Wednesday, 21 November 2007

That's What Fanta's For - praise for the worldly drink

When I was a student on backpacking trips to Europe, drinking Fanta was a tiny ritual that fit my budget nicely. While most Europeans probably grew up on the stuff, my first tastes of Fanta were during these epiphanous first tastes of travel. I drank it while picnicking along the Seine, exploring Dover castle, watching canalboats in Amsterdam. 

Of course, on these trips, I drank other things too. Loads, if I recall correctly. But amidst beers and wines and coffees, Fanta was the newest to my palette. Though the drink is as ubiquitous as juice on every continent, it is virtually unknown in my native Canada.

Tastes are often associated with memory. It's why we crave our mothers' cooking when we're sick. It's why everyone loves birthday cake. For me, Fanta evokes that giddy far-from-home feling, of backpacks and passports and guidebooks. It represents the amiable broken-English chats with absolutely anyone who will chat back. It represents eating cheap picnic lunches on the steps of pricey museums to balance out the funds for the day. For me, Fanta represents adventure; a symbol of the world beyond Canada, of flying away from the familiar and into the throes of the unknown.

Of course, I've gotten older. I've traveled further than Western Europe, and I've lost a bit of tolerance for shabby hostels and cocky gap-year Australians. But wherever I go, I always track down Fanta in these new destinations, and for tradition's sake, I always make sure to imbibe. 

I was traveling with a friend in China when I became briefly enamoured with green apple Fanta; a local flavour that was as new to my palette as peking duck. M friend and I had travelled and consumed Fanta together on three continents so far, and had spent many a long bus ride singing the drink's praises.  On one ambling walk through Beijing, we cooked up the idea of a Fanta-finding website. People could research the local Fanta flavours of travel destinations around the world. Had this site existed (and not just in the imaginary realm), we would have known that China also sells beetroot and orange-mint Fantas, and that an intriguing toffee-flavoured variety was sold in Taiwan, mere kilometres away.

Fanta flavours, after all, can give us a glimpse into the local palette. Who but the most popular fruits and flavours get idolized into soft drink form? Plum and lychee Fantas are sold in Japan. A handful of Scandinavian countries sell elderflower Fanta; Mexico boasts a tamarind-flavoured option; Grenada sells banana Fanta, and lucky Romanians can sip a seasonal cinnamon-rum Christmas Fanta. 

In Thailand, two regional Fantas are so locally-targeted, their names don't translate. Simply, they are "green soda," based on a popular Thai jelly, and "red soda," flavoured like the homegrown sala fruit. Visitors to Thailand will see open bottles of the drink on Buddhist altars outside people's homes. Of course, this is not a worship of Fanta itself, but a gesture of Buddhist faith. The red soda variety is a known favourite of the King of Thailand, and bottles of the drink are now used in religious offerings as a nod to His Majesty. 

It's local facts like these which have me happily maintaining my Fanta-drinking tradition. While the new flavours are exciting to try, my taste for Fanta is as symbolic as it is literal. To drink Fanta is to drink abroad, and for me, these travels can be as addictive as any sugary indulgence. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Aya Takano: How Kawaii!

Looking to Earth from Moon (Aya Takano, 2.004)

The fake innocence rules in Japan. And it has become a must on the national identity cocktail. Characters with sweet and childish features, impossible drawings and messages more likely to the ones that are about to start their adult life, splash this asiatic country everyday´s life. The sociologists scratch their heads while they design new theories. In order to explain the invasive movement of an style which has been limitated by Otaku´s culture.

The japanese society is living now a moment of discontent, and economy is to blame. Furthermore, its culture´s been progressively affected by the impossibility of accepting a social present unimaginable years ago. “Cuteness” has arised then, as another exportable fact of a culture really stuck on traditional ways.

In this “Cuteness invasion” there is a bunch of teenagers, half women half girls, that consume loads of j-pop, otaku products and clothes. Waiting at the malls doors, they slightly fix their eyes in trendy things while murmuring “kawaii” (how cute!).
Keep this funny word in mind, as every wannabe and trendy western mag is using it.

In the 90s Takashi Murakami started his own Kawaii crusader. This japanese artist (yep, the one designing Louise Vuitton bags and fascinating the Americans) decided to create a Pop´s Dream for himself on a Warhol´s way. His creations are cute and somehow weird. He´s been working with traditional technics while keeping and eye on marketing and futuristic creatures. The japanese subculture mixed at last with the old ways.
Following his idol, he created “Kaikai Kiki” (first started as Hiropon Factory). A massive “atelier” for young japanese artists and market cute supplies. In the meantime, he fixed as well the settings of a new style: “ the superflat” (clean, with a good quality and of course… flat).

It happens sometimes that the pupil overcomes the master. And there we have Aya Takano, a new target in the visual arts worldwide.
This japanese pop artist born in 1.976 is conquering the arty spectrum with her subversive femenine vision and her science fiction moto. She´s been influenced by otaku culture, shiny and futuristic worlds, “girl´s photography”, japanese images and Italian Quattrocento.
Her teenagers live in onanist bubbles. These heroines are always painted in ink and acrylics to get a soft and dreamy look. Her works appear to be simple but they hide a pretty virtuosism taken from her comic author side. In fact in her country she is better known for her comic works, whereas in old Europe she is considered an artist.

Untitled (Aya Takano, 2.002)

It is funny how she takes some bits from artists like Hokusai or traditional styles like “Ukiyo-e” (pictures of the floating world). Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh and loads of other renown artists focused on this bizarre technics. So what´s wrong with a XXIth girl artist working on them?

Uh! Yes! I can´t help it… art critics I´m pointing at you!

Friday, 2 November 2007


In the late 50s a telephone box was located in Mojave Dessert. It was really isolated, about 15 miles from the nearest highway. Miners had it just in case something happened. Weird. Loads of films, short stories and songs are related to this dusty piece of land. So it was about time someone noticed the decrepit phone box. In the 90s it became a pilgrimage place. During years loads of people phoned there and talked to strangers about the weather, about their lives or miseries. It doesn´t exist anymore.
Being creative involves fascination for little but powerful universes as the Mojave´s telephone box. “Appropriationism” say the art writers.

At the very beginning of the year I went to Paris with one purpose in mind: follow the traces left on the city by the French artist Sophie Calle. I was working on her artworks for my PhD so I got really excited about the fact of poking around her new stuff.

Calle was ruminating for some time about Mojave´s mistery phone. So she decided to create with a little help of her friend F.Gehry a telephone box in the middle of a bridge on a dessert area of Paris. She is the only one knowing the telephone number and she calls five times a week in order to try to speak to strangers.This will last two more years…

Critics are still roaring. This installation belongs to a Public Art Project to promote a new tram on a quite abandoned area of Paris. Money, money. Who is going to be wandering around the phone box at night? And what about mornings, when everybody is supposed to be working?

When I got of the train all I could see was a bright isolated shape in the middle of one of the ugliest bridges I´ve ever seen. Getting closer I got dissapointed because of the colours and materials. Once there I phewww… It was fantastic. Lots of messages, stickers, telephone numbers… The project was alive. And furthermore, people (from around the world) were absolutely respectful with the artist´s ways. So their words had the resonance of Calle´s and their anonimity, a little bit of her voyeuristic nuances.

“Le téléphone” is a lively sculpture. Nobody knows what are all the registered conversations about. Maybe she´s not even calling. Who Knows. Madmoiselle Calle is slick as hell and tricky.
I should close this post in a different way. But I prefer to leave it like it is now. This was just an excuse to talk a little bit about Calle and to show the pics I took there.