How to be a game maker

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What you’ll need: a board, pawns

Songlist: Video Games by Lana Del Rey, Play On by Carrie Underwood

Further reading: A Game of Thrones by R. R. Martin

Pieces on a Risk game board

Caveat: Bowing to social and cultural pressures, I read The Hunger Games this weekend. And yes, there are Gamemakers in that book that pit 24 teenagers against each other in a battle royale. And yes, when trying to come up with this week’s topic I thought of the bazillions of people who lined up to see said teenagers murder each other on the big screen (in 3D, why not!) So this is definitely a tie-in–I decided against “How to be an assassin”–yet my idea of game making is quite different from the casual sadism of Suzanne Collins’s dystopia.

I made my first board game in second grade in a class called Dominoes and Domiciles. My game was a typical sequential journey where you advanced along a track by rolling dice and picking up cards along the way. The twist was that you could pick one of six tracks, each one affiliated with an endangered animal. I spent hours researching each of my six animals, writing game cards, drawing the elaborate board, and creating tokens to stand in for the animals. After presenting it to the class, I eagerly brought my Endangered Species of the World game home (doesn’t it sound fun?!?) and made my family play it with me. The game started off with enthusiasm, but quickly turned sour when my brother and parents were unable to answer the trivia cards that guaranteed extra rewards (“The size of a bald eagle generally corresponds with what rule?…Bergmann Rule!?! Seriously, Jenna, how was I supposed to know that?”) I, of course, knew all the answers.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson. In seventh grade, my best friend and I created a Lewis and Clark board game which was exactly the same concept as my endangered species game (I think you could even be one of six characters with corresponding trivia to answer). My family, however, had learned their lesson, and refused to play when I brought the game home.

So I might not be the best game maker…yet. In fact, it seems fairly difficult to create a game that keeps players coming back. Of course, there are plenty of classics. I’m especially partial to Clue and Risk because they are simple enough for a child to play yet complicated enough to keep an adult entertained.

The new favorite

There is one new game in contention to become a classic in our house, though. For Christmas, my dad bought my mom a game called Marrakech, something like a simplified version of Monopoly. Players set down rugs in the marketplace, and pay taxes if they land on someone else’s rug. A game only last about 20 minutes which makes it much more palatable than starting a game of Monopoly, and, since they rugs are brightly colored, much prettier as well. At the end of the instruction booklet, we found a note about game company, Gigamic: game designers collect royalties for every game of theirs sold, and Gigamic is always open to new suggestions.

So don’t worry, world, as soon as I come up with a better board game concept than asking obscure trivia that only I know the answer to, I am contacting Gigamic straightaway. And then I’ll just watch the Monopoly money roll in.

Curator of the soul

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To curate:

1. Select, organize, and look after items in a collection or exhibition.

2. Select acts to perform at a music festival.

See, now, I didn’t know that second definition until last December when a local hip-hop group, Doomtree, had a seven-night “blow-out” at Minneapolis’s famed First Ave. The first five nights, Sunday to Thursday, were devoted to one specific member of the group and his or her guests; the final two nights displayed Doomtree all together. I’m a Facebook fan of Doomtree’s sole female, Dessa, and thus was especially excited to see her announcement of which guests she was bringing in on Tuesday, the night she would be curating. Since Dessa is an extremely intelligent woman with highly creative diction, I thought her usage of the world was wonderfully fitting and inventive. Fitting yes, inventive no.

The origin of the word curator comes from the Latin curare, which means “to care for,” especially in the spiritual sense. I love this etymological clue as to the job of the curator: ushering forth art and music which is both of the spirit and to care for the spirit. In this sense, what else could a curator do? Perhaps curate ingredients in an exquisite dish? (A curry, of course). Curate a highly engaging lecture?

I’ll give Dessa the last word on this one:

Curation of laughter and mustard

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Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum

I wanted to do a post about the most beautiful museums in the world…but you already know about the Louvre. And Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. And maybe even the Milwaukee Art Museum, the incredible bird-wing/ship-mast addition designed by Santiago Calatrava. (No? Well, I’ll put in a photo just in case you haven’t heard of it. And so my architect dad will be happy).

But then I realized I’d be doing the theme of curation a disfavor. After all, art museums aren’t the only museums in the world. With just a quick google search, you can find a museum for just about anything.

The macabre is well-represented in the world of museums. For instance, Guanajuato has an entire museum devoted to mummies. You can walk through halls of mummified bodies, 111 in all, in various states of decay. I’m sure the curator had fun with this one (“should we arrange by date exhumed or by state of decay?”). And there’s the Museum of Death in Hollywood that features artwork done by serial killers and videos of autopsies, among other things. What better place for a museum of death than a place obsessed with eternal youth? Amsterdam has a Torture Museum, but it’s not the only place. There are torture museums in Prague, Italy, Germany, and even friendly ol’ Wisconsin Dells, a place better known for its water park.

Just go to Wisconsin, lady!

But if you’re only in Wisconsin for one day and have to choose which museum to visit, why not skip the torture and the art housed under Calatrava’s wings and head to the National Mustard Museum, formerly known as Mount Horeb Mustard Museum. My Wisconsinite boyfriend tells me there was much controversy when the world’s only mustard museum relocated from one tiny Wisconsin town to another. What does Mount Horeb have to offer the world now? Perhaps just find another beloved and questionable food group…don’t pick Spam though, because we Minnesotans have the market cornered on Spam museums.

Minnesota does have its own share of odd museums. We even made a blogger’s list of “7 crazy-ass museums” with the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, aka the Quackery Hall of Fame (on every list of ridiculous museums was New Delhi’s International Museum of Toilets). I visited this museum with friends when I was in junior high school, researching for a project on Freud. We tried on the phrenology device, wrapped ourselves in the conveyor belt that you were suppose to wear as a real belt to eliminate fat, stepped into the x-ray machine to measure foot size that was all the rage with cobblers right after x-rays were discovered. Apparently, even Marie Curie’s death from radiation hadn’t raised red flags with the Adrian X-ray Company, based in Milwaukee (it always comes back to Wisconsin). The last x-ray machine found in operation in a shoe department was in 1981 in West Virginia. 1981.

My favorite museums, at least in theory, are museums of intangibles. I wrote about the Museum of Lost Smells last March, and just found about about the Laughter Museum in Wiesbaden, Germany. Although I’m sure the real museum is nothing like this, I imagine a large white room where people just go in and start laughing. And after having a good laugh yourself, you can tour white hallways listening to a vast library of laughter. Napoleon’s laugh, Gandhi’s laugh, Salvador Dalí’s laugh. The price of admission would be a guffaw. Excuse me, I have to go start designing my laughter museum.

Controversial curation

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I had a dream last night that I was part of a select group of Dartmouth students chosen to curate an art show. Only when we began discussing what to include in the show did I realize that I was way out of my league: several of the other students were opinionated art history majors. Two boys began a heated debate about the merits of including art that was “important” versus art that generated an emotional response. One girl wanted us to create a show that summarized the entire history of art, and started showing slides of Native American textiles. Too exhausted to remain a part of the debate, I woke up.

Curation is an art and a science, one that I profess to know almost nothing about besides what one of my best friends–an opinionated Dartmouth art history major–has told me. There are obvious ways to group paintings–by country, by time period, by artist. This all makes sense: a well-curated show should create some conversation between the works, some tension or resolution.

I was very impressed with the show that my art historian friend, M, curated as her senior project. The show was just five paintings, but they were linked by the theme of the femme fatale, and placed a seventeenth century Italian depiction of Salome at John the Baptist’s beheading next to a twentieth century Caribbean painting of Eve with the serpent. Hearing M talk about the prevalent themes that united such disparate works made me consider these paintings much more fully than if I’d been walking by them in a gallery.

Sean Scully in front of two of his stripe paintings

Just a few months earlier, I had gone to one of M’s gallery tours when the Hood, Dartmouth’s art museum, had an exhibition of painter Sean Scully’s stripes. Whenever the Hood had a new exhibition there was always an opening gala with music, appetizers, and tours. Thrilled with the prospect of free wine and cheese and jazz piano in the gallery (what is it with me and music in art galleries?) I was more than happy to go look at stripes. And, on M’s tour, I found that the stripe paintings were actually interesting. While literally every single painting was some combination of stripes, each was different; some provoked joy, others nostalgia, and others I found myself really liking.

The exhibition that came after “The Art of the Stripe” was titled “Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body.” As senior intern, M was in charge of much of the publicity for the exhibition and especially the opening night gala. She and another friend held several focus groups to figure out the best way to attract attention while staying true to the goal of the show, which was to problematize the way black women have been portrayed over time and juxtapose many art forms by and about African and African American women. Similarly, they hired a DJ to play hip-hop music at the event, alternating between mainstream misogynist and feminist hip-hop. The opening gala was called “Hip-hop in the Hood.”

The slam poetry group at Dartmouth, Soul Scribes, performed at the event and I remember some latent tension bubbling over. But I also remember M’s highly thoughtful tour, asking viewers how we felt when confronted with difficult images, what we thought of certain symbolism. Attendance for the event was at least 3 times larger than it had been for the stripe gala.

The controversy on campus was immediate and almost unanimous. People who had not attended the event were outraged by the title, organizations that had participated in the focus groups and thus contributed their ideas condemned the gala, the many Dartmouth newspapers published a steady stream of editorials for two weeks. My friend was more than crushed. She was labeled a racist, a misogynist, culturally insensitive. And yet over the course of the three months that the Black Womanhood exhibit was up at the Hood, more students attended than for any other exhibit in the course of the museum’s history. It was this fact that M clung to–she had helped get people into the art museum who wouldn’t otherwise have gone, people who were primarily interested in knowing what all the fuss was about but then were riveted by the artwork (interestingly, no one was upset about the exhibit itself; if you paid an iota of attention to the art you would realize that it was trying to make the same point as all those self-righteous editorials). After all, what is art worth if it doesn’t provoke an emotional response?

Time to go back to sleep and resolve that debate.

Carrie Mae Weems's piece "From here I saw what happened and I cried"

How to be a museum curator

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What you’ll need: an art history degree

Songlist: Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer, The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright

Further reading: The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (but don’t actually read this one)

Monet's waterlilies curve around the specially designed rooms of Musee L'Orangerie in Paris

Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family-friendly event called ¡España! I had been lured by the promise of flamenco guitar in the galleries. Since I was fairly sure I would know the guitarist(s)–the Twin Cities flamenco community is not all that big–I was more interested in the concept of looking at art with flamenco guitar as a backdrop than the music itself. After wandering around the galleries waiting to hear guitar strings vibrating in the vicinity, we finally just asked a docent where to find the guitarist. He pointed back the way we came: all the way to the end of the hall, take a left, and all the way to the end of that hall. We wound up in a bright white atrium–no art on the walls–facing an empty black chair with a microphone forlornly angled at the floor and a sign saying “Flamenco guitar: 12 pm-4pm.” I looked at my watch: 3:15 pm.

The day was not a total waste, though, because I always love wandering the Institute’s halls. We walked past old favorites–the easy to love Monet haystack and Van Gogh olive trees, the more violent Max Beckmann triptych that my mom and I discovered last April–and temporary galleries of photography and modern art.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a kid and it was one of my parents’ birthdays or we had a visitor from out-of-town, we would invariably go to the MIA. I was not bored by the art at the time, but I always assumed beforehand that I would be; this assumption, voiced in protest to my parents, meant that I could not thereafter be seen enjoying myself at the art museum.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

Perhaps it was when I visited London with my mom at the age of 14 that I suddenly realized how much I do enjoy being at art museums. We went to the National Gallery and I fell in love with two paintings there: Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm and The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. Because they were the first paintings I truly loved, they are still the paintings I love best.

And while I haven’t fallen quite so hard for any other painting, I have been strongly affected many times since while touring art museums: at Madrid’s Reina Sofia I stood shocked at Picasso’s Guernica and felt intensely nostalgic in front Dali’s Muchacha de Espalda. I felt awed by the gigantic water lily paintings that wrap around two ovular galleries in the Musee L’Orangerie in Paris. And I was giddy with excitement seeing Van Gogh’s Starry Night in person at the MoMA.

The best experience I had, though, was a thirty-minute jaunt through the Louvre on a Friday evening with my friend Hilary. Admission was free for those under 26 on Friday evenings, and we’d meant to get there earlier but had dallied. This also happened to be a night where musicians were scattered around the vast palaces. Hilary and I raced past a jazz trio playing in front of an Egyptian pyramid, a violinist in the Great Hall, a brass quartet by the Venus de Milo. It was this beautiful phantasmagoria of color and sound made more exciting by the fact that we were actually, literally, running through the Louvre to take it all in.

What I can’t fathom is how incredible it would be to work in these buildings, to patrol the corridors where incredible art hangs, to have meetings down the hall from John Singer Sargent or El Greco or Caravaggio. Does a curator become complacent about the scenery? It seems doubtful. I imagine that being in that setting day after day would be like a perpetual dream…flamenco guitar or not.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Henna, kohl, and sacred makeup

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While makeup in modern American culture is often considered frivolous, throughout history it has been a powerful indicator of identity, often with spiritual significance.

My first thought of makeup as indicator of identity was of geisha women in Japan, whose white face makeup is instantly recognizable. In fact, the elaborate hair styles, beautiful kimonos, and full makeup that I associate with the word geisha is worn primarily by maiko, or apprentice geisha. Geisha wear more subdued makeup to accentuate their natural beauty, usually only applying the full makeup–faces painted white with rice powder, teeth blackened, lips reddened with safflower–for the most formal occasions.

Henna designs on a bride's hands

Henna is used for formal occasions throughout the world. Brides from India to Morocco are painted with elaborate henna tattoos just before their weddings. The intricate patterns of mehndi, the name of these henna paintings in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, are more than just ornamentation. They are described in the Vedas, ancient ritual books dating back three thousand years, as being symbolic of the Inner and Outer Sun (traditional mehndi designs include a sun drawn on the palm of one’s hand). Henna is believed to contain some of the goddess Lakshmi’s essence and thus the wearer is imparted with Lakshmi’s sacred protection.

The Prophet Mohammad dyed his beard with henna, and thus some Muslim men use henna in their beards to emulate Mohammad. This practice is considered sunnah, or fortunate, due to its relation to the Prophet. While some Muslim men dye their beards only after making the hajj to Mecca, it is more commonplace in certain cultures. For instance, we have a large Somali population in the Twin Cities and many elderly Somalian men here have bright orange beards (local blogger Ifrah Jimale addressed this question in her “Ask a Somali” column; she noted that henna was a luxury in Somalia and thus it might carry some cache in the United States).

Rock that eyeliner, girl

Other cosmetic substances were used not only for religious reasons but also medicinally. Galena, or kohl, worn ubiquitously in ancient Egypt, possesses disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties. Also, much like modern day athletes wearing black stripes below their eyes to reduce glare, Egyptians wore kohl to protect their eyes from intense sun. But eye makeup in ancient Egypt had other protective characteristics; the Egyptian word for eye-palette even derives from their word for “protect.” Powdered green malachite when applied to the eyes was thought to imbue the wearer with protection from Hathor, the goddess of beauty, joy, and love.

Man, it’s time for my makeup to do a little more work; all it boasts is SPF. When I go to the cosmetic aisle at CVS tomorrow, I should look instead for makeup that boasts a high GPF: Goddess Protection Factor.

The Beauty Department

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I discovered Lauren Conrad’s beauty blog, The Beauty Department, a few months ago while doing research for my online eyewear company. Expecting it to be annoying (due to my lingering irritation over Ms. Conrad’s poor acting skills in Laguna Beach and The Hills), I was more than pleasantly surprised. The website’s aesthetic is friendly and fun while still being incredibly instructive. I especially love the little video tutorials that help know-nothings like me learn how to braid hair, put on false eyelashes, and so on. Here’s Lauren showing you how to be “Hollywood Glam:”

The Beauty Department’s videos came in handy especially while I was preparing for my dance role. For instance, I used the following tutorial to put my hair in a bun:

And we definitely used the techniques demonstrated below to apply super glittery eye shadow:

Result: Raven!

Made up like Marilyn

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As the Oscar-nominated lead in My Week With Marilyn, actress Michelle Williams became only the latest starlet to pay homage to the woman for whom the term “sex symbol” was created. Isn’t it amazing what makeup can do?

Doppelgängers Williams and Monroe

Scarlett Johansson must have been confused why she didn’t get the role…

More doppelgängers...

…especially after her Dolce and Gabbana campaign directly inspired by Ms. Monroe:

What more do I have to do to convince you that I'M Marilyn?!?

Lindsay Lohan must have been equally bummed, since she’s reportedly a little obsessed with the star (if you count “a little” as owning Monroe’s former LA apartment, having two tattoos devoted to her, and a line of clothing labelled after Monroe’s birthday…yikes). Lohan has done at least two photo shoots directly trying to emulate her idol. Unfortunately, Lohan gets “sexy” confused with “naked.” While Williams invokes Monroe’s vulnerability and Johansson and Marilyn are similarly comfortable in their own bodies, Lohan is just awkward. Makeup can only get you so close, sometimes…