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The British Museum’s Stonehenge exhibition: An accessible, comprehensive guide (albeit with no druids…) | Culture

A visit to the major new exhibition at London’s British Museum on Stonehenge, the famous circle of prehistoric stones located in the south of England, ends with a scale photo of a beautiful pastel-colored sunset between the iconic lintels, a small object made of gold that appears to represent a partial solar eclipse, and a phrase about the monument uttered in 1967 by archeologist, writer and anti-nuclear campaigner Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996): “Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires.”

The exhibition, which opened this week and will run until July 17, boasts 430 objects (two-thirds of which have been lent by a total of 35 institutions), among them treasures such as the Nebra sky disc, believed to be the oldest depiction of the cosmos, as well as Seahenge, a stunning prehistoric wood circle that was located in the English county of Norfolk.

The organizers appear to have stipulated just which is our Stonehenge, and just how we should interpret this mysterious monument. In many ways, it is a Stonehenge of our times: from the choice of Hawkes to mark the end of the visit, and the efforts not to ignore the role of women in the exhibition’s narrative, to the emphasis on environmental issues, as well as the denunciation of violence and war. There is also an unexpected mention of “gender-neutral” individuals, related to a funeral dowry in which traditionally male and female objects are mixed.

The World of Stonehenge, as the exhibition is titled, takes advantage of two recent archeological endeavors: the Stonehenge Riverside Project and the Hidden Landscape Project. It is also based on the opposition between the construction of communal monuments such as the famous stone circle, and the later appearance of portable, individual objects that began to gain spiritual and social importance. There is an extraordinary selection of mostly gold objects that represent the sun.

The Stonehenge monument.
The Stonehenge monument. ENGLISH HERITAGE (Reuters)

As the museum’s director has joked, they would have had a tough time bringing the stone circle itself to London. But there is, at least, a piece of the monument: a fragment of one of the famous “blue stones” that was donated by celebrated war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

That said, one of the most surprising elements of the exhibition is the complete absence of the druids – not a single mention is to be found. It is true that the scientists who study Stonehenge are sick to death of the druids, who have been popularly and mistakenly associated with the monument since antiquarians such as William Stukely began to study it back in the 18th century. But it is no less true that, at an exhibition about Stonehenge, the druids should appear, whether we like it or not, if only to explain that they have nothing to do with the site.

Questioned about the omission by EL PAÍS, curator Neil Wilkin responded by saying that “Stonehenge is not their era,” and that to include them “the exhibition would have to be greatly expanded.” He did, however, concede that the elimination of the druids from the exhibition is “significant.”

Whatever the case, the litmus test for an exhibition about Stonehenge is whether or not it manages to achieve the difficult task of explaining a monument as complex as this one to the wider public. And it must be said that the visitor does indeed come out with a fairly precise idea of what Stonehenge is, and why it is important – and that is despite the fact that the journey spans 9,000 years, and three different periods: Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age. The 1,500 most-intense years of activity at Stonehenge, from 5,000 to 3,500 years ago, are equivalent to 100 human generations. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin…

Human remains found in Germany, on display at The World of Stonehenge exhibition.
Human remains found in Germany, on display at The World of Stonehenge exhibition.DANIEL LEAL (AFP)

The exhibition argues that Stonehenge is aligned with the rising and setting of the sun at the solstices, moments when it was thought that the community’s fate was hanging in the balance. But it makes clear that the monument was not an observatory of the skies, a calendar or a place to predict eclipses or other celestial phenomena in a scientific or mathematical way, but rather that the alignments were important for the gatherings and religious rites that were celebrated on the site.

Many parts of the exhibition appeal to the emotions via a carefully crafted and striking staging, which includes cycloramas with dawns, sunsets and the night sky. The “eternal mystery of Stonehenge” can only be understood, it stresses, “exploring the world around that made it possible.”

The objects from the exhibition, the introduction explains, track fundamental changes in the “relationship of people with the sky, the Earth and some individuals with others.” The importance of the sun as a source of light and fertility, and the connection that the monoliths establish between the sky and the Earth are some of the concepts that are dealt with at the start, as well as the transition 6,000 years ago from the world of hunter-gatherers, to that of agriculture. The exhibition constantly shows parallels with other constructions.

Seahenge

One of the star attractions of the exhibition is the aforementioned Seahenge, a timber circle dating from 4,000 years ago and made up of 55 oak trunks. Discovered on the coast of Norfolk in 1998 and preserved under a layer of sand, it was aligned with the sunrise during the summer solstice. The exhibition of the monument is accompanied by an evocative sound installation, with noises of wind, waves and insects.

A museum employee dusts a section of Seahenge.
A museum employee dusts a section of Seahenge.DANIEL LEAL (AFP)

Those who are familiar with the history of the monument will recognize the sub-themes of the exhibition, such as the allusion to the supposed contact with Mycenae, the mystery of the Stonehenge Archer (was he sacrificed, or a victim of combat?) whose remains were found in the outer ditch, the dagger graffiti and the funeral mounds.

A small epilog – featuring drawings by William Blake, wherein he reimagines the monument – includes the indisputable assertion that “Stonehenge remains,” and that by doing so, it represents the memory of a people who, generation after generation, “gave meaning from a lasting place to a changing world.”



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How Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins Is Revolutionizing The Fashion Modeling

Emergence of AI-Generated Virtual Twins

The Voice Of EU | In the ever-evolving landscape of fashion modeling, a groundbreaking innovation has emerged: the creation of virtual twins through the power of artificial intelligence (AI). This technological advancement has already made waves in the industry, exemplified by the case of Alexsandrah, a renowned model who has seamlessly integrated her AI counterpart into her professional endeavors. The implications of this development are far-reaching, reshaping not only the creative landscape but also the economic and ethical dimensions of the fashion world.

Alexsandrah, known professionally by her first name, stands as a pioneer in this new era of modeling. She proudly shares that her digital twin mirrors her appearance “even down to the baby hairs,” blurring the lines between reality and simulation. This symbiotic relationship between the human model and her AI counterpart signifies a transformative shift propelled by AI technology.

Advocates of AI-generated modeling argue that its increasing prevalence promotes diversity and inclusivity within the fashion industry. By showcasing a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics, AI models empower consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, ultimately reducing fashion waste stemming from product returns. Moreover, the cost-effectiveness of digital modeling presents economic opportunities for both companies and individuals seeking to leverage this innovative technology.

However, amidst the promise of progress, critics voice concerns regarding the potential ramifications of AI modeling. The displacement of human models, makeup artists, and photographers looms large, raising questions about job security and ethical implications. Furthermore, there is apprehension that unsuspecting consumers may be deceived into mistaking AI models for real individuals, undermining transparency and authenticity in the industry.

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect

Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, underscores the pressing need to address these concerns. She highlights the risk of distorting racial representation and marginalizing models of color through the uncritical adoption of AI technology. Indeed, data indicates that women, especially those from underrepresented groups, are disproportionately affected by the advent of AI in modeling, further exacerbating existing disparities in the industry.

The case of iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. illustrates the nuanced stance that companies are taking towards AI-generated models. While initial experiments with AI models aimed to diversify representation, backlash prompted a reevaluation of their approach. Levi reaffirmed its commitment to live photo shoots and human models, signaling a cautious approach to AI integration in its operations.

Despite varying responses from industry players, the demand for AI-generated models continues to grow. Companies like Lalaland.ai, founded by Michael Musandu, are at the forefront of this technological revolution. Musandu emphasizes the complementary nature of AI models, envisioning them as supplements rather than replacements for traditional photo shoots. He underscores the potential of AI to enhance the shopping experience, reduce product returns, and create new job opportunities within the industry.

The journey towards ethical AI implementation in fashion modeling is fraught with challenges, as highlighted by the experiences of models like Yve Edmond. Concerns regarding consent, compensation, and labor rights underscore the need for robust regulatory frameworks. The Model Alliance advocates for legislative measures to safeguard the rights of fashion workers, including provisions for informed consent and fair compensation in the realm of AI modeling.

Amidst the complexities and controversies surrounding AI-generated modeling, individuals like Alexsandrah navigate this new frontier with a sense of optimism tempered by vigilance. By fostering transparency, ethical use, and equitable compensation, AI has the potential to expand opportunities for models of color and revolutionize the fashion industry. As stakeholders grapple with the ethical and economic implications of this technology, the journey towards a more inclusive and sustainable future for fashion modeling continues.


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Top 10 most profitable places in Britain for holiday rentals

The most profitable locations in Britain for holiday rentals has been revealed – and the majority are not located anywhere near a beach.

Staycation favourite Cornwall is top of the rankings, with an average price per night of £84 for a room and £117 for a whole house.

A total of 476,910 bookings were made via popular holiday rental companies in the area last summer, according to analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the money website Wealth of Geeks.

The figures suggest that holiday lets in Cornwall took bookings worth £40million between the beginning of July and the end of September last year.

However, most of the top 10 are located in inner London, the research showed.

The most profitable locations for buy-to-let have been revealed, with staycation favourite Cornwall at the top of the rankings

The list of top ten places also includes several areas in London, including Westminster in second place.

The average price of renting a holiday let in Westminster is £133 a night for a room and £435 for a house.

With 304,790 holiday let bookings, it produces a revenue for the area in the heart of London’s west end of £34,441,270 for the summer period last year.

The calculations were based on bookings on Airbnb, Booking.com and the Expedia Group, with data taken from the Office for National Statistics.

The rental prices, meanwhile, were taken from Airbnb across 388 British towns, and the total revenue was calculated by multiplying the number of nights with the nightly cost of a room on Airbnb.

The revenue did not take into account any costs of running a holiday let, such as repairs and maintenance, nor did it factor in property prices.

All of the remaining locations in the top ten were in London except for one on the south coast.

This was Brighton and Hove, where average rental prices per night were £100 for a room.

In total, the data suggested that the British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023.

Michael Dinich, of Wealth of Geeks, said: ‘Holiday rentals play a vital role in the UK’s tourism industry by supporting local economies, providing accommodation to enhance visitor experience, and promoting tourism in diverse regions across the country.

‘Tourism also helps to promote awareness of lesser-known areas, helping to distribute tourist spending more evenly across the country.

‘While some destinations may experience seasonal fluctuations in tourism often in the summer months, holiday rentals attract visit year-round, helping to sustain economies and businesses during off-peak seasons.’

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year's Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped

The findings show that those looking to invest in the holiday lets market need to do their sums carefully before taking the plunge and committing to a particular area.

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, explained: ‘This data shows that it’s not just the prospect of beaches and more reliable weather which drives profitability.

‘It’s not just traditionally popular holiday destinations which produce the best returns so it’s vital that would-be landlords do their research carefully before investing.

‘The ability to make money depends on supply and demand, not just the attributes of an area.

‘At what level a landlord can rent their property for, after taking into account all expenses, is key and explains why areas such as Westminster and Camden are proving profitable, where they may lack the charm of a traditional UK holiday destination such as Cornwall.’

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

The British holiday rental market made £739,211,390, during the summer of 2023, according to the latest data

Tax crackdown

The data on the most profitable holiday lets follows a crackdown on the sector by the Chancellor.

Jeremy Hunt announced in this year’s Budget that the tax relief available for furnished holiday lets would be scrapped to help improve the availability of long-term rentals.

The move is due to come into force at the beginning of April next year and is widely seen as a way of bringing the tax regime of shorter-term lets more in line with longer term rentals.

Experts operating in the sector insisted that holiday rentals remained in demand ahead of the changes.

Graham Donoghue, of Sykes Holiday Cottages, said: ‘Staycations have been growing in popularity over the past decade and right now demand for our UK holiday cottages is higher than ever, with the average annual income of a holiday let owner up as a result.

‘Hotspot locations like Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Cornwall continue to see considerable demand and bookings across the UK for our holiday cottages have been up 11 per cent during the current Easter school holidays.

‘The demand we’re witnessing is particularly good news for our holiday let owners who have faced their own set of challenges recently. Despite changes, which we are carefully guiding our owners through, it’s clear that holiday letting remains a profitable and rewarding long-term business model.’

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‘Monkey Man’: Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel makes directorial debut with a delicious stab at action cinema

Dev Patel has always had an intelligent glint in his eye. From his big screen debut in Slumdog Millionaire to his role as a journalist in Aaron Sorkin’s series The Newsroom, the British actor usually brings a sense of peace, calm and intelligence to his performances. Perhaps that is why it is no surprise that, at 32, he has made his directorial debut with a film in favor of social outcasts, which he also produces, co-writes and stars in. The surprise is its genre: Monkey Man is a fierce action and martial arts film, revolving around hand-to-hand combat, dismemberment and knife fights.

Patel returns to India, the land of his ancestors, for his story of revenge that is strengthened by the creative arsenal applied to its sequences — and not only those of combat. While there was a serious lack of design in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, one of the worst choices for Oscar for Best Film in Oscar history, Monkey Man has at its heart a physical and moral entanglement, involving a sadistic police chief, a luxury brothel that serves as home to both fornication and power, and a ragged young man who seeks to atone for the death of his mother through the most savage forms of violence.

Monkey Man is also set in a slum overrun by gambling and fights, with Patel earning a few rupees as an underground bare fist fighter wearing a crude monkey mask. With its colors and the camera’s handling of Bombay’s chaos, the movie has echoes of Brazil’s City of God.

Image from the movie 'Monkey Man.'
Image from the movie ‘Monkey Man.’Universal Pictures

A comparison can also easily be made with the John Wick saga, which has revolutionized commercial action and martial arts cinema in the past 10 years. Patel even mentions John Wick in one on-screen exchange. Yet, despite the similarities, the staging and editing of their spectacular fight sequences set them apart. In the four installments of the John Wick movies starring Keanu Reeves, the choreography regarding the confrontations is developed through a paradoxically harmonious staging of continuity, with general shots extended in time. The dynamics of their contenders and their movements are visualized with hardly any editing, almost like a classic fifties musical but instead of dances, there is physical destruction.

The action in Monkey Man, on the other hand, is not one of continuity, but of rupture. The cuts are incessant and move at an unrestrained pace; the shots come in quick succession, with barely a second or two between them. Patel’s handling of cinematic language is brutal. For a novice director, he displays a dazzling energy, cadence and expressiveness. This is demonstrated by three of the only four fights in the ring, each one based on a dynamic sense of space and narrative. The first is defined by the close-up shot, with the camera directed at the waist of the opponents or even lower — giving the viewers a sense of overwhelming closeness. The second offers a very different vision of the fight, which is both more poetic and exquisite. And the third uses surprise as the main exponent, and is raw and concise.

With rough textures, contrasting colors and ochre photography, reflecting the social mud in which most of the characters are stuck, Monkey Man only slips off kilter in the second half, when the Hindu demigod, Hanuman, assumes the tragic halo that envelops the protagonist. Although it gives him authenticity with respect to his lineage, the visualization is tinged with a somewhat tiresome messianic muddle of lyrical ambition.

Monkey Man

Director: Dev Patel.

Cast: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Sobhita Dhuliwala.

Genre: Action. United States, 2024.

Duration: 121 minutes

Release date: April 12.


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