The Availability Heuristic, Green Tees & Decision Making

In a study, participants listen to either:

A list of 19 famous women and 20 less famous men

A list of 20 famous men and 19 less famous woman

Afterwards, some were asked to recall the names they could remember, and then if the list they had heard contained more men or women.

Unsurprisingly, the famous names were more readily recalled; but, interestingly, the vast majority of participants then incorrectly assumed that the gender of the more famous people were the majority gender in the list they heard.

This is an example of the Availability Heuristic.

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Denominator Neglect: What You Need to Know

Picture two urns stood on a table in front of you.

You’re given the opportunity to pick a marble from one of them, and drawing a red marble wins a prize.

The first urn has 10 marbles in it, 1 of which is red.

The second urn has 100 marbles in it, 8 of which are red.

Which urn would you choose? It doesn’t seem a tricky decision: your chances of drawing a red marble out of the first urn are greater (10%) than your chances of drawing a red marble out of the second urn (8%).

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Kirtag – a weekend wine festival in Vienna

Every summer, the wine producers in the 19th district of Vienna celebrate their harvest. It’s a quiet suburban place; they don’t get much business over the year. But, in late August, they flog it all with a large, happy wine festival. The wine producers are the heurigen – wide, stone faced buildings with a charming alpine feel.

The streets are buzzing. Thousands of people are walking about in lederhosen and dirndl. But it’s not cramped or uncomfortable. I had comparisons with Oktoberfest in mind, but this is different. It’s calm, happy, and family friendly. Or so I thought, at least, on the streets outside the heurigen, where people exchange heart shaped gingerbread biscuits, and children have their faces painted, and couples sit on benches eating schnitzel. Inside the heurigen is a different story. These large buildings are the centre of it all – and where the moods escalates out of a sleepy Viennese suburb, to a raucous Austrian drinking party.

I walk through the large wooden doors, and into a courtyard. Ahead there is a long, stone-floored garden, with bushes, little trees and walls giving it shape. It’s 5pm and there are hundreds of people. In the corner, a group of old men are arm in arm belting out an old Austrian song, accompanied by an accordion. In the centre people are crowding, dancing, moving around endlessly whilst people hustle by with trays of wine and wiener schnitzel. One young man is heroically cradling six bottles of wine through the hurly.

I follow the group to the table at the back of the garden, at the top of the incline – and by our table are grape vines, thick and green, rolling off into woods at the top of the hill. We sit down for all of five minutes, and then the Austrians are up.

We dart back through the crowd to get the stuff we’re here for. Inside, there are counters selling hot schnitzels and kartoffelsalat (authentic potato salad), and another one selling wine. I sidestep the schnitzels and head to the wine.

‘Zwei weisser spritzer, bitte,’ I say, in fractured German.

Behind the counter is a maidenly old lady in dirndl. She looks as bemused as I do.

She comes back with little glass tankards filled with white wine and soda water. This is not what we want at all.

After some hand waving and help from a nice Austrian chap, we land ourselves a collection of bottles – some with soda, some with the local wine.

Back at the table, we merrily chink our glasses and start drinking the fizz. The Austrians drink quickly.

The concoction is light, refreshing, and the soda takes the edge off what would be, otherwise, a harsh wine. Don’t forget – the wine is very new, and made all of five metres from where you’re sitting.

It is supposedly drunk with soda to keep you hydrated in the sun – and also because necking barely chilled, young wine in 35 degrees isn’t fun for anyone.

After a few hours, when the sun has settled below the horing roofs, people begin to head in for schnitzels. Soon every table smells of crisp, fried breadcrumbs and vinegary potato salad. I’ve had many schnitzels, and its variants; but nothing comes close to these. They’re thin, and crispy, and the crust has bobbled off the meat – apparently an indicator of quality.

Revived, we head into the next stage of Kirtag. It’s about 8pm, and the 50:50 wine-soda ratio is ignored. People are pushing the soda to one end of the table, and slurping the wine quickly, chinking glasses and demanding a comrade.

And, then, more schnitzels, and we head outside around 11pm. All the men buy gingerbread hearts for their loved ones, and the first-timers, customarily, have to get a tattoo spray painted on. We head down the dark, cobbled street, and off into Vienna to continue the festivities.

And that is it, until the same thing happens on Saturday, and Sunday, if you are so inclined.

 It was a great long weekend. Importantly, I didn’t queue for the food, I didn’t queue for a drink. The litre of wine is 15£ – the schnitzel and kartoferlsalat £10. This event can be whatever you desire; there are grandparents and children waltzing in the streets, and there are riotous men and women of every age getting squiffy in the sun. But, if you fancy a bit of both, and some amazing food, in an inexpensive, authentic, and unspoilt place, I can think of no better way to spend a long weekend in August.


Catalogue Essay for JGM Gallery, Art of the Ömie.

There is nothing quite like these barkcloths anywhere in the world. What differentiates the Ömie nioge from Pacific and South American barkcloth is the simplicity of its creation: Ömie women work individually, and only by hand. The lines wobble and weave along the uneven, untreated surface, and avoid symmetry or mimesis; but the Ömie aren’t interested in contriving their art. Their art reflects nature in its freeness, and in its composition. Everything used in the making of nioge comes from nature. There is an integrity to nature in this work.

In 2004, David Baker came across the barkcloths while exploring the isolated regions of Papua New Guinea. Since then, Ömie have exhibited their work in galleries in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and San Francisco. In 2010, the first exhibition came to the Osborne Samuel gallery in London, and then, in 2013, the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, which took its collection from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Among this collection is the work of Brenda Kesi, whose nioge are rare and unique, coloured by the mud-dying techniques she learnt from her grandmother, replicating the first nioge created by the first woman, Sujo. We are privileged to have some of her work exhibited at JGM Gallery.

How Ömie Nioge Began

Along the south-eastern end of Papua New Guinea, between the Solomon and the Coral seas, lies the Ömie territory. The villages cling to an active volcano, Huvaemo, a nine hour walk from the nearest road. Ömie isolation, and proximity to nature, has allowed them to develop a unique vision of life. Nature and ancestral forces are their guide and teacher; they live on the same mountain that the first Ömie were created.

Think of the Christian creation story. Now imagine that Adam sends Eve into exile, and orders her to paint a picture as a symbol and manifestation of her wisdom, and ability to bear children. That’s what happens in the Ömie creation story. In short:
The first man, Mina, and first woman, Suja, emerge from the waters of the Girua River, which flows down from Huvaemo. Suja, whose name means ‘I do not know’, cannot have children, and Mina sends her away until her first menstrual cycle is over. He then tells her, when it does end, that she should create a nioge (barkcloth). She cuts into the first tree, and creates the first barkcloth. She soaks it in red river mud to symbolise her blood, and her ability to bear children. The couple reunite, cut the barkcloth in two, and each wear a piece to cover themselves.


The importance of nioge seems apparent: Suja can bear children, and so she makes a nioge to symbolise her fertility.

But there is more going on here. It is suggested that Suja can only create nioge once she has grown out of her ignorance; it seems that the nioge is more than a symbol of fertility, and, in fact, a manifestation of wisdom. It is as if the creation of art reflects the creation of life.

And that is why, even today, only Ömie women are allowed to create nioge. It takes some training for a woman to be allowed to create nioge. Until a woman reaches that stage, she is allowed to practice her art by filling in the red and yellow paint between the black lines of the work. The black lines cannot be touched. They are the pathways, the essence, the energy and wisdom of the art, and a woman must be initiated as an artist before she can create the pathways. That such importance is placed on the training, and the wisdom, of these women is testament to the value the Ömie place on the artist, and their process.

The Process

It starts as a duvahe (chief) selects a tree from which to make the nioge. The chiefs are selected on merit, not birthright; one critical requirement is that the chief is deemed to possess uehorëro (wisdom), and understand the symbolic practices that govern the creation of nioge, which include a collection of rituals, rules, and magic cumulatively called jögore. It is the jögore that gives the nioge its spirit, or kinë’i. I use the word spirit cautiously, for our language is inadequate to describe things we do not culturally understand.

The selected trees are most commonly paper mulberry, fig, or hibiscus. Once a tree is chosen, the woman positions herself towards a stream coming off the mountain, then speaks words of ritual, and removes the outer bark from the tree. The incision runs from the top of the inner flesh, down to the bottom. From here, a long strip of bast, or inner bark, is produced.

The tree gives its ‘spirit’ to the infant nioge. The bast is then left to dry, and laid under sleeping mats for several nights to keep it flat. Then, it is beaten into a cloth using a hitaborota (flat stone), and then a kiveroi (broad mallet). During this process, the artist drips water on the cloth to stop it breaking.

There are three basic colours from which most nioge are made. The black paint is called barige, and is made from burnt leaves of omu hane (a small bamboo tree). The ash of these leaves is wrapped in tulif leaves, and chewed up, before being spat into the shell of a coconut. Sometimes, this black has a green hue. The shade is modified by the amount of fresh leaves that are included in the chewing process.

The red colour, called barire, is ingeniously procured. The skin of the biredihane tree, which grows by the rivers, is placed on ferns that line a bark container. Stones are heated in a fire, and added to the mixture, along with some ash. The fern lining is folded over to help to cook the mixture. Water is added, and the liquid turns red with the heat; the ferns are squeezed to release the paint. With varying applications of heat, the shade of red can be modified from a dark brown to oxblood.

The yellow colour, called are, is made from a guava-like fruit. It is green when young, and so has to ripen to the perfect shade of yellow. Then, it is cut open, and the flesh is scooped into a coconut shell. Water is added to make a paste, which is worked to make cadmium yellow.

From here, there are several directions for the progression of the art. Some artists have designs handed down to them by their family. Meanwhile, the duvahe are allowed to paint out their own uehorëro (wisdom), and visions. The men will contribute stories to the women, but it is up to the initiated women to interpret them, which they can do freely. The Ömie emphasis on interpretation reflects a certain openness, a freeness of mind, and an understanding of the importance of the individual – the artist – and what they see, rather than what they are prescribed. It leads to a more natural, open, and honest form of art that can be seen in every nioge, none of which are the same. This interpretative stance allows for one story to result in many different styles and forms, which again highlights something of Ömie wisdom – perhaps, that no one view can be deemed ‘right’, and no one deemed ‘wrong’.

The artist starts with the black paint. She holds a sharp stick between her first and third finger, and dips it into the mixture. She usually starts with the frame, lines of two or three, and then the ore sige (pathways), which vary in density and thickness, giving the life-force to the nioge. However, there is no prescribed rule for the order of painting. Some artists move methodically from one corner across the cloth, whilst others have several starting points, and move freely between them, letting the pathways meet. When the artists paint, they sing and dance, offering ritual to the proceedings, and a special kind of ancestral homage that awakens the art. When they sing, they sing ‘This place, our art’.

Ömie then, Ömie now

It has not been an easy recent history for the Ömie. That is why the rituals are so important; they have become increasingly sparse over the last century.

In 1942, war between the Australians and Japanese broke out on the Kokoda trail, causing devastation and loss of life to the Ömie people. That same year, an Australian patrol drove deep into Ömie territory, hoping to recruit labour for the war. When they entered, they interrupted a special Ömie tradition, which took place every seven to twelve years, known as sore bijiohe. Young boys were kept in underground cells for months at a time, before they were tattooed to signify and announce their manhood. The patrol halted the ritual, and the tradition started to break up with the ever progressing influence of Christian missionaries. The missionaries burnt nioge. Then, in January 1951, Mount Lamington erupted. Many of the Ömie, especially the lower villages near the abandoned airport in Asapa, believed that this was a sign from their ancestors, who reside in an invisible village on the volcano. They believed it was a sign that the old ways were being lost. Many of these villages gave up nioge creation, and sore bijiohe, and decided to join their Orokaivan neighbours, with whom they had previously warred, by adopting the evangelical teachings of the missions, in the hope that they would find monetary wealth. Marta Rohatynskyj, who worked in some of the areas that abandoned traditional practices, describes how she heard reports of ‘mass burnings of ritual paraphernalia’, and that the Ömie ‘literally gave themselves up to another configuration of power in the control of their lives’.

Meanwhile, the villages further up the mountain, and therefore less accessible to tahua (white people), felt differently about the eruption. They believed that it was caused by the wandering spirits of foreign soldiers, who could not rest because they had died on a land that was not their home. These villages strengthened their traditions, and decided to double up and use the nioge as a kind of second skin on which they could rekindle the tattoos that had once signified so much to them.

It is worth noting that the nioge you see here are not simply husks of tradition, or vain attempts to appease some ancestral spirit; this is the living culture of the Ömie people, an art that marks their vision of life. It is a beautiful vision, and one that, in many ways, we have moved far away from, as our society spends less time with nature; but in the pathways, in the lines and colours and shapes, we can hope to glimpse something of the world that transcends language or culture, to reach something essentially human.

The Art

“I paint from my observations of the mountains and forests and creatures. Dreams give me inspiration…”

  • Dapeni Jonevari (Mokokari), Chief of Ematé clan women.

Jennifer has selected a wide range of artists for this exhibition, each displaying different styles and techniques, echoing the freedom with which they work. While all artists take ‘observations’ from the natural world, their visions are unique and personal. They observe nature, and learn what it has to say. From this source, the artists reveal little truths, patterns, and ways of envisioning life, and the natural world.


Men’s Ceremonial Initiation Tattoo

In some cases, this patterning is profound and dense. In Dapeni Jonevari’s piece, ‘Men’s Ceremonial Initiation Tattoo [Heads of men (with pattern of a leaf, jungle vines, siha’e fruit design of the belly button) and Ömie mountains]’, we have such an example. The minute details of the vines, and the tendrils that wave in untouched, negative space, give the barkcloth a rhythm and a motion. Ilma Savari offers a similarly dense detailing of nature in her work ‘Design of the bush snail, design of the bellybutton, spots of the wood boring grub, tattoos and beaks of the parrot’. But when you step back, and look at the piece in its entirety, the details amount to striking patterns. The energetic, zigzagging black and white triangles offer varying suggestions of depth as they spread from the centre to the corners of the bark.


In other cases, the patterning is less dense, and more abstract. Ilma Savari offers such a piece, demonstrating her range of styles, in ‘Tail feathers of the swift when sitting in the tree’. Here she uses thick, bold strips of black. The tail feathers of the swift are but the bones of inspiration – if we did not have the title, it is unlikely we would recognise the subject of the piece. While the subject is literally a tail feather, it seems that the artist is offering us a more broad comprehension of the pattern and unity of nature. The bold strips, which resemble the arching form of a swift’s tail, form into triangles, and the triangles form parts of larger triangles, and so on. The piece, as interested as it is in swift’s tails, is more about the artist’s ability, and vision to take the shapes of nature into a powerful, yet reticent, piece of work.


Tail feathers of the swift when sitting in the tree


Brenda Kesi is perhaps the most renown for bold designs. We have on display several of her rare mud canvases: we have three named ‘Ancestral Design of the Mud’, a homage to Suja’s first nioge, which was dyed by being soaked in mud. These three pieces are unified by the small squares and rectangles that are laid over the bark, stitched in with 


Ancestral Design of the Mud

the wing bone of a flying fox. One piece is a black background with white squares; one a white background with black squares; one a mud-red background with white squares. That Brenda Kesi has made designs of mud, without using mud in some instances, demonstrates the figurativeness in which the Ömie operate. She has interpreted the creation story, Suja’s first nioge, and how the mud relates to it. In the piece that actually has been soaked in mud, the overlaid white squares are generally smaller, and spaced further apart, than the others, as if to give some importance to the mud; the white squares, as they pop out and draw the eye, seem also to fade into the murky waters around.

Brenda Kesi’s design, ‘The Ground-burrowing Spider’, has one large, black spot in the middle of the bark, with thick black lines radiating out from it, like spider’s legs, or a spider’s web. The piece is incredibly familiar to my eye; it looks like something I’ve seen before, like something incredibly natural to do with a piece of paper and a pen. I think, in this, we reach something quite interesting about all the pieces – as strange as much of this work can appear, there is something quietly familiar in all of them.

As much as we could seek to understand in this art, whether it seems busy and in need of inspection, or abstract and in need of thought, there is a reticence in all of them. The beauty of these pieces is in their quiet energy, and the rhythm they create. The works are all complete and unified within. That is why nioge do not separate easily into foreground or background elements. Each piece deserves a holistic view; they are, after all, created through a holistic relationship with life and nature.

Through their art, the Ömie are offering us their perspective of the world. It is a perspective that seems at once strange, and yet so familiar. The art is borne from the essential human desire to know and understand life; the art itself echoes that, and in the wisdom they espouse, and the rhythms they create, there is something beautiful and powerful that reminds us that, although countries and cultures divide us, we are not so different after all.

I do not believe in the vain application of poetry. But I think that this art reverberates with something that the great Romantic poets half-understood, half revealed and tried to reflect in their poetry. As Wordsworth writes, as he recalls the power of nature in tranquility:


                                                     I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods

And mountains

– Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, William Wordsworth

Whereas Wordsworth can only trace strands of this phenomenon, of the spirit of nature and humanity in words, the Ömie achieve the thing itself. These pieces of art, borne from nature, crafted through nature and the language of wisdom, hold an energy and a power that can help us, too, see into the life of things.

See the gallery page here.

Review – Flora Goodwin’s exhibition, unnamed

Flora Goodwin’s show is striking for a number of reasons. Firstly, the exhibition has no name – she states, ‘I feel strongly that I do not want to put these artists under one umbrella hence there is no title for the exhibition’. Despite the fact that the artists on display are all female, mostly British, and people that Flora ‘has known and collected for a long time’, there is no theme to the work, or at least none stamped upon them with a name. That reservation is telling, and all too rare a thing; there is often much made of the artist’s story, the fact that they may, or may not be, female or male, that we lose touch, even if minutely, with the art itself. This is art Flora admires, and it just so happens that the artists are all female, and predominantly British. More so than most, Flora had good reason to label the exhibition, but her desire to refrain is interesting, because it puts the art first. This inverts most gallery styles, in which the focus is placed on the artists; and even when a gallery starts the story with the artwork, and then finds a common theme in the artists, it is that theme that presides, takes the title, and inevitably canopies our interpretation of the work.

Secondly, Flora distinguishes her exhibition from others in her setting – her apartment. This ‘domestic setting’, as she calls it, is ‘where the restraints imposed by a gallery context dissolve’. Galleries are intimidating places, especially for the uninitiated. Usually echoey white rooms, full of silence and shuffling feet, art galleries often create a kind of distance between the viewer and the artwork. Having them at home means you can sit, have a coffee, and just soak in the art; and, as a result, you get to see new things, new meanings and suggestions in each work. Most importantly, you get to experience what it would be like to live with this piece of art. Any piece you buy will be with you for many years, you hope; it seems to make sense that you test run it in a home environment, where you walk and sit and drink, talk and shuffle, glimpse and gaze, forget and return; that’s how you’re going to find a piece worth the commitment.

There were eight artists on display, showcasing fourteen pieces in total. It is just as well no name was given to this exhibition, because there isn’t really a unifying theme. But all the pieces are beautiful in their own right.

Alba Hodsoll’s work is colourful, offering clear lines, and nothing clear in the subject. It is all suggestion. ‘You know you’re looking at a body part,’ assistant Ayesha Shand says to me, ‘but you’re not really sure what’. There’s something sensual, familiar, and tactile about the pieces. You never feel threatened or teased out of thought – the work is simply lovely. The artist takes familiar outlines, shapes – mere suggestions of flesh, more the essence than the thing itself, and distills and disrupts, making you gaze with wonder, and think with the wordlessness that makes truth feel closer.

Katya Lewis’s work is less colourful, and one step further into abstraction. One piece, A tiny try (fails/ falls), I was told, was a meditation on memory. There’s something vaguely ethereal about it, almost bruised, with light brush strokes and a paled palette. Her other piece, Cover, covered, is, as the name suggests, full of layers. Here, there is beauty in the depth, or idea of depth; the deepest layers sometimes come to the front with detail and texture, and then fall away to the shadowy outlines you gaze through.

Lydia Gifford’s work is a perpetual play with texture. Her piece, Landing (VII), is again full of layers; over the creamy canvas a piece of muslin has been draped, and then, at the bottom, picked up and pinned in a small peak. There are suggestions of hand marks, of brush swishes,  and patters all across the painting. You feel the role of the artist is coming into play, and, as Flora says, her ‘work grows from an inquiry into the physicality of painting’. The line between painting and sculpture is questioned, if not crossed; and the works ‘takes on sculptural volumes’.

I have never experienced an exhibition quite like this one. I think there is something to be learnt from Flora’s curation; the art is more important than any theme you could hope to shackle the pieces together with, and the home is, perhaps, the best place to display art, whether you hope to sell it, or just to admire it.


Published also in Arteviste, here.

How to enjoy The Cinque Terre

The towns of the Cinque Terre are beautiful to look at, but horrible to be in.

In Riomaggiore, the southern most village, you get off the train with a few hundred Americans and walk below the tracks to the high street, along which are little shops that serve bad and expensive food. There are billboards with pictures of Greek-looking pizza. You can smell tinned olives and dried up oregano. One shop is playing a loud Justin Bieber song. Waiters stand on the streets and wait for people to grab.

The towns get better as you go north, climbing to Corniglia, a mid point rather than a destination, and then on to Vernazza; but then you reach Monterosso, which is the worst of all. The train track is twenty metres from the sea and it follows the length of the town so that there is no escape from the rattling trains. On the thin beach are more bad restaurants that serve frozen pizzas, and iceberg salad with bottled Heinz dressing.

In the Cinque Terre you must walk, and not stop walking. That is the sole purpose of this place. But it is easy to assume that the towns will be quaint and beautiful and worth some coffee-time – as I did on my arrival. Save yourself the trouble, and leave the towns behind.

The good news is that the towns stop abruptly. You pass the last building, and the last wall, and then you’re out. The walk is beautiful. The traverse holds close to the sea, and you always have that breeze and freshness that makes even mid-August jaunts a possibility.

There are no dull bits. Whether you are at the top of the hill or climbing down does not matter because it is all beautiful; the cliffs move in and out to create headlands and coves so that you are always looking at something interesting.

The paths are not challenging, and although many of the passers by wear Northface and Solomon shoes with climbing poles and zealous little backpacks with water tubes, you can do it in a pair of trainers. The entire path is about twenty miles, and can be done in one day, or split up with a night in the middle of the walk. Vernazza or Corniglia are best. Make sure you eat Pesto in the Cinque Terre.


American Honey

“I’m not going to make an apology for the length. I don’t even mind if people go to the toilet in the middle of it. It’s fine’.

It’s true, you could walk out for five minutes and not be any worse off. There isn’t really a plot. You would struggle to piece together a beginning, middle, and end, because it all blurs into one long journey, a journey that, far from thinking was too long, I never wanted to finish.

Read more – (Arteviste – Official Publication)

Cafe Society

– ‘I can’t imagine being larger than life’

– ‘Sure, it’d be fun for a while. I think I’d be happier being life size’.

This is a film that will challenge you, but in the Woody Allen sort of way. It’s light-hearted and self-effacing, but I doubt you’ll laugh out loud; the humour is taciturn, and always curbing the edge of something sadder – something you cannot quite put your finger on. The film opens with a black tie party, filtered through a sleek blue light. It’s quite Luhrmann’s Gatsby in feel. But whereas Gatsby slides off discreetly to take a phone call, Phillip Stern makes an announcement to the group: ‘I’m expecting a call from Ginger Rogers’. From the outset, expectations are formed about what kind of film it is, and what kind of world it’s showing us: Hollywood and all its beautiful and damned.

… Read more at (Arteviste – Official Publication)