Advent 2012

It’s time for my annual search for cool, alternative or failing that, nicely traditional advent calendars. What’s around in 2012?

Electric December
First and foremost, I’m glad to see yet another year of the short film competition by Bristol-based Watershed – a curation of films and animations with offerings from schools, community groups and art organisations. It is coming soon. In the meanwhile you can dip into the last 13 years of inspired film-making.
Electric December

And…well, that’s it so far. I will add anything fabulous I chance upon.

Failing that, revisit some corkers from yesteryear
Hooting Yard & 2 – Frank Key’s arcane and abject approach – drainage ditches and lightning-struck cows to befit a bleak midwinter in the age of austerity.
Tate the cat – Penny Schenk’s delightful, warm-hearted stories featuring a French cheese-maker and his cat.
Hubble 2010 – Breath-taking photos of the cosmos.
Trinity Wall Street – Properly religious. Short films looking at inspirational lives of young Christians, plus beautifully pure devotional music.
And also the best of the rest
New York Carver – Medieval Christmas stories, legends and images from the Middle Ages.
Woodlands Junior School – Discover fascinating facts about how Christmas is celebrated in countries around the World.
Penelope Illustration – Each day’s bauble leads to a different illustrator’s contribution.
Liverpool Museums – Vintage pictures and info.

Jury’s out until advent
Busted Halo – With Sesame Street, Gollum, Maggie Thatcher, and a toilet intriguingly on the front of doors, this might be funny, or condescendingly topical – who knows.

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I No Longer Live Here

This is a triple bill – a song, some pictures, and philosophical pondering – on a common theme. The photos are of our old flat (hardly missed at all).
I no longer live here #1 - Peeriscope I no longer live here #3 Stripe light I no longer live here #4 - The portals I no longer live here #5 Mere shades I no longer live here #6 Important Board I no longer live here #7 Golden moment  I no longer live here #2 Still alive I no longer live here #8 Condensation

The words of the song have a melancholic poetry with the odd humorous tendril growing in the spaces inbetween. They describe absence of a person in places and things, either because he’s moved on, maybe he’s even passed away. But when I was singing the chorus on my daily rounds, trying to fill in the rest of the song, I felt it was about being in places, knowing I won’t be there forever, and feeling that I already didn’t belong there. And then remembering all the layers of places that I have left but where my spirit still clings in some way.

In my spirit, I still live at the scene of my birth & childhood – semi-detached in a village in rural commuter belt Surrey. However humbly insignificant the house and garden, it is always my strong deep roots  – the very earth that the toddler-I-was grubbed around in. The same feeling but less powerfully associates with subsequent abodes I have bided in, or offices I have worked in, and this could spread to the slightest space I’ve spent any time in a knowing frame of mind – a pub, a street, a country walk.

Do I possibly feel a constant state of rootlessness, drifting? Wherever I am, I feel like I shouldn’t still be there, that I’m just passing through & I shouldn’t be clinging to my past, my childhood, my nostalgia, my unrealistic comfort & ease – and then this may colour my feeling about a locality. Singing this at any time, particularly in the home-of-the-moment, or in the workplace-for-the-time-being seems to be a sort of defiance to that nagging feeling that I don’t belong there, and I’ll shortly be moving on – is this internal or external pressure, or both. Not only is it defiance, but at the same time it must be rueful admittance that the place I am in can only be temporary, because I am not happy there – especially held up to my first ideal, the village house of childhood in the crucible of my first family.

These sung words are somewhat paltry and inadequate to come anywhere near conveying my state of mind, but hopefully they are still charged with emotional portent. As an ironic footnote, there was a corridor where the words “I no long live here” caused especial sympathetic vibrations in moments of snatched solitude at the music library I worked at in East Sussex. These were days when the songs was still in a state of incubation. The library sadly got closed, the cheap build quarters were knocked down, and that place is now a car park…CloudsBest thing about the old flat – cloud and sunset views!

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Exquisite Shark, selling me the dark

Dear blog, and dear World,

I have been away far too long, time to press some words soon methinks. We have had warmed a house, attended the End of the Road in Dorset, today we nipped up to the Saatchi gallery to catch the soon-to-finish Korean Eye exhibition. Will I write about those, I don’t know.

But here for now is Exquisite Shark, latest track by The Many Few, what I is in. Definitely recommended!

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Three artists at Islington

Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences
Having watched TV three-parter on English class and taste by Grayson Perry, we went to the Victoria Miro gallery in North London to see the resulting six large tapestries which he designed and had made from his time hanging out with plebs, middlers and nobs respectively. He had shown himself to be affable, sharply observant, humbly questioning and never patronising – also having fun into the bargain, either as himself or in his female guise.

Grayson Perry art ceramic

Grayson Perry pot also at Victoria Miro…via Stichinscience

The tapestries are each loosely based on a famous classic painting, such as Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but the series echoes William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress”, but charting social mobility and the strong influence of class on our aesthetic tastes. I am always charmed and impressed by Perry’s openness and directness, which makes his work something we can all own, complete with the thought processes behind it. He has a winning combination of imagination and incisiveness, which draws me in with eye-catchiness and detail, but keeps me interested with the breadth and connectedness of thought. As for these tapestries in particular, they are a garish riot of colour, some have greater impact, some have more delicious detail. I think they can’t fail to pique some interest and amused/embarrassed  recognition as they are all about us. The particulars of peoples’ cultural lives are seen against a background of economic decline, neurosis of desired security in unstable times, or the burden of inherited responsibility. The punchline seems to be the inevitability of death, as the nouveau riche comes a cropper in his sports car. The subject matter and the cartoonesque rendering also puts me in mind of Posy Simmonds, who has been mining this sort of thing for many years now, especially from the middle class point of view.

David Claerbout: The time that remains
Next door to the Victoria Miro gallery is the Parasol Unit, in fact you can easily go from one to the other without realising it. The woman at the Parasol Unit reception was being quizzed about the Grayson Perry and denied all knowledge of it. A series of minimal, subtle or subdued photo/video works by Belgian David Claerbout were on offer in a series of viewing areas. When I got over the “can I be bothered with this” stumbling block, I started warming to “The Quiet Shore”, simply a series of large projecting photographs of people at a Brittany beach,Image from David Claerbout's projection The Algiers’ Section of A Happy Moment, 2008 and a video loop of a girl looking curiously round every time a new gallery visitor triggered it off. I remained neutral through another couple of video pieces, but was finally properly transfixed by “The Algiers’ Sections of a Happy Moment”. This was a projecting sequence of large photos, showing a group of young Algerians pausing during their game of soccer when a player feeds some seagulls. Set to very low key  music that may have been Arabic, the images show many aspects of the happy moment, the faces of the guys, shots of surrounding casbah, seagulls like a visitation of angels, close ups of the birds in flight. The combination of viewing and hypnotic music lulled me in to a state of acceptance and in the artist’s words “relaxed my suspicious gaze”. The art work, the light in the gallery space, the combination of tenderness and grittiness, the quiet due to having the place virtually to myself, and being on edge of seat due to a delayed decision to find lunch, all added up to a personally special moment. As a postlude to the perfect experience, I spoilt it/added to it by finding out in his book that a lot of the seagull shots were taken in Europe, so there was a level of falsity built in.

Sarah Sze: Conceptual constellations of everyday objects
Back to the first gallery to spend longer with some sprawling fragile constructions and collections of assorted stuff by Sarah Sze. They looked like a simultaneous but unscientific investigation into everything, somewhere between esoterically organised car boot sales, and daintily pointless accumulations of whim-made-sculpture using anything to hand. My first impression had been “messy indulgence”, then I got a sort of connection to Sarah Sze work from Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts 2002various activities in my childhood – collecting junk/playing in a conceived personal space/building a world/having important but meaningless secrets – quite intangible but emotionally strong aspects of imaginative self. Whether any of this has really got anything to do with Sarah’s work, I enjoyed finding those resonances. Next to find out more about what she’s up to. There’s humour and beauty in the ludicrous flimsiness of long bent twigs, taut strings and stuck on paper. There’s enigma in the esoteric construction and purposeful selections of material. They are everything-sculptures, and because of the casual scattered nature of some pieces, I have a desire to add some more bits and bobs to the peripheries and carry them on like some sort of a relay artist. I like what they do, I don’t know what they mean. I don’t mind. Browse her world in her previous exhibitions on Sarahsze.com

Grayson postcript
*I’ve seen three curations by Grayson Perry: The Charms of Lincolnshire in 2006 (haunting and inspired), Unpopular Culture at De La Warr in 2008 (enjoyably reactionary but slightly undernourishing), and the recent Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (alternately impressive and cute). Wish I’d written about them at the time, but it’s probably too late now.

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Lone flight at London Victoria

Just looking out of the train window the other morning as we were coming in to London Victoria, I saw one lone pigeon flying across the disused gasometer, and it made me feel instantly melancholy and start thinking too much. Why did such a simple view suddenly make me feel a certain way? Where does this yearning come from – is it all to do with buried memories, a vision triggering off other similar and connected ones from other times, the neurons uselessly connecting and reconnecting in the struggle to find a thought that’s now been erased off the hard drive, but left vague vestiges that can almost be pieced together into a distinct something?

gasometer at St Pancras, London

Gasometer at St Pancras, London by Caroline Ford

A tree wouldn’t see it at all. An animal of the lower orders would see a movement. A more developed animal would see the progress of another creature, either a fellow pigeon, or prey on the wing, or a non-threat. A prehistoric man might remember having seen the view before, and know exactly what he was looking at, but have no name for it. (I’m ignoring the gas tower at this point.) A medieval man might see it as vital food, one of the few things he might poach without getting into trouble. He might think the gas holder was “devil’s work”. A Victorian scholar might think automatically “ah yes, filum Chordata, class Aves”. A 1940s man might be worried that a bomb will land on the vital gas supply. A 1990s chap looks wistfully at the metal girders, and think “What are those structures, when did they stop using them…I like the shape of it.” The person right now looks at the scene and feels his mind heavy with the sighing of many yesteryears, wonder why the flight of a lone bird over London prompts existential musings, and lodge the desire to write about it on a machine and publish it to the whole world.

Assuming we are so different from other animals, I usually figure that what makes us human is the ability to remember the past, and to prefigure the future, giving us a deeper sense of what we are, what we have done, what we want to do, what we have lost and now miss, and so on. In short, we remember, and we dream. Next time I’m just going to fill my noddle with trivia from the Metro…

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Card for our band The Many Few

Our band has now got a website, a card, and a couple of gigs. Hurrah!
Funny to think the first words I utter, apart from any intro, are “I have a half wit for a friend”. Yes, I am looking forward to our 20 minute slot tomorrow in Stockwell, and hoping for longer in three weeks at the Fiddlers Elbow in Camden at their “Olympics” gig. I won’t be running on the spot, just singing and strumming as h’usual.

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Leftovers and Leftunders

Sad Banana Incurable RomanticThis post is just me clearing out my “scrapbook” folder of odds and ends collected from random perusals of the web. I do not know where some came from, but if I ever do I will add the necessary linkage and credit.

1. I expect there are many sad bananas on the internet. I sometimes draw a face on my fruit before eating it – I only ever do that at work.

2. Nice bit of design classic subversion…these days everyone subverts everything on the web, not one thing is sacred.

Perambulator, by Laurie Lipton3. The pencil and charcoal drawing is by Laurie Lipton, and there are more impressive vignettes on her website. A little bit Gorey, a little bit Heath Robinson, a little bit Day of the Dead, they are big and detailed, and not very cheerful.

 

Poisons espresso cups deadly sins teacup and saucer set

4. A talking point at tea parties – teacups from Etsy seller Vandalized Vintage, sort of appeals to my warped humoural sense, although plates reading “dirty bitch” seem a little old hat nowadays.

Peskine, Anthony - Great Big Stuff, Command Sit, 2007 5. Anthony Peskine chair design, reminiscent of cafes called EAT, and pubs called DRINK, I think that was all the rage in the 90s or 00s.

6. And here we have some hippies as photographed by Herve Gloaguen. They appear to haveHippies, photo Herve Gloaguen caught hippy rash, probably from too much free love, and communing. He seems to have photographed two competing coolists – Miles Davis and Andy Warhol – who IS the coolest of them all? Andy is seen working on bananas, perhaps for the Velvet Underground. Not sad, just indifferent.

Dr Who Invasion of Dinosaurs7. And a touch of personal nostalgia. I still love retro Who. Everyone has their era. Some grew up without a Who at all, I started with flamboyant derring-do Pertwee, was very much in favour of wide-eyed otherworldy bohemian Tom Baker, and carried on watching the other actors intermittently as it all spiralled into disappointment and disappearance. I think I still have my UNIT badge from a weetabix packet somewhere.

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