The Brown Wedge

Apr 04

The Apple Stretching

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The Apple Stretching (WWIISINY, part the second)

Here you are then: more of the same (only different).

5. Jim Lambie: Mental Oyster (Anton Kern )

Good old Jimbo Lambie, he’s doing here what he does best, taping up the floor so it’s all eyeball-scrambling op-installation and then planting grubby / intriguing bits and bobs around the place. Here’s a varnished mattress and there are a pair of trousers, rock-hard with glitter and glue (he did that with a pair of pants in Oxford’ have I spotted a transatlantic quip?). This time he’s put up (and taped up) these little extrusions from the floor, meaning not everything is visible at once. Not much new ground covered, but when the ground is covered this entertainingly, how could it be wrong?

Also: Mental Oyster!

4. Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated); Boccioni’s Materia: Guggenheim

I know it’s cheating because it’s a proper famous museum and it’s not even in Chelsea but I thought it was worth mentioning for a curatorial masterstroke. Singular Forms is a minimalism show and is tremendous if that’s your sort of thing. It’s mine. Better still, halfway along the Guggenheim’s spiral ascent (actually a descent if you’re a lazy lift-using top-starter like me) is a small show of futurism based around the Boccioni. It’s brilliant: just as you’re beginning to think that you might have seen enough white squares on a white background, there’s this blast of painterly intensity. Each show enriches the other. Top work, Goog!

3. David Stephenson: Cupolas (Julie Saul Gallery)

Simple and smart: Antipodean photography professor travels the world photographing domes’ innards. He uses long exposures to ensure that the subjects are lit using the light sources provided architecturally. As Jonesy said, it’s all in the cropping: each one is deadly centred and the series strikes you as a series of abstracts dealing in crazy geometry and dashes of colour. And they’re pretty!

2. Ray Beldner: Counterfeit (Caren Golden)

More classics reproduced: Beldner has re-fashioned classic works of modernism and pop from real actual dollar bills. The green-on-green Lichtenstein ‘The Melody Haunts My Reverie’ looks fantastic in its own right, as do the Carl Andr’ tiles. The real winner, though is the Felix Gonzalez-Torres knock-off. It’s a pile of sweets in the corner of the room, each painstakingly wrapped in a dollar. There’s a sign inviting patrons please not to take one.

1) Vito Acconci 1969 ‘ 1973 (Barbara Gladstone)

Vito’s a nutter.

That’s probably not fair at all, but this retrospective of Vito’s work shows him placing himself in various embarrassing or uncomfortable or absurd situations. Read VA’s account of following a series of innocent folks around all day and documenting their every move! See VA bite his own arm so hard and for so long that he leaves an upsetting impression (marvel at the Acconci fan who asked for the same treatment and then had the marks tattooed on). There’s more, and nastier, and worse (better).

This stuff reminds me of work of a similar age by the great UK conceptualist Stephen Willats and by Art and Language, mostly I suppose as a result of the obsessive documentation, and how the documentation looks: increasingly scrappy 1970s xeroxes, yellowing photos. I love the way these artefacts look now, like intense messages from a parallel world. Yet where A&L took on politics, aesthetic and academia, and Willatts concerned himself with art in its relationship to society (perhaps more properly sociology), Acconci’s all about the personal. His work, even at its most absurd, is oddly affecting. The two Anglos in there (me and Pumpkin Pete) were the only ones laughing.

I didn’t have forever to look at this: I wished it was showing in London, where I’d have had the chance to live with it for a while.

What was it I saw in New York?

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What was it I saw in New York?

I’ve been to New York, you know. I went to look at some art in Chelsea, or perhaps the Meatpacking District (the latter sounds so unromantic, but then it’s hard to warm to anything named Chelsea). I set off with the ambition of limiting myself to around 25 galleries, having frazzled myself with about 50 last time I was over. I didn’t do so badly: I ended up visiting 35-40 I suppose. It’s so hard to resist a gallery when it’s right there in front of you. Anyway, I made a top ten list for my friends of the bits & pieces I most recommended. Counting down’

10. Natalie Charkow Hollander: Reliefs In Stone (Lohin Geduld Gallery)

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for classic art reproduced: I particularly liked the Poussins and Titians roughly hacked out of breeze block sized lumps of marble, and the fact that the marble ended up looking like plastic. The Twelve Mythological Views (After Poussin) looked like high art packed up and sold cheap, though I’m sure these wouldn’t be cheap by my standards’

9. Jon Routson: ‘Recordings’ (Team)

‘That’s not art!’ objected Ally C when I was banging on about this, and my little heart sang almost as loudly as my overfull post-diner belly. Routson takes his camcorder into fleapits and films films. You can take the opportunity to watch some or all of various top releases here, as long as you don’t mind variable colour, variable focus, people getting up and obscuring the picture. It’s ‘about’ the experience of watching and the status of works of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (snappy line, eh?), I think. It seems cheeky. I hope, really hope, Routson manages to sell lots of these.

8. Dieter Roth: Prints and Multiples (Matthew Marks)

Some handsome printmaking here, for certain, but this is included primarily for the set of four double-hung lithos of a single image: a set of London buses (Routemasters, saddos) going through Piccadilly Circus. Each was variously obscured with superimposed colour and each, I could dream, featured the number 12 bus which goes to my house.

7. Martin Honert: (Matthew Marks)

A set of more-or-less pop sculptures which seem to circle around the broad subject of disappointed dreams. I was most taken with the first piece you see: in a gauzy picture hung in the middle of the room, a boy is fashioning a fabulous city from sand. On the room’s floor, a busted-up sandcastle which can’t ever have been up to much anyway. What fun!

6. Allan McCollum and Matt Mullican: ‘Your Fate’ (Christine Burgin)

In which the chaps seem simultaneously to be taking the mickey out of clairvoyants and spooking themselves (and us). They’ve devised a set of 25 dice, each with a single blocky (and rather attractive) image. You’re to throw the dice and, according to where they land, your fate will be foretold. Lord knows that after a stint of between 35 and 40 galleries I was up for a bit of play. But then I looked at the set of symbols framed but obscured with black felt and I ran away.

Pepys, Dostoevsky, and Skinner

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Pepys, Dostoevsky, and Skinner: John Sutherland’s imprimatur means this Streets piece can leave the callow lowlands of NYLPM and be linked on the Wedge instead. My major problem with the article – aside from Sutherland’s reading of the narrative which I’m not sure I agree with – is the continual use of “underclass”. Ben Thompson in the Observer Music Monthly rightly pounced on “Think I’m ghetto? Stop dreaming” as a (the?) key Streets line. Not having fifty quid in your account doesn’t make you “underclass”; nor does being keen on a burger. Skinner’s appeal is way less vicarious than Sutherland suggests.

(You can’t win, though – on an ILM thread one nay-sayer posited that people will excuse any old shite as long as it speaks to ‘their culture’.)

Apr 04


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DEAD MAN’S CHESS: (Three Questions abt Treasure Island pt 3)

#3 (and LAST): Why did the pirates not win?

Basically Treasure Island is an argument about the nature of authority: at sea*, this zone of lawless democracy, sovereignty is his who can seize and hold it (and God defend the right, as Kings and Revolutionaries both always insisted).** The unfolding story offers us a sequence of potential authority figures, each examined in turn and set aside.

i. Squire Trelawney is the representative of the conservative social order, who you tug yr forelock to (if you respect such things). He is treated as a bit of a fool from his first arrival: he is likeable enough, but no one looks up to him. The heirarchy-of-ageless-tradition is really worth very little to anyone.
ii. Dr Livesey is a man of skill and learning. He is respected: his authority is what he knows, and everyone, on all sides, defers to it. The pirates are quite comfortable allowing him come and dress their wounds during the period of truce: but the specialisation of his objective universality tells against his ability to help the pirates make the choices necessary to resolve their various conflicts and difficulties (the surgeon who amputated Silver’s leg had been a college-man who knew Latin ‘ ie his authority derived from the same things as Livesey’s ‘ but it didn’t save him from the gallows).
iii. Though Captain Smollett derives some of his authority from Trelawney-like tradition, and some from Livesey-like knowledge (he can read a chart and get the Hispaniola home), his is really an authority of narrow need. A pirate tolerates the idea that a ship under sail has to have someone taking the responsiblity for needful decisions ‘ eg steer to port not starboard NOW PLZ!! splice mainbrace when I give the order etc ‘ but is resentful of authoritarian discipline. Nor is it obvious that – outside his narrow area of expertise – Smollett is any good as a leader; his judgments aren’t great re Silver (pro OR con) and he manages to offend Trelawney immediately (Livesey acts as one expert acknowledging the expertise of others outside his own domain). Besides, when Smollett is hors de combat, this underlines the problem ‘ someone has to stand in for him (his chosen deputy being a drunk who vanishes overboard early in the voyage).
iv. Silver is the obvious choice. Charismatic, a manifestly clever charmer, an entertaining man with a plan, the ship’s cook is well-organised, foresightful, very well able to grasp the niceties of enlightened self-interest. In a sense, the pirates fail because they don’t trust him fully as leader (they mutiny way too early, against his advice, before they’d even found the treasure; he had intended to let Capt Smollett sail the whole expedition back into known waters, at which point the Respectable Treasure Seekers wd disappear over the ship’s rail and the renamed Hispaniola wd point prow at, well, who knows?) When things get too pear-shaped, black-spotwise, Silver carefully puts JimH in his debt by saving Jim’s life (and putting his own at forfeit). As a representative of libertarian revolutionary-bourgeois atomised free-market Nietzschean self-interest, he is immensely exciting and dynamic, but (ultimately) stymied by the inability of others like him ‘ other pirates ‘ to gamble accurately on the best games-theory strategy (which wd be TRUSTING him and vice versa), to realise his project. He has to compromise (ie in his terms become a careful canting moralist and/or sharing socialist) to survive at all…
v. At a meta-level, the pirates fail bcz they forget that they are in a children’s book in which JimH the boy-narrator will end up being triumphantly the smartest as well as nicest : that’s just the laws of the genre, and if you break them one will read about you!! (The pirates at one point accuse Jim of having forged the original map of Treasure Island, which of course a R.L.Stevenson he DID!!) But even ignoring our complicity in these processes of Literary Darwinism, JimH’s attraction to Silver signals from their first encounter that he is (as Silver himself says) a junior version of Silver. A quasi-pirate given insight into his mentor’s flaws of behaviour and judgment (he gets to eavesdrop on Silver twice: from the applebarrel during the planning of the betrayal, and then during a murder of a non-pirate crewmember on the island). Jim simply ignores everyone’s else’s orders, and follows his own counsel. He is inevitably revealed to have been wearing the mantle of authority from the outset, because everything that happens follows from his acts, his decisions. Look who we remember; that’s who we want to be: we think we want to be Silver, but actually we want to be Jim’s idea of himself being Silver.

*Not that TI is set ‘at sea’, strictly speaking: almost all the action is liminal, either in hearing of sea when on land or in sight of land when on water.
**The grounding of the American Revolution is simply that it had happened ‘ viz since neither vox populi nor vox dei had spoken convincingly out against it, it was meant to be, ie justified.

Apr 04


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DEAD MAN’S CHESS: (Three Questions abt Treasure Island pt 2)

#2: What are Long John Silver’s politics?
(sorry this is v.long: scroll down to excellent = less homework-y stuff from sarah and mike g. and tom)

i. Even if we agree that the action takes place in an Ahistorical Romance DreamTime ‘ which I’m not sure I do (see Q#1) ‘ any such time must be located during the Long Century between the two English Revolutions (1642-1660; 1688) and the American Revolution of 1776. Many contradictory utopian social ideals welled up when Charles I’s head came off: even when 1688 turned out to be more a Glorious Compromise and Retreat, the most radical of idealisms weren’t lost but fled ‘ underground, overseas to America, or simply offshore, beyond reach of law’s power…
ii. Dr Livesey notes that a pirate whistles ‘Lillibulero‘, the ultra-Whig anti-Jacobite themetune that fifed-and-drummed James II off the throne (Protestant marching bands still play it in N.Ireland). Pirates belong firmly on the wastrel wing of Puritanism; Tudor authorities encouraged them as licensed sub-contractors (Drake; Hawkins; Ralegh) to singe the King of Spain’s (Catholic) beard and plunder the Spanish Main. As late as the Gordon Riots in 1780, no-popery had a mob-democratic anti-heirarchy undercurrent…
iii. Establishing his credentials, Silver invokes England and Flint ‘ the classic buccaneering tradition ‘ and then makes a fascinating distinction. Flint feared him; was proud of him: proud of Silver who puts his money in the bank; who never denies himself except when at sea, but is investing in his future. After this voyage Silver plans to become a ‘gentleman’, not ‘of fortune’ (ie no longer a happy-go-lucky pirate), but ‘in earnest’: with a coach and – semi-joking, semi-serious ‘ a seat in Parliament (the latter being why JimH, the Squire and the Doctor must all die: he doesn’t want his past catching up on him when he’s an MP…). In the most unexpected place, the Protestant Work Ethic (planning, foresight, setting money by) trumps here-and-now hedonism…
iv. Silver was Flint’s quartermaster, which is to say he was in charge of Flint’s men, representing their issues to the captain (‘lambs ain’t the word’). ‘Pirates,’ argues the historian Marcus Rediker, ‘constructed a culture of masterless men’: making contrast with the authoritarian brutality and strictness of merchant and naval shiplife, Rediker stresses the rough democracy of some pirate communities, the fact that decisions of general policy were open to discussion; that pirate captains were often elected and could be ‘ as Silver is in TI, via the Fo’c’s’le Council and the Black Spot ‘ deposed; that written constitutions protecting rights and establishing procedure were by no means uncommon (Rediker explicitly argues that radicalised seafarers played a role in shaping American Constitutional activism ‘ certainly pirates and smugglers found haven in the early American colonies). The Corsair Nation at Sal’ (the Republic of the Bou Regreg) in North Africa flourished between 1640-60 ‘ more democratic, it was said, than most of the civilised nations of Europe. Alongside the dissident experimental colony on Eleutheria, there were pirate settlements in the Bahamas, : not to mention the legendary Libertalia in Madagascar (even if entirely invented by Defoe, this was a fiction that embodied genuine political desires and fears).
v. One last major political element peeps round the edge of this tale. As long as the forces of British Naval Law and Order were set to protect the ships of the Slave Trade, pirate crews were (ambivalently) against it: some at least freed all slaves from the the slaveships they encountered (others of course simply helped themselves to the merchandise: booty is booty). In 1713, in the Treaty of Asiento, the Spanish gave to the British the monopoly for three decades of the Slave Trade between Africa and Spanish America (the South Sea Company being of the primary beneficiaries, resulting in speculation fever and the South Sea Bubble). Though she never appears in person, Silver’s wife ‘ mentioned early and at the very end ‘ is black.


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No, not a link to the mad TRON geezer (arrrgh mein eyes), but instead, my latest purchase from the charity shop: Man Becomes Machine:The Chilling Investigation of Humanity’s Robot Future, by David M. Rorvik.

Originally published in 1973, I’m looking forward to reading it from a blogger’s perspective in 2004. The words on the blurb talk about living forever, evolution, fascination and terror, dreams and nightmares. In a world where the majority of us are very blas’ abt new technology, how would someone from 1973 view “The Medical Cyborg”, biofeedback techniques, telefactors and “total prosthesis”? Upon turning to a random page, I find a mention of the imitation brain, huh, poxy fule, it’s all about the atommick brane these days, idiot. It’s a real culture shock to read that “someday, robots might replace factory workers”, and one can’t resist a giggle at the slightly over-optimistic section dealing with FREDERICK, a computer who can carry on intelligent conversations, as well as play chess and be used as an occasional table when needs must. FREDERICK, by the way, stands for a Family Robot for Entertainment, Discussion, Education, the Retrieval of Information and the Collation of Knowledge.

CRACKING! B-b-b-but what on earth is a telefactor??

Uncomfortable Reading

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Uncomfortable Reading

I collect old travel literature on Europe and the Americas. I can’t explain the appeal, but it combines elements of dusty covers and rifling through damp shops in Hay-on-Wye.

The more offbeat the finds, the better. Two women horse-riding across Andalusia? Ideal. Honduras in the Thirties? Right up my street. However, for all the unearthed gems, there is the odd dud. And sometimes that dud is very odd indeed.

Spanish Journey by Dr Halliday Sutherland is the book in question. Both author and title were unknown to me. Google returns meagre data other than a suggestion he was Australian and also wrote the bizarre sounding Birth Control (A Statement of Christian Doctrine against the Neo-Malthusians). Spanish Journey was written in 1948, the blurb suggested it was a unique insight into Iberia. They all say that of course, but it was a first issue in mint condition. I took a punt on it.

Most recent travel writing on Spain starts with the cities, has a chapter on the south, takes in a bullfight and adds a strained conclusion involving the civil war and selected passages from Cervantes.

Spanish Journey began the same. The opening chapter mentions Communist atrocities and the new era. Well, it was a civil war, atrocities on both sides are well recorded, he’ll probably balance it out later. It wasn’t until 40 pages in that I realised the author was an unapologetic fascist. The Nationalists killed intellectuals in the war? Nah mate, Republican propaganda. Federico Lorca? Well, what did he expect? He was a homosexual!

The chapter entitled ‘When I Met Franco’ really nailed his colours to the mast, ‘I told the General I was English’. The General replied, ‘The English are against me.’ I said, ‘No, the vast majority are with you, it’s only the reds stirring up trouble.’

And that’s where I stopped. I think the shock value is because most modern travel literature takes an even handed or left leaning position. To get the most from a country, you have to be inclusive. In Spain, a country fascinated with sol y sombra, an unbalanced approach skewers it horribly.

Thankfully it is out of print.


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Mordillo: Euro-cartoon giant who leans more to the droll than the funny – site contains expansive and somewhat frightening CV detailing the dizzying range of Mordillo merchandising and licensing, with one sad exception: the remarkable touch-screen sex quizzer, illustrated by coy Mordillo cartoons, that we found in a Spanish rock pub.

Apr 04

Treasure Island:

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Treasure Island: a reply to ms.

Wendy Katz’s ‘Introduction’ to the Centenary Edition (Edinburgh UP, 1998) comments that ‘inquisitive readers have attempted to match the historical data with the fictional dates in the text to establish, among other things, a time for the journey of the Hispaniola, conceivably about 1760’. However, I will have to wait until Friday before I can get to a library which holds a copy of the journal article she refers to, since Glasgow Uni doesn’t hold it. But I think her point is that: it doesn’t matter!

Now the reason *I* don’t think it matters is that Treasure Island is not set in ‘real’ history but in ‘textual’ history: the prefatory poem makes this clear, the island belongs to ‘the old romance’ and with ‘Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave, // or Cooper of the wood and wave’. Turning the romancers into pirates, Stevenson turns Treasure Island itself into an act of piracy committed on ‘history’ understood as linear, sequential, progressive, etc.

So like the fact that the flora of the island are Californian, not Carribean, accuracy of correspondence to a real topography or history is by the by. After all the story of the book, as opposed to the story in the book, begins with Stevenson’s founding act of cartographic invention. That writing as an act of legislation precedes its representational function is also one of the lessons Jim must learn, as he becomes his own author within the novel. What he also finds out is that such self-creation is necessarily violent, and deeply anarchic. The foundation of the law depends on the murderous suspension of the law.

But perhaps this is also what mark means: Treasure Island doesn’t simply refuse or cancel its referential dimension; it negates any privileged position we might ascribe to it. Treasure Island names itself, as well as the island within it: but if we search for the buried treasure of the text, for some hidden correspondence, like the pirates we will find ourselves facing a pit from which the gold has always already been removed.

Apr 04


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Three Questions abt Treasure Island

#1: When is it set?
JimH is famously coy (“I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__” only gives a clue abt when he WROTE it) but there are clues.
i. The King is a George = hence must be after 1716.
ii. Dr Livesey says he fought (and was wounded) at Fontenoy = hence must be after 1745.
iii. L. J. Silver tells Squire Trelawney that he lost his leg fighting under Hawke, and later mentions (to Jim) to “Admiral Hawke” = British naval hero Rear Admiral Edward Hawke, MP for Bristol, became a full-blown Admiral in the 1750s, hence… er, no. We encounter a morass of reliabilities. Is yarnspinner pirate and villain Silver a reliable teller of his own lifestory? We can assume JimH is NOT an unreliable narrator, but is he an accurate historian? Is Stevenson?
iv. Silver tells JimH that he began life as a sailor at Jim’s age, and that his parrot, Captain Flint, is a. 200 years old and b. sailed with the “great Cap’n England, the pirate”. Edward England – a legendary actual real historical pirate – was marooned on Mauritius and died a beggar in 1720.
v. Silver tells a raw pirate recruit that he himself sailed with England and Flint (ie the pirate the parrot is named for), and also that he (Silver) is a leader worth following bcz he has reached the age of 50 (to make this point he is more likely to exaggerate his age UP not down). Also the ship’s surgeon who amputated his leg was hanged at Corso Castle as a member of Captain Roberts’s crew. This would be the even more legendary Bartholomew ‘Black Bart‘ Roberts, who died in action in 1722.
vi. Ben Gunn, a shipmate of Silver’s under Flint, had been marooned (by the crew of another ship entirely ) for three years.

Assume for the sake of argument that Silver is 50 in 1756 => he would have been 14 the year England died, ie a cabinboy as claimed. But this would mean (assuming the surgeon-under-Roberts story is true) that he lost his leg before he was 16: surely too early for him to go on to establish himself as a physically courageous mega-seadog feared even by Flint (who is fictional btw) (and hired him pegleg and all).

My solution: the story takes place in the 1750s, but not later than 1758. Until 1755, Hawke was still only Rear Admiral but (since he had gone on being a naval hero and public figure in the interim) JimH misremembered exactly what Silver said. Silver only mentions England and Flint to the young pirate, so these really were his only pirate journeys. Service under Flint could surely not have lasted from the 1720s to the 1740s (for obvious reasons, the legendary pirate careers rarely lasted as long as a decade: Roberts’s was barely three years). Silver is 50 (or slightly less) at time of story and did sail with England as a young man – or possibly a cabin boy as young as 10, but the younger he was, the more certain it is that the story abt the surgeon is a yarn to impress the raw young pirate recruit. If Silver lost his leg later, in circs unknown, it was in non-piratical service – unlikely to have with Hawke, but not chronologically impossible, as the latter was at sea in the early 1740s. If pegleg Silver sailed under Flint, can Flint still have been active (as in burying treasure and singlehandedly killing the six pirates who buried it with him) as late as the late 40s? Given that he then has to have time to down and die of rum-bibbing in Savannah, while B.Gunn has to have time to be marooned?