Tuesday, 29 September 2009

<3 London

I haven't been able to get the thought of moving to NYC out of my head. I don't know where it came from, but all it takes is the tiniest flutter of a 'what if' to make me dream of stalking uptown streets in fantastic heels and going to lots of art openings and taking cool welding and drawing and drinking classes at 3rdward. The funniest thing is that this is basically what I do living in London, only just it's London and not NYC. I don't even know if I'd like living in Manhattan and I already know that I love living in London. I've lived around a bit and I've never had the kind of relationship with other cities that I have with London. Come to think of it, I've never put as much into a relationship with a man in the same way I do with this city. It takes lots of work to get the most out of living here and it's funny, if perhaps a bit strange, that I'm willing to put so much into London. I'm happy to compromise and to try new things, to be faithful to my old favourites and to spend time learning about what's beneath the surface. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about NYC makes me think that I wouldn't have this same kind of relationship - maybe it's because it's so much smaller than London. Don't get me wrong, there's something about the NYC spirit that I wish were more prominent in London. Where are all the people making shit happen outside of the boring old established spaces, the people doing exciting things and running amazing events. I think Londoners tend to be a bit lazier, a bit more suspicious and cynical in general than their counterparts across the Atlantic. I shouldn't overly generalise as I met some super inspiring people during the SALON exhibition and also during the London Design Festival. It restores my faith in the people in this town to know that there are curious and dynamic people hiding out there, I just wish they'd transform from consumers of culture into producers of it.

On a semi-related note, and because people ask me all the time (I know...), here's a top 10 of my favourite places in London. These aren't token groovy places, but places I love and go to all the time - places that I can always count on for reassurance that London is the place for me.
In no particular order:

1) Brunch at The Ambassador in Exmouth Market
2) Donmar and Royal Court Theatres
3) Dana Centre
Champagne Bar at St Pancras Station
5) Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel
6) Haunch of Venison gallery
7) The reading room in the London Library
8) Three Kings Pub in Clerkenwell
9 Teasmith in Spitalfields, Monmouth in Covent Garden, and Flat White in Soho
10) London Review of Books bookshop

Failing that, just take a walk. Don't forget to look up for inspiration lurks in the most unlikely of places.


Royal Court Theatre

The Library Bar

The Three Kings

Event at the Dana Centre

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Second Slaughter

This poem by Lucia Perillo is from the September issue of Poetry magazine. Normally I like most of what's in Poetry, but apart from a beautifully written essay on baseball and poetry (I know!) by Fernando Perez, the only piece that really caught my eye this month was Perillo's The Second Slaughter.

All poets have a thing for Homer - not all of them could tell you why, but they do - it's that whole godfather of poetry thing, gets 'em every time. Christopher Logue does the best re-imagining of the Iliad going, but allusions to the blind bard crop up absolutely everywhere. What I like about this particular poem is that Perillo has managed to take an episode so well known from Homer and turn it into something completely fresh. More than that, the poem doesn't just provide a new way of looking at an old text, but it allows an old text to cast new light on a contemporary problem. It's a beautifully layered statement on differing responses to grief and suffering - the old world's way of demonstrating grief now becomes a source of grief in and of itself in the modern world. And the last stanza is absolutely marvellous - the play on links between inhumanity and the animal world are subtle and surprising. Too tired to make more sense (haven't slept in nearly 48 hours!), but it really is a wonderful piece of writing.

Achilles slays the man who slayed his friend, pierces the corpse
behind the heels and drags it
behind his chariot like the cans that trail
a bride and groom. Then he lays out
a banquet for his men, oxen and goats
and pigs and sheep; the soldiers eat
until a greasy moonbeam lights their beards.

The first slaughter is for victory, but the second slaughter is for grief—
in the morning more animals must be killed
for burning with the body of the friend. But Achilles finds
no consolation in the hiss and crackle of their fat;
not even heaving four stallions on the pyre
can lift the ballast of his sorrow.

And here I turn my back on the epic hero—the one who slits
the throats of his friend’s dogs,
killing what the loved one loved
to reverse the polarity of grief. Let him repent
by vanishing from my concern
after he throws the dogs onto the fire.
The singed fur makes the air too difficult to breathe.

When the oil wells of Persia burned I did not weep
until I heard about the birds, the long-legged ones especially
which I imagined to be scarlet, with crests like egrets
and tails like peacocks, covered in tar
weighting the feathers they dragged through black shallows
at the rim of the marsh. But once

I told this to a man who said I was inhuman, for giving animals
my first lament. So now I guard
my inhumanity like the jackal
who appears behind the army base at dusk,
come there for scraps with his head lowered
in a posture that looks like appeasement,
though it is not.

Haunch of Venison III

Haunch of Venison makes me happy. Obviously, I love the way it sounds when you say, 'I'm off to Haunch of Venison', but mostly I love it because it's magnificently inspiring. HOV is doing what the Tate Modern should be doing had they more curatorial gumption: showcasing works by innovative and exciting contemporary artists. I'm pretty clued up when it comes to contemporary art, but every time I go to a new show at HOV, I'm always surprised by work from an artist I've never heard of before.

I went to the private view tonight for the new Thomas Heatherwick Extrusions exhibition which opens just in time for the London Design Festival. Rather appropriate, as (though I haven't quite made up my mind) I'm pretty sure these pieces are process over practice. Not that I'm in any position to gripe, because I'm absolutely fascinated by process, technique, form - all those behind the scenes elements tend only to heighten one's appreciation of the final product - I love a back story. But this only works if the process is merely a contributing factor to the finished product - anything that rests on the laurels of process must be, by its very nature, flawed. So the fact that you can't even sit on Heatherwick's benches means there's something not quite right about them, but does explain why they're in the HOV: these are not benches, they're art. To be fair, as art they're beautiful and immeasurably clever pieces of sculpture, but as benches, frankly they're terrible.

In any event, all was not lost as I stumbled upon something of much more interest on the ground floor: beautiful light sculptures from the early 1970s by the American artist Dan Flavin. This just goes to prove my point. Dan Flavin is one of those artists that you (meaning me, of course) probably should know, but don't. That's what I love about HOV. Everyone knows too much about Picasso, Duchamps, Dali, but even more than too much about Gilbert & George, Emin and Hirst. Most people who rock up to the Tate Modern on the weekend have never heard of Flavin or Coventry or Ghenie - all artists recently shown at HOV. I say this all the time, but it should be the role of an institution like the Tate Modern to expose people to under represented work by significant artists. If the Tate Modern went up in flames tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it for a second - as long as HOV continues programming consistently outstanding exhibitions, I'll look to it for inspirational and innovative thinking in contemporary art.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

take 2 perspectives: fashion

The fashion perspective:

Everybody's going funny about the September issue of Vogue because of R.J. Cutler's real-life 'Devil Wears Prada' documentary, 'The September Issue', which - you guessed it - looks at the making of Vogue's September issue. Only the funny thing is that the documentary leads up to the making of the September 2007 issue, not the 2009 issue so I've no idea why all the sudden fuss over this months issue. It's not even that particularly great of an issue. I digress. What really struck me about this issue was the editor's letter. Someone at Vogue had the great idea that what we need in the middle of an economic recession is a one night global event to lift the world's morale. And what better way to do this than with a night of shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. Shopping....

In her letter, Wintour goes on about how shopping is just the thing to lift us out of our doldrums - all the world needs is to whip out its collective Amex - one hit of the pleasure and joy of fashion and we'll be capitalists back on track in no time. This kind of crap sends me into a tailspin of barking rage. I'm not going to pretend that I don't love fashion, because I do. But mindless, frivolous, idiotic spending sprees are not going to fix our economy. Fashion's fucking Night Out isn't going to have any affect on unemployment figures or market regulations or homelessness. Wintour says that FNO is 'Vogue's response to the notion that in these challenging times, certain kinds of pleasure, such as shopping, are impermissible. I believe that on the contrary, this is exactly the moment to insist on the harmless (and in fact economically beneficial) joys of being out and about and open to inspiration.' AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH. Wake the hell up, woman. People aren't shopping for things they don't need in 'these challenging times' because it's not financially prudent. It's a bit of a no-brainer that if you feel your job might be in jeopardy, you aren't going to be blowing your salary on a new handbag. And what a limited world view: as if the only way to 'be out and about and open to inspiration' was to find the nearest shop and hole up in it. Most museums are free, seeing a film is cheap, hell even sitting on a bench people-watching is more inspiring and interesting than spending an hour in Topshop.

The poet's perspective:

At the Galleria Shopping Mall by Tony Hoagland

Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress from Hollywood

to the breast size of an actress from Bollywood.
And here is my niece Lucinda,

who is nice and a true daughter of Texas,
who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde

and declares that her favourite sport is shopping.
Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,

swinging a credit card like a scythe
through the meadows of golden merchandise.

Today is the day she stops looking at faces,
and starts assessing the labels of purses;

So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty
and raised and wrung out again and again.

And let us watch.
As the gods in olden stories

turned mortals into laurel trees and crows
to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Finally got round to taking some pics of the work in the space. I think it looks great, but see for yourself. The space is open until September 11th everyday from 10am to 6pm and then Friday evening and next Tuesday-Friday evening for performance events. Check out the details here.

Sipsmith: sponsor of the SALON (LONDON) private view - an incredible microdistillery based in London and the first copper-pot distillery to open in London in nearly two centuries. You've never tasted a g&t like this before.

tastes like bitter lemons and judgement day

Taste is such a strange thing. Why is it that we’re so defensive about our individual tastes in music, literature, and members of the opposite sex when, even in one lifetime, these tastes will change many times. Okay, so taste in whatever is a great tool. We make snap judgements about people we might not know so well by nosily browsing their bookshelves or iTunes library because it’s easy, fast, and occasionally useful. It’s rather odd, but most people feel a bit hesitant about sharing these things with others. Fine art seems to be the one area where we get away with making grandiose judgements: “that Turner exhibition was ABSOLUTELY awful,” you sigh to your friend who promises not to see it. Nobody really seems to get that offended – we don’t align ourselves to artists the way we do poets or singer-songwriters who ‘understand what we’re going through’. Blah blah blah.

Compare the first time you listen to music at your boyfriend’s house. He puts on some art-house indy-rock band music that you can’t stand. No way are you going to tell him how much you hate it, for fear you might crush the fledgling buds of romance. No matter that you might find, in a few months time, no doubt after many listens, that you’ve become a skinny-jean wearing, indy-rock devotee. No more Tori Amos for you.

This is what I mean: why are we so defensive of our own tastes when they so often change depending on what we’re exposed to. Humans are the most forward-thinking, constantly evolving, creatures of habit in the world. How remarkable that we, in so many ways, stay the same, and yet alter our appearance, our tastes, our partners, our jobs, all the time.

What brought these ramblings on? A break up and a poet. I thought my partner was a decent chap. It turns out I was mistaken. I thought I didn’t like the poet Auden. Also mistaken.

Regular readers will know that I am a devoted fan of the Josephine Hart poetry nights put on at the British Library. It must have been about six months ago now that I went to the Auden evening, which as I wrote here, was very enjoyable. Hart also produces CDs of the British Library readings. I recently purchased the first collection called Catching Life by the Throat which features Ralph Finnes reading a selection of Auden poems. Unfortunately the sound quality of the recordings leaves much to be desired but Finnes is an excellent reader and Auden suits him particularly well.

Auden is cheeky, witty, snappy and incredibly poignant – don’t know how I missed that the first few times around. There’s a whiff of melancholia that I’m particularly drawn to, an almost elegiac quality in some poems, particularly: Lullaby; September 1, 1939; and O Tell Me the Truth About Love.

My favourite poem though has to be Song of the Devil. It’s laugh out loud hilarious and brilliantly clever. I can’t find it anywhere online so I’ve transcribed a very messy version below from the recording. I haven’t a copy of the poem in print, so I have no idea where the line breaks or even punctuation should go, but it’s a really funny, fantastic poem, read superbly by Finnes on the recording.

So it turns out, some things really are worth a second chance. Worth an adjustment of taste. Then again, some definitely aren’t.

Song of the Devil

Ever since observation taught me temptation
As a matter of timing, I’ve tried to clothe my fiction
In up to date diction. The contemporary jargon of
pride. I can recall when, to win the more obstinate
round, the best bet was to say to them:
sin the more that grace may abound.

Since social psychology replaces theology
The process goes twice as quick. If a conscience
Is tender and loathe to surrender, I had only
To whisper: you’re sick.
Puritanical morality is madly non-U.
Enhance your personality with a romance, with two.
If you pass up a dame, you’ve yourself to blame,
For shame is neurotic, so snatch.

All rules are too formal. In fact, they’re abnormal,
For any desire is natch. So take your proper share,
Man of dope and drink, aren’t you the chairman of
Ego Inc? Free will is a mystical myth as statistical
Methods have objectively shown: a fad of the churches.
Since the latest researches into motivation, it’s known
That honour is hypocrisy, honesty a joke. You live in
A democracy: lie like other folk.

Since men are like goods, what are shouldn’ts
or shoulds when you are the leading brand.
Let them all drop dead, you’re way ahead.
Beat them up if they dare to demand what may
Your intention be or what might ensue. There’s a
Difference of dimension between me and you.
If in the scrimmage of business your image should
Ever tarnish or stale, public relations can take it and
Make it shine like a knight of the grail.

You can mark up the price that you sell at
If you are packaged as glamour and show.
Values are relative, dough is dough. So,
Let each while he may think you’re more okay,
More yourself than anyone else. Till you find that
You’re hooked, your goose is cooked and you’re
Only a cipher of hells. Believe while you can that
I’m proud of you. Enjoy your dream. I’m so bored
With the whole fucking crowd of you I could scream.

10 Hills Place

Whoa. It's been nearly a month since my last post. Just goes to show how consumed I've been over the course of the last month. There has simply been no space in my head for anything else other than SALON (LONDON) - I sort of dried up. But thankfully, now that the gallery and events are underway and going well, my wirey, firey little brain has resumed normal service. I have things to say again. Phew! What a relief. So here's a triple threat of posts to make up for having abandoned posting for the last month.

As I was rushing out of the office today, I happened to glance at some proofs on my editor's desk. The building on next week's cover is AMAZING! I mean it's seriously great. One of the most exciting things I've seen in London in ages and it's dead central, but still sort of hidden. Just off Oxford Street, quite close to Oxford Circus tube is a little alley of a street called Hills Place, and at number 10, Amanda Levete Architects have created this little stunner. I think it looks like the side of a silvery shark - the ripples are like gills in the skin. I swung by this afternoon to take a few of my own pics. It's a bastard to get a great shot of, but I wanted to show it off anyway.