Tag Archives: london

Meades Aphex Sandwich Pt. 1

Only the purified impetus of Meades can resurrect this otherwise moribund site.

It turns out that last-minute train ticketing optimisation decisions have their own repercussions. (More later).

With the afternoon off, I arrived in East Croydon, a staging post for Chichester. Having secured Private Eye and the New Yorker in the W H Smith, I was dully lingering by the newspapers, accidentally in front of the ‘i’ pile.

“There’s too much news”, a man informed me. “That one” – indicating ‘i’ – “just has the best bits. Try it.”

Pleasing though it was to receive this advice, I confess I did not take it. Instead I bought my ticket to Chichester, thinking well Oyster, zones, travelcard, yes it will all be fine. The machine appeared to be offering the same ticket for two different prices, so I thought I’d play a trick on it and choose the cheaper one. Take that, Invisible Hand.

Strange aspects of journeys in this region to my urban mind include trains that undergo mitosis, and lots of level crossings, which indicate bad planning.

The man at the Pallant House ticket office was very jolly, this extending to the loan of a special token, because I was such a metropolitan elitist that I lacked even a single coin for the lockers. It seems to be a place where people are keener than normal to discuss why they are there, and the gallery itself. Someone said that the modern extension to the original building had been very controversial in its time, largely treasured though it now is. The man in question lamented that the

“limited art syllabus in schools leads to a conservatism towards modern architecture”

that is very unfortunate. Later, in the central permanent collection gallery, a woman was prompted by the sight of a Peter Blake to complain that he had “airbrushed Jann Howarth out of history” and claimed all the credit for himself.

Sidney Nolan wasn’t particularly known to me. The best pieces were some of the Ned Kelly-related ones,  

a couple of small ones painted on glass, and landscapes:

It was noteworthy that he seemingly felt the need to move to the UK to achieve greater prominence, which I doubt would be the case now. Later on I heard that some people had come specially for him, whereas Pasmore was the priority for me.

To me Pasmore is associated with his designs for Peterlee, and footage I remember of his engaging with the residents who were complaining about them. The show emphasises the series of stylistic changes from figuration to abstraction in his career, described by one critic as the most important in post-war British art, which are indeed quite startling, particularly if you go back to the beginning. In the first room, two women were discussing the patronage of Kenneth Clark that Pasmore enjoyed, and one of them was trying to remember the name of his infamous son. I was able to supply the name of Alan Clark, and she laughed at the way she had whispered her own description of the man whose name she couldn’t remember as a “womaniser”. There is something very satisfying about witnessing the playing out of these changing obsessions, the landscapes becoming more rarefied, the colour blocks, the spirals, the reliefs. Each stage in his evolution has at least one outstanding exemplar. A happy surprise to learn that he created a mural for the Renold building, an icon of childhood train journeys and later University-related visits. Very cleverly, the gallery has scheduled a small show of British Constructivist art from the Catherine Petitgas collection, to coincide with the Pasmore, including some scintillating pieces.

On top of these, there was a lovely single-room display of woodcut prints, including my favourites Albrecht Dürer,

and Hiroshige:

plus Rebecca Salter and Vanessa Bell, both of whose work I’ve seen recently.

Very much worth the long and puzzling journey. As for the return, was needed to be timed for an event at RIBA, it was initially plagued by “signalling problems”, which led to train cancellations. While I waited on the station forecourt, several groups of what looked like wedding guests were gathering, including some lecking men who took turns to make expeditions into the station, returning for approbation and fist-related celebrations. While it was a bonanza for the man with his kiosk on the platform, the staff were dealing well with puzzled out-of-towners like me. Each time the train indicators changed (which was every few minutes), showing a “correction” notice, a strange sound was emitted, and the persisted in holding out hope for trains that hadn’t actually been cancelled, but whose appearance was very unlikely. Owing to my curious decision earlier, I had to buy an extra ticket to cover the escape from East Croydon to the warm embrace of Victoria. I think this was quite an obscure ticket, judging by the length of time it took the On Board Staff man to find it on his device.

With all the extra delays, I missed the first half of the On The Brandwagon screening at the Here Lies Jonathan Meades – Regeneration event. In the programme he dissects the Bilbao Effect, and its attempted implementation in places like Manchester, during the early New Labour period, lamenting the groupthink and the missing ambition. Hatherley asked Meades what he thought might be remembered well from the period. He replied that:

“It’s hard to tell what will endure, and when it does it’s never down to building quality”.

Meades lamented that the work of Rodney Gordon, Owen Luder and Claude Parent had nearly all disappeared, while an uncodified hierarchy of preservation meant that it was much harder to get rid of a dreadful church than a beautiful warehouse. The overall effect of urban regeneration in the ten years after 1997 was to produce “Modernism without meaning” and buildings that became “instantly unfashionable”. Part of the reason for this lay in the strangely plagiaristic approach of many architects, who ape each other in just the way that (for example) writers don’t. He referred to Adrian Tempany, who has written in his book about football, that there was a sense of shame about British cities in the Eighties, as compared with other European cities, with their San Siros and Nou Camps.

Audience members asked about London in the Sixties and Meades said that he enjoyed the messiness he found when he first visited then, and that

“Swinging London was completely atypical”

while more generally “tidiness kills cities”. This led on to the problems in regional cities, which used to be proud of their distinctiveness, whereas now they are subject to a relentless homogenisation.

In the programme he had a great time with litanies of newspeak

“Cultural springboard into the regional sector”

that he said he largely made up, though Hatherley claimed that he’d actually encountered

“Housing market renewal partnership”.

Further on language, he decried the vapidity of Executive language, which is

“(the) Language of the sycophant and the flunkey, used in hope of promotion”

and compared that unfavourably with Jonathan Green who celebrates the “slang poetry of the gutter”.

Asked again whether any of the regeneration projects could be considered successful, he thought that Bristol maybe performed better than the rest, owing to its peculiar topography, and that it effected regeneration without social clearance. On the latter point the “Class clearances” in cities were cited, and the terrible “decanting of the poor”. These social divisions “follow building patterns”, leading to social atomization and an almost total lack of “mixity”. A government with any spine should compulsorily purchase the thousands of unused buildings in cities like London.

Someone asked about a skit on the Village People’s YMCA, reworked as “INLA”, and the fact that on a programme scheduled in September 2001 this was fatuously censored by the BBC. A woman from Bilbao said that she wasn’t sure whether she supported him or hated him, because she claimed that contrary to his thesis, there had been genuine improvements since the arrival of the Guggenheim. He thought that those improvements would have happened anyway, and that the idea of the eponymous effect was a “faith without foundation”, the same as “dripdown, which we know doesn’t work”.

During these questions I was slightly mesmerised by my view of the on-stage monitors and the flashing red digits indicating that they were running over time, according to the schedule. The second screening of the evening was “Get High: the perilous attractions of vertigo” from 1994, a programme that he said

“addresses no weighty matters at all”.

He noted that he only suffers from it in buildings, not in nature, and that his hopes of the condition being cured by making the programme were not fulfilled.

Considering fairgrounds in the programme, he referred to the workers as “tattooed clerics of pain”. An inflatable Meades suffered on his behalf. Cablecars were described as unusual in being “both structures and modes of transport”. The mania for lifts in office buildings provided “workplace intoxication” and the “introduction of irreason” into the day. Footage of Canary Wharf was gilded by the theme from Where Eagles Dare, rather pleasingly.

An evening that more than justified the angst of trying to rush back from Chichester.

We shall return to the concept of “irreason” in part 2, which will also cover Field Day, Aphex Twin and more Meades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wrong Raven

A Friday off, with hopes of a giddy odyssey during the forbidden daytime. In the event, there was more sloth than expected, and I didn’t set out until quite late in the afternoon. What was that woman signing to her unseen friend, at Leytonstone, on the Hainault branch train, I wondered? Whatever – we departed first, so we won. The first destination was a new one for me, the Tintype gallery in Islington, for the group show Bench. My favourites were the Michael Simpson drawings and paintings, Anna Lucas’ montage and the metal bench constructed by the Turner Prize-winning Assemble, which included Art Deco features from the ex-cinema just down Essex Road, as the owner of the gallery explained to me. I wandered down, to the building that is now serving a religious purpose, and sat on a concrete bench, to re-tie my errant shoelaces and take photos.

Untitled

Untitled

Walking to and from the various bus stops, I heard the same Radio 3 Free Thinking intro to their programme about Dada three times, because my podcast program had been unusually prodigal in its downloads. The stand-out quote here was from one of the Dadaists who said that:

“Only imbeciles and Spanish professors are interested in dates”,

in the context of trying to agree the timeline of Dada.

From Islington to Clerkenwell, and the Frameless gallery show The Black Bubbleicious, by Paul Deller. The collages downstairs worked best, though I did like the nods to Matisse’s cutouts in the overlaying of small strips of black vinyl and cloth on the ground floor. The poignancy of the ancient Ferguson Videostar advert snippet, and the testament to classroom boredom that was the collection of rubbers (“erasers”), including the messages written on their ephemeral sides.

IMG_20160212_163134

IMG_20160212_163201

Vacillating over where to go next, I travelled to the road Raven Row instead of the gallery Raven Row, which is not on the road Raven Row, and is sufficiently near that I stupidly did what the erroneously-informed Citymapper told me to do. Bah. Still, now I know where the Whitechapel Mission is, should that ever be needed. On the way to the actual Raven Row, for my second visit to the impossible-to-contain Inoperative Community show, I heard a man exclaiming to his companion:

“The first thing the doctor asked me was, have you been anywhere exotic?”

which implies at least an interesting ailment. The gallery should be thanked for their audience consideration, in that they provided a comprehensive timetable of all the film screenings, even including variations for each day of the week. This meant you would also always know what you were watching in each room, which isn’t always the case. Up the stairs and across to You the better, which has its own special multi-colour flashing light in the alcove outside the screening room itself. As the audience you end up as confused about the rules of the various games the characters are trying to win as they are themselves, which is the point, of course. A happy surprise for me was the 808 usage in the music co-composed by the artist. A few people peered into this film while I was watching, but weren’t tempted to stay.

IMG_20160212_175124

IMG_20160212_175210

Down and across from West to East for Luke Fowler’s Depositions, which ranges across Orkney and Shetland to encompass Travellers who “think they’re better than the rest”, a marvellous quote which I didn’t fully catch but which was something like:

“Never has human asininity been displayed with such extravagance…”,

clashes between Science and folk beliefs, DNA, the BBC Infax system “with the names of contributors redacted”,superstitions about predicting marriage, and the consultation of “clairvoyants and other sensitives” for a futurist’s book Future Tense. Television is referred to as a:

“cultural silicon chip through which you can experience the flickering half-life of someone else’s dreams”.

Both times I’ve been to this show it’s felt like I’ve been member of a strange temporary community of seekers after art films, with earnest discussions between friends and couples of how to accommodate themselves to the film schedule.

“We could go and see the end of Melancholia” (another immensely long Lav Diaz film) “- it’s only on in full for another day”.

Life is indeed Very Hard.

After a reassuringly displeasant journey to Fitzrovia (the carriage being so crowded it was comical), a walk past the braying hordes outside the pubs and bars (strangely similar to the braying hordes in Shoreditch) to Carroll/Fletcher for the Experimental Writing event with Nick Montfort with Manfred Mohr. People were standing outside, phone fiddling, and someone told me they’d been told to wait, but I brainlessly tried the door and someone inside let me in. A man sitting in front of me impressed the woman next to him (nearly everyone else knew nearly everyone else) with his VR device, which turned out to be a 3D-printed plastic version of Google Cardboard.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having been tempted by the mention of Commodore 64-based poems in the mailing list announcement. Nick Montfort’s first reading was Round, a poem created by a Python script that calculated digits of Pi and represented them in word form. After reading excerpts of the output, he explained and showed us the source code. Left to itself, the program would keep running, slowing down as the calculations took longer.

Next was Taroko gorge, which was in effect a nature poem generator, based on Montfort’s visit to Japan. Again, it was “boundless” i.e. it would keep generating lines of poetry until interrupted. Because it was deliberately designed as a single HTML page that could be downloaded and altered, others took it and changed the input vocabulary, an example being Tokyo Garage. There were other versions that showed the source code alongside the poems, and a meta-remix that included the output of all the other remixes.

The Two has been translated into different languages, the complication being that the ambiguity over the referents of the pronouns is easy in English, possible in French if you choose appropriate nouns that begin with a vowel, hard in Spanish etc. Apparently it’s rude in Japanese to use so many pronouns in a sentence. He distinguished between repetition of sounds across lines (in a strophe) and within a line.

He is also interested in celebrating and preserving older computer poetry efforts, on his Memory Slam site, which again allows you to save the source and alter the output of the scripts. Changing loyalties from Python to Perl, he showed his series of Perl scripts that generate poems using only 256 characters of code. Naturally the constraints meant he had to take a flexible attitude to whether the generated words actually existed in English or were just English-like. In the second version, he emphasised structural variation more than vocabulary size. A side-effect of the smaller set of words was that there were more rhymes. The final part of his performance comprised some poems running on the Commodore 64 (in this case, because his actual machine doesn’t support PAL, it was in an emulator running on his laptop). As well as a one-line Basic program which applied colours based on the rhyme scheme of a Rimbaud poem, he showed a couple of machine code poetry generators, that were very reminiscent of the old demo scene in their concise prodigality, operating in only 32 bytes. The size of text you might use as a password for a wireless network, as Montfort pointed out.

 

 

After the performance, there was a discussion between Nick Montfort, Manfred Mohr (whose show has just opened at Carroll/Fletcher) and Matthew Fuller. Asked about his definition of “experimental“, Montfort referred to the difference between experimental and theoretical physics, and the importance of “working through doing“. Mohr noted that the people who made the first visual art on computers weren’t themselves visual artists (at this point, he pointed to someone in the audience, but I’m afraid I don’t know his name).

Mohr went on to ask whether the rational comes from inside or outside a person. He had found that after he developed his  programs, he became a different person. The process had permanently altered the way he perceived everything, because he was thereafter
always looking for the algorithm“. He had undergone “professional deformation“. A comparison was made between twenty consonant poetry and Schoenberg’s twelve tone music, when considering the importance of constraints in experimental writing. Mohr gently chided Montfort for what he felt to be his sentimentality for old technology, while Montfort noted that there was little support for international characters in the old 8-bit systems (so Spanish and French poems generated on them lacked accents, for example), while there are still a lot of biases in computing towards the Latin alphabet.

Montfort referred to the ubiquity of “textual grids”, while Mohr declared that

“An artwork has to be strong enough to defend itself”.

I liked Montfort’s concept of “Plagiarism by anticipation“, when someone copies from you a few years before you write the original, and his blunt assessment of the financial rewards of poetry:

“You have no hope of earning money as a poet.”

He cited Derek Walcott, a Nobel Prize winner, “who didn’t teach because he liked it, he taught because he needed the money”.

I thought it was very pleasingly unusual to be able to recreate a performance at home so directly (by running the poetry generators) and it was also quite bracing to see an artist using a laptop running Linux, rather than ever-present Steve.

 

Final day prequel sequel

Following some excursions and other days, the next event was Tim Key’s Father Slutmas, the second year running that I’d seen his Festivus show. This time it was at the Arts Theatre, the lobby of which grew remarkably crowded while we waited for the auditorium to be prepared. That seems to be the pattern at this venue. Daniel Kitson nonchalantly came up to collect his ticket. In fact, during the show, there was apparently Someone Famous a few rows from the front, to which Key referred, but I didn’t recognise them. The victim in the audience who was invited onto the stage was particularly keen and compliant, if indeed he was genuine. Key still does the best shouting of any comedian. At TCR, a rather drunk person was very pleased with her feeding of the mice on the tracks. On the train itself, some women were lamenting the lack of essence in their phones:

“What kind of bar doesn’t have a charger? 1% battery”.

I think they were trying to record the number of a potential gentleman caller.

“I might as well have a land line”.

A day later I saw Alice Neel at Victoria Miro Mayfair. Not really to my taste, in spite of the feline subjects, though it was interesting to see the changes in her style over the years, the progression towards stronger, thicker lines. Not too far away was the Carroll/Fletcher Project Space, for Uncertain Identities. My favourite piece here was The Conductor’s Fear of the Soloist – Ten Small Pieces for Violin, a video showing downstairs on two screens at a right-angle. The sang-froid of the violinist, keeping alive in the middle of the road while playing his music, was very impressive. Some of the people driving and walking past barely noticed him, untroubled by a mid-tarmac musician, while others stared and recorded. No one, in the sections I saw, engaged with him. On the other screen, the traffic was in a genuine gridlock, worthy of Jacques Tati.

To what we can only call Islington the following day, for the other Victoria Miro gallery. There were some pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama outside, attracting methodical attention by Japanese tourists:

External installation at Victoria Miro

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin at Victoria Miro

Next to it was James Clar’s installation celebrating 10 years of Parasol Unit:

James Clar - All Everything

Outdoor installation at Parasol Unit

Back inside, the collage-paintings of Wangechi Mutu were very dense and at first I resisted them. Looking more closely, I liked the way she was using materials, such as a flower composed of insects, pearls, feathers and snake skins (while disapproving, faintly). The video upstairs was very cleverly done, with its reversed movements. One of the reliable pleasures here is the comments book. Someone who taught African Studies realised as a result of seeing Mutu’s work that the course was very male-dominated:

“Seeing these feminine centred evocations of Gikuyu mythology and blackness more generally is just so beautiful and evocative and inspiring. I can’t thank you enough for producing this work.”

Someone else said that the “creature gave me goosebumps”.
That morning while travelling I read an article in an old New Yorker about Eric Fischl’s paintings of attendees at private views and art fairs, and he had a show in the remaining Victoria Miro space. One of the male figures was reminiscent of Alan ‘Botney’ Yentob, but perhaps that was just a coincidence. Fischl’s contempt for his subjects was hilarious, including the superimposition of a skull. Again the comments revealed people’s appreciation.

Eric Fischl comments

Comments book for Eric Fischl

That evening, an old lady at a bus stop in Kilburn queried my Parasol Unit bag:

“Parasol? Parasol? Is Polish?”

The next day began with a trip to the Work Gallery, for After the flash, which explored the imagery of the Atomic Age. It conveyed a sense of the American feeling of power and plenitude in the 1950s, as well as the banality of the secret projects that sought to maintain and extend that power. Also prominent was the remarkable complacency and nonchalance with which they plundered the environment, and the unlikely glamour of atomic weaponry. There was a photo of some Teddy boy types with their molls, lolling about in the desert, attracted perhaps by a bomb test. Apparently a man who had worked at Sellafield came to the show and was talking about the changes at the site compared with the cheery postcard from the 1950s. There’s a good write-up of the show, with lots of photos, including some from the associated book, here. It reminded me that I need to read the Command and Control book that I bought with book tokens in Christmas 2013.

Over to Soho for the inconspicuous Anthony Reynolds gallery and their show What’s In and What’s Not, an interestingly varied group show, then Mayfair for the Timothy Taylor gallery, only to find that it was closed, owing to “construction works”. Tsk. At least that freed some time for Gerhard Richter show at the Marian Goodman gallery, again the last day, which meant it was quite crowded. These were mostly fairly recent works, rather different than the large retrospective I’d seen at Tate Modern a few years ago. At first I was rather wary of the squashed-behind-glass paintings, but I did warm to them when I spotted wrinkles caused by the squashing, and when some of them came to resemble cross-sections of cells, with stretched blobs and holes. There was a member of staff with a trolley on which a laptop was perched, and some tools. He was checking one of the paintings in a way that seemed quite mysterious, and his presence was sufficiently noteworthy that people were taking photos of him rather than the painting itself. Observing my own reactions, it became clear that the mood of the coloured line paintings was altered by the varying prevalence of the collections of stripes – some of the conjunctions sang, while others were mute.

Gerhard Richter

There was another series of rather small landscapes which Richter had defaced/improved with very clever smudges and smears, making people smile as they realised what was happening.

DSC04932

Someone was escorted out of the building while I was there, saying

“How silly, not painting anything”.

Flickr album of Gerhard Richter at Marian Goodman

Final destination for the day was the BFI, for Another Earth, part of their Sci-Fi season. In contrast to some, I don’t shy away from buses, this time the 139. A pensioner commiserated with the driver, who had to cope with dilatory West End crowds, as well as the sluggish traffic. However, she rescinded her sympathy later when there was some confusion over whether the destination of the bus had changed or not. Eventually the bus did “terminate” early and people alighted forlornly, cursing the driver, who will have been told to do so by his Controllers, with their plans for the Greater Good. The film itself was open to charges of melodrama (not always a bad thing) and predictability, though with an unusually deft and satisfying ending.

There was more to see on Sunday, starting with Nathan Eastwood at the Nunnery Gallery, where I’d enjoyed the East London Group of Artists show in the summer. It also feels more virtuous to support a venue that’s at least vaguely local, instead of the usual trek into the Big Bad Centre. Because it was the last day, the artist himself was there, talking to someone who I think must have been a journalist or another member of the Art World. He said he was particularly interested in “social realism” and that he didn’t like having titles by his works (on the walls of the gallery), because they detracted from the visual effect. All of them had been painted specifically for this show, and he said he’d been inspired by seeing works by George Shaw several years ago. He also didn’t like having blurbs:

“Don’t explain everything”.

Because of this I was free to impose my own explanations, one of the paintings looking to me like the fractured ending of a residents’ meeting for a housing association, if such things still exist.

Onwards, onwards, to the Estorick Collection in Islington, for the final day of Roman Ostia. Free entry with my Art Fund card – opposite of tsk. This was a combination of ancient and modern, with some good abstract sculptures and lovely, sinister mosaics. I hadn’t seen the serrated card technique used by Umberto Mastroianni before, which is always good, though in the end most of the results were rather ugly (not always a bad thing). Amongst the frescoes on display, most of which were damaged, a woman’s eyes stood out, transcending the coarse medium.

DSC04946

Flickr album of Roman Ostia at the Estorick Collection.

Post-penultimate stop for the day was the ICA. For once I was a little early for my film, so I went into their “poundshop”, where I bought some Christmas-related item that I don’t think I used in the end. The film was Manakamana, which I think I’d made a note of from trailers a few months previously. It’s a wonderful example of that fixed situation genre, in this case a camera within cable cars going up from a village to a temple in Nepal and back again. There’s no voiceover, so you have to work out the relations between the occupants yourself. At first it’s unclear whether people even know each other, or whether they’ve been forced to co-habit for reasons of cable car efficiency. The first duo didn’t say a single word during the whole trip, while one of the following women declared:

“I’m not really a foothills person”.

Quite. In one case, the breathing of a wife was very prominent – I think she was rather anxious, being suspended that high up. Many people referred to the sal forest that they pass en route, one person extolling how good the corn is that’s grown there. The journeys we share with them take on a soothing rhythm, punctuated by sounds in the blackness at the end, as the car turns around inside the station, ready for the next ascent/descent. One group of young band members was particularly garrulous, full of their minutely-defined and ever-changing hierarchies.

“Nature is a flower pot for the cable car”,

said one, while another, who was hosting a very young kitten, said that they should grow out its hair, to match their own. At various points the car passes close to towers around which people cluster, and this group of musicians was jeered by such a group, perhaps because of their identifying haircuts.

A couple of women had ice creams, the results of which were that they fell into giggles, seemingly having forgotten any ice cream techniques they might once have known:

“We’re eating like children”.

One women travelling on her own had some flowers, and these seemed to be the cause of her beaming smile, emerging after shyness. Not quite so happy were the goats, tricked into a cable car journey, tied together no doubt very quickly so they were awkward and in each others’ way. Their car was rather more spartan, open to the air, and they showed their sincere fear in cycles during the ascent, the bleating possibly stimulated by the fact that the more exposed cars let in the sounds of the mechanism more strongly.

What a beautiful film.

London Film Festival 2014 Part 5

After A Girl Walked Home Alone At Night, I had a few hours of my day off to fill, before the evening’s film. Walking out of the Vue, I heard someone declaim:

“It happened to me, so I have to tell my story”,

which is, I’m afraid, a telling signifier of the coarsening of our public discourse.

One of the exhibitions on my list was “Our Friend Larionov” at Pushkin House. Displaying unusual geographical ambition, inspired by the usual tedious quest for efficiency, I wanted to see the famous suspended building in Covent Garden on the way. Even midweek there’s no shortage of mobile gawpers in Covent Garden and there was a whole phalanx exploring Chinneck’s work and looking for the best photo.

Take My Lightning, But Don't Steal My Thunder

 

“That’s a hell of a lever”,

commented one Dad, while the man guarding the piece patiently explained all about it to a couple of pensioners, who I think had just encountered it accidentally. Soon after, he had to chide a boy who was standing on one of the fractured columns – “Young man. Young man.”

I’ve already been to the Calvert 22 and GRAD galleries, but not Pushkin House, which is conveniently close to the British Museum and the LRB shop, and claims to be the “home of Russian culture”. On entering, it became clear that it really was a town house, and I wasn’t sure which way to proceed. I asked one of the staff, who said that the show was across three levels, and she advised starting on the floor above, working down. This sort of primitivist art is usually very dynamic and expressive, which I like, and I also like artists with manifestos, who want to form new groups, and the commitment that indicates. One slightly odd aspect was that I couldn’t find the painting included on the press release. I asked the person who’d directed my visit, and after checking, she couldn’t find it either. I think I agreed with the two cultural ladies who left just before me, one of whom told her friend that she was going to the basement to:

“look at the pears one more time. There’s so much feeling in it.”

For some reason I associate Billy Childish with John Peel, so one should presume in his favour. It was as a result of this visit that I found out about an event at Pushkin House that I will describe in another instalment.

Around the corner to the British Museum, where there was time to see a couple of the small, free displays. Just by the main entrance there is an enormous print by Albrecht Dürer, of a triumphal arch, until 17th November. What a treat to see him on such a large scale, complete with griffons (my favourite of the mythicals) and injunctions of which Balfour would have been proud:

“Keep to moderation.”

Dürer and German Medals

On the side of the room are some related works, including one of a triumphal procession which, hilariously, includes some sorrowful Indians amongst the prisoners, even though no such people had been captured, because that seemed appropriate for a triumph. Upstairs and at the other side, there’s a small room containing lots of German medals made during the First World War. They’re so different than the British ones, expressionist and abstract. To me, much more interesting. It’s open until 23rd November.

Flickr set from the British Museum.

For Leviathan, people were taking photos of each other, standing on the red carpet. Perhaps they’ll be able to add beckoning paparazzi later. Unusually, the introduction was by the film’s producer, who said he was very proud to have worked with Zvyagintsev. I remember seeing his excellent The Return at Cornerhouse in 2004, and Elena two years ago. The film is inspired by a real-life case from Colorado of a man running amok with a tractor, combined with the story of Job. It’s a truly great film, elemental in the imagery, the performances and the resonances of the plot. There are two surreptitiously powerful scenes consisting entirely of a court official reading out verdicts, at what seems like incredible speed – the implacability and remorselessness of the State. The ending is incredibly powerful, with the fate of the hero rendered brutally, and the chilling self-satisfaction of the attendees at a sermon, the Church seen as riven with venality and corruption. The upturned, gleaming faces of the congregation resembling nothing more than the youthful believers in Cabaret. Philip Glass’ music contributes to the true catharsis achieved by the film, which like several others in the festival is set on the coast, with the mesmeric power of the waves, and of the water-resembling vodka. It also chimed in its handling of the hangers-on and their machinations with The President’s Last Love by Andrei Kurkov, that I read last year.

The film I saw the next day, a normal working day, was nearly as good.

London Film Festival 2014 Part 1

October is the month of exceeding normal limits. In this case, seeing more films than may be advisable for a civilian, at the London Film Festival. Having missed out on the opening night gala stuff, the first one for me this year was Men, Women and Children, admittedly a choice largely made by my coeval. It’s unfortunate that most of the big “film events” of the festival take place in Leicester Square, most woeful of all the West End foci. There are extra barriers for the Red Carpets, making an already confusing layout more difficult still. There were Young People making those sounds and taking their photos of people on the carpet, which was puzzling because I didn’t think there was anyone particularly salient in the cast. It is a bit odd being ushered in the same way as the famous celebrities, though it is, after all, just a carpet. Inside the cinema there were special cordoned off areas for the different grades of attendee, and I waited by one of those for my coeval’s comfort break, during which she benefitted from some practical advice by someone who turned out to be one of the film’s stars. Each seat had a bottle of water and a small free bar of chocolate, the latter turning out to be a feature of all the gala screenings.

It turned out that the screams outside must have been for the two “young stars”, one of whom we’ve met already. They joined Jason Reitman onstage for the introduction, during which he singled out the composer, who was hiding in the main audience. I disagreed with claims that the inclusion of instant messages on the screen was innovative, given I remember seeing a South Korean film that did something similar about ten years ago. The themes were interesting, notably the mad excesses misguided parental over-protectiveness can reach, and the minor reversal at the end was quite satisfying in a rather bleak way, but I did think it was rather unsubtle and glib.

Non-attendees presented post-film choc sweep opportunities, not that I would stoop to that level. The next day it was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, the audience for this being skewed (as Hank would say) to an older demographic. In particular, there were lots of middle-aged women determined to grab photos/footage of Leigh and Spall et al on the stage. The Red Carpet was less of an obstacle this time, and I saw Leigh being interviewed by a TV crew. He pointed out that Turner almost definitely would have walked that very spot, because he was such a keen explorer. It reminded me that I still haven’t been to the Turner House in Twickenham, even though I lived very close to it for a while. In the Spring we saw Topsy-Turvy with members of the cast and it was interesting to compare the two. These historical settings induce a very different feel, based as they are on “real” events. It was just as good as you would expect, with Spall’s marvellous irascibility and Dorothy Atkinson great again (she stood out in Topsy-Turvy, too). It looks beautiful, as it should, and Spall convinces as an instinctive, not an intellectual painter. The gentlemen’s club that was the Royal Academy was particularly funny, and poignant. In free chocolate news, they were handed out on the way in, and the couple in front of me couldn’t seem to make their minds up whether to accept them, to the confused exasperation of the usher.

The slightly odd aspect of that evening was that I had a ticket to see the next film, on the same screen in the same venue, but I had to leave and then wait outside in the square until they could let me back in. Someone with a different personality might have stayed in screen 2 and argued that it was pointless to go and come back… At least it wasn’t raining while I watched the large queue forming down the side road, and the consternation amongst those who thought they should be admitted straight away. By the entrance I marvelled at a man who had a dual ice cream cone, with three scoops, one of them nestling mid-cone, which he was nonchalantly slurping. The film we were waiting for was Timbuktu, which I think was one of my secondary purchases (I buy a big batch of tickets on the day they become available then gradually add more as the schedule clarifies). The director gave a brief introduction, helped by the lady who seems to be the go-to BFI French translator. He described it as a “film about water and sun“. I thought it was a pretty extraordinary combination of the blackest farcical humour and the sort of bleak tragedy of remorseless inevitability you see in Paths of Glory. When asked about the process of making the film, the director Abderrahmane Sissako said that:

A film is about the relationship with the people making it, not the script.

In the original script, a daughter was three years old, but when he met a 12 year-old from a refugee camp, who turned up for each of the many auditions, he rewrote it to include her.

Anyway, that’s two days, from a week ago. Lots more reporting to come…

 

Open House failure, Thompson success

The professionals booked their favourite Open House events weeks ago, and entered the various ballots, and probably planned their weekends. I didn’t even pick up a paper copy of the programme until last weekend, during a trip to the not quite so local library I’m having to use while the local library is being blessed with a gym. Hmm. In fact, I brought it with me a couple of times this week, thinking I might read it and make a Schedule. This didn’t happen, of course. None of my ballot entries succeeded. Hmmph.

The thing is to have a Theme, I suppose. Perhaps only go to things in Redbridge, out of municipal loyalty. Or only go to the strange private houses that are considered important enough to commemorate their opening. Or pick a borough and see as many things as possible there. Or be a grump and avoid it entirely. Oddly, I woke up about two hours later than normal, which wasn’t propitious. I did want to explore Waltham Forest Town Hall, which looks so enticing when going past on the 123. It was only open on Saturday and last entry was at 12pm. Bah. The evening was to be taken up with Emma Thompson talking about screenwriting at the BFI, so I tried to work back from there. Maybe the Crossrail site at Canary Wharf and then something else in that vicinity, then up to Camden Arts Centre then back down to Waterloo.

I started with that vague intention, briefly thought of Canning Town things instead, then swerved to the Thames Barrier Information Centre. Through haste and optimism, I had some idea that there would be tours of the Barrier itself, which I’d seen from the West at the end of a riverboat trip a few weeks before. The Greenwich Peninsula seems to be riven with construction and demolition and enormous shops and cinemas. At least there was a walk through a pleasant little park to the river bank, rewarded by a view of the Barrier, then the Information Centre. There were banners for Open House London and I saw people wafting their guides about, meaning there would be something to see, something would happen. In the event, below the café was the Information Centre. A video about the construction of the barrier was showing on a loop.

“How to create a hole in the river? The engineers had the answer.”

It had a tone somewhere in between a public information film and a promotional video, and included lots of synthesised incidental music, worthy of Gelg, covering a range of tones from sprightly to concerned. I can remember seeing the opening on the news. Why did it take 8 years to build, though? That seems a little lackadaisical. Elsewhere was a model of the operation of the barrier, which started when you moved your hand in front of an optical sensor, another strange touch. Lots of notices warned sternly that filming and photography weren’t permitted. Security-based theatre/paranoia? Anyway, it gradually sank in that this free admission to the Centre was the extent of Open House here. No secret doorway to the Barrier, even via an unlikely convoluted tunnel, could be found. Eheu.

Pigeon takes ownership of factory-turned-studio

Flickr set for the Thames Barrier Information Centre

The bus stop for the Barrier was Royal Greenwich University, and it referred to the University Technical College, which was in fact also participating in Open House. Even though it had visible photovoltaic cells on the roof, I didn’t explore and took the bus back to North Greenwich instead. On the way I saw a massive Makro. Does that still exist? It was a feature of my childhood, trips to Makro over the bridge, near the Manchester Ship Canal. The objective here was Ravensbourne College, the last tour of which was at 3pm. On the way I saw a big queue of people at what looked like a gallery, perhaps, based on the sign at the front, something related to the London Design Festival. They were all brandishing green and yellow folders. Something to investigate later.

An interior design student took us (me and two others) around. It was interesting that the emphasis was on everything being flexible and open-plan, whereas I thought it had been pretty well established by now that open-plan offices are actually a pretty bad idea. The facilities she showed us were very impressive, especially the prototyping lab on the ninth floor, with lots of 3D printers and scanners, laser cutters and various other fabricators. She was keen to point out that it wasn’t a finished building. Lots of changes had been made since it opened five years previously, and they would continue. Some open areas had been turned into new office facilities, the equipment loan service had been expanded, what looked like foam had been added to the overhead trays to reduce noise and blinds had been added to some of the windows, because of excess light. Instead of too much overt promotion, select items of students’ work are left around the building, so that visitors and commercial clients can see what they’re capable of. Apparently the redevelopment around the building will mean that in a few years their only external views will be of the O2, which is a shame. One thing I noticed was how many power sockets there were in the floor, the better to charge those phones and laptops with. I hope the students there realise how lucky they are… They gave me a nifty USB stick forming its own pouch, and an Oyster card holder which made me smirk with its embossed “rave.ac.uk” URL.

Back outside, I investigated the queue I mentioned earlier. The student showing us around mentioned that some of her peers’ work was exhibited at the NOW Gallery and I could see a sign for that within this building. However, when I asked the man refilling piles of the blue and green folders, he explained that the gallery wasn’t open and that there were some show homes inside, relating to the “regeneration” that’s so prominent in that area.

“They’re queueing up for houses, basically.”

When he asked whether I would be interested, I pointed out the financial barriers in my way.

“Why do you think I’m standing here?”,

he said. Back at the station, I saw a couple, with those folders, embracing – with the joy of possible property ownership, everyone’s Dream? It was a little deflating that my thought of very keen Design Festival attendees was so totally wrong. I think it was here that I saw a boy holding a single wrapped red rose, waiting for someone to emerge from the platforms.

A relatively long journey from there to Finchley Road, from where it was a short clomp up the hill to the Camden Arts Centre. Having given up on more Openness that day, I thought I’d take in the Shelagh Wakely show that was in its final week, thereby, as promised, improving on my usual final day system. On the way there I couldn’t resist taking a look at a black cat nonchalantly having a wash in the doorway of a Russian health food shop. The cat will reappear later in our story.

When I visited the café there with a friend in August, we’d heard intermittent chimes from the garden, which we surmised must be part of the exhibition. I heard them again when I had some food there, but thought it best to see the show itself first, before the responses to it. As usual, kids were roaming about, finding the grassy slope irresistible. So much so that a sign had been erected to ask that the children were prevented from damaging the artworks in the garden.

“Everyone. Everyone? Where have you all gone?”

cried a boy plaintively, with his hoped-for minions all dispersed.

“Chocolate chocolate rabbit poo”

was another simple verdict.

There’s something interesting about the layout here, with the atrium from which the three main galleries sprout, meaning you can dip in and out, if you wish. I liked the gilded plums and limes in one of the atrium vitrines, which looked like ritual skulls. The videos Rainsquare and Aguadorado were typical of her interest in weathering/decaying, and shiny metals. A lady watched them too and asked me if I’d been to the South London Gallery, though I didn’t understand the question at first.

“I suppose not. This is North London, after all.”

This was a bit miffing, because I range all across this ridiculous city for Art, and have been several times to Dulwich Picture Gallery, Peckham and Clapham, but not the South London Gallery. And I don’t live in what she perhaps thinks of as North London, anyway. That would have taken far too long to explain, and would have stretched her level of interest, of course.

Another video, further into the atrium, and shown on another of these TVs that only exist in galleries (Sony, at least, rather than some totally obscure brand), was The Practice of Enchantment. Here there were her floral patterns on the floor, comprising small photos of fruit. The end of the video revealed the end of the show, when large fans were deployed to disrupt the patterns formed by those photos, sweeping them up into chaotic piles, and the paper walls of the gallery were ripped off. The people watching tinkled their glasses in appreciation.

A group of three women were breezing through, alternately dismissive:

“Let’s do this and call it art. It’s just loads of doodles. She might be horrified at some of the things we’re looking at”,

and enraptured, as they were by the stencils composed of perfume adverts in women’s magazines.

Shelagh Wakely: A View From A Window

I liked the preparatory drawings, replete with ideas and slogans, that they seemed to be disparaging, and I liked the way you could see ideas being explored and refined. Wakely kept returning to shape motifs inspired by flowers and leaves, which reminded me of Matisse’s ubiquitous “alga” forms in the recent cut-outs show at Tate Modern. I couldn’t smell anything in the room filled with the pattern on the floor in turmeric.

In the garden, the café and the entrance were responses to Wakely and her work by various artists, including some who collaborated with her. I heard the end of the chimes and found the sign describing them. They were by Susan Hiller, and were repeated on a changing cycle, every hour, half-hour and quarter-hour, the speakers being hidden within a bush. I took in the rest of the pieces in the garden, then waited a few minutes for the Hiller cycle to come around again. I came away with a strong appreciation for Wakely’s themes and obsessions, which is the sign of a good show, I think, particularly given I didn’t know anything about her beforehand. The show is on until 28th September.

Flickr set of Shelagh Wakely at the Camden Arts Centre

On the way back to FInchley Road, I passed the health food shop again and by now the black cat needed a lie down.

Cat at Beryezka, Finchley Road

Because of my usual trip to Foyle’s, I passed through the Royal Festival Hall and the presiding demographic for Joan Baez was rather different than that for Jon Hopkins, the previous night.

It was lucky for me that I was early enough to go to NFT1 when the ten minute call was announced. Emma Thompson was already on stage, though I didn’t realise at first it was her. What I did notice was the palpable excitement and fluttering amongst the audience. She was wearing an informal outfit, in which she:

  • briskly cleaned her writing table
  • paced about muttering
  • wrote something then screwed up the paper and threw it to the floor
  • lay with her head in her hands, on the table
  • lay down on the purple yoga mat and executed some positions and stretches
  • at last, pulling out a hoover from behind the back of the stage and started to clean up

Emma Thompson

All this was accompanied by laughter and applause from the crowd and was, of course, her documentary recreation of what writing a screenplay is like for her. While she changed, we watched an episode of the Magic Roundabout, the voiceover for which was written and performed by her father Eric Thompson. I don’t actually know who the interviewer was, but he seemed to know her well (he referred to her as ‘Em’) and they kept recapitulating what was clearly an extended pre-performance discussion. She was just as warm and engaging as I’d expected, though stern when she needed to be, such as when she said that an audience member’s question about when a character in a screenplay would tip over from feminine to masculine was in itself the problem. Several women were leaning as far forward as possible in their chairs, with constant smiles on their faces, appearing to me to want to get as close to her as they could. Advice she’d received that she passed on included that when adapting a book, you should dramatise everything, then leave in only the scenes that work, and find some way of joining them together. One thing she stressed repeatedly was the need to have a reprieve from the process and, related to that, the need to put a draft aside for a month or two, in a drawer. While it’s in the drawer,

“something happens in the drawer, and something happens in your mind.”

She referred to a drawer because she writes the first drafts by hand (she had a box on stage containing all the drafts for Sense and Sensibility, in folders). When writing out each new draft, things change automatically, because of the imperfections of the process and when they stop changing, that’s the time to commit them to the computer. She referred to Alfresco, which I remember watching in my bedroom on a black and white TV in the 1980s and she quoted Agnes de Mille:

“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

The concluding clip was the final scene from The Apartment, the end of the script apparently reading:

“That’s the end, screenplay-wise.”

and that was an exemplar of the dictum for how to make a film:

“Have all the good scenes, no bad scenes, and one great scene”.

Over the past two years I’ve seen many discussions at the BFI and I think this was the one I’ve enjoyed the most.

At home, I put on 6 Music, only to hear a discussion about the Magic Roundabout theme tune, which they’d just played…

Taking the same way home as the previous night, I was waiting at Waterloo. A couple were taking photos of the tunnel when the train arrived. The woman boarded the train but the man dallied, and ended up stranded on the platform, as she moved off in the carriage with us. Realising nothing could be done, she started laughing, and others laughed with her…

Jon Hopkins

With unusual prescience, I bought tickets to see Jon Hopkins at the Royal Festival Hall in June, having only a vague awareness of him (“ooh, that sounds interesting”) from the radio. When I mentioned this, friends were rather envious and extolled his most recent album, Immunity, which I did actually listen to before the show.

The support act was Blanck Mass, just a black t-shirted diffident man with his gear hidden behind Jon Hopkins’ table. He was unfazed by the shameful lack of attendance in the hall, and the extreme rudeness of people who left halfway through to go to the bar (Super Tsk). At points his head was swaying intensely, and he took nervous swigs from his beer bottle. This experience of not knowing anything about the music I was hearing was more familiar to me, and I rather liked his stuff, my taste for droney-ambient not being sufficiently indulged at the moment. It would have benefitted from being louder. Always I’ve thought that full volume was denied to the support act and perhaps that was the case here. I’ll be investigating.

The preparations for Jon Hopkins on stage were fairly minimal, during which someone behind us explained the nature of his relations:

“We’re not together together, are we?”

Hopkins was white and quietly exuberant when he came on stage, in contrast to Blanck Mass’ introversion. He had a guitarist picking out heavily-effected hums, who left and re-joined for different songs, along with a violinist and viola player. His own gear was laid out on a wide table, including what must have been trigger pads (Kaoss pads, I read later), effects units and a mixer, plus the inevitable Steve, albeit with the white logo obscured by a black sticker.

The visuals on a large screen behind him were triggered by what he was playing, simple shapes of colour at first, then more complex geometric shapes. He’s clearly rehearsed a lot because he was controlling live breakdowns and fills beautifully, and he was bodily expressing himself, which is pretty unusual for an electronic musician, jacking and jerking, though always with a steady eye on what he was doing.

He would move from a heavy, beat-driven song abruptly to a contemplative piano piece (there was a grand at the left of the stage), the latter usually accompanied by the string players on the other side. This stylistic disharmony shouldn’t have worked, but it did. What gradually happened, as the inducements took their toll, was that people in the audience started standing up, then some of them took to the aisles and to the space by the front of the stage, dancing, for the upbeat songs. They would then, maybe a little self-conscious, drift back to their seats for the quieter ones, waiting for the chance to thrash around again. At points the bouncers tried to intervene, probably for “fire safety” reasons, and to stop the dullards plonked at stage front taking video on their phones. The visuals were very good actually, the most memorable ones embodying a skateboard-based journey, a woman (Imogen Heap?) in a spacesuit-helmet on a 2001/Gravity-style journey, and a woman who was both ecstatic and estranged. I suspect the hollering, whooping and pointing audience missed the person burning in the tyres of the former, for which insight I’m indebted to my co-attendee. One of the encore songs more compelling videos, including what looked like drone-eye views of a bleak landscape, later transforming into a red palette, which reminded me of Richard Mosse’s The Enclave.

The string players and guitarist came on for the last time, then as they departed the violinist walked over and triggered something via one of the machines on the table, so that things were running when Hopkins arrived back there from the piano.

It was a stunning performance, and the crowd’s reaction bordered on the disturbing. My little joke was that they were all happy about the Scottish referendum result. I think this was what people had craved when I went to see Derrick May during Meltdown, and they weren’t really satisfied then. They certainly were last night.

Mind you, the exclamation of

“the Royal Festival Hall will never be the same again”

was a little ludicrous. Again, I must credit my co-attendee for the observation. In the Clore Ballroom afterwards there was the incongruous site of people making packed lunches, which I realised was part of Maggie’s Culture Crawl. They were being serenaded by the Letherette DJs, in the Central Bar. Outside, I was handed a flyer for another Jon Hopkins performance in April next year, which I think I may go to. There, that’s commitment.

I think the songs included at least Vessel and Wire from Insides, plus We Disappear, Open Eye Signal, Collider and Abandon Window from Immunity. Waiting to take the Drain to Bank on my way home, there was a couple discussing their impressions:

“I liked it the first time he built it up, then it became a bit generic. I prefer it more melodic.”

[Ed.: quite wrong there]

A guy in front of us told us to shut up, and then they were the first to stand up.

One of their friends suffered a tragic memory loss:

Lance forgot about it, so he missed out.

On the train itself, the discussion moved to more mundane matters, involving workplace promotions and rivalries. One “colleague” was to be:

“cut down to size like a m*th*rf*ck*r.”

Apologies for the cuss-word euphemism.