This was my third year of covering the Baltimore Tattoo Convention, yet the charm has yet to wear off on Charm City’s colorful display. A celebration of all things body art, it always remains str-ink-ingly communal in its spirit. Tattoos have long moved past the “freak factor” to make an indelible mark on the mainstream and become a very public, yet intensely personal form of self-expression. It’s art on a mobile canvass. The artists who create them and the people who commission them come from all walks of life and have an equally broad array of reasons for getting them.
Tattoo conventions are truly communal and inclusive. They present opportunities for people to show support for their favorite artists by getting tattooed there or entering competitions. For others, it’s a chance to meet and see the work of artists they would otherwise not be able to know about.
I had a chance to chat with James Haun of Fatty’s Custom Tattooz, whose area was honorably dubbed the “one stop metal shop,” for creating the most metal of tattoos known to man and for being in a ridiculously good black metal band appropriately named The Oracle (and playing with Corrosion of Conformity tonight!). This year, James did a Most Metal Tattoo Contest 2.0, asking for submissions on Facebook for “most metal tattoos” and picking a winner who received a free tattoo at the convention. The winner was Nancy Dove-Smith, a long-time James supporter, who wanted a “bleeding goat’s head, chopped off, tongue hanging out, eyes rolled back in its head with deer antlers with raw skin/meat hanging off the points, impaled on an and upside down cross.” James, ever so magnanimous, decided to give the goat not only deer antlers but goat horns as well. The Dark Lord was pleased with this offering.
Particle Fever epitomizes the wide-eyed enthusiasm and awe of a “heck yeah, science!” sentiment we can all get behind. The documentary is a breathtaking look at one of the most significant scientific experiments in recent times and one that captured the public’s imagination like few others. It focuses on nothing less than the search for answers about the nature of our universe by looking for the smallest particle in the microverse, the elementary particle called the Higgs boson/a.k.a. “the God particle.”
Directed by Mark Levinson, a physicist, and produced by another physicist involved in the experiment, David Kaplan, Particle Fever makes grasp-defyingly big concepts such as what are the origins of the universe and how is matter created accessible to the viewer. Rather than relying on clever infographics, Particle Fever makes us understand *why* this experiment matters and makes the scientists’ mixed emotions of giddiness and apprehension feel palpable.
The film introduces us to several scientists at the CERN lab in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator, resides. CERN’s “accelerating science,” motto is quite fitting. As one of the physicists in the film points out, “You know it’s big, but not until you see it do you actually understand how big.” The collider is the world’s largest machine, a 17-mile ring of magnets designed to crash particles into each other at unbelievable speeds. There is a network of 100,000 computers world-wide just to handle the data; 10,000 scientists from more than 100 countries worked on the project, including people from “enemy” countries like Pakistan and India.
The fact that there is a veritable mystery at the core of the film makes the suspense and awe all the more understandable. The search for the presence and size of Higgs boson matters tremendously because it would prove or disprove the so-called Standard Model, a theory about the nature of the universe, that could only, oh, be the end of physics as we know it. No big deal. Whether supersymmetry or multi-verse ends up being the correct model has huge implications, and as one of the scientists puts it, this could mean that he has literally wasted his entire life studying something that may not even be true. Talk about momentous!
Despite its colossal subject matter, Particle Fever remains profoundly human, from the trepidations and child-like excitement of the scientists who have spent decades working on this, to the sight of Peter Higgs crying upon the discovery of something he had only theorized about. In other words, it spans the universe from the smallest to the largest. Higgs boson, the smallest particle known to exist, is also perhaps sort of misguidedly called the “God particle,” because it is the essential building block of the universe. How apropos that to understand the grandest of the grand, one has to find the tiniest of the tiny.
“The reality in Iraq is very different from that portrayed in the international media,” affirmed the Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily in a talk at American University on February 18th. The focus on violence and the identification of sectarianism as the root cause of Iraq’s violence creates what he called a “sectarian meta-narrative,” that is far too simplistic of a paradigm and one that has plagued not just Western media portrayal of the region but also Arab media rhetoric as well. “It is easier to define a country in binary terms; to find simple, sellable elements to hone in on in the media. Violence has long stopped being sectarian in nature since about 2006-2007.” Ambassador Faily defied all the conventions of a typical “ambassador speech,” electing to speak frankly on the many misconceptions surrounding Iraq’s democratic transformation.
“Dictatorship changes the fabric of society.” Upon my request to further expound on this, the Ambassador stated that, “the longer and more ruthless the dictatorship, the longer it takes to shake off that coat, if you will. The state is there for the needs of the dictator so the people no longer associate themselves with the state. In a sense, people dislodge themselves from the state, which is why, for example, we saw the looters when the regime collapsed. The years under Saddam were detrimental to the Iraqi society. People began to associate the sanctions with the US because they were so removed from the state as a concept.” Psychologically, he explained, there is a need for cleansing after living so long in those circumstances. “Dictatorship demoralizes people, it makes for a more inward-looking, self-centered community and the longer it lasts, the more adverse the effect.” Placing Iraq more in the context of the Arab Spring movement, Ambassador Faily described the mindset of the people as “I want change, but I am not sure what the new social contract should look like.” People are after a new social contract, he suggested, but the weak civil society institutions in place, and the total dearth of NGOs and other community organizations, mean that the foundations are still not there and the role of the citizens is still unclear. “This is a young democracy and more people participation is needed.” This also necessitates the need not just political reforms but for social and economic ones as well.
Ambassador Faily then offered a very theoretically-rich construct to apply to the state of Iraq—the dichotomy of nation building vs. state building. “People often conflate nation with state, but this is a bit more complicated in Iraq. The state as a concept is very clear, but the definition of what it means to be an Iraqi is evolving.” What is the nation, he asked, especially in a society as heterogeneous as Iraq, where people can define themselves by a plethora of factors such as region/province, religious, or ethnic identity. He outlined several questions, including, “Do we rebuild the national character or the state institutions?” and “Do citizens have a stake in the nation or in the state?”
In addressing the current economic climate in Iraq, the Ambassador stated that the adverse impact of past sanctions was severe damage to the economic infrastructure. The current rate of economic growth is 9-11%, with steady increases in oil production and income levels. Unemployment, however, remains the same due to an over-reliance on oil production. Since oil as an industry is not very labor-intensive, he explained, it employs less than 1% of the population. “The core structure of the economy has to be managed better, with less reliance on subsidizing certain sectors.” Iraq also hopes to maintain a long-term investment relationship with the United States.
In May, scientists reported that the average daily level of CO2 in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million, an alarmingly high concentration level last seen two to four million years ago.
Saturday’s fashion: District was a vibrant testament to the creativity, vitality, and relevance of DC’s fashion scene. Much akin to the much-maligned, non-existent DC hip hop scene, many would not exactly conflate DC and a fashion hub. ReadySetDC have single-handedly put DC fashion on the map, showcasing designers that are not only visionaries but who put out high-caliber, professional work well-deserving of the couture label. Plainly-put, it is not every day that you find yourself feeling like you are in Pret-A-Porter or The September Issue in the middle of DC and ReadySetDC are the ones who made it happen with such panache and flair.
Ginger Root Design were a true breath of fresh air with vintage-inspired, smart and original designs. Perfecting the art of upcycling [making something new out of something already in existence], the style was equally parts London-esque, tweed-and-zipper chique and something that Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary would wear. Zooey Deschanel/Manic Pixie Girl would definitely rock Ginger Root! Their designs were funky yet not groan-inducingly, self-referentially hipsterish.The colors were bold yet the patterns were not busy and relied more on a blocks rather than smashing of patterns approach.As the only designer to use “normal-sized” models, it was apparent that while Ginger Root make high-end fashion, their clothes were designed with a more pragmatic brush stroke and with at least some concern for practicality.Their menswear collection was particularly enthralling with two of the more memorable outfits being a tweed jacket with a zipper slicing a diagonal across the front and three leather straps as a closure and gingham shirt under a vest with a three-layered tie composed of overlapping triangles. The vest had a horizontal band of gray silk on the back, making for an extremely interesting layered visual effect.
Espion presented a really unique line of high-end evening couture. Some of the dresses were a really innovative mash-up of dominatrix meets Greek-goddess evening gown elegance. If you can imagine Athena channeling Madonna during the Blonde Ambition tour, you would get a pretty accurate idea. Other dresses were extremely regal—white and made of a stretchy material for a very sophisticated look.
Hugh & Crye delivered a very trendy men’s business wear line—it was solid and respectable and more than a little style. Artaya relied heavily on black, red, and white blocky ensembles with a nod to interesting textures.
SaintCHIC’s style was street-savvy yet high-fashion.For example, a lot of the skirts and pants relied on a “mummy” technique—they were comprised of overlapping-“bandages”/swaths of fabric.Definitely very unique and clever, and maybe a bit inspired by elements in industrial-scene wear which has been using straps on men-skirts for a good while now.The tops show-cased really layered framing necklines with a vaguely graffiti-esque feel that was equally parts hip-hop-dancer-sassy and classy.
Sika’s designs screamed creativity.Some of the fabrics had traditional African prints; some were very Asian.There were daringly plunging necklines and wee little bottom pieces, with bold colors such as orange and batik-like prints.Anthropologie would have been jealous!
Durkl’s line this season was downright underwhelming, at worst, and incredibly confusing, at best, especially considering how well-established and popular their line is.I think I was not alone in my luke-warm response to the fall collection, but maybe like the Post, I just don’t get it.At times, it seemed like they were channeling men’s wear circa Gap 1980, at other times, it seemed like their colors were literally popsicle- inspired [think patterns ala those fourth of July garish blue and red ones].
Derringer Friday deserve credit for figuring out how to make men’s ties swagger-worthy [common, it’s not an easy job]. Having female models strut around only in men’s shirts and thigh-high boots to “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A G Thing” will do that. Their end-of-the-show drinking-a-beer signature gimmick was also interesting, if a little befuddling. Oh, yeah—the ties were great too.
Fashion: District was a perfect mix of flair, swagger, style, finesse, and hard work and definitely an all-around rollicking good time.