Monday, June 25, 2007

Snowed under

Snow domes, snow globes, snow shakers; call them what you like, these little beauties are a souvenir no package tourist can resist. Who doesn’t want a poorly rendered plastic representation of an over-exposed tourist spot stuck in a leaky plastic dome filled with anti-freeze and gummed-together glitter? Well, maybe you don’t, but the rest of the western world, apparently, does.

The Internet is awash with snow dome collectors, each of whom, it’s rumoured, owns two to three hundred of these overpriced dust collectors. But do they own a snow dome of your special little corner of the world? Unless you’re George W Bush, Queen Elizabeth or the Pope, the answer is probably no.

So if you want to make a packet on EBay (where ‘a packet’ equals about $12.99), make your own snow dome. You can do it the mass-produced way—pick up a snow dome kit from a craft store or the web, take a cheesy picture of your dog wearing a hat sitting under a sign that says ‘Welcome to [your town name here]’ and stick the two together—or you can make a truly unique expression of the individual charm of your home (‘Limited edition! Buy now! $13.99!’).

Here’s what you do.

  1. Get a clean jar. If you can only find a dirty jar, clean it
  2. Get some glitter
  3. Get a cheesy photo of your dog wearing a hat sitting under a sign that says ‘Welcome to [your town name here]’ and laminate it
  4. Get a lump of plasticine, stick it in the jar lid and stick your photo upright in the plasticine
  5. Fill the jar with water
  6. Pour in the glitter
  7. Screw on the lid
  8. Shake. Ooh and aah. Congratulate yourself.
  9. Sell on EBay. When it fails to sell, give to Grandma for Christmas.

If you’re feeling super-creative, eliminate step 3 and instead make a model of your favourite local thing (the bar you go to when there's nothing else to do, the parking lot where you used to have shopping trolley races, the cute girl who works at Safeway) out of modelling clay or flour-and-water dough, paint it, spray it with clear lacquer and continue as above. Then give it to the girl at Safeway and really freak her out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hef you got a lassance fer theez minkey?

There’s nothing quite like getting off a plane (or a bus or a train) in a country where the only things you can say are ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and—perhaps inadvertently—‘can I put my ferret in your handbag?’. The struggle to be understood makes babies of all of us, unable to get even something as simple as air conditioning that works or a caesar salad with the bacon on the side. It’s frustrating, disabling and infuriating; it somehow strips away our ability to be ourselves. So why not do it for fun?

It would be great if you could convince everyone in your town to speak a different language for a day so you could recreate that feeling, but, let’s face it, the chances are slim. Short of having your eardrums removed, you’re going to be able to understand your neighbours. As a compromise, why not make it so they can’t understand you?

Spend a day speaking in an impenetrable accent. If you’re a perfectionist, research your accent and try to get your Latvian or Ghanian pronunciation to the point where it would fool a Lithuanian or Senegalese. If you’re not a perfectionist, take some tips from Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau (of ‘Pink Panther’ fame) and just pretend you’re French. The main thing is that no one should understand a word you say.

‘Ken ee eff a zeesoor sawad weez zee barcon ern zee zoide?’
‘I’m sorry sir, I couldn’t quite hear you. You wanted a?’
‘Zeesoor sawad weez zee barcon ern zee zoide.’
‘I’m afraid we don’t sell wristwatches here sir. Have you tried Kmart?’

After a day of being hungry, lost and excluded, you’ll once again appreciate how good it is, sometimes, to be home.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stop motion

So you reckon nothing ever happens here? Let’s see if science agrees with you.

Grab a camera; if you have a tripod for it, so much the better. Stand somewhere you visit frequently (outside your front door might be the ideal spot) at a time of day you usually have a couple of minutes spare. Note your position carefully, open the lens up wide, and fire that shutter. Well done.

Here’s where it gets hard. Next day, at the same time, come back to the exact same spot and take the exact same photo. Repeat, daily, until you can bear to repeat no more (if you think doing this every day will drive you to the brink of madness, how about coming back once a week instead). Twenty photos should give you a nice cross-section, but if you really want a statistical sample, perhaps you should spread your recording over all four seasons.

Once you’re done, print your photos. Have a look. What’s different from photo to photo? Anything? For added impact, you could staple your photos in date order into a little book; flipping the pages will give you a better idea when something moves or changes. Why stop there? This is exactly the kind of conceptual art that trendy cafes lap up: why not print the lot in reasonably large format and ask your local latte spot (or public library) if they’ll exhibit your work?