20080123

Brightness Falls From the Air



John Drew Munro's latest exhibition of works has its vernissage tonight at the Gésu, at 1200 rue de Bleury (514-861-4378) in Montreal.

If you ever admired the images of circles and dots you see as you scroll down the entries on my blog, you have been quietly paying tribute to the work of John Drew Munro. Over two years ago, I asked John if on these web pages I could upload and display his art (which in my mind is somehow so suggestive of the analysis of wine) and then redirect visitors to more information about him and his work by hyperlinking to it. He said yes. As a result, clicking on any of his images you see here will eventually lead you to details about his last exhibition, which was in Westmount in 2005.

But now, I am more than happy to point to his recent works. The image above is from his new series of encaustic paintings entitled Brightness Falls From the Air. It seems to maintain his emphasis on pattern-based abstraction and the fascinating reductive techniques he uses to practically carve reliefs from his canvasses.

But other people can probably describe better it than me -- I just want to make sure I check it out in person, sometime before April 16, when the exhibits are taken down. (But why risk missing it by waiting that long when you could meet the artist by attending the unveiling tonight?)

The works in this exhibition are the culmination of 18 months of productive labour, concerned with the manipulation of a few elements… dots, circles and lines. It is not the elements in their singularity that piqued my interest; but rather the systematic repetition and the production of constellations and their association with both science and nature. I would hope that my paintings are an intimate dialogue concerned with the transference of visual sensations. The manipulation of the elements can be used in myriad ways. It is my intent to deploy a range and distribute each motif according to my response to each particular work in progress…

I paint with encaustic (a mixture of beeswax, pigment and resin): it dries very quickly, and therefore must be worked in an expeditious manner. It is quite difficult but holds rewards inherent in its qualities such as luminosity and transparency. Depth can be achieved through layering. The paint is not brushed on; instead it is poured over the surface and the markings are incised with small tools and later filled and scraped back. The layers and markings can be numerous or few… this is dependent on the needs of the individual work… colours are minimal in order to empower the work through limitation.

The title was appropriated from James Joyce's novel "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." It is his descriptive power that so enticed me… and stimulated the development of this work.

- John Drew Munro

20080115

Two Buck Chuck has nothing to worry about: Reports not fit for wine blogosphere

You heard it here first. But it may already be too late.

Be warned the press releases that come from yet another scientific study involving wine on humans. Here's how AP phrased it when they first filed the news brief on this recent American study now making the rounds: "Apparently, raising the price really does make the wine taste better."

Actually the point of this study is that it really DOESN'T, but that there are reasons why it would appear to happen.

More importantly: "Raising the price does make the wine taste better." Taste better? To whom?

I'll tell you who. Volunteers who didn't pay for the wine, that's who. Surely this is not a real-world scenario. Had the money required to pay for these wines come out of their own pockets, I think the folks tasting would've reacted differently. Perhaps a little more skeptical and contemplative when the chips are down. That's just my theory.

Science being science, this kind of study demands random "volunteers" so winos with wallets were not invited. Now, I ask you, what about the world of enjoying fine wine is based on volunteering? Nothing. That's because most people work for their wine. And that's why this experiment and any like it are limited in how they depict the truths in wine consumption -- Two Buck Chuck has nothing to worry about.

Statements circulating in the press like "while many studies have looked at how marketing affects behavior, this is the first to show that it has a direct effect on the brain" mischaracterizes what's going on. There's no buying behaviour in this experiment, so how can marketing actually be involved?

Shouldn't the statement have been (which I might add merits some credit to the scientists, who are Antonio Rangel and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology): "While many studies have looked at how marketing affects PERCEPTION OF PLEASURE, this is the first to show that it has a direct effect on the brain."

My point is that perception of pleasure and behaviour are obviously not the same thing. In fact, the disconnect between perception of pleasure and behaviour is a big deal for me, and, I think, anyone else who wants to live in a civilized society.

But wait. It gets even worse than that. The copy used in reports of the study suggests that volunteers selected their preferences based on results shown by the MRI scanner hooked up to their brain.

We've left the real world of wine blogging entirely. Since when is looking at brain scans useful in relaying information about wine? Maybe once or twice on Chateau Petrogasm but that's a site whose usefulness I question on a daily basis.

What I say: Of course the anticipation of drinking expensive wine is going to affect my body in different way than the anticipation of drinking plonk-priced wine. Is that the scoop we are being fed by the press -- as if it is some wine marketing revelation?

I think the press should stop selling this study to winos and wine marketers. It's merely a test on brain functions. This seems obvious to me now, but it didn't at first when the story came out. So since you're here, I'll explain what I have made sense of.

The study sets up a bogus taste test by placing wines of different prices in front of tasters. But some wine samples are identical and marked with a different price tags (there were three separate wines: a $90 Cabernet correctly listed and then listed at $10; a $45 Cab correctly listed and listed at $5; and a $35 Cab correctly listed). MRI "pleasure" activity and participant wine selections are consistent, which is I guess why the study is being called a clear success. But the hoo-ha in the news is being generated by the fact that the big pricetag wines are the ones being favoured.

Everyone comes back two weeks later to repeat the experiment using the same wines but without the prices marked. It's unclear in the press reports what happened here (Were there five or three samples? Were they hooked up to MRIs again?) but what incredible results emerge this time!

"They liked the wines originally marked $5 and $45 best," says one report. But the $5 and $45 samples were actually taken from a single solitary wine -- a five-dollar bottle. (Now that's something interesting to wine marketers!) So if and when participants' brain activity is allowed to be filtered into real-life actions and words (instead of being prematurely stopped in the lab), are pricetags really affecting their ability to identify good wine? In other words, is this experiment proving that humans evaluate quality based on cost? I say no.

Not even. What I might say however, is that this experiment demonstrates that pricetags affect one's ability to identify equality, i.e. identify that the wines marked with different pricetags were actually the same wine. Which is a whole different ballgame, and I think one which has already been played. (I play it all the time, sampling a little bit of wine from my usual glass and a little bit from one those Eisch breathable glasses, which claim to make the wine taste different... but I can't tell.)

The real intrigue here lie in the brain scans, which I'll leave to BlogMD, despite the name of this blog.

20080109

New sensations for '08: Dinner wine marketed as a doppelganger to dinner music

miranda lambert wine gunpowder and lead Greyhound Bound for Nowhere Famous in a Small Town desperationI noticed this news story announcing a new line of American wine because I was posting on the Top Ten tracks of 2007, not because of my Annual Best Of wine list. But I guess that's exactly the syngergy that the marketer wanted for these Merlots and Cabernets named after country singer Miranda Lambert's hit songs: Rockers, for the first time, start hunting down that particular must-have cuvée, and the winebloggers turn to give Ms. Lambert a listen for insight into what makes a wine a wine.

Read the press release, with the great hook "How about a sip of Kerosene?"

It doesn't seem like anything new and the Miranda Lambert website features the typical marketing writing that bridges winemaking and songwriting.

A good deal of time went into developing this private wine label for Miranda Lambert. The reason is simple: We believe in families working hard together and celebrating success together when it finally comes. Just like wine, in the music industry, there are no overnight sensations. Many years of hard work go into the product that the public ultimately experiences. For that reason we have partnered with the family of the LouViney Vineyards to bottle a wine worthy to put Miranda’s name on. This family owned vineyard exemplifies the very values that we honor. With each of the six wines we offer on Miranda’s private label, we trust you will taste and experience the time, effort and love that goes into every bottle. It is also our hope that you will experience the great pride that comes from working hard and celebrating success together in your own family. Thank you for enjoying a bit of ours with us.

Miranda Lambert Texas Table Wine "Red 55" Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Wineries have found Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends are star performers, and perhaps that’s why our friends and family selected this wine as the front-runner in our inaugural tasting. Named after Miranda’s prized first pickup, a candy apple red 1955 Chevy step-side, this beautiful cherry-colored wine is smooth and medium bodied with a mellow berry aroma. This slightly juicy blend dodges over-oaking. Just like Miranda’s vintage ‘55, our Red 55 is sure to be a classic. Pair this best-all-around wine with almost any kind of food, from fancy fare dinners to picnics and BBQs.
And if after all that you're wondering what my "top tracks" of 2007, I've posted them to my other, mostly defunct blog. Unlike the wines on Weingolb, I posted these tracks not having finished my notes for a proper review of them, but should modern rock and music criticism be your bag, stay un-tuned, as they say.