Tag Archives: paris

Cities of Modernity

Owing to recent employment-related changes, the RIBA building on Portland Place is now only an invigorating 13-minute walk from work. Their Tuesday Lates are pretty good events (I still need to write about the most recent one), whereas last night was a one-off related to the current Mackintosh exhibition. On the way there I planned to buy a meal-replacing naughty flapjack, but the main counter in the shop was unmanned. At the rear of the shop, there was someone who would cheerfully fiddle with your phone, for money, not that this was a service I required. Hmmph. Nak’d bar it was then, for pre-talk sustenance.

The title of the evening was “Modernity: European Art and Architecture 1880-1914”, making it a real-life compressed equivalent of the series Alistair Sooke presented, at least the Vienna edition. The RIBA building itself is always an Art Deco treat. What I haven’t managed is to see the current exhibition yet – there’s still a month remaining. At the entrance to the lecture theatre we were given surprise gifts, which didn’t include a companion to the free Tunnock’s Caramel wafer of a few weeks ago, sadly.

The first speaker, Alan Powers, covered Glasgow. He explicitly didn’t have too much to say about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, covering instead people I didn’t know about such as John James Burnet and James Salmon, showing photos of their buildings. One painting he displayed depicted a “Whistlerian view” (Whistler was mentioned again during the panel) while another showed the “thrumming” of Glaswegian industry. The Glaswegian architects were clearly aware of contemporary work in Chicago, he claimed, and he noted that one of the prime motivations in the city was to rival Edinburgh, contests with London and other cities being of secondary importance. Some of the buildings he described had been demolished, but the striking Templeton Carpet Factory by William Leiper remains, and I’ll definitely try to find it the next time I’m up there.

Next came Vienna, its advocate being Daniel Snowman. He concentrated on Viennese culture, though he did point the importance of the demolition of the city walls and their replacement by the Ringstrasse, with buildings of wildly varying styles appearing along its route. He referred to the risk of “ghastly Schrammel musicians entertaining you” and then stressed the importance of the Secession movement. Writers such as Hofmannstahl and Schnitzler were among many working in Vienna, which he described as a “self-regarding and incestuous world”, riven with “very trendy suicides”, all to be destroyed by Gavrilo Princip.

Barcelona was described by Greg Votalato. His first photo showed the development of the Eixample area, with the internal courtyards of the buildings and the practicality of the chamfered corners, so designed as to allow the large trams to turn around corners. He sought to link commerce and culture in the city, noting parallels between the vertical crypts of the Montjuic cemetery and the modern ubiquity of shipping containers in the port. Gaudi was described, of course, but he stressed that many of his famous buildings were the result of collaborations with people whose importance tended to be ignored. Finally he posited a thread between the architecture of that period and the later International Style.

The final advocate was Stephen Smith, talking about Paris. I’d particularly enjoyed his BBC Four series about Art Nouveau and he covered some of the same ground here. (I still want to visit a chapel or building he mentioned in this series, somewhere in Surrey (?), but stupidly I didn’t make a note at the time – the Watts Chapel?). Ever keen teasingly to leap between High and Low culture, he said that while the evening wasn’t a competition, nevertheless his team of “galacticos” would triumph – Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat, Degas etc. The eleventh player was Gertrude Stein, as much for her stimulating effect on other artists as her own writing (in the panel discussion later, Greg Votalato emphasised her importance, even if her books weren’t particularly readable). He extolled Cezanne’s “matchless pippins” and went on to talk about Art Nouveau, with the repeating images of dragonflies and metamorphosis. Mackintosh himself moved to France, as support of her thesis, and he wondered whether Nicola Sturgeon would campaign to retrieve his ashes for the Nation. Castel Beranger felt like something “built by swarms of bees driven mad by Royal jelly”, perhaps as a result of the curators’ over-eager buffing. As in the programme, he lamented the demolition of most of the extravagant Metro entrances, which were described in Modern Architecture magazine as a combination of “rational planning, to non-rational intent”.

All the speakers formed a panel on stage, considering questions such as which contemporary cities might be included in a modern list, and whether the indeed the nature of culture still supported such physical foci of endeavour. London was defended as somewhere that could have been included in the original list, and in an updated one, with the warning that artists are being priced out. Diaghilev’s ballet was cited as a potent “carrier of culture”, during the discussion about the extent to which the turn of the century artists/architects were aware of developments around the world, while EasyJet and Airbnb are “key enablers of cultural production” today. Alan Powers stressed the need to differentiate between “modernity” and “modernism”, and he mentioned E. W Godwin, who was a new figure to me. The final audience participant said that Glasgow could be included as a city with great cultural importance today, which led one panellist to feel sad about the changes in UK art education, which is now largely restricted to the wealthy.

The speakers were entertaining and clearly knowledgeable, and I now have a small list of new things to see and people to investigate, which is a good test of an evening expedition.

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Final day flurry

Alliteration always adds to the sense of quality. In this case, it’s the final day of the year and my usual eventuality of seeing things on their last day. In that spirit I need to complete the description of recent activities before I compare 2014 with 2013. There isn’t much time before the final expedition of the year, so this will be a more concise enumeration than normal. [hmm]

Taking advantage of a fortuitous geographical proximity, I went to the Eel Pie Island open studios the day after the previous episode’s events. Once again someone thought I might be a photographer by reason of my Man Bag. It did indeed contain a camera, though I don’t claim any such profession.

“I’ve got my land, all I need is a shovel”

was one overheard snippet, indicating that penury isn’t necessarily rife in that area, while one of the artists was able to declaim that he and his wife

“live in the Love Shack”.

I always enjoy talking to the artists at open studios, nevertheless feeling a bit guilty that I’m only able to talk and not buy, unless there’s a comfortably priced trinket.

This was the best opportunity to see the latest show at Kristin Hjellegjerde in Wandsworth. It was one of those where you needed to persist beyond your initial impression, allowing appreciation to bubble up in your mind. My favourite pieces included Outi Pieski’s Gorge and Goddess Uksáhkká at Liŋkin Marsh, while the two that stood out by Monica Canilao were This Moment Crystalized and Birds Eye (link to catalogue with compressed images). Londonist listed this as their favourite independent gallery of the year, catching up eventually with the vanguard like me.

Following this it was to the South Bank, where I wandered around the Star Wars display at the BFI, which is focused on the person in charge of continuity. The early evening appointment was for the Radiophonic Workshop performing live in NFT1. The sedate mucking about of the Radiophonic people was a refreshing change and they seemed to be having as good a time as the audience, which often isn’t the case. From there, a brisk journey back over the river to the ICA to see Blind Chance, sadly the only part of the Krzysytof Kieslowski retrospective that I managed to catch. As you’d expect, it made the films that took the same idea (Run Lola Run and Sliding Doors) look rather shabby, even with the parochial points about the Polish political situation Kieslowski was making.

“I keep losing my sparkling water. Every time I buy one I lose it. “

lamented one attendee. Ah – but was it petulant or gassy?

The next day started with a schlep to Southwark Park for Dilston Grove, one of my favourite venues. Having seen Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair at the Barbicanin the summer, talking about their project to recreate the poet John Clare’s odyssey from Epping Forest, I was very keen to see their progress. Here was an installation, including texts related to the film, costumes and a projection of one edit at the far end. The straw man costume was there, uninhabited, with some of its straw essence spilling across the floor; a portent. I agreed with the person who wrote in the comments book that the additions by Kötting’s daughter Eden completed the effect. It was only by going to this that I was reminded of the performances they were giving, including one the next day at the Battersea Arts Centre. The sister venue in the park is the Café Gallery, which was holding its 30th annual open exhibition. A piece with an automatic hammer was operating itself too quickly, which was the cause of some angst amongst the staff. I wondered about the missing piece by Robin Klassnik, of Matt’s Gallery (another of my favourites), which just had the words

“Thank you, removed”

on the wall. Hmm. Other notable pieces for me were by Sharon Kivland and Vivien Harland. It’s always been worth the trek there so far. Finally that day I saw Stations of the Cross at the ICA, just as beautifully full of grief and rapture as I’d been expecting.

Thanks to the Dilston Grove visit, I went to the Battersea Arts Centre to see the performance associated with By Our Selves the next day. This consisted of a film showing, with other performances and readings interspersed, Iain Sinclair acting as our guide. He wore a goat mask, while others wore their own, including an owl. In the film itself Toby Jones is perfect as John Clare, the man troubled beyond his body, conveying this without any dialogue. Andrew Kötting disappeared then returned (inevitably) as the straw man, losing his essence as he danced, his existence bringing about his own destruction. The fragile power of the singing woman was very affecting, playing the piano listlessly with a single hand. I will definitely be seeing the film when it’s released theatrically.

Owing to my own listlessness, I had failed to book a 70mm screening of 2001 at the BFI, meaning I had to settle for 35mm. Tsk. When I took my seat the day after the By Our Selves performance, the man next to me, who I suspect might have seen it when it came out in 1968, said:

All aboard, now we can take off.

In fact there was a lot of angst caused by late arrivals and people in the wrong seats. Non-regular attenders perhaps – who knows how their minds work. There isn’t much I can say about 2001, other than that I was just as impressed as when I last saw it at the cinema, Cornerhouse in 2001. Some people afterwards were judging with anachronistic eyes:

How many product placements did you see? Did you see what was written on the socks?

while others were exclaiming simply “Oh God”.

The next morning, there was a long snake of schoolkids proceeding towards my local station in the morning, and I could see fellow commuters speeding up, trying to ensure that they could board a train before this monster reached the platform. I’d booked a free members’ preview ticket for the Mirrorcity show at the Hayward Gallery that evening. On the way, some people wearing dinner jackets and evening gowns on the District Line discussed “Tube golf”, which appeared to involve running between train and platform or something.

“That’s a par 5”

etc. An alpha among the group turned on a struggling beta with the dismissive comment that he

“knows all the stations”.

There two people leading guided tours of Mirrorcity, which were worthwhile, but overall there was nowhere near enough time to see everything that evening. especially the longer video pieces such as the Susan Hiller upstairs. What I did enjoy that night was Lindsay Seers’ projected film on concave and convex balls inside the hull of an upturned ship, Tim Etchells’ text-based political slogans and distorted stories, and Concrete Gown for Immaterial Flows by Pil and Galia Kollectiv, which is a physical manifestation of financial plots and charts. Because I went again more recently to see the rest of it, I’ll save further comment for when I’ve caught up (if ever…)

Back to the ICA for the third time that week the next day, for the latest A Nos Amours screening, in their dogged Chantal Akerman retrospective. There was a Contemporary Art Society event happening at the same time, which led to some queue-related angst. Indeed, some presumptuous Art-world people tried to push in, and were rebuffed. This time it was for Nuit et Jour, just as subversive as ever, in spite of what compared to some of her other films appeared like an unusually domestic premise, at first. The man who introduced it, Olaf Möller was hilarious. (People behind me were discussing the pronunciation of his name beforehand, one of them adding that they were going to hold a “Swedish party” in their flat.) He started by referring to one of the previous screenings, which I’d also seen, Histoires d’Amérique. To his mind, this was

“What Woody Allen in all his clumsiness was trying to do [in Annie Hall], but for real.”

Moving on to Nuit et Jour, he said that he’d seen it on his own in his local cinema, though he later admitted that he knew the projectionist and asked him to show it. He had

“Never seen a film with such arousing yellows. Massaging my heart, rather than playing about with my brain”.

He also thought that this film was the

“fusion she was always looking for. Avant garde and popular”,

like a mix of Golden Eighties and Toute une nuit. He denied that Akerman is at all austere as a filmmaker and said that we should all be “embarrassed” if we hadn’t seen all the retrospective films. One of the actors in Nuit et Jour is now a producer and Olaf described the films he produces as

“the worst films imaginable”.

Of course, Nuit et Jour was brilliant, an anti-romantic romantic film that also celebrates Paris.

Well, I haven’t got as far as I’d hoped, and there hasn’t been time to sort out any photo links, but now I need to depart. It looks like there’ll have to be a Flurry part two.