Friday, 24 July 2009

poem of the day

I've had Luke Kennard's new (third!) book, The Migraine Hotel, for a little while now. He's the kind of man I'd absolutely detest for being too damn clever if I wasn't so charmed by his wit and intelligence. Overall this collection is dashing, some of the poems border on the sublime. There's one of those quotes on the cover that usually makes one feel a bit ill, but in this particular case, it feels prescient: "It's always thrilling to see a major talent emerging." For once, not an understatement and one thing I especially love about Luke's work is that it's properly new. Too many people in the art world get trapped by the past - they aren't able to create something truly forward looking. Luke's work has a freshness that's novel without being trivial. I find this incredibly exciting. Get your hands on this work: it's the future.

This is one of my favourite poems from the new collection.
Happy Friday.

And I Saw

A false prophet slapped in the face by a wave;
A woman screaming at her clarinet,
'What would you have me do then, drown you, too?'
Remaindered novels washed up on the shore.
A cat, baffled by a drowsy lobster, jogged
Over the pebbles towing a little carriage.
And the cat didn't say anything - because
It was a cat. And the carriage was not full
Of tiny men, a watermelon or an
Assembly of diplomatic mice
Because the carriage was an example
Of man's cruelty in the name of research.
The cat belonged to a behaviourist
And had been raised in an environment
Of only black horizontal lines. So
It saw my sprinting across the beach
To dismantle its harness as a whirl
Of fenceposts and orange rubber balls
And was gone faster than the better idea
You had a moment ago. Leaving me
Only the seagull's dreadful anthem:
'I just want to tell you how sad we all feel.'
The airplane trail made the cloud a wick -
I thought I saw it starting to burn down
And I knew we had been lucky to avoid
Disaster so far. I shared a bench with
A man who wanted to redefine us
As victims of one kind or another
Instead of whatever names we'd chose:
Steven victim, Jenny Victim, Franklin
Victim. I disagreed but couldn't speak.
He ate raw mushrooms from a paper bag.
In fact it was a computer game called
The Enormous Pointlessness of it All III.
When you are raised on computer games
You grow accustomed to saying 'I'm dead,'
Several times a day. Which is not to say
We are the fist generation to feel
So comfortable with our mortality.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

One & Other

I would have gotten around to blogging about the Fourth Plinth at some point or another, but a friend specifically asked me to write a response to AA Gill's review of the Plinth in the Guardian. And so it goes.

If you haven't heard of the Fourth Plinth project by now (or the One & Other project, which I think is the official name) you must be living under a rock. Or not in the UK. Or at the very least, not in London. Despite my reservations about Antony Gormley, and there are a few, I love that he works in the public domain and on a very large scale - his work has the ability to get the public involved in heated debate in ways which few other artists can only dream.

So yes, it gets boring after about 3 minutes (in some circumstances, as when the person just sits there and munches a sandwich while reading a paper), but people have been surprising, incredibly witty, brilliantly creative, or just plain funny. The woman dressed up as a pigeon throwing bits of bread to passers by or the woman dressed up as a giant CCTV camera silently surveying plinth-watchers are good examples of zany, eccentric creativity. The best plinther I've seen by far though, has to be the man conducting an orchestra on the ground below. What a fantastic thing to do for one hour!

And no, it's not really art and here's where I agree wholeheartedly with Gill. Not only is this lazy, but it's also asking the wrong question: "is it art?" is simply not the right question to ask. Not only have we had this debate for the last 150 years, but we've also had the "are ordinary people worthy subjects of art" debate too. Remember that little art movement called Realism? Courbet's Stone Breakers or Millet's Gleaners ring any bells? Within the context of art history and art theory, no one has ever come as close to creating art as "objectively real" as Gormley has with this project.

The One & Other (the hint is in the name!) manages to be both a masterful contemporary art installation while also commenting - unfavourably, in my opinion - on the big brother, fame hungry culture that's so prevalent in our society. Isn't what Gormley's art really about, is how much we'd all actually prefer a quiet, unobtrusive life of ordinary reality rather than our 15 minutes (or in this case, one hour) of fame? The point is eloquently made by the fact that the act most people are comfortable performing for an hour on the plinth are acts of sheer banality and utter normality: eating, reading, sleeping, observing. The pretenders to an exhibitionist throne simply can't fulfil their side of the bargain for a full hour.

To go back to the question of "is it art?" Okay, so Gill and I are in agreement in that not only is this the wrong question, but that it is indeed a question for the culturally insecure. My friend will most likely not approve of me saying this, but art is self-defining. Those who know what art is don't need it explained. They know when they feel inspired or depressed or moved or excited by work - they don't need to turn around and ask, "yes, but is it art?" Strangely, Gill's argument begins to fall flat when he starts saying that ordinary humans aren't worthy subjects of art - only "the great and the heroic are bigger than human [and thus worthy subjects of art], because they've achieved more. On Gormley's plinth, humans seem even more insignificant." Then Gill goes about showing just how clever he is and negates his own argument when he asks whether we, his nameless readership, can name the other heroes who share Trafalgar Square with Nelson. Of course Gill can because he has google at his disposal when writing comment pieces. Without looking it up myself, no, I haven't a clue who shares Nelson's stage. But as per the pointlessness of the is it art question, I don't care which other dead mean hang out in Trafalgar Square. Dead generals aren't interesting to me in this context.

Gill says that what the constant stream of lottery winners proves is that art is not made by chance, or by the ordinary, but by people who are extraordinary. Despite the contradiction - the statues in Trafalgar Square are worthy objects of art because they are extraordinary people, not because the creators of the statues of the generals are extraordinary - when Gill says, "we are failing to live up to the square" it's difficult to understand exactly what he means. Not everyone on the square deserves to be on it. In the same way that "is it art" is surely the wrong question, "who deserves to be on the Fourth Plinth" must also be the wrong question. Yes, perhaps some humans achieve more extraordinary accomplishments than others, but you know what - we all sleep, observe, eat, and read - that's part of the beauty of the banalities of human life. Alternatively, for every trivial act such as brushing one's teeth, there will be an equally beautiful appreciation of a sunset - who is really to say which accomplishments or appreciations are more or less worthy than others.

What AA Gill seems to be forgetting is that, from a theoretical point of view, despite what the individuals on the plinth may do with their 60 minutes, they still act as a kind of composition - they are the oils and acrylics - on a much larger scale. This art is Gormley's, after all, who has done what the best artists always have to do at some point: let go of the work and give it to the people.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Teenagers and media usage by Ima Twat

Teenagers and media usage by Ima Twat

Teenagers are surprisingly busy and simply 'have no time' to do anything even though what it is that keeps them so busy is a complete mystery. Possibilities include sitting around texting mates instead of speaking to them, sitting around drinking cider and getting sh*tfaced whilst texting mates instead of speaking to them, abusing people on bendy busses instead of speaking to them. You get the idea.

Teenagers also have no money which is why they a) hate adverts and b) hate paying for anything. Brand managers are now in a complete state of panic as if their future buying power is resistant to advertising and/or even buying, then how are they ever going to establish brand hold over the youth in order to achieve brain-washed brand loyalty later in life?

Even though most teenagers still live at home and have no money, therefore surely not paying for bills, Twat has said that most teenagers he speaks to have 'Virgin Media as their provider, citing lower costs but similar content of Sky'. What the hell is a teenager doing ringing round 'media content providers' checking out lowest costs for best content? Something smells fishy.

News for teenagers is anathema. Apparently they can actually read, as they will occasionally buy the Sun as it only costs 20p (and looks ever so stylish when pared with matching shell suit), but they love the free papers because they are, well, free. Teenagers seem not to have noticed that nearly every national newspaper is available online for free.

Teenagers listen to a lot of music. Like totally, a lot. So much, in fact, that we can't actually tell how much music they listen to. Mostly this is because teenagers listen to music when doing other things: travelling, using a computer, talking, chewing gum, having unprotected sex, vandalising council property, etc. As previously mentioned in conjunction with everything previously mentioned, teenagers also refuse to pay for anything thus acting as little anarchists in our tidy consumerist society.

Teenagers are also surprisingly self-contradictory as even though the are too busy to read newspapers, let alone books!, or to watch an educational documentary on television, they do not use internet features on their mobiles as it costs too much, and as they 'don't usually have anything urgent to do' they could just go use their home internet. Or maybe just go home. And stay there.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing about teenagers is that media directors take them so seriously. executive director of Morgan Stanley's European media team said that Twat's report on teenage media usage is 'one of the clearest and most thought-provoking insights we have seen.' Crikey.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Manchester International Festival round-up review

That classical music is so rarely taken outside of the concert hall is in no way due to a lack of wanting: rather an ‘acoustics is everything’ approach means that orchestras remain firmly within concert hall walls. In an intriguing marriage between music and architecture, Zaha Hadid was commissioned by the Manchester International Festival to create a performance space for some of the most well-known pieces of chamber music ever written: Bach’s suites for solo cello, piano, and violin.

Hadid’s striking white ribbon layers and wraps around itself to create both a stage for the performer as well as a space for the audience. The ribbon consists of a translucent fabric membrane articulated by an internal steel structure suspended from the ceiling.

There has already been much discussion of Hadid’s concert hall, situated in a large room on the top floor of the Manchester Art Gallery, and it’s successes or failures as a piece of architecture. But certainly, as per the design brief, the most important consideration must be whether the structure works as a concert hall.

I was lucky enough to be one of only 200 in attendance for the evening of Bach’s cello suites performed by virtuoso cellist, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and given the we were essentially sat in a large black box, the acoustics were surprisingly well-balanced. This is surely thanks to the project’s acoustic engineers, Sandy Brown Associates, who enabled minimal sound absorption and maximum sound reflection through use of lightweight fabric as well as shaped acrylic panels hidden within the fabric.

While the structure is intriguing even when not in use, it truly comes into its own as a performance space, enveloping both performer and spectators, making an audience of 200 feel positively intimate. Perhaps more surprising is that the structure heightens, not distracts, the performance: I’ve never been to a recital where audience attention was so focused, not a single cough throughout. With this installation, Hadid has created architecture as Goethe famously referred to it: as ‘frozen music’.

On the other hand, the raison d’être of theatre company Punchdrunk is to produce site-specific works of interactive theatre. Their last show at Battersea Arts Centre, Masque of the Red Death, sold out a seven-month run and was a huge critical success.

For their MIF piece, Punchdrunk collaborated with documentary film-maker Adam Curtis to produce It Felt Like A Kiss. Shepherded into a massive, dilapidated office building in a group of 9, we’re sent in a lift to the 6th floor and told only to ‘stick together’. This is a ‘promenade’ piece of theatre, which means the spectating takes place on the hoof.

The gutted building has been completely transformed – the attention to detail is spectacular – there are abandoned CIA offices full of dossiers and documents, living rooms with TVs that never turn off – all very much like abandoned film sets. Strangely for a piece of theatre, there are no actors.

Once we arrive at the evening’s piece de resistance, Adam Curtis’ 35-minute documentary, things become a bit clearer. The documentary, on how America set out to remake the world 50 years ago, is fascinating, witty, and surprisingly grotesque. It quickly becomes evident that we have, for all intents and purposes, been walking through film sets – the CIA offices and sitting rooms we have just walked through are all there in Curtis’ documentary. Hence no actors: the sets are the performance.

The atmosphere is incredibly tense throughout, yet we’re always waiting for actors who never appear - a bit like Godot, but scarier and more frustrating. As a piece of design, IFLAK is simply incredible and there isn’t anything else like it, but as a theatrical performance, I’m still wondering, “was that it?”

Flailing Trees is an installation of 21 inverted willow trees in a 12 x 12 ft concrete base. The installation was commissioned by MIF and created by Gustav Metzger and claims to serve as a ‘plea for reflection and a plaintive cry for change’. Interestingly for a public sculpture, Flailing Trees grew out of the winning entry to The Manchester Open, the Festival’s open commission call, submitted by CUBE (Centre for the Urban Built Environment) and Taylor Young (Urban Planners and Architects).

Unfortunately, Flailing Trees is not the right scale for the Manchester Peace Garden, where it is on display, and would perhaps make a stronger impression in a more traditional gallery space. The other problem with Metzger’s sculpture is that, contrary to expectation, only the roots and trunks of the trees are on display. Because the trees are so close together, the large root balls act as a substitute for leaves and thus negate the shock of viewing trees inverted with concrete where leaves should be. That the roots look like leaves somehow diminishes Metzger’s intention of Flailing Trees as a catalyst for debate on the role of the environment in urban areas. As such, what should have been a poignant and shocking wake-up call to urban planners as well as to urban dwellers falls someway short of its ambitious mark. There is no doubting that Metzger’s concept is arresting; it is only the execution which lets this project down.

While the MIF doesn’t have quite the buzz of the Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh should be worried indeed, as this relative newcomer to the world of arts festivals is pulling out all the stops with some truly magnificent performances.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

An(other) open letter to my neighbours

Dear people who live in our block,

Whilst I sincerely regret that you have not been afforded the opportunity to have a good education - one which teaches not only math, science, and litterature, but which also instills those values essential for the model citizen: proper manners, appropriate behaviour, and a consideration for one's fellow man - I cannot allow for your blatant disregard for the sanctity of public space. Certainly, we already experience enough interference in public spaces in our day to day life: advertising everywhere, newspapers shoving trashy celeb pictures in our faces, noisy construction tearing up our streets.

I appreciate that you think playing your Bollywood music at deafening volumes in the public garden is doing us all some kind of favour. I assure you, it is not. When your children are running around out of doors and behaving inappropriately, engaging in a very loud and very public screaming match with them is frankly enough to make one call the police. It also makes you look like a failure of a human being when the only way you can communicate with your progeny is by screaming: 'you fucking little cunt! don't kick that goddamn ball in this house. so help me!' Some of us are intelligent, considerate, people who have work to do and do not appreciate the constant distraction. I know you may find it impossible to believe that some people actually work at home during the day, but I assure you, it is true.

At least our neighbours in number 6 have the courtesy to listen to their horrid music with the windows closed, even if their prostitute-like-good-for-nothing -fake orgasiming girlfriend has been making a bit more of a pornstar ruckus at 2 in the morning. I'd take fake sex noises over ear-splitting Indian music and screaming, ASBO parents any day of the week.

But what I'm really at a loss to understand, dear neighbours, is your abominable lack of self awareness. Sure a good, courteous, public-space sharing citizen is concerned for the experience of the other people living in the space - he's contentious and wishes to make life pleasant for everyone. Yet even if the idea of being a good neighbour never enters into the equation: have you people no shame!? Do you not care what we think of you? That when it is discovered that three children from the area have been murdered, the first person we suspect is you after witnessing you (for all intents and purposes) beat your children for acting like arseholes even though it's blatantly obvious that you can't be bothered to parent. Are you not embarrassed to be listening to such terrible music or to look like a hyper-terrorist tasmanian devil bitch mother?

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that life is not simply one long audition for Big Brother.

Ever yours,


Tuesday, 7 July 2009

thought of the day

"You must write every single day of your life... You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads... may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world."

~ Ray Bradbury

Monday, 6 July 2009

Paris love II

Having just returned from a blissful week of Parisian indulgence, I'm a bit sad to be back in the chaotic metropolis of London town. I had a wonderful week of research, rest, and relaxation.

In the generosity of spirit inspired by the refinement of the Parisian capital, I'll share with you some of my favourite places in Paris:

- Berthillon ice cream on the Ile St-Louis is recognised as the most famous of Paris' ice cream shops and while it is delicious,
Amorino, an Italian gelateria really takes the cake. My favourite branch is in the Marais on Rue Vieille du Temple - they do a divine Amaretto flavour and a cherry and vanilla flavour called Amarena. Yum!
- The Palais Garnier is one of my favourite places to go out in the evening. It's a beautiful neo-baroque theatre which primarily puts on ballets. A little known secret is that you can pick up super cheap return tickets about 45 minutes before each performance.
- Falafel! This trip marked the first occasion of falaffel eating on the rue des Rosiers in the Marais. It was without a doubt the best falafel I ever had - this amazing concoction with grilled eggplant, cabbage, hummas, tahini, falafel, and some spicey sauce! And at only 5 euros a pop, it's the cheapest, most delicious lunch option in town.
- Ladurée. On the other hand, if you're feeling a bit flush or have something of a sweet tooth, Ladurée is one of my favourite places for pastries and sweet things. I could eat their macaroons every day for the rest of my life. There's a branch on the Champs Elysées, but it gets a bit packed. The one on rue Royale is must nicer, especially for lunch.
- Not quite as grand as the Pompidou or the Louvre, the Musée Carnavalet is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Carnavalet focuses on the history of Paris and is laid out beautifuly across two ajoining mansion buildings in the Marais. It's also one of the few free museums in Paris.
- Though it isn't strictly in Paris, the château of Versailles is one of my favourite places in the world. It's steeped in history and is astonishingly rich architecturally and aesthetically, but too often overlooked by weekend visitors to Paris. Versailles is easily accessible and even if only made as a day trip simply should not be missed. It is really quite something.
- The top of the Printemps department store. There's a cafe at the top of Printemps which isn't great, but which has an amazing outdoor terrace with splendid views of the city. Skip the nasty, overpriced food, grab a drink and enjoy the panoramic views of Paris. People always make the mistake of going up the Eiffel Tower, but it's better to go up something else so you can actually see Eiffel's masterpiece.
- Last but not least, my favourite place in Paris is the rue de Bourg-Tibourg branch of the Mariage Frères tea shop. As I sit typing this, I'm sipping on my latest purchase, a first flush Darjeeling Castleton, which is divine. The interior is brilliant, the staff are super friendly, and most importantly, the tea is first class.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

why I love Paris in the summertime

Things overheard/seen in Paris. Day one:

- a French girl wearing flip flops!
- An American tourist get knocked off his Velib after being mowed down by a Japanese tourist, also on a Velib.
- a French man totally kitted out in full Breton regalia: slightly, angled beret and everything.
- a riot that wasn't quite a riot at the Forum des Halles. Either this is a good measure of French racism or I completely missed something. There was a group of about 25 black men - it sort of looked like two rival groups winding each other up - but I didn't stop long enough to look. Walking past, there must have been about 20 police vans and the police easily outnumbered the men 3 to 1. I've never seen more police in one place in my life. I still don't know what was going on.

- The Pont des Arts turned into a giant picnic bench.

- the inside of the beautiful reading room at the
Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal
- An American tourist standing outside the Notre Dame approached by a scammer. When the scammer asked the tourist if he spoke any Enlish, his immediate reply was, 'a little.' How true!