Cynical, subjective and highly judgmental things I will remember about Art Basel 2017

The most impressive, Instagram-worthy and relatable section of the show is definitely the “Unlimited”. This is where all the large-scale installations, videos and most of the performances are. All art objects that won’t fit into the classic booth. I felt like this year, “the Art” became even more socially conscious than before,  it demanded taking sides and engaging. Like with politicians or activists,  you are not allowed to say “sorry, I am just looking around and actually, this  particular conflict or issue is none of my business”.

The Unlimited section is where you see “Cooking the World” by Subodh Gupta, probably the most talked-about Art Basel 2017 experience.

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Essentially, what you first see a huge pavilion made of old pots and pans and other kitchen utensils, but when you enter inside, you are welcomed by the modern style bar, serving food. Obviously, the message is supposed to be about sharing a meal together as a community, no matter where you are from, helping those hungry and in poverty. Cynical me, could not help but remember, how in my early 20-ties, back in Russia, interior design and house renovations were a wild mix of the Old and the New. Those were the years when foreign TVs, tampons and yogurts were entering Russia for the first time ever. Very few could afford a total 100% makeover upgrade. A typical family, for example, could afford a new toaster and a new vacuum cleaner and maybe decided to change just one window frame from wooden to plastic. Everything else around the apartment was old, kitschy and from pre-Stalin era. The idea of bringing one foreign element into a development word  causing simultaneously pride and distress – this is what I saw personally looking at “Cooking the World”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a magnificent idea, but I just can’t take it at face value and simply admire. It’s too ironic.

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Another cynical-thoughts –provoking installation by Phyllida Barlow is called “100 banners”. This artist is apparently famous for using cheap or discarded materials for her art work. The piece looks like a forest of protests, made of old sticks, construction materials, faded fabrics and bags of sand. Again, sarcastic and judgmental me, felt like people would be bringing their trash to protest, instead of taking it out or recycling. Protests are modern days marathon running – you are outside, you promote a good cause and it looks good on your social media. Most likely, this is not exactly what the artist meant. But I loved the idea of protests becoming a display of trash, because it is very contemporary.

I hired a guide to walk me through the fair and educate me. We had a little debate about that one, and I don’t pretend to know more than the experts. But this is a beauty of modern art, where everyone can see what they want to see, right?

Again and again, I see lots of buttons serving as art accessories. Nobody told me it was a new trend, however, buttons are definitely in.

 

Dark web – layers of danger and darkness and crime

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This is a picture of a photo-paper, under development, in the middle of changing colors an texture. Its was sold for 100,000 EUR apparently.

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Another interesting case study – white Sofa by John Baldessari. When I was there, the sofa was empty, but originally it is supposed to be occupied by a blond lady with a blond puddle dog.

 

Another instance, where my personal reaction to an art object was totally off limits. What I saw first was a collection of old bottles, saved from the sea, the kinds that could be used to send SOS messages. All of them opened, with traces of earth and sand, lost messages and lost soles. I thought it was something to do with drowned ships, sailors or alcoholics. It turned out, this a story of slave trade from Africa to North America, and every bottle has a name of the slaved person engraved, their origin and destination, some even had a price tag and the name of the owner.

 

Other than that – a lot of slogans and text messages, social issues, questions about poverty and inequality, several anti-monuments (this is where a monument is horizontal, not vertical, because there is nothing to celebrate) and some interesting old masters. As I mentioned before, it feels like in digital era, everything is connected and shared, so there are no really new ideas, but old ideas are circulating, evolving and merging with other old ideas.

And, by the way –  walking on these white eggs under the sharp thorns is supposed to be a message about Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy.

 

The gallery with all my photos is posted here

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Madrid, Lone Survivor, etc

I am never sure if I like summer or if I like all seasons. Every time seasons are changing, I am extremely happy and exited to see the first snow or the first flowers or the first yellow leaves on the ground, but when the summer arrives, I am just always happy.

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It was so good to be in Madrid and mingle with other startups. There is something amazing in the startups air. I stopped at one of the booths to talk with a former physicist (is this the right name for a scientist who studied physics or did I get it wrong?) and he mentioned that in physics  chaos is a good thing, because it is a sum of all possible potentials and it means that everything is possible and all possible outcomes already exist. His business model of mixing coins and real estate is amazing too! Then he gave me a wonderful idea for an article which I am writing this weekend. My next conversation with a fellow consultant revealed useful tips on how to get discounts for conferences and networking events. Another conversation opened up very exciting business opportunity. Then I was just making a simple comment about what is passportable and what is not in terms of financial services, and someone else had their Eureka moment – apparently I answered a question they urgently needed an answer for. It’s funny how the world gets smaller – I met people who heard of me and worked with my former colleagues and then I was suddenly introduced to someone I wanted to meet for the last 2 years!!!! If you are interested to learn more about my key takeaways from MoneyConf, I posted it here.

Friends and readers from banking and wealth management – I will be speaking at this event in Geneva to some of your colleagues. I do have some ideas about what I want to talk about obviously, but is there something in your area that is currently super hip and hot and everyone wants to know more about it? If so – please, let me know!!!

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I am reading Lone Survivor these days. It’s a Navy Seal story with many-many dilemmas. To me, it’s a story about where we are responsible and where our responsibilities stop. Obviously, when someone is in the middle of a combat and survives and someone else is killed, it’s taking the question of “what I am really responsible for” to a total extreme. I often have a tendency to take over responsibility and try to control too many things, assuming it’s all on me and if things don’t go well, it’s all going to be my fault. Recently I had to re-set the boundaries and force myself to say “this is not my problem” on several occasions and you won’t believe how good it felt!!!! This is probably why I like so much following this book story and making parallels.

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Top must-do list, when you are travelling around Lake Constance (also known as Bodensee)

  1. If you are already near Bregenz, it’s just 30 minutes drive to Vaduz, the capital of Lichtenstein. Just so you know – Lichtenstein’s capital is really lovely and Instagram-worthy, you can easily add one more country to the list of the countries you visited and maybe you are lucky enough to attend a guided tour
  2. Pfänder cable car –  go to the top of the mountain, have a latte (or a glass of wine) there and then either walk there a little bit and take a cable car down or walk downhill.
  3. Cheese tasting (and excellent views from the nearby village) – http://www.kaesestrasse.at/, particularly Käsekeller.
  4. Swim in the lake (or go to one of the spas, if it’s too cold)
  5. Take a short boat tour to Lindau from Bregenz and back (because driving and parking there takes too long)
  6. Drive to Friedrichshafen
  7. Go to Zeppelin Museum
  8. Take a walk in Fridrichshafen.
  9. Buy some local wine here or here
  10. Stay in a hotel with excellent views, amazing food and nice pool/spa.
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Summer 2017 resolutions

I always had this feeling that summers are special. You have more energy, days are longer, and there are more lucky stars in the skies. Which means I can do more and accomplish more – double productive and double accomplished thanks to going with the fortunate currents.

Another thing about summer (probably a carry-over from the school days) is an assumption that during summer I am determined (and allowed) to do more “for myself”. In the past it meant reading the books that I wanted to read (forget the studies!!!), sleeping longer, developing good habits, having time to finish something meaningful and be proud.

Summer nights atmosphere has a special magic of being uninterrupted. The earth graciously stops just for you. No need to rush. The time freezes and you watch the entire 5th season of the House of Cards without having to worry about waking up tomorrow at 5 am or going to the airport. All other seasons (weather, not House of Cards, but maybe both) could be intense or smart or provoking or whatever, but they are still circumstantial and conditional and contingent and full of noise, and only the summer gives you a choice of slowing down and deciding what is that that you really want to do. Christmas has a little bit of similar slowing down trend, but at that point I often have no energy left and the Xmas break is usually too short.

I thought it would be a nice idea to have a list of summer 2017 resolutions.

  1. Get into the habit of making my own fresh juice every day with our new Angel slow juicer that’s just arrived!
  2. Revitalize the blog.
  3. Write 2 new professional articles a month.
  4. Better prepare for networking events and conferences, schedule more meetings in advance, research the speakers.
  5. Become more active with Zurich blockchain community.
  6. Swim in the lake (try at least once)
  7. Prepare for TEDx
  8. Find remarkable but rare holiday spot and go there.
  9. Celebrate something small every day.
  10. Hook Diana up to reading.
  11. Try Korean skincare products.
  12. Go to Milan for a few days and really get to know the city (it’s just 3 hours away!!!!). If it comes packaged with new Marni or Oscar de la Renta dresses, so be it.

 

 

What’s on your summer to-do list?

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Option B

I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy because Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote it and I loved both Originals and Lean In. I am still processing some of the thoughts, but in general, even without experiencing any dramatic loss in the recent past, the book still resonated, because it clearly highlighted all the things I was doing right and wrong going about achieving my personal goals.

But first things first J and I wanted to tell you all about my coaching sessions that were supposed to help me normalize my stress levels, eating and sleeping habits. In order to do that, for 6 weeks, I was supposed to keep a journal about what I eat, what I think about before and during meals, what is my stress level, how much I exercise, how much water I drink and how much I sleep. I was not supposed to change anything, just remain my cheerful-judgmental-competitive-self and simply document everything about eating, sleeping and stress. The idea is that when you have a bad habit (or a bunch of them, as I do), it is much more reliable strategy to try and understand which situations trigger unhealthy behaviors and only then try and change things.

Frankly, the experience was very annoying (despite the fact that I like writing and not only because I had to honestly document cheese or foie gras or jamon iberico with wine at 2 a.m.), but because I felt it was always the wrong moment to think about what do I eat in the middle of various conferences and it was impossible to always be my at my best, when I slept for 4-5 hours. It’s like documenting your slippages, which is practically immoral at the age when one’s life is constantly graded as Instagram-worth material. But I decided I’d do it and I did. I got regular feedback and a lot more questions to answer and specify my journal entries from the coaches, and now it’s the time to get all these materials together and reflect . On the positive side, I really did well with exercising (like 5-6 hours weekly)!

Funnily enough, my normal modus operandi is a state where I have a plan for the day, I am aware about the timing, I know if I am on track or behind, I am alert to new developments, I assess how things evolve, but still feel in control. To me, this condition turns out to be very optimal and healthy, because I eat what I planned and when I planed it, I don’t skip exercising and I go to bed in normal hours. This is the best state of mind to function and be productive for me, but obviously not the state of mind, when I can fall asleep. Interestingly, I made a personal discovery about multi-tasking. I’ve actually always felt I am the ultimate Queen of multi-tasking, because I can cook, pack, give instructions on the conference call and do online shopping all at the same time. I’ve been proud of my multi-tasking abilities for years. Turns out – it increases the stress level and makes me more tired by the end of the day, when I really have to do a lot of surprise multi-tasking (like, taking an urgent conference call during waxing appointment or doing a work-related messaging during the weekend from the theater). I can do it, obviously, but after these things happen, I do feel less energetic and deprived of my personal time. Essentially, when a surprise mini-emergency happens (and they happen a lot), I have a tendency to jump right in, usually squeezing my planned tasks and multi-tasking like crazy. This is what I decided to change right away: when people call or write “urgent” and “asap”, if it’s not related to someone going to the hospital or prison right now, it can wait a few hours or days, before I schedule it and address it in a planned fashion.

Another surprise: when I read my journal, it often felt like I was at the same time recovering from a big personal disaster and fiercely competing with someone. I used phrases such as “now is the unique time” or “recent total mess” or “cannot wait” or “I had to finish it right away”. You get the picture – there was always a sense of urgency and a fear of things being late or missed. Like, if something does not happen immediately, the world would stop and I would never know who is behind the Capital Hill bombing in the Designated Survivor.

This is where my thoughts about healthier life choices and the ideas from Option B intersected. Nobody has their dream life delivered to them exactly as they wanted, and there are always setbacks. We are all indeed living some form of our plans B. Like, I never expected to be exactly where I am now – which is building my own consultancy business for the Fintech industry that did not exist 5 years ago. But I’ve always expected to live in a stable country, be financially comfortable (by my demanding standards), enjoy beautiful nature, wear beautiful shoes and be surrounded by smart, successful and sophisticated people, and have some room for creativity and continuous learning. With all the dust now settled, it’s very clear that the main frustration I had with the corporate world was how fast I could grow. I had lots of energy and found it limiting, that no matter what I do or how many projects I take on or how many results I deliver, within the boundaries of corporate policies, my salary could only increase by 5-10% year-on-year, I could expect the promotion once in 2-3 years, if I am lucky, and when I am a real star, my bonus will be 30% instead of 20% (and when all of these wonderful numbers are calculated on after-tax basis, I end up with … just an extra pair of shoes per month). Bummer. 😦

Maybe, building a company is stressful, but it’s nothing in comparison to people recovering from life-threatening deceases or who lost loved ones or who came from wars. It gave me a real perspective.

Well, the next step is to develop a new plan and see how it’s working, right?

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I eat 8 Ferrero Rochers while reading Mindy’s “Why not me”

Why Not Me? is a perfect holiday reading: easy, funny, witty and still an insightful story!!!

If you don’t know Mindy – she was a star and a writer for The Office sitcom and then went on to create her own show Mindy’s Project for Fox/Hulu. She writes about Hollywood, her friends, perfect hair, daily routines of a Hollywood star, her anxieties and aspirations. It’s incredibly authentic and just totally hilarious, exactly like her show.

She starts by saying that she is a first generation immigrant in the US with all the associated insecurities, family pressure to excel, secret desire to fit in… Maybe, Mindy and Lena Dunham are the only modern fashionistas left who aren’t skinny and make a point out of it.

This is how she describes why she grew unhappy about her role in The Office and decided to branch out:

Most TV writers, even the good ones, aren’t usually lucky enough to be employed on a great show. And even great shows get canceled. Most writers have to hop from gig to gig to pay for their Priuses and private schools and divorces. I was an exception. I had what most writers dream of: a consistent source of free lunch for eight years. I was a member of the core creative team of what some people considered a classic American comedy, with no end in sight. And did I appreciate it? Um … sometimes? The truth was, I had started growing a little restless. I had a dream job—was I ungrateful to wonder what more there might be for me? Or complacent if I didn’t? The fights in the writers’ room and the outcomes that didn’t go my way, the one or two great lines a week on-camera, and, of course, the snacks—was there more to life than an endless supply of Australian red licorice (OK, obviously not, that stuff’s amazing, but you know what I mean)?! And who was I to try to seek anything better? In high school I had been cast as a rag-picker/townsperson/vagrant in eight consecutive plays. Why would I think I could be anything more than part of an ensemble of anything? These conflicting feelings about my job were illuminating—I was finally experiencing what they call White People Problems.

I wish I wrote it 😉

Then she convinced her boss to give her a chance, she wrote the proposal script for her own show… and it was rejected. She had this big dream and no other dreams and had no idea in the beginning, what to do next. I like how she calls show business a series of “transitioning panics”. Because you are never satisfied, always want more and facing fierce competition from everywhere. She found her second and third chances after all.

I practically laughed out loud the whole book and then I realized I ate 8 Ferreros. I don’t even like chocolates that much. My family and friends know well, that my comfort food is something salty and spicy and greasy (like tacos or spring rolls) and usually involves red wine. But here, on a beautiful Praslin villa (#firstworldproblems), we don’t have access to vegetables and fruits and haute cuisine. Salads, berries, whole grain bread, organic muesli and even watermelons are all luxury not seen in a local grocery store. The only available veggies are potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions. I have not even realized that in some parts of the world one can still drink instant coffee and use powder milk in it and open a can of (!!!) ham. It feels like the USSR of early 90-es. Good news – I don’t have any coffee addiction at all and can perfectly wake up at 10-30 am without it!!! Another good news, unlike Maldives, Seychelles were heavily influenced by the Frenchies and not a Muslim-majority country, so – South African and Chilean wines are perfectly accessible and affordable.

Even with wine, somehow, I still felt I am missing out civilization, so I tasked my amazing husband with finding “the most exquisite and decadent European chocolate you can find” (no, I am not pregnant, just spoiled 🙂 ). Andrey knows me well, so he kindly brought me this and I am now perfectly happy!

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All the light we cannot see

Just finished All the Light We Cannot See: a story of un-seen connection and dependencies between a young German soldier and a blind French girl during the WWII. This story was hugely popular during the divisive, violent and intolerant 2016. Unfortunately I was too busy and bitter last year, but  now is amazingly  perfect timing to read it!

Werner was fond of science and engineering, but he was growing in an orphanage house in the middle of German coal mines. He thought his only hope to get out was to join the prestigious Nazi military school where he could learn and become a scientist.

Marie-Laure was a daughter of a locksmith genius who served for the natural sciences museum in Paris and was tasked with a deadly mission to hide and keep a famous diamond, named Sea of Flames. Some people said, this diamond was a curse, keeping its owners safe and alive, but causing everyone around them die.

They both love reading, adore science and take their almost only pleasure in learning about the world. They believe there has to be a meaning for everything, the right answer – even if we cannot see it. That’s why I enjoyed the book so much. I also believe in knowledge as an ultimate problem solver. Every time there is a difficult period or a persistent problem in my life – I always have a tendency to say to myself “learn more, read enough, get well prepared – and you’ll get through this”.

Important theme throughout the story: how much of yourself can you be, when there is war/Nazi/occupation/external forces outside? When you are poor? When you are physically limited?

Werner saves Marie-Laure and dies shortly thereafter, practically committing a suicide, when the worst is over. Some of his last words were – he did not feel he was true to himself and lived his real genuine life.

It was a surprising ending for me, since he was a sweet little boy, shy, smart, determined, considerate and a lot of less-then-perfect characters in the book actually were allowed to survive and live. I keep wondering – why? What’s the point of killing a good character at the end? The only answer I can find – he would not have the future, because he was sort of detached from reality. Every time something bad happened around him, like bullying of his school friend or war battles, he was not really there, trying to escape into his dream world and pretend this was not really happening. As if it kept him innocent.

Those who read the book – did you get the same impression? Or maybe I am just reading too much into it?

P.S. In the last weeks I was following a coaching plan, trying to normalize my sleep and diet regime. I was supposed to keep a journal, and document everything I eat, the reasons why I think I eat what I eat, stress factors and may have affected my eating, and everything in between. Trying to understand the bad habits before you are able to kill them 🙂 Maybe this book resonated so well with me, because the coaches were asking me to think deeper about why I get stressed and what provokes me and how long have I been  on this autopilot. Which obviously shows a long history back to teenage years and early twenties.

Now, when I am embracing Seychelles’ serenity (almost like in the Indonesian chapter of Eat Prey Love), living in a beautiful villa by the ocean, sleeping 10 hours a day, no alarm whatsoever, almost no emails, amazing and very attentive hosts, food from the local grocery and village takeaway – I will tell you soon what I’ve learned thus far about life wisdoms.

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