Oh to be an artist with a real art studio

This is what I thought on visiting a communal art studio space in Digbeth, Birmingham. Today, a fellow University of Wolverhampton student and I went to visit an artist-in-residence student in her studio there.

Having been an art student for nearly 5 years now, I take for granted that I have a little space, firstly in Shrewsbury and then in Wolverhampton, where I can work and put things on the wall. I don’t actually use my space much as I have always been the sort of artist who  carries their studio around with them: in the car, on trains, in cafes and at home. But it is the one stable element that I can use as a base. When I graduate in June, unless I decide to embark on an MA, I will lose that precious space.

The stairs in Digbeth

The stairs in Digbeth

One option, post graduation, is to take up residence (aka rent) a space in a studio such as the one in Digbeth (others I know of include Temple Street in Wolverhampton and Participate Contemporary Artspace in Shrewsbury). Doing this means you get a space to work and be based. You can meet regularly with other artists who also have spaces, and generally mix and live in a community of fellow arty types.

The Digbeth studios

The Digbeth studios

The downside, however, is the cold. The studio I visited in Digbeth today was cold. It was bitterly cold.

However, once I had got used to the cold, I became aware of how much interesting and amazing ‘stuff’ was around me: wood, ceramics, sculpture, coffee cups, amps from the 1960s, lamp shades, bits of found object, paint splatters, crafted objects, laptops, words, drawings and paintings. It was like an Aladdin’s Cave of art stuff. I could quite imagine it being a very creative and fun place to work.

The coffee and tea cupboard

The coffee and tea cupboard

So I aspire one day (perhaps after an MA) to, perhaps part time at least, hang out in an artist studio in an abandoned warehouse / supermarket. I would, however, need a cat (or dog) for company. And a bean bag. And a sofa. And lots of velvet cushions. It was good enough for Andy, so it is good enough for me.

Andy and his cat

Andy and his cat

 

 

 

 

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Today, yesterday, the day before

Kierkegaard writes, ‘Repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in opposite directions, for what is recollected has been, is repeated backward, whereas genuine repetition is recollected forward.’

I have a very repetitious life. I am a little obsessed with repetition right now. For example (and this is just one of many), when I go to Wolverhampton, I park the car in the same carpark. I pay for the ticket from the same machine. I walk across the road to the main building of the university. I head straight for Starbucks. I order a medium Americano with room for milk, to take out. I give them my name (Becky – I never make it up). I pay £2.05p. I wait for my coffee. I take a photograph of my coffee and / or Starbucks and post it to Facebook with a comment along the lines of ‘COFFEE – I need this’ or ‘What a nightmare parking, I need coffee’. I grab the coffee. I add milk and one sachet of brown sugar. I pick up my bags, and walk out of the building. I cross the ring road (carefully and only when the lights are green) with coffee in right hand. I enter the art building. I go up to the 7th floor in the lift. I check my phone on the way. I sip my coffee. I find my desk. I dump my bags. I drink my coffee.

Today's Wolverhampton coffee

Today’s Wolverhampton coffee

There is very little variation in that routine. If that routine is upset (if the carpark is full and I have to park somewhere else), then my whole day is disrupted and potentially ruined. I feel anxious. In addition, the timings are all out, the coffee is further away from the car, the stress levels are inevitably higher and the queue is likely longer.

Why do I love this repetition so much, when it all falls into place? Why does it upset me so, when it doesn’t? It has become such a routine for me, that the repetitious act itself seems to have agency without reference to an original thought or act which sparked it off. I don’t remember the first time I carried out this act of coffee grabbing. If I try to imagine arriving in Wolverhampton and not asking for a medium Americano with room for milk from Starbucks I feel quite odd. I couldn’t do it. If I was asked to do it for a challenge. I’d decline. No, thanks.

If I picture this scene now, it reminds me, oddly, of a Edward Hopper painting: my favourite Hopper painting.

Nighthawks, 1942

Nighthawks, 1942

I love this painting. It speaks of repetition to me. It looks like a scene that happens with regularity. It shows people drinking coffee in a diner. It shows people looking content, happy in their evening routine. This is me, in Starbucks, in Wolverhampton at 9.42am.

To return to Kierkegaard, this repetitious act is of the backwards kind rather than the forwards kind. It may feel as if I am repeating an act every future day, but in fact I am re-enacting an act from the previous day. It is as if I am recreating something comforting, something I don’t remember clearly enough to articulate, i.e. the first time I did this. It isn’t a genuine ‘forward’ repetition. It is a nostalgic act, Proustian.

Repetition comes in many guises. This is just one of many. This could be an example of what is called ‘radical’ repetition. This is repetition for imitation’s sake. Or, repetition which highlights at some point (today) the absence of an original.

Tomorrow is another Wolverhampton day. I have no doubt that I will be grabbing my usual medium Americano with room for milk again.

To quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth now ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’. Here Macbeth is stating that life is full of events and action, however, absurd and short and completely meaningless at the end. However, my coffee routine might seem meaningless and devoid of interest to many, oddly, t o me it is something of great substance.

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Why I like the word ‘rhizome’

The great Gilles Deleuze introduced me recently, not personally, to the concept of the rhizome. A rhizome has two different meanings: a biological one and a philosophical one.

Gilles Deleuze and his cat

Gilles Deleuze and his cat

The biological rhizome interests me because it is so beautiful. See the image below. Do you see what I mean?

The beauty of the rhizome

The beauty of the rhizome

However, the philosophical concept has more far-reaching consequences.

Deleuze and his friend, Felix Guattari, borrowed the terms “rhizome” and “rhizomatic” from biology to describe something that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In more basic terms, the structure of a rhizome in society or politics mirrors that of the structure of a rhizome in biology. There is no top, no bottom, no centre, no branches from a top or centre. The structure is multiple. It resembles this image below.

Can you find the centre?

Can you find the centre?

The traditional, Western structure of operation looks more like a tree.

A Tree - most things you know operate like a tree

A Tree – most things you know operate like a tree

This structure has been in existence since time began. Deleuze and Guattari were groundbreaking (I am loathe to use that term but I can’t think of another) for suggesting for a different way to operate. Rather than a narrative view of history and culture, the rhizome presents as a mass of points and highlights with no specific origin or genesis.

There’s something terribly attractive about this idea. However, as Deleauze and Guattari came up with this concept in the late 1980s, it is now not a new idea by any means (it is just new to me). Rhizomic structures can be found in all sorts of places and aspects of 21st-century life. Think about the whole notion of globalization and how that has exploded over the last couple of decades, the Internet, data, social media, relational aesthetics and crowd-funding to name just a few. The rhizome is everywhere (literally and metaphorically). It is, more importantly to me at the moment, very much present in art practice.

Not many artists these days pigeon hole themselves into the roles of ‘painter’, ‘video maker’, ‘sculptor’, or ‘photographer’, or even ‘performance artist’. Most contemporary artists dip in and out of many different media and many different roles. Taking myself as an example. I started off my art education considering myself a painter, then a video maker, I dabbled in animation, I returned to painting, I’ve also dipped my toe in anthropological art, and now pop art and drawing. I haven’t been able to stick to one media since I returned to art in 2012. But, why should I? It is far more entertaining to move around and play with anything that comes to mind. As I’ve said in the past, the concept is more important than the media. I decided recently that rather than a ‘painter’ or a ‘video-maker’, I was a process artist. I’m not the only one who acts in this way. There is now no single way to be an artist, which is a Good Thing in my opinion.

It isn’t only the media used that has turned art into a rhizomic activity, it is the subjects covered. Today’s artist can examine anything they like: politics, culture, society, archiving, flowers, cat selfies, space, stars, the Stock Exchange, cheese burgers, man’s existentialist dilemma, tables, sleep, and so on and so on.

But this has given artists, and anyone else who engages in creative activity or who wants to make a statement or influence people, a valuable freedom.

Go forth, and create, I say, no matter which way how or what!

 

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What drawing means to me

Drawing means everything to me. I can’t understand why other people don’t feel the same way as I do about it. I could not live without drawing. At least, life would be a real struggle without drawing.

Close up of the plinth

Drawing – my favourite thing

I have been drawing, allegedly, since I was two years old. I haven’t drawn every day since then, I’ve had breaks, but even during times of relative non-creative output such as when I was working or busy looking after very small children I have found time to doodle.

A doodle from my temping days in Oxford

A couple of doodles from my temping days in Oxford

Looks like the view from my desk at Blackwell Science

The view from my desk at Blackwell Science

It is unfashionable in academic art circles to say that drawing makes you feel good. They don’t like you to admit that drawing is easy and, heaven forbid, enjoyable. They want you to take it seriously as a discipline and to use it as a media with an aim in mind other than to make you feel better. They want it to be hard. However, I can’t deny the fact that I draw to escape and I draw to calm me and to have a clearer perspective on challenges that are troubling me. The fact that it an activity is pleasurable and therapeutic doesn’t necessarily take away from the seriousness of it as a fine art discipline. In fact, one of my aims as an artist is to encourage drawing to be taken more seriously than it sometimes is. Drawing deserves as much validity as oil paints, sculpture and performance art (and indeed any other artistic expression). This is happening I think, evidenced by annual drawing prizes and exhibitions, such as the Jerwood Drawing Prize. But more work needs to be done.

To encourage a love of drawing, over Christmas my family took up a drawing challenge: draw a wine bottle using just a pencil and white paper. Some of the participants hadn’t drawn since school. It was a very interesting exercise. Most found the exercise quite hard work. I’m not sure they found it therapeutic. Perhaps I am a little unusual, after all.

The Collins / Chapman wine bottle challenge

The Collins / Chapman wine bottle challenge

Since looking at the topic of repetition I have been drawing more than ever before. I have been having quite a stressful time in my real life as well and I don’t think that the two are unrelated. Drawing repetitiously in itself is therapeutic. There is less skill involved, less thinking and it is easier to let the thoughts flow when drawing a simple object or idea. I have found it addictive. Drawing has become my drug of choice.

A drawing of me drawing on the plinth on the plinth

A drawing of me drawing on the plinth on the plinth

If I could I’d draw all the time, I would. Sadly, that is impossible. There are other things that need to be achieved in the day such as paid work and day-to-day living. If only someone would pay me to draw. Or is that akin asking someone to pay me to be a drug addict?

My plinth

My plinth

 

 

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How important is it to stay loyal to your interest?

This is something I’ve been thinking about today.

My artistic interest is in objects. I’m fascinated with things and our relationship with things. I love stuff. It is the stuff of stuff that I love. Stuff rules our lives. We don’t like that, but it does. Stuff is everywhere. I wrote my dissertation about stuff and the art of stuff.

Ever since I started my late artistic education (in 2012) I’ve looked closely at things. Firstly, I considered transitional objects and fond objects. I discovered Daniel Miller and his studies. Next, I moved on to the trace objects leave when they leave us. Jacques Derrida helped me here. Then I looked at the valuable objects at Powis Catle and the relationship the staff at Powis had with those objects. I didn’t need a thinker; I just needed the people I interviewed. After that, I moved onto First World War objects and again, the trace of memory in them. I interviewed the staff at Shrewsbury Regimental Museum and people who lived in Pontesbury about their precious things. Again, no thinker was needed, just people and their love of objects. Last year, I considered balloons as objects and the effect they have on us and the beauty that can be found in them once lost and / or burst. This time help came from friends, family and strangers who collected balloons for me. I considered the notion of ennobling the discarded ethereal object by turning the balloon fragments into bronze.

This year, objects aren’t featuring at all in my research. Currently my interest is much more abstract and much less tangible than cats, toys, shoes, balloons or medals. I’m looking at repetition.

I hooked onto this subject a couple of months ago when the level 6 fine art students (me included) were asked to consider repetition over a two-day period at the beginning of term. I looked at the subject, I enjoyed it, and after two days I decided to keep running. I started the #FreeRepublicofRepetition and set up a website which muses on the topic from time to time.

There are two strands to my interest in repetition. Firstly, I’m fascinated with repetition in every day life in the form of homelife, work, routine, advertising, art, philosophy, politics, culture, social media and social life. To this end I’ve been producing a number of posters and post-it notes and doodles and leaving them around me, mostly around the art building in Wolverhampton. This has been the ‘fun’ side to the project. I’ve really enjoyed being a bit of a fake guerrilla artist. This is the post-modernist in me coming out. Nothing I have made is original, it is all borrowed and twisted for the sake of humour and perhaps political or social message.

One of my posters

One of my posters

The second strand is repetition in art. What does repetition produce? Does it produce a bland copy or does it, ironically, inspire original thought? We might imagine that repetition is a form of copying or faking, but is that always, or at all, true? My argument is, that it isn’t true (even, perhaps, when that is the intention but that is arguable). Repetition can be a process to follow to give a number of interesting results: freeing the mind from the pressure to come up with original thought, finding an idea out of not needing an idea and also seeking perfection. Repetition leads to infinity. Of course, that isn’t possible. So why not see how far you can get by simple repetition of a concept or an image? You won’t get to perfection but you might get quite close. There is no such thing as and ‘end’ of infinity or perfection anyway, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth trying. There are plenty of paradoxes in the world yet we pursue them anyway. Paradoxes are interesting. We shouldn’t ignore the things we don’t understand or can’t explain with logic just because we don’t understand them or can’t explain them.

Repeating and thinking

Repeating and thinking

So my question here is: should I worry that my interest has changed quite dramatically since the summer? Or maybe it hasn’t yet I can’t yet see the connection? Perhaps there is a connection and it is just hiding from me. Objects and Repetition. Objects and Repetition. Objects and Repetition. If I repeat it enough, I will see the connection. Repetition leads to clarity. I hope it leads to clarity.

As for my art practice, that has remained the same. I love to draw. I have been drawing a lot while thinking about repetition. I’ve been drawing repetitiously and also doodling and drawing and sketching about the topic: anything and everything that comes to mind.

My doodles

My doodles

I feel uneasy, though, that I haven’t done enough. I feel uneasy that I have no idea where this is going. Is it going anywhere at all? I don’t know. I will just keep repeating and repeating until I get there, wherever there may be.

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Posting on walls – virtual vs real

The #FreeRepublicOfRepetition project has ended. At least, it has in terms of the frenzied 27-hour social media / post-it note production process. It may yet be the starting point of my next project. It may not. I don’t know yet. Watch this space. I need to now sit back, reflect, and think.

I feel a big sense of relief now that I have ‘finished’. I am no longer writing #FreeRepublicofRepetition’ over and over and again and pouring out my thoughts onto paper. I am not clock watching so that I don’t forget to post to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the hour every hour. The pressure to think of a new way to present #FreeRepublicofRepetition in materials (such as Lego, paper, wool) has gone.

My feet

My feet – and #Fr – where are they?

Although I have nothing solid to show for the last two days (my studio walls are still bare), I feel I have achieved a lot and I have something worthwhile in my head.

I’ve had such fun doing this. I’ve really enjoyed pouring my random thoughts onto paper and spreading them around the top floor of the Wolverhampton School of Art. I’ve soaked up the reactions.

After the task ended, at 3pm today, we had a group-crit. I was the first to face the ‘firing squad’. I briefly introduced the work and waited for a reaction. I had no notion of what it would be.

One student told me that she’d tried to google ‘#FreeRepublicofRepetition’ once the notes started appearing and the top hit was a website about Barack Obama. Another student said that she’d worried that she was supposed to know what it was about. A third told me that as more notes appeared, he began to feel quite annoyed. That was exactly the response I wanted. It was a virus, and as a virus spreads, that is quite annoying. That was also, I imagine, the social media reaction as well.

Some of my notes

Some of my notes

Hearing this feedback, I had a thought about the two strands of the project: the social media strand and the real life strand. There is an interesting relationship between posting personal information to social media and posting personal information on the walls of the art building in Wolverhampton. The more I got into the task of the notes, the more bizarre and personal the messages got. I shared information that I might not otherwise have offered,  such as the fact I’d been ill earlier in the week, what I like to eat, my thoughts about this task and odd facts about my life. The messages had started off being manifestos for the Free Republic of Repetition, this mythical political group, and ended up being personal manifestos and ditties. I became the Free Republic of Repetition. I don’t know why that is.

Some more of my notes

Some more of my notes

I’m intrigued that I didn’t once run out of things to say. It just flowed and flowed and flowed. I could have carried on. Some days I am like that on social media as well.

More notes

More notes

However, as people responded to me face-to-face with their reactions to individual posts, I felt an odd and unsettling feeling of exposure. If I had posted the equivalent information to Facebook and they had responded with a comment to the post in exactly the same way, I wouldn’t have felt so vulnerable. Social media removes us from ourselves and others. It is a barrier between the two. There was no barrier as I exposed some aspects of myself on the walls of Wolverhampton Art School. But what is the difference between doing that and writing personal things on Facebook? Semantically, nothing. But psychologically, quite a lot.

That is an interesting idea. One which, I will conjugate over the next few days. This project has three main themes: creating a virus (ironically, just as a I was recovering from one), creating something with no tangible meaning in order to incite or confuse (or at least observe the reaction of) and the contrast between exposing information in the real worlds and the virtual worlds. I turned the 7th Floor into my Facebook page and it was really, rather weird.

 

 

 

 

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Hashtag Free Republic of Repetition

Today was my first day back at Wolverhampton and I and the other Level 6 students were set a challenge to be completed in 27 hours. The challenge read thus:

Process / Context

  • Take last year’s work as a starting point.
  • Define an action which can be repeated.
  • What material can carry out the process, at what point do you lose control of the material and the material controls you?
  • To what extent can this action be repeated / is there an end point?
  • How do you document the process?

At first, I was stuck. I don’t generally consider myself an artist of process. I’m not a messy artist. I wasn’t interested in being fluid with paint or other art materials or in exploring how I could make paint behave under a given set of conditions. I’m not a free artist. I don’t want to explore my inner ego by way of bodily action and the like. I’d rather live in ignorance about what is going on inside my head. I am an explorer and an observer of people and objects. I’m an outward facing artist. This project, I concluded, was not for me. (Although I felt that I should try these things.) Also, the idea of doing something repetitive didn’t appeal. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do.

I then came up with a few vague ideas but mainly because I felt that I had to: a time-lapse video of change (people going in and out of the lift, the light changing in the studio), mapping traffic of people in a graphic way or logging something about my day. But then, talking to one of the tutors just as we were about to start on our ‘ideas’, he gave me a better idea. I sort of stole his idea. But it became mine so I ran with it.

All of the students had been split into two groups and this tutor and I decided that our group should have a name. He came up with the idea of The Free Republic of Repetition. We decided that this should be tweeted and shared on social media. This appealed to me. I love social media. What’s not to love? He said, ‘It needs to go viral!’ My response, ‘challenge accepted!’

 

I then thought that despite what I had previously concluded about this project, perhaps I am an artist of process. The balloon project of last year was 90% process and only about 10% final product. I loved the development of that project. At the time I worried that it was too much process. In fact, my final piece in the degree show looked rather pathetic if you judge it on quantity. It was quite small (a sound piece and three bronze objects). I just hadn’t connected that sort of process with the sort of process needed for this mini-project. So in fact, this task was written for me!

I started by tweeting #freerepublicofrepetition. I tagged Fine Art Wolverhampton and Wolverhampton Fine Arts (or variations thereof). They liked and retweated. I then turned to Facebook. I updated my status with the hashtag sentence. I added it to local groups, art groups, Wolverhampton groups and random other groups.

I also found some paper and a pen and started making strips to put around the building.

My strips by the lift

My strips by the lift

My hand soon got tired. It is hard to write #freerepublicofrepetition over and over again. Indeed, repetition is hard. I became quite determined to create as many as I could in the time I had. It was a laborous activity. It wasn’t creative. I worked feverishly.

Then, bored of just writing the same sentence over and over again, I started to add my own thoughts below. Sentences such as: ‘What is it all about?’ ‘I’ll be saying this in my sleep’, ‘Who is Keith?’, and ‘Is this art?’ Also ‘My hand hurts’ and ‘I have a headache’.

Every hour I tweeted again, tagged random people (optimistically, Justin Bieber and Brittany Spears). Some people retweeted. Most didn’t (neither Justin or Brittany did). But some is enough. The Facebook response has been less enthusiastic so far.

On the way home, I carried on creating notes using post-it notes and I posted them on the train, at the train station, and on random lampposts on the way home. My children helped me.

These post-it notes (and also the strips of paper) are leaving a trace of my movements and my thoughts over the 27-hour period. I feel like Gretel. But I like that aspect of this strange project. There are bits of me from Shrewsbury train station, to Crowmoor Primary School, and from Crowmoor Primary School, to my house.

On a random bin

On a random bin

On a lamppost

On a lamppost

At home, I decided to ‘write’ the sentence using different materials.

Firstly, collage.

Not a ransom note

Not a ransom note

Then rice.

Not for eating

Not for eating

In bits of wool, being watched by a cat.

The cat is amused

The cat is amused

Every hour, I tweeted these images. I also recorded my children and husband saying ‘hashtag free republic of repetition’ and posted these. If I had more time, I’d get strangers to do it too.

It is now 10pm. I am exhausted. I have a headache. I can’t take any more. I am writing this blog with very little energy left to put out there. But I will persevere a bit longer today and keep going until I’ve written this at least.

If I were twenty years younger I’d set my alarm for every hour and post an hourly countdown to 3pm Thursday when the project ends.

So what’s the point?

The point is to spread a sentence and to create a virus. After all, a virus is fairly pointless. If it isn’t a killer virus, it has no evolutionary purpose. It just makes you feel ill for a couple of days and keeps you off work. So it has very little reason to exist. Just like this virus. It has no ultimate meaning. It just wanted to spread as far as possible and I am acting as the facilitator.

What I am doing is also repetitive and I want to see what I can learn from carrying out something monotonous and laborious. I hoped to get an online reaction. I’m not sure that I have spread the sentence a very far out there in the stratosphere of social media but I’ve done my best in the few hours I’ve had so far. I have certainly spent the time doing something very laborious to the extent that I can’t take much more of it today. I have had some reaction from the public: mostly passive, some slightly confused and some slightly positive.

The ultimate aim is to generate excitement and interest in something that is intangible. Why? Because it is fun and it passes the time. The sentence is meaningless. There is no great event at 3pm on 29th September. The Free Republic of Repetition isn’t an organization. It is just a name conjured out of nowhere to describe half of the Level 6 students carrying out a small task. But I want people to think that there is something exciting going on. They are involved in the process. They are part of the process. The process is an imagined excitement that builds up to nothing: the second will pass, and it will soon be 3.01pm. We will all move on and start thinking about what to eat for tea.

There is no end product. That doesn’t matter. There will be nothing to hold on to from these two days except the experience and photographs. The tweets and status updates on Facebook and Instagram will very shortly drift into the past and be forgotten. The social media world is terribly fickle.

I wanted to create a momentum. It has been interesting.

What have I learnt?

I get quite obsessed quite easily and quickly. Repetition can be addictive.

How much fun it can be to create something out of nothing and big up something that doesn’t exist. I’ve also learnt that people expect to understand everything and if they don’t, they are confused. But that confusion in itself is interesting.

I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t matter how many times you write something down, you (or I) still can’t spell the words correctly. If you write the words in a different media, then that makes it worse.

Spot the typo

Spot the typo

To answer the original questions:

  • Take last year’s work as a starting point. I guess I sort of did. Last year’s work was about collecting something (balloons), getting people excited by something (balloons), and creating an artwork to document the process (a sound piece listing the balloon finds).
  • Define an action which can be repeated. Typing and writing #freerepublicofrepetition over and over again. And again.
  • What material can carry out the process, at what point do you lose control of the material and the material controls you? My hands and social media, post-it notes, paper and a pen. I feel as if I have lost control. My head is aching, my eyes are swimming. I feel nauseous. My mind is balancing on the edge of sanity (or is that just me being a little dramatic?)
  • To what extent can this action be repeated / is there an end point? The end point is 3pm tomorrow. I can do as much or as little as I want within waking hours between then and now.
  • How do you document the process? With my iPhone and in this blog.

So that’s what #freerepublicofrepetition means.

 

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