Original Sita Sings the Blues Paintings

Someone has been emailing me saying they REALLY want to buy an original Sita Sings the Blues painting. These have been in storage since I moved from New York to Urbana IL last year, but I just excavated them and took some crappy photos (reflective glass! Wide-angle pocket camera lens!) for her to choose from. Click thumbnail for hi-res jpeg.

If anyone else wants to buy an original painting let me know: nina underscore paley at yahoo dot com. The outside dimensions of the wooden frames are about 12″ x 14.8″. They’re about $1000 each, give or take for more or less complex/competent paintings.

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Embroidermation Addendum

Adding to my post below titled Embroidermation: test 1, my co-lunatic Theo Gray shares an animation of the Chinese Postman traveling every path, instructing the machine how to stitch the design:

stitching pattern for Ziz

And here is a screen shot of what he did in Mathematica to get there:

Chinese Postman problem solved for embroidery in Mathematica

Embroidermation: test 1

You may have heard I’m working on this movie, and I am, but my contract prohibits me from blogging about work-in-progress. All the more reason to blog about my super-exciting other project that no one is paying me for and is motivated purely by madness and my crazy Muse: I want to make an animated quilt. Or rather quilted animation. Or embroidered animation, because the most common quilt plotters are actually embroidery machines.

I’ve already ranted about the shameful state of embroidery machine software. Having just bought a fancy new Brother machine that came with Brother’s “top-of-the-line” software, PE Design NEXT, I can now say the situation is worse than I thought. Not only is the software crazy expensive, it’s also woefully inadequate for automated line drawing conversion. More on that in a future post; for now I want to describe the steps required to make a single frame (scroll down to see it).

I began with an animated cycle I made almost two years ago: the ZizAutomated digitization of one frame of that design, in color, for embroidery, is well beyond what PE Design NEXT can handle, so I started by just asking it to do the outline, monochrome, in a simple running stitch. That was also way more than it could handle, so I went back into Flash and simplified the design:

Then I imported a frame into Adobe Illustrator and “merged” everything to eliminate background shapes.

Before: the Ziz above is comprised of many shapes. Even though they're not visible on the surface, vector files know they're there, adding unnecessary complexity.

 

After: "merged" in Illustrator.

I gave it no fills, only a 1pt stroke. PEDNEXT read it as several hundred separate shapes, with thread cuts between each; it wanted to start and stop every few stitches to cut threads, even with all the outlines abutting each other.

Clearly we had to convert the design into one continuous line, which PEDNEXT can’t do (it can sort of do it with bitmaps it traces itself, but it’s terrible at auto-tracing. One should be able to trace in a better program and get it to work with those vectors, but it’s biased against vectors for some reason). It’s an old math problem called the Chinese Postman, a variation on the more famous Traveling Salesman. The Traveling Salesman visits every vertex in the most efficient path; the Chinese Postman travels every path.

Fortunately my Significant Other and co-lunatic in automated embroidery machine experiments, Theo Gray, was a founding developer of Mathematica software. Just one morning of his fiddling with the files yielded exceptional results.

This was an .eps file in Mathematica, brought into Adobe Illustrator, exported as .wmf for Brother's software, and again as .png to be visible on this blog. It is a single line with many points, tracing over itself efficiently.

Then PEDNEXT refused to read the resulting single-line file, even after it was converted to .wmf (windows metafile – the ONLY vector file PEDNEXT accepts. It doesn’t accept .svg, .eps, .dxf, .ai, or any other vector file. Just .wmf. Which is what you’d expect from $2,000 embroidery software, right?) Thinking the line was too long, we broke it into smaller segments and imported them as separate files. Through a tedious process of elimination we discovered there was just one teeny segment PEDNEXT refused to read. We pinpointed it to two points (perfectly normal points! the files are fine, we have no idea why PEDNEXT doesn’t like them), deleted them from the master line, imported to Illustrator, exported to .wmf, imported to PEDNEXT, saved as .pes (Brother’s proprietary format) on a flash drive, and got it into the machine. And finally:

This took 8 minutes to stitch at 700 stitches per minute. Design area is about 8" tall by 10" high. I'd share other details like how many stitches it is and how much disk space it occupies, but I don't have them handy because PEDNEXT is windows-only and the windows machine I've been using for this is at Theo's house.

It's not real until a cat can sit on it.

This represents a huge step towards my dream of embroidermation. It took us a long time and much obsession to get to this single frame. Further tests with PEDNEXT will determine whether the whole 24-frame sequence can be automated, or if there are bugs in every new frame import. Meanwhile I’m even more committed to supporting EmbroiderModder2, a young FLOSS alternative to existing inadequate overpriced embroidery software (crowdfunding campaign coming soon!). I hope Brother supports it too – their machines are great, with better software who knows what people could do with them.

Update: see the Mathematica code and an animated gif of the stitching here!

“The artist sounds serious but sometimes it’s hard to tell when she’s joking.”

That’s me! Getting some local press for my art quilt show, which opens Saturday at Sleepy Creek Vineyards! Details and directions here.

Nina Paley quilt show in CU News Gazette

More Well-Hung

We went back to Sleepy Creek Vineyards to rearrange some things and hang Earth, Fire and Water next to Air/Nude. This is the first time all of my 4 Elements quilts have hung next to each other.

Speaking of Sleepy Creek, I finally tasted their tomato-jalepeño wine, Winey Mary. Yes I thought it was a joke too, but it actually exists and is actually made of fermented tomatoes and jalepeños, not grapes. And I actually liked it. Not as a wine – I don’t really like wine, or beer, or any alcoholic beverages – but as an unusual and strangely tasty sensory experience.

tomato jalapeno wineYou can try some at the official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15, with a screening of Sita Sings the Blues at 8pm.

The quilts will be hanging all Summer. Whee!

Hangin’ at Sleepy Creek

Art Quilts & Animation at Sleepy Creek Vineyards

Today we hung quilts at Sleepy Creek Vineyards. Official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15. The quilts will be hanging all Summer though.

double sided quilt

The small “This Land Is Mine” quilt is double-sided. Here Death watches over the bottom of the stairs. Symbolic?

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) and Nude, along with a larger This Land Is Mine quilt (one-sided)

Shiva Natraj and the Shedus

More at the show – come check it out!

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)  $10,000 quilt

Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)
71″ x 31.5″
Cotton fabric, wool batting, polyester thread
Reverse applique and quilting

$10,000 quilt detail 1

“Why are works by Marlene Dumas worth millions and those by the stylistically similar Chuck Connelly worth next to nothing? Because surplus capital in the hands of a small group of moneyed types decrees it so, by fiat. Disparities between surplus capital and “normal” market behavior…create two distinct “markets.” The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. The news is not that a Picasso is worth $100 million, but that $100 million is worth the Picasso!”

Charlie Finch, A NEW MARKET THEORY OF ART

After reading this and this, I concluded that high-end art is a form of currency for elites. Art museums and critics encourage us peasants to believe the value in these “priceless art treasures” is based on utility (i.e., the more they cost, the more “genius” they contain). But the value of high end art is due to collectors attaching their surplus capital to it.

$10,000 quilt detail 2

A million-dollar painting has all the utility of a million-dollar bill. Its value is created not by the artist, but by the collector. When a reputable collector puts a million dollars into a painting, another collector may buy it for more than a million dollars. The art market forms its own economy, with its own financial industry:

“During the 1980s, Charles Saatchi started to corner the market by buying up the inventory of one artist, such as Sean Scully, and then dumping the work en masse, presumably for economic gain. Now, collectors such as Daniel Loeb and Aby Rosen also assemble dozens of works by a single artist (Loeb has close to 300 Martin Kippenbergers), but they have so much money that art collecting is a game for them that mimics their larger financial speculations. Using a hedge model, these collectors are able to manipulate the valuations of their holdings based on their internal financial realities, not on any outside demand per se. That is what hedging is.”  ibid.

$10,000 quilt detail 3

(This explains the prominence of collectors at art events. I used to wonder why collectors were such a big deal. Wasn’t Art about the work itself? If anything came second to the work, wouldn’t it be the artist(s)? Why so much attention bestowed upon the collectors? In my naiveté, I thought it was just cynical and desperate ass-licking by arts organizations. Now I realize that collectors are the prime – or only – originators of high-end art value. Anyone can paint, but only a tiny elite can buy a painting for a million dollars.)

$10,000 quilt detail 8

To recap: displaying a million-dollar art work is akin to displaying a million-dollar bill, but with a certain cachet (“disavowal” was Pierre Bourdieu’s term) that is part of its price. But there are no million-dollar bills. That’s one of the reasons collectors need million-dollar paintings. When you own as much wealth as a small nation you can commission your own currency. Or better yet, pick and choose your currency from an enormous market of would-be currency designers. (The 1970’s board game “Masterpiece” hints at this; “value” cards are randomly paired with painting cards, an amusing sendup of the Fine Art World that was utterly lost on me as a child, although I did enjoy looking at the pictures.)

$10,000 quilt detail 4

I wanted to make a quilt that looked like a million-dollar bill. Unfortunately the highest denomination bill I could find online at high resolution was $10,000. That’s painfully low, because

“increments of $100,000 are to today’s contemporary art market what $10,000 was in the 1980s and $1,000 was in the ‘60s.” ibid.

But that’s what I had to work with. In fact the $10,000 bill isn’t in circulation today. But it does look like “money” (unlike the $100,000 Gold Certificate) so in that way it fits the bill, so to speak.

$10,000 quilt detail 5

Ironically (for ironic juxtaposition!) quilts are among among the most under-valued art forms. They also require more skill and time than almost any other art-making technique I’ve tried. The selling price of quilts seldom covers the costs of materials; quilters often prefer to give their quilts away. An “expensive” quilt usually costs more than the value of materials, but less than minimum wage for labor. I recently met a master quilter whose beautiful wall quilt, which took months of expert work and won many awards, was professionally appraised at $3,500. This is considered very high; had it not been widely displayed and won many awards, it would be “worth” far less. Betty Busby is an art quilter I admire whose works have broken through the “high” end of quilt prices into the “bargain-basement low” end of art prices.

$10,000 quilt detail 6

Is it because quilts have so much utility (“use-value”) that they can’t get traction as high art? Is it because quilting is historically “women’s work”? Is it because quilting is often kitschy, popular in the middle-class Midwest that many aspiring art-worlders move to New York to get away from? Is quilting too white? (The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilters would be an exception to prove this rule.) Is it because many quilters are insane about copyright, going out of their way to restrict knowledge of their work?

Who knows. Meanwhile, here is a Ten Thousand Dollar quilt.

$10,000 quilt Nina Paley signature tag

P.S. This sucker was a ton of work. The Muse made me do it. A master quilter I ain’t. Quilt appraisers would scoff because I don’t properly tie off and hide my threads, and because there are some puckers and pleats in the quilting. But if I billed the hours I put into this as an animator, I would invoice more than $10,000.

P.P.S. Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) will be on display at my upcoming Art Quilt Show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards.


My first solo Art Quilt Show Opens June 15 at Sleepy Creek Vineyards

Mark yer calendars! My first Art Quilt Show opens June 15 at Sleepy Creek Vineyards in hip, happenin’ rural-area-between-Urbana-and-Danville, IL.

Nina Paley Art Quilt Show 2013

Art Quilts will be on the walls June 15-September 15, 2013

Opening: June 15
Reception: 6pm
Screening of Sita Sings the Blues: 8pm

Sleepy Creek Vineyards is three miles south of Oakwood, Illinois, just off Interstate 74 between Danville and Champaign, IL.
Address:  8254 E 1425 North Rd., Fairmount, IL 61841
Phone: 217-733-0330
Directions

Want to see the place? Sleepy Creek has a funny webseries you can watch right now! My favorite is episode 6, it cracks me up.

Blogger’s Quilt Festival – Air/Nude

Update June 3: This is cool – it won the “Art Quilt” category!

Air/Nude is from 2011, and it remains my favorite piece of quilt artwork. So I’m reposting it for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival.

Air/Nude is 77″ x 23″ (yielding a life-size figure) unbleached cotton muslin, cotton batting, polyester thread.

She counts as “Air” in my 4 Eelements quilt series (my first large-ish quilts ever) because that’s what the model is wearing. Also, unless you look carefully you see nothing, just like air.

The photo above links to a super high res, 3,000-pixel-high version so you can zoom in on all the detail. These detail shots link to 960-pixel-high versions:
Evident everywhere is the influence of Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting Project. In the section above you can see Free Motion Quilting basics like Basic SpiralPebbling,FeathersEcho Rainbow, and Stippling, along with some of Leah’s signature designs like Brain CoralSpaghetti and MeatballsFlame StitchOcean Current,WormholesGoldilocksChain of PearlsPebble MazeTrailing Spirals, and Circuit Board. I started filling in the quilt on the right side, just over the foot where those very dense spirals are, and worked my way around counter-clockwise.

By the time I got to the head I had internalized many of those stitches, which became part of my vocabulary. It becomes difficult (and probably pointless) to say which patterns are “mine,” which are “Leah Day’s,” which are derived from vague memories of pen-and-ink shading patterns and old Zip-A-Tones, and which are simply failed imitations. (“Originality is failed imitation” – someone on Facebook. Bill Benzon, maybe?). Some of the spirally flame patterns I used in Fire return for a cameo here.

I had bountiful opportunities to try new stitches and patterns. As long as the negative spaces were densely quilted, it didn’t matter what was in them. I tried various hexagonal-based “snowlflake” patterns, like the one above. In the midst of my experiments, Leah posted this Icicle Lights pattern, which is much easier than hex-based ones. Below it is an homage to DNA molecules, and a “scaly micropebbling” experiment.

As you can see, the nude depicted is a real woman-person, not a professional model. Who was the model, you ask? Suffice to say I will not be sharing the “pattern” as open source code. You’re welcome to copy this quilt, but you’ll have to reverse-engineer it, or use another model.

Here’s what she looked like before stretching. Maybe vanity drove me to it – I may be a little saggy, but I’m not that saggy. The subtle white-on-white quilting technique relies entirely on shadow to reveal texture and outline, and only works if light hits the surface evenly from the side. The quilt was professionally stretched on canvas stretchers by 567 Framing. It took 2 and a half weeks, but was worth the wait.

Here’s “Air” leaning against the wall with her friends EarthWater, and Fire, in my former apartment in New York City. I brought all these quilts with me when I moved to Urbana IL last Summer. Some of them will be in my upcoming art show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards – stay tuned!

 

My Tile Obsession Will Taper Off Eventually

I can already feel it slowing down, which means I’ll have to find something useful to do soon. Meanwhile I wanted to see the morphing tiles as a 2-color map. Easier said than done: Flash crashes every time I try to convert the various symbols making up the outline into “shapes,” so I had to export a PNG and use the clunky old paint bucket in Photoshop. There’s an ugly thick outline I added to close gaps, in order to make said paint bucket work. But at least my 2-color curiosity is now satisfied.

It reminds me of the far-more-awesome M.C. Escher Metamorphosis poster I had in college. And although the thick outline and various other flaws make not-print-worthy, yesterday I made a color version that is:

I ordered a few yards of it from Spoonflower. I can’t wait – once I start quilting this stuff I might get re-obsessed for days!

Polyester Silk Shedu Obsession

If I had known how long this would take, and how unable I would be to do or think about anything else, I would never have started. But I didn’t know, so on Sunday I bought some polyester “silk”, because I’ve long wanted to quilt on silk and this was on sale and pretty and no silkworms were harmed and I could just experiment with it.

Pleased with my previous shedu quilt, I decided to make another, but with smaller, more oblong “bricks.” I cut strips and sewed them together, then cut those into more strips and sewed them in a staggered, brick-like pattern.

I’d heard polyester silk was difficult to work with, but didn’t know exactly why. Now I know. It unravels into fuzz everywhere that gets tangled in your machine.

If you don’t lock the seams down quickly, it feels like the whole thing will disintegrate. It stretches every which way, making precision cutting impossible. It’s slippery.

On the other hand, it’s beautifully iridescent and, well, silky. It’s vegan; no worms are harmed in its production. Unlike real silk, it doesn’t attract moths or other insects. It could survive an apocalypse. Needles glide through it easily. It doesn’t show needle holes, so you can rip out mistake seams with little evidence. Anyway, once I started working with it I felt I’d invested too much to stop.

I pieced together a set of gold bricks and a set of blue. Then I traced my Shedu design onto a solid gold piece, pinning down both the fabric and the paper design to minimize slippage.

I layered, basted (I had to baste about 3x tighter than usual, because the polyester is so slippery) and free-motion quilted it in light blue thread. (Speaking of fre-motion quilting, here’s a link-back to Leah Day’s blog.)

For the dark blue Shedu, I traced the same design onto while polyester silk – the blue was too dark to see through – and quilted with gold thread in the bobbin.

Flipped over, it looked just fine.

Basting and quilting the backgrounds was a huge pain, and some distortion was inevitable. I’ve heard of this thing called “fabric stabilizer” you’re supposed to use in cases like these. If I ever use poly silk again – and I swore “never again” over and over like a mantra throughout most of this project – I will try fabric stabilizer.

I thread basted the shedu trapplique cut-out onto the background, and satin-stiched it down with polyester thread.

Everything in this quilt is pure polyester – polyester fabric, polyester batting, polyester thread – except the cotton backing, which I chose for some stability.

I pinned hanging triangles on the back, and sewed them down into the binding.

I felt an urgency to finish the binding quickly, because all those little polyester threads were unraveling everywhere and needed to be locked inside. And locked inside they were – the finished pair of quilts looks nice and clean, and even feels somewhat strong.

The wide-angle lens on my pocket camera distorts these; the edges are actually pretty straight and the corners square.

They’re now hanging over my boyfriend’s bed, guarding the gates of our dreams.

TLIM Quilt on the Auction Block!

TLIM quilt darkI’ve had some requests for This Land Is Mine quilts. I can produce a small edition of them if the price is right and the buyers are there. The question is: how to price them? I’ve sold signed limited-edition prints in the past for $350-$500. This quilt is essentially a print on fabric, but requires an additional day of work for me to layer, free-motion quilt, and bind it (and sign it too of course). So I’d want no less than $500 a piece. However, it’s technically a quilt, one of the most under-valued art forms out there. Plus it’s rather small (about 34″ square), and meant for the wall – not even a particularly useful quilt. And it’s not even pieced.

So I’m doing an experiment: auctioning this one on eBay.

If you have other ideas about pricing more artist-made, signed TLIM quilts, let me know in the comments. What would you pay? What size edition would be acceptable? Would an open edition make any difference? Realistically, I probably don’t have time or stamina to make more than maybe 10 of these, so I could easily claim “50” as the limit to an edition and it would functionally be open. Any other thoughts most welcome.

And you can bid on it here.

Shedu quilt

This is a Shedu on a background inspired by the blue-glazed bricks of the Ishtar Gate. It combines trapplique with pieced quilting – my first! It’s approximately 42″ x 29″.

My Shedu design laser-printed on 6 pieces of letter paper and taped together. To maximize size I allowed gaps in the margins.

The design traced onto light fabric with an air erasable marker, layered, basted, and free-motion quilted in white thread.

I used scissors to cut out the Shedu as close to the sewing line as possible, then thread basted it onto the background which I previously free-motion quilted with simple spirals.

shedu quiltFinally I satin-stitched “the snot out of it” as (Leah Day would say), machine-bound it (with fast-finish triangles on the back), and hung it on the wall. The trapplique gives a lovely bas-relief effect. The air-erasable marker is still faintly visible, but will fade fully in a few days.

Canaan Quilt?

Months ago I had the idea to design some This Land Is Mine fabric, get it printed by Spoonflower, and quilt on it. But I never got around to the designing part until today. What do you think? Light background, or dark? The design of This Land Is Mine was inspired by Assyrian wall reliefs, and this expands on the style. I’ve never used Spoonflower before but it seems worth a try.

dark background

This Land Is Mine

I envisioned This Land Is Mine as the last scene of my potential-possible-maybe- feature film, Seder-Masochism, but it’s the first (and so far only) scene I’ve animated. As the Bible says, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This Land Is Mine from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Who’s Killing Who? A Viewer’s Guide

Because you can’t tell the players without a pogrom!

Early Man

 

Early Man
This generic “cave man” represents the first human settlers in Israel/Canaan/the Levant. Whoever they were.

Canaanite

 

 

Canaanite
What did ancient Canaanites look like? I don’t know, so this is based on ancient Sumerian art.

Ancient Egyptian

 

 

Egyptian
Canaan was located between two huge empires. Egypt controlled it sometimes, and…

Assyrian

 

 

Assyrian
….Assyria controlled it other times.

Israelite

 

 

Israelite
The “Children of Israel” conquered the shit out of the region, according to bloody and violent Old Testament accounts.

Babylonian

 

 

Babylonian
Then the Baylonians destroyed their temple and took the Hebrews into exile.

Macedonian/Alexander

 

 

 

Macedonian/Greek
Here comes Alexander the Great, conquering everything!

Greek

 

 

Greek/Macedonian
No sooner did Alexander conquer everything, than his generals divided it up and fought with each other.

Ptolmaic

 

 

Ptolemaic
Greek descendants of Ptolemy, another of Alexander’s competing generals, ruled Egypt dressed like Egyptian god-kings. (The famous Cleopatra of western mythology and Hollywood was a Ptolemy.)

Seleucid

 

 

Seleucid
More Greek-Macedonian legacies of Alexander.

 

Hebrew Priest

Hebrew Priest
This guy didn’t fight, he just ran the Second Temple re-established by Hebrews in Jerusalem after the Babylonian Exile.

Maccabee

Maccabee
Led by Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, who fought the Seleucids, saved the Temple, and invented Channukah. Until…

 

Roman

 

Roman
….the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and absorbed the region into the Roman Empire…

Byzantine

 

 

Byzantine
….which split into Eastern and Western Empires. The eastern part was called the Byzantine Empire. I don’t know if “Romans” ever fought “Byzantines” (Eastern Romans) but this is a cartoon.

 

Caliph

 

 

Arab Caliph
Speaking of cartoon, what did an Arab Caliph look like? This was my best guess.

Crusader

 

 

Crusader
After Crusaders went a-killin’ in the name of Jesus Christ, they established Crusader states, most notably the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Egyptian Mamluk

 

 

Mamluk of Egypt
Wikipedia sez, “Over time, mamluks became a powerful military caste in various Muslim societies…In places such as Egypt from the Ayyubid dynasty to the time of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, mamluks were considered to be “true lords”, with social status above freeborn Muslims.[7]” And apparently they controlled Palestine for a while.

 

Ottoman Turk

 

Ottoman Turk
Did I mention this is a cartoon? Probably no one went to battle looking like this. But big turbans, rich clothing and jewelry seemed to be in vogue among Ottoman Turkish elites, according to paintings I found on the Internet.

Arab

 

 

Arab
A gross generalization of a generic 19-century “Arab”.

 

British

British
The British formed alliances with Arabs, then occupied Palestine. This cartoon is an oversimplification, and uses this British caricature as a stand-in for Europeans in general.

Palestinian

 

 

Palestinian
The British occupied this guy’s land, only to leave it to a vast influx of….

European Jew/Zionist

 

European Jew/Zionist
Desperate and traumatized survivors of European pogroms and death camps, Jewish Zionist settlers were ready to fight to the death for a place to call home, but…

Hezbollah

 

 

PLO/Hamas/Hezbollah
….so were the people that lived there. Various militarized resistance movements arose in response to Israel: The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

State of Israel

 


 

Guerrilla/Freedom Fighter/TerroristState of Israel
Backed by “the West,” especially the US, they got lots of weapons and the only sanctioned nukes in the region.

 

Guerrilla/Freedom Fighter/Terrorist
Sometimes people fight in military uniforms, sometimes they don’t. Creeping up alongside are illicit nukes possibly from Iran or elsewhere in the region. Who’s Next?

Angel of Death

 

 

 

and finally…

The Angel of Death
The real hero of the Old Testament, and right now too.

 

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