Saturday, August 30, 2003

  "...All the pretty things put by
Wait upon the children's eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books..."
-- from "Picture Books in Winter", Robert Louis Stevenson

In follow-up to my recent post on the paintings of Ivan Generalic and other Eastern European "naive" artists, I would like to mention the work of a contemporary British illustrator whose style is surprisingly similar to theirs.
"Apple Orchard", Alison Jay

From the rolling hilltops, to the soothing ovals of trees and clouds, to skipping and twirling creatures, Alison Jay paints dainty scenes in the cheeriest colors. Miniature mansions, flawlessly trimmed shrubs, amicable celestial bodies, blissfully blue skies fill her pictures to the brim. Some might even say that the images are on the brink of being syrupy, frothy, cutesy. Indeed, Jay dispenses generous dollops of happy-go-luckiness, but she also remembers to layer her creations with a lot of warmth -- a quality that is hardly ever in surplus.
"Seasons", Alison Jay "Balloon of Experience", Alison Jay

The characters and landscapes of Jay's illustrations are ideally suited for fanciful children's books. She has collaborated on many, including "If Kisses Were Colors", "A World of Wonders", "Ladder to the Stars", and more.
"If Kisses were Flowers", Alison Jay

Online, samples of her work are to be found at The Organization, an illustration agency, and its online shop. Images from an animation Jay did for the French marketers of the homeopathic oscillococcinum are also on the web.

Summer Winds

The breeze tastes sweet and warm
of sun
of ripe fruit
and of grass
It ruffles my hair and
plasters my sweat-wet shirt on my skin

It blows doors shut
and wafts in windows to cool hot pies and
fill empty spaces

In the gentle lull of the wind
trees creak and shiver,
fresh cut grass is
tossed onto the walk
and the clouds are pushed
like cotton-ball puffs
across a blue-glass sky

At night the wind carries
fireflies on its wings
and sweet chirping songs of crickets
and frogs

When the breeze stops playing
with my hair
or creaking the loose gate
and begins
chafing my skin and
redding my nose and cheeks
making breath visible

You know the summer wind has left
But you remember its playful soul

-- Sam Brandis-Dann, age 11, New York, New York
from the September/October 2001 issue of Stone Soup Magazine

Thursday, August 28, 2003

  Monday's berry-fest prompted Beth at The Cassandra Pages to consider an example of American folk painting and initiate a discussion on "primitive" art. That, in turn, inspired me to explore the tradition of Eastern European "naive art", manifestations of which I have enjoyed instinctively via its derivatives for a long time. In mid-20th century, this genre thrived in Poland, Croatia, Czechia, Slovakia, and beyond. The very active rich folk art traditions in these countries already included elaborate and gifted crafts and musical components. Needless to say, each country's heritage also abounds in "high-art", produced by painters, sculptors and architects who trained professionally either at local academies or in Western Europe. However, the body of work produced by a couple of generations of "naive" artists, most of whom received little training, guidance or exposure to the art world and its history, and who painted in their brief leisure time, unoccupied by agricultural activities, is undeniably impressive and influential. I also happen to find the style and execution of many of Eastern European primitivist paintings exhilarating.

"Garden Party", 1968, Ivan Generalic "Winter with People", 1936, Ivan Generalic

Like most other "naive" artists, Ivan Generalic, one of the best known Croatian artists of the period, painted surroundings, people, and activities of his immediate vicinity and experience. Low hills, modest houses, the glory of nature and its cornucopia, and visualization of the oral folk tradition are some of the trademark elements of Generalic's artworks. In the layering of a rural landscape and even in the range of the color palette, the creations of Generalic and a few others in the genre are intimately linked with Pieter Bruegel's canvases. Among other distinguishing characteristics, Bruegel's perspective and dimensionality are less linear and the facial expressions he paints are definitely more individualized, but certain quirkiness is shared by Bruegel and Ivan Generalic. While Bruegel's somber grotesqueness along with finery and variety of brushstrokes may put his works on a different plane, a kinship does exist between these playful captures of country life.

"Apples", 1973, Josip Generalic "My Stork", 1971, Josip Generalic

Although the qualifiers of "naive" and "primitive" have stuck with the genre and are unlikely to be replaced with reassessed terminology, I cannot help feeling icky about using them. "Naive art" is a caustic term. But so are the tendencies of most disciplines to categorize and classify things that are by nature above categorization and classification. In any case, concept, approach, and treatment of what used to be called "primitive art" have changed significantly in recent years. People that rush under the umbrella of "art brut" or "outsider art" today are different from those who used to be associated with the "naive" art genre. The art world at large embraced these art expressions a while ago and enforced demands on the art and artists of past and present, diluting them in the process. Excessive demand and too much time spent in the spotlight can be pretty detrimental.

Plenty of examples of the works by Ivan Generalic, as well as those by his son and grandson, Josip and Goran, can be found at generalic.com, along with a chronology of naive art in Croatia. Note also the somewhat bizarre appeal to steer clear of Generalic fakes circulating in the world. More examples of art by the Generalic family are available.

You may also wish to sample a collection of food-themed paintings by other Croatian naive artists, including Martin Mahek, Mato Toth, Stjepan Vecernaj, Vladimir Ivancan, Dragutin Orak, and Berislav Janekovic. Mijo Kovacic is another Croatian artist to consider. Ivan Rabuzin is of interest too. There are a handful of images and a brief history at the simple and neat looking site of the Croatian Museum of Naive Art.

A variety of information is housed on the site of the Museum of Naive Art in Jagodina, Yugoslavia.

The genre is not limited to this region, of course. However, I had little luck finding many interesting examples online.

The Georgia native Niko Pirosmanashvili is a prominent figure in the history of "naive" art, though, personally, I am unmoved by his works.

I imagine that the "Naive Art" volume by Natalia Brodskaia, published in 2000, would be of considerable interest.

If you are aware of relevant sites and artists not mentioned above, be sure to let me know.

Monday, August 25, 2003

  "...'Country life has its conveniences,' he would sometimes say. 'You sit on the verandah and you drink tea, while your ducks swim on the pond, there is a delicious smell everywhere, and... and the gooseberries are growing..."
Gooseberries, Anton Chekhov

Berries are morsels of nostalgia for me. Reminders of fragrant summers, familiar trails, juice-stained hands. Remainders of gentler times, a distant country, a faded away era. Deceptively fragile, exotic, and sweetly tart, like my memories.

Hence, the dormant berry-picker in me oohed and aahed at the pleasant discovery of Adriaen Coorte's "Strawberries in a Wan Li Bowl" in a recent NYT review of the Dutch artist's current exhibit at the National Gallery. Coorte's fine, scrumptious still lifes were not the only painted odes to berries I have been feasting on for the past couple of days.

"Strawberries in a Wan-Li Bowl", 1704, Adriaen Coorte "Blue Berries", 1993, Eva Cellini

Eva Cellini is a contemporary painter with affinity for 17th century art.

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!.."
-- Robert Lee Frost

"Still-Life with Cherries and Strawberries in China Bowls", 1608, Osias Beert "Basket of Wild Strawberries", 1761, Jean-Simeon Chardin

The French Jean-Simeon Chardin and Louise Moillon, and the Flemish Osias Beert brewed marvelously fruitful things with berries, in varying degrees of light and color control.

"...To one side grew the blackberries and to the other grew huckleberries, but still she walked on. Again he made the plants grow and to one side grew the gooseberries and to the other grew the serviceberries, but still she walked on. The Creator knew that this would have to slow her down and so he went to his garden and grabbed a handful of strawberry plants and threw them to the earth. When they landed at First Woman's feet they began to bloom and ripen, First Woman looked down to see the beautiful leaves and berries of the strawberry plant and stopped to taste just one small berry. As she plucked and ate the berries she forgot her anger..."
Cherokee Legend of the Strawberries

"Still-Life with Cherries, Strawberries and Gooseberries", 1630, Louise Moillon "Blackberries", 2003, Julien Landa

Julien Landa is another contemporary, whose still lifes, painted in 2003, appear immensely accomplished and keen. Landa's solo exhibition is scheduled for November, at Hammer Galleries.

For those wishing to indulge further in the berrying frenzy, I recommend the following stimuli.
Over the fence --
Strawberries -- grow --
Over the fence --
I could climb -- if I tried, I know --
Berries are nice!

But -- if I stained my Apron --
God would certainly scold!
Oh, dear, -- I guess if He were a Boy --
He'd -- climb -- if He could!
-- Emily Dickinson

"Still Life with Strawberries", Pierre Auguste Renoir

On a related, albeit utilitarian note -- can anyone recommend some good places ("pick-your-own" farms, etc) to go berry-picking in the NY tristate area? How about a favorite jam brand?

Sunday, August 24, 2003

  Unconventional underwater photographer Connie Imboden uses water's reflective and reshaping faculties along with a supply of mirrors, light sources and nude models to concoct gutsy phantasmagorias. By colliding the realities of three para-aquatic planes she performs painless dissections, incisions and extractions, and arrives at forms and figures that are wild, tantalizing and engrossing. While hovering above water, transfixed at its very surface, or suspended in it, body parts glide in and out of each other, clasp in outrageous embraces, fold and undulate. Water repels, steers, and cradles them. Yet, gnawing at the water's viscosity, bursting through it, Imboden's subjects are far from amphibian.

Photograph by Connie Imboden Photograph by Connie Imboden

Imboden's photography is playful, wicked, shrewd, opulent. It is a slow, savoring study of the topology of the human body. She concedes "there is nothing more seductive or more repulsive to us than flesh." In my view, gracefulness has an upper hand over grotesqueness in Imboden's imagery.

Some of the photographer's earlier work is reminiscent of nude abstractions by Bill Brandt , Andre Kertesz, and Edward Weston, while the speckled, fragmentary layering in Imboden's latest photographs invokes some of Michal Macku's gellage works.
Photograph by Connie Imboden Photograph by Connie Imboden

Plentiful information, including video interviews, photographs, and reviews, is located at Connie Imboden's site. Additional images are available at Urban Desires. Several other memorable photographs are part of a newspaper article from 2000, connected with the release of one of her books, "Beauty of Darkness".

Photograph by Brian Oglesbee

Another photographer who explores the permutations of nude bodies in water is Brian Oglesbee. His compositions and camera angles are, perhaps, less daring and bizarre than Imboden's. But Oglesbee makes greater use of the changes in the water's surface and its movement - ripples, bubbles, etc. His inclusion of foliage in the equation is also interesting.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

  Like other mainstream genres, contemporary wildlife photography serves primarily two purposes - mimesis and entertainment. Sporting the sleekest gear outfits, the largest telephoto lenses and capturing animals in the most vivid colors and crackling sharpness, professional wildlife photographers often arrive at images that are striking in representational precision. The creatures' feeding, preening, and mating practices are recorded in exhaustive detail and in hypersaturated, dazzling hues. I do enjoy the photography in publications like National Geographic and National Wildlife -- the high-quality images frequently feature fascinating creatures in unusual circumstances. Yet, despite demonstrated dedication, feats of patience and resourcefulness, and mastery of equipment, much of traditional animal photography does not extend into the realm of constructing visually inventive, exploratory images. Fortunately, this niche is filled with the work of those in pursuit of fine art photography. Here, I feel that the portrayed subjects are not showcased, appropriated, or scrutinized for appraisal, as they are, ultimately, in purely representational photography. Instead, they are considered, pondered, and engaged autonomously in image creation. Moreover, in place of attempts to classify and demystify the appearance and behavior of animals, photographers like those mentioned below exalt the enigmas connected with animals' existence and their place in the world, and let them reign.

Photograph by Liberto Macarro Photograph by Liberto Macarro

Liberto Macarro has a mighty and sumptuous portfolio of photographs. Equine mammals and bovines are present in most of them. Relationships of coexistence and codependence between animals and people are often explored. The two entities seem to complete and fill each other's space. Of particular interest are Macarro's photographs in the A fleur de peaux series -- those that explore the layering of landscape of an animal's highly textured body against the natural land and aerial landscapes.

"horse #21, art, texas", Burton Pritzker "cow #3, mason, texas", Burton Pritzker

Burton Pritzker's "Texas Rangeland" series consists of close-ups of grazing steers and horses, lit by chalky sunlight. In most cases, Pritzker comes up with ingenious, fresh ways to fill the frames. Notice how strategically the compositional elements are positioned, creating dynamic geometrical patterns and flow.

"Horse", Stuart Redler

Stuart Redler revels in the shapely minimalism of nature and architecture. His contraptions are often whimsical and invariably elegant. Several photographs of animals scattered around the "Africa" and "Europe" portfolios are tremendously graceful. (Link to Redler's work is courtesy of Conscientious.)

Another perspective on photographic images of cows, horses, sheep, etc., is offered by Aleksandras Macijauskas in his series "Village Markets". Unfortunately, little of his work is available online.

And for a different example of unusual depictions of animals Henry Horenstein's "Aquatic", "Canine" and "Creatures" photographs are recommended.

autumn ends--
a man strokes away
his horse's troubles
-- Kobayashi Issa (1819)

Monday, August 18, 2003

  High contrast, weighty grain, and stretched shutter speeds define the imagery of Franco Carlisi and Michael Ackerman. Both artists manifest a special fondness for the marvels of nighttime photography. Carlisi and Ackerman also share a preference for the technique of using extreme wide angles and often shallow depths of field to pin enlarged features of foreground character(s) against flickering, oozing, transfigured backgrounds. This approach leads to an immediacy of experiencing the portrayed subject. The photographers pluck the subjects from the surroundings without severing their ties with the latter. City streets, country lanes, buildings and landscapes recede only slightly, constantly percolating, stopping short of becoming amorphous.

Photograph by Franco Carlisi Photograph by Michael Ackerman

Carlisi's photographs strike me as more grounded and earthy, less angst-ridden than Ackerman's. They are gentler and lighter. Ackerman's images are fierce, relentless, wiry, innervated. Soulfulness is a shared characteristic, but Ackerman imbues his photographs with arguably more pathos of the unsolvable, corroding, numbing variety. Though space and location are said to have dismissible quality for Ackerman, who purports that photography is "a form of disappearance" to him, origin and whereabouts are no less prominent in his work than in Carlisi's.

Photograph by Franco Carlisi Photograph by Michael Ackerman

Franco Carlisi's Sicily has been described as "sweet and bitter as the back(s) of Quasimodo". Carlisi's subjects and the photographs they inhabit ultimately appeal to me greater than those created by Ackerman. Carlisi's characters have not lost the endearing softness and grace that the cast of Ackerman's images perhaps never knew. Photographically, whereas a certain tumultuous, muffled haphazardness permeates Ackerman's compositions and tones, Carlisi's images are more careful and orderly. Perhaps, more traditional and narrative, too.

Michael Ackerman has been quite a celebrity in recent years, publishing two acclaimed books and being the ICP's Young Photographer of the Year. Online, he is represented primarily at the site of Agence VU, via a few Manhattan photographs elsewhere, and by a small exhibit at PixelPress.

Franco Carlisi has exhibited widely in Italy and in several other European countries. A good selection of his photographs can be found at the site of the German Galerie Arbeiter Fotografie and several other images are located at a photography-related Italian site.

Two of the websites I just mentioned are thematically related and deserve closer looks. Galerie Arbeiter Fotografie in Koln features art committed to social criticism. Its website is extensive and includes a few archived exhibitions along with largely unedited compilations of photographs from recent demonstrations and protests in Europe. Textual content is vast, making the experience of visiting the site more insightful for German speakers than for those who are without such an asset. Although I happen to fall into the second category, I found the visual components of the site sufficiently informative to recommend it to others who don't know German.

An online magazine with an emphasis on the topic of human rights violations, PixelPress is an impressive and important resource. In existence since 1999, it now contains almost 50 presentations of excellent and invariably strong color and black & white photography by documentary photographers from around the globe. The format of the presentations is not uniform but often combines images with text and hypertext. In its commitments, mission, approach, and quality PixelPress is easily on par with another monumental site -- ZoneZero.

Friday, August 15, 2003

  Frida Kahlo was the subject of at least as many photographs as paintings. Her prominent and magnetic features were captured by many significant photographers of the era, including Imogen Cunningham, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Nickolas Murray, Leo Matiz, Fritz Henle and others. But before she entered their lives and faced their lenses, she posed for the photographs made by her father, Guillermo Kahlo.
Portrait by Guillermo Kahlo (source)

She is perhaps less relaxed and slightly less regal in these early photographs but as intense as ever.

Photograph by Guillermo Kahlo, 1926. (source) "Frida (center) dressed as a man, photographed by her father... Photo, Guillermo Kahlo, 7 Feb., 1926." (source)

In 1901, 10 years after leaving Germany for Mexico, Guillermo (Wilhelm) Kahlo opened his own photographic studio, having learned much of the craft from his father-in-law, Antonio Calderon. Three years later Guillermo built the "blue house" in Coyoacán, the place where Frida Kahlo would be born in 1907 and where she would spend most of her life.

"One of the chapels, Santo Domingo, Oaxaca", 1904-1910. (source)

Much of Guillermo Kahlo's photography was done through government commissions, recording Mexico's architectural heritage. Some of his primary subjects were monuments, churches, and cityscapes. His work was published in periodicals and albums of the day, and has been the subject of several exhibitions in Mexico and abroad in recent years.

Photograph by Guillermo Kahlo (source) Guillermo Kahlo, "Cia. Fundidora de Fierro y Acero de Monterrey, S.A.", ca. 1910. (source)

Frida is said to had been very close to her father. In the inscription to the portrait she painted of him, she describes him as "generous, intelligent and noble, courageous".

"Don Guillermo Kahlo", Frida Kahlo (source)

In the U.S., Guillermo Kahlo's legacy seems to be represented primarily by Throckmorton Fine Art, which specializes in vintage and contemporary Latin American photography. Unfortunately, their collection of his photographs online is of abominable image quality. Textual bits of information about the photographer are available from several sources. Other online points of interest include an Italian entry on G. Kahlo and a wedding photograph of Matilde and Guillermo Kahlo.

In the offline world, on view through August 31, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA, are Guillermo's images of his daughter, as part of a larger exhibition titled "Frida Kahlo: Portrait of an Icon". Also of interest is "Frida Kahlo's Intimate Family Picture", an exhibit scheduled to open on September 5, 2003 at the Jewish Museum. Frida Kahlo's painting "My Parents, My Grandparents and I" will be examined there.

  Electricity returned to my nook of NY earlier this morning. In my experience, its lack, while causing some anxieties, was almost exhilarating and refreshing in many ways. Humbling, too, of course, along with a renewed realization that some comforts are terribly artificial and superfluous. Presence of loved ones and access to clean water are wondrous enough.

Concerns remain for those who have had less than a smooth ride through the past 20 hours. Sour and bitter feelings proliferate regarding the absurdity of the vacuous and impotent boastfulness of the ruling parties and associated big wigs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On another note, Pretty Serendipities debuted two weeks ago, on August 1st. Many thanks to all who have offered an overwhelming number of welcoming words, mentions, and links. If you have visited the blog more than once and have any comments, impressions, qualms or suggestions to share, I would be happy to hear from you.

Check back here in a few -- there will be another post on a less charged topic than the northeast power zap up soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

  In the weeks and months ahead, the art world will probably be abuzz with talk on the reappearance of Lee Bontecou’s work in the exhibition sphere. A retrospective of her creations, spanning five decades, is scheduled to open at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in October. The show will appear at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in February of 2004, and will move on to New York’s MoMA QNS next summer.

Lee Bontecou

An excellent article by Calvin Tomkins in the August 4, 2003 issue of The New Yorker kindled my interest in Bontecou's art. Online, little is available on her so far. That is likely to change in the near future, as all sorts of websites and fans, old and new, will scramble to feature her images and information. For now, several pictures and bits of data are available at AskArt. Other finds include a drawing, a thumbnail view of "Untitled No. 38" along with a couple of sentences; a thoughtful analysis of one of her pieces by Matthew Leigh; a brief opinion piece on Bontecou’s 1999 show at the Leo Castelli Gallery; and a blurb on her most visible "Untitled Relief" at the New York State Theater. A seminal book, accompanying the upcoming exhibition, is due out in September.

A comparative examination of Bontecou’s piece and the following artwork by Arthur Dove is the result of yet another accidental exercise in discovering similarities.

Arthur Dove, "Me and the Moon", 1937, wax emulsion on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C

Surely, a diminutive web rendering of an elaborate 3D sculpture flattens, obscures and nearly belittles Bontecou’s work. Still, a certain kinship of form and structure is evident in these two artworks. Dove’s paintings and watercolors are sometimes discounted for not having done enough in his time and for not having meant enough for succeeding generations. Perhaps he ought not to be dismissed so readily. "Me and the Moon" is one of Dove’s more exciting and accomplished canvases. Painted in 1937, near the end of his life, it is mature and pensive, while retaining the whimsical, at times almost childlike, lightheartedness of his earlier work.

Dove’s images are scattered around a number places on the web. Here are a select few: 1, 2, 3.

Since the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY recently acquired the nearby Arthur Dove’s former home on Long Island Sound, I assume that further in-depth studies and exhibitions will follow.

We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand
Nor clothes that fit like water
Nor thoughts that fit like air,
There is much to be done--
Works of nature are abstract,
They do not lean on other things for meaning.
Arthur Dove, 1925 (source)

Monday, August 11, 2003

  Being on a gallery's or a museum's mailing list is a privilege gone unclaimed by many. Relying on reviews, heard and read, on arts calendar listings, and on chance occurrences of "happening upon the neighborhood" of a venue with an interesting show -- without a doubt, all can be rewarding as well. But there is something more intimate, prized, and tactile in receiving an advance announcement of an exhibition in the form of a postcard that will, hopefully, carry a highlighted image from the show. I try to take every opportunity to sign up for future news at places of interest, and rarely have I been disappointed with mail that ensues. Among the mailings I look forward to, delight in, and treasure the most are the handsome postcards sent by the John Stevenson Gallery and the Leica Gallery in New York. It so happens that they are also two of the most enjoyable places to visit.

However, probably the most exquisite mail item I have received from an arts institution is last year's holiday greeting from the Bronx Museum of the Arts. It features Luis Gonzalez-Palma's "Cage of Tenderness". A strategic move to showcase a gem from the Museum's collection, and an effective one at that.
Luis Gonzalez-Palma, "Cage of Tenderness", 1993

Gonzalez-Palma, who is originally from Guatemala, has had his work widely shown around the world, and especially around the U.S., for the past decade. Most of his photographs are highly manipulated portraits of Maya Indians. They are rich, compelling, even mesmerizing. At the same time, the visions are orchestrated, appropriated and utilized. Hopelessly cryptic, disturbing, beautiful.

A sizeable collection of Gonzalez-Palma's images can be found at the Peter Fetterman Gallery's website. And a largely different selection -- at the site of the Sicardi Gallery.

The Bronx Museum of the Arts, by the way, is a very active, innovative and daring institution. Regularly presented there are mind-boggling, keen, multicultural exhibitions that are well worth knowing about and going out of the way to visit. For instance, in the Spring of 2002 for an exhibition called "Manicurated", a part of the museum became "...a fully-equipped nail salon in which visitors [were] treated to free manicures by professional manicurists and asked to select from among ten works on display from the Permanent Collection for their personalized "nail art" design. The artist's seemingly irreverent gesture is intended to engage visitors in a new and meaningful way with the Museum's collection by inviting participants to "curate" their own exhibition on their fingernails." In addition to playful and progressive exhibits, BXMA also offers a variety of educational programs and has a spanking website.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

  For today, a couple of weekend diversions.

Tango - award-winning Flash animation by Mirek Nisenbaum. Inspired by the work of Astor Piazzolla. Music by Igor Tkachenko. A Studio Mobile presentation.

Six Degrees Game by PBS at the "American Masters" series' website. It may make you believe that not more than a mere six links separate Placido Domingo from Bob Marley, and Charlie Chaplin from Clint Eastwood. Some of the connections are pretty loose and wishful -- for instance, one of the threads that hooks up Ray Charles with Man Ray has to do with the city of Paris and the fact that Man Ray lived there in 1920s. Not surprisingly, the somewhat tiresomely omnipresent Richard Avedon makes appearances in an overwhelming number of the examples.

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