Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fade Out Again

Mosque Skyline

I had a wonderful time in Istanbul when I visited in 2013. Now, four years later, it seems that I may never be able to return again. The liberal, secular country created by Atatürk is succumbing to the power-plays of the fascist Erdoğan, already praised and congratulated by fellow fascist Trump and courted by our own vile authoritarian dullard, May in her desperate attempt to find anyone who will trade with the UK after it foolishly leaves the EU (and that includes murderous tyrants such as Duterte in the Philippines). Erdoğan was in power when I was there - two weeks later came the uprising against him in Taksim Square (the Gezi Park protests), rapidly crushed, his rise to power completed yesterday when a referendum gave slim support to convert the Turkish democracy into - effectively - a dictatorship which supports the death penalty, the creation of a theocracy (Islamic, such is the hypocrisy of Trump) and the effective dissolution of parliamentary democracy.

Today, it seems that our own - unelected - Prime Minister, May is so out of her depth that she seeks to squander precious time on having a general election when she should be negotiating with the EU - the very thing she spoke against doing. More hypocrisy. This is not a political move but a time-wasting one from a government which has no idea at all about how to proceed with the political, economic and cultural suicide that is "Brexit". There is absolutely no need for an election now - she has a fairly secure majority in the House of Commons, an utterly hapless Labour opposition and the only real opposition coming from the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists and the others (95 seats in total, less than half the alleged official opposition). This is yet another distraction, right up there with her unfounded complaints that Cadbury had dropped the word "Easter" from their chocolate eggs. (They hadn't, but they had promised not to move production from the UK, which they then did: not a word from Ms. May.) The difference is that complaining about a made-up story costs nothing. In 2014, the cost of elections came to £150 million.

Easter Egg

If there were going to be a general election - and let us not forget that May herself said no fewer than five times since she seized power that she wouldn't call a general election - it should have been held immediately after the result of the idiotic referendum (which, as you will recall, I believe should never have been called in the first place). This general election is effectively the same as Erdoğan achieved with his idiotic referendum yesterday: she will win with a majority in the House of Commons (and probably a minority of the vote, rather as happened in the 2015 election where the tories "won" on 37% of the vote or 24% of the electorate - the Electoral Reform Society have a rather good PDF about this here). This will give her the power to do exactly as she pleases in the next five years, including crashing out of the EU with no deal, ditching the Human Rights act, scrapping employee rights, creating a low-tax economy for the super-rich and dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS. Oh, and probably war with Spain.

Still, we may not make it to June 4th if the pissing contest between the swaggering cocks in power in North Korea and the USA have their way.

Atomic  - 10

I've been on holiday for the last 10 days, hence no post. Before I went on holiday, it was a pleasure to hear Simon Bliss speaking at one of our "Talking Practice" lectures on the subject of how jewellery is represented in photography and film.

Talking Practice with Simon Bliss

A very interesting talk in advance of his forthcoming book on the same subject.

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 7

Also on the subject of film, I was privileged to be able to go to the opening of the "Flatpack" film festival which was a celebration of the work of Segundo de Chomón,  a film maker from the end of the 1800s through to the 1920s who not only pioneered early cinema but also was highly influential in his use of special effects, creating little surrealist masterpieces of great charm and wit. It is hard to imagine how audiences would have 'read' these films, but from from the point of view of a sophisticated cinema-goer, they are quite amazing and their influence can be felt in the works of many of my favourite film-makers, most notably Jan Švankmajer and the Quay brothers.

As can be seen from the image above, the event was held in a very odd setting: the semi-derelict "Grand Hotel" on Colmore Row in Birmingham, so it was an evening of urban exploration as well as one of cinema. It was also very, very cold!

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 10

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 6

Flatpack 2017 - Segundo de Chomon - 11

There was yet another "Made in the Middle" event too, another "Meet the Maker" evening with some different makers and some the same, myself included. I bought a brooch by Melanie Tomlinson, illustrator-turned-jeweller:

It reminds me of the robin that sits in the garden, quite unconcerned, while I weed and dig, waiting for me to uncover a worm or something. Strangely tame.
Melanie's drawings are really beautiful, reminding me very much of old-school scientific illustrations.

Made in the Middle, Meet the Maker 2 - 4

It was also great to hear Zoe Robertson talking about her new works:

Made in the Middle, Meet the Maker 2 - 2

Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 3

There is something very appropriate about this shot of my colleague, Drew Markou, kneeling in supplication at the base of a fantastic work by my other colleague, Anna Lorenz as it is an altarpiece which she had made for a German church.

Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 2

Anna Lorenz - Altar-Piece - 1

Quite wonderful. I could have done it more justice with a better photograph, but it has been whisked off to it's new home.

Off to Brighton for the break, only to discover that my favourite bookshop in the town has shut down. The notice in the window needs no comment from me:

Brexshit Blues

Brighton continues to frustrate and delight in equal measure. Where else could you find Dante in a bad wig?

Dante in Disguise

And I'm very pleased to see the sheer volume of queer graffiti:

Queer Graffiti

Queer Love

How well I remember the "beeb man" sitting on a lesbian! It is all a bit like the early 1980s again. While I enjoy the thrilling activism of it all, I despair at the need for it again, just when I thought I was post-queer...

Spent a lot of time in the garden as well and it is now shaping up a bit more to be the productive vegetable plot I planned last year. Unfortunately, it had been neglected for so long - not terribly, but it had been left in a state of being semi-wild - that it has needed a heap of work to get it even remotely workable for production. More pleasure and frustration when the asparagus plot produced this:

Which, of course, I can't cut. In the hackneyed words which almost every gardener knows (but for which I can find no source), "If you want an asparagus bed, you should have planted it five years ago".

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Busy Spring

I was in Brighton last weekend, hence this two-week post.

Talking Practice - John Grayson, Satirical Metalsmith - 1

Kicking things off was the ever-lovely John Grayson, the self-described "Satirical Metalsmith" who, inspired by the satirical bent of the artists he was reasearching for his PhD - all about fine painted enamels from the Georgian era - has become a saritist himself, using the same medium but applied to automata.

Talking Practice - John Grayson, Satirical Metalsmith - 2

You may recall that I met John just after I moved to Birmingham, when he brought his "#Chatterama" over to the workshop for repair:

#Chaterama - 3

And that his work is also featured in "Made in the Middle", his take on "Brexit". Tonight's talk was all about his collaborative practice with a variety of students from non-arts backgrounds and how he engaged them in the practice of making.

Talking Practice - John Grayson, Satirical Metalsmith - 3

I rushed away from this to see an unusual and rare UK stage appearance of John Malkovich in "Just Call Me God: A Dictator’s Final Speech", a play by Michael Sturminger which casts Malkovich as the eponymous dictator on a set which is straight out of the worst Trump-Brexit nightmares:

ust Call Me God: A Dictator’s Final Speech - 1

The play is not great: Malkovich, however, is. He is compelling from the moment he enters the stage and it is his presence alongside the formidable presence of the Symphony Hall organ which - sometimes electronically-altered - plays for much of the duration of the play.
Unfortunately, the text feels a little bit cliched, a bit hung up on tropes of mad dictators - perhaps they are all exactly the same - and the foil to Malkovich's character is a female journalist (Sophie von Kassel) who is given the most predictable responses to The Dictator's ever-more-outrageous declamations. Even the twist at the end felt laboured.

ust Call Me God: A Dictator’s Final Speech - 2

That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the piece: I most certainly did - the live electronics and video, Malkovich's electric performance and the phenomenal music all made it most enjoyable. It was more that after it was over, I didn't really feel as if there had been much substance to take away.

The "Made in the Middle" madness continues, this time with a "Meet the Maker" night at the School of Jewellery, organised by our irrepressible Zoe Robertson and Sian Hindle:

Made in the Middle - Meet the Maker 1 - 3

It was a bit like 'speed-dating' (without the risk of boredom or STIs) in that when the hooter sounded - you can see the wonderful hooter ring on Sian's finger in the photograph above - the audience would move to the next cabinet and the makers would each speak about their work for one minute. Some people just spoke:

Made in the Middle - Meet the Maker 1 - 4

I had props!

Made in the Middle - Meet the Maker 1 - 1

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I was in Brighton over the weekend but very specifically to go to London to march against the triggering of Article 50 which will see the UK embark on a two-year trip to isolation, global irrelevance and financial disaster, possibly even the break-up of the UK itself. I've written about the background to this and my opinion of it before here, so I am not going to go over that. Suffice to say that as things change around the world, the decision by an unelected prime-minister to do the "will" of less than half the electorate looks even more idiotic than it did on the 24th June 2016.

So Dingo and I went on a march! Along with around 100000 other people who feel the way we do. And guess what: the UK media ignored it. It was, of course, widely reported around Europe but the unholy alliance between the government and the UK media - which is broadly controlled by corrupt billionaires who want to turn the UK into some sort of sub-Singaporean tax-haven - meant that it wasn't reported in anything but passing. But it happened. And it was really good fun.

Some images:

Resist Brexit - 2

Resist Brexit - 3

Resist Brexit - 5

Resist Brexit - 12

AND I got to wear some badges:

Which led to a discussion about badges with Kevin Gray: it turns out that Kevin and I had rather similar 1980s politics...

Vintage Badges

The students made me laugh a lot this week with their daft humour. First of all, the blob of brass from a failed casting which became the workshop cat:

Brass Blob Cat

Then I found this "assessment tool" in the design studio, one which does make me wonder how they think I do their assessments!

How Not To Critique - 1

Which opens to reveal:

How Not To Critique - 2

Hardly constructive criticism!

One of the musical highlights of the year so far was also this week when went to hear Rizwan Ali Khan and his brother, Muazzam with their band - Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali Group -  perform Qawwali. I have to confess to knowing Qawwali only from recordings and even then, from the very popular recordings by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his associates. I have never been to hear the music performed live and I have to say that I was absolutely blown away.

Rizwan Muazzam - Qawwali - 1

Qawwali is Sufi devotional music, rooted in a mystic strain of Islam and is rooted in ancient tradition. Rizwan and Muazzam have a band of nine players: the two brothers, two singers who also play box-accordion type instruments, four backing singers who also mark time with handclaps and one tabla player, all of whom proved to be capable of astonishing feats of musicianship.

This is not a music to listen to lightly - something which I have been guilty of in listening to recordings - and in the live context the thrill comes rather as it does in a jazz gig: from the assured grasp of daring improvisations and this was the revelation for me. I hadn't realised that this music is mostly improvised. As in jazz, subtle musical and physical signals send the improvisation around the group and the music becomes more and more impassioned and complex. I was grateful to find myself seated next to Kash, who explained some of the lyrical content to me as well as some of the background to the musicians and who, like myself, was delighted by the sheer rock-and-roll energy of it all: there is something of Hawkwind or Led Zeppelin about the extended song form - seven songs in 2.5 hours - and dazzling virtuosity (and there was even an extended drum solo on Tablas!).

Rizwan Muazzam - Qawwali - 2

When it was all over, Kash mentioned that it was sad that lots of people now associate Islam with "knives and bombs".
I don't think I've ever seen anyone so despondent at a gig, especially not one so uplifting and exciting.

Be uplifted and excited:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Old and Improved!

Birmingham Spring

Spring has just about got to Birmingham this week and on Wednesday night it was a pleasant - almost warm - walk to the IKON gallery for the private view of the new show of work by two very disparate artists, Jean Painlevé and Oliver Beer.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 3

Jean Painlevé was an artist and scientist, working with film, photography and other media, including jewellery and he was associated with the surrealists. His main enthusiasm was for sea-horses and marine life and he even invented cameras which could be used to take the images and make the films for which he is now famous. This, surprisingly, is the first solo exhibition of his work.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 5

The opening was really busy and it will be interesting to go back and visit the show again as the films have soundtracks by early experimental electronic musicians such as Pierre Henry and it was not possible to listen to the soundtracks or view the films properly.

Some of the students from the MA Jewellery course will be taking part in the exhibition, making work in response to it, which seems appropriate given the jewellery aspect of the show.

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 2

I'll report on this response in a later post.

Oliver Beer is an artist who also works in film and sound although I have to say that any link in the minds of the curators/programmers who put these together is actually lost on me. This is not to say that the two shows are not excellent: they are both superb. Beer's work is disparate and complex but has the power to amuse and engage, especially the sound-piece "Making Tristan", in which various ceramic objects are caused to resonate and generate Wagner's "Tristan Chord".

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 6

That the items resonating include a porcelain pig and Beer's grandmother's chamber-pot, lending a touch of surreal humour to the piece. His grandmother features again in the exhibition in the touching "Oma's Kitchen Floor", a piece of damaged linoleum which records the daily trace of her life in her kitchen.

My own favourite piece, however, has got to be "I Wan'na Be Like You" in which the artist re-animates the famous scene from Disney's "The Jungle Book" using drawings by 2500 Birmingham children of all ages: and despite the main film being fantastic, the titles at the end are the best bit!

Jean Painlevé/Oliver Beer - IKON - 7

Friday lunchtime brought another lecture by Sabina Stent about women surrealists, this time the overlooked Emmy Bridgwater, one of the Birmingham Surrealists, held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute, which was good as it meant that I could have a chat with Connie again and compare notes on how much weight we put on as a result of fondue last week!

Sabina Again

I'm really delighted that the breadth of the British Surrealists are becoming more recognised, especially the role that the women played in the movement. Certainly, within European Surrealism, the women were too often reduced to the role of "muse" without necessarily being recognised as artists in their own right (Sabina cites the role of Lee Miller in the work of Man Ray as an example).

Friday night brought a concert.
If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall that in summer of 2014, I went to hear Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox ("Today's hits, yesterday") and thought that they were rather good. I've been a fan of PMJ since I discovered this bizarre and hilarious video on YouTube in 2010:

Mr. Bradlee's sense of humour and prodigious musical talent kept me coming back for more and from these odd little piano-based vignettes (all of "Pulp Fiction" in five minutes or "Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue", a mashup of Queen and Gershwin) kept me intrigued and I watched the growth of the Postmodern Jukebox project with great pleasure as it became more and more sophisticated, involving ever-more-talented performers: it is the quality of Bradlee's collaborators which makes this band much more successful than the average covers band - in fact, probably unique among that (unfairly) slightly-despised genre.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 1

This gig was, without a doubt, one of the most joyful I have ever been to - far exceeding their previous performance - held together by the saucy badinage of multi-talented Ariana Savalas, quipping about the freezing, wet weather, "No wonder Adele is so miserable" and flirting outrageously with some bloke from the audience, "I love plaid. Is that from the reduced section of TK Maxx?". The addition of Ariana moved the whole performance from the realms of being merely a gig and into the world of Cabaret. Add to that the incredible skills of the performers and the obvious fact that they, too, were having enormous FUN on the stage and you have something irresistible. The audience lapped it up and the atmosphere was brilliant.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 2

Even the most dire crap of a song (Britney Spears' "Womaniser", for example) can be treated by the PMJ in such a way that it makes you wonder how the original got it so wrong and when they tackle an already excellent song (Radiohead's "Creep") it becomes sublime. From Hanson to Fountains of Wayne, the five singers (two male, three female), tap-dancer, drummer, bassist, clarinetist, trombonist and pianist swung their way through a non-stop two-hour set and nobody wanted them to stop.

Scott Bradlee's Post Modern Jukebox - 4

For sheer, unadulterated, silly pleasure, here is Aubrey Logan performing "Give it Away" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers:

Worth having a listen to the PMJ Youtube channel too!

Digbeth Saturday Market - 2

Saturday was an slightly unusual visit to the produce market at Digbeth. I normally go to the market on a Saturday to buy my vegetables and cheese for the week but this week, I went with the purpose of recording a "Soundcloud" piece for John Wigley of the Birmingham School of Art for his collaborative practice "Hidden Cities" project. For the project, various teaching staff from around the ADM faculty at Birmingham City University record a voice piece on location at a place which might normally be overlooked. It can take the form of a narrative, or of an interview.
Mine will be uploaded soon.

Digbeth Saturday Market - 7

I finally, after years of having wanted to see it, managed to watch "The L-Shaped Room", a film which has influenced many aspects of British culture, from other film-makers to Morrisey. It is funny, touching, desperately sad and, ultimately, bleak. On the back of being very impressed by the film, I decided to read the book and have to say that this is probably the first time that I've felt that a book is somehow less than the film made from it.

The film strips everything back to the essentials and removes the rather grating deus ex machina which softens the end. Having said that, the characters are more rounded, more developed in the book but, overall, the film seems to me to be the more complete work.

Worth reading, for sure: well worth watching if you get the chance.

Finally, as we've discussed film and surrealism extensively, here is the quite brilliantly restored version of the first ever surrealist film, "The Seashell and the Clergyman" by Antonin Artaud. Like "The L-Shaped Room", it influenced so much that followed (the influence on the Quay Brothers is remarkable). As it was a silent film, you can watch it with the sound turned down as the music is dire: