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: