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Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

 

December 30, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The Killing Fields series continues. This is Number 9. Maybe it's a little hard to look at. It's the second time I've used my head as a vase, tall grass sprouting from all my facial orifices in the bottom self portrait.  The grass rises to penetrate my mouth and eyes and the top of my head in the one at the top.

Symbolically it's what happens to the victims in the killing fields, and ultimately death beckons us all. Given a choice I would not pick a violent death. War or murder or a car crash is cruel.

 

But there is no guarantee that death, no matter what happens, won't be hard. And then there is the question of what happens to you afterwards. Heaven, Hell? I don't believe in them. Like a lot of other people, my mother  used to say you make your heaven or hell on earth. And I believe her. Except sometimes you don't have a choice of which one your life will be.

Often its something of a combination, I suspect. And that's OK.

 

I have friends who are worried about death. I was at one time, but strangely as I get closer to it death bothers me less. My own death. Besides, I plan to live a long time.

All this is getting a little morbid. A lot morbid. So let's change the subject. Let's talk about magnolia leaves. That's what those beautiful leaves are in the picture above. And in the one below. I bought them when we went to Dr. Lahey's Garden to get our Christmas tree. They are green on the other side - the leaves, not the Christmas trees. The trees are green all around. You probably knew that.

 

Did you notice that the two leaves and the head form a cockeyed fleur-de-lis and that the three leaves form one too. There are three other fleur-de-lis in the painting. They are formed by lilies, which is what fleur-de-lis means literally in French. Here's some of what Wikipedia says on the subject.

While the fleur-de-lis has appeared on countless European coats of arms and flags over the centuries, it is particularly associated with the French monarchy in a historical context, and continues to appear in the arms of the King of Spain and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, members of the House of Bourbon. It remains an enduring symbol of France that appears on French postage stamps, although it has never been adopted officially by any of the French republics. According to French historian Georges Duby, the three leaves represent the medieval social classes: those who worked, those who fought and those who prayed.

By now you probably wish I was back on death - assuming you're still with me. Besides the fleur-de-lis the painting has four bolts, one in each corner. Practically they keep other paintings leaned up against this one from crushing the flowers and grass. Symbolically. Well I'm not giving everything away.

This photo demonstrates that these collages should be hung in a room with a black and white floor. I hope you aren't saying, "Hanging's to good for them."

 

 

December 28, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Late the night of the storm I turned the lights off and sat in the high-backed computer chair, a plaid blanket draped over me, and watched the snow swirl in the spotlight beam beyond the sliding glass doors.

I had my earphones on and was listening to Nicole Krauss' novel Great House. It was a little past midnight and seemed a perfect way to greet the blizzard that left about 16 inches on the Berkshires.

The wind was howling and the snow was constantly shifting direction like a flock of starlings. It's a great thing to be warm while you watch nature put on a spectacular but frigid show. I fell asleep in the chair. When I woke up it was 3:30 and I went to bed.

Here's our Prius during the storm. And below there's the house last night after the storm. You can see that I had put the snowblower to work. It was blowing again last night so I'll probably need to use it again to cut through drifts where they've filled in paths and driveways.

The worst part of clearing the snow was that my left thumb got painfully cold. But by the time I hit Joan's driveway the thumb had warmed to the task and the only thing I had to complain about was snow from the rooster tail the blower throws up turning on me and powdering my face.

When I finished, I took a nap. It's nice being 75 and not having a job.

 

 

 

December 24, 2010

This is a column I wrote for The Berkshire Eagle when I was a reporter there. It ran December 21, 1974.

Christmas Past

LIKE some ghost of Christmas Past, my grandfather's picture looms in the shadows of our room these winter nights and whispers of the way things were.

His face, stiffly captured in a water-stained political-campaign poster on the bureau, evokes memories of him and the farm and Christmas 30 years ago when I was 10.

It's a collage of sights and sounds and warmth and shelter, of lying in bed in a small, closetless room listening to the wind and wondering what Christmas would bring.

The poster calls forth the farmhouse with its wide porch with its view of distant hills, of a storage barn fragrant with the smell of apple crates and feed, of the agony of waiting or the elaborate Christmas breakfast to end so we could get on with the job of opening presents.

I don't remember what I got that year _ a war year when my sister and I lived with my grandparents because our parents were away at an Air Force base. I don't even remember what I wanted.

Whatever it was has long since been overshadowed by something my grandfather gave me earlier that year, a gift that said a lot about him as a man and a politician.

Let me tell you a little about my grandfather. I'll start with the campaign poster. In that poster his mouth is set in a long thing line, not from any meanness but from the rigors of sitting for a formal portrait. It was a poster he tacked to trees, telephone poles and barns all over Adams County, Pennsylvania.

There was no Madison Avenue imagery to this sign, which he had composed himself. It said simply:

For

Register and Recorder

Winfield G. Horner

of Cumberland Township

Your vote and influence

will be greatly appreciated

He was a quiet, small, simple man who in the new-found affluence of public office drove a Packard car and had his pin-striped suits custom-made to compensate for a left leg shortened badly in an accident.

His natural constituency was among the farmers. He had been one of them, eking out a living for his large family through subsistence  farming on his hilltop orchard during the Depression. And although he had that Packard and those pin-striped suits, he was still bringing in the apple harvest each year.

He took me campaigning with him sometimes. His campaigning was as free of gimmickry as his poster.

Grandfather would drive out to a farm and limp through the fields until he reached the farmer. Then they would talk quietly and carefully of crops and the war, my grandfather giving an occasional poke at a clod of dirt with the three-inch sole of the shoe on his bad leg.

He would always leave with a handshake that must have left the hard roundness of the stubs of his two severed fingers indelibly etched in their minds.

He won that time as he had won the time before and would win the time after. But he did not complete that last term because he died when he was 72.

Getting back to that gift he game me in the fall of 1944. It came on the first day of school in Gettysburg. I was going to be a new boy in 4th grade, and I didn't know anyone in the school.

That was bad enough. But the conditions under which I was entering school were far worse - and I was anticipating disaster. My mother had left instructions with my grandmother that I was to wear a pair of short pants.

That's the way my mother thought boys should dress for school. I knew I'd be the only kid there with short pants. My grandfather the night before said that was a hell of a way to send a boy to school but my grandmother stood firm. So there it was. I was going to be the new kid who was a sissy.

As we left the house my grandfather, who didn't care much for handkerchiefs, stepped to the edge of the porch, pressed a finger alongside his nose to close one nostril and cleared the other with stunning velocity.

He didn't say much as we drove to town. When we got there he pulled to a stop in front of a store and took me in.

"Jake," he said, "fit this boy out with a pair of long pants."

That was it. It may not seem like much but it was one of those moments of reprieve, a stay of execution.

Few people save your life as neatly and with as little fuss as that. Looking back, there must have been some political self-interest mixed up in it too. No grandson of Winfield Horner's was going to show up at school wearing short pants.

It was not a Christmas gift certainly, but a gift to savor at future Christmases.

That was lifetimes ago. My grandparents and my parents have been dead a long time. We are the parents now - the ones with the power to bestow and withhold gifts. May we do as well.

 

 

December 22, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Katharina Grosse a German artist has transformed the big gallery at MASS MoCA , a football-field-sized space, into something wild and wonderful.

To me it looks like giant shards of ice piled up on multi-colored islands. And that is not intended as a put down for the abstract painter. This is art on a truly heroic scale.

The exhibit opened last evening with a reception. Ms. Grosse has gained an international reputation for her exuberant installations executed with a spray gun and sculptural elements. In the past 15 years she has had a dizzying number of exhibits around the world.

She has often used the exterior and interior walls and windows of museums as her canvas. Below is a photo (not mine) of the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center several years ago. (See my September 28, 2007 post.)

While the MASS MoCA commission is her largest installation to date, she joked last night that she had approached it with some restraint. At least I think she was joking.

Here she sprayed the fake rocks and real dirt and wandered up over the wall and windows a little. But in this gallery her gun, for the most part, was not aimed at the walls.

MoCA chief Joe Thompson said the only restriction they had placed on the artist - that is she, above, at the reception - was not to paint the floor in the big room. It would have been impossible to restore its unpainted concrete surface.

This is a photo, again not mine, of Grosse at work on an earlier project.

She and two assistants carved the ice-like forms from big rectangles of Styrofoam.

What she has done at MoCA reminds me of Caspar David Friedrich's 1824 painting Sea of Ice, also know as The Wreck of the Hope.

Someone commented on the shirt (below) I wore to the reception. I said I picked it because I didn't want to stand out. Grosse said that if I stood by a mound of dirt like the one pictured here people would take me for one of the rocks.

"Look, that rock just moved," she imagined someone saying.

 

In the adjoining gallery Grosse tackled the floors and the walls. Below a young woman studies the floor. At the right side of the picture are some clothes that are part of the work.

 

On the mezzanine overlooking the big gallery is this wondrous wall-mounted painting. Here Grosse used a brush as well as spray. Also located on this level is a large shaped painting - one of two in the exhibit - along with another mound of painted earth.

There is a tree-grows-in-Brooklyn aspect to the dirt. One sharp-eyed observer pointed out a few blades of grass poking bravely into the art world. You can see one below if you look closely. The arrow points the way.

As I was walking toward the museum entrance last night, a man said to me, "I managed to find North Adams. Now I'm trying to find Building 5."

You're headed the right direction, I told him, and I think a lot of people will be heading MoCA's way to see this unique and compelling installation which was curated by Susan Cross.

Grosse is the gun slinger of the Western art world. Her (spray) gun is quick. Not only quick but magic.

 

December 20, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The ice is on Pontoosuc Lake, snow is on the ice and fishermen have started venturing out. But I'm cautious. You might say chicken. I don't go lake walking until I see pickups out there, a sure sign the ice is very thick.

Here's a close up of the guys in the first photo. It looks like their auger , the red tool to the left, is hand cranked. That takes muscle power when you're drilling fishing holes, unlike the engine powered augers that disturb the lake's early morning tranquility.

This is the channel that leads to the dam that controls the water level. Tall white pines grace the hillside picnic area on the far side and are reflected in the water.

 

December 18, 2010

 

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Joe White's work has probably been seen by more people than any other living Pittsfield artist. Anyone who has driven down Onota Street has seen his Outsider Art standing sentinel in his front lawn.

Ingenious, often made from scrap, frequently with moving parts, almost always amusing, White's sculpture is on view at the Berkshire Community College downtown gallery in the Intermodal Transit Center on Columbus Avenue.

While the gallery isn't open often, you can get a good look at White's sculpture through the large windows. The show, Manipulated Mediums, will be up until January 20.

Last night's opening was well attended. And a lot of the people, especially the kids, got a kick out of making the bike rider ride, the robot roll his eyes, the gunman draw his gun, etc. 

Joe White, 51, at the left, talks animatedly about his work. He has been making things since he was about 8. While some of his work sells, he is glad he is not a profession artist because he would be under pressure to produce. Now when he builds or sculpts a piece, he finds himself in "the zone."

The Crane Paper employee says he picks out pieces of junk and suddenly he knows what they will become. 

Here are some of White's faces. They fall into two categories: realistic and unreal.

 

 

 

Guns appear in a number of his pieces. Which links his work to the paintings of guns I showed at BCC some years ago.

By turning the red wheel, this young woman makes the sculpture perform. Below a visitor has fun with an arm whose hand has an opposable thumb, allowing it to grip things. This solo show was White's first. It was currated by Craig Perras, a student at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Perras is an intern to Lisa Griffith, the BCC professor who is the gallery's director.

 

 

December 16, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

 

Cathedral. One of my favorite series. The paintings have never been shown. So I'm giving them a solo show now. Most of these are very large. They are in acrylic on canvas. It was the first time I had used drips to make paintings.

 

I liked the technique so much that after these, all done in 2005 - or was it 2006 - I went on to do the Jeanne d'Arc series I recapped in my December 12 post.

I guess I'm falling into a period of Remembrance of Paintings Past.

 

One thing I learned, at least thought I learned in these paintings was how to spell cathedral. When I began putting their names into the computer at the time, I spelled it cathederal. I wrote the corrected word so many times in connection with these paintings I assumed it was burned into my brain.

Of course you know how I spelled it when I started doing this post. You're right. With me, I'm afraid, it's live and don't learn.

Spelling was never my forte. In grammar school I would get 100 in the spelling tests because my mother would coach me the night and morning before a test. She would ask me to spell one of the words a few days later and I couldn't.

But when the class was split in two and lined up along opposite walls for a spelling bee, I was always one of the first to go out.

My spelling didn't help me in college. I had one professor who argued that I should not graduate because it would be a smirch on Brown's reputation if someone so unschooled in spelling was among its graduates.

 And in my days as a rookie reporter at The North Adams Transcript, the editors pinned a small box to the bulletin ball and christened it the "Grier Horner spelling fund." I was supposed to use the money collected to buy a dictionary.

The problem followed me to The Berkshire Eagle, where half of my 32 years there were spent as a reporter and the other half as the associate editor.

I was at my worst, Judy, one of our copy editors told me, the Saturday I was sent to cover the county spelling bee. I was good on the misspellings the contestants got, but like them, I couldn't seem to get the correct spelling right.

I found it offensive when the world pounced on vice president Dan Quayle for not knowing how to spell potato. Everyone seems to assume that if you can't spell, you are stupid. I hope those who know me don't say I've just proved that.

My spelling improved after I retired when I bought my first Apple with spell check. The computers we used at The Eagle did not have that feature.

Back to Cathedral - the paintings. One was purchased. All the rest are available. I haven't shown them all here.

 

December 14, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Back to the Killing Fields. We had Number 8 on December 4th. Here's Number 9, which is the first self portrait in the series.

We used to sing this charming little ditty when we were kids:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,

The worms play pinochle on your snout.

They eat your eyes, they eat your nose,

They eat the jelly between your toes.

Substitute weeds for worms and that's this one in a nutshell. Here they push from the ear, the mouth, the nose, the eye. The poor guy, me, is not only pushing up daisies, he's got a slug embedded in his forehead. That's what happens in the Killing Fields. And, I guess, we are all standing in the Killing Fields, even if we aren't in Cambodia, the Congo or some other place of death. Try Afghanistan or Iraq. Make your own list. But at one time or another, in situations of dread or calm, fear or relief, bravery or cowardice, or just plain resignation we all manage to get ourselves killed.

That's pretty gloomy. And overdramatic. A natural death, in many cases, I guess, is better than being killed. But certainly not all.

Just to remind you that these paintings are 3D, I've inserted the detail shot below.

These paintings are 4' x 2'. This one contains acrylic paint, weeds, flowers, bullet casings and a blackened fingernail that I had hit with a hammer. It also includes a self portrait that I took with the Photo Booth program on my computer and printed out.

P.S. Today's piece was posted about 13 hours late because of technical difficulties - first with my mind and then with a program.

 

December 12, 2010

 

I've had a dozen solo shows in the last dozen years. The one I liked the best was last year at the Zeitgeist Gallery, which has since closed, on North Street in Pittsfield. It showcased my Jeanne d'Arc paintings, and was the first of three solo shows I had that year.

I was really proud of those paintings, and still am. And the way Brent Whitney set up the lighting and put in a new back wall gave the display a lot of class. And I liked the size of the letters on that new back wall. It played to my vanity.

Below you can see how the gallery glowed at night as Brent's lighting worked its magic in the space operated by Alan Nidle.

Photos from this point by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

The photos that follow are of some of the paintings about Joan of Arc, a young woman who stunned the world with her brilliance in battle and in her own defense in her trial for heresy.

The paintings stemmed from my reading of the transcript of the trial in 1430 that ended in her burning at the stake.

In my mind this series of 36 paintings is the strongest work I've done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 10, 2010

Part One

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

When I look at this picture, it says something I have been feeling all week: Cold.

Sunday it snowed gently all day without much accumulation. But when we woke up Monday the ground was covered with about six inches of snow and it had gotten very cold.

Walking along Pontoosuc Lake Wednesday and Thursday as evening fell, the temperature was in the teens and the wind was blowing. It was cold. Wednesday ice had formed along the shore (See photo below). But yesterday a thin coat stretched from shore to shore.

 

December 10, 2010

Part 2

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Current exhibits at MASS MoCA range from low to high tech. The first three photos are of pieces formed from things like fishing line and aluminum foil. The forth photo is of a work created by robots carrying out an artist's orders to a computer.

The photo above is of Tobias Putrih's homage to the Hoosac Tunnel. It's made of dozens of lines of monofilament - the stuff fishing line is made of - stretched from one end of a long gallery to the other. A spotlight provides the drama. So simple and so beautiful.

Michael Beutler's Lightning Generation, above, is a piece I had pretty much dismissed until I took a new look at it this visit. This time it brought to mind Walter de Maria's Lightning Field which involves 400 stainless lightning rods spread over a square mile of New Mexico. De Maria's must be spectacular in a storm. But Beutler's takes up much less space and you don't have to wait for a lightning storm. It's made of aluminum, wood, brushes and weights.

In The Geometry of Light, below, Alyson Shotz, like Putrih, stages a spectacular light show with simple materials: plastic Fresnel lenses and
silvered glass beads strung on stainless steel wire.

On the other hand Federico Diaz pulled out  tons of technology to make his Geometric Death Frequency-141, below.

He photographed the entry court of the museum. Then he changed it in the computer, which finally sent instructions to a robot that assembled this black giant out of plastic balls.

As MoCA Director Joseph Thompson put it, "The bricks and mullions and windows of our buildings become files of digital data, the pixels become black spheres meticulously cut, stacked and assembled, the courtyard becomes and contains sculpture - and all the while Federico remains behind the curtain, as if to say 'look ma, no hands."

It has been described by the museum as a wave that breaks against and into the building.

To me it looks, from this angle, like a long-necked dragon leaning forward to graze. Even at rest his heavy tail looks lethal. As any self-respecting dragon, when he finishes eating he'll probably belch fire.

 

 

December 8, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Laid across the table in my studio is Killing Fields, Number 9, a work pretty close to completion. It utilizes a photo of a head of someone you may recognize. Or not.

This series, I was thinking last night, is an agrarian enterprise.

As a result my studio is starting to look like a haymow. Below are photos of two of the mounds of grass - not the kind you inhale - dead flowers, leaves, etc.

Go to my December 4 post if you'd like to see Killing Fields, Number 8.

 

 

 

 

December 6, 2010

               Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Saturday afternoon I pointed the Prius toward Monterey to see Julie Shapiro's studio during an open house. But I never got there. It took me too long to get going so I was only going to have a few minutes in the studio.

So instead of spending 50 minutes on the road I stopped at Chocolate Springs in Lenox and got a large mocachinno.

"Four shots (of espresso) or three," the red headed woman at the counter asked.

I got three. Even then I was wired on caffine before I got to Coltsville to pick up a few groceries. There I ended up taking about 60 shots of the sky.

Below is a longer view. The picture below that was taken on Merrill Road on the way to Coltsville.

 

            

 

P.S. We saw an impressive movie Saturday night, Winter's Bone. The Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 94 percent rating. Audiences weren't as impressed. Only 75 percent liked it.

"Bleak, haunting, and yet still somehow hopeful, Winter's Bone is writer-director Debra Granik's best work yet -- and it boasts an incredible, starmaking performance from Jennifer Lawrence," is the way that website summarized it. And they got it right.

 

Jennifer Lawrence (in the middle) is a 17-year-old trying to keep her family together in backwoods Ozarks. Her mother is crazy and her father is on the run from the sheriff. Like most of the neighbors he is involved in growing pot and making crystal meth. This is not suburbia. Junk clutters the farm yards, none of the characters is glamorous. It is one of those movies that introduces you to an America you are not familiar with. It has a gritty, authentic feel. Dale Dickey, below, is one reason why.

 

 

December 4, 2010

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

Dead flowers, leaves, weeds, dead batteries, acrylic, salvaged paint, and a small sculpture went into my newest painting, Number 8, in the Killing Fields series. Like all the others it is 48" x 24" on a black background.

The killing fields were where the Khmer Rouge executed and buried thousands of its fellow Cambodians in its effort to impose an anti-intellectual farming society.

In these paintings (see the detail below) you can see gaps in the stalks, caused, in my mind, by bullets ripping through the fields.

In the paintings blood is often depicted coming from the riddled stalks. So the vegetation in this series plays a dual role, symbolically serving as both the fields themselves and the humans killed in them.

The batteries do not power anything. They too do double duty, serving as bumpers to protect the flowers when other paintings are stacked against this one and to represent bullet casings, although much of the killing reportedly was done with pick axes.

While the United States was fighting the Vietnamese War, President Nixon secretly started carpet bombing Cambodia. After the North Vietnamese drove us out of Vietnam, the communist Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia.

Here's a brief history of that monstrous regime, condensed from Wikipedia.

"The Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodia to a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based Communist society.[3] The city-dwellers were deported to the countryside, where they were combined with the local population and subjected to forced labor."

An estimated 20 percent of Cambodia's 7 million people "died in waves of murder, torture, and starvation, aimed particularly at the educated and intellectual elite...

"Contrary to Marxist doctrine, the Khmer Rouge considered the farmers in the countryside to be the proletariat and the true representatives of the working class, a form of Maoism which brought them onto the Chinese side of the Sino-Soviet Split...

"The Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population ("New People") into agricultural communes...

"Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered, to make the agricultural communism, as (leader) Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality. The planned relocation to the countryside resulted in the complete halt of almost all economic activity: even schools and hospitals were closed, as well as banks, and industrial and service companies."

Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 and defeated the main elements of the Khmer Rouge, although remnants of that regime fought on for years.

 

December 2, 2010

Part 1

This was Gae's painting. She loved it, even changed her living room around for it, painted the walls a deep eggplant, patching the plaster, wielding the brush. It looked great on that background. She got a red leather sofa and told me she liked to stretch out on it and look at the painting.

It was gratifying to have someone like one of my paintings that much.

As did many people, I loved Gae. She died this year and that was a terrible jolt. I drive by her house and wish I could drop in and visit. Sometimes we would take trips to Pearlman's scrap yard, one of her favorite haunts and come back with stuff. We had worked together for a long time at The Eagle. She was a compelling person, offbeat, kind, funny and oh so many other good things.

Anyway, it's a large painting, probably 72 inches high, and her son and his wife don't have room for it in their home.

They are asking $2,000 for the work. If you'd like to see it, contact me at grier@mac.com.

 

December 2, 2010

Part 2

Photos by Grier Horner/All Rights Reserved

It was raining hard early last evening when I went to Stop & Shop for some mouse traps, Tylenol PM, and a cappuccino muffin. Leaving I took some shots of the famous Coltsville intersections.

I was waiting for the light to change here. You can see the speedometer was at zero, the gas tank was full and that the Prius has 44,586 miles on it.

The History of Love, a novel by Nicole Krauss, was playing on the CD, the windshield wipers were sweeping across the glass fast and I was marvelling how darkness, lights and rain can transform a nothing scene into something beautiful.

Below I'm still waiting.

The mouse traps are the kind that snap shut and kill. We had been using humane traps that don't hurt the mice.

We probably caught a dozen with them. I'd let the mice go in the back yard and they'd scamper off looking for a new home. Babbie's theory was that they'd make their way back into the house.

In any case we abandoned the humane traps because the mice magically learned to get the scrap of cracker out without letting the door close. I figured it took two of them: One to hold the overhead door open while the other went in for the food.

The mice are very cute and I don't like to kill them. I'm a softy. But I'm not soft enough to let them take over the house. One has chomped a small hole through the living room ceiling.

As for the cappuccino muffin, the store was all out of them.

 

 

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