Art

Art and Grief, a Legacy of Loss

As human beings, we share certain experiences. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve experienced the deep and profound heartbreak that comes with losing that life. They become part of your daily rituals, from feeding them in the morning to cuddling up at night. They rely on you to tend to their needs, and they love you unconditionally for it. No matter what you go through, who hurts you or how you self-destruct, pets are there for you. This month, I’ve lost not one, but two animal companions, including my best childhood friend, Paco. Since I was 12 years old, Paco has been with me for every trial and tribulation that comes with growing up. He was there for sleepovers with friends and giggly adolescent parties, and he was there when I cried over teenage spats and family feuds. He comforted me through intense medical treatments and saw me through countless heartaches. For 16 years, he left his mark on every article of clothing I owned and every piece of furniture in my family’s home. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me Saturday morning, plucking his hair off a sweater that hadn’t seen daylight since last winter, knowing I wouldn’t be doing it again.

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This January has been full of grief, from mourning a lifelong hero, navigating the illness and death of one pet, to coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of another. I’m not proud to admit that it’s effected my productivity–sleepless nights and mornings spent bargaining one’s way out of bed doesn’t lend itself well to getting things done. But that can only go on for so long. Grief needs to be experienced, but then it needs to be worked through and dispersed.

As an artist, I’ve always processed my emotions through projects–paintings, drawings, essays. John Lydon has said that anger was his primary driving source, Yayoi Kusama painted to stave off mental illness. It’s a common experience amongst artists: no matter your medium, you work through your feelings by producing work. So many amazing works of art have been made as a response to grief–Francis Bacon painted several tributes to his lover George Dyer after his 1971 suicide, and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (among so many other artists) worked through the grief of wartime by creating truly profound pieces. Barthes wrote his classic essay, Camera Lucida, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, and it contains some mindblowing, heartwrenching thoughts on mortality and its inherent role in art. On some level, I think death is a driving motivation behind all artistic pursuits: the artist creates work to fight against his or her own mortality, unsatisfied with a life that leaves nothing living in its wake.

Julia, marked, in 19-something

 

 

In the days since these personal tragedies, I’ve dived headfirst into my work. I’ve sought catharsis in ink and paper, writing new words, working in new media. For some, the imagery of my recent experiments will be perfectly obvious. They’re not a “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” but it’s the beginning of something, some way to understand the role of these lost lives through the kaleidoscopic lens of my own artistic journey. If we are the sum of our collective experience, then the individuals and ideas that impress themselves upon you are also part of that equation. And lately, my work as been entirely about exploring that link been identity and influence. Last year, that mostly meant pouring through photo albums, briefly peering into the lives of anonymous relatives, tied to me only through blood and universal experiences: labour, laughter, love…

Love, circa 19-Something

 

The pain of loss never really leaves us entirely–ten, twenty, forty years from now, we’ll still feel pangs of grief recalling beloved pets, departed family, friends that left too soon. But rather than losing time, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, use the memories as fuel for the creative fire. The death of someone close is absolute agony, but there is no greater heartbreak than a life gone unlived. Feel your sadness, grieve your losses, but process the pain into something positive. You can’t control when your time is up, but you can construct the legacy you leave. Let’s make this one count…

Self Portrait, Two Decades Removed

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Music

Look Up Here, I’m in Heaven: Mourning David Bowie, the New York Vigil

The chorus of Manson’s “Heart-Shaped Glasses” jarred me awake just after 3AM. My phone was ringing for the second time that night–it was my sister. With one eye open, I flicked the silencer and put it back on the nightstand. I hadn’t seen the flood of text messages that was coming in, nor the countless Facebook messages and tags I had gotten. I went back to sleep like nothing had happened.

Roses for Bowie

“I’m so sorry.” It was 8AM, and my boyfriend woke me up. “It’s really bad news.” I ran down a mental list of what could have happened, bracing myself for the worst–cancelled plans, a sold-out tour, a family emergency. The death of a lifelong idol and role model never even crossed my mind. Even when I heard the news that David Bowie had passed away, it seemed unreal–his 69th birthday was days ago, he had released a brand new album and two music videos. He had never felt more alive to me than he had just days before, while I listened to Blackstar, pulling apart lyrics to analyze the occult themes and esoteric influences. It was all impossible.

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I have never been one for idol worship. I’ve never imagined myself weeping at news of a celebrity death, but there I was, laying in bed, tearing up about the passing of a man I had never met. David Bowie and I had never shared more than New York airspace, but he had touched so much in my life. If ever there had been a model for the phoenician cycle of rebirth and reinvention that I live by, it was David Bowie. From humble beginnings as a soulful saxophone player, Bowie reimagined himself as a junky astronaut, an alien messiah, a decadent schizophrenic, and a hard-edged romantic. So many identities came and went over his career, heralding new musical styles, total image overhauls, and driving philosophies, that it’s sometimes difficult to think of Bowie as a singular entity. That doesn’t even account for his film characters–the Man Who Fell to Earth recently experienced new life in the off-Broadway Lazarus, and his infamous Goblin King set my nearly-unreachable standards for romance in Labyrinth. In fact, the news of Bowie’s death felt like the final nail in the coffin for my childhood.

Thanks for making my childhood...

Staring at my ceiling this morning, it seemed ironic that Bowie’s last single was “Lazarus” (“Look up here, I’m in Heaven!/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now/Look up here, man, I’m in danger”). In fact, Blackstar as a whole is laced with references to mortality and resurrection, spoken both plainly in vernacular and in the language of master magicians and occultists. It’s a common phenomenon to turn to religion at the end of life, and it seems Bowie was no exception in his own way–the esoteric album was specifically planned to coincide with the end of his life. The release of “Lazarus” was a very particular choice.

Idol Worship

While the a world without Bowie is difficult for my millennial brain to comprehend, the post-Bowie world is richer for the legacy he leaves. From glam to goth, David Bowie had his hands in everything. I can’t think of a single musical artist I admire who would not count him among their top influences. His finger was perpetually on the pulse of popular culture–the drug-addled space man of the 60’s, the bisexual, androgynous alien saviour of the 70’s, the global superpower of the 80’s, and now, the catacomb saint resurrected.

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This evening, my sister and I stood on Lafayette Street waiting to pay tribute to our fallen idol, clutching cameras with frozen fingers and shivering as much with emotion as cold. Strangers were crowded around the block, and I was struck by the variety of people around me–a young couple in front of us touched hands as they snapped pictures of the line on their phones, while a man behind us rubbed tearing eyes while he stared at the glitter-strewn sidewalk. A middle-aged woman in a puffy purple coat held a massive bouquet of magenta roses, and her friend carried a moon-shaped sign to lay on the pile. This afternoon, I saw newscasters and photographers buzz about to capture tourists in parkas and soccer-moms with their stacked bobs laying bouquets of pastel flowers against the wall. Flamboyant, lite-brite expressionists and conservative, steel-faced professionals alike contemplated the sprawl of prayer candles and memorial portraits with a shared sense of gravity while I snapped photos on black and white film on an antique camera. Now, somewhere down the block, “Space Oddity” played out and the crowd sang in unison, clapping together to punctuate the music: nothing unified these people except Bowie–he had touched their lives, changed their personal histories, and here they gathered to mourn their rock and roll saviour.

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It seems impossible that Bowie is gone–he is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary musical minds of our time. But I can’t bring myself to join in the chorus of “rest in peace,” not because I don’t want the best for his soul, his family, his legacy, but because he was so prolific, so varied and far-reaching that I can’t help but pray for perpetual, prolonged exposure. Blackstar is fresh in the public eye, its singles still running the circuits. They’ve still got a ways to go. They still have work to do. Surely, such a driven, ambitious spirit won’t retire simply because the body that contained it for 69 years has expired. It will find a way to endure.

Tribute

–and so I leave you with that spirit’s latest expression, David Bowie’s final video, the truly genius, utterly heartbreaking, remarkably profound “Lazarus.” Godspeed, Bowie–you really are free.

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Cosmetics

Rouge Bunny Rouge: Your Fairytale Face

Rouge Bunny Rouge

The Makeup Show is like Christmas for makeup artists and bloggers–sure, IMATS draws some big name brands and personalities, but nothing beats the Makeup Show for specials and workshops. It’s an event that finds many people ticking off days, counting down their calendars. This year, I was particularly excited because their vendor list included Rouge Bunny Rouge.

If you haven’t seen Rouge Bunny Rouge’s picturesque packaging on Pinterest or their glowing, ethereal products on Instagram, allow me to be the first to praise their branding. Their graphic white-on-black boxes and sleeves feature beautiful botanical designs, and their products are stamped with bold black or white silhouettes, further referencing their fairy tale, enchanted forest theme. They had me hooked with packaging alone. But the Russia-based brand didn’t become the darling of bloggers by packaging alone. Their products could come in newsprint and they would be just as spectacular.

Rouge Bunny Rouge Packaging

I was particularly excited to play with their products in person before purchasing. I arrived at the show just after opening to assure I could touch and feel without interruption–a good plan, considering I monopolized the table for close to half an hour. When a foundation runs for $60 and a pan of eyeshadow fetches $19, you want to get as much playtime in as possible. By the time I left the table, I had accumulated products for nearly every feature on my face and all I wanted to do was go home and play some more.

Raw Garden Palette in Chronos

I’ve eyeballed the Raw Garden palette since I first saw it on Instagram, but just couldn’t justify the price tag, let alone the international shipping charge on top of it. As soon as I saw the vendor list, this palette danced back into my head. The five hummingbird-emblazoned shades inside are exclusive to the palette, ranging from pale neutral to smoked navy, all in shimmering metallic finishes. It really is better suited to dramatic, smokey looks, which I don’t wear often, but with such beautiful packaging and jewel-box colours, it’s perfect for making special occasions even more special.

Rain Dove, Rufous-Tailed Weaver, Abyssinian Catbird

I have a habit of buying the same eyeshadow colours over and over again, which is why I was drawn like a moth to flame towards Abyssinian Catbird. It’s exactly the shade of metallic antique gold that I live for, in the most buttery, rich formula I’ve ever felt in a powder shadow. I also fell head-over-heels for the opalescent blush-taupe of Rain Dove, which really is the perfect all-over lid colour, and Rufous-Tailed Weaver, which is somewhere in between as a shimmering golden-taupe.

Milk Aquarelle in Almond Milk

The textures are absolutely beautiful. Each and every product is impossibly soft and creamy, making them some of the most blendable, skin-friendly products I’ve ever used. The Milk Aquarelle foundation is surprisingly fluid, truly milky, so a little goes a long way. It gives a soft, velvety radiance to the skin.

Relish of Heaven

Rouge Bunny Rouge Relish of Heaven

And lipstick. Oh, lipstick. I really, truly love lipstick, so when I saw the Succulence of Dew lipstick in Relish of Heaven, I knew I wasn’t leaving the table without it. Despite being labeled a “sheer” shade, the colour is so bright and alive on the lips that you’d never know. The light shimmer in the formula makes the bright orange-coral appears wet and glossy, which I prefer to a matte especially going into summer. I don’t normally include multiple product photos when they’re so similar, but that shimmer!!

Velvet Fritillery

While a cream shadow like their Silk Aether isn’t something I’d normally pick up, I was able to select a shade as a free gift on a show special. Velvet Fritillary is a taupey grey khaki that I thought would make a great base for a soft, romantic smokey look. Another light-as-air, moussey formula that spreads easily and layers well. They recommend using a fluffy brush to blend it out, but using a finger will provide more coverage.

Luxury cosmetics often come at a price, and I’m not talking about the money–most high-end brands I’ve worked with aren’t exactly vegan friendly, and can be owned by parent companies who still conduct animal testing. I was absolutely thrilled to find that Rouge Bunny Rouge is 100% cruelty-free–they do not conduct animal testing on their products or ingredients, source from suppliers who share their philosophies, and do not sell on the Chinese market where animal testing is mandatory. Most of their products also appear to be vegan-friendly.

Rouge Bunny Rouge Raw Garden Look

In this look, I layered colours from the Raw Garden palette over a base coat of Velvet Fritillary. I used the violet shade on the lid, blending the olive-gold into the outer corners, rose-gold into the crease, and highlighted the inner corners and brow bone with the champagne shade.

Rouge Bunny Rouge Raw Garden Look

Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled with Rouge Bunny Rouge. Their products are stunning, perform beautifully, and I can feel good about loving them with their animal-friendly philosophies. After all, a company that aims to make you into the fairy-tale princess you’ve always longed to be should be kind to all the woodland creatures (and domestic, and jungle, and ocean, and–)…

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Day in Pictures

Wood Nymphs and Centipede Kings, Exploring the Watchung Reservation

Sometimes, we all just need to breathe. Schedules get cramped; time slips past; places get too familiar. After more than a week inside, quarantined for a virus that drained me of absolutely everything, I was restless and distressed. All of my plans and ambitions had been sucked away, leaving me helpless and confused and sick both inside and out. As soon as my body was strong enough, I wanted to bolt. Armed with my Nikon and a kindred adventurous spirit, I marched out to blaze unfamiliar trails in the Watchung Reservation.

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I’ve never been “that girl,” with her eye glued to the viewfinder of a camera, stopping every other minute to compose a shot or snap a picture–until, that is, I fell in love with a 30-year-old Nikon. Now, it’s rare that the hulking metal contraption isn’t stowed away in my purse, wound and ready to expose a frame. It wasn’t until a week ago that I swapped it out for a newer piece of photo technology, since this semester brings digital challenges my way.

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After a week of painted walls and electric lighting, cough syrup and sugar-coated pain killers, being surrounded by lush green foliage and bright blue sky was a welcome change. Filling my lungs with fresh, fragrant air was better than any steroid or antibiotic imaginable. Though certain uphill hikes left me breathless and electrified, it was well worth the effort and endurance to sweat out whatever sickness lingered inside me. It was purifying.

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When you’re deep in the woods, surrounded by the smells of sweet green leaves and damp earth, listening to the music of running water and birds in flight, it’s easy to let go of daily human troubles. We walked together for over an hour into the woods, never once spotting another human being–we began to fashion ourselves as wood nymphs, water sprites, creatures all together different from the human beings we posed as day to day. We were present, connected to the chipmunks, rabbits, birds, and centipedes who crossed our path.

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I am so lucky to live so close to this remarkable patch of nature. In a world where urban sprawl is slowly closing in, where my day is dictated by traffic and transit times, where animals are so unafraid of roadways and travelers, it’s wonderful to have a place like this to get away to, whenever I want. Just a few feet down the path and that world melts away–gone are the highways and the schedules and perils of modern life. All that is left is the wild expanse of wood, green leaves, and water.

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Aesthetics

An Ode to my Nikon FG

Sometimes, it feels like centuries since I was growing up–not so much in the passage of time, but in the way things were done. Waiting for a phone call meant circling the kitchen for hours on end, possibly toting the boxy cordless down the hall and back for as long as it didn’t ring. Recording a school show or family holiday required a giant contraption that only my father was equipped to handle, resulting in innumerable home movies that would make you seasick just to watch. Vacation photos needed to be taken to the local photo lab and picked up days later, shared with family at gatherings and holidays sometimes months after the actual trip had ended. We have boxes of seemingly ancient Kodak prints filed in flimsy plastic albums that came free at some of the nicer labs. Now,  I can instantly show the world which latte I ordered today or get instant feedback on which dress to buy. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think of how far we’ve progressed in just a handful of decades.

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My grandfather was something of a technological revolutionary, working on computers back when they were the size of entire buildings, so naturally he was the first person I knew to own a digital camera. For my 16th birthday, he gifted me with a boxy Hewlett-Packard point-and-shoot, equipped with one whole megapixel and then some, less than most phones come with now. At the time, it was a novelty. Rather than waiting a week or more to see evidence of the misadventures of my friends and classmates, we could view them instantly on the little LCD screen. If someone’s nose looked too big, or someone’s hair was blown unflatteringly, we could delete it and snap another. I could collect them on my hard drive, no physical clutter acquired. But then, in the Great Desktop Crash of ’04, I lost them all.

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I can’t blame that crash for the attitudes I developed towards photography afterwards. It was also the social conditioning that came with our march towards Instagram and Snapchat that led me to feel like photography was disposable, something trivial and without consequence. I never took cameras on vacations, choosing to write down my experiences or commit them to detailed, purposeful memory. The camera was cumbersome, and I would rather enjoy living in a moment than stopping to dig a recording device out of my purse, boot it up, and fiddle with the settings until I trusted it to capture the scene. When my last digital camera died in 2012, I never bothered to replace it.

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Then, I found my dad’s old Nikon. Specifically a Nikon FG, with a metal body and several glass lenses, heavier than any camera I’ve ever held before, with a vintage Mickey Mouse strap. Both the camera and the strap were an engagement gift from my mother, after months of researching stats and performance and consumer reports. Sitting forgotten in the basement for years, the battery had died and the roll of film inside had expired, but it was otherwise flawless. And now it was mine. Oddly, there’s something comforting about its weight, the way the aperture clicks into place, the heavy thunk of the curtain when the shutter is hit. Rather than simply capturing a moment, taking the picture becomes its own moment. Each photo documents not only what is in front of the lens, but the ritual that accompanies it: determining the aperture size, focussing the lens, checking the light meter, setting the shutter speed, hitting the shutter, advancing the film… The roll becomes a meditation, a series of practiced movements that produce a sense of oneness with the scene. A zen in which I am merely part of the setting, and the camera is the organ by which I can achieve it. Every exposure is precious, an experiment in light and form, waiting to be revealed when I wash away the excess silver.

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When I open the reel and look at the film for the first time, there’s an anxiety released with it. The negative images feel so alien, not at all like the images I thought I took, and sometimes even after printing I don’t remember the picture in front of me. It’s not exactly how my eye remembers it. But it’s almost always how my heart recalls it. A sense of placid calm, a dreamy anticipation, a distant sadness, these are the real subjects. More than any model or flower or mountain rage, the feelings we get from them are the reason to hit the shutter.

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Since my adventures with the Nikon, I’ve amassed an arsenal of old cameras: a Canon Rebel, a Minolta 110 Zoom, a reproduction Diana F+, each producing a totally different sort of image. But when I pack my bag for adventures unknown, it’s the Nikon that finds its way inside. Our love affair isn’t over yet, and despite the age gap between us, I suspect we have many years of tenderness before us. I might find myself out with another camera on occasion, but nothing has been able to replace the feeling I get with my Nikon in-hand.

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Luna, Metamorphosis

Chrysalis

It’s been a hard year. Everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed that 2012 was a difficult year. I live in an area that was greatly affected by Superstorm Sandy, much of which is still struggling to rebuild, both physically and emotionally. While my home was not greatly damaged, I feel like I lost a large portion of my strength in that storm and every day I pick up a few more pieces. Prior to Sandy, though, I battled illness, lost a dear friend, and found myself facing some of my deepest fears. I feel like every last defense I had was broken down, leaving me completely exposed and vulnerable. And I know I’m not the only one who felt this way.

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Dear readers, 2012 has been a hard year. It’s okay to admit it, and it’s okay to stop fighting. Your energy is better used to transform the negative emotions, the pain, the feelings of weakness and uselessness into lessons learned–lessons about yourself, your coping mechanisms, your behavioral patterns, your surroundings. Reflect on those lessons and turn them into something useful, something you can apply to future situations and personal growth. You’ve made it this far: despite what you feel, you are very strong, and this will only make you stronger.

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2013 is hours away. With each passing moment, I’m more and more excited to welcome it. Things are all ready looking up: I write this under the supervision of a scaly new friend who reminds me every day of simple pleasures and the rewards of caring for another living creature. Khepri reminds me to cherish every moment spent with loved ones, because that opportunity is not always certain. Even the simplest moments–car rides, dinners, lounging, shopping–can become beautiful memories.

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Expect changes in this space. Changes to content, graphics, titles, everything. It’s been on my mind for a while, but I felt it too big an undertaking to start on while I was so emotionally unequipped to handle anything. But 2013 is rising, and it feels soothing. Hang in there. I will be.

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Cosmetics, Day in Pictures

Metamorphosis 74.0 – the Makeup Show NYC: the Day in Pictures

The Makeup Show NYC took place over two days at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th street, but I only managed to get there on Monday, May 16th. I was told if you make only one makeup trade show in a year, it should be the Makeup Show–I have to say, I did enjoy it immensely. As a pro-only event, proof of profession was required at the door and everyone inside was 100% serious about their makeup. There were fabulous demos and speakers, though I only caught bits and pieces of them, and an amazing exhibitor floor. Below are some of the photos I snapped during my stay:

 

Smashbox exhibits right inside the door

Unfortunately, they were sold out of the only product I was really interested in–their oh-so-amazing lipstains

Inglot was a much more pleasant shopping experience at this show!

Everyone building their Inglot palettes…

I have a newfound desire to try my hand at airbrush makeup…

I did get myself a Temptu Pro card so I can still get the discount price without buying the show bundle. I all ready have an airbrush, just have to check my specs…

Make Up Forever’s AMAZING exhibit

Model painted by Make Up Forever artists. Gotta say, I was loving those shorts!

Aqua Miami was clearly the biggest attraction at Make Up Forever. The liners were on show special, 5 for $58

NARS. I was really disappointed that they weren’t selling anything–I LOVED the new lip pencil for fall.

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Stila products –you can see one of the “Stila Boys” in the background. They stood outside the exhibit in ripped shirts and tight jeans with tons and tons of eyeliner smeared all over them. Reminded me of Twilight vampires…

I don’t remember what company was working on this model…

OCC –on the table you can see their new OCC Tint, which I snagged at the show and think I’m in love with…

More OCC. Look at that organizer FULL of Lip Tars…!

Yves Saint-Laurant

YSL Summer Collection…I was a little confused by their target audience. They had bright lip and cheek colours, but warm bronze and terra-cotta shadows.

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More MAC Pro. It drew quite a crowd, though I think everyone was just grabbed Pro Card apps

Model being painted by Kryolan, favourite brand of 16-year-old-Luna. Gotta love the Klimt-inspired poster in the background

Miss Alcone looked really familiar. I really wish I knew her name…

Love you to the Moon and Back,

Luna Valentine

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