Tag Archives: sculpture

Stratford bears witness five times in one day

Norwich 11th July 2015

Self-knowledge has been a theme in at least one conversation lately. One finding well attested in my own domain is that I can’t be trusted to catch a specific train, leading to the appeal of flexible tickets. Various aspects of the long-term economic plan mean that flexible tickets are unpleasantly aligned price-band wise. Hence, to meet my desire to see some of the visual arts-related events in the Manchester International Festival, I had planned a bracingly early train this morning back to my home town. After various recent contrariwise success, I reverted to my own mean and missed the intended train. Rather, I set out from my flat knowing I would miss it, refreshing Citymapper to see by how many minutes I would miss it, all the while nearing Euston slightly. It’s so tragic to arrive at Euston and see your train disappear from the departure board before you’ve even negotiated the pitiful interface of the ticket collection machines. Alighting at Stratford, I crossed over the platforms to go back whence I’d come, all the while wondering how I could rescue a Saturday that looked to be manifesting itself in all the wrong ways.

One expedition I had been planning was to Norwich, for the Francis Bacon and the Masters exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. A summary of two reviews I’d skimmed through was that the main effect is to permanently relegate Bacon to a much lower artistic tier. Nevertheless, if nothing else I wanted to see all the loans from the Hermitage that had never been here before. The intention had been to leave work early on a Friday, having started early in compensation, to travel there for the late openings. Sir Humphrey might have described such an arrangement as “brave”.

It felt like going there was the best I could do to salvage the day. Arriving at my home station, I crossed over the bridge to take the next train back West, thereby passing through Stratford for the third time in an hour. Wonder what TfL’s data brains will make of that blip in their records? A slight saving grace was that I could use my Gold Card for the trip to Norwich, with its pleasing discount, meaning I didn’t feel like quite such a chump. Hmm.

A mother and daughter were in my carriage and ended up taking the same bus as me from Norwich station. “He texted me, and I was like, I know you are forgetful, but you’ve got to keep in touch with me”, was one of the latter’s complaints to the former. Life is, indeed, very hard. Going through Diss reminded me of attending the 1996 edition of the Big Chill, when the conductor, in a fit of extemporisation that wouldn’t be countenanced today, gave his

“welcome to the hordes who have joined us at Diss. And they are hordes. But they’re just as welcome”.

The Google directions on which I was relying were a little hazy, and I lamented that the bus didn’t have the enunciations of each stop that are so handy in That London. There was also something on the SCVA site about the normal bus route not working, so I was prepared for some emergency yomping. It did drop me off on the campus, eventually, and unlike CERN there were plenty of signposts, so it was easy to find the venue.

The first room includes large photos taken of Bacon’s studio in South Ken, which makes me wonder if I used to walk near there when I worked in that area. It looked like a six-year-old child’s idea of a good painting studio, which is probably a good thing. A husband, coming down the spiral stairs into this room with his wife, having waited for people coming up to pass, informed her firmly that it’s “much easier downstairs on the outside, upstairs on the inside, because of the wider steps”. The self-portrait by Cézanne did indeed shine compared with the neighbouring Bacon.

After hearing the same thing about Modigliani, it was noteworthy that Bacon too had a very high regard for ancient Egyptian art, and I liked the examples of statues and death masks. One of the very pleasing things about the venue, which I hadn’t visited before, was that it was quite spacious, meaning that there was plenty of room to see things at your own pace without being jostled by audioguide-wearing dullards.

Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy was cited as a specific inspiration for Bacon, and was displayed on a large circular plinth, with the protective detectors around it making erratic clicks. The boy makes you crouch in order to see him and his despair properly. Trying to avoid some chatterers, I went around the corner to the Rembrandt section.

Two ladies were particularly impressed with the way brushstrokes had been used to create the impression of veins in the hands of the old man. In one of the blurbs they found the word “verisimilitude” unfamiliar and mis-pronounced it. Ever keen to be helpful, I offered both a pronunciation and a definition. They looked back from the old lady portrait to the old man, who looked “so Jewish”. Both of these were startlingly full of psychological depth, rendered in Bacon’s words by:

“Non-rational marks, a coagulation of non-representational marks”

The Bacon portraits next to them did look pretty amateurish and thin in comparison, not an observation I savour, because I’ve always liked Bacon. The two Velazquez royal portraits were nearlya s good as the Rembrandts. I came around to the Crouching Boy again
and decided that it’s actually better that you can’t easily see the face.

There was a better juxtaposition between Bacon’s portrait of Lisa Sainsbury and a Picasso portrait of a woman, in the next room. Bacon referred to a specific Van Gogh work repeatedly, but again I preferred the ‘originals’, though there was a strange landscape, Landscape near Malabata, Tangier that stood out more successfully than many of the other Bacons. The link that was claimed to Ingres seemed tenuous, at least the actual Ingres painting that was included (there was at least one book on Ingres in the display taken from the contents of Bacon’s studio). Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X was particularly favoured by Bacon. Did I imagine that I saw it in the fairly recent National Gallery show about colours? Hmm. I was pleased to have realised that one of the Greek sculptures was of Hercules before I read the caption, which must mean that my recent visit to the Greek art show at the British Museum had implanted in my mind after all. Overall, it is a very satisfying show, albeit mainly for the reference points cited for and by Bacon, rather than his own works. Who indeed would shine next to Rembrandt and Velazquez, though? It does confirm that I need to visit the Hermitage, which is an easy thing to say…

Given the travails of my travels, it made sense to explore the rest of the gallery. In the Tony Birks: A Passion for Pots, I did find the earthenware violin notable, and I liked a display of The Backs by Matisse, on loan from the Tate. Upstairs was Abstraction and the Art of John Golding, comprising a small set of abstract 20th century art then several series from Golding, another new artist to me. Hans Arp, who was referred to in the Bacon show, appeared again, as did Hepworth (whom I saw recently at Tate Britain). To me it was a very satisfying survey of abstraction, one of my favourite types of art and I really liked some of the Golding. Apparently a proper retrospective is in preparation.

Taking lunch outside, I saw some Scottish visitors, one of whom took a photo of the rest from behind a Henry Moore sculpture. “That’s very rude” was the comment. Walking back to the bus stop through the campus, the various noises from building cooling systems and plant seemed very familiar, even in their variety. Something of an academic environment universal. On the way out of the campus there was a board with flyers, one of which was for Shed Seven and Inspiral Carpets. Repetitions of what I could have seen twenty five years ago does not feel like a healthy sign.

Next to me in the carriage was a group of three train spotters, the defence of whom John Peel was always keen to make, I remember. One of them was getting married, with the “stag” organised by his step-children.

“Some people walking down the platform, I could do with a whistle, lean out of the window and blow it. Might get in trouble, though”

mused one of them, in response to a female student (with backpack) and her mother walking along. The conductor was quite cheery and savoured the pronunciation of Manningtree in his roll-call of stations. It was on this service that I went through Stratford for the fourth time. Instead of the awkward formulation of trains “terminating”, he referred to “Liverpool Street, where this train completes its journey”, which is much more soothing.

Back on the Central Line again, on which a man ostentatiously packed away his laptop when I took the neighbouring seat, then started reading his Kindle. Perhaps he was worried about the trade secrets of his consultancy business. On this journey home I passed through Stratford for the fifth time. Eheu.

Link to Flickr album

To avoid making it six Stratford encounters, I went to see Amy at my local Odeon. Just as with Senna, you hope that somehow it will be alright, even as you know it won’t be, which is testament to how cleverly Kapadia draws together the archive footage with the audio interviews. Using her lyrics as the armature was an inspired move, given how directly she wrote about herself. How could anyone sustain that kind of life, especially with the nature of the circus that attached itself to her? The saddest and most apposite comment in the film came from Tony Bennett, someone she idolised, who said that

“Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough”.


The Second Grotto

Every year, or at least for the second year running, which I think we can regard as meaning every year, I seem to end up walking through Waterloo when it’s Ascot. This meant the concourse was full of neophytes uniting bewilderment, over-dressing and inebriation in their persons. I wanted the quickest train to Twickenham, for a visit to Pope’s Grotto. As it turned out, this innocent 11:20 service served double duty as the “Royal Ascot Express”, indicated by a specially printed sign on platform 20. The racegoers tottered and swayed towards this goal, the furthest away of all platforms, and I joined them. It’s not often that I’m mildly jostled by the idly swaying top hat in the hand of the man in front, while surging towards a train.

Because I went for a distant carriage, there was a hiatus, until the gaudy horde arrived. When the carriage was pretty full, an American lady asked if I could swap seats with her friend, to allow them to sit together. When I agreed and moved, she displayed an ordinality error in her over-effusive gratitude:

Would you like an orange juice or something?

I feel like I have to bribe you, for being so sweet.

Normally the bribe is offered first. Pfft. I was now sharing a group of six seats with three lekking men and two American women.

“I told myself I wouldn’t drink on the train,” said one of them, who appeared to be leading their conversation. They were all drinking their mini-bottles of champagne or beer, and eating their sandwiches. Mind those expensive clothes… Tips about Ascot, and bottle openers, were shared. I think the best way of distilling the nature of their interactions is this quote:

Adam plays much better golf than I’ve seen, but the moment he hits a pressure situation…

Ah, golf. One of my long dead grannies used to advise an interest in golf, tennis and bridge, in order to Get On. Hopeful people wearing similar Ascot uniforms at Clapham Junction and Richmond had no chance of boarding, and it was a little awkward squeezing past to the doors at Twickenham. Outside, two marketing ladies asked “Are you interested in cooking, Sir?” “Not really,” was my terse but polite and accurate reply.

Nearly two years later I still haven’t written about my visit to the Margate Shell Grotto. Auto-tsk. Pope’s Grotto is all that remains of Alexander Pope’s villa by the Thames.  Reliant as ever on IanVisits, I knew it was open that day, which was likely to be a much better experience than going during Open House in September. Radnor School has built up around the grotto, so it had a slight air of a visit to a polling station, albeit an unusually well situated and appointed one. In addition to guides with the locations of specific rocks and features, they lent us small torches. There’s something very appealing about the sustained labour and interest represented by a grotto, though I suppose it’s not an enterprise many of us can indulge. It was only near the very end that I bumped my head on one of the dangling outcrops. Bah.

Pope's Grotto

“Well, that was an unexpected treat, wasn’t it,” was one comment, while I heard a wife chide her husband:

You’re just treating it like a treasure hunt now, aren’t you.

because he was ticking things off on the printed sheet. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t really spot the bit of Giant’s Causeway that was supposed to be there.

Flickr album.

Next it was quite a schlep to Golden Square, to the Frith Street Gallery for one of their two Fiona Tan exhibitions. After much pfaffing from District to Piccadilly, I ended up sitting opposite a middle-aged couple with his and hers Steve Watches, which he couldn’t resist using for some function or other. Soon the second swamping of the day transpired, this time a gaggle of Italian schoolkids learning English. “Move Language Ahead” it said on their white satchels. The woman corralling them with her stern teacher voice counted them all back again on the platform, like Brian Hanrahan.

Inventory consisted of six projections of footage taken in the Soane’s Museum. Something about the close-ups of the statues seemed to animate their faces and make them more poignant. You wondered about the histories of the objects, how so many of them came to be damaged (noses especially), and the histories of those people or gods they represented. There were different qualities and sizes of video/film and she cleverly edited them to provide simultaneous different views of the same object, with variations in texture as well. One thing I found interesting, but which perhaps should only have been remarked by a projector salesman, was that when they weren’t projecting anything, i.e. there was just a blank image, they ranged from a variety of greys to blacks. Did this mean some of them were better than others? Was it meaningful variation?

In Soho Square there was a very different show, Ghost Dwellings, the three rooms all bearing the lived-in look that’s quite familiar to me. “It smells like an old house,” was one comment and the first room was indeed rather fusty. It was pleasing to see some rock samples, after the grotto, and an owl statue, after Inventory.

Fiona Tan - Inventory and Ghost Dwellings

The video footage here was of decayed Detroit. Good, but as always just a reminder of Mike Kelley’s marvellous Mobile Homestead. Next door was a cramped bedroom, with footage of unfinished premium housing developments near Cork. This was less powerful than the others, because it represented unfulfilled potential as opposed to actual loss or deterioration. My favourite was the room downstairs, which was partially a working area, with vacuum formed model parts, WD-40, dangling cables and other oddments. At the other end of the room was a video of Fukushima and the surrounding area after the tsunami. Objects that stood out for me included a telescope labelled Family 1000 and the blasted trees on the coastline, plus the train tracks already submerged under weeds.

Flickr album.

Fitzroy Square next for Every Object Tells A Story. The slight problem here was that the objects only really made sense with the large catalogue and addendum, though I suppose there wasn’t really room for a lot of blurbs on the wall. Some of the descriptions were mini-essays and one of a trio of Americans read out the whole thing for her companions. She was delighting in ringing a large gong when I came in. “Does it call people in for dinner?” It’s good to see opinionated collections, I suppose, though I do think it’s a problem if the main interest in the object is the story behind it, however interesting that may be.

Flickr album.

Disturbingly close to work though it was, I wanted to see rooms 4 and 5 of Forensics at the Wellcome Collection, having seen the first 3 a few weeks earlier during their late Friday opening. As I’d been warned, there was quite a large queue, headed by a member of staff who kept commiserating with and chatting to new arrivals. Behind me was a group of two couples. The men kept making a big joke of stealing over to sofas so they could have a sit down, their places being kept in the queue by the women, until they caught up with them. Bracingly transgressive though it was to be able to breeze quickly through the rooms I’d already seen, it was of course also very busy in the remaining 2. The volume of people meant that the cooling fans in one of the exhibits had failed and the experience of watching footage from Bosnia in the forensic fridge was a little diminished. The interviews with the barrister and forensic anthropologist were very good, as was Orson Welles’ radio dramatisation of the “Brides in the bath” murders. Right at the end was Taryn Simon’s The Innocents. Someone was asking a staff member, bizarrely, if this was “just political correctness”. The Wellcome person was very patient with him… I was glad I managed to see the whole thing, overcrowding notwithstanding.

Final excursion of the day was to Curzon Bloomsbury to see London Road. For some reason there were a succession of wrong seat incidents. Not sure why the Phoenix screen should be such a focus of recalcitrants. The film was very good, albeit also a reminder of the greatness of The Arbor. Very unusually, I recognised a couple that I’ve seen more than once on the Central Line, normally full of anonymised travellers.

Final observation of the day was that at this point in the year, at the right time of night, if you’re sitting on the right, there’s a lovely view of the sunset in the clouds at Leyton. Lovely poetic Leyton.

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.


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.


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.


A Grin Without A Cat

I’ve found few artists more enigmatic and interesting than Chris Marker, and I heard a very positive report about this on Saturday Review a while ago. Nevertheless, I didn’t make it to the Whitechapel Gallery until the final day of their show A Grin Without A Cat. (This meant they’d sold out of the catalogue. Hmmph.)

While I knew he wasn’t “just” a filmmaker, I hadn’t realised quite how diverse his activity was, and it was well represented here. The triumph of this show was that you could pick up a strong sense of him, even if you hadn’t the liberty to stay all day and watch all the films.

Just at the entrance you could watch a half-hour video based on a gallery space Marker created in…Second Life, which pretty much justified the creation of that oddity so beloved of futurologists ten years ago, or sit down with headphones for Statues Also Die, or sit at some computers and navigate an interactive CD-ROM “immemory”. In the latter case, it shows his strength that it transcended the salience of the format’s obsolescence. On the other side, guarded by a waving cat, there was an enclosed space in which the Zapping Zone had been recreated. This consisted of a set of monitors and old computers on varied plinths, with themes flowing between them. One theme was an elephant adopting various different positions, my favourite being:

Elephant paying homage to Max Ernst

It felt like being benevolently trapped inside scenes from Sans Soleil, one of extremely few films I’m happy to see as many times as I can.

It’s usually a good sign when people look happy and there was a man who couldn’t stop grinning at Ouvroir (the film created in Second Life), perhaps at the realisation of Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat that often became Marker’s avatar/protagonist. This also reflected Marker’s playfulness, while not undermining his serious political work. As he said:

In other times I would have liked to just take pictures of girls and cats, but I wasn’t born in those times

Other artefacts on display included the series of guides to countries around the world that he edited – Petites Planètes – various portraits with accompanying descriptions – Staring Back – and some letters, including a hilarious one in which he simultaneously chides and encourages a film-making collective.

Towards the back of the room, behind another hanging screen showing an excerpt from Sans Soleil, was a tower of five TVs showing a silent movie in 5 channels, the periodicity of the different loops apparently varying. Even with my notorious completism, I didn’t manage to see any of the intertitles come around again.

Elsewhere there was a photo taken during a protest about Algeria from around 1962 at the Place de la Republique, in the background of which is a young tree. He took another photo of the same spot much later and noted the growth of the tree over the forty year period:

Within these few inches, forty years of my life

Nearby there was a photo taken in a cemetery, with a white cat lying on top of a mausoleum:

I’m a cat, I don’t need a statue

was the caption.

You passed some of the imagined film posters in the Great Premakes series on the stairs and could watch both La Jetée and some of the more political films on the first floor.

Flickr set

I was sad to leave, but had planned to see Acid Brass at the Southbank, a free performance as part of Meltdown. They were playing on the terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall. The conductor was surprisingly young and felt himself to be a bit of a showman, whipping up the crowd when needed. Some people near me on the fourth floor terrace seemed to think it was entirely about 808 State:

Bit disappointed they didn’t play that one, Cuba. It has brass in it.

Maybe it was to do with the different viewing circumstances, but I preferred the steel band version of Voodoo Ray, another Deller-related enterprise.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

How's my Raving?

Given I was in the area, I decided to buy a ticket to Jeff Mills: The Trip and then went to see Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery, as a good use of time. As an exhibition it was a bit fragmented, with no clear theme, but it did have a cumulative effect. Towards the end, I did at one point confuse a real person with a mannequin, briefly. Inevitably with so many pieces the quality was quite variable, though the best (Maurizio Cattelan, for instance) were very good. An elderly man became quite exercised that the title of one of the pieces referred to “Black and Tan”. He started talking about this to one of the guards, explaining the reference to Ireland in the 1920s:

“Look it up on the Internet”

The three renderings of a young woman at the end are startlingly (disturbingly) life-like.

It was five minutes before closing time when I finished, and the guards were contacting each other on their walkie-talkies, flushing people out, some consternation being expressed that there was still someone around, location uncertain.

We can only hope that, having seen Human Factor so soon after opening, I will then have the time to see something as good as the Chris Marker show well before it closes.

Next it was back to the Royal Festival Hall, where there was a DJ in the same place the Brass Band had been earlier. It seemed to be a tribute to the Detroit Holy Trinity, with people of a certain age dancing on the terrace beneath me to Strings of Life and Good Life, plus I Feel Love and Blue Monday. Inside the hall itself, the audience was as positive as the Edwyn Collins crowd had been, but with more urgency, perhaps having been pumped up by the DJ set. A Guy Called Gerald was the support act. Always pleasing to see a Mancunian in action. His set blended from one song to another, with some extended motifs, including a pitch-bended riff that brought to mind his Peel session. There was an excellent stripped down version of Pacific State – perhaps a comment by him on the notorious legal dispute he had with Massey et al? Anyway, he seemed to be having a good time, taking off his jacket later on. People were dancing in their seats and in the aisles, just as they had been on the preceding Tuesday, but much more of them of course. Whenever a four on the floor kick appeared, there were ripples of whoops. I think he was a little humbled by the strength of the reaction of the end, parading about the stage bowing to everyone.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

After his table was removed, Jeff Mills’ equipment appeared including what looked like a 909 on a plinth.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

The people at Londonist were pretty scathing about The Trip. I did enjoy it, because I wasn’t as desperate for a beat as many seemed to be. I was disappointed that I couldn’t easily recognise any of the science fiction film clips he was using, the other visual element being abstract coloured pieces, inspired by the “beyond the infinite” section of 2001, perhaps. It was a little haphazard, but always interesting, and I didn’t join in with those shouting

“Go on, Jeff”

towards the end. He did indeed make an excursion to the 909, triggering live patterns.

Meltdown 2014 Final Sunday

It’s admirable to do something a little less obvious than unimaginative expectations would prefer.

Flickr Set

Bank Holiday Thursday

With reasoning that’s not entirely clear to me, my employer didn’t require anyone’s services on either of the days preceding and following Easter. This meant I could catch with some of the things on my List. On Thursday I went first to Matt’s Gallery, which is pretty convenient for me, just a walk through the park/along Regent’s canal from Mile End station. I don’t remember having to be buzzed in last time, never being quite sure what to say in such situations:

Hello – I’m not here to steam in and ransack – I am here to savour your cultural artefacts

feels just that little bit prolix. It was the last few days of Benedict Drew’s Heads May Roll. In the first room there was a ten minute video, with the soundtrack available via headphones on the wall. This was an odd experience, because menacing synth arpeggios were bleeding through from the adjoining passage. Very effective use was made of sound/image synchronisation and the floating text was appropriately witty. The way to the next room was through a space with a walkway surrounded by what looked like aluminium foil, with pulsating multi-coloured LEDs and two stacks of assorted speakers, the source of the oscillations. The final room held several combined audio/video/sculptural installations, including what appeared to be footage of Chris Hatfield the singing astronaut playing with some water floating around his eye, in zero gravity, clever use of small projectors (again synchronised with the soundtrack), small monitors and Arduino-like circuit boards. One of the quirks of these looped videos is that you can take a completely different interpretation depending upon when your viewing starts. The helmet was distended, with green fluid oozing out of it, I thought. Later on, it became clear that the fluid was dripping down on the helmet from above.

I think the show was intended to unsettle and it did so rather well. One of the gallery staff kindly offered to mail me the details of the three musique-concrète-style playlists Drew had created, which were playing in the lobby. A thoughtful touch. At first she tried to print it out, but this was unsuccessful. Apparently it was the second printer failure of the day. Eheu. [link to Flickr set]

Following my careful plan, next was to be the Stations of the Cross at the Marylebone Parish Church, but when I arrived there, no art could be seen. People were arriving to perform normal Church activities, and later on, to take photos. For once, I’m pretty sure I’d arrived at the right place, at the right time. Ah well. Instead, I had lunch on the benches in the gardens behind the church, watching the office workers savouring their crafty fags, and a businessman putting on his pink tie – for an interview?

With that excursion defunct, I went to Castle Fine Art, which seemed conveniently close, at least according to my preferred navigation program. Of course, this was the wrong Castle Fine Art, and there was no sign of Picasso. Hmmph. I’d seen earlier in the day that it was in Mayfair, a recognition which was sadly missing when it needed to re-emerge. My saviour here was that the gallery was open until 7pm, so I made it to Berkeley Square, for the Important Works on Paper exhibition. (Whereas Matt’s Gallery has a secured door, this gallery has a security guard on the door). It was particularly interesting to see Picasso’s poster and publicity designs the day after Matisse and I had a good chat with one of the staff about this. He said that I was the second person that day who’d made the same comment. He was very forthcoming with background information, and we discussed the relationship between the two. He agreed that they spurred each other on while noting that Matisse thought that he and Picasso were

North Pole and South Pole.

It was a pleasant change to have such a relaxed discussion, in what can be an austere environment. I confessed my earlier navigational error and he was polite enough not to laugh too much… As ever with Picasso, I had to admire his prodigious vitality, contrasting as it does with Matisse’s dynamic playfulness. The big difference in the experience was that there were only a couple of other people at Castle Fine Art, while even on a “private view” day, there were plenty about at Tate Modern.