what mayhem the Blue Chimp and his creator Lee Daniels will unleash this time around!
Amung Feedjit
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