The Brown Wedge

31
Oct 03

‘pater le bourgeoisie long ago went intraclass tribal (and tiresome)

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‘pater le bourgeoisie long ago went intraclass tribal (and tiresome): elements of the Bourg yokking it up when something they appreciate irritates THAT LOT over yonder, then suddenly all self-righteously pompous when THAT LOT’s art riles THEM in turn. ‘pater les bits of le bourgeoisie I’m not in is a less important project, surely? Anyway, that’s not quite what I want to write about. The Sunday Daddino and I walked the South Bank’s Art Mile tourist-style, from Tate Modern to the Design Museum, we saw plenty of nice stuff. WEATHER, by Olafur Eliasson, is tremendous (no link bcz spoilers might actually be spoilers here, a bit – except haha to note that the news-story that the vapour is causing Tate staff to hallucinate and feel queasy, when it’s only sugar plus water, demonstrates the occasional power of SHEER AESTHETICS). And Paul McCarthy’s giant inflatable sculptures are good also – the captions say “subversive” (the pink one is based on a Daddy’s Sauce Bottle label) but of course this word is a Classic of Nonsense Artspeak, wheeled out when commentators who Hate Giant Inflatable Fun seek to squelch it, especially in a Museum OH NO!

Anyway, there are plenty of other Jolly Famous Nose-tweakings on hand (Duchamp’s Urinal blah blah), all carefully decommissioned and placed back in the box by their context or their neighbours or whatever: the surprise is leadenly anticipated, the joke is pedantically explained, the novelty long ago became a broadsheet/rockpress/tabloid clich’. But toodle along to the Design Museum, where such Grandly Modernist Hah-Gotcha! Pretensions are set aside in the name of practicality, fashion sense and undeluded salesman instinct, and – for all that so much pretty-looking, clever stuff presents itself – it can quickly feel like (comment ‘Daddino) sightseeing in Ikea, everything SO beseeching and needy (“Like MEEEE! Buy MEEEE!”) etc etc.

Inadvertently, our route took us past David Blaine, on his penultimate day. Being there was fairly wearing (cold, press of the vulgar crowd, nothing “happening”), so we hurried on – but on strict ‘pater grounds, you can’t really fault this stunt. And its sheer intent/content blankness seems to have allowed us all to project our pet peeves (or perversities) onto it, like Big Brother or Arnie-as-Governor or whatever. My personal enjoyment scale is old-skool – Tate > Design M > Blaine – but other comparisons make me want to retool that chart a bit. Design Museum is smallish, slightly out-of-the-way, and pricey: the times I’ve been there’s never been many other punters in it. Tate and Blaine were rammed, and that’s good. If you look on the box art arrives in, it says (in wee letters) BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED: bcz the batteries are us. The routine energyflow of celebrity and of institutionalised art does bad things to Shock Art: if the information really travels just one way, then it’s not really much more contentful than trolling on interweb messageboards: “YES YES YOU DID IT TO GET A RESPONSE HAHA but where exactly is the mechanism for engaging w.that response, plz?” (ie what’s aggravating abt trolling is not so much the initial stimulus as the refusal to be affected in turn). But in a packed gallery, intimidation-towards-“correct”-response diminishes – *we* energise this stuff, we bring it (back) to life: and the more of us that metaphorically touch it back, the more power it contains. What happens next is the good bit, and – like a good ilx thread – that depends on ALL the contributors, not just the troll.

Erm I shd probably just note (in case Mr Fraser’s humourless lawyers are reading)

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Erm I shd probably just note (in case Mr Fraser’s humourless lawyers are reading) that I don’t ACTUALLY think he was ticking the paragraphs off, one by one. Also Ged is not actually the naked and trussed one, that’s some other prisoners, earlier. ie Flashman <=> Ged won’t fly, even subconsciously: I think Brit Emp <=> Ged does, though.

DEEP IN THE DEPTHS OF, UM, “READING ROUND THE SUBJECT”

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DEEP IN THE DEPTHS OF, UM, “READING ROUND THE SUBJECT”, I was suddenly left open-mouthed in surprise. Three-quarters of the way through FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON (8th of the 11 Flashmans to date, but actually my 11th), I thought, hang on, I know these characters already. Flashman is a barbarian prisoner of the Chinese Emperor, trussed up and naked in a store room: here to peek at him is the gorgeous Concubine Yi (who actually really historically went on to rule all China for cruel decades) and her eunuch servant An. Well, for a half-dozen pages at least, this threesome is UNCANNILY SIMILAR (I mean like George MacDonald Frasier was ticking off paragraphs) to the early section in THE TOMBS OF ATUAN, where Ged is a barbarian prisoner of the Nameless Ones, trussed up and naked in a store room, and here to peek at him is the young priestess Ahra and her eunuch servant Manan. Coincidence? Sorry, but no. Hommage? Why on earth? Plagiarism? To what the hell purpose? Unconcious regurgitation of a book long-ago internalised (Tombs = 1971, Dragon = 1985): possibly, but some lines almost dare you to check the source. OK yes, Le Guin’s is a book for children, more or less, and appropriately chaste; Frasier’s is a book for adults, more or less, and the Concubine is naked and wicked and even hornier than Flashman: even so the echo – for a few pages – is genuinely disorientating. On this side: the Emperor of the Middle Kingdom as his realm was violently forced (by the Brits and by savage internal upheaval) to emerge from self-deluding myth into the modern world; on that: the Godkings of Kargad, shaken when their hollow, terrible mysteries are laid bare by the brave young Wizard of Earthsea. I’m not exactly sure where in the series GMF switched from being mainly anti-Empire – I’d need to read them in order – but by No.8 in the series, his deep-readerly unconscious is clearly gone pro.

30
Oct 03

Danny talks about the reshowing of the drama section of Look And Read

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Danny talks about the reshowing of the drama section of Look And Read on the CBBC channel on appropriately titled Do You See? I am lucky enough to still have the tie-in booklet (ie the bit we were supposed to READ) of The Boy From Space. A shoddy 48 page pamphlet printed with a two colour cover (those exciting, schoolyard bully favourites black and blue). Richard Carpenter, the author, was therefore responsible for the worst nightmares I had as a child, though in this format it is hard to believe my existential night terrors.

My fear was directed towards the villain of the piece, The Thin Grey Man, who drifted around the first five episodes standing in the distance in a flasher mac and looking sinister. However in Chapter Six (Where Is Tom) the Thin Grey Man confronts the Boy From Space (Peep-Peep, called so because he speaks funny) and kindly adult Mr Bunting.

“The thin man pointed the gun at them and they had to walk away from the cars. Then the thin man turned and pointed his gun at Tom’s car. There was a strange humming sound and it slowly melted away. Then he pointed at Mr Bunting’s car and made that melt, too.”

The televisiual presentation of this is not as big budget as the text suggests. Melting was beyong the Schools TV budget, instead we got a red light and the car vanishing. It was around about this point that I came to terms with the idea of not existing. Combined with a thoroughly creapy man in a stranger danger mac, it contributed to the odd sleepless night. That and the creapy old lady I had to take cans to in the Harvest Festival and who moaned at me because she didn’t like sweetcorn.

Anyway, the Boy From Space is pretty rubbish, both as literature and television. Proof of this comes from the climatic twist. Peep-Peep seems to be able to read, albeit by use of a mirror, which finally gives the kids a realisation that they can talk in mirror writing. The justification for this, I shall now repeat verbatim…(Feel free to scoff).

“‘How did they learn to write?’ I aksed
Peep-peep’s father had been showing Mr Bunting something. When Mr Bunting came back to us he was laughing. He held up a big plastic bag.
‘They’ve been on Earth before,’ he said. ‘They must have found this bag with writing on if.’
‘That’s mirror-writing,’ said Dan. ‘We don’t write like that.’
‘No, Dan,’ said Mr Binting. ‘The bag is inside out.’ He turned it the right way round. ‘ You see?’
Now we could read the writing on the bag.
‘Danger, keep away from children.’ There was a lot more writing on the bag.
‘That’s how they leanred to write,’ said Mr Bunting.
He turned the bag inside out again. ‘But they learnt like this, back to front.’
We all laughed. “

Too fucking right we laughed….

27
Oct 03

“They’re just trying to shock.”

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“They’re just trying to shock.” This seems to be a bogus criticism of art in the first place (can you tell its Turner season again?) – shock is an exciting reaction to have, it leads to thought and discourse more directly than most responses, why shouldn’t art try and elicit it? What bothers me is when reviewers – having pronounced that X or Y is trying to shock – then do their best to defuse the shock by minutely describing what a viewer is going to see. If the Chapman Brothers are going to try and shock me then I don’t want to know the details – the whole point of the thing is that I don’t know them. An art writer should no more describe a ‘shocking’ artwork than a film reviewer should give away a twist ending: it’s insulting to reader and artist alike.

26
Oct 03

Sistrah Becky just suggested TIME AND TIDE must be part of the Brighton Photographic Biennial

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(Sistrah Becky just suggested TIME AND TIDE must be part of the Brighton Photographic Biennial, but it doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere on the website)

On Brighton sea front, just by the burnt-out wreck of the West Pier

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On Brighton sea front, just by the burnt-out wreck of the West Pier, there’s a photography exhibition. It’s actually ON the front: each picture, in its frame, is attached to the railings of the esplanade as you look out to sea. It’s called TIME AND TIDE, a slightly lame name for a really evocative idea, consisting of a long line of wide-lens photos of every one of the remaining 54 piers in resorts round the coast of England. Each photo is about 6 inches high by four feet long: each a 180′ panoramic shot taken on a sunny day with clouds and semi-empty but not unpeopled beaches, of the pier in question, looking back from waves-edge into the sea-facing section of the town. The pictures are lovely – with the sense of lens-distortion they look like scenes from one of those dreams you always want to remember better than you actually can – and so’s the project and the setting: there was a biting wind as evening fell today, but we stayed poring over them until it was too dark to look at them any longer. There was a wordy blurb with them, complete with credits, but none of us had a notebook to take down the name of the photographer, or where else it might be shown, or for how long, and there doesn’t seem to be a website. It’s a brisk walk from the main, still functional and bustling pier, but it’s definitely worth it.

24
Oct 03

A Reader’s Life

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A Reader’s Life: straightforward and cleanly designed weblog detailing an individual’s reading, with commentary. Noted in passing on my way to writing another Blog entry, so I have no idea how good the site is, but I like the idea.

Inspired by tipsiness

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Inspired by tipsiness and a number of ILE threads I took advantage of Fopp’s ‘SF Masterworks’ remainder sale and snapped up a few sci-fi novels. The first of these, THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester, I wolfed down overnight. It reminded me of why I used to like reading sci-fi so much when I was a teenager – it was quick, easy, packed with ideas and incident, and kept the attention to the last page. It also reminded me of why I stopped reading it: the male characters were wooden, the female characters atrocious, every single ‘love scene’ is a variant on “I hate you!”/”I hate you too!”/They fell together in passion. JUST GIVE US THE SPACE WAR ACTION ALFRED!

Unfortunately – and this is also the reason the book is nominated as a sci-fi classic – it becomes clear that the anti-hero’s ‘character development’ is the main point of the story. Neil Gaiman in his introduction certainly thinks so, and seems very impressed by Gully Foyle’s journey from brutish man-animal to conscience-stricken spokesman for humanity. I was not impressed. Foyle is set up from the first chapter as a space-opera superhuman – strong, ruthless, amoral and driven by revenge. He is an unbelievable character and the reader accepts him as such. For Bester to then try to strip him of his unbelievability is a mistake – to call it character development is a con. It’s more like Pinocchio becoming a real boy – a change of being, not of character.

(You can see why it appeals to Gaiman, though. His generation of comics writers specialised in taking cartoon characters and treating them ‘realistically’ – a similar cheat where the contrast between before and after creates an illusion of depth.)

The book’s 1956 origins were also very apparent (and not just in the sexual politics) – you get used to little anachronisms like a 25th century society still using 50s typesetting devices, but one particular plot point seemed very curious now. The hero is tattooed on his face, with results so horrifying that everyone who sees him screams and is instantly repulsed. In 1956, facial tattoos must have been almost unthinkable in mainstream society – now the face as described would barely raise an eyebrow, even if Gully Foyle would probably not find a bank job. The cover of the book makes him look like a chubbier Darth Maul.

For all this it’s still a solid, entertainingly nasty romp and I’d recommend it for a train journey.

21
Oct 03

When you’re listening to Karen Carpenter singing ‘Close To You’

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When you’re listening to Karen Carpenter singing ‘Close To You’, do you dream she’s singing to you? Or do you dream you’re her, singing to some object of love? Or do you hear the words like a fiction? I’m not sure about how to answer that question for myself, and I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw Candice Breitz‘s ‘Double Karen’ (currently at the MOMA Oxford) a while back. In ‘Double Karen’, footage is cut and spliced to have Karen Carpenter singing ‘Me’ Me’ Me’.’ from one TV screen and ‘You’ You’ You” from another. It sets up temporary, jerky rhythms and sets me off thinking about who’s me and who’s you for Karen and for me and for you and, oh well, I hope you see what I mean.

The larger Breitz installation at MOMA, which I think is called Re-animations, had me thinking about the same things: walking in, you (I) see a bunch of TV screens, each showing a famous passage from a hit movie, each featuring a female lead talking about love or relationships. The headphones you’re given allow you to hear the monologue from the TV nearest you. Around the back of each TV is another screen showing another film: Candice herself lip-synching in perfect time. Again, I ended up thinking about (self-)identification and gender roles, about acting and not-acting. Away from a narrative context, I’m being asked: when I see this piece of acting craft, hear this speech, am I being the actress for a minute, trying those feelings on for size? It’s brilliant, funny, subtly provocative and slightly confusing.

Over in the Guardian, Adrian Searle doesn’t fancy this stuff at all. He shows an unseemly, condescending distaste for pop cultural references and completely fails to engage with anything that the brilliant Breitz does with the potent pictures she (ab-)uses. Instead he busies himself with laying into easy targets (‘the media studies crowd’ indeed!) and dismissing the critical texts provided, which just aren’t the art.

That’s not to say the show is perfect. In parts it’s disappointingly hung: ‘Double Karen’, for example, loses much of its power by being installed across a stairwell and being at insufficient volume; Jim Lambie‘s large room could have been emptier or fuller. But I like the way it intersects with the Lambie floors, the way that Breitz pushing you to identification with the artists you’re watching fits with the way Lambie makes you feel the art is all around.

If Searle spent half as long wondering about what CB’s work actually does rather than airily dismissing the pop-cultural raw material and the critical chat, he might have had something to say which didn’t read like so many knee-jerks. His review’s barely fit for Private Eye and I couldn’t be more damning than that.